It'll Find You

I've been trying to figure out why it is that I've got zero to say about Delonte West. Maybe it's because I'm fairly confident that he'll lawyer up hard and be ready for the start of the season. Or because the Michael Beasley saga, in all its opacity and yanking around after answers, ended up covering so much broad "mental illness in sports" territory.

Then I realized: It's because I'm neither amused, shocked, nor saddened by it. West is bipolar; so am I. That doesn't make me unsympathetic to his situation—on the contrary, to me it's almost mundane, the kind of thing you wake up from and shake your head at. Not that I've ever ended up strapped to the teeth on a mini-bike, re-enacting a scene from a shitty movie. But since no one got hurt, and the explanation is obvious, the specifics are neither here nor there. This is what happens when you go off your meds. The legal system knows this, and presumably, Delonte is a little closer to figuring it out.

So if I'm failing to come up with anything penetrating, or start any meaningful discussion, it's because this is so close to home, it's a non-entity. I don't even feel like having a conversation about living with said disorder, because that's not even interesting to me. It's the hand some are dealt. It probably explains why West is such a tremendous personality, and also reduces this incident to a feature-less bump in the road.

Update: Baseline column on West/coverage of Beasley.

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At 9/20/2009 9:54 AM, Blogger Teach said...

I had pretty much the same reaction. It reminded me of the times at school when the nurse or the head of special ed. comes and says, "if you've noticed so and so has been a little off this week, it's cause they quit taking their meds." I'm not saying meds. are a cure all for anything, but with certain disorders, they are a must.

At 9/20/2009 11:21 AM, Blogger Custom K said...

Really? Going off your meds leads to gunplay and reckless driving? I myself have been told that I am bipolar and should be taking something. Xanax, lithium, whatever Pfizer flavor-of-the-month. But I can't buy into the necessity of corporatized meds. I hardly even take tylenol for pain. I think you're right to point to the psychological nature of Beas and Delonte's problems. But, like Beas probably, I think the better solution is to self-medicate with natural substances as needed rather than to submit to a daily regimen that, once on, you can't go off without major consequences.

I'm guessing that after his bout of depression last year D was put on one of these regimens and he was able to have a solid year. But can you really call the treatment a success if he has already relapsed? Perhaps he was misdiagnosed. The fact that this was reported at the same time of his depression last year makes you think he could have more Seasonal Affective Disorder or some sort of anniversary-based grief moreso than bipolarism. In that case, the meds he was put on to enable him to get through the season could have created a problem that wasn't there.

Guns and psychology aside though, what is D West doing on a motorcycle speeding around in the offseason? Hasn't he ever heard of Jay Williams?

At 9/20/2009 11:27 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Not to get into a pissing contest over who's crazier. And I do believe that we live in an over-medicated society. But there's such a thing as a case that can't be managed just through meditation or . . pot?

At 9/20/2009 12:04 PM, Blogger Custom K said...

Believe me I know, psychological disorders are a tricky thing. But I wonder sometimes if being a twentysomething NBA multi-millionaire makes it impossible to deal with something so uniquely personal. To be so young and successful and to have so many people pull you in so many different directions, how can anyone really truly find out who they really are? I know when I was 24 years old, I had no clue but I sure didn't know it then.

We have to ask if the NBA is doing enough to ensure the psychological health of their players. Sure, they have taken steps like the rookie prep camp and the mandatory rehab, not to mention the cultivation of John Lucas / Tony Dungy types as veteran guiding lights, but I don't think it's enough. For example, does every team carry a psychiatrist on their medical staff? Or is it more of an outsourced thing?

This particular story is disturbing to me. Delonte seems like such an upstanding individual and he's always been one of my favorite underdogs and not just because he brings the fantasy spread stats but because he plays with such a passion and vigor and love that I wish everybody in the NBA would exhibit. But I just think that in the long run the Association would be better off image-wise addressing these issues at the beginning of a player's career by providing more tools than necessary to combat them. As opposed to the current practice of kind of band-aiding over the problem in the interest of the season, then finding out at the end of a player's career that the psychological issues a player might have had in his youth have only been magnified by their NBA experience a la Starbury. In a pissing contest of crazy, I'm pretty sure he'd be able to get across the Hudson.

