Herschel Walker couldn’t predict what he would do when he was alone. One personality won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. Another was full of rage as he played Russian roulette.
“There were voices going off in my head,” Walker said. “I thought I was going to lose my mind.”
When he retired as a running back from the NFL in 1997 after stints with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, Walker’s wife at the time, Cindy Grossman, told him he was acting differently. But each mention of a personality change came with a threat.
Walker, who shared his story with soldiers during a behavioral health fair Thursday at the Community Events and Bingo Center, didn’t believe Grossman’s claims until he got upset one day over a package that wasn’t delivered on time. His reaction was extreme. He lost control. As he looked down at his hands, Walker saw a gun. Finally, he realized his anger and rage was over the top.
One voice in his head told him to shoot the guy; another reminded him of God.
The second won. The next time he saw Grossman, Walker told her, “I have a problem.”
After meeting with doctors and describing his symptoms, Walker was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Allah Sharrieff, executive officer for Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Division, said since 2008, Walker has visited more than 60 military installations and shared his story with at least 32,000 service members and their families.
“(Walker) believes treatment begins when the service member asks for help,” Sharrieff said. “Mental illness and substance disorder continue to carry a stigma in society, but more so in the military (where) they’re taught to be independent, tough, (and that) asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
While some soldiers worry about the stigma associated with seeking help, Walker said those comrades whose opinions you’re concerned about don’t matter.
“They’re not with you at those times when you need them, so don’t worry about how you look to them,” Walker said. “Worry about how you feel.”
Growing up, Walker was overweight, stuttered and was bullied at school. After his diagnosis, he read a journal entry from his childhood where he wrote about the pain he experienced from classmates.
“I’m going to start working out and I’m going to get big enough that I’m going to start breaking the necks of these kids that are picking on me,” he wrote. “I’m going to shoot every last one of them.”
As an adult, those words from his childhood made Walker realize the severity of his problem.
“We get knocked down and we can go through everything, but until you admit what you’re going through, you’re not going to get any better,” Walker said. “I’m vulnerable and I have problems just like everyone else.”
He told his doctor he wanted to go to a psychiatric hospital where he could receive treatment with other patients who have the disorder.
“The best thing that ever happened to (me) was going to a hospital because that’s what saved my life,” he said. “I’m not weak because I got help. If I had not gone to get help, I wouldn’t be alive today.”