It’s funny how excitement and intrigue can quickly turn into terror and shear panic. How you can go from really looking forward to something, to literally wishing you were anywhere else. I was looking forward to the Tipton tournament and had prepared well for it, going the night before so I had a chance to check out the venue, find all my possible escape routes and nearest toilets! I know that following this precise routine helps aleviate the anxiety I’m bound to be feeling on the day. On the day I turned up early to the venue, with my friend in tow. I was hoping to beat the crowd of people. This is something we had done at previous events. If the room is more or less empty on arrival and then gradually fills, It seems much more manageable. Unfortunately on this occasion it did’nt work out that way. It seemed everyone had the same idea! This resulted in a big queue waiting to sign themselves in. For whatever reason queues are a nightmare to me. I think It’s the feeling of coming to an abrupt halt, being able to see your destination, but not being able to get there immediately. The thought that you’re a sitting duck, people crowding behind and in front of you, and you trapped and suffocating somewhere in the middle.
Anyway needless to say, I was in a fragile state. The queue was half in and half out of the main entrance to the sports hall, which wasn’t helping. It meant that even people not attached to it appeared to be coming at me from all directions. I was left feeling extremely small and out of my depth.
Soon, as my chest began tightening and the walls of the room started coming in on me, I had to hastily leave the building. And so whilst the other competitors were on the table warming up- I was in the corner of the car park gasping for air! Although I’m very familiar with this sensation, it does’nt make it any less frightening, I was having a panic attack.
Afterwards whilst feeling sick and embarassed, I now had the difficult decision of whether or not to pull out of the event. I already felt completely exhausted but My friend had given up his day to take me, so in the end I felt obliged to give it a go. The day became more about survival than enjoyment. I ended up winning some and losing some of my matches, but this was inconsequential, as I never felt remotely comfortable in that environment.
Playing table tennis is one of the only activities where I usually feel completely safe, somewhere I can be in a group of people and not be awkward in anyway. It helps that I’m not bad at the sport, so if I stand out, It’s for possitive rather than negative reasons. In this respect It’s normally a perfect escape for me.
I’ve spoken before about how my anxiety and depression tend to go hand in hand. If I’m struggling with one, chances are I’ll be effected by both. This was evident on the day of the tournament. The more anxious I became, the more I got down on myself. Any self-belief I previously may have had, soon went out of the window.
I got to the point where I forgot that I was any good at the sport and just felt completely inadequate. A complete loser at this, a complete loser in life! Time again for my self-loathing side to take over! And It’s not just a case of feeling sorry for myself, It goes much deeper than that. The truth is in these moments (which are thankfully fewer and farther between now) all I want to do is hurt myself, I want to cause myself pain. I can’t inflict physical pain on myself cause I’m far to much of a wuss for that! So my method of self-harm is mental. So for the next few weeks I inwardly beat myself up and isolated myself from the rest of the world, All because I’d had one panic attack, doing an activity that’s supposed to be fun!
Table tennis tournaments can be a bit like buses. You wait ages for one to come up and then two arrive at once. I’d played in this one mid-november and had entered a second one in York two weeks later. Now obviously if I’d have realised the problems I was to have in Tipton, I’d have never entered this one, but I had entered and figured it might do me good to challenge myself and face my demons. That being said a big part of me was dreading the prospect. I went with the attitude of having a good day out with my mum and best friend. The table tennis side of things was almost an after- thought. Whether I won or lost wasn’t important, all that mattered was having a bit of fun.
Remarkably this seemed to work, I felt happy and relaxed and was even able to laugh and joke with fellow competitors. I ended up having a really good day. The Shaun of a fortnight a go became a distant memory. And because I was more relaxed I was able to perform better and managed to reach two finals.
This week at a league match I was reminded by someone that table tennis players are a bit like an extended family. Like all families not everyone always gets on! But the majority do and you get used to each other. You’re seeing the same faces year in year out and for me, there’s something strangely comforting about that. I know that not everyone gets my illness but I thank my table tennis family for the support they’ve given me.