Monday, October 17, 2011

Dispatches from Bottom Cross-sides: At war with the fear

It’d be an understatement to say that I’ve been a head case lately.

My poor husband has watched me melt down at the drop of a hat, without provocation, and usually without warning. Like watching ice cream melt, P has watched my face move from the girl he married to the droopy, snot-nosed, weepy mess who can’t really explain why she’s crying or pissed off. Or both at the same time. I’m fun like that!

But he knows what’s going on with his vain, proud, and formerly-scrappy wife. Twice now he’s given me a pep talk about this crippling fear that invades my psyche and turns me into a sh*& show on the mat and beyond.

I’ve never handled the stress of performing well. Ask my folks. They’ll tell you about the countless swim meets where I spent the hours before my races in the bathroom, sick as a dog, pausing only to emerge long enough to swim before returning back to the chlorine-stank depths of that pool bathroom. Nasty, right?

My fighting days? I’d be nauseous for a week leading up to the event. Sick up to the second before my entrance music started. Sick as the ref gave us instructions. Sick until the very second I saw her make a move towards me and then I didn’t feel anything. I just did.

But it’s never been an issue with jiu jitsu.

It’s always been an escape for me, a second family where I felt safe and could be myself. Good, bad, ugly—whatever Megan happened to show up that day finished the workout and rolled until class ended.

But thanks to a brain surgery, two gorgeous babies, and a busy work and family life I’ve been away from the day to day regular training for a little over three years. These days, with the November tournament looming, everyday has become more pressure filled. More intense. More frustrating. More agonizing. Tournament time highlights everything you don’t know and everything you should know by now. The things you want to know but don’t have time enough to learn yet. The things “this person” knows or “that person” has perfected that stump you every time, no matter how hard you try not to fall for it.

Maybe that’s why it only seems like 1 in 3 really sign up for and show up to tournaments in our sport. It’s not easy, despite how gentle and laid back our art is supposed to be. Losing sucks. Losing in front of your entire town sucks more. There’s no way around the fact that you’re going to lose on your journey. It’s just that it stings so much.

The rush to prepare, to lose two babies’ worth of “outta shape,” and to gain three years’ of lost mat time turned me into a big weenie who gets pushed around, kneed in the head, scratched, and smooshed. A weenie who allows this all to happen in this strange, submissive, sorry state I find myself in.

I roll “safe” rolls and still spend an inordinate amount of time talking or stalling. I don’t rush to work with people I don’t know, fearing the worst in them. (Or maybe fearing the worst in myself, I’m not sure.) Hang out on the perimeter of the mat, waiting for a safe spot to jump in.

Fear has shrunk my jiu jitsu world incredibly small these three past months since coming back after Makenna was born and I’m starting to feel the tight space of this emotional and physical cage. Instead of a big, happy jiu jitsu family, I find myself living with the few people I’ll roll with and the rest of the world is “the others.” I avoid “the others.”

But this morning over coffee, P made it very clear that the time for feeling sorry for myself and being afraid of my own shadow was long past.

And it sounded just like one of the most influential men I’ve ever known said to me when I’d just turned 13 and moved up to the “grown folks” swim team from the safety of the little kids’ team.

“You’ve been here three months now,” Leo, my old coach, barked at me as I hid in the slowpoke lane with the injured swimmers. (No, for the record, I wasn’t injured. I was a chickenshit.)

“Quit acting like you’re lost.”

He didn’t feel sorry for me. He didn’t ask if the bigger, faster athletes scared me (they did). He didn’t coddle me.

He called me out and kicked my tail right into the lane I belonged where I had to work my ass off just to keep up for a few sets each day before I’d start falling behind. And then the next week, I’d hang on for a few more sets before falling off. And then months later, I’d be in a brand new lane, falling behind when my muscles and lungs couldn’t hang with the newer, faster swimmers. But I kept on moving upward and onward until I was doing everything I thought I couldn’t when I was 13.

Genius, right?

So in the coming weeks, if I accidentally pull your hair, push you around, fail miserably and keep coming at you breathing like I’ve got a Mack truck on my chest, bear with me. I’m looking for that fire I lost a few years ago and you’re helping me find it. I’m trying to switch lanes and you’re the only reason I’m going to get there.