Lindsey Wright shares message of hope

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Last year, Lindsey Wright took four months off from golf; Thursady she shot 67 in the opening round at Kraft Nabisco.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Going into the 2010 season, Australian Lindsey Wright was a steady climber on the LPGA ladder. Fresh off the previous year's performance that included a pair of top-four finishes in major championships -- runner-up in the LPGA Championship -- she was No. 12 in the world rankings.

The only problem, even on the sunniest, brightest, and clearest of days, Wright was playing golf under the darkest of clouds.

"Swimming with weights," she called it.

Invisible and destructive as poison gas, a bout of depression and anxiety had slowly and unknowingly settled over Wright's world.

Once known on tour for her bubbling personality and quick quips delivered with that endearing Aussie accent, Wright had turned quiet, dark and haunted. And that was on her good days. Other times, she admits to having thought about simply ending it all.

"It was a bastard," she said.

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Lindsey Wright had six birdies and one bogey on Thursday.

That's why Wright's opening-day 5-under-par 67 Thursday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship wasn't just a stellar round of golf. Far more than that, it was a reason to stand up and cheer.

Wright, 32, who played college golf at Pepperdine, grabbed the opening-day spotlight in the season's first major championship and then used the moment to open up her life, bare her soul and introduce her demons "because maybe it can help someone else."

Many victims of depression and anxiety do not even know they have a problem. The maladies creep stealthily into lives and suck away the daylight. Wright was among those victims.

Something was wrong. That much was clear. Wright had broken into tears for no apparent reason while on the putting green during the 2010 Women's British Open. Her mother, Linda, had looked her in the eye and said, "You're not the same person you were five years ago." Wright agreed. She just couldn't figure out what or why.

"Yeah, I would say it all kind of came to a head at the end of 2009," she said. "I had a great season and after that, it was kind of on a downhill slope, slippery slope. It just kind of happened quickly. You have bouts, and without getting into the psychology and everything, it wasn't a great time, and I just couldn't really get through it.

"People think depression, 'oh, just get over it if you're in a bad mood or whatever.' It really impacts you physically, and playing on this tour, coming out and trying to play, grinding it out each week when you're not sleeping and you can't concentrate or focus and the other symptoms with it, it just gets you down, and it's a bit of a nightmare."

Then one day she was watching morning television. A news talk show was on and a guest was detailing the symptoms of depression.

"I sat there and thought, 'Oh, my God! That's me,'" Wright said. "That's me."

For a while, she tried to play through the darkness. That's what athletes do. Gut it out. Carry on. She didn't bother to think that there was no exit, not when living the lifestyle that initially created the problem.

"When I first came out here, I was driven to try and make as much money as I could, to play as well as I could, and I was pretty intense," she said. "... I think as you start to get a little older, things change and your environment, your friends change, and I started going home, and I missed home. My best mates were having families and everybody seemed to be growing up and I was out here doing this, which is nothing wrong. It's a great lifestyle if you have a healthy balance. For me, it was all about balance.

"I have not really had a healthy balance and spent a lot of time, 10 months a year in the States and two months at home. In retrospect, in 2009 when I had that great season, I should have taken four or five months off then, but I didn't."

And the darkness began to close in. Another week, another tournament, another night in a hotel room that looked exactly like the one from a week before. No close friends around.

"There were plenty of lows," she recalled. "But I think the lowest is when you have insomnia and you're waking up at 2 a.m. with strong emotions and then you have anxiety so you don't know what you're doing. There's no relief from your mind, really, and I mean, the only time I really had any relief is if you had probably two bottles of red wine. It helps you sleep, but it's not the way to combat it.

"That's when I realized I've got a problem here, and I've got to deal with it because I'm getting worse, I'm not getting better. … So when I did go to the doctor and get a diagnosis, I realized, geez, I really do have a problem here. I wish I'd done it sooner."

Finally, with four months remaining in the 2011 season, Wright made the call to walk away from the tour. At the time, she figured never to return.

She went back to Australia. She took prescribed medication religiously. She took a job -- as a media representative.

"Funny, at the men's New South Wales State Open and Australian Open," she said. "And I did some other things, as well, relating to media stuff and sports."

Most of all, she started to feel better. She started to see light.

When the new year rolled around, Wright decided to send up a test balloon. In February, she played a Ladies European Tour event in New Zealand.

And when a birdie putt fell on the final hole, she won the ISPS Handa NZ Women's Open, her first victory in eight years.

Then on Thursday, she played the Mission Hills Country Club course with six birdies and just one bogey.

"Aside from golf, I could have shot 80 today, and I'd still feel really great," she said. "I'm happy, and I don't feel like I'm dragging around 10 pounds of excess baggage. I sleep better and I'm happier, and I'm surrounding myself with good friends, and I'm talking to people. I mean, anyway, I'm very lucky. I'm lucky to be sitting here now and very happy to be feeling the way I am."

Sunny days.

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