It’s not easy to talk about yourself.
It’s easy to talk about things you own, or your favorite teams, or your dogs, or the weather, or your boss.
It’s easy to talk about gossip, or the Oscars, or the NFL Draft Combine, or whether or not a hotdog is a sandwich.
But for many people, especially in the world of sports, it’s nearly impossible to talk about your true self, the inner one that only you know.
I’m going to try to do it now: I struggle, and have for quite a while, with mental health issues. This is how my mind works: at its highest function, it feels like I’m driving at 100 MPH. I’m creative, motivated, and eager to tackle any task. I make lots of plans (“yeah, let’s totally record that podcast tomorrow!“), but they don’t always come to fruition.
That’s because, as with any flight, there comes a fall — it’s simple gravity. A mind simply can’t operate that way all the time, and so I crash. That’s when depression sets in, and suddenly I’m idling. All of the progress I made now feels like it was erased, and the motivation and enthusiasm I had just recently possessed abruptly feels like a limited resource.
It was worse when I was younger. I’ve now learned to live with myself, and within my bounds. I’m now acutely aware of the cycles I go through, and I know which things (e.g. writing, cleaning, exercising) will help make me feel better. I’m positive that I’m past wanting to hurt myself, but there were several points in time that I simply did not want to exist anymore.
These are things I still struggle with, and every day comes with a new anxiety. But now I’m talking about it, and I think that’s made a massive difference.
Phew. That was hard.
It affects everyone, and externally, you often can’t tell. DeRozan is having arguably the best season of his career up until this point, and few would ever have guessed that he had issues with depression.
The thing about mental illness — whether it’s anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or whatever — is that it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t care about the color of your skin, and it sure as hell doesn’t care about your gender.
Gender’s a big part of it, I think. In Love’s Player’s Tribune article, he detailed the proverbial script handed to you as a growing man:
“I know it from experience. Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.”
That’s not to say that mental illness only affects women, which is (hopefully obviously) untrue. But, as in many male-centric industries, the topic has been, to the great detriment of many, a taboo.
The simple fact is that we all know people who are struggling with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 25 yearly experiences a mental illness so acute as to disrupt their daily life.
Let’s do the math: the NBA had 491 active players on opening day rosters. That means that, statistically, 20 NBA players this season will have had a mental issue severe enough to impact their job.
Although DeRozan didn’t explicitly point out any job-related consequences due to his mental health, Love had to leave a game due to a panic attack. He said it blindsided him, almost like a sucker punch. In my experience, that’s often how panic attacks work.
Love cited DeRozan as an influence in opening up on his struggle: proof positive that talking about this issues can only be a good thing.
I think it’s an incredibly American notion that you can put your head down and power through anything. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right? Well, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses function insidiously. They remove the boots, and thus the mechanism to pull yourself out of the pit you’re in.
It’s normal to talk about mental illness, and it’s normal to struggle with mental illness. What’s become normal — sweeping these issues under the rug because their difficult — is decidedly not so.
Here’s to the new normal, and here’s to DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love, and anybody else brave enough to share their struggle. You’re my hero.