NBA All-Star Raises Awareness of Mental Health Issues in New Memoir

If you’ve never heard of James Donaldson, you should have. Not only is he an NBA All-Star, having played with the Seattle Supersonics, San Diego/L.A. Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz, but he also operated The Donaldson Clinic in Seattle, providing physical therapy services, for nearly thirty years, and he’s been involved in Seattle politics.

But all his fame and fortune aside, Donaldson has recently had some severe struggles in his life. Now he has written a new book Celebrating Your Gift of Life: From the Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy to raise awareness about mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts that can affect anyone in our hectic, stressful world. In recent years, Donaldson has experienced life-threatening health problems, a stressful divorce, the loss of his business and home due to bankruptcy, disagreements with former friends and colleagues, and ultimately, near suicide.

Understandably, Donaldson had difficulty coping with his world turning upside down. In this book, he shares his personal story as well as details on how many professional athletes struggle when their athletic careers are over because they don’t always know how to manage their money, cope with the fame they had that has diminished, or transition into new careers. Anyone interested in the NBA and professional sports in general will find the book highly eye-opening for those reasons.

But Donaldson is also writing for the average reader because he knows everyone goes through difficult situations and could end up in his shoes. Not everyone can play professional basketball or be 7′ 2″ like James, but everyone can have financial problems, question their self-worth, feel betrayed, or just have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Donaldson hopes that by sharing his story, he will provide reassurance and motivation to others to pull themselves out of the mire or depression they find themselves in and get the help they need.

Celebrating Your Gift of Life is divided into twenty-one chapters that not only highlight Donaldson’s story but are filled with advice on how to get through tragedy. Topics include learning not to be a victim, finding a reason to live, developing a relationship with God or a Higher Power, keeping agreements with yourself, resisting suicidal thoughts, and getting back on your feet after you’ve hit rock bottom. Each chapter shares Donaldson’s personal experiences with the topic and provides practical advice for coping with the situation.

Donaldson does not hold back any of the hard truths of his situation, from acting needy around fellow professional athletic association personnel he turned to for help to the details of his marriage’s failure and the loss of his business. His words are real and poignant. He does not wear any masks and does not let stereotypes about how men need to be strong stop him from being completely honest. For example, at one point he advises:

“Allow yourself to blubber away like a little baby. Allow yourself to fall asleep on a tear-soaked pillow. You will realize how much better you feel after you get it out of your system.

“I was crying all the time when I was working my way back to my old self. I cried myself to sleep many times. Other times, I would pick up the phone and call someone I knew cared about me and cry to them about everything I was going through. I’d also be a listening ear for other folks who were going through similar things, and we would cry together. I’d cry every time I listened to Teddy Pendergrass’ song “This Gift of Life.” It reminds me of how close I came to throwing away this wonderful gift of life. I’ve found that crying is good for you. It helps to release the pain, and you always feel better after.”

Each chapter also ends with reflection questions to help the reader think through their problems and come up with solutions for moving forward with a positive attitude and new faith in life and themselves. For example, in the chapter, “I’m Not a Victim” one of the exercises Donaldson offers is:

“Take some time to list everyone who is in some way to blame for your situation, including yourself. Then next to your list award percentage points to the share of the blame each person is due. For example, if you had a fight with your mom, it might be Mom 70%, Me 30%. This will help you see your role in the situation and what you can change to make it better next time.”

In the chapter “My Sham Marriage,” two of the questions/exercises he offers are:

“Do you think it’s true that people make plans but God’s plan overrules them? If so, when has that been your experience, and what did you learn from it?

“If you are struggling now, what would you ask God to do for you? Write your prayer below.”

Donaldson’s book also includes a foreword by Dr. Samuel Youssef, who treated him through his darkest times and testifies to Donaldson’s difficult journey and the courage he showed throughout it.

Ultimately, Celebrating Your Gift of Life is a celebration of the only life we get to live and how to live it to the fullest. Just knowing someone else has felt the same pain can help tremendously. Donaldson’s book would be a wonderful gift to give anyone who is struggling. It could turn someone’s life around-a gift that would be priceless.

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