Don Wright/Associated Press
In the piece, Smith discusses the mental health struggles he dealt with throughout his playing career and how counseling has helped him in recent years.
Smith praised former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins for mentioning mental health in his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech Saturday and wrote that “acknowledging personal struggles isn’t a sign of weakness, but one of strength.”
During a 16-year NFL career with the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, Smith was a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro first-team selection. He finished with 1,031 receptions for 14,731 yards and 81 receiving touchdowns.
Despite those accomplishments, Smith wrote that he “never truly enjoyed those moments” and “never felt genuine delight” in what he was able to do on the field.
Smith noted how it was difficult for him to think positively and get over mistakes he made.
“Generally, throughout much of my life, unhappiness, constant self-criticism and an inability to let old blunders go weighed so heavily on my mind,” Smith wrote. “I can recall hundreds of these moments, on and off the gridiron, when I felt inept. It really took a toll on my mental state.”
Smith said he began seeking counseling for non-football related matters in 2013, and since retiring at the conclusion of the 2016 season, the 39-year-old has found himself in a much better place:
“I’ve learned through hours and hours of counseling—and am still learning—so much about the battle I fight within. I find myself, as an extreme introvert defined by my counselor, looking for excuses on how to avoid large crowds and retreating during public appearances, big events and even family gatherings. Being in public is a constant struggle, not because I don’t want to attract attention or think I’m ‘important,’ but because of my inner battle.
“This is all proof that I still face my demons often, but I’m gradually learning how to cope with them. How to understand them. And one thing has become abundantly clear: The best thing I ever did for my well-being was to seek help. I needed someone to help me comprehend how my mind deals with disappointment, grief, failure, etc.—and most importantly, how to prohibit that critical voice inside my head from defining who I am on an everyday basis.”
Smith wrote that while he used to wonder what was wrong with him, he now knows that there’s “nothing wrong with me, nor is there with anyone else who suffers from depression and other mental health disorders.”