4 Takeaways From NBA Player Kevin Love’s Recent Mental Health Article
On September 17, 2020, NBA player Kevin Love released an article on The Player’s Tribune titled “To Anybody Going Through It.” In this incredibly honest, vulnerable and boundary-breaking depiction of his struggle with mental illness (particularly depression and anxiety), Love normalizes the human experience and the difficult emotions we all sometimes face. He speaks about what it was like to have a public panic attack and to experience suicidal ideation. He emphasizes the importance of talking to someone and asking for help. He talks about self-worth, stigma, shame and hope. Though he is certainly not the first male figure to go public about his mental health struggles (and this is not his first time doing so, either), this account of his experience is particularly heart-wrenching, yet immensely inspiring. A few themes stuck out to me while reading this piece:
1. “Being depressed is exhausting.”
Love opens up this piece by talking about the pure exhaustion that comes along with having any mental illness. Love states:
“But what people on the outside don’t always understand is that it takes all of your strength and willpower just to exist. Just to keep on going. Battling depression, battling anxiety, battling any mental health disorder … it’s all just so unbelievably exhausting.”
The intense feeling of exhaustion that comes alone with battling your own mind every single day is something that goes undiscussed a lot of the time. People with mental illness are at a war with themselves each and every day, and the thoughts feel inescapable and permanent. Love describes that his “way out” was playing basketball (though not in the way we’d expect) and connects this experience to that of the late Robin Williams, who also battled his own mental health demons:
“The best way I’ve ever heard it described was in the HBO documentary on Robin Williams after his death. He was talking about the only way he could combat his demons was to wake up in the morning and ride his bike until he had absolutely nothing left in the tank, and then at night he would go up on stage and do a two-hour stand-up set and just pour all of himself into it — every single ounce of himself, until he was just totally wrung out, mentally and physically. Anything to stop the thoughts. Because the thoughts can be disturbing.”
People with mental illness can often feel an insatiable urge to do whatever is necessary to make the thoughts just stop. Love’s depiction of this element of mental illness is spot-on.
2. “My self-worth was all about performing.”
Love candidly speaks about how he often felt like his worth as a human being was connected to his success and achievement on the basketball court. He talks about how he struggled to “just be unapologetically Kevin.” This drive for success and achievement is one that has been normalized in our society, even to the point of physical and mental breakdown. We fall into a trap, as human beings, of feeling like our accomplishments define us and believe that they carry much more weight than they actually do. Love describes this phenomenon perfectly, stating, “It was like I was trying to achieve my way out of depression.”
Anyone who has experienced any mental illness knows that achieving, succeeding or having all the blessings in the world is not enough to overcome the demons in your mind. But, as Love says, we become consumed with the idea of “next,” falsely believing that some external form of validation will bring us peace within. In reality, it is much more nuanced and complicated than that.
3. “Nothing major has to happen to start a spiral.”
Love acknowledges that he knows how fortunate and blessed he was during the darkest moments of his mental illness, and it is true that he has more financial security and material things than most people. But, what Love so eloquently normalizes here, is the fact that none of that matters when it comes to mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate based on race, gender, wealth, status, success or anything else. Everyone can struggle with their mental health, and each person’s struggle is equally valid and real. This is something we have begun to normalize in society recently, but there is still a long way to go.
4. “Talk to somebody.”
Love closes out this article by encouraging any and all readers to talk to somebody. He proudly admits that he needs therapy and medication to manage his symptoms, and he “probably always will.” Love speaks about the freeing feeling that he experienced after starting to talk to a therapist, and how it took him 29 years to figure out the answer to the question, “what do you need?”
Therapy is not a cure-all, but it can definitely be the beginning of incredible change and growth. Asking for help is not something about which we should feel any shame, embarrassment, or guilt. We all need a little help sometimes; it’s one of the perks of being a human being.
On a more personal note, as a “therapist who sees a therapist” myself, going to therapy changed my life. Being on medication to manage my symptoms changed my life. But what changed my life the most? Talking about it. Sharing what I was experiencing with other people. Learning to normalize everything I was feeling, and learning that I wasn’t alone.
Love ends his article with a beautiful quote, and I have chosen to end my piece here the same way:
“If you’re struggling right now, I can’t tell you that this is going to be easy. But I can tell you that it does get better. And I can tell you that you are definitely not alone.”
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