Kevin Love’s Confession and the Importance of Talking About Mental Problems

It’s strange that when we struggle with something, our greatest concern isn’t what it’s doing to us. We’re worried about how it might change the way other people see us. We’re afraid that they’ll see our struggle as a weakness.

No one wants to appear weak. Especially when we’re in a position of leadership, power, and/or influence. And so, we hold our struggles in.

But a struggle is like a toxin, and the longer it’s held in, the more it poisons us until eventually, our systems begin to shut down.

That’s what happened to Kevin Love.

For those who don’t follow the NBA, Kevin Love is a 6’10, All-American, five-time All-Star basketball player who was drafted 5th overall in the 2008 NBA draft. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers were just in the NBA championship last year and won it two years ago.

All this to say, Kevin Love is a top-tier, high-performing athlete. He is the last type of person you’d expect to struggle with something like anxiety. After all, you need nerves of steel to compete at his level.

And yet, just a week ago, Kevin Love penned an article detailing his ongoing struggle with anxiety and a recent, mid-game panic attack that left him on his back, crippled with fear.

“I’ve never been good at talking about myself”

Like so many young men, especially athletes, Love was taught to keep your emotions tucked away inside.

“It’s like a playbook,” he writes. “Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through on your own.”

And that’s what Kevin did through childhood, high school, college, and a decade of playing in the NBA. In his sixth year of playing professionally, his grandma Carol passed away. It was a loss that hit Love harder than any defeat he had faced on the court.

“She was the pillar of our family. Growing up, she lived with us, and in a lot of ways she was like another parent to me and my brother and sister.”

Yet, he didn’t talk about it with anyone. He never let himself grieve. He never told anyone he felt guilty for losing touch with her at the end.

“I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.”

photo by Keith Allison

But everyone has a breaking point.

Despite coming off a championship appearance, the Cavs got off to a rough this year. On top of that, new family issues had arisen in Kevin’s life, and he wasn’t sleeping well. Finally, in the 10th game of the season, just after halftime, Kevin found himself struggling to catch his breath.

“It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk.”

The coach yelled something at him, but the words were muffled and shapeless. Love knew he couldn’t finish out the game. Instead, he ran to the locker room, scrambling and searching for any way to calm down.

“It was like my body was trying to say to me, ‘you’re about to die.’”

Finally, he ended up on his back on the floor of the empty locker room, paralyzed with fear and loneliness.

Following a series of events that he doesn’t entirely remember, Kevin ended up at the Cleveland Clinic, undergoing a variety of tests. Everything checked out, and he was released as if nothing had happened.

Though he felt an initial relief, fear quickly crept back into him. But his biggest fear wasn’t what was going on inside of his body.

He was worried people would find out.

And that’s when he realized he had a problem he had to confront.

“What I was worried about wasn’t just my own inner struggles but how difficult it was to talk about them. I didn’t want people to perceive me as somehow less reliable as a teammate, and it all went back to the playbook I’d learned growing-up.”

So he decided to make a change; he found a therapist.

He quickly discovered that his anxiety didn’t stem from his NBA playing but issues and emotions off the court that he had long ignored. It was during his therapy sessions that he became aware of the guilt he still carried from his grandma’s death.

 “I realized how many issues come from places that you may not realize until you really look into them.”

“Everybody is going through something we can’t see.”

Kevin didn’t think he had mental problems because he didn’t think that athletes were supposed to have mental problems. He learned the hard way that’s simply not the case. We all carry issues beneath the surface, invisible to those around us.

He hopes that by sharing his story, others will take a closer look at themselves and get help if needed.

This isn’t just an athlete problem. 18% of adults have anxiety disorders, yet only 37% of those adults seek treatment. And that’s just anxiety.

If you’re going through something, talk to someone about it. Don’t bury it and wait for an incident to occur. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Counselors, therapists, and psychologists are there for every type of mental, emotional, and spiritual struggle.

As Kevin Love says in the closing of his article:

“I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through. Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”

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