At 9/20/2009 12:12 PM, Blogger ForEvers Burns said...

I can understand the desire not to spend too much time delving into West's psychiatric issues; bipolar disorder is incredibly complex and its manifestations vary themselves greatly from person to person and without knowing West's past psychiatric history, it's irresponsible to do a lot of speculating about what exactly is happening in this instance (though I think it's safe to agree with Shoals that DeLonte is suffering though a manic episode). For some individuals, manic episodes may be relatively harmless (reductions in sleep, reckless shopping sprees), for others they can be much more dangerous.

Hopefully, journalists will be responsible enough not to simply write off this incident as "typical thuggish NBA behavior," though many of the stories that I've read haven't bothered to mention that he'd been seeking treatment for a mood disorder (an ABC news story provided no context and offhandedly offered a comparison to Plaxico).

That said, while it's easy to speculate that West may be off his meds, he also could also have been totally compliant with his treatment. Lithium (probably about the furthest thing from a corporate drug, as no one really makes any money from it) has been around for over 100 years, isn't always effective as a mood stabilizer, and no one still knows exactly how it works; anti-seizure drugs are often used to combat manic episodes and their mechanism and efficacy is still up for debate. I've even seen an irresponsible physician or two actually induce manic episodes by prescribing standard anti-depressant medication for patients they didn't realize had bipolar disorder.

Basically, this shit is just really, really complicated and I hope the NBA and the public in general can withhold judgment on DeLonte (this is a private matter for him and his family and we'll probably never know all the details) and hope that he can get his illness under control.

At 9/20/2009 12:21 PM, Blogger Summer Anne said...

Custom K,

I get where you're going and for the most part you make sense, but as someone who used to feel the way you did about psych meds (I still think they're overprescribed for many), I have to say that I don't think you have a grasp on what severe bipolar disorder entails. Yes, going off your meds can absolutely lead to gunplay and reckless driving! Reckless driving is actually a huge problem among manic-phase bipolars -- like gambling, sex addiction, and recreational drug use.

Athletes seem to me to be particularly likely to be bipolar because the disease so often leads to great achievements that require a singular kind of dedication, followed by breakdowns where either the mania goes way too far and incidents like this happen, or -- like last year -- he swings in the other direction and becomes depressed.

Saying you don't "buy into the necessity of corporatized meds" for cases like this is basically signing a death wish for many, many people. Severe bipolar patients off of medication are at risk to attempt suicide, emotionally abuse their families, get into car wrecks, kill someone, damage property, go bankrupt, start fights, and generally hurt themselves and the world around them. I'm not saying that is the case for every person who is diagnosed as bipolar -- but it is the case for many and to deny that is just showing ignorance of what really happens to these people.

And I'm not here to proselytize about marijuana, trust me, but suggesting that all bipolar patients should just "self-medicate" is pretty dangerous territory. A drug that can be harmless and fun for "the rest of us" can ramp up bipolar symptoms and just cause further problems. I have seen it first hand.

At 9/20/2009 12:38 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Losing track of who said what, and of course compelled to respond to it all. . .

Burns (I think) is right on about just how complicated med management is for manic depression (fuck it, old words).

I actually felt a little guilty last night for saying West was "off his meds," since that was based mostly on the fact that his earlier issues/time away came from that. But someone can be under the care of a doctor and either try switching meds (lithium is the devil), or feel he's in good enough shape to scale back to something more "normal" like an SSRI--Burns frowns on it, but if the brain can take it, that's kind of the "made it!" stage for older cases.

(email me and we can argue about the relative effectiveness of anti-seizure meds, or those as part of cocktails)

And Anne, agreed that the pot comment was inane. There's a reason I've smoked like twice in the last decade. The self-medication that usually comes with manic depressives is a tad heavier than that. So if you're saying West should become a drunk, or cokehead, rather than fall under the oppressive yoke of corporate pharma. . . that is borderline irresponsible, even if it works for you.

