(WNDU) – Former Notre Dame running back and kick returner George Atkinson III relayed his story of struggle and heartache in an open letter to children going through similar situations.
In the letter posted to The Unsealed, Atkinson recalls coming home from school one day riding high. Someone at school found out his father was a professional football player, so he came home telling his mother, "We don’t have to worry about nothing. We good. We rich."
But that wasn't the reality, he says in the letter entitled "How I Turned My Losses into Lessons."
Atkinson's mother and father weren't together, and his mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and drug addiction. By the time he was 10, he had to call the police on his mom because she was becoming violent toward him and his twin brother, Josh, who also would go on to play football at Notre Dame.
While going through an unstable young life, Atkinson said he was never taught to express emotions.
"For me, I felt like I had to be this tough guy and show no emotion," he says.
Eventually, the twins' father took the boys in, giving them structure and discipline.
Atkinson and his brother were motivated and earned scholarships to Notre Dame. But it did not erase their tumultuous early lives.
"While we succeeded, we also continued to carry pain," he writes.
When Atkinson's mother died a year ago, the twins were 26 years old. Atkinson thought his brother was handling the grief admirably, but, Atkinson writes, "I guess he was just masking it."
Within a couple months of their mother's death, Josh died by suicide.
"That’s the moment I felt like I lost everything. That’s the moment I can’t describe. I never want you to feel his pain or my pain," Atkinson writes in the letter.
Atkinson was institutionalized after trying to harm himself, but things are getting better. He says he has found a "why" to keep living: his 2-year-old daughter.
"I went to seek help and spoke to a psychologist," Atkinson writes. "I realized I had to let go of this ego that made me think sharing my feelings was showing weakness. Also, I had to learn to love myself.
It's not perfect yet, he says. He is still struggling, the anniversary of his mother's death having just passed and the upcoming holidays serving to remind him of his brother's death.
But he says he hopes that his story can help children who are now where he and his brother once were.
"It’s a release for me to tell all of you my story, because if my pain teaches you how to express yourself during hard times, everything that I lost can turn into a gift that I can give to all of you to help you live more positive lives," he concludes.