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Checking The Rankings: My Defense Mechanisms, Not Mike’s

My baby got those AP Poll blues.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago we discussed the novelty of being ranked in the AP Poll for the Nittany Lions and how the net rankings are used, not the polls, to determine a team’s post-season fate. With a pair of losses this week, it’s not likely that the Lions will remain ranked by the AP Poll. So be it. We’ll see you later this year, AP Poll, or maybe we won’t. It really doesn’t matter.

As long as the Lions keep their Net Ranking under 35, and overall conference record near .500, there is no reason for concern that they will miss the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten is a tough league. There will be home losses. There will be road wins.

And if the team should dip outside the top-40 in the Net Rankings for a few days in January or early February just remind yourself that the only time the rankings matter is once all of the games are played, including the conference tournaments.

There’s a long way to go. It’s natural to ride the ups and downs of what looks to be a memorable Penn State basketball season. Just try to remember that a conference loss or two, or even ten, will not knock the team out of an NCAA Tournament spot.

Don’t let yourself get too stressed out over something that may not end up mattering at the end of the season. Enjoy the ride, as bumpy as it may be at times.

Some Serious Anxiety

If it were a knee injury that we were talking about this would be quicker to write. It wouldn’t require the safety of first-hand experience in order to mention the malady that sometimes weighs on another person, in this case Mike Watkins. If we knew that Watkins had a physical injury that wasn’t always an issue, but could also recur, we would have an easier time talking about it openly.

Since Watkins, and I, go through life fighting a battle against mental illness, we often have to go through tough times without the typical support that a person dealing with a chronic knee injury might enjoy.

Mike Watkins released an article 14 months ago that outlined some of his story dealing with the issue.

Here is the link to the entire article, this portion shared his status in his own words.

“Over the past couple of years, I have continued to work through my issues with some wonderful mental health professionals. I have good days and I have bad days. Truth be told, there have been times where I have self-medicated with alcohol and other substances.

At my lowest, I was hospitalized this past June after I expressed some suicidal ideations. After threatening to jump from a balcony, I was declared a danger to myself. While I never acted upon these thoughts, they did exist. Truth matters. This I have learned.

While I have improved in a lot of ways, every day is a struggle.”

I can relate to some of that. While I was at Penn State, during my sophomore year, I considered jumping from my third-story apartment window. Thankfully I decided that the height was insufficient. A year later I was sitting on my bed with a gun, but after thinking it over, decided that I couldn’t kill my mom. I wouldn’t just be killing myself, but also a part of her if I pulled the trigger.

Some people would think, reading that, that my life was awful. It wasn’t. I had a 3.6 GPA in Economics, I ran a business with ten employees, had a great party life, friends, everything you would imagine that could take away feelings of dread and sadness. It makes it easy to understand, for me anyway, how someone like Mike Watkins can have a down day, or period of time, while experiencing bliss all around him.

Few things in life make Mike Watkins happier than playing basketball for the Penn State Nittany Lions. When he appears to be despondent on the bench during a game, or on the court, I can’t help but wonder whether he’s struggling with the ailment. Were it so plain to see as a knee injury, we would recognize immediately that he was limping around on the court. Were he only able to contribute 15 minutes for zero points and four rebounds as he did on Saturday, we would think that he gutted it out, rather than having the impression that he wasn’t trying his hardest.

I’m not attempting to psychoanalyze another person through a television set from my living room in Florida. Mike Watkins said that he has good days and he has bad days and that every day is a struggle. I wouldn’t presume to know which days, if any, Watkins’ ambition on the court, or lack thereof, were linked to his battle with mental illness. It’s possible that none are, it’s possible that most are. We would have to ask him.

Watkins said in his article, “We don’t talk about depression, anxiety and suicide in the ‘hood.’” When I read that it hit home for me since I grew up very far from any place that Watkins encountered, in the small city of Old Town, Maine. On the reservation, where Native Americans are the vast majority, there was no talk of such things as mental illness in someone that was not committed to an institution. Nor was there in the areas surrounding the reservation, which are inhabited by mostly poor, white people.

The outer appearance of the person, or the geographic location, does not matter. The lack of understanding of the illness is widespread to the point that people forget that it is there, even when it is right in front of them, sitting with sad eyes on the bench while his team needs him on the court.

This publication isn’t the place to tackle such a complicated illness nor am I qualified to do so. Most of what I know has come later in life, similar to what Bill Hader shared earlier this year. I found this video by Pete Holmes to be very informative for people that are trying to understand the illness. If you like comedy, and would like to absorb what living with anxiety is like while laughing your butt off, give Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite series a shot.

As you can tell I typically try to laugh my way through it.

If someone you know well, or even vaguely, such as a player on the Penn State basketball team, is fighting mental illness, the best that can be done is to offer them your support. No one can make what is going on better from the outside, it has to come from within the person with the affliction. Make sure that they know that you love them, care about them, and are there for them when they need you.

Be patient; it’s as frustrating for the person going through it as it is for everyone around them. I can imagine what a challenge it must be for coach Pat Chambers, a master-motivator, someone that gets more from his players than people thought was possible, to understand that there are times that nothing that can be done to motivate his star center.

If there was anyone in the world that would love Mike Watkins to be able to give maximum mental effort at all times, it’s Mike Watkins. Sometimes he falls short just like anyone else. Other times it may not be that simple.