After years of allowing what he calls the "playbook" of masculinity to dictate his every move, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is opening up about his mental health and experience with panic attacks.
In a heartfelt essay for The Players' Tribune, the 29-year-old NBA All-Star describes his first panic attack, which happened during the third quarter of the Cavaliers' match against the Atlanta Hawks on November 5, 2017.
"I was stressed about issues I'd been having with my family. I wasn't sleeping well. On the court, I think the expectations for the season, combined with our 4–5 start, were weighing on me," he writes.
Just after halftime, Love began to experience the symptoms of a panic attack.
"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," he writes. "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."
He was soon taken to the Cleveland Clinic where his physical health was cleared, but the frightening experience would change his view of mental health forever.
"If you're suffering silently like I was, then you know how it can feel like nobody really gets it. Partly, I want to do it for me, but mostly, I want to do it because people don't talk about mental health enough."
Though Love initially feared that seeking professional help would make him seem weak, he eventually decided to see a therapist. During his sessions, he realized that he hadn't allowed himself to properly grieve the passing of his grandmother, and talking about it has helped him to heal.
"In the short time I've been meeting with the therapist, I've seen the power of saying things out loud in a setting like that," he writes. "I'm not saying, 'Everyone go see a therapist.' The biggest lesson for me since November wasn't about a therapist — it was about confronting the fact that I needed help."
Men and boys, in particular, are typically less likely to discuss their mental health, Love notes, because it's in opposition to the idea of masculinity they're taught at a young age.
"Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to 'be a man.' It's like a playbook: Be strong. Don't talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own," he writes. "These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they're everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water."
Since his piece was published, several celebrities have showered Love with support, including teammate and fellow NBA All-Star LeBron James. "You're even more powerful now than ever before @kevinlove!!!," James tweeted on Tuesday. "Salute and respect brother!"
And actor Ben Stiller shared the essay with his Twitter followers.
Love's message is incredibly important, considering that more than 40 million American adults suffer from a form of anxiety disorder and about 6 million are affected by panic disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
His essay shows that you don't have to be on the brink of a total meltdown to benefit from therapy, and you can start to feel positive change after just one visit. And as Love emphasizes, simply recognizing that you need help and opening up to your support system is a huge step toward healing.
Love is also breaking down barriers surrounding mental health among men — providing a role model for boys who might be experiencing the same issues. Wendy M. O'Connor, Psy.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Brentwood, California, tells LIVESTRONG.COM that setting an example for boys is key to ending the stigma.
"Men who are role models with good health care — who let their families know that going to the doctor is a normal activity — pass that on to their sons," she says. "If they aren't scared about health issues and they can talk about them, the conversation becomes normalized."
Overall, Love's essay is a win in our book! Let's hope it encourages more people to be open about the struggles they face and to seek help when needed.
What Do YOU Think?
Why do you think it's important to discuss mental health? Why do men have a hard time opening up about their mental health? What are other ways to cope with anxiety other than going to therapy? Share your thoughts in the comments section.