At a lovely party last Saturday night with some lovely friends. Chit chatting. Drink drunking. Nib nubbling. (Hey! I made a word!)
Then my friend’s husband — as in, the dude hosting the par-tay — came over and asked her, “Should we play wiffle ball now?”
She was all, “Suuuure.” She slouched a little more in her chair and took a long schlurp of her drink. It was clear she didn’t have a concern in the world.
But me? I was freaking OUT. He might as well have said, “Let’s all get naked and go jogging somewhere where there’s lots of flourescent lighting.”
Peeps. I cannot play team sports.
Yeah, I was that kid
Have you noticed how much time I spend blogging? That should be a pretty good indication of my level of athletic prowess. Who else would have time to write as a hobby except for someone who can’t properly throw, catch or hit a ball?
This team-sports phobia (yes, I think that’s the right word) … it’s a thing for me. It goes waaaaay back.
Maybe it all stems from being a shy kid. Being up at bat with EVERYONE LOOKING was too much to handle.
After a certain age, gym class was a nightmare. I just wanted to live through the hour. So I would tune out.
Perhaps the rest of the class was playing volleyball, but in my head I was being a groundbreaking intelligent but hilarious MTV veejay interviewing super-hot rock stars who all wanted to date me.
Then I’d get nailed in the head with a ball or throw it to the totally wrong person and then remember that, oh yeah, you’re not really supposed to throw in volleyball are you? (Right?)
So yeah, the fact that I refused to pay attention certainly didn’t help matters. But it was my defense mechanism.
No one ever made fun of me (to my face, anyway) back in school. I wasn’t scorned in any other way. I wasn’t a social outcast.
But as far as I remember, no one ever showed me how to hold a bat. How to stand. How to connect. I never learned.
And if someone did show me, I was probably so overpowered by anxiety that I couldn’t pay attention anyway.
Do I really have to?
I love to ride my bike, roller blade, go hiking. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this stuff. I enjoy yoga. I have dabbled in T’ai Chi. I plan on taking up kayaking. I’d love to learn to play golf (OK, mostly so I can drive the golf cart and have an excuse to stand around outside running my mouth on a nice day, but still, it’s a sport, people. It counts.)
But team sports are not my thing. And the good news is, they usually don’t have to be.
You know, except when my friend’s poopyhead husband brandishes a plastic bat at me.
I am in awe of people who can just casually get up and hit a ball. Or catch it. Or throw it and have it go where it’s supposed to.
I know, as an adult, that I can now do many, many things that I thought I couldn’t do in the past. I am totally teachable.
But it was shocking to find out that my sports anxiety could still sock me in the face like a slushy facial.
Regrets. I’ve had a few
Years ago, at my first job out of college, I worked with a nice, goofy buncha people. There was a company softball team and they asked me to join.
“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t really like softball.”
They kept asking. Why? Because they were nice and I was part of the gang and they wanted me to be there to enhance their after-work hours with my adorable smartassy awesomeness.
And maybe also, they needed another player.
This one guy was insistent. He was all, “It doesn’t matter if you’re any good. You can just come out and have a few laughs. We have a great time and don’t take it seriously at all. It’s mostly just an excuse to hang out.”
Finally I realized he wasn’t going to leave me alone unless I came out of the closet.
“‘I can’t play,” I told him. “I literally cannot play. I don’t even know how to hold a bat. Just thinking about it gives me an anxiety attack. I want to cry right now. I don’t know if it’s a phobia or what, but I just can’t do it.”
He was quiet.
I knew he was thinking that I was a TOTAL AND COMPLETE LOSER.
And also, a head case.
A coworker across the aisle was listening in. She piped up, “You know what? If it’s really that bad for you, don’t go. It’s not worth it.”
I had finally come out with one of my biggest fears. And with her statement, I realized something: You don’t have to face all your fears. Sometimes you can just walk away.
So I did.
Dear team sports: Fuck off.
I guess in a sliding doors universe, there’s the reality where I decided to face my fears. Where I joined the team anyway. Where I decided to show up and admit that I had no idea what I was doing. Where I told someone: “Teach me to play like you would a four-year old. Start there.” In that universe, I would get progressively better over the season and people would cheer my first hit and buy me beers afterward. In that universe, by the end of the season I would’ve acquired legitimate skills. In that universe, possibly, for the first time, I would’ve known what I was doing.
But I didn’t.
I walked away. Maybe that’s not as bold as facing my fears head on, but I realized that choosing to not put any more attention on a fear is OK. It takes the power out of it.
Of course, if you do that, then that fear remains unconquered. Maybe eventually it comes back. But maybe when it comes back around you’ll be more in a position to deal with it. Maybe, like, when you’re 40 and surrounded by friends.
Back to the effing wiffle ball
Last week at the party, I decided to play. “Pick me last,” I told the team captains. “I cancel out at least two good players.” I volunteered to be the team heckler but I could only go so far because there were kids around.
Then it was my turn at bat. I know right now you all want me to tell you that I magically hit a home run or even singled, now that I realize I’m 40 years old and have learned powerful life lessons like it’s only wiffle ball, dammit.
But life is not a movie, people.
First pitch. Swing. Miss.
Second pitch. Swing. Hit.
But whatever! I hit it!
I took a victory lap around the bases anyway and told the other players that the fact that I HIT THE BALL was surely worthy of a point.
They didn’t buy it.
They didn’t know. They didn’t know that while I was acting like a tipsy goof, I was really working through some serious, decades-old anxiety.
And then, I would like to tell you that I played the rest of the game like a good sport.
But fuck alla that.
I got myself another drink and went up to cluck with the other hens on the deck. “Come back,” my friend said. “Don’t leave me!”
“I have my period,” I yelled. “I can’t take gym class today. I have a note from my mother.”
Honestly, that one turn at bat was all I could take. You can’t expect someone with a fear of heights to jump out of a plane. But you can maybe get them to go up a few steps.
So I took a few steps.
I know a lot of you are thinking WHAT’S THE BIG GODDAMN DEAL?
It’s this: I can’t hit a ball. As a kid, I thought it meant this:
I’m inadequate. I’m not as good as everyone else. I’m too fat. My parents grew up poor and didn’t know they were supposed to put us in sports and even if they had known, they couldn’t afford it. Everyone will finally realize that I’m a worthless loser. Everyone will see that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll be exposed.
As an adult, it was only slightly different:
I’m inadequate. I’m not as good as everyone else. I’m too fat. Everyone will see that all my confidence is bullshit. People will lose respect for me. The Irishman (who is very athletic) will dump me. His athletic kid will think I’m a loser. My friends will be reminded that I’m hopeless at team sports and see that I haven’t improved one damn whit since high school. But I’m not a quitter and I’ve faced so many things in life and I can face this, too, but I’m so so, scared.
Listen, my friends are nice people. I know they don’t give a crap if I can’t hit a ball. And the Irishman? I’m always trying to show him my bad side to see if he can handle it. (“Hey babe! Watch this! I’m going to yell at my kids now! You watchin’? See how crazy I am? You better run now while you have the chance! Go! Save yourself! Hey! Want to see how I look without any makeup at all???? Ever seen stretch marks up close?”)
Afterwards no one treated me differently. No one ever treated me differently after gym class, either, although I was always waiting for it.
So OK. I didn’t totally 100% face this fear this time.
But I didn’t walk away from it either. I guess that’s a start.