The announcement by Josh Gordon that he is utilizing “the resources available to me that will ensure my well-being on and off the field” and will not be at the start of training camp has left a lot of people openly wondering what his status is and what is going on. I don’t know what is going on more than anyone else, but I know a lot about anxiety, substance use and abuse, and mental illness (day job and personal experience) and I’m here to say its time to pump the brakes on the speculation.
Let’s start off with what was put out there. First off, here is the tweet that contains his statement. ESPN is reporting that league sources are saying this is due to anxiety. What is clear is that he will not be at training camp and that this is related to his treatment. We are all used to talking about guys who are injured and injury recovery but when it comes to issues of mental health, its a different animal. I’m hoping to shed some light on what could be happening here so people can understand that everyone deals with these issues differently and presuming what Gordon is going through is a dangerous activity. I’ll also be focusing on the anxiety, not the marijuana.
Josh Gordon has spoken about his anxiety before, this isn’t news. He also openly discussed how he used marijuana to cope with anxiety. Let’s start with anxiety in general and we can discuss the substance use later. Anxiety is an odd mental issue that many people experience differently. Anxiety is basically an uncontrollable worry that an individual cannot get over or handle in a normal manner. Sometimes anxiety is based in social situations, sometimes it is based in fears (I fear flying among other things), but it is always disruptive to the individual’s well being. The major difference between normal stress and anxiety issues is the inability to deal with or dismiss the source of anxiety. Now everyone has stress. The difference between what we consider normal stress and and anxiety is that anxiety can cripple an individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living. Lots of people feel uncomfortable at a party where they dont know a lot of people, but they still can attend the party. Lots of people dislike going to a funeral, but they can go. Individuals with anxiety cannot perform some of these activities without significant distress and it can be any activity of daily life, working, going outside, talking to people, etc. Its important to understand that everyone is different and those who experience anxiety, experience it in different ways. As a personal example, just this week, I needed to change insurance companies, the premiums had gotten too high and I found another quote that was the same coverage for half the price. Thats when my anxiety kicked in: What if the company stinks? Will I still be ok with coverage? What if I have a car accident? What if they double my rate in a year? What about my other insurances? Etc… It consumed me for almost two days. In the end, I made the change and it was fine, but I could not dismiss those thoughts. I could not stop thinking about it for two days. In the end, it was two quick phone calls and it was done, but I was terrified to make a mistake. It really sucks.
Self treatment for anxiety is how the majority of folks cope. Alcohol is a depressant, it slows down the thoughts and, for some folks, can make things tolerable. Just go to a party and watch that one guy sitting in the corner, alone, nervously sipping a drink, he’s probably anxious. Go to the airport and watch the guy who does a double in the lounge before taking a deep breath and boarding the plane just to order another drink, he’s probably anxious. Marijuana also is used in a similar manner, it mellows you out, allows your brain to better handle the stress and both these activities are considered social activities, so for a person who has social anxiety, its a perfect fit, its acceptable to ‘self-medicate’. The problem with the self treatment is that there is conflicting thoughts on long term use and effectiveness. Some believe that marijuana use actually can make the anxiety worse over time. Some drinkers find their sleep disturbed and increased symptoms when they sober up. Some people will swear it works well for them, some will swear it makes it worse. I personally believe that everyone experiences anxiety differently, so everyone copes and treats it differently and everyone recovers from it differently. Alcohol and drugs become an issue when you stop using them to cope and start abusing them to cope. I can’t say thats what Josh Gordon is experiencing, thats something between him and his team.
So let’s talk about Josh Gordon. He’s openly discussed his anxiety, he’s discussed how he used marijuana to cope with the anxiety and now he appears to be on a treatment plan to learn how to deal with his individual symptoms without marijuana. So does this delay of arriving at camp mean something bad is happening? The easy answer is: probably not. Its impossible to tell where he is in his recovery from anxiety, and frankly, we don’t need to know, its a private thing. Its impossible to be sure that he will be available for opening day and even if he is, there is no guarantee he will play the entire season without issue. Anxiety is not something you “cure”. Some people learn techniques and are able to manage their stress without a moment of anxiety again in their lives, but many do not. Its a constant effort to keep on top of the anxiety and live the life you want to live. Josh will likely have good days and bad, particularly this early in his treatment and how he handles them will determine his success. Keep in mind, he has to run out onto a field with tens of thousands of eyes on him, thats a big step for a guy who has admitted he has had anxiety in social situations, maybe it will be a good thing for him, we will have to wait and see. The good news is that he is on a treatment plan and is getting help that will allow him to continue his career and live a healthier life.
We’ll all be happy to see him back out there and I hope his honesty about his anxiety will help others who have hid their symptoms to seek assistance. What about the fantasy impact? Does this slide him down the board at all? For me, it does not move the needle. I’ll be keeping him in the same slot I had him in before this news broke and if he slides down the board a bit as a result, thats just better value for me later. Josh was a risky pick because of the suspensions before this news broke, so this just substitutes one ‘what if’ with another one, so I’ll be keeping him steady.
In the end, I think its important for everyone to understand that what he is dealing with is not like a normal injury, its a unique and personal situation that you may or may not be able to understand. The news that he will not be in camp was likely broken in advance to avoid questions next week, this will help him focus on his recovery and not the press. And most importantly, let’s not rush to judgement that this is a good thing or a bad thing, let the man get his stuff together so he can live his life. At the end of the day, he’s a human like the rest of us and he deserves a chance to live the best life possible and if that means he needs a little extra time to make sure he is ready to step out on the field, let him have it.