I was first introduced to Royce White last winter during a game between Kansas and Iowa State (Kansas won the game, but White had 18 points and 17 rebounds). After White air-balled a free throw the announcers brought up the fact that his poor free throw shooting was attributed to his anxiety disorder. This immediately sparked my interest as anxiety disorder is something I am unfortunately very familiar with. In 2006 I had what I would describe as essentially a panic attack that lasted a month and a half (and some lingering anxiety that effected me for about 6 months). I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I had five EKG’s, an echocardiogram and various other tests split between the emergency room and my doctor’s office. Despite doctor’s assurances I was fine, and the mounting bills (I didn’t have insurance) I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I finally was able to gain some control with the help of prescription drugs, and counselling from people who had gone through similar experiences, but at that point I had lost a significant chunk of my life, and gone through all of the money in my savings account (about $5000).
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but true crippling anxiety is very difficult for people to understand if they have never experienced it. It feels like your brain is betraying you, even if you know your fears are foolish on some level you can’t stop the negative thoughts. You really just can’t do it, I think that is the hardest part for people who have never been through the experience to understand. The thoughts are absolutely all consuming. I had no interest in eating, sleeping or doing any activity really, even when I would try to find a distraction the negative thoughts would still creep in. People who can’t understand tend to feel like you aren’t trying to get better. But I promise you suffering from extreme anxiety is far worse on the person in the middle of it than any outside observers and if you could stop the thoughts you would. You just can’t.
I can’t imagine going through what I went through and having the added pressure of the media, fans and a sports organization on me like Royce White does. I am sure many of the comments directed at White through social media like Twitter are less than understanding to put it mildly. I know the people looking at this situation who haven’t experienced something similar themselves can’t understand why he can’t just get over and go play basketball, but once again I promise you the only reason he isn’t doing that is because he can’t.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety and had trouble finding a place to turn (the earliest I could get an appointment with a mental health professional was in several weeks, unless I was considering suicide) I really appreciate White’s willingness to talk about his struggles. Anxiety is a hard thing to admit to having. People don’t understand, they think you’re weak, they can’t understand why you can’t just suck it up and deal with the situation. White has just said this week he is willing to walk away from the NBA if the situation with the Rockets doesn’t improve. I think White is immensely talented and I hope he finds a way to make the situation work for him because the NBA would be better with him in it. But if he can’t do it and has to walk away for his health, then I’ll accept he just couldn’t do it. I hope either way White continues to be open and honest about his struggles with anxiety. The disorder is extremely misunderstood by most people, and it is very beneficial to have a voice out there saying, “I’ve been there, I understand what you’re going through.” And to the people who I know just can’t understand the situation please try to withhold your judgment, you don’t always have to understand things to accept them.