I’ve always gotten performance anxiety when playing sports. Interestingly, I don’t get the slightest bit nervous giving presentations, leading meetings, or doing anything pertaining to work. You win some and lose some, I guess. Performance anxiety in sports is my “lose some”, and yesterday was no exception. Around 1pm I started having a completely unnecessary freak-out over my upcoming 5:30pm tennis match, my first tennis match of the season through a new tennis league that I just joined. In freak-outs such as these I have flashbacks to dreams where I try to run but can only move at the pace of a snail or I try to scream but only a whisper comes out. It’s completely irrational. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in real life. Right? Right. After a handful of text messages soliciting support from friends and the hubs I was feeling better. Like one friend said, “Courage is being terrified but doing it anyway.” But objectively, my worst nightmare just couldn’t happen. When I registered for the league I located my skill level and then chose the level below it just in case. Then, last week when we got the kickoff email, we were told that those new to the league had been moved down a level from the one they had selected just in case. I was feeling better remembering this. My fears are completely unjustified, I thought. Stop being neurotic and just get out there!
Driving to the court my anxiety was still moderately high, but it was lessening. I started mentally preparing myself for getting spanked even though I was fairly certain it wouldn’t happen. In this “spanking” visualization, I saw myself having some good volleys back and forth but being dominated by smart angles that I just couldn’t get to because of my knee. “Yes, it would be embarrassing if this was to happen, but even if I don’t win it will at least be nice to play,” I thought.
My first clue something was wrong was when I asked my opponent about her tennis experience. She was ranked and played in college. Um, okayyyyyyy. We proceeded to warm up. Okay, I thought, I can do this. Then we started to play, and it became apparent quite quickly that this was a joke. Who was punking me??? I couldn’t return most of her serves, I felt like a complete dolt when I served, and I think I won four points the entire match (three of which she “lost”, only one of which I truly “won”). About three games in all I could think about was getting this over with so I could go cry in my car. This wasn’t my worst nightmare – the nightmare that had been causing me anxiety all fucking day – it was WORSE than my worst nightmare by far! It was ridiculous! It was like putting a toddler in one of those red and yellow plastic cars in the Indie 500. We were both completely miserable playing each other, and as much as I just wanted to forfeit or start being an asshole and hit home runs, I didn’t. I played to the best of my ability and I lost 6-0, 6-0. The whole match took about 25 minutes (the longest 25 minutes of my life), and when it was over I met my opponent at the net and shook her hand. “Good game,” I said. “Fuck me,” I thought. “I had more fun at my pap smear earlier this week.”
Despite having gotten to the place where I could cash in on my reward for just having gotten through the match (being able to cry in my car), I wasn’t feeling it. Sure, my ego was bruised, but more than that I was pissed – pissed at the league for matching us up. I mean, what the fuck?! Instead of crying, I sat in my car for a while to calm down and popped a Xanax. Let me tell you what is not a good idea: taking Xanax after physical exertion. It felt like I had taken six pills instead of one. Great. Better chug some water to get this metabolizing. Now I have to pee. I have to pee really bad. While I’d like to be able to tell you I peed myself for the sake of this story, I did not. I made it home, I acted like a baby, I self-medicated with food, and then I went to bed. Why? Because I’m a grown up.
Last night and this morning I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can learn from this. For me, it’s several things. First, I’m used to being good at things. Why? Well, for one I position myself to participate in things that I’m already good at. Like everyone else, I feel good when I do things I succeed at, but this made me realize that by constantly positioning myself in this manner I’m sheltering my emotions, and is that healthy? Being completely spanked last night made me realize that I am indeed not the shit that I thought I was. Having a consistently high level of self-esteem is good, but getting a healthy dose of “put you in your place” also serves a purpose. It teaches you how to deal with loss and failure. Those feelings I felt last night during and after the game are unique feelings that I don’t feel very often. While it would be sadistic to try and feel them more frequently, I think I can learn a lot from feeling them infrequently, and each time I feel them I’m better prepared to deal with feeling them again, which is good.
Next, I think I need to learn to take more risks outside my comfort zone. While they could certainly result in complete and utter failure like they did last night, they could also result in surprising success (success, not necessarily equating to winning). I honestly feel kind of blah most of the time, because (again) I’m so conservative with my emotions that I stick to what I’m good at and don’t venture too far away from that. I think part of the excitement of life that I’ve been missing lately is taking that leap into the unknown. I need to get on that.
Lastly, there was obviously some sort of fuckup within the league assignments. I am in no way on par with a nationally-ranked player. While this was immediately obvious, for one reason or another I put it out of my mind and allowed myself to feel as bad as I thought I should have felt had we actually been at the same skill level. You never hear a great high school football player comparing himself to an NFL MVP, because it would be ridiculous to do so (okay, you almost never do). So, why did I allow myself a similar comparison? I’ve always been better at tennis than anyone I know, but I’m not nationally ranked. I think this is a bit of my Type-A Virgo personality shining through that allowed the comparison. While it’s natural for me to be unnecessarily hard on myself, I’m partially here to learn how not to be. I will likely struggle with this for the rest of my life, but it’s good to recognize it’s a problem, because it is indeed something I need to work on.
So, there you have it. Lessons: get off your high horse, don’t let the possibility of negative emotions rule your life, and use bad experiences to learn more about yourself and how to make you a better person. Oh, and one last thing: don’t ever take Xanax after physical exertion! Anyone up for some tennis?