Brandon Brooks wasn’t going to make up a story about stomach aches. He wasn’t going to run from the truth.
He wanted to share his story, and on Wednesday afternoon he stood at his locker for 11 minutes and did exactly that.
“Basically, I found out recently that I have an anxiety condition,” Brooks said.
Brooks, a 27-year-old offensive lineman, has missed two of the Eagles’ last three games after experiencing severe nausea in the hours prior to the game.
He had experienced these symptoms off and on for years but decided to finally figure out what was happening.
“I wanted to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” Brooks said. “Basically, I found out recently that I have an anxiety condition. What I mean by anxiety condition (is) not nervousness or fear of the game.
“What it is is that I have like an obsession with the game. It’s an unhealthy obsession right now and I’m working with team doctors to get everything straightened out and getting the help that I need and things like that.”
Brooks said he’s had on-going stomach issues like this but always assumed they were stomach-related.
This time, he sought help from the Eagles' medical staff and learned that his symptoms were in reality caused by severe anxiety spurred by his desire for perfection.
“For me, it’s just I always want to be perfect in what I do and if I’m not perfect it’s not good enough, and sometimes that just really weighs on you,” he said.
“And I have to learn how to kind of chill out and understand it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to not be perfect.”
Brooks said he’s now on two different medications to help settle him down, and he’s also undergoing counseling to help him deal with what he called an “unhealthy obsession” with football.
Brooks, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Eagles in the spring after four years with the Texans, practiced with the Eagles on Wednesday and said he plans to play against the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday.
Brooks started the first 10 games of the season at right guard and played at a consistently high level. He missed a national TV home Monday night game against the Packers on Nov. 28, played against the Bengals in Cincinnati on Dec. 4 and then missed the home game against the Redskins on Sunday at the Linc.
He said he anticipates that this won’t negatively impact his career moving forward.
“You’ve got an issue or a problem, you’ve first got to admit it and accept it,” Brooks said. “I admit it, I accept it, I own it.
“I think what a lot of times happens, I’m going like this (holds hand above his head), and I’ve got to taper it down and kind of chill and turn my brain off.”
Brooks missed a couple games with the Texans with similar symptoms and he said he was diagnosed with an ulcer following one of those games, so when he missed a second game while in Houston he assumed it was also an ulcer.
“For the longest (time), I thought it was an ulcer,” he said. “I thought it was something physical in my stomach. So I didn’t know it could possibly be something else.
“I would get sick once, maybe twice a year. It wasn’t like how it was this time, where it was one game, then I played a game, then the next game it happened again.”
Brooks said he actually sought help for his continuing stomach problems after the Packers game but said he hadn’t been on his medication long enough for it to prevent an anxiety attack the morning of the Bengals game this past weekend.
“I went out to seek help,” he said. “I realized I obviously couldn’t defeat it myself. I’m not ashamed of reaching out and asking for help and getting the help I need.”
Brooks spoke honestly and in detail about what gameday mornings have been like when he’s unable to play.
“What happens is, I wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning — not to be too graphic — but uncontrollable vomitting and there’s nothing the doctors can give me once it happens that stops it,” he said.
“It goes for a full 24 hours. That’s what happens.”
How bad are the symptoms? He described the morning of the Cincinnati game.
“Do everything I can to play but I couldn’t even stand up,” he said. “Didn’t have strength to stand up.”
He said the symptoms invariably start overnight. He said if he's able to get to the stadium a few hours before kickoff and he’s still OK, then he’s fine for kickoff.
“Once I get there I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just when I wake up sick, by that time it’s too late. I make it to the game, I’m good to go.”
Brooks said he hasn’t gotten ill just on game days.
“Only reason why you all know it’s games is because I’m not in the game,” he said. “But it happens Fridays, it happens Thursdays, Mondays.”
Brooks said he’s missed practices in the past with the same symptoms.
“It’s an obsession,” he said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s not nervousness or fear.”
Brooks said he met with his teammates and explained the situation with him. He said everybody in the organization has been supportive.
“I love the organization, the organization’s been great, they’ve supported me with this,” he said. “The head coach, my position coach, Howie (Roseman), everybody’s supported me. … My teammates have rallied around me. I told them right away.
“I’ll make it through. I’ll be OK. Nothing I’m ashamed of. I own it.”
Brooks is in the prime of his career and under contract with the Eagles through 2020.
He said he doesn’t think this will affect him in the short-term or the long-term.
“I get the help and treatment that I need, I don’t think it’ll impact me at all, my football career,” he said.
“I think I’ll be fine. Come out better for this. Come out a better person.”
Mental health and mental illness can be taboo topics, but Brooks said he never hesitated to tell his story honestly and in full.
“No. 1, I'm an honest guy and I’m going to tell y’all what’s going on,” he said. “And No. 2, it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. I’ll get the help that I need and life will go on and I’ll be fine, my career will be fine. I am concerned about it, obviously, but I’m not woe-is-me at this point.
“I’m not ashamed, I’m not embarrassed. It’s life. Hopefully if I can reach some kids out there that are going through the same thing and let them know it’s OK, life goes on, fight through it. Just like I’m trying to do.”