Like any professional athlete, Andy Irons faced immense pressure to perform at the highest level. After winning his first World title, the stakes were raised even higher. Of course, facing this immense pressure became even harder when Andy’s bipolar disorder came into play.
Andy’s younger brother Bruce, who grew up surfing the same waves, saw firsthand how Andy’s method of dealing with the pressure changed. Almost overnight, as Andy’s career took off, his life changed from simple times surfing waves in their backyard to a full-blown world class athlete’s. That came with sponsors, parties, attention, and trouble.
Bruce recalls: “At first, it's fun, but after awhile it gets old and it takes a toll on you. I know my brother, when he'd come home, he'd always like to go down to my dad's house, just to almost recharge. I don't know what was going through his mind, but I would think he would just be thinking about the simple days when we were kids, just sitting on that couch at my dad's house, and having none of this outside pro world affecting him. Because, for him, it was a lot more intense. The world on his shoulders.”
For Bruce, it was different. He looked up to his older brother, and says, "It was ‘Oh, I got my older brother. He's the man. He's the bullseye. And I'm just protected by him.’ I really like that. I couldn't handle that pressure that he had, and I really liked that he was the guy. He deserved that world title. He wanted it the most. And I was happy that, I was really happy that he got to have that.”
Of course, it soon became clear that Andy’s bipolar disorder made coping with this pressure worse. In an attempt to ride out the highs, the parties and celebrations would never stop. That included substance abuse. Bruce says, “Celebrating his victories kind of turned into not just a celebration but more of a lifestyle, and that's when the fun partying kind of turned into a closet party, a maintained party, everyday party, whether it's with people or not. And I saw it, I've seen it take it's toll. I was right there with my brother.”
Andy Irons: Kissed By God is a story about mental health and addiction as seen through the life of Andy Irons. If you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering, please contact the SAMHSA national helpline.