From the outside, Kevin Love seems like someone to envy — a millionaire professional basketball player who has even done a bit of modeling.
But Love wants you to know that inside, he was in turmoil.Instagram/kevinlove
As Love, who plays for Cleveland Cavaliers, wrote in The Players Tribune, he spent the first three decades of his life believing that being a man meant acting strong and not talking to others about your feelings.
Love says that he understood this from a young age, and by age 29 had gotten to the point where he didn’t share much of his personal thoughts, not even to family and close friends. He wrote:
So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.
But everything changed when Love had a panic attack during a November 5 game against the Hawks.
— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) November 8, 2017
Love mentions a number of stresses that were weighing on him that day — family problems, trouble sleeping, high expectations from fans disappointed by a lackluster start to the season. He didn’t play well in the first half of the game, and felt something was “wrong” from the start.
During a third quarter timeout, Love’s panic attack started in earnest:
When I got to the bench, I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my 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. I remember our assistant coach yelling something about a defensive set. I nodded, but I didn’t hear much of what he said. By that point, I was freaking out. When I got up to walk out of the huddle, I knew I couldn’t reenter the game — like, literally couldn’t do it physically.
As the coaches tried to figure out what was wrong, Love bolted toward the locker room:
I was running from room to room, like I was looking for something I couldn’t find. Really I was just hoping my heart would stop racing. It was like my body was trying to say to me, You’re about to die. I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe.
Love ended up at the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors ran tests to figure out what was wrong. When they couldn’t detect any physical problems, Love was relieved and returned to work. But he was still wondering, “Wait … then what the hell just happened?” as he left the hospital.
At first, he was glad no one seemed to know or care about why he’d left the Hawks game. But as the days passed, he began to ponder why he was worried that someone might learn about his panic attack.
That was when Love realized he was concerned that others would perceive it as a failing, that they might think he is “less reliable as a teammate.” It was a wake-up call he couldn’t ignore:
As much as part of me wanted to, I couldn’t allow myself to dismiss the panic attack and everything underneath it. I didn’t want to have to deal with everything sometime in the future, when it might be worse. I knew that much.
That’s how Love found himself in a therapist’s office. After years of thinking he didn’t need therapy, that the very fact of being a basketball player was proof that he was healthy, he had to acknowledge he needed help. He wrote:
In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. Coaches, trainers and nutritionists have had a presence in my life for years. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe.
Love was skeptical during his first appointment and had “one foot out the door.” But to his surprise, the therapist didn’t focus on basketball or his career, but on the other things in Love’s life.
“The reason I’m telling you about my grandma isn’t really even about her. I still miss her a ton and I’m probably still grieving in a way, but I wanted to share that story because of how eye-opening it was to talk about it.” – @KevinLove
— The Players’ Tribune (@PlayersTribune) March 7, 2018
After several appointments, Love had a breakthrough. And it all went back to his unresolved grief for his grandmother. Love explained that his Grandmother Carol was “the pillar” of his 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. She was the woman who had a shrine to each of her grandkids in her room — pictures, awards, letters pinned up on the wall. And she was someone with simple values that I admired.
After Love started his basketball career, he didn’t see his grandmother often, though she remained an important part of his life:
During my sixth year with the T-Wolves, Grandma Carol made plans to visit me in Minnesota for Thanksgiving. Then right before the trip, she was hospitalized for an issue with her arteries. She had to cancel her trip. Then her condition got worse quickly, and she fell into a coma. A few days later, she was gone.
Love was devastated by his grandmother’s death. But talking about it with the therapist helped him understand that not talking about his grief had made things worse:
I realized that what hurt most was not being able to say a proper goodbye. I’d never had a chance to really grieve, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years. But I had buried those emotions since her passing and said to myself, “I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.”
What’s more, that habit of burying his feelings was hurting him in ways he is only starting to understand. While talking may not get rid of your problems, Love said he’s learned that talking can help you understand your problems better.
— The Players’ Tribune (@PlayersTribune) October 19, 2017
For Love, his breakthrough wasn’t about the value of going to a therapist. Rather, it was about accepting that you need help. And while he isn’t suggesting that everyone share their deepest secrets, he does think that we need to create “a better environment for talking about mental health.”
After seeing another player and friend go public with his own mental health issues, Love hopes that we can remember one very important point:
Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.
Love says that because mental health issues can be invisible, there’s no way to know who is suffering or why. But by not talking about these issues, we can hurt ourselves and deny ourselves the chance to help others.
That’s why Love has a message to anyone who might be reluctant to open up and seek help:
So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.
He added, “Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”