Alliance Profile – Chamique Holdsclaw
National College Basketball Player of the Year, First Overall Pick in the in the 1999 WNBA Draft, 6x WNBA All-Star, Olympic Gold Medal Winner
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
Being separated from my parents when I was child affected me. My father had mental health issues and my mother had addiction issues. I was raised by my grandmother in the projects and I definitely used my love for basketball as my escape. When I was a child, I did not understand my parents’ issues nor did I realize how it would affect me then, and now into adulthood. I also believe that I suffered in silence with my issues because it was very much a cultural practice to “pray away” my depression and not express my true feelings to my family or friends.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
I had anxiety and anger issues growing up. I was always having mood swings and acting out in school and at home. It was always hard for me to concentrate except for when I was playing basketball and reading. My grandmother was the only person that could calm me down when my anxiety worked me up. I would completely destroy my bedroom and anything that didn’t go my way, I would blow up. Being so competitive in basketball and sports, I felt as if it was equated to my passion, but looking back I know that I was battling depression and anxiety. I also think that not being able to talk about my feelings and not feeling safe enough to express myself made my anger grow and fester internally.
As I got older, and my talent and the acknowledgment of my talent was more paramount, I started to feel ashamed of my depression and constant mood swings. I was scared that my teammates would see that side of me and not like me or think something was wrong for me. So, I tried to hide my issues as much as I could. They just continued to grow and made it harder for me to keep my issues a secret. I was having suicidal thoughts and my episodes with depression and mania would last for days at a time. It took me to hit my rock bottom to finally seek help and live in my truth that I needed help, professional help.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
I was tired of living in fear. I had been playing professional basketball year round in the US and overseas and I was scared that my mental health issues would end my career. The more I would try to run from my issues, the more they were getting harder to hide. I had a few life changing episodes and then when I hit my rock bottom, I knew that it was time get the help that I needed – or I was going to lose my life. I had asked for help before, but I thought after a few therapy sessions and trying different medications I was cured or I fooled myself into thinking that I was getting better. I didn’t fully understand my mental health complications until I was ready to fully embrace that I had these disorders. I also had to learn that I couldn’t be cured completely. My recovery was going to have to be a day-by-day, lifelong battle. It was a difficult process to come to terms with the fact that I was sick and that I deserved to have knowledge and gain control of my mental health. I wanted to stop being afraid, and to help others to seek help and spread awareness for total physical and mental wellness.
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
Having a circle of family and friends that love and care about me and know what I am dealing with has been so key. The hardest part for me was speaking openly about what I went through and how I was feeling. I hid my truth for so long I didn’t even know how my friends and family would react to me embracing my conditions and recovery. I was also terrified about how the world would see me. I didn’t want my legacy on the court be tarnished by the fact that I suffered from these disorders. I was so ashamed. By finding safety in my core group of friends, I slowly but surely started to find my voice and then I connected with friends and family in a deeper way because they started sharing with me their own or familial mental health issues. It was so therapeutic to my soul to speak my truth! By telling my story, I was able to connect with so many more people in my life. I also find inspiration from others stories and I know that their strength gives me strength to continue to share my story.
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
I wanted to live my truth. I wanted to help myself and also be a voice to those that felt like they had to hide their truth. I wanted to help other little girls and boys like myself. I wanted to be a voice for minorities who have more of a culture of suffering in silence when it comes to mental health issues and sexuality. I wanted to make my younger self proud. I was tired of hiding from myself and the world for so many years. This new generation has given me life, too! Once I was able to tell my story with no fear, I was so empowered at how young people received it and expressed their truth. I really wanted to find peace for myself and found that sharing my story and helping others has brought me even greater peace within myself.
How did people react when you went public with your story?
It was an awesome experience with how many people embraced me for being honest about who I am and what I’m dealing with. When I agreed to be in a documentary about my mental health issues, I was so scared thinking about how my family, friends, and fans would react. I was finally on a path of recovery and then I didn’t want the reaction to affect me negatively. It was just the opposite. The outpouring of love and support was incredible! I was beyond anything I could have ever imagined or expected, and I wish I had sought help sooner. You too can share your #SameHere stories and the people who matter most will embrace you too.