News and Tribune

October 16, 2012

BEAM: A different type of fear factor

By AMANDA BEAM
Local columnist

— Looking at Royce White, you wouldn’t think he’d be afraid of anything. Drafted last spring by the Houston Rockets, the 6-foot 8-inch, 260-pound forward exudes power.

Take a gander at his huge, tatted-up biceps or his long fingers as he palms the ball. More importantly, examine his stats. At Iowa State University, he lead his team in points, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks.

No, you wouldn’t think anything would scare White. But you’d be wrong. White has generalized anxiety disorder, a condition that manifests in many different ways. In an interview he gave to CNN reporter Jill Martin Wrenn, White’s anxiety heightens when he flies on airplanes, so much so he panics before stepping foot on a flight.

He also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, another anxiety-related illness. Already this season, White missed his first week of training camp due to his issues and is now working on a plan to take a bus to nearby away games.

Although his condition appears to be unique among NBA players, in the general population, White is not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental illness in America. Roughly $42 billion is spent on treating the illness in the U.S. every year. In general, women are more than twice as likely to have anxiety as men. Yet only about a third of people suffering from the condition receive treatment.

Mental illness for this condition is a harsh word, albeit a truthful one. I prefer “relaxingly challenged.” No one wants to acknowledge they have something wrong with their minds. Mental disorders happen in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” psych wards, not in cozy homes filled with warmth and laughter.

The thing is most people with the illness don’t know what is normal. Before I was diagnosed with anxiety 13 years ago, I believed my thoughts and actions were the same as everyone else. How would I know any different? Surely everyone worries obsessively about death or tests or whether or not they’re liked. It’s human nature, right?

Then I began to notice things like how I would feel dread in my stomach if I missed saying my prayers before bed. I’d stay up late thinking about everything and anything, and wake up again in the night to think some more.

After the attacks of 9/11, things got worse. How was I the only one who was uneasy about the emergency exits of a stadium? What if a terrorist tried to detonate a bomb or a fire started, or even if a tornado hit? At the movies, others also must sit in the very back row of the theater so they can make sure no one can do anything strange behind them.

And don’t get me started on airplanes. To me, it’s crazy how a metal cylinder can float through the air. Humans were born without wings for a reason. Shouldn’t we all be a little apprehensive about it?

Yes, I know that traveling by car, statistically speaking, is much more dangerous than flying. And the threat of an attack happening in my daily Southern Indiana life is next to nil. I’ve read about the mechanics of flight, or the ways in which security has been heightened to prevent attacks. But somehow my mind doesn’t care, and I react in a panic regardless. So I think about what to do if the most mundane situation arises. No rational explanations can quell my fears nor stop my preparations to deal with these strange situations if they happen to arise.

Several advantages due exist for those of us with anxiety. In case the zombie apocalypse arrives, our fight or flight response is primed. We’re more aware of our surroundings and are ready for danger. In fact, William Lee of the Institute of Psychiatry and colleagues concluded in one of his studies that people who have anxiety suffer fewer accidents than those who do not.

Of course, increased anxiety and stress can also have a negative effect on the body including a greater chance of developing gastrointestinal disorders and heart disease.

Luckily, anxiety can be controlled by medication, counseling and other lifestyle changes. I use exercise to manage my condition. And deep breaths. Lots of deep breaths. I also know my triggers. It’s not foolproof, but at least it’s a start.

Hopefully, White also will be able to manage his anxiety so that he can live his dream of playing professional basketball. If anything, we should praise him for his openness about his condition. People who talk about their own struggles help to remove the stigma surrounding the disease.

Royce White might be physically tough on the hardwood, but through his honesty and courage, his true strength is even more apparent off the basketball court.

No stats are needed to prove that.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com or visit her blog at HoosierMandy.com