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Back on track (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 11:54AM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 12:35PM
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Stiemsma says he believes he has been depressed ever since high school. He thinks that exacerbated the difficult transition from living in his small hometown of Randolph, Wis., to playing a high-profile sport at a huge state school. "I'd go to classrooms my freshman year where there were twice as many people as there were in my entire high school," he says. "It was culture shock."

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Before he left the team last season, Stiemsma was holding his own on the court; he averaged 2.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 11.7 minutes. But as his performance in the classroom started going south, he became racked by feelings of inadequacy and guilt. "Even when things were going well, I still felt there was something missing," he says. "Once I realized there was a problem with my classes, I was wondering how I was going to tell my friends and family. I felt like I was letting people down. They worked so hard for me, and I didn't get things taken care of. You just want to hide from everybody and hope things will get better on their own."

It hasn't been an easy road back, but today, thankfully, things are getting better. Stiemsma took four credits of summer school and accompanied the Badgers on their 10-day summer trip to Italy, his first foray outside North America. While he no longer visits regularly with the psychiatrist, he takes comfort knowing the doctor is just a phone call away. Stiemsma is also still taking antidepressants which have relieved his symptoms without leaving any side effects that affect his abilities on the court. "If anything, the medicine has helped me, basketball-wise," he says. "I get up and feel like taking on the day."

"He used to be very quiet, but now he's much more open and comfortable in multiple settings," Ryan says. Things have even progressed to the point where Stiemsma can joke around with his teammates about what he has been through. "We'll be playing around and someone will say I'm crazy and I'll say, 'Yeah, I know I am,'" he says. "They all saw what I've been through and they can see how much better I'm doing now."

Steimsma says he has no intention of being any kind of spokesman for depression, but he will also not shy away from talking about his case if he is asked. "It's definitely a humbling experience," he says. "I'm not as invincible as I'd like to think I am sometimes. I guess I'm older and wiser now. There have been people who have gone through similar things and haven't made it. I'm going to be one of the guys that does make it."