In a new memoir, an NBA All-Star raises awareness of mental health problems


James Donaldson ought to be a name you are familiar with. He has played 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.

Despite all of his success, Donaldson has recently faced some very difficult challenges in his life. In order to spread awareness about mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts that can affect anyone in our busy, stressful world, he has now written a new book titled Celebrating Your Gift of Life: From the Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy. In recent years, Donaldson has dealt with serious health issues, a tumultuous divorce, the bankruptcy that cost him his business and home, arguments with former friends and coworkers, and ultimately, a suicide attempt.

Donaldson’s struggle to adjust to his world being turned upside down was understandable. 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. This book will be extremely eye-opening to anyone with a passion for 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. Donaldson hopes that by sharing his experience, he will inspire and reassure others to escape their own misery or depression and seek the help they require.

Twenty-one of the twenty-one chapters in Celebrating Your Gift of Life highlight Donaldson’s story while also offering guidance on how to cope 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. Each chapter includes Donaldson’s personal experiences with the subject and offers helpful 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. His words are heartfelt and true. He doesn’t put on any guises and doesn’t let outdated ideas about how men should be powerful prevent him from being completely honest. For example, at one point he advises:

“Give yourself permission to babble incoherently. Give yourself permission to nap on a soggy pillow. Once you’ve gotten it out of your system, you’ll notice how much better you feel.

“As I made my way back to my former self, I cried nonstop. Several times, I sobbed myself to sleep. In other cases, I would pick up the phone, dial a person I knew to be concerned for me, and sob about everything I was going through. I would also lend a sympathetic ear to others who were experiencing a similar situation, and we would both cry together. I’d cry every time I listened to Teddy Pendergrass’ song “This Gift of Life.” It brings to mind just how nearly I came to wasting this priceless gift of life. Crying is healthy, I’ve discovered. You always feel better after as it aids in the release of the pain.”

A series of reflection questions are also provided at the conclusion of each chapter to encourage readers to consider their issues and find solutions so they can move forward with a positive outlook and renewed faith in both life and themselves. 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 the situation. Give each person’s fair share of the blame, expressed as a percentage, a point next to their name on 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 it to be true that people may make plans, but God’s plan always 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 currently struggling? In the space provided, please enter your prayer.”

A foreword written by Dr. Samuel Youssef, who helped him through his darkest moments, bears witness to Donaldson’s arduous journey and the bravery he displayed throughout it.

In the end, Celebrating Your Gift of Life is a celebration of the one and only life we are given and how to live it to the fullest. Even knowing that you’re not alone in your suffering can be incredibly comforting. Anyone who is having trouble would appreciate receiving Donaldson’s book as a gift. It might change someone’s life, which would be a priceless gift.

Leave a reply