The Lonely Sports

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People love to talk about the “community” aspect of sports.  They talk about the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a team, about the human instinct to work together and how sports facilitate that. They talk about teamwork and fulfillment and friendship and trust. But those are the sociable sports – the team sports.

There are lonely sports, too. Sure, you make friends with your cross-country teammates or your buddies on the tennis team, but in the end, you’re all out there for yourselves. You are, of course, technically on the same team, and you all participate in the bonding activities and genuinely care about each other. I’m not here to tell you that playing high school tennis will make you lonely and depressed, that your cross-country team can’t be a great support system and family. But I am pointing out something obvious, but often unmentioned: when you walk out to the court or the start line or the mat, you’re walking out by yourself and for yourself. You’re there to win, you alone, and that means beating your ‘teammates’, too.

It’s not always catty or malicious. You don’t pretend to be friends while secretly hating or resenting each other as a result of the competition. Generally you are friends, you do wish each other well. But you don’t, ultimately, want your teammates to win, not over you. And you know that, ultimately, they don’t want you to win either. Not over themselves.

The team parties aren’t lonely. The bus rides aren’t lonely. But walking out to do the very thing that brought you together at all, to play the match or run the race…that’s as alone as it gets. You cheer each other on if you’re not in the same race, or on opposite sides of the net, but the competition is yours and yours alone. They’re not there to help you win, they can’t give you anything more than ‘good lucks’ and ‘go get ’ems’.

It’s not all bad. In these individual sports, these lonely sports, you don’t resent each other for bringing you down or putting pressure on you. The weakest link on the team hurts only themselves (excluding overall scores and rankings, which matter of course, but aren’t felt in the heart the way the competition itself is). And it makes your cheering squad bigger, when your teammates can only watch and support, excluded from the points or the steps or the pins themselves.

And with these lonely sports, your accomplishments are all your own. Perhaps that’s a selfish positive, a mark on the pro side only for the egotistical and self-absorbed. But I think everyone wants their wins to be as theirs as possible. It feels good to share, to be part of a winning team and feel the love and appreciation for and from that small community of players. But it also feels good to look at your trophy or ribbon or ranking and know that was all you. That title or number reflects your standing, your talent, your pain and sweat and hard work.

It’s a trade-off. There’s something decidedly more wholesome and Hallmark about the team sports, the power of community and teamwork and sharing the glory. The lonely sports lack that human component, that life-lesson-y aspect of the activity. But the lonely sports make you independent. Strong. Confident. And that’s good, too.

I’m not advocating for any particular sport or subcategory of sport, though I only ever did really play the individual ones. All sports have their merits, and I won’t claim any one is better, in any general sense of the word, than any other. There are pros and cons to weigh across any two, of any kind. But it struck me recently how different the school sport experience is for those who play team sports and those who play individual sports, how ‘sports’ encompasses such a vast range of different things, that all draw different kinds of people, and all shape those people in drastically different ways.

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Gratitude for the Parents that Prepare their Kids for Life

I am so grateful to have been raised in the home I grew up in. Our parents, our early home lives, shape us more than anything else. They are the single most significant factor in who we become, and the lives we live – whether we like it or not.

I’m not saying we’re all just the result of our childhood environment. There are just about no aspects of psychology or sociology that don’t boil down to a combination of nature and nurture. It’s rarely the dichotomy people make it out to be, and two people with the exact same upbringing may end up leading vastly different lives. Even completely opposite lives. But they are both still, in many ways, the product of that upbringing.

I didn’t turn out exactly how my parents intended. Not that they had extremely strict plans for who their children would be – above all, they just wanted us to be happy, healthy, and safe. But they also have their own ideas about what that means, as all parents – and people – do. I don’t share many of their values anymore. In my adulthood, I’ve departed drastically from the lifestyle they believe is best, and I know in their ideal world, I would do things a little differently. Go to church. Wait til marriage. Have some kind of plan for my future by now. But they always valued independence in their children, and taught us to think for ourselves and forge our own paths. That’s an amazing thing.

So here’s a shoutout to all the parents who give their kids structure and guidance, but let them become themselves. It’s a difficult thing. While I never had a true teenage rebellion – in the sense that I hid any deviance from them very well, and maintained a pretty healthy relationship – I do regret the time I spent resenting our differences. Resenting the things I didn’t agree with or understand about them. As similar as you may be to your family, there will always be extreme differences to navigate, and my parents did a great job. Better than I could do, for sure.

My sisters and I had rules. Lots of them. More than any of my friends, in fact, which I certainly resented. I was the last to be allowed to watch PG-13 or R rated movies, I was the last to get a cell phone, I had the earliest curfew…but they also had reasons for those rules. While I didn’t and don’t agree with all of them, being able to understand why a rule was in place made me a lot more inclined to follow it. And a lot less inclined to feel guilty when I chose not to (sorry Mom).

