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Tackling Social Anxiety Disorder with Ricky Williams
Like more than 12 million Americans, Ricky Williams, star running back for the Miami Dolphins, suffered from social anxiety disorder. Recently, Ricky sat down to talk about his experience with social anxiety disorder and how, after years of suffering, he finally 1. How did social anxiety disorder affect your life?
There are probably thousands of ways that social phobia affected my life in a negative way. It’s kind of funny because I can look back now at a lot of things that I did when I was really suffering from social anxiety disorder, and say that’s not normal, that’s not right, I probably shouldn’t have been doing. But when I was going through it, I thought it was perfectly normal because my first impulse was to survive and to be comfortable so everything I did was to try to make myself feel comfortable and deal with what situations My whole life I’ve been shy, so at Texas I would do interviews because the media loved me, my teammates loved me and my coaching staff loved me. But when I was drafted to New Orleans, I thought I was the same person, but for some reason the media didn’t like me and my teammates weren’t friendly to me. I had so many questions inside my head - - I was wondering ‘why are these things happening to me, I don’t understand.’ At the same time, I’ve never been a really outgoing person but I was never afraid to go out and have a good time. And when I was in New Orleans, it got to the point where I didn’t want to leave my house, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, the mall was a definite no-no, and I mean I was anti-mall. I have a three year old daughter and there are so many things that you can do with a young child, such as going out and showing them things and just being around other people. It was at the point where we were at home, and that was the extent of the relationship, it’s everything at home, we didn’t go out and do anything. And dating was a no-no. Didn’t go out on dates, occasionally I’d go to dinner, but that was probably the extent of it.
So many things were so different then, and sitting here now, it’s amazing at how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve changed and how much I went through. And of course I owe a lot of that to, to Janey, my therapist, and Paxil.
2. When was your social anxiety disorder the most severe?
I hit rock bottom after my second year in the NFL. I had started the season well and things were going well and I was having a good season until I ended up breaking my ankle a little past mid-way through the season. I spent the latter part of the season at home rehabbing, on crutches and just trying to get better. As the season ended, there’s usually a drop off. You go from doing something to not doing anything at all, and a lot of guys look forward to having this freedom and being able to go anywhere. But at that time it dreadful for me because the season was over and I was at home. I was 22 years old, I had all the money I could ever imagine, I had the opportunity literally to go anywhere in the whole world I wanted to go and do anything I wanted to do. But for some reason, I couldn’t leave the house. And it did give me a lot of time to think about what was going on in my life and I wasn’t happy with any relationship in my life, from my daughter to my mother to my friends. I didn’t want to have to go the airport and get on the airplane to go visit my mom because I hated being at airports. Especially flying through Texas where everyone recognized me and was going to try to come up to me and say ‘hi’ and I was I remember one of the worst situations that I ever really went through was, every time I traveled, whether it was getting on a plane, either being the last one on the plane and having to walk past everyone, or being the first one on the plane and everyone having to walk past me. When you’re a public figure, people really do recognize you, people really are going to talk to you and look at you. And I had this notion that I know now was obviously wrong, that everyone was looking up staring at me literally and judging everything about me, from my appearance to the way I talk.
Because of my social anxiety, I’d come off as being a flake and being not reliable, and that’s people not knowing that I was just so deathly afraid of being around people. I could sit here and go on list hundreds and hundreds of situations where I probably was perceived as being a flake or aloof or all of these negative words that were used to describe me, and there was a little bit more going on then just me changing my mind at 3. Why did you conduct interviews with your helmet on?
I remember when I was in New Orleans and we were at training camp -- it was a mad house. Anytime I wanted to go get lunch or breakfast or dinner, we had a little walk to where we ate, and there’d always be people waiting just for me, whether it was to sign a card or to say hi. So I was going through all this and doing interviews with the media was tough for me. I remember I was having a really tough time talking to the media. So one day it was raining out and we were going to a tent to do the interview and I had my helmet on just to not get wet. And when we got to the tent, I realized that with a helmet on, I just felt more comfortable talking to the media. And so I didn’t really want to take it off, so I didn’t take it off, and it was hard for me to explain to people that I just feel more comfortable. It was really hard because like I said, the perception of me was really altered by a lot of fans and a lot of my teammates because they couldn’t understand 4. How can a public person suffer from social anxiety disorder?
People don’t understand, people say, “Well you know, if you have social anxiety disorder, how can you take a picture with a wedding dress on and be on a cover of all these magazines and all this.” I try to explain when I’m doing a photo shoot, it was me, Coach Ditka and the photographer. So there are not really social situations. I’m comfortable with Coach Ditka because he’s my coach. We don’t really have to talk, we just pose for pictures. But walking to my mailbox is hard because my neighbor might come out and say, “Hey, how’re you doing” and I’m just like, “Don’t talk to me.” So, with situations on a football field, I have a helmet on and I’m doing something, I’m running plays and I’m trying to win a ball game. I’m not talking to anyone.
5. Do you ever wish that you were in a profession that didn't require you be in the
public eye so much?
