On the afternoon of May 6, 31-year-old Australian bodybuilder and actor Calum Von Moger, most noted for playing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Bigger, jumped through a second-story window in a failed suicide attempt. The resulting injury to his spine required surgery, as well as several days in a medically induced coma to stabilize the repair.
Although he is currently out of the hospital and recuperating, this was but the latest in a string of recent personal tragedies that have haunted one of bodybuilding’s brightest stars.
I’ll admit I do not know Calum Von Moger personally. Like most of you, I only know his public persona, mainly through social media and his acting roles. Thus, I will not be muddling around in his personal affairs to try and fashion a chain of events that would explain why a man, who from the outside looking in seemingly has it all, could be in such a headspace that he opted to throw himself out of a second-story window.
The question that begs to be asked is, what could cause such grievous emotional pain that the only relief is death? That’s the job of a mental illness professional to determine, and I am not one of them. What I will say is, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last quarter-century, mental illness has become a current talking point for a variety of social issues and public tragedies. It seems as society progresses, so too does the need to address mental illness. I think this is a very relevant issue in bodybuilding, (by bodybuilding l mean all of it: open, classic, 212, men, women, figure, physique, wellness, and anything having to do with weights, food, drugs, and a posing suit), because, for a variety of reasons, we could be predisposed to it.
This is probably where I’m going to be accused of rushing to judgment. How do I know Calum is mentally ill and his intent was suicide? Some might even go so far as to point out that a jump from a second-story window is more of a cry for help; for an actual death to occur in such a scenario you’d need a few more floors. While there may be some truth to that, it’s splitting hairs. No one jumps out of a window because their goldfish died. Something is wrong, and Calum is merely a manifestation of it.
Bodybuilding is all-consuming, and a brilliantly dramatic spectacle in its display. The industry surrounding it, and the players within it, are no strangers to the drama we produce. Behind the scenes, though, dealing with the drama can be troublesome. Most of us learn to take it in stride. But, every now and then we’re tossed a curve ball that would make Jacob deGrom blush. I think Calum Von Moger’s plight is one of those.
On the outside, the view we all have of Calum Von Moger is one of our industry’s superstars. Tall, handsome, and built, with all its accolades: three-time Mr. Universe, acting roles, modeling contracts, magazine covers, endorsement contracts, and a robust social media following. He even played Arnold freak’n Schwarzenegger!
So, what in the world is wrong here? I’m not going to play armchair mental health expert. However, I doubt any of us would argue that people who are of sound mind and judgment don’t throw themselves out of windows. Those types of incidents occur when someone is depressed, anxious, bipolar, drug-addicted, conflicted … you get the idea. However you want to slice it, it’s brought on by a form of mental illness. The question is, do bodybuilders typically exhibit behavior that could label some of us as mentally ill?
A Narcissistic Collapse?
To say that bodybuilders are self-absorbed, or even narcissistic, is an understatement. It’s common to encounter bodybuilders who are self-centered, arrogant, inconsiderate, aloof, attention-seeking, cocky, manipulative, and demanding. These traits fit the description of what clinicians call narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). That’s not a diagnosis, but I’ve been around long enough to say that if Ovid were writing the story of Echo and Narcissus today, he’d make the reflecting pool a mirror and the protagonists bodybuilders (Nemesis would be social media).
These days, especially with the help of social media, bodybuilders can easily be labeled as such. In fact, someone recently told me that if you want to find a good narcissist, go look for a bodybuilder. I wouldn’t put that tag on all my brothers but, you know as well as I do, that some of them deserve it. Especially when it comes to such typical bodybuilder traits as the need for attention and admiration, hating to lose, troubled relationships, lack of empathy, pathological self-absorption, vanity, selfishness, self-admiration, etc.
Suffice to say this is a complex area and I’m certainly not labeling Calum a narcissist (nor am I qualified to do so). I will say, however, that one psychologist told me of what he called a “narcissistic collapse.” This is when someone with NPD can no longer maintain their image, and as a result feel enraged, resulting in intense lashing out, impulsive behavior, or hurting themselves and/or others. That’s something that could be relevant for us.
For bodybuilders, if you consider the descriptive NPD traits, along with what might have driven them to pack all that armor on their bodies in the first place, then add to that something like a contest prep, a movie role, a modeling job that requires an all-consuming regiment of training, dieting, meal prep, tanning, cardio, and the associated stress it all causes, on top of having to earn a living, and it’s not unheard of that this can cause someone to withdraw and become isolated. Which leads to loneliness. Which, can lead to depression. Then add a slew of personal tragedies to the mix, and it would come as no surprise that the door opens wide to drugs. It creates an all-too-familiar vortex.
This is particularly relevant to bodybuilding because many of us abide by a drug-taking mentality. Like it or not, drugs are prevalent in bodybuilding, particularly at an elite level. I’m referring to both performance-enhancing, as well as recreational drugs. Pretty much, if you do drugs, then you do drugs. It’s difficult to rationalize performance over recreation, especially considering the inevitable overlap.
Now, add the typical mood-altering hormonal responses of both certain performance-enhancing drugs (steroids, in particular) as well as going off those drugs. This just raises the temperature and adds to the suffering. (For those not familiar with hormonal effects on mood, going on and off steroids created tremendous fluctuations in testosterone, which can lead to severe mood swings).
Finally, if through all of this suffering, sacrifice, dedication, focus, energy, time, and money, the outcome of the contest, contract, photoshoot, social media following, whatever, is disappointment or failure, one can quite easily find themselves on the edge, enduring some degree of emotional pain.
Then they look back and see the wreckage this pursuit has wrought. Relationships ended, jobs lost, injuries present themselves, savings are spent, family ties strained — everyone has their issues. The strength of your mind and your mental fitness are going to determine what you do about all this.
Thankfully, most of us have the emotional capacity to pull ourselves up and get on with it. Some of us, sadly, can’t. The pain is too great, the loss is too big, the drugs have too strong a hold, the suffering caused too much damage, the angst is too great, the pain is too unbearable. Suddenly, the end looks better than going on.
I’m in no way implying that this is the sequence that caused Calum to do what he did. However, thanks to social media, we do know enough about him and what he does, for us to look at his situation, and at least take account of the importance of mental health. The path Calum Von Moger chose has proven, ultimately, horrific. By the grace of whatever higher power you ascribe, he’s been given another chance. I seriously hope Calum’s suffering wont be in vain; not only for him but for all of us.
The bottom line is that, especially in our world, we have to care about the people around us. Pay attention to what they’re doing – or not doing. If someone you know goes through an incredible bout of personal tragedies, such as Calum Von Moger did, and becomes depressed, withdraws from social life, exhibits signs of self-loathing, becomes overly obsessed with their social media, or in any way acts threatened, devalued, self-deprecating, radically impulsive and doing a lot of drugs, then you might want to gather friends around them and talk about what’s going on. Suggest counseling, offer to take them, make sure they don’t spend too much time alone… there are a ton of resources and international hotlines available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You have to get involved. Simply loving them is not enough.
As big and invincible as some of us may seem on the outside, we all bleed, we’re all human. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to think that some form of mental illness/ trauma got its hooks into Calum Von Moger and it nearly killed him — this time. I hope those around him can huddle in and find a way to protect him and get him some help. At the end of the day folks, we have to care about each other. No one else will. It might be inconvenient, but just try to remember, as Joe Weider always used to say, “We’re all brothers.”