Migraines, and a menu of voices

It’s all in my head, right? I mean, the fact that two days ago I suffered a terrible migraine had nothing to do with the fact I’d just attained my “personal worst” record for any USTA adult league season I’ve ever played in. It was just a weird coincidence, wasn’t it? I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.

I’m a migraineur, a person who gets migraines. Fortunately, most of mine go away with medication, and this one seemed ordinary enough at the outset. While I’m stumped as to what causes my headaches, I like to think they’re brought on by food, hormonal or environmental factors. I’d rather not consider that inability to deal with everyday stress or disappointment might also trigger migraines for me.

But what happened this time? Well, I awoke with a “regular migraine” that worsened as I thought about the previous night’s tennis match (an 0-5 loss for our team) and my own disappointing season. I was surprised my win/loss record ended up so low (1/6), because I felt as though I’d been playing better this year. Granted, I’d played mostly singles, whereas previously I’d focused on doubles — so that was a change. Plus, nearly all my opponents were 15-20 years younger. But so what? For me, it was personal best experience — not a personal worst.

Statistics, however, told a different story. Namely, that compared to opponents who were also rated USTA 3.0, I’m hadn’t measured up. Moreover, if I thought I’d played well, I’d also lost my grip on reality and couldn’t recognize my own lack of progress.

The voices argued inside my head. My VoJ (Voice of Judgment) was clamoring: “Anne, you suck at tennis. Why do you bother with this sport?  It’s no wonder people don’t want to play with you — before long, they won’t even want to say hello to you.”

The Voice of Reason persisted: “You’re always reminding yourself that tennis is a journey — it’s your journey, at your pace. Not someone else’s. Where are all you women going with tennis, anyway?  Isn’t it about learning and having a good time?”

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Forcing myself to unplug in Yosemite

Despite magnificent weather, gorgeous scenery and the company of three of my four favorite people (our daughter wasn’t there), I still struggled over “unplugging” from the Internet in order to enjoy our family’s trip to Yosemite last weekend.

I knew from past trips that cellular coverage was spotty at best, and wifi would likely be available only in our motel’s common areas.  No problem – I had worked furiously on Internet-related projects before leaving town, so I figured things would be fine.

But I didn’t consider how pulling out my iPhone to check messages, get a weather report, or do a quick Google search has become a habit – something I do to fill a spare moment without even realizing it.  I knew from observing the 2011 National Day of Unplugging that I might have some “issues” – but this weekend brought me face to face with them, again.

When the front desk receptionist informed me that Yosemite Lodge now provides free wifi in the rooms, I thought, “How great — our national parks are joining the digital age.”  Then she added, “It’s been kind of touch and go lately.  What can I say?  I.T. is working on it.”

Sure enough, we got to our rooms and found that, while our sons were able to get random, weak wifi, my husband and I found ourselves sitting side by side, staring at blank browser screens and watching our “loading” wheels spin.  Also, our TV was tiny — you needed birding binoculars to check the Giants’ score unless you sat right next to it.  Which was kind of a problem, since there was only one chair in the room, and it was more of a desk chair, not a TV chair.  But what was I expecting, the Four Seasons?  That wasn’t the point, I reminded myself — we were here to enjoy Yosemite’s grandeur.

 

Mirror Lake 2012, by Micah Rosales

 

The next day was sunny and warm, not too hot.  Blue cloudless sky.  In other words, perfect.  We chose to hike up past Mirror Lake, a ideal route because, since a rock slide had closed off the trail higher up, few people bothered to go past the Mirror Lake destination. But at the same time as I was enjoying our journey, I knew the Prince of Smooth was playing Lord Valdemort in the French Open semi’s, and my iPhone wouldn’t even give me a score update, due to the lack of cellular data coverage.

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Bring back the joy!

There’s a sign I drive by most weeks, usually on my way to play tennis.  Although it stands outside a car repair shop, it reminds me of a resolution I made when my tendency to self-judge was sucking the fun out of my chosen sport.  I decided, in short, to bring back the joy.

Before choosing to look for joy in tennis, I thought what would bring me pleasure was playing better, so I focused on that alone.  I took lessons, watched videos, read books, kept track of wins and losses.  And guess what?  I didn’t play better, and I didn’t enjoy myself.

Step back, and it’s obvious.  A recreational activity like tennis should be enjoyable – if not, what’s the point?  But it’s easy, especially for us women who’ve given up careers and are looking for a way to evaluate “productivity” outside of making school lunches and coordinating book fairs, to take something we do for fun and start to measure our progress.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  But I let it go too far – I lost perspective.  I lost the joy.

