Empathy for Delonte West

This guest contribution is from Jordan White, founder of Blame it on the Basketball

“Struggle” isn’t the right word when you’re dealing with bipolar disorder. You struggle with a math problem or with a leaky faucet. To deal with being bipolar is to fight a war. I know because it’s a war I’ve been fighting since I was fourteen. And though my condition is currently well managed, I still remember every battle. They weren’t easy battles, especially in the beginning, because I fought them alone. The battles became easier though once I learned how to use one word: help.

These tweets were part of Delonte West’s disturbing Twitter rampage on Saturday night following a win over the Hornets. In his tweets, West also blasted Brian Windhorst, the media in general and lamented his current financial situation. And while those tweets were certainly disturbing, it was the ones shown above, the ones about his living situation, that I found the most disturbing.Despite athletes such as former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke publicly discussing his social anxiety, mental illness is still a taboo subject in professional sports. This is the reason I root for Delonte West, because he isn’t afraid to admit he has a serious mental illness. He has been a model for any athlete with a bipolar or any mental illness to follow. Yes, he made some idiotic mistakes, but the way he fought back from those mistakes was truly inspiring.

That’s why this most recent episode is so hard to swallow. The messages about West sleeping in the car or in the gym seem to indicate a relapse in his fight with depression. It’s frustrating and hurtful to see because his situation, while unfortunate, is treatable. The obvious rejoinder to West, a multi-million dollar athlete, is “why doesn’t he get a hotel room” or “why doesn’t he rent a house?” Those questions, while relevant, are too easy, and don’t come close to the source of the problem. The correct question is: “why hasn’t he asked for help?”Help.

It’s a simple, small word. It’s not hard to say, but to anyone with bipolar, it is damned near impossible to ask for.

One of the biggest misconceptions about bipolar is that it is only a mental disease. It’s all in your head.  Ask anyone with bipolar if that’s true, and they’ll tell you they only wish it were so.

Bipolar takes a toll on you mentally and physically. You feel heavier, not necessarily fatter, but rather as if gravity effects you fifty times more than a normal person. Some people shake uncontrollably, while others are constantly fighting back tears. The physical manifestation of bipolar can differ from person to person, which is one reason it’s so hard to manage. Now go guard Dwyane Wade with all that going on.

While the physical symptoms of bipolar can change from person to person, mentally speaking, a commonality in most bipolar people is the feeling of loneliness. It’s a feeling that, by and large is based off a lie: I feel alone because I am alone.  In reality, no one is truly alone. Be it family, friends, teachers, therapists, there is always someone there willing to help. It’s not a realization that comes easily or quickly, but once it does, it turns the tide of the fight.

A team’s actions off the court define them just as much as their accomplishments on the court. And while it would be easy to point the finger at West’s teammates for not offering to help, we don’t know if that’s true. Further, I’m not so sure it would matter. There’s a big difference between an offer of help and asking for it. An offer is passive, an open invitation, and doesn’t necessarily imply immediate action. It’s like a friend saying “I’m here if you need anything.” The sentiment, while important and appreciated, is in a way hollow. Asking for help, on the other hand, is an action. It implies the person wants to get better.

Judging by his last recovery, it seems as if Delonte West does want to get better. But in the macho world of professional sports, it’s easy to imagine that asking for help of this kind is even harder than for an every day victim of bipolar. Asking for help can imply weakness, or frailty. West has been one of the toughest players in the NBA since he entered the league. Here’s hoping he finds the strength to acknowledge his weakness and seek help.

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  1. [...] not hard to say, but to anyone with bipolar, it is damned near impossible to ask for.” [White/HoopSpeak] ALSO CHECK OUT: A Teachable Moment [...]

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