In addition to rehabbing and recovering from the Tommy John surgery that he had on his right elbow in August 2018, Kopech took steps forward in addressing his struggles with anxiety and depression, topics that he been more and more open about recently in raising awareness for mental health. In one key development, Kopech has come to terms with eschewing his pursuit of the spotlight, which was thrust upon him because of his supreme talent but didn't match his personality, as he learned in time.
"It was something I didn't talk about for a long time," Kopech said of anxiety on the McNeil & Parkins Show on Thursday afternoon. "It kind of crippled me because I was so introverted. Not that I'm not introverted anymore, but I'm a lot more comfortable with who I am. And who I am isn't necessarily the center-of-attention person. I'm not looking for the spotlight. I'm just looking to get my stuff done and get out. I think I lied to myself about wanting that spotlight for a lot of my career. I'm kind of recognizing it for what it is now. It is my career, and it is what I'm passionate about, but it's not just an excuse to get famous. That side of the game is no longer important to me at all. But what it has done is it's allowed me to focus on being the best version of myself, as a competitive athlete and as a person. And so to answer your question, yeah, I do feel maybe not necessarily healed -- I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't get anxiety anymore -- but I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin."
Kopech, 23, deleted his social media accounts in the offseason in another move to improve his mental state. Beyond that, he "turned to God" and heaped praise on his wife, Vanessa Morgan, for her support. The two were just married in early January.
"It's something that has to be a daily practice," Kopech said of his mental health. "For me, it's been a routine, a self-care routine, if you will. I've had to create for myself to kind of cope with this. And that may sound overwhelming to some people, like, 'Oh you have to do that just to live a normal life.' But you know what? It is just part of me. And for a lot of people, part of their routine and their life would be different to me. But kind of learning to deal with these things and finding things that work for me, yeah, it's really been comforting.
"The reason I like talking about it so much is there's people out there who probably wonder if anyone else goes through this. Because I was that person for a long time, and opening up about it has really allowed me to meet people that have gone through this and have gone through much worse. So it makes my perspective all the less important but still that much more valuable."
Kopech didn't cite a particular example of rock bottom but did speak generally on the topic.
"The bottom is just being lost in a sense," he said. "I can't really pinpoint to one thing. I've vaguely talked about having a point of suicidal thoughts and at that stage of my life, it's not something I'm proud to talk about. But it's something that's very real. And at that stage of my life, I didn't know what I wanted, who I was, what I thought was a normal life, so to speak. I think by being around people who truly love me and care about me -- not necessarily Michael Kopech the baseball player... -- but now I think it's more so about me. Being a baseball player is second. I have a real life and a real support group and a real loving family, and that's really what defines me. And then anything after that is just gravy on top."
Asked directly if he turned to alcohol or drugs, Kopech responded that he relied too much on alcohol previously in his toughest times.
"I'd be lying to you if I said that through my darkest depression that I didn't turn to alcohol and probably abuse it more than I should have," Kopech said.
Kopech's goal in addressing his mental health was a personal one, not a professional one, but he believes it will help him at work too.
"It all kind of pays off," Kopech said. "Not that the end goal is to be a better baseball player from taking care of my mind, but it does affect that. How clear you are in everyday life is going to show up in your day of work too. For me to kind of just focus on that clarity and you strive for that clarity, when I get on the mound, it just makes it all that much easier. Because that's something that I've done my whole life. That's the one place I truly never really felt anxious."
As for the on-the-field goal, Kopech plans on proving himself to the White Sox once again. He'll be a member of the team's rotation, though perhaps not immediately to open the regular season as the team has indicated it will closely monitor his workload.
"There's things I have to do and there's things I have to re-prove after surgery," Kopech said. "That's not me asking for pity. That's just me seeing how it is and looking forward to taking advantage of that competitive side of me."