Ricky Williams: A Public Struggle With Social Anxiety Disorder

Ricky Williams: A Public Struggle With Social Anxiety Disorder

As a culture, we Americans tend to place our celebrities on high pedestals. We make it our business to know everything about our favorite celebrities’ business, and we are quick to believe the superficial judgments the media passes on those currently in the limelight. We often fail to recognize the heavy burdens that come from the constant scrutiny of the media and the public. Because the media (and, therefore, we) are less than sympathetic to these pressures, we tend to believe that celebrities shouldn’t be affected by the same things that affect us “normal” people. Unfortunately, this subconscious belief could not be further from the truth.

Photo Credit: IMDB

Celebrities Are People Too

The truth of the matter is that celebrities are normal people, too. They have hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties just like the rest of us. The only difference is that their career (or other aspect of their lives) has positioned them in the spotlight. By assuming that celebrities can not be affected by the same struggles we face in our day-to-day lives, and that mental disorders such as depression and anxiety only plague us “lesser” people, we continue to contribute to the stigma against mental illness.

However, some celebrities are working to turn this tide by coming forward and bravely telling the world about their internal struggles. Recently, we compared and contrasted the real-life examples set by Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher. This week, we’re continuing the conversation by looking at another real-life example: that of NFL superstar Ricky Williams.

The Professional Story of Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams attended the University of Texas on a football scholarship. After college, he was selected as the fifth pick in the NFL draft of 1999. This draft skyrocketed him into immense fortune and national fame at the young age of 22. His professional career took off, and he enjoyed several years playing professional football with New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, and brief stints with the Toronto Argonauts and Baltimore Ravens. He retired from the NFL in 2012.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Personal Story of Ricky Williams

Williams’ personal story is winding and complex. It would be impossible to sum up anyone’s life in a short paragraph, and Williams is no exception. Instead, we will focus on a few highlights. He fathered multiple children and tested positive for marijuana use several times, which created challenges and suspensions within his NFL career. He maintains a meat-free diet and supports PETA. In addition to his love of football, he is extremely interested in natural healing methods and has spent significant time and energy exploring massage therapy, yoga, CranioSacral Therapy, and other natural therapies. Most notably (for our situation), he also suffered from a chronic case of social anxiety disorder.

Ricky Williams and Social Anxiety Disorder

Though he did not know it at the time, Ricky Williams suffered from social anxiety disorder from the very start of his career. He was terrified of interviews and of the prospect of meeting fans in public. He was known for conducting interviews with his helmet on and for avoiding contact with fans as much as possible. He even had difficulty communicating with friends and family. He couldn’t explain his struggles and no one could really understand them, so instead of being given the support he needed, he was simply labeled “strange,” “aloof,” and “weird.”

Finally, a friend suggested that Williams see a mental health therapist. His therapist diagnosed him with social anxiety disorder, a mental disorder that is characterized by intense fear of social situations and of being watched, criticized, or judged by others. Williams was relieved to have this diagnosis. It gave him a way to explain his situation, and it reassured him that he wasn’t simply “crazy.” After his diagnosis, he and his therapist were able to work towards a successful recovery. 

Today, Williams is known for helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and social anxiety. He has also dedicated a great deal of time and energy to helping fellow retired NFL players recover from depression and other mental disorders that frequently follow a career in the NFL.

Help Us End The Stigma!

Those of you that know me or have read my blogs in the past know that I am dedicating my career to ending the stigma around mental illness. I am inspired by celebrities like Ricky Williams who are brave enough to share their stories and help empower others to do the same. 

There is no shame in reaching out for the help and support you need. In fact, there is just the opposite! If you are contemplating seeking online counseling to assist with your personal situation, I would be honored to speak with you. 

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