Nicole Phelps, wife of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, is opening up and sharing her journey as the partner of someone who battles depression and suicidal ideation.
Michael has been very open about his struggle with depression, and Nicole has had to learn the best ways to support him. In an interview with Today Parents, she revealed that one of the most important things she’s learned is that she can’t take responsibility for making him better.
“I used to think, ‘Oh, I can fix him. I can be his therapist. I can be what he needs,’” Nicole told Today Parents. “But what I’ve learned is that you can’t take ownership for how they’re feeling, no matter how badly you want to.”
Helping their kids understand
Nicole admitted that it can be hard for their three kids — 4-year-old Boomer, 2-year-old Beckett, and 16-month-old Maverick — to understand what their dad is going through.
“The boys want to be near Michael when he’s having a rough day. They want to try and make him happy — especially Boomer because he’s the oldest,” Nicole explained. “So we’ll say, ‘Hey Booms, Daddy’s having a hard time and just needs to take a moment to be alone.’ We want Boomer to understand it’s not about him, it’s about Michael.”
At the same time, Michael wants their kids to learn that his struggles are part of life, and that they shouldn’t be ashamed about struggling with their mental health.
“They understand there are times when I need a break, where I say, ‘You know, Daddy’s having a hard day,’ or ‘Daddy’s not feeling good,’” Michael told Today Parents in January. “It’s showing that it’s OK to not be OK. Mental health is something that’s so important in our family.”
Nicole needed her own support
When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, Nicole told Today Parents that it deeply affected her. Michael was in the middle of a deep depression and had a history of suicidal thoughts, and the thought of losing him was unbearable.
“After Vanessa [Bryant] lost Kobe, all I could do was look at Michael and be like, ‘Can we please help you? Because if I lose you, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,’” Nicole said. “Michael is the most amazing father and partner I could have ever asked for.”
Michael knows that supporting him can take an emotional toll on Nicole.
“Nicole loves me and wants to help. She wants me to get better,” Michael said. “But she’s struggling herself. She needs that support as well. I know it’s hard for her.”
Between taking care of their three children, supporting Michael emotionally during his bouts with depression, and dealing with the emotional trauma about possibly losing him, Nicole was definitely struggling. She decided to start seeing a therapist, and began meditating and journaling to process her feelings. Together, they’ve helped her get to a better place to help Michael, their kids, and herself.
“It’s helping me with everything. It’s support for me,” she shared. “But more than anything, therapy provides me with the tools to be able to help Michael properly.”
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