But my greatest gratitude is for the rules and structures they put in place that prepared me for adulthood. Some are simple and seemingly obvious, like doing laundry. My mom didn’t make us to our own laundry as kids (although I would understand if she had), but she did make sure I knew how to use a washing machine, and what colors not to mix, and when to use cold or hot water or fast or slow cycles. I remember my first semester in college, actually having to teach other 18-year-olds how to even operate the machines.

The other incredibly important thing that my mom taught me was budgeting. She didn’t just sit me down and explain not to blow all your money – we get enough “frivolity is a vice” lessons through school and media. Instead, she gave me a system to exercise my freedom and practice handling my money in the day-to-day: a set allowance. Now, most kids have an allowance. Many of them, like me, were given that allowance on a weekly or monthly basis, and would be refused if we went asking for more. That’s all well and good, but all it really teaches is that you can only buy so many super-cute shirts with $30.

What my parents did instead was give me, from the age of 13 or so, total buying power for myself. My allowance was adjusted up accordingly, but I was in charge of buying all of my necessities (excepting food and board, of course). I chose and bought my shampoo and conditioner, my lotions and moisturizers and beauty products, my underwear and my vitamins. It gave me the freedom to buy a nicer, more expensive face wash if I wanted – and to have less money as a result for clothes, or for going to the movies with my friends. I learned how to manage money on a small, safe scale – no fear of starving or getting evicted – and was thus much more prepared in early adulthood to manage my money.

At the end of the day, most parents want to help their kids grow up happily, securely, and into capable, well-adjusted adults. But I am incredibly grateful to my own parents for encouraging and helping me above all to be independent, to be prepared for the real world.

Love you, mom and dad.

Review: Pikolinos and Investing in my Adulthood

As a quickly growing child – in both size and personality – my mother instilled in me a habit of purchasing “temporary” clothing. It made sense: whatever I bought, I would surely outgrow within a year or two, and my sense of style was changing even faster. So I frequented Goodwill and other thrift or consignment stores, and developed a nearly pathological fear of spending more than $10 on any one item. The only new clothes I bought generally came from cheaper, youth-oriented stores such as Forever21 or H&M.

And that’s perfect for a teenager.

But as I entered adulthood (kicking and screaming, but I have no choice), I’ve begun to realize the importance of investing more money for more use.

I started realizing a couple of things recently: first, my clothes fall apart far too quickly. I was constantly shopping, constantly dropping $5-10 on a new basic grey t-shirt or pair of shorts. Second, I was buying things I never wear – of course, that’s going to happen occasionally, we’ve all fallen victim to the power of the fitting room mirror, believing we’ll rock some exciting piece and then finding that we would much rather wear something we’re comfortable in. That’s fine by me, as much as I try to avoid it. But when I was buying $5 shirts I would never wear, and then buying a new shirt because, well, I never wear the ones I had…that was a problem.

So as I’ve settled in to a standard fashion that I love – and that I’m comfortable in – I’ve realized that it’s time to start investing in my wardrobe. When I spend time to find exactly the right piece to fill a role in my wardrobe, and am willing to spend a little more (don’t get me wrong, I’m still cheap), I buy items – and only those items – that I actually wear a lot. And they last.

My most recent obsession are my new Pikolinos:

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They’re damn cute, they don’t hurt my feet (even after hours of walking!), and I wear them almost every day. I can wear them to class, to dinner, even hiking. They’re sturdy, well-made, and fit me perfectly.

I’m still in the process of converting me wardrobe from a mess of things I may or may not wear, that may or may not have holes, into a small collection of staple pieces that I wear regularly. But I can’t stress enough how worth it the process is – I worry less about what I’ll wear, I’m more comfortable in all my clothes, and I already need to replace things much less often.

Sunday Sads: The Anesthetic Effect of Netflix or, How Shitty Internet Changed My Life

Netflix (and its ilk) can have serious detrimental effects to your mental health, especially for those who have pre-existing mental health problems.

I should start by saying I love and use Netflix all the time. And Amazon Prime. And Hulu. And the vast collection of thousands of movies and tv shows that my dad has copied from VHS to DVD over the years (don’t tell the FBI).

This isn’t going to be a lecture about ‘getting outside and living your life’, ‘kids these days are always plugged in’, ‘you need to be falling out of a tree at least once a week’, or whatever else people are saying about young people nowadays. But it is important to be aware of the causes and effects of what I’ll call ‘chronic Netflix binging’. For simplicity’s sake I will generally use ‘Netflix’ to refer to any method of binging content, (yeah, Youtube and Vine (RIP) count too).

Netlix isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful thing: it facilitates social interactions (and no, I’m not just talking about Netflix and chill), helps you unwind after a long day, and provides easy access to the pop culture that a large portion of our daily discussions and references consist in.

But it’s also an anesthetic.

Many of you probably already know what I’m talking about. When I’m down in the dumps, there are tons of things that could make me feel better, both during and after: reading, writing, crafts, (sometimes) socializing, actually doing the work that’s causing me anxiety…but those things are difficult. Watching a 22-episode season in one sitting might sound difficult, but it’s mindless. It lets you shut off, and when your mind is anxious or upset, that’s exactly what you want. It’s the path of least resistance.

