In a new memoir, an NBA All-Star promotes mental health issues
If not, you should have heard of James Donaldson. He is not only a former player for the Seattle Supersonics, San Diego/L.A. He was a sports agent for the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz. He also ran The Donaldson Clinic in Seattle for close to thirty years, offering physical therapy services, and he was active in local politics.
Nevertheless, despite his fame and wealth, Donaldson has recently faced some major challenges in his life. He has since published a new book titled Celebrating Your Gift of Life: From the Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy in an effort to spread awareness about mental health conditions like depression and suicidal thoughts, which can affect anyone in today’s busy, stressful world. Donaldson’s life-threatening health issues, a tumultuous divorce, the loss of his business and home due to bankruptcy, conflicts with former friends and coworkers, and ultimately, a suicide attempt have all occurred in the recent past.
It was understandable that Donaldson struggled to adjust to his world being turned upside down. In this book, he shares his own experience as well as information about how many professional athletes struggle after their athletic careers are over because they frequently lack the knowledge necessary to manage their finances, deal with their former fame’s decline, or transition into new professions. For those reasons, the book will be extremely eye-opening to anyone with an interest in the NBA or professional sports in general.
However, Donaldson also writes for the general reader because he is aware that everyone encounters adversity and might find themselves in his position. Not everyone can play professional basketball or be 7′ 2″ like James, but anyone can experience financial difficulties, self-doubt, betrayal, or simply struggle to get out of bed in the morning. By sharing his experience, Donaldson hopes to encourage and reassure others to escape their own depression or other difficult situations and seek the help they require.
In addition to highlighting Donaldson’s story, Celebrating Your Gift of Life is broken up into twenty-one chapters that are chock-full of suggestions for coping with tragedy. Learning to stop seeing yourself as a victim, discovering a reason to live, forging a bond with God or a Higher Power, upholding commitments to yourself, fending off suicidal thoughts, and rising back up after reaching your lowest point are some of the topics covered. In each chapter, Donaldson discusses a personal experience related to the subject and offers suggestions for dealing with it.
The details of Donaldson’s situation, including the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of his business, are all shared openly, including his neediness around other members of the professional athletic association who he turned to for support. Realistic and moving are his words. He doesn’t put on any masks and he doesn’t let the idea that men need to be strong stop him from being completely honest. For example, at one point he advises:
“Give yourself permission to bawl like a baby. Sleep on a pillow that has been wet with tears. You’ll notice how much better you feel once you’ve gotten it out of your system.
“When I was trying to get back to my old self, I cried all the time. I frequently sobbed myself to sleep. Other times, I would make a phone call to a loved one and start crying as I told them everything I was going through. I would also lend a sympathetic ear to others who were experiencing comparable difficulties, and we would cry together. I’d cry every time I listened to Teddy Pendergrass’ song “This Gift of Life.” It serves as a reminder of how nearly I came to wasting this priceless gift of life. Crying is healthy, I’ve discovered. You always feel better after, and it helps to let the pain out.”
The reader is also given reflection questions at the conclusion of each chapter to aid in problem-solving and the development of newfound optimism and self-belief as they move forward. For example, in the chapter, “I’m Not a Victim” one of the exercises Donaldson offers is:
“Make a list of all the people, including yourself, who are at least partially to blame for your predicament. After that, assign percentage points to the amount of responsibility each person should bear next to your list. For instance, if you and your mother got into a fight, it might be Mom 70%, Me 30%. You will be better able to understand your part in the circumstance and what you can do differently the next time.”
In the chapter “My Sham Marriage,” two of the questions/exercises he offers are:
“Do you believe that even though people make plans, God’s plan ultimately prevails? When was the last time that happened to you, and what did you learn from it?
“What would you ask God to do for you if you were struggling right now? Your prayer should be entered below.”
Additionally, Donaldson’s book features a foreword by Dr. Samuel Youssef, who cared for Donaldson during his darkest moments and attests to his arduous journey and the bravery he displayed while on it, was his doctor.
In the end, Celebrating Your Gift of Life is an ode to the one and only life we are given and how to make the most of it. Even the knowledge that another person has experienced similar suffering can be extremely beneficial. Anyone who is having trouble would appreciate receiving Donaldson’s book as a gift. A gift that would be priceless if it could change someone’s life.