Social Anxiety: Dodgers’ Greinke Finds A Way To Fit In

Taken from the Orange County Register  which is located   HERE.

He hates traffic as much as anyone transplanted to Southern California. In fact, after signing with the Dodgers as a free agent this winter, he wanted to live on a beach. But the thought of fighting the traffic to Dodger Stadium on a regular basis was so unappealing he looked into another option – taking a helicopter to the park.

“I did. I looked into it but I don’t think you can land at the stadium,” Greinke said. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

Nor is Greinke unique in dealing with social anxiety disorder. Despite talent that has made him one of the highest-paid pitchers in baseball history, the right-hander nearly walked away six years ago before he was diagnosed with the condition. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 15 million American adults are diagnosed with social phobia or social anxiety disorder in any given year.

“I guess it started in high school or just before,” Greinke said, fitting the NIMH timeline that says social anxiety disorder sufferers usually begin exhibiting symptoms around age 13. “When it’s all you ever knew, it seems normal, I guess.”

For Greinke, things reached a head as a 22-year-old in spring 2006. So he simply walked away from the Royals during spring training.

“In life you have to do things you don’t want to do,” he said in reflection Friday, agreeing to address the topic once (and only once) with reporters covering his new team. “But I was raised to do what you enjoy doing, whether you are making several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year or $30,000 per year.

“That was my thought, why am I putting myself through the torture I was when I didn’t really want to do it? I mean, I enjoyed playing. But everything else around it, I didn’t. … I was having anxiety coming to the park every day. I didn’t have any family at the time. I didn’t see any reason to put myself through it. Maybe if I had two kids and I had to support a family, it would have been different. At the time, I didn’t see any reason to keep pushing through it.”

Despite that, Greinke said he didn’t even realize he had a problem and yet he searched for answers in various directions. He read self-help books and considered self-medicating with alcohol as a way to mask his discomfort in social situations.

Instead, he was persuaded to return to the Royals and work with a sports psychologist. He pitched some in Double-A and only three games in the majors in 2006.

It wasn’t the sessions with a sports psychologist that allowed him to move forward, Greinke said – “talking about it didn’t help me at all.” It was when he was actually diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and started taking Zoloft, joining more than 37 million other Americans in taking the second most-prescribed antidepressant in the country. Greinke still takes the pill daily.

“I haven’t really had a problem with any of it since 2007,” Greinke said. “I don’t really think about it ever anymore. It was just the medicine. It really was.

“It’s just something that was a problem but it’s not really now. Sure, it may be later on. But it’s not now.”

Maturing has also helped, Greinke said – “learning about myself” and what situations to avoid. He doesn’t like being the center of attention anywhere but on the mound. He does interviews with reporters reluctantly and tries to restrict them to after games when he pitches. Eye contact is minimal at best. But he is forthright and cooperative when he does talk. He doesn’t like to be recognized or approached by fans away from the park but he understands “it’s part of the job.”

And he gets along with teammates – even if he doesn’t see the point in idle chit-chat.

“I don’t really want to talk about nothing – or less than nothing,” he said. “If it’s interesting, yeah, I’ll talk. But just, ‘How was your day?’ I’m not interested in that.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was aware of Greinke’s history when the team pursued him last fall. But once he met with Greinke, Mattingly said “it really felt like a non-issue.”

“He’s very honest and upfront with you about it and how he deals with it,” Mattingly said. “It takes all types. I’ve learned that over the years. Some guys are going to be loud. Some guys are going to be funny. Some guys are going to be quiet.

“Really when it comes down to it, it’s – does a guy compete? Does a guy prepare? That’s what it’s going to come down to.”

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