Oakland A’s reliever opens up about his anxiety: ‘It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot’

OAKLAND – Oakland A’s reliever Trevor May says he’s better equipped to recognize his symptoms of anxiety now than he was earlier in his big-league career.

That’s what made the decision to step away from the team less than two weeks a necessary one from his standpoint.

“There’s just certain things you’re willing to kind of tough out,” May said, “and certain things that if you try to do that, that it’s not going to end up working.”

May stepped away from the A’s on April 19 when he was placed on the injured list to help deal with his anxiety, which he said had been building for some time.

May, 33, signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the A’s in December, making him Oakland’s highest-paid player this season.

But his start in Oakland has been a struggle.

In eight outings with the A’s, May, usually placed in high-leverage situations, had a 12.00 ERA in 6.0 innings, going 2-3 and with a blown save. He walked nine and allowed 10 hits, and by the time May stepped away, the A’s had a 3-16 record.

When he was younger and still trying to establish himself as a big-league player, May said he would have internalized how he was feeling, not wanting to show that he was dealing with anxiety.

He’s since discovered that there’s a better way.

“Anxiety is something I’ve struggled with a lot in my life in different ways,” May said Sunday in his first public comments since he went on the IL. “I’ve realized that a lot of the things that I might have felt in the past that I thought was something else, was actually that.

“Since COVID, I’ve done a lot of introspection and figured out what’s going on a little bit. So a lot of it happened then and the COVID year was the first time that I struggled a little bit at times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more comfortable with just kind of saying it, just getting it out there, and then taking a beat when I need it.”

So when May started to feel like pitching in a game was causing more uneasiness than excitement, he knew it was time to take a break and seek help.

“(Relievers) get up in the morning and the first thought in your head is we’ve got to pitch that night, so our anxiety kind of slowly … it’s almost like anticipation and anxiety together,” May said. “It builds up until that moment you might pitch. The phone rings, it’s either your name or not, and then you either relax or you or lock it in and go pitch. Like, that’s our cycle.

“So everyone’s is different. We all have it. There’s a healthy level of it and it’s figuring out what is normal competition and then what is abnormal.”

The lack of team and individual success, plus the issues outside of work, took a toll on May.

“There are other life things that happen outside of the game as well that it’s almost like you always have this stack of things that you’re dealing with,” May said. “And it really depends on where those things are in the stack at times. So sometimes something trivial ends up being the gallon of water that ends up breaking the dam.”

May became the third MLB player this season to step away because of mental health concerns, as Colorado Rockies pitcher Daniel Bard and Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin Meadows also landed on the IL with anxiety.

“The way Daniel Bard says it is, that thing you’ve been doing for your whole life, when the thought of doing it stops you from taking any action, that’s when you’ve gotten into the into the into the ‘Oh, no,’” May said. “He was able to feel himself going there in the (World Baseball Classic). When you feel yourself being there to where, ‘Oh my god tomorrow, it’s not going to be a good day. I can already tell by how I feel right now.’ That’s when you start to feel like I might need to take a little bit of action.”

Bard dealt with anxiety earlier in his career, but the issue crept up again when he pitched in the WBC for Team USA. Bard recently returned but Meadows remains on the IL.

“I know that (Bard’s) come a long way in making those decisions and I think I know enough about myself that if I’m feeling a certain way, I’m going to bring it into this clubhouse with me and that’s the last thing,” I want, May said. “There’s enough on these guys’ plate. They don’t need me being a storm cloud walking around, and I definitely don’t want to have it at home with me. So, it was just in everyone’s best interest (for me to get away).”

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May has been in the A’s clubhouse since Friday and wants to help where he can. He said he’s in a better place now than he was just over a week ago, but there remains no timeline for him to resume pitching, as he’s eligible to come off the IL on May 4.

“It’s all about perspective,” he said. “If you’re out there and it’s like ‘Oh, here we go again.’ That’s a perfect example of, that’s the slope. That’s you being pushed off the slope, starting to roll down again. But if you’re like, ‘it happens,’ or you’re more accepting and it’s more natural, then you’re in a good place. It’s reframing those thoughts a little bit and doing it on purpose.”

“I just miss competing. I want to compete and have fun. I want to enjoy myself. I want to show emotion. The thing I love about playing the sport for a living is that ‘me versus you.’ There’s still that fire there for me.”

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