When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with a chronic, less-severe form of depression called “Dysthymia”. Prior to my diagnosis, I struggled with my confidence and self-esteem, and I met with a counselor for a time as a form of treatment. There are factors linked to the cause of the condition, including genetic predisposition, social isolation and poor social structure. Of these I fit the bill on the last two, as I was a bit of an outcast all throughout my school years. Being diagnosed in the early onset phase (before the age of 21), I was more likely to develop a concurrent condition, so I make up part of the 50% of those with the disorder who also deal with anxiety. For years I ignored my depression, but in recent months I’ve stopped hiding from it, and dealt with it head on.
Perhaps I hid from it as a teenager and into my early twenties because I felt that the people around me wouldn’t understand, or that acknowledging it would mean that something was wrong with me. Before, I’d ignore my lows, and hope that I could just snap out of it, or that I would feel better, but now I know that’s not how these things work. Now, I acknowledge my lows, and try to negotiate my way through those negative thoughts.
For instance, I finally left my high school job for what I thought would be my career as a personal trainer this past August. Once I applied for the job, I was quickly contacted by the company, rushed through the interview process and hired. Getting the job was everything that I had worked through school for, and I should have been ecstatic. But I wasn’t. Instead, all that I could think of was things like “I’m not sure that I’m good enough,” “Can I make a difference?” and “I don’t know if I can do this.” As it turned out, my concerns were for nothing. In just a month, my clients saw results, and I connected with them by doing things their previous trainers wouldn’t do for them. I came in early and stayed late to make sure that they were successful.
But you know what? There were many days when it took everything I had to put on a happy face – to try my best to be upbeat when all that I felt like doing was shrinking from the moment, bowing away from the pressure. There was pressure to make sure that my clients’ time and money were being well-spent. There was pressure to make sure that I was meeting the goals of the company. And there was pressure to make sure that I was setting a good example for each side.
There was one night in September, a couple weeks into my supposed dream job, that I recall having a good day at work, but coming completely apart once I got home. I was as low and as anxious as I had ever been, and I didn’t know what to do. I would write out text messages to friends so that I could have somebody to talk to, but I would just end up deleting them before sending them, thinking I would only be a burden to them in doing so. So I suffered in silence. I decided that I would eventually need a different career path for my own sake. The pressure became too much.
Naturally, when I heard the Houston Rockets’ Royce White was fighting for better treatment and discussing his anxiety disorder so openly on Twitter, I thought that it was great that he was using his platform to raise awareness. Okay, so he came off as throwing the Rockets under the bus, but it didn’t seem like he meant to, in my eyes, at the time. To me, it seemed he was simply doing whatever it took to make sure that his health was being looked after. Admittedly, I was probably a little biased in my point of view. It was difficult to read some of the ignorant and rude comments people were making to White and those supporting him, but I clicked “follow” on @Highway_30’s page anyway..
Then I saw this retweet from one of his followers, and it resonated with me on a whole other level – one that made me change my entire opinion on Royce’s actions:
I took offense to this comment because I know that I can not only get to work, but that I can perform my job responsibilities despite managing both depression and anxiety. I also know that I can manage to meet my obligations to three different websites on a weekly basis. Finally, I know that I can make and maintain personal relationships and friendships despite my diagnosis. Simply put: my depression does not define me.
By letting it define him – at least in the public eye, and mostly via his Twitter rants – it seems Royce White is hurting the perception of those with depression and anxiety by making people think that people with those disorders are less-capable because of them, and that’s not helping the cause, which was Royce’s goal in being so open about his condition in the first place.
On the 16th of this November, Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote of White:
White has left the Rockets, and there’s no telling when he’ll return. Before long, White will lose the platform that he so desperately wants to advocate for mental illness. He’s fighting a noble fight, with the most noble of intentions, and perhaps someday he can be remembered as a trailblazer on the issue of anxiety disorders.
If Houston gives up on him, White will struggle to find another team willing to make even close to the commitment – if any at all. White has turned down NBA D-League assignments, missed practices and conditioning workouts and tried to convince Rockets officials that his anxiety order would be much, much better if they would simply play him in games. This isn’t a negotiation, and never will be.
Houston redid White’s contract so it could pay for White’s RVs and car services on trips, because of his fear of flying. The Rockets have let him come and go this season without fining him. They owe him that patience and understanding, but they don’t owe him playing time. It’s earned in the NBA, the way three Houston rookies are trying to earn it.
“Royce White’s battle with Rockets over anxiety disorder could cost him NBA career”- Adrian Wojnarowski (11/16/12)
Some people got a little indignant at Wojnarowski for this post, but he does raise some excellent points while also acknowledging that he isn’t belittling White’s struggle. Wojnarowski goes on to cite other NBAers that have made successful careers for themselves while also being positive mental health advocates. They all have something in common: they play, and they advocate on the side. But if White is really intent on exploiting his condition as leverage for playing time, while simultaneously playing the martyr, he is only further damaging the image of those with depression and anxiety.
I, like many others who struggle with anxiety disorder, want to see Royce be successful on the court and raise awareness off it, because he has such a great chance to make a positive impact. Royce’s Twitter account is a platform, and it’s a mighty one at that. To be a successful advocate, he needs a platform. To be able to raise the most possible awareness for mental illness, he needs to stay in the NBA, and he needs to make the greatest possible impact he can on the court. If he does that, his platform will be there, and he’ll be able to make the positive impact he so badly desires off the court.
Unfortunately, that off-court impact hasn’t been very positive to date. Has Royce White helped anyone with his actions so far? With the way he went off on Wojnarowksi in the wake of the article, and how he has approached the situation with the Rockets, and the way he has subsequently interacted with his followers, he isn’t doing anything to change the perception of mental illness or removed any of the stigma surrounding it. It would be hard to argue that Royce has positively impacted his own career or image with this stand either. After all, people are still saying, “Suck it up!” and ignorant things like the tweet I posted above.
If Royce isn’t helping others or himself by doing this, then what’s the point? Sure, he pretty clearly does want to help others in addition to having a successful basketball career, but he’s not on the fast track to do much of either if he’s going about it this way.
If this is really about his anxiety, that’s fine. But maybe – and I say this with all due respect – basketball really isn’t the career path for Royce White, much like being a personal trainer wasn’t the path for me. If this is about playing time, Royce should just come out and say it – but he shouldn’t use anxiety as leverage while making his employer out to be the bad guy. All that does is worsen the public perception of those with depression and other anxiety disorders. If his current problem with his situation is perceived as being all about leverage, which is increasingly becoming the case, it’s likely that his platform to help others will disappear and so will some of his respectability.
I supported Royce at first because I felt that I could relate to him on some level – that I could understand what he was going through. As the days have gone by, I’ve realized that he isn’t speaking for me. He’s speaking for himself. Royce should be as open as he wants about his mental illness, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. And despite his well-voiced opinion, it seems as if he’s hurting the cause he claims to be fighting for, not helping. If there was ever a time where the old adage, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” this may be that time.