For most of his life, on and off the field, Commanders defensive end Efe Obada had become accustomed to pushing down his emotions to the detriment of his wellbeing.
"I would compartmentalize. I would suppress…over the course of my career, I would achieve all these things, but I still wasn't happy," Obada said. "I still had anxiety. I had bouts of depression. I had night terrors. I had PTSD. These weren't things that I addressed."
Now, Obada is on a journey of learning how to process his feelings instead of pushing them down, and he wants others to understand that it is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. "Mind UK" shares that mission, which is why Obada chose to spotlight the organization on his cleats for this season's edition of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative.
Like so many generations of men, Obada had long believed that showing emotion was a sign of weakness, and being as strong as possible was his only option as he and his sister navigated being an immigrant, being homeless, foster care and gang culture.
"Something kind of switched in me…I feel like I had to grow up a little bit faster, and I had to take that role and take that responsibility," Obada said. "Nobody was gonna come and save us, so I had to make sure that I was able to provide."
The Washington Commanders will be wearing custom cleats representing their favorite nonprofits for the the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative. Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders
The proverbial armor he had forced himself to wear was a survival mechanism. When he started to have success in the world of football and no longer spent days worried about if he would have food to eat though, Obada realized that his approach -- or lack thereof -- towards his mental health was taking a toll.
"I would only focus on the physical, on being an athlete, and my mind and my mental wellbeing was something that I neglected," Obada said. "I struggled with the media. I couldn't even make eye contact, and I would run away from my story, and I would hide from it."
As he got older and gained new perspective, his mindset began to shift. He began to feel comfortable talking to others, sharing about what he had been through and what continued to weigh on him.
"I'm actively dealing with my mental issues, and I'm actively seeking help," Obada said. "And honestly it's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life, and I wish I had made that decision sooner."
A big breakthrough for the 30-year-old came when he got up in front of his fellow Commanders to talk about his life story.
"I felt vulnerable, but I was able to share and with that, it was very therapeutic for me," Obada said.
Whether it be sharing with an entire football team or a therapist, Obada believes in the power of speaking up about challenges and leaning on others. He hopes by bringing some awareness to an organization like MIND that others will see there are resources out there to help.
"There's strength in sharing and being vulnerable," Obada said. "There's nothing admirable about suffering in silence. I want to change the narrative, and I want to break that stigma around mental health."