On the Bravery of Being Vulnerable

We’re in a new era of sports. Athletes are more public celebrities, and with social media and technology, they’re in the spotlight now more than ever. And even though there are plenty of athletes making headlines for the wrong reasons, there are also athletes using their fame and platforms for good, namely to shed light on important topics that society should be discussing.

Mental health is one of those topics. In a March article for The Players’ Tribune titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something,” Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers opened up about experiencing a panic attack during a game, and how it led to him seeing a therapist, opening up, and getting help. He talked about the stigma of being perceived as weak and how he was scared for people to find out, but he didn’t know why.

One of the reasons Kevin Love opened up was because someone else opened up. DeMar DeRozan spoke about dealing with depression, and Love was shocked: “I’ve played against DeMar for years, but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything.”

Ahead of Mother’s Day this weekend, The Players’ Tribune had a video feature on St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong talking about losing his mom after his first season in MLB. It’s hard to see anyone cry, but it can be shocking to see athletes cry. We don’t always think of them as people, probably because their abilities elevate them to superhuman status. But athletes humanizing themselves will help grow the conversations around mental health. Seeing that our heroes struggle shows us that we’re not alone and we’re not weak; everyone has hard times.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 43.8 million American adults experience some form of mental illness in a year. That’s about 1 in 5 of us. 6.9% of adults in the U.S. have had at least one major depressive episode last year. That’s 16 million people. 18.1% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some form of anxiety disorder, including posttraumatic stress disorders, OCD, or a phobia. That’s well over 50 million of us.

Millions of people are struggling every day. You definitely know at least one. It might even be you, reading this article. And yet so many people, myself included, feel ashamed to talk about it when it happens to them.

It happened to me. When I was nineteen, my father got really sick. He nearly died, and I was there when it happened. Despite going to therapy for months afterward, I downplayed my problems to my loved ones. After all, they were struggling too. But more than that, I was ashamed at how badly I was “letting” it affect me. As if it was something I could control. It wasn’t. I had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, coupled with anxiety and depression. I wasn’t sleeping, and when I did sleep, I had nightmares. I cried a lot.

Eventually, I got through it. I’m in a pretty good place now. I’m more vocal about how I’m feeling and what I need. And I’m kinder to myself. I’m grateful to people like Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, and Kolten Wong for being brave enough to be vulnerable. Love said “Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing… this is an everyone thing,” and he’s exactly right. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings trying to make our way. And underneath our jobs, our homes, our clothes, our countries, we’re just people.

Love said that “for 29 years, [he] thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. And it might be. But it’s all of our jobs to work to make it not a problem, but rather an obstacle we help each other overcome, gently, and with care. The first step is by being open about it. If we don’t talk about things, they won’t get better, for ourselves, or for anyone else.

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