In a plot twist that’s likely obvious to anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time with me over the years, I suffer from depression. It’s something that’s plagued me throughout high school and college, reaching a breaking point the summer after my senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, something that I had long suspected afflicted me, but was still a shock to hear.
Days became weeks became a month or two of me essentially not being able to get out of bed. Maybe I’d go downstairs, fix myself a sandwich, make a rum and Coke cocktail, down it all in mere minutes, then head back up to bed. It was a lowly existence that caused issues with my social life, my relationship with my parents and close friends, as well as my professional career. There’s no way else to say it: it was fucking horrible and I know that I’m not entirely blameless for reaching that low of a level.
I knew there was more to life than this, though. I had been happy and pleasant at other points in my life and knew I could reach that level again. I began seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication that would help with my chemical imbalance and set me on the right path. I sought the support of a therapist who helped talk me through the issues that had been plaguing me. I reached out to close friends who reassured me that this plan of action was the right move for me to get better.
Things got better, but it didn’t make those dark days go away. The restless and sleepless nights. The feelings of emptiness. The existential dread. The simple inability to get out of bed. They were all still there. As summer gave way to fall, there was one thing that changed in my life: the Eagles had a new starting quarterback.
It seems so inconsequential, but to someone not from Philadelphia, it’s hard to explain how important the Eagles are to the people of this city. There’s just a different feeling in this city when the Eagles are playing well. You can smell it in the free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that people have after every Eagles win on Mondays. You can see it on the smile of the guy who sits next to you on the Broad Street Line as he reads over tweets on his phone praising Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
And then there’s Carson Wentz.
Wentz is the athlete I’ve spent 22 years on this planet wishing played in Philadelphia. He has prototypical size and physical attributes. His intangibles are off the charts. He just has "it" for an NFL quarterback. And just a quarter of a way through his rookie NFL season, he’s delivered on all of that promise and then some. The Eagles went undefeated in the month of September and I’m sure I seemed like a different person then. Credit the medicine and professional treatment I was seeking, but I would be selling short the healing power of the city’s newest golden boy if I didn’t mention how Wentz’s manginficent play reinvigorated me.
I was able to get up every morning at 6 a.m. for work. I could stand having coversations with my mother and father. I could be a productive person. I could be the writer I always dreamed of when I had this new cult hero taking the Eagles to a level they’ve never been at previously.
That leads me to yesterday. I had been back to my grumpy self over the last few days. Some job interviews I had didn’t exactly turn out the way I wanted to. I was drinking too much. I was hungover. I could barely manage to get up, throw on my Wentz Eagles jersey and head down to my living room before game time, as the Eagles were set to take on the Detroit Lions.
I needed to take my medicine, but had run out of one of my antideppresants. The thought of not having something that was keeping me afloat killed me. I sunk to another lower level than the one I was already at.
I couldn’t have been more miserable. My script had yet to be filled at CVS, lateness due to either the pharmacy or my doctor, I wasn’t sure. I could barely manage to get off my couch, put my shoes on and walk down the street, but I did just because I wanted to watch, no, I needed to watch the Eagles play, something to distract me from the constant grey cloud shadowing my livelihood that made most situations unbearable to endure. The only thing that was going to get me through my completely wrecked sleep schedule over the next three or four hours was a 5-Hour Energy from the corner store.
"I’m going to the corner store to get a 5-Hour Energy," I told my dad.
"I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you," my dad replied. In retrospect, I’m sure I wasn’t speaking louder than a whisper and more quickly than could be understood.
"I’M GOING TO GET A 5-HOUR ENERGY!"
The most banal and typically easy to navigate situations get amplified and made so much worse when dealing with depression and anxiety. I couldn’t help but feel guilty after slamming the door shut on my way out and not even bothering to tie my shoes. Maybe this walk would wake me up and renenergize me at least.
As I walked in the store, I thought about the classic South Philly soft pretzels that this place usually has. It seemed like indluging in one could help raise my spirits for a fleeting moment.
"Can I get a 5-Hour Energy and a pretzel?"
"I’m sorry. We don’t have pretzels on Sundays."
OF COURSE THEY DON’T. Screw this place. Screw everyone. Again, remember that depression makes me think any simple situation, like a convenient store not having a soft preztel that costs fifty cents, feels like the end of the world. I know how dumb that sounds, but that’s how it feels at the time.
I grab the 5-Hour Energy and start unwrapping it so I can slurp it down and make it through this game. Since I’m looking down at this little bottle, I don’t see the kid walking into the store on my way out, who I bump into.
"Sorry!" he says. He’s a little chubby South Philly kid. He doesn’t look much different than I did at 10 years old. He reminds me of my younger self.
"It’s okay, man."
He looks at my jersey. He realizes it’s Carson Wentz, the savior of Philadelphia.
"I love that shirt! He’s my favorite!"
Oh my God. I wanted to just melt inside.
"Yeah, man. He’s the best, isn’t he?" I crack a sincere smile for the first time all day.
This dumb, goofy, fat, clumsy, little kid, who I’ve never met before and likely will never interact with again, is making me tear up on the way back to my house because the one simple common thread we share in this life is that there’s some 6'5" dude from North Dakota who’s unifying a city constantly torn apart from racial and social strife due to his ability to throw a football like no one else who has ever come through Philadelphia.
Wentz is a reminder of all the reasons I fell in love with this sport: the excitement, the potential for greatness every time he touches the ball, the hope that he could deliver Philly the championship it direly waits for. He makes me think of when football was life rather than a distraction from life.
The Eagles ultimately didn’t win on Sunday, dropping their record to a still-pretty-good 3–1 in a tie for the division lead with the vile and hated Dallas Cowboys (You think my depression is bad after an Eagles loss? Monitor it after a Cowboys win…). I was, however, gifted a little over three hours of freedom from the chains of depression and anxiety when I got to watch the Eagles play competitive football. Sure, as every Philadelphian knows, no Eagles game is free from anxiety, but I’ll take the anxiety of not knowing whether Nelson Agholor will catch a vertical pass from Wentz over the anxiety of wondering if I’m going to have a panic attack any day of the week.
Next week though, the Eagles might win. Those three hours of freedom might turn into a week of freedom and happiness, knowing I could listen to talk radio at work in the morning or check SportsCenter when relaxing at night and hear news that reinforces what I want to believe: the Eagles are good and a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. And maybe those wins every week add up and eventually, just one day, maybe, Wentz and the Eagles will win The Big One, the game that no Eagles team has ever won.
The possiblity of the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, the idea of watching someone reach the pinnacle of sports for this city of losers and castoffs and afterthoughts, makes watching every snap of Wentz’ progress and attempt to get to that level worth the trip.
Carson Wentz winning the ultimate game wouldn’t cure me of all my woes, but it surely couldn’t hurt, right?