Gracie Gold at her skating rink in Pennsylvania in December
HILARY SWIFT/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

Gold, an Olympic figure skating medalist, is opening up about healing from the deepest part of her clinical depression, when she felt nothing at all

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February 22, 2019 01:54 PM

Darkness closed in on Gracie Gold for months.

By summer 2017, it was sometimes all the 2014 Olympic figure skating medalist and two-time national champion could do just to brush her hair and fix her eyebrows in the morning — staring into a bathroom mirror she’d raised so high so she didn’t have to look at the reflection of anything below her chin.

Loved ones saw her spark had blown out, but Gold deflected to concerns with her appearance and growing weight. That was easier to talk about than what was really going on inside her head: She was “falling out of love with being alive.”

The truth finally came out at an elite training camp in August 2017 while she was talking with a team doctor over a salad in a cooking class. Gold remembers “just chopping up sweet potato, letting her know the darkness that was in my life.”

Within days, Gold announced she would cease skating and seek treatment for her mental health and an eating disorder. Then she vanished from the public eye, only returning to competition in November.

Now Gold, 23, is opening up about healing from the deepest part of her clinical depression, when she felt nothing at all.

Candid and disarmingly funny even describing her story’s darkest chapters, Gold says she wasn’t always sure she wanted to do this. But last year someone told her, “In tragedy, there can often be inspiration.” So she’s stepping into the light.

“I don’t think people realized how bad it was,” she tells PEOPLE. But: “If I could help anyone, even one person in any way, then it’s all worth it, right?”

• For more on Gracie Gold’s journey and her road to a comeback, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up next week’s issue.

Already the reaction since she went public with her recovery, first in a New York Times piece in late January, has been “incredible,” Gold says. Frank Carroll, her former coach of four years, including during the Olympics, says he “was shocked” by the breadth of her problems in 2016 and 2017, which she kept hidden from him.

Gold is thinking of the stigma around mental illness when she speaks out “I think as a society, we might misjudge how many people go through things kind of like I did, on whatever scale that they do,” she says.

She continues: “I never really thought of myself as brave for sharing, because for me it was just telling my truth.”

‘Living in My Own Misery’

The Jenga tower of Gold’s life started to topple in the spring of 2016 when, fresh from her second national championship, she unexpectedly blew a shot at the world title in Boston — falling from first to fourth after a weak second-half performance. It was exactly the wrong loss at exactly the wrong time for Gold, who demanded perfection of herself on the ice.

“Worlds was when you just pulled out the wrong piece and the entire thing kind of came crumbling down,” twin sister Carly says.

Gold kept skating the rest of the year, but “it didn’t have any joy to it,” says Carroll, her then-coach. “It was dead.”

For a time Gold ate she calls a “tomato diet,” in which she lived off of coffee supplemented by a single tomato. Other times, she said on the Today show, she would eat two pizzas in a single sitting and then restrict her food intensely — eating only apples and drinking coffee.

There were problems at home as well: Gold’s anesthesiologist father, Carl, had his medical license suspended in February 2017 after being placed on probation in 2016 because authorities said he took hospital drugs for personal use, state records show.

Gold declines to discuss that part of her life in detail, saying, “I’m not sure that it’s my story to tell, because it involves the four members [of her family].” But, she says, “It was just another thing that was going wrong.”

At the national championship in January 2017, Gold was in even worse shape than in Boston and placed sixth. Not sure what else to do — “I didn’t know anyone that had struggled with the issues that I was feeling” — she split with Carroll and “fled” to Detroit from her home in the Los Angeles area, where she’d lived since 2013.

Gracie Gold
Gracie Gold (center)

She hoped for a fresh start in the Midwest but instead found isolation. Alone in her apartment, she slept and ate abnormally, often in darkness, and realized she understood why some people wanted to die. “I never was suicidal in the sense that I’d made a plan. … It was just this dawning of understanding why people feel like this is the better option,” she says.

“I was just living in my own misery,” she says. “It escalated all the problems dramatically.”

By the time Gold attended the annual Champs Camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in August 2017, the toll of her depression — which in Detroit had led to a weight gain of some 35 lbs. for the 5-foot-6 skater — was clear to others.

US Figure Skating suggested a 45-day inpatient treatment at Meadows, a facility in Arizona, which they paid for. Though Gold balked at first, she changed her mind when she was reassured it was all voluntary.

“My plan was, I’ll stop in, say hey, meet with a therapist just so I can say I did it and then go back to whatever I was doing,” she says. “But then within the first week, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s some real stuff here. I should probably stay.’ ”

‘Everyone’s Rooting for Her’

In Arizona, she almost immediately noticed a change.

“After maybe the third or fourth day, for once in a really long while, I remember going to bed excited about something the next day,” she says. (Small as it was, that something was sand volleyball, which Gold had never played.)

At Meadows she participated in therapy and was prescribed Prozac. “Everything was a controlled environment where you didn’t have to worry about anything but your own coping mechanisms and anything dealing with your own head,” she says.

She remained in the Scottsdale area for a few months after leaving Meadows, and then moved to Philadelphia in the spring where she began to train with a new coaching team and a new outlook, including healthier eating habits.

“She didn’t want to leave skating on the note that she left it,” Carly says. “She wanted to come back and say, ‘Hey, I tried, I didn’t leave any stone unturned.’ ”

Gold’s first competition back, in Russia in November, was a disappointment, but spectators didn’t see a loss. Afterward, she says someone tweeted her, “I haven’t left my apartment in three weeks, and I watched Gracie Gold do that and I went out to the store today.”

Carroll, who coached Gold in the Olympics, isn’t counting out a comeback: “If she’s totally resolved to do it. … I think she can do it.” Says a figure skating source: “Everyone’s rooting for her.”

Gracie Gold
Nam Y Huh/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Her Life Now

Since moving to Pennsylvania, every month or two someone will stop Gold and tell her: You’re smiling again. Her bonds with her family — frayed by her depression battle and her father’s professional problems — are repairing. Gold talks to her sister almost every day and just flew to California to visit. Mom Denise, a retired nurse, will head to the East Coast to see her skate in the spring.

Gold is determined to stay on the ice and is eyeing a July competition. Part-time she coaches younger skaters. But she finds joy outside the rink as well, from small pleasures such as her morning coffee to silly delights such as a binge of Netflix’s Big Mouth.

“I think the biggest regret would be looking back and seeing all of the moments I didn’t care about or cherish because I was focused on making money or losing weight,” she says.

“There’s so much more to life.”

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