Mind Game

by Thea Derby

mental illness drawing-min

I’ve always avoided school sports, ever since I was small.

There were a few occasions where I joined a sport in middle school–I joined basketball and quit after two practices. And then in seventh grade, I played ultimate frisbee.

The reason behind not playing wasn’t because I was bad at the sport or because I wasn’t able to keep up.  It was because my brain wouldn’t shut up.

Last year the student newspaper, The Sentinel ran a story talking about three students who were living with mental illness.

I was one of those students.

I have obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors along with depression. I thought that the article was a great idea since mental illness is often avoided as a subject.

This year is my junior year and I joined girls swimming during the fall and wrestling for the winter. The experience so far has been interesting–Both fun and challenging.

I joined swimming because I wanted to be more involved and get in better shape. I didn’t really think about how my obsessively controlling brain would be affected.

But I quickly found out.

My feet would have to kick the water in a particular rhythm and on a certain count in my head.

“One, two, one, two, right, left, right, left…”

If my kick off the wall wasn’t “right”, then I’d have to go back and do it again. There was consistent counting in my head, pacing how my arms and legs hit the water, how they moved in sync with each other, and how I was breathing. If I missed a count, I would have to start over or I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else for the rest on the day. At each end of the pool, I had to tap the wall twice which meant I would skip flip-turns. Not exactly helping out of time.

Along with the obsessive behavior I was trying to manage my depression.

Swimming practice is before school and I was out a lot of mornings because I felt too numb to get up and go. That was the most frustrating feeling–the feeling of not feeling and being unable to do what I wanted to do. For the most part I could handle it all, this may sound a bit overwhelming but it wasn’t really in the moment, it was just routine.

Swimming came to an end and winter season began. This was when things really became a mind game. After fairly persistent asking for me to join wrestling by one of the team captains, I caved and filled out the papers and turned everything in.

So far this has been the biggest test I have ever put my obsessive compulsive mind under.

In practice we jump rope, run stairs and run laps for warm ups. I have the counting in my head when I jump rope. If I miss a step on the stairs or my foot hits it wrong I have the super strong need to restart but I can’t. I have to keep up. Sometimes I have difficulty being touched and that’s all of wrestling. You’re hands are on the other person trying to pin them.

I have to stop myself from correcting the other person’s hands from being a certain way while mid-move.

I have to allow myself to stand on the outside of a circle while practicing. To get over the fear of being touched or having to touch other people who my brain might label as “unsafe” because they’re sweaty. To ignore edges of needing to move particular ways or tap my fingers, touch my hair, or counting for no logical reason.

With depression, on days that it’s hard to even get out of bed I still have to force myself to go to practice and to pay present in the moment. The force of the sport forces me to no fade off into my head.

I won’t lie. It’s hard on me and a lot of practices end with me crying because of how conflicted and frustrated I am. However, I keep pushing myself. I want to be able to let go of how controlled I make my life, which is getting easier.

If you play a sport just keep in mind that you don’t always know what’s going on in other team mates’ lives. I would assume that most people on sport teams with me wouldn’t know what’s going on. They might just see me as easily frustrated and hesitant.

If I were to give a common rule of thought it would be, be patient and listen to others. Someone might just be trying to win a match in their own head.


Art by Theodora Fanning

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