Photography by Danny Fulgencio
For Wally, fame is on the horizon. One of his YouTube videos has more than 50,000 views, and other videos are rising to similar numbers. Wally has his own store with
T-shirts and stickers bearing his face. He also has more than 5,000 followers on Instagram, where he tours Dallas neighborhoods and poses with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens and other hot rods.
Wally’s Instagram has more to it than cars that belong in pop songs. The captions are filled with personal accounts of owner Brian Sullivan’s struggles with mental health, alcoholism and depression.
“Depression doesn’t discriminate. If you have a friend, co- worker or loved one that’s struggling, reach out to them,” Sullivan says in a post. “You never know when your help might save someone from themself.”
Through his posts, Sullivan hopes to make a difference. “We live in a kind of glamorous society where people don’t want to show their flaws,” Sullivan says. “My page was a soft opening to me telling my story to the world.”
A crucial part to that story was Wally Wiggles.
“At the end of my drinking, I thought about jumping in front of a train three out of five days a week,” Sullivan says. “Getting Wally in my life, spending this time together and finding purpose again— to wake up and not want to jump in front of a train — that’s a victory right there. I want to pass this on in some way.”
Followers find joy and inspiration from the account. Comments range from, “Looking good Wally! Nothing better than a gorgeous bulldog next to a beautiful car” to “I need Wally to come speak to my students!”
Maybe one day, Wally will. Sullivan hopes that he and Wally can be motivational speakers. He wants to start that journey by taking Wally to nursing homes.
“He’s a gregarious and loving dog,” Sullivan says.
This bulldog is ready for his close-up.
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“The thing is -- and people who live with mental health issues all know this -- it never goes away. You have good days and bad. But there's never a finish line. I've done so many interviews after Rio where the story was the same: Michael Phelps opened up about depression, went into a treatment program, won gold in his last Olympics and now is all better. I wish that were the truth. I wish it were that easy. But honestly -- and I mean this in the nicest way possible -- that's just ignorant. Somebody who doesn't understand what people with anxiety or depression or post-traumatic stress disorder deal with has no idea. The pandemic has been a challenge I never expected. All the uncertainty. Being cooped up in a house. * * * So how do you fight this? How do you manage it? For me, I have to get in the gym every day for at least 90 minutes. It's the first thing I do. I wake up between 5:15 and 7, no alarm, just whenever I roll over. If it's 7, I'll feed the boys and get them situated, but if it's earlier, I just escape to the gym. And look, there are days that I don't want to be there. But I force myself to do it. I know it's for my mental health as much as my physical health. If I miss a day, it's a disaster. Then I get into a negative pattern of thinking in my own head. And when that happens, I'm the only one who can stop it. And it typically doesn't stop very fast. I'll just drag it out, almost to punish myself in a way. That's what I do if I make a mistake or if I upset somebody, then I think it's always my fault and just take it all out on myself. When that happens day after day, you can put yourself in a scary situation pretty quickly. And that's been this quarantine a lot of the time.” * * * Michael Phelps, 23X Olympic Gold Medal Winner, father, husband, son, friend, idol to millions, and mental health survivor
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