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When DeMar DeRozan spoke out last week about his bouts with depression — “those struggles [with] anxiety, loneliness [that] are his demons to deal with” — I wrote that the Toronto Raptors All-Star’s decision to open up mattered, in the way Big Things matter, because it might “help some people who might be going through it, too, realize that they’re not alone, and find the strength to keep on going.” As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one reading that and thinking about it.
Kevin Love was, too.
The Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star power forward, who’s been sidelined for five weeks by a broken bone in his left hand and who’s not expected to make his return for another few weeks, told us as much in an in-depth first-person piece published Tuesday morning on The Players’ Tribune:
One of the reasons I wanted to write this comes from reading DeMar’s comments last week about depression. I’ve played against DeMar for years, but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything. It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles — all kinds of things — and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them. The reality is that we probably have a lot in common with what our friends and colleagues and neighbors are dealing with.
So, what’s Love been dealing with? Well, for starters, he had a panic attack early in the third quarter of a Nov. 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks that left him stunned, shaken and re-evaluating everything he thought he knew about mental health and how we take care of ourselves … and, more to the point, how we don’t.
From Love’s piece:
I’ve never been comfortable sharing much about myself. I turned 29 in September and for pretty much 29 years of my life I have been protective about anything and everything in my inner life. I was comfortable talking about basketball — but that came natural. It was much harder to share personal stuff, and looking back now I know I could have really benefited from having someone to talk to over the years. But I didn’t share — not to my family, not to my best friends, not in public. Today, I’ve realized I need to change that.
The 29-year-old All-Star discusses a life spent adhering to the “playbook” of what it means to be a man — “Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own” — and the notion that talking about what’s bothering you would be an admission of “weakness that could derail my success” or cause others to view him as “weird or different.” (Speaking of which: Read this Michael Ian Black op-ed.)
Nearly three decades of pushing those problems aside in pursuit of excellence came to a head, though, during the Cavs’ 10th game of the season, against the Atlanta Hawks, when a combination of personal and professional stresses coalesced into something Love could no longer ignore … in front of thousands of people, with millions more watching on television sets and computers around the world:
Coach Lue called a timeout in the third quarter. When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk. I remember our assistant coach yelling something about a defensive set. I nodded, but I didn’t hear much of what he said. By that point, I was freaking out. When I got up to walk out of the huddle, I knew I couldn’t reenter the game — like, literally couldn’t do it physically.
Coach Lue came up to me. I think he could sense something was wrong. I blurted something like, “I’ll be right back,” and I ran back to the locker room. I was running from room to room, like I was looking for something I couldn’t find. Really I was just hoping my heart would stop racing. It was like my body was trying to say to me, You’re about to die. I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe.
The next part was a blur. Someone from the Cavs accompanied me to the Cleveland Clinic. They ran a bunch of tests. Everything seemed to check out, which was a relief. But I remember leaving the hospital thinking, Wait … then what the hell just happened?
Once the attack itself had subsided, Love realized he felt relief less about that than about the fact that nobody knew why he’d asked out of the game. (Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon reported Tuesday that, while unmentioned in the Players’ Tribune essay, Love told his teammates during Cleveland’s infamous January team meeting that it was, in fact, a panic attack that led him to leave the Cavs’ blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.)
That realization led him to do a little bit of digging on why he felt he needed to cover something up, and that what he was going through was shameful and had to be kept secret. That led him to a therapist, which led him to understanding “the power of saying things out loud” … which, in tandem with DeRozan’s disclosure, led him to Tuesday.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on panic attacks or therapy; I’ve had one of the former (with a couple of other close calls) and only limited (but ongoing) experience with the latter. What I do know, though, is that cramming all of your problems down, or trying to pretend they don’t exist, because you’re just supposed to be fine isn’t a sustainable solution for individual people, for families, for teams … for anybody.
It’s easy to look at Kevin Love’s life from the outside — nine-figure contract, endorsement deals, multiple All-Star appearances, an NBA championship, all first-class everything everywhere he goes — and assume that everything about his life is easy, that he has no problems and that he should have nothing to complain about. (That feeling, Love notes, played a big role in him brushing off the idea that he could benefit from talking to someone.) But as DeRozan said, “My mom always told me: Never make fun of anybody, because you never know what that person is going through.” I heard it another way from a friend in recovery: when you go into an AA meeting and dump all your problems on the middle of the table, nine times out of 10, at minimum, you’ll exit that meeting glad that you get to take yours home with you rather than being saddled with someone else’s.
Sometimes we set unreasonable expectations of ourselves. Sometimes we need to let other people see inside the way we’re thinking and processing so that they can tell us, “Hey, you’re setting unreasonable expectations of yourself, and it’s OK to work on not doing that.” Maybe that’s a trained, professional therapist; maybe it’s someone empathetic and kind in our lives that we trust. But it helps. It matters. Being open about it can, too.
And, perhaps even more so, public support from notable friends and colleagues can help, too. DeRozan’s disclosure begets Love’s letter, which has met with a lot of high-profile public support on Tuesday … including a co-sign from the highest-profile public figure Love’s league has to offer.
Sharing this stuff helps. It normalizes something that too many of us feel ashamed of, and can lift burdens that even the physically strongest among us aren’t strong enough to carry alone. We need more of this. Kudos to those who have come before — Royce White, DeRozan and others — and to Love for displaying the bravery to do their part.
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