On mental health: Michael Cedar strives to bring dark issues to light

He stands in the middle of the court. The gym is dark, and lit by a dimming globe. The jump shot falls short, and the ball hits the rim. He falls to the hardwood.

"Am I good enough? Am I a good enough father, son, or even a friend?"

Tears run down his face. His frame shudders. Every ounce of dominance he has built up through his career and life vanishes, as his soul is exposed. He becomes just another human, floating through this life.

The noise from the crowd grows, as he stands at the three-point line and takes the shot. It lands to push his team ahead and for that brief moment, the shadow is gone. Just for a while, the toll of expectations wreaking havoc on his mind vanish into the shadows.

Michael Cedar is - and has been - many things: a father, a brother, a husband, basketball star, leader, champion. It's about none of these today. Instead, he wants to share his experiences with mental health. Cedar is stepping forward to show another aspect of himself, with the hopes of becoming an advocate for his fellow brothers and men who are suffering.

“Basketball became my life from a very young age, and it gave me the opportunity to feel confident within myself. I was good at it, and worked my butt off to be good at it. I was a completely different person when I was on the floor,” Cedar said.

As a role model both on and off the court, Cedar is aiming to drive positive change regarding men’s mental health issues.

“If people read this and can relate in any way, knowing that it’s okay to not be okay, that will mean me telling my story has been a success. For those young people who want to make something of themselves - do not be afraid to listen to your feelings and don’t lose your dream because you were afraid to talk to someone.”

There are certain feelings the public often perceives as not being manly: that of anxiety, feeling down or simply, bottling it all up and not being able to talk about our feelings.

It all ends now. We must have each other’s backs and buck the stigma that only continues to worsen in Australia. The risk factor for suicide is extremely high amongst men: six out of every eight suicides in Australia being one of our fathers, brothers or mates. These male deaths in Australia every year is double the national road toll, with the suicide rate peaking between 16 to 24.

I take great pride and passion in being able to work with somebody I have come to respect greatly as not only a talented and handy basketballer, but also as a man and mentor. The message is clear; with every person who hears it, this piece has done what Cedar sets out to achieve.

“Mental health doesn’t discriminate and will affect anyone at any time, no matter how successful you are or how well your life seems to be going. My mental health issues taught me to become someone that wasn’t truly me.

“Growing up in a family with extremely strong male role models who I never saw show emotion, made me think it wasn’t right to speak up on how I felt. Looking back on the time I have spent battling mental health issues, I feel very privileged to be here today to tell my story,” Cedar said.

As both a teacher and a role model to his younger fans, he spoke out that he understood and had experienced the lows at this point in his life.

“My earliest memories of my struggles with mental health I can trace back to my younger years of schooling. Not being able to control my emotions and having anger outbursts or completely supressing my feelings and shutting down to the point where no one can talk to me. Dealing with anxiety, depression and racism have been huge parts of my life.”

As a passionate Indigenous man who takes great pride in his Torres Strait Islander heritage, Cedar admits he was a victim of racism for a long period, and this led to the toll his mental health took during his formative years, and had him questioning his identity growing up. He made an admission that left me a little overcome.

“It becomes harder when you look around and see a lot of white faces and realise just how different you are. I will say, I have had moments in my younger years where I would wonder if my life would be easier if I was white.

“I developed a hatred for anything that was even close to a racial slur or even someone looking at me in a way where I thought they were thinking racial thoughts. I would bottle all my emotions up, and then would get to boiling point and explode,” Cedar said.

It was at 16 - and maturing as a basketballer - that he first sought help for his issues, a decision he attributes as a pinnacle moment in his life and in creating the versatile player he is today. It is this which motivates Cedar to be a voice and advocate for younger generations.

“A sports psychologist helped me develop ways to cope with this, but I found out later in life that you can’t just talk about it once and be cured of it. People will say, children that young can’t develop mental issues or remember that stuff or do they really understand what’s being said? That’s simply wrong and we need to change that mentality. I can remember everybody in my life who has ever said something derogatory towards me, especially from a boy on the playground climbing gym when I was in year one. I remember it clearly and that has stuck with me ever since.”

Even beyond this, we were yet to scratch the surface when it came to the true cost of mental health. Cedar has reached great heights, and has grown to become a true representative of the community both on and off the court. Unfortunately, to suffer in silence is often the way men deal with these issues – as it was for Cedar.

“Mental health issues really impacted how I played and may have been the reason my professional basketball career was cut short. I had worked extremely hard to get to the point where I was realising my childhood dreams. I had a decent professional career and was well known in Townsville and could go places and be recognised wherever I went. For a young kid dreaming of playing basketball for his beloved Crocodiles - you would think I was living my dream.”

