Royce White’s struggles help the rest of us turn a corner

Anyone with a heart has got to be pulling for Royce White.

The former Minnesota Mr. Basketball battles an anxiety disorder and panic attacks.

He didn’t show up for the first day of training camp this for the one team that was willing to gamble on him.

You may recall I posted a video about him last month. If not, here:

It’s easy, trust me, to think that we’ll never make significant progress in getting people to understand the complexities of the brain, and accept the illnesses that it can bring.

But increasingly, I’ve noticed that stories of mental illness that might’ve once brought ridicule, now tend to bring compassion and, perhaps more important, more personal stories acknowledging the struggle.

This is certainly true today in the coverage of Royce White’s situation.

Take Matt Moore, a blogger for CBS Sports , for example, who says he knows what White is going through:

Panic attacks are like snowflakes that suck. They’re all different.

The anxiety isn’t limited to the attacks; those are just the worst part. I have an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure when I walk into a new social situation of any kind. And not like the normal level of arousal. My heart’s like a kick drum. I talk even faster than normal. You can understand how this can pose a challenge when you have to do things like “blend in with a pack of 100 reporters and ask LeBron James a question.”

White missed training camp yesterday, and Kevin McHale said he didn’t know when White would return. Already there are people claiming that White is a “head case,” that he won’t cut it, that drafting him was a mistake by the Rockets.

(Additionally, I don’t know White. I have no idea if he has “character issues.” I can only tell you that this condition is not a reflection of my character or anyone else’s.)

Well, I’m here to tell you … none of us have any idea. He might not make it; I’m not ruling it out. Because I’m not going to go on some rah-rah kick about how White can learn to deal with this, can become a great player, and show everyone they were wrong. Of course I hope that’s the case. I’d hope for that for anyone.

But no one except White knows exactly what he goes through, and no one can really know if he’ll be able to handle the stress in order to deal with it. There are so many things that go into a rookie being successful, and that’s before you get to something like his anxiety. He’s got to become a great ballplayer first, and he has a lot of hurdles in his way.

Jeff Blake, at the Houston Press, is another writer who steps forward.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe, feeling like you are suffering a heart attack. Your first instinct is to dial 911, but your hand is paralyzed, unable to move out of fear. You lay there, completely still, struggling with every breath without the power to speak. It’s dark. You’re alone. You think you are going to die.

And blogger Eric Freeman at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie

For most of my life, I’ve dealt with occasionally crippling anxiety episodes that manifest themselves both physically and mentally. While I don’t suffer from quickly manifesting panic attacks, as White does, my experience has always been that anxiety can get out of control with little warning — that a small feeling of uneasiness can compound itself and eventually turn into a debilitating situation filled with nausea, a lack of self-confidence, and the general sense that focusing on fixing anxiety only makes things worse.

The key is to learn to live with the problem, notice warning signs in their earliest forms, and manage the anxiety accordingly. To White’s credit, that’s exactly what he’s doing right now. His statements to Fox 26 and the Rockets’ reaction to his absence suggest that both parties have been very honest with each other about the problems and potential solutions.

And Angelo Benedetti of the blog, I Go Hard Now

The biggest problem with this fear is that it’s a vicious circle. The more I go out and do, the more my wanderlust grows. The more I live, the more I want. I want to go to Europe. I want to kiss the girl I love on some street in Paris. I want to be able to book a flight to New York City on a whim for a weekend or to fly out to California to visit my friends on the West coast. I want to visit my family in Italy and see where my ancestors lived. I want to go to Japan and get totally lost. I want all of this. But the more of these things I want, the more unfulfilled my life is staying put. This in turns makes the dread of having to confront my mortality all that much worse, which makes getting onto a plane all that more difficult, which then feeds into that un-fulfillment. I don’t know how to break this cycle, but I wish I did. I wish I knew where to start. Or that I could just throw myself into a situation where I’d have to get over it.

And Evan Dunlap at SB Nation, who notes — accurately — that the term “head case” is offensive trivializing of mental illness…

I’ll explain the situation this way: I’m a 24-year-old college student who’s fought depression and anxiety for half my life. I’m on a medication regimen and talk to a counselor on a regular basis in order to manage these illnesses. And yet every day is a struggle: anxiety disorder and depression aren’t mere bugaboos which one simply conquers and puts in one’s past. They do not go away. Those who suffer from these illnesses must work proactively to keep them at bay.

Even as someone who shares White’s affliction, I cannot imagine dealing with the pressure White does every day. As a professional athlete, he’s in the public eye year round, and with any luck at the NBA level, he’ll remain in the public eye for a decade or more. Therefore, his struggles will also be public. The scrutiny he will face — and already faces, in articles like Mayberry’s — must be terrifying.

Unfortunately for White, he’s trying to make a living and deal with his health problems in an arena that houses the occasional chucklehead sportswriter — like this one — and the ignorant sports fan. But it would appear from the coverage of White’s condition, they are nearer to minority status.

In their place, sportswriters and many fans stepped forward in the last 24 hours to make clear that this is a story about a condition, not a failing, and not a character flaw.

We have turned a significant corner.