I used to feel like that. When I was going through tougher times, but now, I thank God every day that I get a chance to do what I can do. And it’s kind of funny how before, I would play football and I would almost be afraid of success because it would mean more attention. And now I’m at the point where I’ve totally changed my priorities, now I want to be the best I can be because I know that the bigger name I get, the more people will actually listen to me and I have a chance to make a lot of positive changes in, in Miami 6. Did it ever get to the point where you thought you may never play football
I’m telling you, when I said I hit rock bottom I couldn’t be in New Orleans at all any more, it was so painful. I had gone to San Diego, which is where I’m from, for a golf tournament and it was horrible, I couldn’t play golf because I was so distraught that people were trying to talk to me. I stayed in San Diego for a while and people didn’t know who I was everywhere I went and I found so much solace in that that I didn’t want to ever leave San Diego. I had a little house by the beach and I’d work out and I’d hang out and I was, for the first time in a long time, happy. I was supposed to go back to New Orleans the middle of March to start working out with the team and everyone on the team was there except for me so, so my coach called me and said, we want you back here. While I was talking to him I almost told him I didn’t want to play football anymore. We were talking and I realized in the conversation that having to go back to New Orleans and deal with those situations wasn’t worth however much money I was getting paid. I’d rather just go back to school, finish school and just become a teacher. Kids are OK, they’re not too 7. When you look back to your childhood, do you recognize symptoms of social
anxiety disorder?
A lot of people who experience it were shy as a child. I can remember being in high school and one day specifically that I was in class and I raised my hand to answer a question and I gave an answer and then I immediately thought, “That’s a really stupid answer, I’m never going to ever raise my hand again,” and I didn’t ever raise my hand again in class. So definitely, I’ve been having some symptoms at a young age. I can say, as I did go to college, I saw that talking to the media and being myself got to me. Also, when I started feeling that these things were out of the ordinary, I could just tell myself, I’m shy and I’ve always been shy. So it was hard for me to see that there was something wrong because I was always different and I was always shy. So the first time I was called aloof, I thought it was a compliment but…as it went on I realized that yeah, there 8. How did you learn about social anxiety disorder?
I was really depressed and I was looking at my life and saying, “There’s no reason in the whole wide world that I should be depressed.” So I talked to some friends and a very close friend told me that her mother was a therapist. And that was easy, I didn’t have to go out and look for someone. It was someone I could talk to on the phone without And it was obvious (to her) talking to me what was going on. I saw a commercial on TV about social anxiety disorder, and I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s me.” So I got on the Internet and started doing some research and was reading these stories about people going through similar circumstances. I had this immediate warmth come over me that I can get better, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m not just weird, I’m not just aloof, I’m not crazy, I’m not a flake.
9. What was the turning point that helped you to get to where you are today?
Thank goodness that I did talk to Janey and I got help, because I probably wouldn’t be playing football right now. When I got on medication and started going through therapy I had a renewed sense of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a football player again, I wanted to be a good football player again. So I started therapy and I got on Paxil and a week or two later I was back in New Orleans dedicated to become the best football player that I could be. That is when I came out and told people that yeah, there’s something wrong. And my teammates, my coaching staff, everyone can tell you that from that point on I was really a different person. And I tell you, today and every day since then I get stronger, I get more confident, I get better. And, I’m up here in New York talking to a lot of people letting them know my story because if I’m who I am and I can do it, then anyone can do it. If your social anxiety is holding you back, talk to someone. It 10. When did you begin to see a difference?
People who have experienced this know that the minute you have something to call it and you know that there is help, you immediately start to feel better. Before you have all these questions and you don’t have any answers, and once you start to get answers, you immediately start to feel better. I think with the help of therapy and medication, you can prolong that feeling of feeling better and you can actually start to improve and when you see an improvement, it’s like a snowball effect, you start to get better and better and 11. Are you looking forward to your life in Miami?
I really felt like I did a wonderful job the past season in New Orleans dealing with my social anxiety. I got a place in the French Quarter I walked everywhere, I got a chance to finally enjoy New Orleans and it’s kind of unfortunate that by the time I felt comfortable and started enjoying New Orleans, I had to leave. I look at that as being a negative, but on the positive side I get a chance to start over in Miami where I’m entering a situation with confidence and knowing that I can handle anything that comes my way. That confidence really helps me do things on a regular basis and feel more normal. I think the fact that Miami is a bigger city and everyone in Miami isn’t a Dolphins fan and I mean, really sports fans, it helps me too that everywhere I go people don’t recognize me and it’s not a situation where no matter where I go or what I do I have to talk to people about 12. Why do you feel so strongly about coming forward and telling people about
your social anxiety disorder?
Right after I talked to Janey, I just felt this warmth come over me. I knew that I felt better right away and I knew that I was going to keep on feeling better and that my life was going to change for the better. And it’s changed so much for the better, if I can help 2 people, 3 people, let alone 2 or 3 million people see that and change their life for the better, then I’m definitely doing my part in my lifetime to make this world to be a better 1997-2002 GlaxoSmithKline. All Rights Reserved.



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