This may surprise some of you, but I am an anxious kid. Everything worries me - and has ever since I transferred from private to public school. I was very shy growing up and would've suffered a massive stroke working up the courage to address someone without them acknowledging me first. I realized pretty quickly the best way to make friends - sports. Basketball was my first love, with my dad and I playing all the time in the driveway and watching the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic (the only two teams worth watching in the 90's). So when seventh grade rolled around and we were allowed to try out for sports, I tried out for basketball. I was good enough to play for junior varsity and I didn't let it bother me that I was only one of three white girls in the whole program. Sports helped me cultivate a persona that allowed me deal with my anxiety about being around large groups of kids I didn't have a lot in common with.
As the years went by and I transitioned from sports to other clubs, I gained more and more confidence in what I called my 'outside character'. This loud mouthed, opinionated, funny, and very sarcastic kid would never struggle with anxiety, would never let things like learning how to drive cause her so much anxiety. That kid would never sit in the driver's seat, shaking as her brain helpfully told her all the things that could go wrong with her behind the wheel; How she would cause an accident and have no insurance so her poor parents would have to quite literally pay for her mistakes. My anxiety was so bad, I would sit in my room and just read, so I wouldn't have to deal with the outside world. And if I wasn't reading books about sports, I was watching them or playing them. Sports was my escape. My anxiety had no place in sports.
My dad died of complications of lung cancer in the spring of 2016. I was in college finally finishing my bachelor's degree and I was asked to come home and say my goodbyes. My dad had been my idol since the moment I first opened my eyes and it seemed unbearably cruel to lose him when I was just finding my footing in this crazy world. I wept bitter tears as I kissed him goodbye in that cold hospital room and couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he was gone. I felt like I no longer had a purpose, a motivation to finish college, to live my life, if he wasn't there to see it. My anxiety took on another facet, hyper-focusing on my mom every time she coughed or caught a cold. What if she got sick too? What would I do if I lost BOTH my parents? I needed an outlet. MY outlet. Enter sports.
I went to a Houston Dash game two months after he died and as I sat on the sidelines, watching the teams and clutching my Carli Lloyd jersey (so it didn't fall on the ground and get dirty), I felt something I hadn't felt since my dad first got sick - freedom. I wasn't anxious about what I was going to do about school, what I was going to do about the suicidal thoughts that whispered softly in my ear every night, what I was going to do if my mom ever got sick. I was free of all that, because of my love for the game. For the opportunity to turn my brain off and just watch this beautiful sport.
Things aren't easy for humans right now. With COVID-19 marching slowly across the planet, everything has been cancelled, sports being one of the first to go. And it was hard at first. Not having my usual schedule of sports to disappear into has been leaving me with plenty of time for my anxiety to quiz me. What am I going to do if I get sick? If my mom gets sick? If my nephews get sick? If ANYONE I know gets sick? What am I going to do if I can't get another job and am unable pay my paltry health insurance premium?
In the interest if trying to fight against my rising anxiety, I turned to another source of comfort; books. One entire row of my bookshelf are just sports books, autobiographies, stats and narratives. Immersing myself in these stories, in the thoughts and feelings of players I was used to seeing on my screen, helped calm my raging thoughts and allowed me to not only find some peace, but also reminded me how much I loved reading and learning new things - which have inspired me to purchase my first ukulele (I'll keep you updated on how that learning process is going). I still miss sports desperately and watch old games. Fox Sports has been airing the USWNT's greatest hits, the WNBA's league pass is free for this entire month (I believe) and there's plenty of old NWSL games to relive (go watch Sky Blue complete that crazy comeback against FCKC, it is everything that makes soccer so amazing).
Even with all of the difficulties of life in the age of COVID-19 I still have my health, my student loans have been put on forbearance and most of all, I'm part of a group chat with some of the most amazing people to write for Backline Soccer. So I'm learning to cope without sports by reminding myself (and my anxiety) that for the most part everything will be okay.
Also, wash your hands, people.