When Chamique Holdsclaw first opens her eyes each morning, she reminds herself to say three words, “I’m so thankful.” Then she proceeds to take her pills because she knows that the sun coming up in the morning is a given, but her body chemistry is not.
Holdsclaw, once one of WNBA’s brightest stars, has been battling dark days most of her life. In the public’s eye, she was once hailed as the “female Michael Jordan” of the basketball world, but in her own mind, she was suffering something on and off the court. Her depression became so profound in 2006 that she overdosed on prescription medication. Years later, in 2012, things got worse after she instigated a phsyical altercation with an ex-girlfriend, causing her to think about taking her life again. Holdsclaw survived the incident, but was left facing two counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal damage in the first degree, two counts of criminal damage in the second degree and one count of possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.
It’s a shocking criminal history for a celebrated athlete who once led University of Tennessee to three consecutive NCAA women’s basketball championships in the late 1990s and then enjoyed a successful pro career after going No. 1 in the WNBA draft to the Washington Mystics.
But today, she’s grateful it happened, as the incident caused her to seek professional help. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.
“The thing I’m most excited about right now is to be living and managing my recovery,” Holdsclaw, 39, told Excelle Sports in a phone interview.
[More from Excelle: Ex-Tennessee Lady Vols react to former head coach Pat Summitt’s death]
A big part of Holdsclaw’s recovery is talking about exactly what happened to her. During her own childhood growing in Queens, New York, and throughout her collegiate and pro career, the basketball star says she often bottled up what was going on in her brain, ignoring the possibility of mental health issues.”I’ve always had this feeling with my illness that no one’s there, that no one cares,” she said.
That gut-sinking feeling of being all alone is one reason Holdsclaw is now on a mission to share her story and show others that people do, in fact, care—and care deeply. “My focus and direction is touching young people,” said Holdsclaw, who tours the country telling her story and talking about mental health in schools. “It really means having these conversations with younger kids, getting pieces and programs in school systems and speaking about mental health and illness in a positive way.”
Earlier this year, Holdsclaw published the book Breaking Through: Beating the Odds Shot after Shot an autobiography about her journey with depression. Her story was also told in the documentary Mind/Game Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, which aired on Logo in 2016. “Everybody has a story and this film has allowed people to take a deeper walk with me,” she said.
[More from Excelle: A look back at Pat Summitt’s eight national titles at Tennessee]
For Holdsclaw, sharing her story is the best way she knows to break the social stigma that surrounds mental health issues. “It is OK to talk about these things, and I think we are going to start to see a change,” she said. “There are a bunch of people who are passionate and all coming together to break down these borders.”
All of this is not to say that everything is now bright and sunny in Holdsclaw’s world.
“Some days I wake up and it’s debilitating,” she said. “My mind will tell me, ‘I’m worthless, I’m nothing, I don’t want to be here on this earth anymore’ … But I make an effort to really hone in on those things and take what I can from them.”
And she relies heavily on the fact that, every day, she has the chance to be grateful and make an impact, showing someone—if only herself—that people do care.
“I know not every day is going to be a good day for me,” she said. “But just as much [the students I talk to] need me, I need them. I couldn’t do it without my friends.”