Suzy Favor Hamilton talks to PEOPLE about her struggle with the mental illness that threatened her life

By Sheila Cosgrove Baylis
Updated September 09, 2015 12:00 AM
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Credit: Brian Lowe

From the outside, Suzy Favor Hamilton‘s life had a golden hue. She was a three-time track and field Olympian who had been featured in magazines and who also had a loving family – so fans were shocked in 2012 when she was outed as a high-end escort in Las Vegas.

In her new memoir, Fast Girl, Hamilton says that her bipolar disorder, which had not yet been diagnosed, caused her shocking behavior.

“My bipolar was driven toward sex. It could have been driven towards drugs and alcohol, or gambling. I found sex was the biggest high to fuel my mania, which is common with bipolar people,” Hamilton tells PEOPLE.

Hamilton, 47, had also wrestled with thoughts of suicide. After the birth of her daughter in 2005, she struggled with postpartum depression – but her daughter is also who kept her going. “Driving home [one night], I prepared to drive my car into a tree. I accelerated faster. But I was getting closer to home where my sweet baby girl was waiting. You have to stay alive for her,” she says.

The athlete also contemplated death when her secret life was made public. She says, “The next morning, my darkest thoughts were on a loop: I had shamed my parents, my husband, our family. It would be better if I were dead.”

But Hamilton acknowledges that hitting rock bottom forced her to get help. She now has the right medication and a team of mental health professionals aiding in her recovery. She has also made amends with her longtime husband, Mark Hamilton. The couple now live a quiet life with their daughter Kylie, 10, in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Malibu, California, where she teaches yoga.

Hamilton says the test on the marriage has made it stronger.

“What Mark and I went through with Vegas and being outed – if we can make it through that, we’ll make it through everything,” she says.

“We have to work at a marriage and like any couple, we have our ups and downs. But we’ve definitely gotten to a stronger place. We’re doing 100 times better now.”

For more on Suzy Favor Hamilton’s struggle with bipolar disorder, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday