ANNELI Maley can trace her depression back to the Australian Institute of Sport.
It is there Maley, then 17, became consumed by basketball.
It defined her.
It broke her, slowly but surely.
Depression crept up on the junior basketball prodigy whose mental state disintegrated after being swept up in a high-performance black hole.
“At the ‘Tute’ you’re surrounded by phenomenal athletes and I was constantly comparing myself to everyone else,” Maley said.
“I was in my head all the time, I didn’t really know what was going on. I was flat all the time.”
But 21 year-old Maley, the daughter of NBL legend Paul, is proud of her journey back from the brink and speaks accordingly.
“Depression is an awful sickness … as bad as any physical illness, it’s awful to deal with and so many people do deal with it,” Maley said.
Anneli and her father, retired NBL legend Paul Maley. Picture: Anneli MaleySource:Supplied
Maley still gets calls from aspiring athletes in crisis.
“I get a lot of girls calling me every year after they’ve left (the AIS),” Maley said.
“It’s a pretty scary thing as a 17 year-old to be told you have depression, you have anxiety, you’re having panic attacks.
“It’s like ‘No. It can’t be me, I’m an athlete’.
“I’m hoping now, the more the conversation is happening the more they realise, you shouldn’t be defined by your mental illness,
“A lot of the girls that call me don’t realise that … they see the struggle they’re going through and it’s hard.”
The circuit breaker Maley so desperately needed came in November 2015.
“I called him (dad, Paul), and he said something to me along the lines of ‘I don’t care if you play basketball or not, I just want you to be happy’,” Maley said.
It hit home. She was not happy.
Maley quit there and then.
“It wasn’t that I hated it (basketball), I was lost and I didn’t know who I was,” Maley said.
“I was too defined by basketball and now I define myself as a person, not as a basketball player.
“That was an important step for me to make, to realise I was more than what I did every day.
“I’m not Anneli, that girl that had depression. I’m just Anneli, I had a mental illness … but that mental illness made me mentally unbreakable now.”
Maley sought out professional help during the break, reconnected with family and found a new passion and outlet — art and graphic design.
“I couldn’t have done it without my parents, I don’t think I’d be having this conversation with you today if I didn’t have the support of my parents,” Maley said.
It “clicked” as Maley sat on a riverbank and stared over the flowing water 12 months after the diagnosis.
Maley, then 18 with “legend” Hank, a Maltese Shih tzu “something” by her side, felt freed of the mental health struggles.
Junior medals and championships were big, but beating depression is her proudest feat.
“It is so easy to get caught up in not wanting other people to know you’re struggling, not wanting to be seen as weak,” Maley said.
“That weird stigma needs to be thrown out the window, everyone goes through something … it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Stepping back on the court in 2016 was a watershed moment.
Just days after a low key suburban return she moved to Adelaide, at the urging of Lightning coach Chris Lucas, on a promise she would fall back in love with basketball.
To a word, Lucas was right and Maley has not looked back since.
She spent two years playing college ball in America and returned to Melbourne last January.
Anneli Maley in action for NBL1 outfit Diamond Valley Eagles. Picture: Chris EastmanSource:News Corp Australia
Maley had an NBL1 team, university enrolment, and a job with WNBL apparel provider iAthletic, within weeks.
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness has helped her stay on track.
“I’m an athlete, I’m an artist, I’m a student, I’m a worker, and I’m a family member,” Maley said.
“It’s not just being a basketball player anymore.”
Maley draws and sketches in her spare time, mostly people’s face with an “abstract twist”.
“I like doing people’s faces because that’s what everyone sees,” Maley said.
“The reason I do the abstract, the colours and extra things around it because there’s always more to a face than what I can actually put on paper,” Maley said.
Balance is king, on and off the court.
It led to a breakout NBL1 season and multiple WNBL options but Maley signed with Southside Flyers, formerly Dandenong Rangers, to stay in Melbourne after time abroad.
“I’m in a pretty blessed position because I get to train against Opals and WNBA players every day,” Maley said ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster with Melbourne Boomers.
“People know me for smiling all the time and it’s not fake, I really just can’t help it,” Maley said.
“I’m just happy to be here and happy to experience every day because there was a time where I couldn’t find a smile even if I tried.
“If I can smile, why don’t I?”
Originally published asDepression: ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of’
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