If you were fortunate to ever meet Ben Wilinofsky you would walk away from the encounter believing that he is an extremely nice man. One of the good guys so to speak. A quick check on his Hendon Mob and PocketFives scores will also tell you that he is an extremely talented individual.
Wilinofsky is a European Poker Tour (EPT) Champion, World Poker Tour (WPT) final tablist and one of the best online tournament grinders in the business – now that sounds like a great life.
But away from the spotlight that poker likes to shine so brightly, life is very different for Wilinofsky. He suffers from mental illness: depression, and anxiety, and his life is in a constant flux of understanding and healing.
So when were the seeds of Wilinofsky’s depression actually planted?
“That’s quite a complicated question and I’m not sure I have a handle on it myself?
“Looking back on my life I think I have been experiencing depression since the age of 12, and its sort of crept in slowly – difficult to notice at first – but since that age it’s basically been impossible for me too feel happiness for any prolonged period of time. The most consecutive days I have felt happy since the age of 12 is probably around five.
“To answer the question of how it happened? That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer. I don’t spend a lot of time searching for that answer because I don’t think it helps me much?”
When did Wilinofsky realize that he was suffering from a mental illness?
“I think I always realized there was something wrong, but I hadn’t come to terms with it, and fully accepted it, until almost two years ago. That was the point that I was able to admit that I wasn’t well and I needed help getting better.”
Was it a gradual build up of symptoms, and feelings, or a single incident that created this realization?
“It was on the heels of me developing some pretty serious anxiety issues, and I think the turning point – the real breaking point – was watching an excellent documentary called Darkness in Hope on a Canadian sports TV network. It was about highly successful athletes who had dealt with depression. Suddenly, something clicked. Where before I had always assumed that it was my responsibility to deal with these things by making my life better, in order to feel better, I was suddenly watching these athletes who had reached the pinnacle of their lives- and were still empty like I was.
“I think I realized that it wasn’t a personal feeling to feel that way, and something I could correct simply by working harder, getting better and improving my life. I wasn’t approaching the problem the right way; it wasn’t solvable in that manner and I needed help.”
What does it feel like to be depressed?
“It’s really difficult to wrap your head around unless you have been depressed and understand what depression means. The word ‘depressed’ is a clue; it feels like you are being pressed down – flattened – it feels like there is a constant weight on you that drags the life, ambition and willpower right out of you.
“I have had days where it took everything I had in the tank just to get out of bed and take my dog for a walk. There have been other days where I have had to call friends or family to take my dog for a walk because I just couldn’t do it.
“It’s possible that everybody’s experience is different, so I don’t have the right to say what’s going on in other peoples heads, but for me, it feels like an emptiness, a lack of hope, a lack of joy or enjoyment of anything. The inability to see why there would ever be a reason, or way, it would ever get better.
“Nothing changes day to day. No feeling makes you feel better or worse. You get no response out of yourself…nothing means anything and that’s what leads to the apathy and lack of willpower because nothing feels like it can change the way you feel…so why bother?”
For more on this wonderfully open and revealing story about Ben Wilinofsky’s battle with mental illness please listen to the audio interview above. Alternatively, Wilinofsky has become an inspiration for other people who suffer from mental illness through his thought provoking writings on his personal blog and I urge you to take a look at what he has to say and connect with him.