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Being a Sports Fan Helps
mikew Friday, August 31, 2018
I'm a huge sports fan. I live in a bubble where the only news I know about is sports news. I didn't even realize there were all these people trapped underground in a coal mine for a month until the day they got everyone out. People at group laugh when I go into mini-rants about sports, but I don't think they understand how beneficial sports can be to recovering from a mental illness. At group, I've had to bite my tongue whenever a great sports analogy for a mental illness recovery pops into my head, because there are barely any sports fans in group. That's why you'll find a lot of sports metaphor blogs in the 'metaphor blogs' section of this site. I'm also working on an ebook about mental illness recovery that's made up of nothing but football metaphors for recovering for a mental illness. That will be self-published and available in the not to distant future.

But what I'm going to talk about here is why being a sports fan (or becoming a sports fan, like me) can help with recovery from a mental illness.

When I was first out of the hospital, I was ridiculously depressed. I could barely get myself out of bed every day. Some days I didn't get out of bed at all, except to go downstairs and eat a crazy amount of ice cream because the depakote made me a bottomless pit (which made me gain fifty pounds that I lost in a month after going off depakote).

The biggest thing on my mind when I was totally depressed was that it seemed like I had nothing in my life to be proud about... nothing to look forward to. I felt totally hopeless and never got out of bed because I had no good reason to get out of bed. But the Milwaukee Brewers changed my life.

When I was a kid, I loved playing in little league but hated watching baseball. Whenever my family wanted to do a family thing and go to a Brewers game, I never wanted to go. My mom's go-to tactic for this situation was to guilt trip me into going--"Well, if you're not going, I'm not going." So I'd go, and hate it. I'd hope and pray that the Brewers would win because that meant we could leave a half-inning earlier than if they lost... and god help me if it went to extra innings.

When I got out of the hospital, the only thing I knew about the Milwaukee Brewers was that they sucked. But one night I went downstairs (to get myself some ice cream) and saw my dad watching the game. I happened to catch the broadcasters showing a graphic of the standings in the Brewer's division--the NL Central. The Brewers had gotten off to an insanely good start and it looked like they were going to run away with the division and make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. So I figured I'd start watching some of the game.

Eventually, I was hooked.

This was huge for me. The great thing about baseball is that there's a game every day. What that meant for me was that I finally had something I could look forward to every day. That was what I needed most in my life--something to look forward to every day. So I became a huge Brewers fan and will always be one, no matter how much they suck.

I distinctly remember a moment in my life when something clicked. One night, the Brewers blew a big lead in the ninth inning and I was pissed off. I remember thinking to myself "This blown save has ruined my week." Immediately after thinking that, I thought "Well actually, if this is the worst thing about my week, I must be getting back on track." And I was getting back on track.

Another thing about baseball is that the games go for three hours and the nature of the game is conducive to good conversation that you can have without missing anything about the game. So what this meant is that I had three solid hours every night to watch games with my dad. That was a hell of a lot of father/son time. By the time I graduated high school and went off to California to go to USC, I had a good relationship with my dad, but we weren't as close as we could have been. If not for my illness, I would have never moved back home. Had I never moved back home, I would have never become a sports fan. If I had never moved back home and become a sports fan, I would have never had all that time with my dad. Since I had all that time with my dad, we became very close. If not for my illness, I would not have the relationship with my dad that I do today. I can honestly say that my illness brought my family closer together and I'd go through everything I went through all over if that's what it would take to be as close to my family as I am today.

There's other benefits to becoming a sports fan as well (when it comes to helping one recover from a mental illness). In college (before my illness) I had tons of friends and was kind of the life of the party. I had way more confidence than I should have had and made friends very quickly. But when my illness kicked in and my life was turned upside down, I came out of it a different person. I had no confidence and had trouble making conversation... I could barely make small talk with people. I felt like I was a downer to be around and my self esteem plummeted. I was bitter about this and blamed the illness for changing me the way it did.

But once I became a sports fan, I realized I could talk to pretty much anyone who liked sports. I had too many bad experiences trying to get my social life back and going to the bars and getting wasted with my friends. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I had to give up drinking. To give up drinking, I gave up on my bar-scene social life. I thought I just couldn't handle being in a bar and not drinking--I thought the two had to be connected and couldn't have one without the other.

One night, my family was driving back to Wisconsin from a skiing trip in Colorado. One of the two cars we were taking got a flat tire and it was cold as shit outside. My dad dropped me off at a hotel lobby and I had to sit there with nothing to do--or so I thought. I heard a lot of commotion down the hall, so I checked it out and saw that the hotel had a sports bar inside. I went in, sat down at the bar and ordered a soda. I thought I'd watch a game and keep to myself, even though I was surrounded by people. Then something happened--I think it was that Brett Favre (who I hated because he was in his second year with the Vikings) threw an interception and the guy next to me groaned. I asked him if he was a Vikings fan and he said he was. Then I asked him what he thought of Brett Favre and he said that he wished he never came back to the Vikings. We talked and then I started talking with other people around me. I had a great time and didn't have to drink. That's when I learned two things: 1) I could handle being in a bar without having to drink and 2) being a sports fan allowed me to talk to pretty much anyone wherever I was. This experience and realizations had a huge effect on me and I got more confident and was able to get back out in the world knowing that I could always break the ice if I felt insecure by talking sports.

That doesn't seem like that big of a story, but it was huge for me. Sitting at that bar, drinking soda, and talking to strangers about sports made me think I was finally capable of having a social life again. Up until then, I thought I wasn't capable of having a positive, casual interaction with anyone... and I had pretty much given up on having even just a small social life. The experience at that sports bar was what I needed to prove to myself that I could be social again. I couldn't have proven that to myself if I hadn't become a sports fan.



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