Former NBA player Josh Huestis knew when it was time to talk
‘It’s OK to not be OK. Talk to somebody.’
On Feb. 1, 2017, Euroleague forward Josh Huestis began sharing his innermost thoughts with the world. He started his blog, Through the Lens, and began writing about an array of topics: life, growing up in Montana, the last game of his college career, marriage and depression. Inspired by Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, who recently revealed their struggles with anxiety and depression, the 26-year-old decided to share his story. A solid basketball career at Stanford University led him to the spotlight. He was drafted 29th in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Huestis talked to The Undefeated about his balancing act, marriage, basketball and his own mental wellness.
My mom is a psychotherapist, so I always was pretty well-educated and understood mental health and its impact on people. Then I studied psychology in college because of the fact that I wanted to follow in her footsteps. Mental health, one of the things I dealt with in my life, I wanted to learn more about that.
Over the last few months, mental illness has become less stigmatized with Kevin Love and DeMar [DeRozan] coming out and talking about their struggles. I just thought it was important to add to that. It is changing into a positive direction, the exposure is.
For most of my life, I’ve had certain issues. The earliest memories I have when it became more of an issue for me was probably like my freshman or my sophomore year in high school. I just remember I became obsessed with trying to understand what the point and what the meaning of life was, like an existential search. I remember multiple times a week going to bookstores, trying to find books that could help me understand what the point of life was. I just felt kind of lost and empty, like everything I was doing didn’t have a whole lot of meaning. So I was trying to find answers from 15 years old.
My bouts with depression used to be heavy. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve talked to people, they’ve gotten more mild.
My first couple of years in the NBA as well as my years in college, they got very heavy and took me to some low lows. It became really tough. There were many times where I questioned myself. Many times I can remember when I really didn’t want to continue, and the idea of giving up crossed my mind on definitely more than one occasion.
I think a major issue that I have, and a lot of professional athletes and a lot of people have, is that my whole life I have been categorized as basketball player and that has been how I identified my self-worth. My self-worth has been wrapped up in my existence as an athlete, as a basketball player. There have been so many times that my struggles on the basketball court caused it be a lot harder. I’m sure a lot of players can agree that after a bad game you walk off the court and your self-worth just drops dramatically, and it’s not a healthy thing because everybody has bad games. I was kind of on this wild up-and-down thing where I played well and I loved myself and I felt great, and when I played badly I hated myself and I felt worthless and I wanted to give up.
For the past few years I was bad at combating those feelings. I would internalize. I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I’m not naturally someone who is good at talking about my feelings and my struggles because I didn’t want pity and I didn’t want to be judged by people or people to feel sorry for me. That’s the last thing that I wanted. But as I got older and I’ve seen more people dealing with it, I recognize that a lot of people do deal with it and it’s OK to talk about it.
I got married in August, and having my wife [Haley] to talk to every day and someone who is with me every day, someone who loves me regardless if I never play another game in the NBA. I work with a psychologist, someone who I can talk to about basketball and about life and helps me deal with the perspectives and helps me deal with the ups and downs that go with this depression.
I think in communities of color there is this idea that you handle things in-house. Whatever you deal with, you deal with yourself. You just get it done — the independence. You don’t ask for help with things like that. You handle them within yourself. You don’t bother others with it. You just put your nose to the grindstone mentality and you just get it figured out on your own. I think that’s a major problem. I think everybody needs help. And I think with myself and high-profile guys, talking about it helps. On the outside looking in, you see these guys having everything they could ever want. They have money in excess and they still struggle. You see someone like that ask for help, then it’s OK for the rest of us to ask for help too. I think it goes even to another level when you talk about men. For instance, there is this whole thing about “be a man” or “man up” mentality. I think men are just taught to internalize and don’t ask for help and to always be tough and always be OK. That needs to be changed. That needs to be fixed.
I want to become more familiar because it could be beneficial to myself and beneficial to others. I think that’s a huge thing. Within the Thunder organization, they make sure we have what we need as far as mental support.
The hardest part is job security. Now that I’ve gotten married, I’ve got family that I want to support. A goal of mine is to always be able to provide for them and give to them and give them everything they need, so that adds an extra layer of stress because I don’t want to lose the ability to do that, and having basketball as a method to make money is great and the best job in the world. It’s the stress of the chance of losing that. That stress has been tough, and if we work our whole lives to get to this level and the idea of it coming to an end, or if we feel we’re losing a grip on things, can feel like failure or you’re letting your family or your hometown people down. For me, that’s been the hardest thing, carrying the weights of expectations from others and the weights of being able to provide for my family.
I started my blog because I just got to the point where I wanted to open up and be real about my life — not only the good in it, but the struggles. I recognize that there’s a lot of people out there struggling with stuff and there are a lot of people going through things where they feel like it’s not OK and you can’t talk to anybody about it. I wanted to show that someone in my position, a lot of people may look at me and think I’m enjoying my life, I’m making a lot of money and I’m living my dream in what millions and millions of people want to be a part of, but I still have that struggle. I wanted to shed light to show everyone has struggles and you’re not alone.
Exposure and just removing the stigma of mental illness is a huge step that needs to be taken, and I think once we do that, it’s going to help so many people.
The first thing I would say to others if they ever seek my advice is there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong you. It’s OK to not be OK. Talk to somebody. Open up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to. Just verbalizing what’s on your mind can help so much. Don’t try to internalize it, because that makes it worse.
This story originally published when Huestis was with the Oklahoma City Thunder and has been updated to reflect that he is a member of the Bayern Munich of the Basketball Bundesliga and the EuroLeague.