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NBA All-Star Raises Awareness of Mental Health Issues in New Memoir
If you’ve never heard of James Donaldson, you should. Not only is he an NBA All-Star, played with the Seattle Supersonics, San Diego/LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz, but he also operated The Donaldson Clinic in Seattle, providing physical therapy services, for nearly thirty years, and he got involved in Seattle politics.
But all his fame and fortune aside, Donaldson has recently had some severe struggles in his life. Now he’s written a new book Celebrating Your Gift of Life: From the Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy to raise awareness of mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts, which can affect anyone in our hectic, stressful world. In recent years, Donaldson has experienced life-threatening health problems, a stressful divorce, the loss of his business and home due to bankruptcy, disagreements with former friends and colleagues, and finally, near suicide.
Of course, Donaldson had difficulty coping with his world being turned upside down. In this book, he shares his personal story as well as details of how many professional athletes struggle when their athletic careers end because they don’t always know how to manage their money, deal with the fame they had that has waned, or is transitioning. into new careers. Anyone interested in the NBA and professional sports in general will find the book very eye-opening for those reasons.
But Donaldson also writes for the average reader because he knows that everyone goes through difficult situations and could end up in his shoes. Not everyone can play professional basketball or be 7′ 2″ like James, but everyone can have financial problems, question their self-worth, feel betrayed, or just have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Donaldson hopes that by sharing his story, he will provide reassurance and encouragement to others to pull themselves out of the mud or depression they find themselves in and get the help they need.
Celebrating Your Gift of Life is divided into twenty-one chapters that not only highlight Donaldson’s story but are filled with advice on how to get through tragedy. Topics include learning not to be a victim, finding a reason to live, developing a relationship with God or a Higher Power, keeping agreements with yourself, resisting suicidal thoughts, and getting back up after you’ve hit rock bottom. Each chapter shares Donaldson’s personal experiences with the subject and provides practical advice for coping with the situation.
Donaldson does not hold back any of the hard truths of his situation, from acting needlessly around a fellow professional athletic association staff he turned to for help to the details of the failure of his marriage and the loss of his business. His words are real and moving. He doesn’t wear masks and doesn’t let stereotypes about how men should be strong stop him from being completely honest. For example, at one point he advises:
“Allow yourself to coo like a little baby. Allow yourself to fall asleep on a pillow full of tears. You’ll notice how much better you feel once you get it out of your system.
“I cried all the time as I worked my way back to my old self. I cried myself to sleep many times. Other times, I picked up the phone and called someone I knew cared about me and yelled at them about everything. I passed. I would also be a listening ear for other people who were going through similar things, and we would cry together. I would cry every time I would listen to Teddy Pendergrass’ song “That Gift of Life.” It reminds me of how close I came to throwing away this wonderful gift of life. I’ve found that crying is good for you. It helps release the pain, and you always feel better afterwards.”
Each chapter also ends with reflection questions to help the reader think through their problems and come up with solutions to move forward with a positive attitude and new confidence in life and themselves. For example, in the chapter, “I am not a victim” one of the exercises that Donaldson offers is:
“Take some time to list everyone who is somehow to blame for your situation, including yourself. Then next to your list award percentage points to the share of blame that each person bears. For example, if you had a fight with your mom, it it could be Mom 70%, Me 30%. This will help you see your role in the situation and what you can change to make it better next time.”
In the chapter “My Sham Marriage”, two of the questions/exercises he offers are:
“Do you think it’s true that people make plans, but God’s plan rules them? If so, when was that your experience, and what did you learn from it?
“If you are struggling right now, what would you ask God to do for you? Write your prayer below.”
Donaldson’s book also includes a foreword by Dr. Samuel Youssef, who treated him through his darkest times and bears witness to Donaldson’s difficult journey and the courage he showed throughout it.
Ultimately, Celebrating Your Gift of Life is a celebration of the only life we can live and how to live it to the fullest. Just knowing that someone else has felt the same pain can help tremendously. Donaldson’s book would be a wonderful gift to give to anyone who is struggling. It could turn someone’s life around – a gift that would be priceless.
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