(btw Ziller told me he was laying off writing about this until the toxicology reports came back, but to me, those are incidental.)

If anything, this makes me that much more impressed with what West's accomplished in the league.

FINALLY, not to belittle anyone, but bipolar disorder is the new ADHD. Which is to say, that diagnosis is being handed out like crazy, from a very young age, to explain away a lot of things. West's behavior is the fact of what a real, serious case of it looks like.

At 9/20/2009 1:09 PM, Blogger Custom K said...

Just to clarify. I definitely don't mean to suggest that all those affected by bipolarism should toss their meds in the trash and head off to The Chief's for a couple of ounces. But rather I highlighted two extremes to indicate that such psychological disorders are uniquely personal and often require a lot of introspection in order to be successful. What works for one person might not work for the next person even though they might exhibit the exact same symptoms. I don't think being an NBA player offers the most conducive environment to address these types of issues effectively.

The most troubling aspect of this story is that most people (you know the kind of people that only know who Shaq Kobe and Lebron are and have no idea that West is LBJ's starting 2) will immediately compare this story to that of Plaxico Burress. I want to commend FD for not taking that angle on this story (not that I thought Shoals would ever be so shallow). But the fact that the casual fan so quickly jumps to this conclusion highlights that the NBA needs to do some hard thinking on this subject. Is the Association doing all that it can to promote the psychological well-being of its athletes? After this summer of hijinks by JR, Marbury, Beas and now West, I think the answer is a resounding NO. It would be in the NBA's best interest to flip that, don't you think?

At 9/20/2009 1:23 PM, Blogger Summer Anne said...

"Which is to say, that diagnosis is being handed out like crazy, from a very young age, to explain away a lot of things. West's behavior is the fact of what a real, serious case of it looks like."

Thank you!!

This is a huge problem: teenagers and young adults who have mood swings (like teenagers and young adults do) are diagnosed as "bipolar" by bad doctors, go on medication, don't feel like "themselves", get off of the meds and do just fine (because they aren't bipolar!) and then assume that all psychiatric meds are "bullshit". Or they see this pattern happen to one of their friends and draw the same conclusion.

It's frustrating because it leads to a feeling among otherwise cool, smart folks that there is something inherently ignorant or weak about taking psychiatric drugs for real, serious conditions -- and the opposite is true. It is HARD for real bipolar patients to agree to medication -- when you're in a manic state, you're often able to accomplish amazing things, and you feel great about everything you're doing. But for most of them, it is literally a life-saver -- at the very least a family, bank account, and career saver.

I don't know for sure that West was literally "off his meds" but I feel fairly confident that if he was prescribed the "right" combination of psychiatric medication for his condition and stayed on it, he could avoid incidents like this in the future.

At 9/20/2009 1:46 PM, Blogger Custom K said...

Precisely Anne, it is the "right" combination of corporate meds/homeopathic remedies/family support that is so hard to arrive at for anyone with bipolar disorder, much less NBA players who are distracted by their crew, focused on team goals rather than individual health, completely overwhelmed by their recent social and economic ascendancy etc. All I ask is: Are we sure that the Cavs/NBA/Delonte himself have done the best they possibly can to try and find the "right" combination? Or did they just ask a doctor or two, move on with last season's work, and hope that was the answer.

I'm leaving work now... so no more from me but I want to apologize if I offended anyone. But, really, this has been enlightening. Thanks.

I still think someone needs to bite on the Jay Williams slant here.


At 9/20/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

This is pretty dark and uncomfortable territory, so forgive me if my comment seems in poor taste. But it occurs to me that there's a strange discrepancy between the "mentally unstable" (don't like that term, obviously) athlete and other young/successful people. As a society, we're somewhat primed for the possible news that a "troubled" young actor or musician has committed suicide, yet it's still a somewhat forlorn concept in athletics.

When there were whisperings of potentially suicidal thoughts (real or speculated/sensationalized as they may have been) being externalized by the likes of Terrell Owens and Vince Young, I was sort of shocked at the lack of impact they had seemed to make on the public's discussion of those athletes. It was as though the possibility of those extreme acts seemed inconceivable for an NFL player, and it only seemed to fuel the already ongoing discussion of those players for their perceived faults on the field rather than reflecting any sort of genuine concern for their mental well being.

