Two weeks ago, the Eagles announced that guard Brandon Brooks was the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award for his remarkable comeback from an Achilles injury incurred in January's Divisional Round matchup with the Saints.
Brooks was back on the field for Week 1, less than nine months later, without missing a single game. Not only is he back, but Brooks is the highest-rated offensive lineman in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and should be a lock for a third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.
But the most courageous thing Brooks did this season transpired on Monday. Brooks exited Sunday's game against Seattle after two offensive series with what the team termed as an illness. Brooks posted on social media Monday that the illness was a result of his ongoing battle with anxiety.
Brooks tried to push through it for his teammates, many of whom witnessed for the first time the physical torture that the anxiety puts him through. Defensive end Brandon Graham, unaware of what was happening, tried to get Brooks to pick up his energy before the game.
"When I saw him fighting through it and he still tried to play, that just lets me know that he has our back and wants to get out there, but sometimes it's out of your control," Graham said. "That's a hard thing to do. That shows how courageous he is as a person. I'm behind him 100 percent. We all have our anxieties about things. It's outrageously uncontrollable sometimes."
Brooks was late coming out of the locker room because of the vomiting. When the offense took the field for the start of the game, Brooks described playing as an "out-of-body experience."
"I've been doing it so long that the motions I can do without thinking about it. As I was doing it, I wasn't doing it. It was weird," he said.
When he came to the sideline, Brooks was sick on the bench. He went back out for one more series before going into the locker room for the rest of the game.
What happened on Sunday isn't going to stop Brooks. He will be on the practice field Wednesday, preparing for Sunday's showdown with the Miami Dolphins. Brooks has a plan in place that should help keep the anxiety in check for the rest of the season. "Ensuring the security blanket," he said. Brooks was candid in admitting that the pressure of living up to his recently signed contract extension was the catalyst for this episode of anxiety.
"That's kind of like my double-edged sword. It's always something that's driven me to try and be greater, the greatest at whatever I do," Brooks said. "It's something that's always driven me and sometimes driven me a little too much."
Ever since he detailed the reason for his early exit on Sunday, Brooks has been deluged with support from all over the world. Some of the backing has come from fellow professional athletes who aren't able to find the strength – or the place – to freely discuss their struggles.
"I'm trying to help people going through the same situation," Brooks said. "I think the biggest thing is really having an open environment like an open forum, allowing guys to come forward, hopefully sooner than later, at their own pace and seek the help that they need. Just keeping an environment where everybody's doors are open. Guys aren't afraid to or shouldn't be afraid to talk about anything with anybody in the building and that's the environment that we have here."
Brooks argues that the stigma associated with mental illness combined with the perception that athletes, football players specifically, are supposed to be modern-day gladiators adds another obstacle to overcome.
"We're not supposed to have any emotions. We're supposed to just play and do what we're told, things like that. At the end of the day, we're people. We're human beings. We go through the same things that everybody else goes through, everyday issues that 40 million Americans go through. We're no different and when we have issues, the only difference is that it's front-page news," Brooks said. "There are a lot of people who go through the same issues that we all go through. I just encourage athletes who do go through things, whether it's something like a mental illness or really anything to speak about it. You never know who you might help. You might be helping yourself."
Before this past Sunday, Brooks started in 50 consecutive games, including a Super Bowl witnessed by over 100 million people, without incident. It's a reminder that it's always going to be a daily battle.
"People get more concerned about failing, having a setback, something not always going their way. The biggest thing is you're going to have setbacks," Brooks said. "You're gonna have times where it's not gonna be all lollipops and rainbows, as Stout (offensive line coach and run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland) would say. It's knowing during those dark times that, one, it's OK. Two, it's OK to seek help, and then, three, there are much brighter days ahead.
"When it comes to mental health issues, the biggest thing is to embrace it, accept it, understand why, and, really, to attack it. It's no different than pulling a hamstring."