My Mental Health Journey: How Basketball helped save my life

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One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions. I am one of them. My name is Yamil Roman and I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Here is a quick overview of what these disorders are and a few examples of how they have affected my life:

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) 

MDD is a type of depression that consists of constant and persistent feelings of sadness over an extended period of time. Symptoms include having low energy, feeling sad, irritability, sleep disturbances, loss of interest in normal activities, anxiety and many more.  As you might imagine, living my life as “normal” as possible is difficult at times with MDD. Simple tasks such as getting up out of bed in the mornings or getting ready for work can be daunting. 

Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, worry or nervousness. One might get anxiety when finding themselves in a new situation or being in large crowds just to name a few instances. Anxiety can be crippling and at times, it has been for me. It has prevented me from getting job opportunities, hanging out with friends and even attending college. (Side Note: there are different types of anxiety but I am still figuring out which type I have). 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts or memories, flashbacks, anxiety, hypervigilance, isolation, nightmares and more. I just recently found out I had PTSD. My PTSD is a result of witnessing the graphic murder of my father when I was 4 years old. It has left many unseen scars that are still attempting to heal. 

My life has been difficult to say the least. I’ve been homeless, witnessed the death of my father, grew up with a mom that dealt with substance abuse issues (she’s been clean for over 15 years now, go mom!), and so many more setbacks and obstacles. Depression, anxiety and PTSD hopped along for the ride.

Growing up with depression, anxiety and PTSD was tiresome and tough. Through the early years, I had no coping mechanisms. I had nothing to help me through the mess aside from support from my family but even that wasn’t enough sometimes. I felt very alone until I discovered basketball.

When I was 16, I discovered the Philadelphia 76ers. My family was going through an ordeal at the time and I was staying with a friend of mine. My friend only played one thing on TV: basketball. He wasn’t a Sixers fan but they were our local team so they were the only team we could watch. The first game I watched on television was Michael Carter-Williams’ debut. He dropped 22 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists and 9 steals. The Sixers beat the LeBron-led Miami Heat 114-110. That was the beginning of what would be known to Sixers fans as “The Process”. Little did I know that it was also the beginning of my healing process.

Some would say that I chose a terrible time to become a Sixers fan. The process-era Sixers had some of the worst records in NBA history and horribly laughable moments that we would all like to forget. However, I loved them. No matter how many points they were down by or how outmatched they were, they always gave 110% and never quit. Their unwillingness to give up was something that resonated with me. It became a principle that I live by.

Over time, I fell in love with the game. It became more than just a distraction from my life. It became my passion. I studied tapes of old games from the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s. I read books that detailed the lives of legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving. Basketball eventually took over my life. It was my everything. 

It became a way of life for me. Without it, I’m not sure that I would be writing this today. It has honestly saved my life. If it weren’t for my mother, sister and the 76ers, life could have gone in a completely different direction for me.

I wanted to share a bit of my story with you all because I know how difficult it can be to speak about your problems. I currently have a wonderful therapist who I see every week who helps me through all of my issues. It wasn’t an easy step to take but it was a necessary one. 

If you find yourself feeling trapped, alone and depressed like I once did, please take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. You are not a freak. You are not unloved. There is help out there. I am fortunate enough to have discovered basketball and have amazing family members that love and support me. I know some of you might not be as lucky as I am but please know that there is always someone out there more than willing to listen.

If you do need someone to talk to, I am here for you. Shoot me a DM on Twitter (my username is below) or contact me through this website. It might seem difficult to reach out for help but it is the first step in overcoming our obstacles. Sometimes, all that we need is a friend.  

 Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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