Ever since he was a child, Keith O’Neil wanted to play football. Born on the same day that his father, Ed O’Neil, was cut from the New England Patriots, football was all Keith could think about...aside from his anxiety.
Offered a scholarship to Northern Arizona University, O’Neil jumped at the chance to prove himself. Though it wasn’t a Division I-A school, he brought his all and was a natural on the field, achieving first-team All-Big Sky choice as a junior and senior, as well as earning All-American honors.
Going undrafted, luck came from the Dallas Cowboys, who offered O’Neil an invite to rookie mini-camp. But while trying to learn the playbook, his anxiety and insomnia returned. Even so, he made the team as an undrafted free agent. His dream had come true.
While proving himself as a hard-nosed special teamer, sleepless nights, constant anxiety, and suicidal thoughts clouded his mind. O’Neil considered stepping away from the game multiple times, even speaking to his coach, Bill Parcells. Parcells gave him the wisdom that Everyone has a demon in their head, and we have to beat that demon. Beat the demon!”
After being released from the Cowboys, O’Neil spent time with the Colts and Giants, but still could not escape his inner demons. He asked for help but never received the attention he needed. In fact, for suicidal thoughts was given a CD to help him relaxEnya. It finally became too much for him to handle, and the final decision was made to walk away from the game. It wasn’t until sometime later that was finally diagnosed: Bipolar I disorder. Finally, everything made sense.
Under My Helmet is the personal story of a man working every day to prove his worth while struggling with a debilitatingand undiagnosedmental illness. O’Neil’s voice is honest and open as he shares his battles and the steps he’s taken to overcome adversity.
Keith O’Neil is a retired football player who spent four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder after his retirement from the NFL, O’Neil is now a public advocate and speaker on mental illness through his 4th and Forever Foundation. He has addressed the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the Mental Health Association, the International Bipolar Foundation, and numerous other organizations and schools.
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