WATERVILLE — Chamique Holdsclaw doesn’t want people to think the way she did.

That depression and personality disorders are signs of weakness. That they can be swept aside like clothes under the bed. That no one can help. That you’re on your own.

Those issues dogged Holdsclaw through a sensational college and professional basketball career, one that measures up to any player before or since. Holdsclaw won three national championships, two Naismith Awards as the top player in women’s college basketball and earned six WNBA All-Star appearances, but on Thursday, the player dubbed the female Michael Jordan sat in front of a collection of Colby College coaches, opening up about a personal odyssey that has included depression, therapy, a suicide attempt and an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

For the 39-year-old Holdsclaw, however, the message isn’t about fear. She knows she’s not the only one with a battle to fight. And she wants to help.

“I want these kids to know that it’s OK to live in your truth, to get help, and not be ashamed of it,” she said. “If you hurt your knee or your elbow, you go get help because you want to get better. It’s the same thing with the mind. It’s a chemistry issue, and it’s OK to want to talk to someone to get better. And don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not.”

Colby was the latest stop for Holdsclaw, who’s on a tour of Maine campuses that includes trips to the University of Maine, Bates and Bowdoin to both speak about her experiences with mental health and screen and discuss ‘Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw’, a documentary on her struggles with her depression and disorder.


The goal, Holdsclaw said, is to change the thinking regarding mental disorders and illnesses, which in the past have wreaked havoc while being disregarded even by their victims.

“The No. 1 thing is changing the conversation around,” she said. “Really putting a face with it. People will see me, see my journey, and start a conversation. That’s it. It’s something that we can’t run from anymore.”

It’s a message that resonated with the Colby coaches, who were present for the afternoon discussion before the film screening and Q&A at night.

“Someone of her caliber as an athlete, it’s so easy to think that all is well,” Colby men’s basketball coach Damien Strahorn said. “She’s one of the, if not the greatest women’s basketball players of that time. To assume that everything is great, it’s really eye-opening to hear the story behind the story. … When you have someone of that caliber, it really draws the attention it probably needs to get the conversation going.”

Holdsclaw knows what it’s like to disregard mental health woes and the idea of seeking help for them. She did it herself. Holdsclaw’s mother was an alcoholic and her father was schizophrenic, and though the situation got bad enough for Holdsclaw to move in with her grandmother, the turmoil left a mark, one that followed her through high school, her playing days for Pat Summitt’s University of Tennessee juggernaut and into the WNBA, where she starred for the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks.

“I was operating unbalanced,” she said. “You’re performing at this high level physically, but I didn’t have that balance in my life.”


Her solution to these problems was to pretend they didn’t exist. Basketball was a chance to cope with her burden — “put on my mask,” as she described it — but away from the court, when feelings of depression and loneliness kicked in, she tried to ignore them. And when friends suggested therapy, she didn’t want to listen.

“They sent me to a therapist, and I had my own stigma against it,” she said. “I’m like ‘You’re not going to say I’m crazy. I’m from New York City. I can push through this.’ ”

She couldn’t, and when her grandmother died in 2002, the support system fell apart at Holdsclaw’s basketball peak. In 2006, she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. In 2013, she pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an attack on her ex-girlfriend’s car.

“I was just tapped out emotionally, and when I lost my grandmother, I think it just triggered all that stuff from the past,” she said. “I felt like I had no one. I felt like I was all alone.”

And that’s where the theme Holdsclaw carried into Colby comes in. She wasn’t alone. She had therapists to help her, once she found one she liked. She surrounded herself with friends. She had herself diagnosed, and got a name for her troubles. Bipolar disorder was something she could research, something she could learn to manage.

“I’m up for that challenge, same way I was up for winning those games and being an Olympic athlete,” she said. “It’s the same (thought), ‘I have to dedicate my life now.’ ”


She knows she’s not cured, and that she could have a manic episode tomorrow. But she’s healthier. She’s better positioned if it does happen because she sought, and embraced, help, which is the message she wants people to take away.

“When you look at statistics, you have a lot of people that are out there dying, taking their lives,” she said. “We’ve just got to continue to share our stories and use our voices, our platforms, to let people know it’s OK.”

Holdsclaw said “hundreds” of people have let her know that her message struck personal chords.

“Every event that I’ve had, there’s been tears, there’ve been a lot of hugs,” she said. “People connecting with me. Kids use the social media platform, sometimes they’re not comfortable saying stuff in a crowd. They’ll reach out, open up about their feelings, and (say) ‘thank you, thank you, I’m dealing with this. I want to get better. Do you have any suggestions?’ We offer them a step in a positive direction.”

On a team, it starts with coaches and players who make it easy to ask for help when something is wrong.

“Each case is such an individualized scenario. It’s really hard to have a blanket way to approach it,” Strahorn said. “Hopefully, most importantly is the (player knows the) door is there, and a willingness and a relationship exists that you can be there to support whoever needs it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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