By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
For regular viewers of Impact! Wrestling on Pop TV, the character of Allie is a plucky blonde, with a devilishly innocent smile. Sometimes naive to a fault, the so-called ‘wrestling novice’ has slipped into some sideways success, while providing an elegant presence alongside her real-life husband, Braxton Sutter.
But for the lady behind the character, Laura Dennis, life has never come so accidentally easy. In fact, it’s been a much darker, less upbeat path than her onscreen alter ego has followed.
Dennis, like 18.1% of the American adult population, suffers from some form of depression.
“For most of my life, anxiety and depression have had a huge toll on me,” she said this weekend in an interview with TheGorillaPosition.com. “Even when I was going through it all at the time, I didn’t realize that I was depressed. I could feel it, but I didn’t know what it really was for a long time.”
According to The Mayo Clinic, depression can range in seriousness from ‘mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression’. For Laura Dennis, the early stages came when she was too young to know any of the clinical definitions; she just knew that she felt empty inside.
“I lost my father when I was 12… very young. That was one of the things that triggered my depression,” she recalled. “Flash forward a few years later, and a very, very close friend of mine committed suicide. That just kind of pushed me further down that hole that I was in.”
Like many of those who suffer from the disorder, she buried those feelings inside, even through her critical teenage years. Dennis eventually chose to pursue her passion, breaking into the professional wrestling industry, while still carrying a lot of emotional baggage.
“I actually signed up for wrestling school the day after my 18th birthday; I knew immediately what I wanted to do,” she recalled. “A big part me didn’t quite understand my disorder. So, wrestling was an outlet for me. It gave me a bit of purpose that I didn’t have beforehand.”
For a time, she was able to pack away many of her darkest thoughts.
“I wish I could say that wrestling helped me cope with my depression completely,” she recalled. “At first it did, but those feelings were still there.”
“When I was a teenager, I was very lost; a big part of it was this disorder. So, wrestling was an outlet for me, and it gave me an opportunity to have a voice in something.”
With Hollywood good looks and a fantastic ring presence, Dennis quickly began to establish herself on the independent scene under the name, Cherry Bomb. She was a standout of the revolutionary SHIMMER promotion, toured around the world and was a leading figure during the recent boom in women’s wrestling.
Despite all of her success, however, the albatross of depression continued to weigh heavily on the young star’s shoulders.
“I developed a really unhealthy eating disorder when I was 20,” she discussed in-depth for the first time publicly. “It wasn’t until I actually got treatment for that, when I was officially diagnosed with depression.”
That was when the official word from doctors came. However, the Canadian beauty knew that she had always displayed symptoms stemming from her earlier, tragic losses.
“I sort of felt like I didn’t have any control in my life. And for those with an eating disorder, they will tell you, you start to develop a sense of control with it. When I felt like I was out of control, (the eating disorder) felt like something I could control. Which is very, very unhealthy.”
“The two things work hand in hand together. With that feeling of sadness, there are so many other symptoms that can occur. For me, it was developing a dangerous habit.”
For many who experience depression, days can pass like the scenery through a car window, with the victim seeing only their faint reflection as the world goes bolting by. Dennis says there were times that she fell into a coma-like state from the disease.
“There were days at a time, when I just wouldn’t leave the house,” she recalled. “I didn’t care if I even did small things, like take a shower, or go get the mail.”
“There was almost this fear of facing the world, and of not being accepted. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but it’s almost as if you’ve made yourself numb to everything out there.”
After years of suffering, she was finally able to open up through counseling.
“I had a really close friend who came to me and said, Laura, I really think this is depression and you should talk to somebody,” She said. “Sometimes, it just takes someone who cares about you, because there’s a lot of denial that goes into it. You sort of just put away those feelings, and cope, and go on.”
“I hadn’t really thought seriously about counseling, but I’m thankful that someone cared enough to say something. I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t finally opened up and talked to someone.”
It’s been all the difference for Laura Dennis, the person, and even made her more comfortable in her role as Allie, performing with her ever-present, partner in life, Braxton Sutter.
“I’m lucky that we have that kind of relationship, where we can talk about things that are on our minds,” she stated. “And, with us working and traveling together, I kind of always have that support system that everyone desperately needs. I can sometimes obsess over really stupid, small things, and he keeps me from dwelling on things like that.”
Along with her husband, she now relies on friends and ongoing counseling to see her through the tough times. With her newfound confidence, she’s opened up about her struggles, and frequently discusses the hope and possibilities that exist for those who suffer from depression.
“A lot of people won’t talk about depression and anxiety, especially young people, because they feel like they will be judged for it,” she said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as someone who has suffered from it, and who has a platform, to discuss it.”
“Having someone in your inner circle that you can trust makes all the difference. And, if you don’t have someone you feel like you can trust, there are resources out there where you can find help. People who are at risk need to know that.”
Her passion for reaching out to younger fans led her to release a heartfelt video clip that talked about her own, tough experiences and conveyed her feelings on the subject.
“I put out a YouTube video last year, talking about depression and my struggles with it,” she said. “I didn’t realize the impact it made until there were people coming up to me at shows, or sending me DMs and e-mails, and they were expressing their struggles, and how hearing me talk about it helped them see they they aren’t alone.”
Dennis says the response was overwhelming for her, personally, and renewed her belief that there was hope for everyone.
“It opened my eyes to how important it is to continue to be outspoken about it. I’ve had younger people tell me they were suicidal. Or say that they didn’t want to live anymore and didn’t have anyone to talk to.”
“To know that I have helped them, and to hear them say that I have helped them, is eye-opening for me. Thinking about it just gets me emotional.”
It’s a battle that she’ll keep on fighting and a message that she will continue to spread. Dennis says that if the dialogue she has created only saves one other person, it’s the kind of ‘Impact’ she wants to have on the world.
“I love wrestling, and it’s important to me,” she said. “But this subject, it’s a different kind of important. What we do on TV is great; It’s the greatest thing in the world, and it’s given me the opportunity to talk about something that’s not only affected me, but a lot of people I know, as well.”
“I guess the reason I feel so strongly about it, is that I know there a lot of young people who use social media, and may face some of the same fears. Whether it’s about their physical appearance, or just talking about how they feel inside: What you feel isn’t crazy, or stupid; It’s normal, and dealing with it is a normal part of life.”
“I just don’t want anyone to feel alone… because, I remember what it feels like to be that alone. And, no one deserves to feel that way.”