Saturday, May 11, 2013

Royce White and anxiety disorder

Just read a very good article on the basketball player Royce White, who has anxiety disorder, written by a sportswriter who also has dealt with it:

For more background, here's another article on Royce White, written earlier, with a somewhat different perspective:

And here's his Wikipedia page, which outlines the many ups and downs of his life and career so far (and he's only 22):

Royce White is a fascinating and polarizing figure in the NBA, and these articles explain his situation better than I could. He's apparently a hell of a basketball player when he's right - a player that good without White's disorder and past probably gets chosen in the top 10 picks, and everyone knew the Rockets were taking a risk drafting him. Strictly from the view of a team deciding whether to pick a player like this, I think you'd have to view the risk as similar to drafting someone with an extensive injury history. (This is also why most people who have these things know to never, ever mention them in a job interview or the early stages of employment.)

Though physical health issues and mental health issues, in many ways, *aren't* comparable, chiefly because of the body parts affected by them. Our legs are unique to us, as all our parts are, but the variance between legs isn't that wide - if you break your leg, the treatment plan, rehab and expectation of recovery will be roughly the same as if I broke mine.

Mental health issues are as far from that model as it gets. Our brains are unique and dizzyingly complex, billions of times more complex than our legs. It's amazing that we know even as much as we do about them, but what we know about how to treat psychological disorders is still in its infancy and will be there for a long time yet. And brains are extremely sensitive to environmental factors, that is, life experiences: what we refer to as mental disorders are adaptations by the brain that don't help us live happy, productive lives. This means that, though millions of people have these things to some degree, no two instances of anxiety or depression or OCD can be seen alike. The similarity starts and ends with the symptoms. I've dealt with anxiety and depression off and on throughout my life and always will, and so I can relate to what the first article describes very well. I won't elaborate here, but if you can't, believe me, you're glad you can't. It can royally fuck up your life. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I have scarcely any more insight into Royce White than anyone else, and even if I knew him personally, I still wouldn't. His anxiety is the adaptation of *his* brain to *his* environment. We can never know what we'd do in his shoes, because we'll never be in them.

So I won't judge the guy, though that doesn't mean I agree with everything he's saying or that I assume his approach to his situation is ideal. When I was 22, my approach to anxiety or life itself sure wasn't. (It's not now, for that matter.) If he can't play, he can't play, but from these articles it doesn't seem to me that the Rockets aren't trying to work with him. Why wouldn't they? It's a wasted draft pick if they don't. There's a limit to how far the team can go, just practically: the Rockets aren't a mental wellness organization, but an NBA team trying to make money and win games. They should treat him the best they can, but they're well within their rights to let him go if it doesn't work out, just as the other teams were well within their rights not to draft him. Talent by itself guarantees you nothing. And just because you have a mental disorder does not mean you can't also be arrogant or obnoxious or uncoachable or not someone that a team wants to hassle with. People dealing with mental health issues aren't the bums and fakers they're often and ignorantly judged to be, but they're not saints, either. Nor are they merely labels, merely the sum of their disorders. They're just people.

It does take guts to speak out, and I'm glad Royce White has done that, and I hope it contributes to a future where people with these issues are treated more humanely - they sure as hell haven't been for almost all of our history, and they very often still aren't. It sucks, and we need to do better. But it's as bad to fail to be grateful for the fact that there are lots of caring, supportive people and organizations who are trying their best to help. When you have a psychological disorder and your life is rocky as a result, it's very tempting to feel like the whole world's against you - indeed, it's often part of the disorder to feel that way. You only hear the sour voices in the chorus. Doesn't mean it's true.

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