When you see the men in football pads and eyeblack on your TV, you might be forgiven for thinking they’re some sort of super human. Truthfully, they may have won a genetic lottery, but that doesn’t preclude them from the same mental anguish we all experience. They must learn the lesson we all do – when life has beat you into a corner, fight your way out by taking good care of yourself.
Those athletes are human beings first, people in the unenviable position of having to hide their struggles for fear of appearing soft. When they find themselves in a weakened state, they must rely on support like the rest of us.
An elite pro athlete, we’ll call him “Flash,” recently reached out to me.
Bro, do you think I will find happiness in this life and do you think I deserve it?
This particular individual is a freaky athletic, whip your ass if you met in him an alley kind of dude. The level of introspection and expression is unique. Most men, when on the mat with a mental demon, don’t have the strength to reach out to a friend or loved one, and this shortcoming only multiplies their troubles. This guy will be okay. He’s found a place to drain instead of creating a toxic internal environment. Without that place, an implosion would be imminent.
This isn’t dissimilar to my philosophy on indulgences, even when you’re training or eating with purpose. It is my motivation for scheduling over the top decadence. You either plan to spill some liquid out of your vessel or there will eventually be a flood.
I still think about what I did to “Grace” and wonder if I even deserve another good shot at love and success in my sport? Truthfully, this year in many ways has been a really sad one for me.
Okay, so some background is necessary. Some time ago, Flash was mired in a relationship lacking in communication. He didn’t plan for the rising water levels and found himself wringing out his clothes. He was unfaithful and dishonest.
Quite frankly, Flash is a young man. His desire to sleep with more than one woman is not shocking, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. His inability to articulate this to his belle at the time was the ultimate issue, not any acts in particular. Lest you think I’m going to turn this post into my philosophy on monogamy, I will not. I’ll save that one for later this week (kidding; it might take me two).
Flash sees his weakened state as stemming from his perceived failures with Grace and his chosen sport. Before I can begin to help him, I have to deal with that. I start by speaking his language.
“Yes. I think you’ll find happiness. Yes, I know you deserve it.”
This isn’t really about what Flash “deserves.” He needs someone to tell him, truthfully, that behaving like a normal (albeit immature) young man in his twenties doesn’t make him a bad person. He wasn’t truthful with a loved one. That makes him like every one of us. If you have not lied, you have not bled.
More importantly, Flash’s current mental struggle runs deeper. He is exhausted by travel and schedule. He’s stressed by his lack of career certainty. I know Flash’s habits. He grasps healthy concepts, but abuses himself for stretches of time. He smokes weed regularly. He goes out late and gets liquored up, losing sleep and becoming dehydrated. These decisions in a vacuum can be spontaneous indulgences during the best of times, but turn into coping mechanisms during our lowest points.
Flash compounds these issues by punishing himself for these actions. Ultimately, he feels shitty in body and mind, and he seeks to pin the toxicity on something external. In this case, it’s Grace, but it could be anything. Grace happened a long time ago. Is that really why you’re fucked up right now? Nope. I needed to move him forward.
Flash, it’s not such a bad thing that you still think about how you managed your relationship with Grace. It will serve as a reminder going forward of how you prefer not to behave. Yes, you deserve a shot at love and yes, you deserve to be athletically sublime again. I’m sorry this year has been sad for you. You sound like you’re struggling through a tough time, brother.
My willingness to play his game opened him up.
Yeah, man, this year has been a struggle. Obviously, with that comes the compounding of feeling lonely and missing Grace.
This begins to ring true. Flash isn’t missing Grace so much as experiencing the hardships of a current state of solitude. Our lack of contentment is almost always internal. I told him my philosophy in different words.
I would think it’s the idea of Grace you miss. I’ll remind you that you were restless when you were with her. I don’t believe your experience has anything to do with anything outside of you.
It’s unequivocally more difficult to navigate a maze in an exhausted and emotional state. All you see is walls. An outside perspective helped Flash to see his path from a bird’s eye view.
Yeah, I think you’re right. What do you think my best approach is to make positive movement?
There’s what I wanted to hear. Flash’s last word, movement, is the key. For me, the answer is always the same. Control what you can control, and take the first (and easiest) step.
I gave him a list of actions that most folks can accomplish without their full batteries:
- Choose healthy foods and eat lots of veggies.
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid supplements
- Avoid alcohol (this is specific advice for a weakened state)
- Keep reaching out to loved ones
- Get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight
- Get a massage
- Devour content with positive vibration (think a documentary about perseverance)
- Find someone else to teach, coach or mentor
- Do volunteer work
- Eat at new restaurants
- Take a class
- Study a language
Action and productivity breed confidence. We are unable to flip a switch to make ourselves feel better instantly, but we can sure as hell stand up to grab a tall glass of water. We can seek out a struggling teammate or colleague and offer support.
It’s empowering to put one foot in front of the other. If nothing else, your steps move you out of your corner and into the center of the ring where you have a fighting chance.