Mike Watkins is a 6-foot-9 mammoth of a man with incredible athleticism and very good defensive instincts.
Above all else, however, Watkins is a human being. And a kid, at that.
So, when the embattled senior penned an open letter last week laying bare to the world his struggles with depression an anxiety, it hit home with a number of people, college basketball fans and non-college basketball fans alike, myself included.
As many of friends, family and co-workers at BSD know, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for around a decade now.
Writing about was something I thought about doing for years, but it wasn’t until about three years ago, during my senior year at Penn State, that I actually decided to do so.
Admitting you have a problem that you can’t fix on your own is difficult.
Letting the entire world around you know about that problem, especially one that is still largely considered taboo, can be nearly impossible.
So here stands Mike Watkins, presumably with the world at his finger tips, telling everyone in that world that he has a problem.
For that, I want to personally thank Mike.
Firstly, I want to thank Mike for helping hundreds if not thousands of people feel better about themselves.
He may not know that he was doing so, but I can assure you that did.
Depression, at a base level, does everything it can to make you feel alone. It tells you that you have something wrong with you that nobody will understand and that is incapable of fixing.
Every time someone opens up about their struggles with mental illness, it’s a reminder to sufferers that there is a massive community out there fighting with you.
Secondly, I want to thank Mike for helping himself.
When I write about my struggles with mental illness, it’s not necessarily to help myself, but to help others no that it’s okay to not be okay.
So I can’t explain the feeling when someone else feels comfortable opening up about their own struggles and how they’ve sought help.
Before you can help anyone else around you, you must first help yourself. For Mike to admit he had a problem and to be unafraid to ask for help is incredible thing and myself and many others are extremely proud of him and thankful that he did so.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Mike for taking ownership of his problems.
I’ve done a lot of stupid things to hurt myself and others in conjunction with my mental illness, but it’s not fair of me to pass that blame off because of it.
As many of you know and Watkins readily admits, he’s found himself in some unfortunate situations in his time at Penn State.
While his letter talks about how his mental illness may have played a role in those, he also states that this does not absolve him of his wrongdoings. Doing this separates the person from the illness and helps shed the stigma that mental illness sufferers are inherently dangerous or troublesome.
A number of athletes have come forward recently to discuss their struggles with mental illness.
You had Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan in the NBA and Brandon Brooks in the NFL, but Mike Watkins was one of the first to really hit home with me.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a part of the Penn State community, or because we’re so similar in age.
Whatever the season, I want Mike to know how important it was for him to do what he did last week and that there will always be people beside him to fight the good fight.