No more.  I’m taking practical steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  To start, I remind myself constantly: “bring back the joy.”  It’s one of the things I say to myself during matches.  Or I ask myself on tough points, “Are we having fun?”  Because whether I win or lose the point, I want to enjoy playing it, and not “having fun” usually means tightening up and playing worse anyway.

Here’s another one, but it’s a bit touchy.  These days I avoid playing with people whose styles don’t match up well with mine.  Many times, it means I try not to partner with women who are more serious and intent on winning.  It’s not that I don’t care about winning – but if I concentrate on the score too much, or think about whether I’m living up to my partner’s expectations for me, I start making more mistakes. I feel bad about playing poorly, so I play worse – it’s a downward spiral.  My progress is slow, but I’m learning to put negative thoughts aside, stay loose and have a good time.  This helps me play better.

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What YOU think of me is YOUR business

I’ve blogged about tennis failures – things like how I’ve let my emotions get the best of me, or how my game has suffered due to a “crisis of confidence.” But I also want to pass along what I’m learning about how to overcome these problems.  My tennis journey may be a long one, but it’s not so different from other roads I’ve traveled.  In fact, there are days when my “tennis journey” and “the midlife passage” have a lot in common.  And I don’t just mean the effects of gravity.

 

I reached a point where I felt as though I had invested so much time and money in learning a sport, watching the pros play it, buying trendy clothes for it, and even taking some “tennis vacations,” that I felt I deserved to be playing better than I was.  I held myself to a higher standard than I should have and was constantly evaluating my improvement against better players.  As a result, I was always coming up short.  By my own standards, I was never going to measure up, never going to get out of my USTA 3.0 “rut.”

But at the same time as I was tired of not improving, I felt locked in: I had put so much of myself into tennis, for so long, that I didn’t want to quit.  I was addicted to an activity that wasn’t going anywhere for me.  Aside from a bit of exercise and socializing on the court, I couldn’t point to many positives about my involvement with tennis – I wasn’t having fun, and I could have gotten a better workout by going to the gym.

 

So what started my turnaround?  Well, I was complaining about my frustration  with poor play in matches and my irritating “voice of judgment” to Coach Alan Margot.  He told me, “You can’t silence the voice, but tell it to quiet down.  When you worry about what other people are the court are thinking about you, remind yourself, as if you were speaking to them: ‘What YOU think of me is YOUR business.’”

This seems simple, but it’s deep.  For years I’ve taken ownership of how others perceive me on the tennis court, and more generally, in most other sectors of my life.  Since I’d rather please people, I end up pressuring myself to make a better shot than I’m capable of, let my partner choose when she wants to serve and whether she wants the ad or deuce side in doubles, try for a heroic poach when simply getting the ball back over the net would be good enough.  Outside of tennis, I rearrange my own schedule to accommodate an appointment that works better for my husband, or I ask a friend to give me a ride so my son can use my car.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t feel satisfied about setting aside my best interests in order to make others happier.  I’m not sure they even notice my efforts, to tell you the truth.  But it’s helpful to acknowledge that what someone else thinks of me is his or her responsibility, not mine.  It doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious — rather, it reduces a burden I shouldn’t be carrying anyway.

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What’s behind the poor play? Are you ready to find out?

I played tennis this week with a friend whom I haven’t seen since our last match together, back in the winter when emotional issues were affecting my game.  In fact, the last time we played together, I felt like such a failure I considered quitting tennis entirely — it had ceased being fun for me, and I was letting my partners down by inferior play.

 

 

But this time, things felt different.  I still made mistakes, we still lost our match, but I didn’t come away with the sense that my partner would never speak to me again, nor that I had performed so miserably as to discredit the sport.  While there were moments where I double-faulted or missed an easy shot and started to panic, I was able to settle down and focus on the next ball.  I even felt strangely calm when serving or returning serve on “pressure points” like “ad-in” – moments where winning or losing the point can decide the outcome of that game.

In spite of these improvements, though, I’m still not winning matches.  But this is a journey, in my case a long one, and at least I’m taking a few steps forward.  From my current vantage point, I now understand how strongly my attitude correlates with how I play tennis.  Knowing this, I see that what I needed a few months ago was not more tennis tips to pull me out of a slump, but a partner who could step over court boundaries and be a true friend.

 

 

I’m not blaming anyone — since I hate to let on that anything’s amiss, others might not even see that I’m having a bad day.  I’d prefer to give the appearance that all is fine, and I shy away from exposing vulnerabilities with anyone but family and close friends.  However, I’ve learned from this and other experiences that not only do I need to be more open about wanting others’ help — I also should be on the lookout for people who might need someone to pay attention to them.

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