The fact is, the only athlete I can remember actually committing suicide is Ricky Berry, the kid the Kings drafted in '88. Frankly, for the amount of difficulty people seem to have maintaining stable, manageable lives for all their opportunities and means, there seems to be a shockingly low number of physical casualties from things like depression in sports.

That can't hold true forever, can it? Without making any personal judgments about Delonte West (whom I've always quite liked) isn't it just a matter of time before the story about a kid with a lot of money and talent, a complicated mental history of diagnoses/misdiagnoses and prescriptions, and some guns ends in the most predictable way possible?

At 9/20/2009 2:43 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

a complicated mental history of diagnoses/misdiagnoses and prescriptions, and some guns ends in the most predictable way possible?

There's really no predictable outcome here. That's the point. And the difference between "bad apples" and the likes of West.

At 9/20/2009 3:12 PM, Blogger Brendan K said...

Dunno. Maybe I'm too much a product of my times, because Cobain and Elliott Smith loom so large... And I could never say that I "expected" somebody to take their own life. But as tragic and shocking a thing suicide is it's something we certainly recognize is also not nearly uncommon enough. That it seems to be so strangely absent among pro athletes- for reasons that I just don't really understand- triggers some weirdly fatalistic sense that Ricky Berry cannot be the last such story.

Anyway, your point is well taken, and I second the sentiment above that leagues/teams/management should emphasize an accepting, supportive climate conducive to helping players manage their mental well-being.

For the risk of sounding totally out of my depth in the topic, I'll respectfully acquit myself of the conversation now.

At 9/20/2009 4:34 PM, Blogger Sweat of Ewing said...

Bipolar disorder, often overdiagnosed. But jesus, having seen the difference in patients on versus off lithium (or carbamazepine, or whatever else works in some individual case), I'd never talk smack about so-called corporatized medications. For severe bipolar patients, the meds are the difference between holding down a job and deciding to buy out every hardware store in their city. About the worst thing you can do (for almost anyone) with bipolar disorder is try to self-medicate - that's why we see so many patients addicted to cocaine and alcohol, as they try to level themselves out.

At 9/20/2009 4:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I do feel the need to be somewhat fair and balanced here, even if that initial anti-meds comment wasn't in that vein. As you know, these are fairly strong drugs with occasionally nasty side effects. Some just don't work (or do enough relative to the side effects) for some people; some people are a bitch to medicate correctly. I think it's important to get it out there that being alienated from meds is not always a frivolous state.

At 9/21/2009 12:59 PM, Blogger sublicon said...

Lost my mom last year - won't say I lost her to bi-polar disorder, but I definitely lost her as a result. I have the same reaction to things like this.

At 9/21/2009 2:26 PM, Blogger AZV321 said...

I don't know if this is wholly relevant (although I don't think it's entirely irrelevant), but West and Beasley are both from Prince George's County, Maryland. On a superficial level, it's an extension of the DC metropolitan area. But it's also underprivileged, minority-heavy, dangerous, and drug-laden.

I'm not trying to create excuses or conspiracy theories, but dealing with what these guys (and other athletes from hardened backgrounds) had to deal with is bound to create a ton of mental stress. Especially when it comes to balancing ties to your past and realizations about your current celebrity status.

At 9/21/2009 2:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

And let's not forget that these are communities where mental illness still has a stigma attached to it.

At 9/21/2009 7:24 PM, Blogger Robato Kun said...

I was gonna say, rock on Shoals, we all a little crazy, yo.

At 9/23/2009 12:26 AM, Blogger breene said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/23/2009 2:05 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Completely off topic, but ...

Lamar, seriously, 12 days?! Far be it from me to judge someone else's relationships, ... but damn. If i were a Lakers fan i wouldn't know how to feel (aka what this says about his state of mind).

Again, nothing personal here, but... it does eventually cross over into the basketball sphere, this story. And it is surprising, to say the least.


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