Cedar had a training regime of two hours court training with an hour of weights per day, and it left a lot of down time, where he was alone with his thoughts. This was a very dark place for the Townsville Crocodile star.

“Spending money on unnecessary things and drinking alcohol far more than I should have been had become a regular occurrence. On days off, I would often just lie in bed all day. I was struggling and didn’t say anything to anybody. In 2012 it all came spiraling down and I hit tipping point and ended up in the hospital with fears that I would take my own life.”

This was the end of a career that could have skyrocketed even further. He would return to complete the 2013 season but admits he became a shell of the player he was formerly. The message is here and Cedar hopes to deliver it loudly. The Logan Thunder mainstay and captain takes the fact he will always have mental scars and to move forward has established himself as an advocate who has experienced the rise and falls of depression.

“Unfortunately, I never got a chance to redeem myself in the NBL after the 2013 season, to show I could still play. I was given a chance to trial for a spot back with the Crocodiles at the beginning of the 2014 season, but I just shut down and talked myself into forfeiting that opportunity at redemption because my mental space still was not right.

I received another opportunity to work out in front of the Brisbane Bullets coach when they returned to the league, I was ready to go but fear crept in and I didn’t show. I made up excuses and told myself I would get another chance but it never happened.”

Cedar had realised that his career at the top was over and his state of mind continued to be a heavy influence on his choices. The 2018 QBL season has allowed him to realise what is truly important in life and get focussed on that: his professional career away from the sport but more importantly his growing family - his second child with wife Haylee is due later this year.

Comradery and brotherhood-based relationships are vitally important for men. Cedar attributes one of these relationships as having a huge influence on him, both on and off the court.

“One of my defining moments in my basketball career was meeting my best mate, Luke Cann [Logan Thunder men’s coach]. I had never met anyone at that stage of my life that wasn’t my family, who saw me for me. He knew exactly how to push me to become the best player I could be and how to help control my anger issues I struggled with. The relationships and networks of support that I have developed over my time with basketball – they are the reason that I still play today.” Cedar reflects.

“[Mental health] is something that is close to me as I have dealt with, both having anxiety and depression as well as making it through the other side. When you are suffering, your mind will lack the ability to think with clarity and the clouds can smother you.

"Basketball and brotherhood goes hand in hand. We use the word to explain the connection we have in that moment with our team mates, the bonds we have are built through experiences, battles and going to war on the court. We are supposed to be strong, both physically and mentally and not let our brothers down. We are human and the way we think, worry and navigate the world is a big part of our growth.

"We need to understand that it’s okay to not be okay. Seek help and talk about any negative or cloudy thoughts we are having,

"Mick and I have been able to help each other... we have both been through tough times but always knew that we had each other’s back if we were struggling or needed help or guidance. We were tight as kids then when our lives started to take different courses. We were always there for each other. I learnt a lot through seeing his struggle... it has helped me be a better leader and coach for my players. Simply by knowing we have a tight bond allows us to keep pushing each other and making us better fathers, people, partners and professionals.” Cann adds.

The roots that grow from his heritage, coupled with an intense love for his culture are huge motivators for Cedar. It continues to drive him to be the best player and role model he can be, for the younger generations that look up to him. It’s a huge reason that makes him want to be a vocal spokesperson on mental health issues and the impact it has on our society.

“I see a lot of young Indigenous people especially up home, committing crime, giving us all the stereotype that we don’t want, and I fear the effects all these things are going to have on the next generation of young Indigenous people coming through,” Cedar said.

In continuing his community work and the spreading of his message and mission as a spokesperson, he has organised an event for the Logan community and all basketball fans. Under 18s get free entry.

“We will be showing the next generation they have a range of different opportunities that are now available to them when it comes to sport through basketball,” Cedar said.

The event will be a celebration of culture and sport with a game headlined by the Logan Thunder playing the Apunipima Australian Indigenous All-Stars. This showcase will take place at Logan Basketball (Bendigo Bank Stadium at Cornubia) tipping off at 6pm. Tickets for $5 with all profits going to Beyond Blue and the great work they do for mental health.

“I take my role as a passionate member of my community and hope to continue be an active spokesperson on these issues for those who feel they don’t have a voice. This event will be the first step in being able to that.” he concluded.

Although basketball has and always been a mainstay of his life and the core of who Cedar is, we are truly humbled to have him as a role model and community leader into the future.

Stand united, shake the stigma off, once and for all. Cedar's story, and those like him tell a very simple lesson.

It’s not manly to keep quiet.