Sunday, June 28, 2009

Anxiety In Sports: Real Or Excuse For Bad Play

In the past couple years, our society has become more accepting of depression issues that for centuries we brushed off with a simple "suck it up and go back to work" mentality. Now many realize these are genuine issues as are such conditions like ADD or ADHD that can impact not just your job but your everyday life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes anxiety as a normal way for one to handle stress and lists the five major disorders related to it as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder(OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder). I can tell you first hand as someone who has a history of panic attacks that when you have them, it can be just as scary as any other medical condition so athletes who suffer legitimately from this, in my opinion, are justified to take time off just as any injured athlete should be.

True anxiety is not just your feeling down because you are currently 0-100 at the plate or you are having difficulty finding your shot, though it won't help. Most who suffer from this have been dealing with stress to the point they can no longer take it and break down. It is not a sign of weakness but in fact more of a sign of trying to find a better way to cope. People handle things in a different way and that does not make one person any stronger then the next, just different. Many put so much pressure on themselves or feel worried to let others down more then anything else in life and so when they struggle, it will manifest itself in the form of anger or sadness. Not to mention, we do not know what that person has experienced in their life because many times tramatic experiences can bring this about so unless even if you have walked in their shoes, you still may not truly understand their view.

It has been over ten years since my last panic attack which led to me punching out a Humvee windshield and banging my head constantly on a steering wheel before being carried away. I spent many hours contemplating suicide as a way to handle the stress but never could do it so I just kept absorbing it all until one day, I broke. I endured many different types of counseling sessions and tried many different medications and techniques. It wasn't until 2003 when I lost two people I loved deeply within a week or so of each other that I lost it again only to find one great therapeutic method without medication (though I did need it short term) and that was finding my passion for writing. Sure, I have my moments of anxiety but instead of just bottling it all up, I can write things to help vent. In fact, my book that I had published was taking my story of loss and using my imagination to help me cope. But everyone of us who suffer have different triggers as well as differing methods of handling it and it is a process more then anything to find out exactly what it is that will help prevent your next big attack.

I read this morning this article on Fanhouse and found it an interesting read as I wondered if people took Khalil Greene's condition serious or an excuse to cover up a bad streak. I don't know Khalil personally so I don't know what is in his head but I do hope this is more then excuse and he is up front and honest in the hopes that not only the fans understand where he is coming from, but others who may have these issues coping with stress do not feel like they are alone or should hide it out of shame. I know sports is portrayed with a macho image and we want our millionaire athletes to be tough skinned and able to handle any pressure but some of the most talented people in this world are still strong but just need a little more help then others dealing with everyday life at times.

I am not writing this to get anyone to send me their sympathy or make excuses for ballplayers who may struggle, I am writing this so that we can all work together to understand that not only is this a problem, but it is also one we can work together and fix but it may take some time. Personally, I would recommend just as Josh Alper did in his piece, they give Khalil a couple weeks to work with someone or various people (I went through four or five therapists before we found something that worked). You can't just take a night off and be all fine, it takes time and finding the right things that will help you better understand how to handle yourself the next time you feel stress coming on. My wife and I are laid off with bill collectors calling daily and everyone around us is stressed due to the economy and in the past, I would be sitting in a doctor's office begging for medications but instead, I know that I need to find my outlet which is escaping for short periods of time into writing or watching something relaxing, avoiding the situation while I consider more rational ways to cope without punching out my computer screen, though the impulses are still there at times.

Anxiety is no joke and it is no game and until you are ready to handle the stress fairly, the disorders will come and go while treating it as though someone is flawed and should be tossed aside because of it must go to the wayside if we want to truly understand this issue. If you feel like your panicking and not sure how to manage, get help because I promise you that just around the corner, if you are willing to accept it and work with it, are answers that will make your life and those around you so much more enjoyable. And if your favorite player or someone in your life is having difficulties, convince them that it is OK and they just need a little help to point them in the right direction, not just suck it up like a real man would do. I wish Khalil and others like him the best of luck finding that new person inside them that will make them happier in the long run.

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