One of the greatest poets of our generation once tweeted about how writing is absolutely not therapy.1 I remember reading it, agreeing with her, then wondering absently whether she was a sports fan.
If you write for an audience, there’s a high chance that you’ve found yourself staring at a blank page in escalating panic, wondering why you ever agreed to do this and—come to think of it—why language was even invented if it was just going to lead up to this moment where you’ve suddenly forgotten all the words you ever knew. And if you write for an audience and struggle with anxiety or depression, there’s a high chance that that you’ve spent hours (or days, or weeks, or—if you’re me—months) letting that panic completely consume you.
When I was far too young, and even more impressionable than I am now, I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and got my first glimpse into writing about sports. Hornby wrote about his struggles with depression, he wrote about therapy, he wrote about Arsenal (the jokes wrote themselves then, just as they write themselves now). Hornby’s descriptions of games that took place decades prior have stayed with me, but so have his stories about his mental health and how connected it was to football (and Arsenal).
I had never written about sports before I pitched an article to Kirsten and Unusual Efforts. I was suffering from serious burnout at my job at the time, and working around the clock meant I was so tired, I was invincible. Invincible enough to believe I could write about the sport that I had loved and had lived for so many years, but somehow still struggled to find the words to describe. For a while, writing about football became an extension of my fandom idiolect: it was an easy avenue through which I could express everything that football made me feel, every random thought I had. I wrote gleefully ridiculous pieces at the same time as serious ones, and loved every second of it.
I didn’t realise just how much I was taking for granted when I was pitching and writing articles with ease until it stopped.2
The sports community has only just started talking seriously about mental health and how it affects athletes, but even that little bit has been incredibly powerful. It doesn’t hurt that athletes themselves have begun to open up about their struggles with anxiety, depression, and how important therapy has been to their ability to take part in sports. On the other side, there have been several incredible pieces by writers on this site talking about their own relationship with depression and how sport is intrinsically linked with it (because, let’s be honest, there are very few areas of our lives in which sports don’t play a role).
Talking about our mental health and sharing our stories about what we go through doesn’t prevent us from going through it. Again. And often again. And then once more for good measure.
And when you find yourself sitting with your laptop open, staring at yet another blank page, it doesn’t matter how much you love the sport; the panic that sets in when your brain tells you none of the words you type are good enough may recede, but never truly goes away. On particularly bad days, the panic and anxiety well over and consume everything in their path. On those days, it becomes almost impossible to feel like a complete human, let alone a fan or a writer, or a fan working as a writer.
Over the past six months, my computer has seen a lot of open Google documents and many open Word documents, along with several open notes on my phone. I’ve composed outlines, done copious amounts of research, and written lines that would make excellent and witty rejoinders somewhere in an article that I haven’t been able to build the foundations of.
Sports are a reprieve from the pressures of life right up to the moment they aren’t.
There are so many stories that still need to be told, by so many of us, stuck between fingers hovering over a keyboard and stoppered by a panic attack that we’re barely able to keep a lid on.
When you’re a fan of a sport, it’s hard not to see narratives (especially your own) in every game and every season. But sometimes, those narratives don’t go anywhere, they get stuck in your throat and become dark clouds that hover over you, following you wherever you go. It’s important to know when to take a step back, know when to untangle yourself from the narratives and let the stories you’ve been hoarding up go.
1 She also has a much longer, much more nuanced thread about how you don’t owe the world your trauma which I recommend reading: https://twitter.com/eveewing/status/947331062484566016
2 The worst part of living with irregular brain chemistry is when you have a brief period where the irregularity is slightly better and you forget, for just a moment, just how debilitating everything can be.