Anxiety, Sports Stars, and the not-so Lucky

I assert that sporty guys have it easier than their ball-less counterparts.

Consider anxiety and pre-game puking.

I’m not arguing that all pre-game vomit is the result of worry and panic. Some regurgitation might be caused by the flu, a bad bowl of chili, or a late night on the town. But highly-reported incidents of athletes tossing their cookies before a game must have something to do with stress and an imbalance of serotonin.

In case you didn’t know about the propensity for athletes to upchuck, go ahead and Google something like “athlete vomit game.” Then avert your eyes. On second thought, keep them on the screen. Read and weep. Professional athletes glory in their retched spew. These gods among mortals are praised for their focus and performance. Gut-wrenching anxiety only shows how much they care.

I may have missed something, but I’m not aware of athletes being laughed at, ostracized, or publicly humiliated for high stress levels.

Lest you think this a case of an enlightened modern age where stigma about mental illness has abated, I’d like to point out that athletic heaving is not a new phenomenon.


Art Donavin, who was inducted into the football hall of fame way back in ’68 described vomiting as a pregame ritual. But come on now. We all know what was going on. His fight-or-flight trigger fired in anticipation of battle and he got so scared (substitute “excited” or “amped” if fear offends my athletic readers) that he hunched over the locker-room toilet and emptied his guts.

Football face

Brian Mitchell, in NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football says his New York Giants teammate Rich Seubert “would throw up before every game like clockwork…The whole team didn’t feel good until he threw up.”

Let me get this straight. Jocks get to have panic attacks without repudiation? If they hurl out of fear and self-loathing, their loving teammates cheer and pat their butts?

As a guy who has dealt with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, surely a little ADHD, and more than a few accusations of raging mania, I cannot tell you how envious I am of this perk. Shoot, sporty types can have their cheerleader girlfriends and the adulation of the crowd if I can just get a little acceptance for my miss-wired chemistry.

Somewhere between ten and twelve-years-old, I could only walk upstairs if the steps finished in counts of seven. Otherwise, I had to back up a few steps and manipulate them to end that way on my own. If I failed in this ritual, I knew the world pay a terrible price.

To my father’s confusion, I ran out a of lunch spot a few years later because everyone in the establishment looked so cool and poised. I knew I did not belong.

Even to this day, I occasionally have trouble breathing before a big event. That said, after I get going, I usually kick ass like a football star or even Freddie Mercury in that one super-jock ballad.


Not once in this mess of worry and unhealthy behavior, do I ever remember a team rallying to my side and saying, “it’s all right, Dave. This means you’re stoked and going to perform like a champ once the anticipatory fear wears off. Now let’s run on the field like a pack of men who respect and support each other.”

Recently, my similarly-wired daughter told a friend that she was concerned her happiness was a result of mania. My kid is so smart and self-observant that she can doubt her own happiness and label it dysfunction. Her reward? This basically decent friend told the whole school that my kid was a bipolar nut job.

So here is the thing. I’m changing this circumstance around. Care to join me?

I’ll keep taking my Citalopram and working on self-talk and deep breathing. But I’m also demanding some accolades. My recent data analysis is good in part because I worried all night that it was shit. My daughter rewrote an essay a couple times last week and handed to me because she was still uncertain about its quality.

We want the same treatment athletes get.

If I divulge to you that I’m worried, depressed, or absolutely convinced everyone thinks I’m a loud-mouthed idiot, please say, “Way to go champ. This (office, party, neighborhood, Magic the Gathering session, or writers’ group) wouldn’t be the same without you. Way to care.”

When my kid or yours admits to cutting herself because she wonders if a razor can really quiet the voices of worry, here’s what we should do. First, get her treatment and counseling to help her stop. Then say, “Holy shit, you are going to do great in life. You worry because you care way more than ordinary blokes. Your body gets behind you with a fully-charged fight or flight system because it wants you to succeed and/or not get eaten by lions. All of this makes you great. Just like a pro football player.”

That’s what I plan on saying anyway.


2 thoughts on “Anxiety, Sports Stars, and the not-so Lucky

  1. Your daughter is rad. And her “basically decent friend” sounds either clueless or less decent than they appeared. High school kids can be both amazingly oblivious and dastardly cruel. But is sounds like you, and she, have a healthy perspective.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s