This came out in today's paper, and addresses almost the exact same issues as survivors, that are so taboo and responsible. I brought up the article with a coworker, who shied away from any mention of "psychological blocks" in favor of "psychological pressure", and any possibility of child abuse. He even preferred the notion of unworthiness to play. This, then, is a revolutionary article, it seems to me:
Ricky Williams Speaks Out About Anxiety Disorder
By THOMAS GEORGE
eeling like a river flowing backward, like an airplane with broken wings, Ricky Williams cloaked himself at every turn, digging deeper into seclusion.
How could a professional football player who had won the Heisman Trophy at Texas and who had become a celebrated New Orleans Saints draft pick in 1999 reach such misery? Everything, he said, was falling apart.
He looked in the mirror and saw pure pain.
"When you make that crossover from life to real life, when you're not treated as a child anymore but as a man, and you are no longer given the benefit of the doubt, it takes some courage to face that," Williams said yesterday in an interview at The New York Times.
"Once I got to the pros, fans used to come up to me and I'd look straight at the ground and step backward and would feel sick to my stomach," he said, maintaining eye contact, one of the little things he has learned in cognitive behavioral therapy. "I would drive home and see people wearing my No. 34 jersey and wonder why, because I didn't feel worthy of that. And all the time I just knew people were staring at me, talking about me everywhere I went."
In February 2001, Williams learned he had social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. People with this disorder have an intense fear of being scrutinized, dread everyday situations and avoid conversation or contact with other people. Behind depression and alcoholism, social anxiety disorder is the third most common psychiatric condition, affecting more than 10 million Americans.
Williams is being paid to speak out about his problem by GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the medication he takes, Paxil, the only federally approved drug for social anxiety disorder. He has been taking the drug once a day and attending therapy once a week since the diagnosis.
Williams was relieved by the diagnosis. It helped explain why he had failed to mesh with his Saints teammates, who viewed him as odd and aloof. He used to conduct news media interviews with his helmet on and frequently wore a baseball cap tugged over his eyes.
"I learned I wasn't crazy or a freak after all," he said.
He learned he could step out of darkness.
And since his trade to the Miami Dolphins in March, Williams sees even more new light.
"One of the quotes I've run across in my therapy is, `Say hello to someone you haven't seen in a long time — your real self,' " he said. "In therapy, I see myself in the mirror differently. And in Miami I see a change coming for my career. This is a great place and team for me."
Miami is starving for a thunderous running game.
Williams, 25, thirsts to get back to running purposefully and freely.
He certainly did that growing up in San Diego. He played baseball and football; both sports came naturally to him, but football was his top game. He grew up with his mother and two sisters after his parents divorced when he was 5. It was then, he said, that he began developing into a loner.
"Growing up with two sisters, you either play by yourself or play Barbie with them," he said. "I played by myself. And I grew into the type of person who felt like he was missing something if he wasn't at home."
His coaches became his father figures, and throughout high school and college he found electric success in football. Mike Ditka, the Saints' coach at the time, traded all of the team's picks in 1999 and first- and third-round picks in 2000 to Washington to choose Williams at No. 5.
This put enormous pressure on Williams to perform, but he missed four games his rookie year because of elbow and ankle injuries. Ditka was then fired. In his second season Williams rushed for 1,000 yards but played in only the first 10 games because he broke an ankle.
That was when Williams crashed.
"The team went to the playoffs and I wasn't a part of that," he said. "I had always been viewed in sports, in football, as a superhuman, a star, but now I was ignored and in a cast and not part of anything. The looks I was getting from people, the way I accepted them, I began to stress out.
"By the time our season was over, I was miserable. I started thinking: `Here I am a young man, a millionaire, sitting at home, not wanting to leave and my relationships with my mom, my sisters, my daughter are all miserable. Can it be all of them?' It had to be partly me."
He sought help that winter and received a quick diagnosis.
"Ricky and I talked on the phone several times before we met for our first session back in February of 2001," Janey Barnes, his former therapist, said from New Orleans. "He was secure at home or on the field, but there was work to be done on him gaining a different light on what was real and not real. Often in cases like these, you are trying to change the voice in their mind."
And that cannot be done in severe social disorder cases by "simply pulling up your bootstraps," said Jerilyn Ross, chief executive of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, based in Washington.
"Some ask, `Isn't everyone shy?' " Ross said. "Yes, but not to the point where it is pervasive or crippling. It is like two people who have chest pain. One may be from a sour meal. The other may be from a heart attack. People need to know this is a treatable disorder."
Williams said it would have never worked in New Orleans because Ditka had drafted him, banked on him, and Jim Haslett, the Saints' current coach, inherited him. Since the Dolphins have had only two 1,000-yard rushers in the past 23 seasons, Williams, who rushed for 1,245 yards last season, could be their best offensive anchor since quarterback Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season.
What happens if Williams is injured or he does not excel?
"I'm a more mature person now who knows my identity is not wrapped up solely in football and that things can happen," said Williams, who has a new passion for photography. "I've learned to take two steps forward from any mistakes. But I also believe that working hard solves a lot of those problems on the field."
He has realized that, he said, since he was a child who awoke practicing his spin moves on a kitchen chair and his stiff arms on cereal boxes sitting on the table.
"I always took pride in being different, but when I didn't have success in football my differences became a negative," he said. "That cleared the way for me to solve my problems, and I hope others with this disorder can see that can happen for them, too. Because the great thing about my disorder is I can say I don't have it now, but I did."