Living with any kind of disorder is not ideal, and it’s harder with dissociative identity disorder. One football player with DID visited Luke Air Force Base Sept. 21, to increase awareness and let others know it’s OK to seek help.
“I couldn’t have made it through without help,” said Hershel Walker, former NFL running back for the Dallas Cowboys. “I got help from God and my doctor.”
Walker came to Luke as part of the Freedom Care Anti-stigma Campaign that partnered with Tri-care to tour military installations across the country.
“Mental illness and substance disorders continue to carry a stigma in our society and especially in the military community where members are taught to be independent and tough,” according to the anti-stigma campaign. “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but many of our warriors don’t know this.”
Walker visits military installations to share his personal story and experience with mental illness while delivering an important message to the troops saying, “There is no shame in asking for help, I did.”
But Walker didn’t start by addressing mental disorders. He started at the beginning by talking about when he began his football career.
“In high school I started playing football so I wouldn’t have to wash dishes,” he said. “I hate doing dishes, and if I was busy with football, my mom wouldn’t have me do them. I was wrong.”
He didn’t know anything about football when he started. He had never watched a game. After high school he went to play for the University of Georgia.
“I remember getting a letter in the mail from Georgia to be [at the school] at five,” Walker said. “I wanted to be early; I have a habit of being on time. So I got up at two a.m. and started driving. I got to the University of Georgia about three thirty in the morning, but I didn’t know where to go, and it was dark outside. About four a.m. it’s still dark and there are no cars coming up. By four forty-five, it’s still dark outside and there are still no cars. So, I started to wonder if I was in the right place. I got out of my car and ran up to the cafeteria thinking I must be late. Posted on the door was a letter like the one I got. It read 5 p.m., so I was a little early.”
Walker talked about his trials during college and how he made it into the NFL. In his 12 NFL seasons, Walker gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards, and 5,084 kickoff-return yards. This ranked him second among the NFL’s all-time leaders in total yardage when he retired. At the start of the 2007 NFL season, ten years after his retirement, he still ranked eighth. He also scored 84 touchdowns: 61 rushing, 21 receiving and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Walker is the only other player besides Derrick Mason to have 10,000-plus yards from scrimmage and 5,000-plus return yards, all of which were on kickoff returns.
Then he turned to more serious matters.
“I had a problem. I didn’t know it at the time, but I did,” he said. “As I was leaving the NFL, my ex-wife told me about things I did. I told her I would never do that. She said I would pace the bed at night. She even said I had threatened to kill her a few times.”
Because of this and other experiences, Walker sought help.
“My doctor told me I had DID,” he said. “That’s the new name for multiple personality disorder. And I got the help I needed. There is no shame in that. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.”
Walker was grateful to be able to come to Luke, but he wasn’t the only one excited by the visit.
“It was awesome,” said Staff Sgt. John Askew 56th Maintenance Operation Squadron Plans and Scheduling. “I’m from Texas and a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, so seeing him and having him talk about the Cowboys was great, it made my day.”