Marshall learns to cope under pressure

Bears receiver works hard to promote mental health awareness and control his personality disorder

Achieving proper self-awareness in his everyday life is as important to Brandon Marshall as running a perfect out route on the football field.

After catching two touchdown passes while wearing lime-green shoes to promote Mental Health Awareness Week in Thursday night's 27-21 victory over the Giants, Marshall felt good about himself and his Bears teammates. Yet Marshall continues to seek more balanced emotions in his daily living.

I sat down with the complex wide receiver this week as he described his meandering journey to manage his diagnosed borderline personality disorder. He has tried to educate the Chicago community about the malady since his arrival two years ago.

"What you see is what you get," Marshall said of his straightforward nature. "I have tried being someone I wasn't. It doesn't work for me. It doesn't work for any of us. That's not just someone who may be diagnosed with a mental illness, but that's everybody.

"Even now, I define myself, I redefine myself. There are so many things that I am adding and tweaking."

Earlier this week, Marshall was in a funk after Sunday's loss to the Saints, testing his ability to cope.

"I was frustrated. I was really frustrated," he said. "Anytime I have a game like that, I am going to be frustrated. …

"But the other day I was driving to NBC to do our TV show. I see the NBC building lit up lime green. I immediately just started smiling, and it was like I had never even played a football game and was shut out. So I said: 'Man, that's cool. That's perspective.'

"It just took a few hours. What we say in the mental health community is: 'How long does it take you to get back to baseline?' When you have the skills you need to get back to baseline, you can manage yourself."

While Marshall often entreats quarterback Jay Cutler to target him even more often, he says he still is trying to cope with TV cameras targeting him too frequently.

"When you look at my past (numerous arrests), you look at some of the things I say and do," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just like I'm normal. I get frustrated just like anybody else. But because I'm tagged with something, that stigma comes up. That stigma is in play now.

"It's like I'm vulnerable. I am as vulnerable as I will probably ever be. When you come out and say, 'Hey, I'm coming out and advocating for mental illness … I fought it, I was affected by it, my family was affected by it,' … Now everybody is looking at you. There are cameras in your face. Every time I step on the field, there are going to be four or five cameras on me for … the moment, you know, just waiting for me to blow up."

It's not exactly like Marshall is the shy and retiring type. The Pro Bowl receiver's loquacious personality is bound to attract attention.

"It's cool because it gives me this platform to (talk about my disorder), what I think is my purpose, what I know is my purpose," he said. "But if you're not prepared for it, it can add pressure."

Marshall also admits that his public persona is complicated and often lends itself to being stereotyped.

"Man, can you imagine like, No. 1, at the wide receiver position they are waiting to tag everyone as a diva," he said. "When we're not getting the ball, they are waiting to say they are selfish. Now you add that this person in the past didn't cope with his emotions the right way.

"In a volatile, high-pressure business, you show any aggressive emotion … 'Oh, there it is, he's crazy.' Or, 'Oh, here it is, he's about to explode.' You know, every day we play into the stigma."

Marshall says he thinks he now has the tools to cope with challenging circumstances that earlier led him down a treacherous path.

"No. 1 is my wife (Michi)," he said. "We just communicate. We talk about everything. Anytime I feel any added pressure or things I may not be able to handle, I immediately express myself. I immediately talk to the people around me because I don't want to keep that in. When you hold things in, man, you just turn into a ticking time bomb. That goes for all of us."

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34

CHICAGO

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