I Was An NBA Wife. Here’s How It Affected My Mental Health.
Walking into the Bradley Center, I could feel the excitement. The fans, the bass-heavy music blaring, the smell of popcorn and the bright lights of the Jumbotron: This was the symphony better known as an NBA pregame. This was my first game as the fiancée of the Milwaukee Buck franchise player Michael Redd.
My heart raced as I politely passed by the other, impeccably dressed ladies. When I looked down at myself, I saw the schoolteacher and preacher’s kid I was ― I looked professional but far from glamorous. Every single detail of these women was perfectly in place, down to their shoes, which were equally as amazing as their handbags.
I was completely out of my element, and my mind was filled with all of the negative things I ever thought about myself. I mean, who was I kidding? Michael could have anyone he wanted. Did he really think I could fit in?
Michael and I met — or rather, met again — in 2003. Our families were a part of the same church, and both of our fathers were ministers at that time. We had been in each other’s lives since we were 5 but never really paid any attention to each other. That all changed after he and I both experienced bad breakups in long-term relationships and our mutual friend decided to set us up on a date.
We met up at GameWorks. Michael showed up in a suit, and I wore cargo pants and a fitted shirt. I felt insecure at first because of our drastic difference in attire, but one look in his eyes and I knew I was OK. From there, I fell for him completely.
He was everything I wanted and didn’t know I needed. He was my knight in shining armor. Michael encouraged me to be me and never apologize for it.
We dated for about two years before he plopped down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. From there, we’ve been on this journey together.
But, truth be told, I never felt good enough, worthy or deserving of anything. Growing up, I learned things could change very abruptly — always when you least expected it. Between the ages of 1 and 5, my parents were separated and nearly divorced four times. Because of my parents’ tumultuous relationship, there was always this pressure to be my family’s everything. I had to be strong for my mom, perfect for my dad and an example for my brothers. I learned to shut down and follow a script. I had to be perfect.
As I grew older, that need to be perfect only became more prevalent. I felt like I was a fraud, and being an NBA wife didn’t help that. In fact, it nearly destroyed me.
The Rules Of Being An NBA Wife
I didn’t have any problems with the other basketball wives. However, I didn’t make many friends, either. Michael was very clear with me to steer clear of the drama, even if I had an opinion, because, as glamorous as the NBA life may seem, this was technically his workplace. Most of the time, this rule was easy to follow: Keep to yourself and don’t cause any drama. This was business, and I understood where Michael was coming from.
So, I complied.
As an NBA wife, there are no bad days. Your hair should be perfect, nails nicely manicured, makeup flawless, and designer clothes, shoes and handbags are a must. There is no coming to the game in sweats or jeans and a T-shirt.
Dealing with the media was a huge learning curve. The less you say, the better. Just smile and be a trophy wife. The vast majority of people don’t care about your thoughts or that you may be college educated, because the overall assumption is that you married well. Your intelligence and career aspirations are the least of their concern.
Unfortunately, this outside pressure made my pre-existing battle with perfectionism even worse. Being an NBA wife reinforced the need I felt to meet expectations and be loved based on performance instead of being loved just for me.
The demands of being an NBA wife became much heavier after the birth of my son. After Michael and I married in August of 2006, I found out I was pregnant in October. Our son was born in June of 2007.
I was very much a single parent while Michael played. His travel schedule left it virtually impossible for him to help in any way. Meanwhile, I was simultaneously struggling with the demands of being a new NBA wife and a new mom, with a new body shape, unsure of her identity.
The weight of it all crushed me.
I was drowning in postpartum despair, and I was afraid to tell anyone. How can you tell someone you’re struggling when on the outside your life looks like a fairy tale? Perfect house, perfect husband, perfect baby, perfect life.
But it wasn’t perfect.
About two years into our marriage, Michael and I attempted to try to have another child — and I had two miscarriages, back to back. I had to experience the pain of the second one, the most devastating one, while Michael was at training camp in Milwaukee. I remember being in a place of such deep sorrow for this child I’d never known, feeling my body going through the process of “getting rid” of what would never be.
At the time, I couldn’t see what I was blessed with: a big house, a loving son, a car to drive. I only saw pain. And my perfectionism plagued me through it all. There were no off days.
When Reality Hits Like A Ton Of Bricks
It was 2016. I woke up one morning and felt strange. I could feel my legs and arms shaking. I brushed it aside. But as the week went on, it didn’t stop. I was scared but convinced myself it was just my imagination. And then it got worse.
One morning, around three o’clock, my eyes popped wide open and I felt complete fear as I hyperventilated and my body twitched. I thought I was dying. I quickly got out of bed, panting, pacing and trying not to wake my husband.
When the panic subsided a few hours later, I gathered myself and woke my kids up. I tried to follow our normal routine, but I couldn’t get it together. I was crying and shaking and nervous. I was so sick from all of the adrenaline I could barely walk, but miraculously I arrived at the doctor’s office safely.
After listening to me describe my symptoms, my doctor diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
That was it — the moment my reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Trauma from my past and present, combined with the pressures of my life as an NBA wife, were like gasoline, and all it took was a spark to set my life ablaze.
Facing My Struggles
As hard as it was, I started with identifying the moments and circumstances that had built up to the point of my breakdown.
I thought back to my first NBA game and realized that my need to fit in and be accepted was out of control. I would go from being the perfect pastor’s daughter, leading the choir on a Sunday morning, to flying out to an NBA game as Michael’s perfect fiancée. My identity would switch in a matter of hours. I didn’t know who I was or what I liked and disliked. I’d bounced around from one identity to another, and each identity came with a role that I had to play.
In these moments of reflection, it was hard not to let shame depress me further. But I knew I didn’t want to live in this personal hell any longer, and it was time to make some changes.
As much as I didn’t want to ask for help, I realized I needed it. The first change I made was to see my therapist on a regular basis, not only in moments of crisis. Second, I agreed to take an antidepressant prescribed by my doctor.
In order to shed my perfectionism, I knew I had to make major life changes and start unlearning the stuff that I was fed as a child. I didn’t understand who I was as a person. I knew who everyone else said I was and, trust me, there’s a huge difference. I had to face some tough things and work through anxiety and feelings of being depressed.
To say I’m great every day would be a lie. There are highs and lows and even the in-between moments. But I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing community of supportive women. I have grown from learning to be vulnerable with those who have earned the right to hear my truth and to be that safe space for them, too.
As for my hubby, he’s been absolutely amazing through this whole thing. Did it stretch him? Of course. Did it challenge him? Absolutely. Did we disagree and bump heads through all of this? You bet, and still do sometimes. But that is what makes us stronger and our connection deeper. We are each other’s biggest fans.
Pushing your feelings down is never a good idea. Shrinking yourself so that others feel big is detrimental, just as letting the wrong people into your space does, too. I chose to do the work by finding out who I was ― outside of being the wife of an NBA player ― and who I wanted to be surrounded by.
I’ve finally learned that I don’t need everyone’s approval. I just need the right people to get me.
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