Jasper Moedt

Jasper Moedt

Jasper’s journey: Basketball star shares his battle with mental illness

In mid-June of last year, during a vacation in Mexico, Jasper Moedt awoke at sunrise and tiptoed up the stairs to the roof of his hotel.

In mid-June of last year, during a vacation in Mexico, Jasper Moedt awoke at sunrise and tiptoed up the stairs to the roof of his hotel.

It was clear and sunny, with just a hint of a breeze. The 22-year-old was in his swimming trunks, and the rooftop hot tub bubbled invitingly.

But he walked past and hoisted his 6’7” frame onto the cement wall bordering the roof. His feet were longer than the wall was wide, and his toes curled over the edge.

Three storeys below, people were on the sidewalk. They didn’t seem to notice him.

He was seriously considering stepping off.

For the better part of three months, his emotional state had swung from crippling depression to exhilarating euphoria. He couldn’t understand what was wrong, nor could he bring himself to share it with anyone. They’d think he was crazy.

That he was even up on the ledge was a surprise to him, given his fear of heights. But the struggle for equilibrium had worn him down and had given way to utter hopelessness.

A small gust of wind blew. Maybe if it blew hard enough, he thought, it would make the decision for me.

He lingered on the edge for maybe five minutes, but it felt like an hour. He was sweating, even though it wasn’t hot enough for that yet. His hands shook, then his body began to shudder.

It wasn’t until he heard a young couple making their way up the stairs that he snapped out of his reverie and stepped back to safety.

*          *          *

Moedt was the kind of bright kid who could almost make you buy into the notion of youthful invincibility.

An imposing presence at 6’7”, 240 pounds, he was a friendly giant – gregarious, articulate, easy-smiling, easygoing.

He’d always been that way.

His Grade 1 teacher at Mountain Elementary, upon seeing this enormous kid walk into her classroom on the first day of school, made a mental note to keep an eye on him. But by the first round of parent-teacher interviews, she was raving about him.

“She said to me that she expected to have issues with him being a bully, because he’s so much bigger than all the other kids,” Jasper’s mother Denise recalled. “But he was just so kind, so sharing, and she was surprised by that. He’s very in tune with what other people are thinking around him.”

Moedt grew up to become a high-profile athlete in Abbotsford, winning a provincial high school basketball championship with Yale Lions in 2008, and developing into one of the better post players in the nation with the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.

But his sunny outlook began to change, imperceptibly at first, following surgery to repair a nagging shoulder injury on March 26, 2012.

His emotions slipped out of control, and over time, the peaks and valleys grew more pronounced. It had a corrosive effect on his interpersonal relationships. When he was depressed, he was extremely needy. When he was up, he didn’t think he needed anyone.

Then, he started hearing voices. He’d be alone in a house and think he heard a male voice outside calling him, but he’d open the door and no one would be there. Eventually, the voice came to sound like someone talking in his ear, telling him he was useless, that people in his life were against him. Delusions piled on top of delusions.

The emotional highs began to melt into a perpetual depression, giving rise to suicidal thoughts and pushing Moedt onto the ledge in Mexico.

In June of last year, UFV men’s basketball coach Barnaby Craddock departed to take the helm of the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Moedt elected to follow him to Edmonton, surprising his parents.

He hoped a change of scenery would sort him out, but when he arrived in September, he found his troubles had made the journey with him.

“Almost immediately after I arrived there, I realized nothing had changed,” he said. “I felt stupid . . . I thought, why would changing my location change anything?”

Depending on the day, Moedt was either determined to stick it out in Edmonton, or he was ready to hop on the next bus home.

One night in October, after taking a kitchen knife to his room and staring at it for a while, he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a Greyhound ticket to Abbotsford. He rode all night, leaving most of his belongings in Edmonton.

Along with his psychological issues, Moedt also started passing out, slumping over unconscious at random. In the end, the physical symptoms may have saved him.

After returning to Abbotsford, he passed out in front of his sisters on two occasions. The first time, he swore them to secrecy. The second time, in early January, they took him to the hospital.

Doctors discovered that Moedt had hemolytic anemia, which affected his red blood cells and triggered the fainting. Their best guess is that it was caused by an adverse reaction to medication from his surgery, and may have also affected his serotonin and dopamine levels.

He started coming in for daily steroid therapy via IV, and the doctors also connected him with a counsellor. Within two weeks, he felt like himself again.

It was only then that he sat down with his family and shared the full extent of his struggles.

“I developed this belief that if I told anyone, things were only going to get worse,” he explained.

“It’s something that really snowballed on me. Initially, if I would have come forward and said I don’t feel I have control of these elements in my life, it’s probably not the hugest deal. But by the end of it, I had lies on top of lies on top of lies, and I might have had legitimate concern (as to) how can I tell people?”

For Denise Moedt, hearing that her son had contemplated suicide was a shock, because she and Jasper have a close relationship.

“We knew he was going through a rough time, but we didn’t know it was that severe,” she said. “It was really, really scary. You read about that kind of thing in the newspaper all the time, and it’s always somebody else’s child.”

*          *          *

The stigma surrounding mental illness kept Moedt from sharing his struggle for the longest time. Now, he’s attacking it.

He’s serving as a university ambassador for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses project, and he’s speaking at a conference at the district education centre in Surrey in April as part of an initiative called Speak Up. He’s also investigated what it would take to start a peer support group at UFV, for people who can’t get over the stigma of talking to a counsellor.

“If I can’t share this, we’re never going to go anywhere with the whole stigma surrounding mental illness,” said Moedt, who is back at UFV and will play for the Cascades again in the fall.

“If one person from UFV or Abbotsford or B.C. comes forward, talks to a family member and says, ‘I think there’s something wrong here,’ it’s worth it.”