With depression under control, Badger set for season
Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 11:54AM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 12:35PM
Unable to shake the feeling that his world was crashing around him, Greg Stiemsma decided to shut the world out.
This was last December, when Stiemsma, a 6-foot-11 center at Wisconsin, realized he was on the verge of becoming academically ineligible for the remainder of his sophomore season. "I just felt like lying in bed all day," he recalls. "Didn't want to see anybody, didn't want to talk to anybody. No TV, no radio, ignoring phone calls. It was only for a few hours but it didn't seem long enough. If I didn't have to go to practice that day, I might not have come out at all."
It's understandable Stiemsma would feel disappointed, but he sensed something else was amiss. So he opened up about what he was going through to Henry Perez-Guerra, the Wisconsin team trainer and Greg's good friend. Perez-Guerra referred him to the team doctor, who told Stiemsma he believed he was suffering from depression. That diagnosis was later confirmed by a school psychiatrist. "It felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders," Stiemsma says. "I was finally able to get on the right track, get some help and start feeling better."
Stiemsma is hardly the first college athlete to leave his or her team because of depression, but you'd hardly know it by reading the newspaper. That's because most folks in his situation prefer to manufacture vague explanations -- "personal reasons" or "family issues" -- to explain why they left the team. That's the unfortunate result of a stigma that all too often comes with depression, even though studies show that approximately one out of every six people will encounter the illness on at least one occasion in their lives. Stimemsa could have kept his disorder private, but he chose a different, braver path. He authorized Wisconsin to put out a press release revealing what he was going through. Now, thanks to therapy and medication, he is happier, more confident, back in good academic standing and preparing to play a major role in the Badgers' 2006-07 season.
In truth, Stiemsma might not have revealed his situation if rumors hadn't started to swirl. Rather than facing ridicule and scorn, he received an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike. "I've gotten so many e-mails, phone calls and cards from people who tell me they know somebody who's gone through this, or they've gone through this themselves," he says. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan experienced much the same reaction. "Other coaches I know told me they had dealt with this with their players," Ryan says. "I really found out there's more of this out there than the public is aware of. The only reason you know about Greg is because he has been willing to talk about it."