I sometimes sit down with the intention of opening up a book to relax – because reading is relaxing, and healing, and pretty much any positive adjective I could think of – but find myself opening up my computer instead. Now, sometimes shutting off really is what you need – after a long day of classes or work, when your mind is tired, a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is just the thing. But when you open up Netflix to escape your negative thoughts, your fears and anxieties and deadlines, you are only hurting yourself.

You are hurting yourself because it works. It numbs you. It makes it all go away – while you’re watching. But when you’re done, or even in the 15-second countdown between episodes, it comes back. And it comes back worse. Your brain says “what are you doing? I’m telling you something is wrong. I’m telling you you need to fix me. Why aren’t you listening?”

Sometimes that voice in my head just perpetuates the cycle. Rather than dealing with my anxieties, whether by taking care of the cause or doing something that genuinely relaxes me, I say “no, brain. Quiet now. I’m pretending you don’t exist.” And I watch another episode to avoid the guilt. And then I feel worse, so I watch another episode to avoid dealing with that.

It got so bad for me a few years back that there were periods during which I slept only every third night or so. Not because I was out all night, not because I was going wild or having a psychotic episode, but because I could only let myself put away the numbing agents when I was sure that I would fall asleep immediately. I was stuck in this vicious, life-ruining cycle of needing to turn myself off.

It’s a strange sort of cognitive dissonance, knowing full well that reading even a light, fun fantasy novel would relax me and make me feel better, and still choosing the option that would leave me tired but wired, and even more anxious than before. It was the path – or rather, the cycle – of least resistance, and it took an incredible amount of self-control to form the habits to break it. To turn my computer off an hour before bed. To log out of Netflix until the paper was done. To take my journal outside where there’s no wifi, or to a different room with no computer.

But with some work, and admittedly the help of internet so shitty it was impossible to watch anything at home, I’ve found ways to genuinely help myself feel better. Not just to turn off the bad feelings for 42 minutes.

Now maybe you’re reading this and thinking “Jesus, do people really have that unhealthy a relationship with Netflix?” Maybe you’ve only ever used Netflix to take a quick break, to unwind a little, to hang out with friends or lovers. If so, good on you. But I encourage you to think about – maybe even make a list of – the things that leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, that help you meet your goals and boost your motivation, that make you feel good about yourself. Then make a list of the things that drain your energy, that leave you with regret, that waste your time. Where does Netflix really fall for you?

I’m not saying delete your account. I’m not even saying don’t watch Netflix every day. I’m just saying that there are good reasons and bad reasons for watching Netflix, good times and bad times to do it. If you’re aware of those, if you can structure your life so that Netflix is just an aid in your enjoyment rather than a crutch to stop yourself from needing to think or feel, then carry on. If not, if you’re like me, I encourage you to make a few changes.

Don’t stop watching. Just think before you watch.

 

 

For My Fellow Nail-Biters

Many of us are, to some extent, nail-biters. For some, that just means they need a manicure after finals season or might want to carry a file or pair of clippers around with them. For others, however, that means bloody stumps instead of fingers and a constant risk of disease from compulsively consuming parts of the body that touch, well…everything. I fall closer to the second camp. While I do savagely tear away that beautiful white tip of the nail if one ever gets long enough, the real problem for me is the cuticle and the skin around it. Think Black Swan. If you haven’t seen Black Swan, just think, well, lots of blood. It gets ugly.

I have tried just about everything under the sun at some point in my life to kill this damn habit. Or even to make it manageable. In high school, my parents instituted a rule somewhat like a ‘swear jar’ – if anyone caught me biting my nails, I had to put 50 cents in a jar. I lost a lot of money, but no habits. I also tried painting my nails regularly (ate a lot of nail polish), bitter polish (foul, yes, but not prohibitive), and even leaving band-aids on every single one of my fingers for weeks at a time (makes it really hard to play instruments or sports, FYI). I’m sure some of these methods could work for some people, but none of them worked for me. Absolutely nothing worked for me. Until I (accidentally) stole a magic product from my older sister: Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream.

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It looks like this, and it costs somewhere from $5-8, depending on where you’re buying. It works by actually softening and healing your cuticles and the rough bits surrounding your nail that otherwise inevitably must be torn off. The result is that even if I want to bite my nails, if I’ve used the cuticle cream recently enough there’s just nothing to bite. I can leave it alone. Right at first it’s something like an ointment-esque coating, but it only takes a few moments to soak in and I find I have no problem using it as I’m handling pens or keyboards or whatever else.

I will say that while I adore this product, worship it, would marry it if I could, it does only work if I use it consistently – for me, that means at minimum a few times per day. But it’s tiny, and so I have no problem carrying it with me and applying as needed, much like chapstick. I keep one in every bag.

So for my fellow nail-biters, if nothing else has worked, I really recommend giving this stuff a shot before you resign yourself to a life of insatiable autocannibalism.