Therapy on the Pitch

I’ve never been much of a sports fan. The most tasking physical activity I did as a child was flipping the pages of comic books. As my elementary school friends ranted on about last night’s “big game,” and “their teams,” I would simply nod along in silence, uncomprehending whatever it it is they said. Yet as I grew older, I had to begin to adapt to my peer group’s interests, otherwise I’d be the kid sitting alone at lunch. So I began watching soccer games, even had a team I called my own. But when my friends played the actual game on the field, I would stand on the sidelines and merely watch.

I wasn’t all that good at soccer, or at any other sport really. The best I could do at basketball is dribbling for less than five seconds, I only score goals at soccer every ten matches or so, and on marathons I always finished in the bottom five position. Athleticism was obviously not part of my repertoire back then, and even my naive, young mind could realize that. Hence, I was a bystander, adopting the role of a reserve in most matches, and was content whenever I didn’t have to fumble my way around the field, pitch, or court. As the unluckier ones of us know, it is not the most glamorous of roles to be the source of ridicule in public settings. Because of this, I would only show up when the only ones participating were my friends, if there was even just one stranger, I’d bail immediately.

Now however, I partake in a sport called futsal—a smaller version of soccer played by five persons per team—on a weekly basis. And when someone asks me to join them on a game with people I know nothing of, I’d immediately say yes. I no longer agree with sitting and watching, now I want to be out there, tackling, sliding, passing, and shooting on the pitch. It’s only been a little over a year since I turned into an active futsal player. But it is quite the drastic change, both from the perspective of finally being a contributing team member, and transforming into someone who’s stopped avoiding the judging gaze of the audience for the sake of the game. Why the sudden change of pace? Oddly enough, it’s somewhat related to the psychological disease I’m suffering from.

When one falls ill to depression, things cease to matter. Your family, friends, dreams and hopes are all left in the dust as you concentrate on the nothingness that fazes you (I’ve covered this topic extensive in a previous post, Depression: How it Led to a Failed Suicide Attempt). At times though, an object of interest pierces through the fog that surrounds you. Yet rather than be grateful for finally having something other than nothing to focus on, you feel overwhelmed, afraid of the possibility of being dragged back out to the world and risking ourselves into an even worse bout of the mental plague. I was in such a state for longer than I wish to remember, and on certain occasions still fall back into that hole, having to claw myself out again. How can I repeatedly escape the same, exhausting trap? And how can I keep on refusing to give up and just end it all? One answer, a great surprise to my far less than sporty character, is futsal.

Futsal games run for sixty minutes. Thirty-six hundred seconds of intense, fast-paced action. In soccer, attacks and counterattacks interchange every minute or so. In futsal, your team could be right up to the opposition’s goalie in a matter of moments, only to have their goal-scoring attempt be deflected right back towards the direction of your own goalpost. Attacking       and defending both happen simultaneously, causing you to never be able to predict which of the two stances you may need to take in the upcoming instances. At one point you’re shooting the ball at your rivals, the next you’re throwing yourself in front of an oncoming shot, feeling its impact on every fiber of either your back, chest, stomach, and—in the most unfortunate of cases—groin. It is this element of ceaseless surprises that keeps me coming back for more.

For sixty minutes I’m disconnected from the rest of the world. I can’t worry about the future, revisit the painful memories of the past, since doing so would take me away from the game. My eyes and ears, my legs and the rest of my physique, are all devoted to that one ball on the field. The only thing that matters is bringing my team to victory. Any other thing plaguing my mind would be pushed away, into some random corner in my brain. Perhaps this is a somewhat difficult concept to understand for those who have never been diagnosed with a psychological disorder.

What we have to understand is that no sufferer of anxiety, depression, paranoia, et cetera wishes to stay in such states throughout the whole waking hours of their days. For myself, the time I spend playing futsal is not part of said wakefulness. I enter a trance of sorts, for all my mental modules would be called for duty to serve myself and my team on the pitch. The ball of leather, the goals, my teammates and my rivals, would drown my mind in an excess of information that I struggle to process—for they change endlessly, forcing me to adapt to ever mutating circumstances. Predictability is not a part of futsal, and for someone who cannot stop himself from thinking too many painful thoughts, that aspect is a gift from the gods: an escape, one that’s been waited for, for an infinitely long time.

I see futsal as a form of therapy, one that’s cheap, reliable, and fun for all the participants involved. Perhaps there are other outlets similar to it, ones that allow the psychologically distressed to enter a void of blissful ignorance without having to drift away to sleep. Writing, I’m assuming, is part of my therapeutic regiment as well. For others, painting the wonders of the world, composing melodies unheard of before, and so on, might suit them better.

This article is somewhat of a piece of advice for the mentally-ill. We are always haunted by whatever pathology exists within us, and their episodic, sudden assaults are never enjoyable, and can be quite hazardous to our physical and cognitive well-being—as is the case with self-harm and suicide attempts. Hence I would urge those of us who suffer from these invisible bruises, to find a hobby, an activity that takes all of your senses into another place, a realm untouched by the realities of our world.

I have to credit my psychiatrist for pushing me to play futsal. For he was the first to suggest the idea, one that I found to be ridiculous at the time. Yet as I am writing down this parchment, I’m trembling in anticipation for a game that’s starting out at midnight. It’s still one in the afternoon as of now, and I guess I would have to roll around in boredom and thirst for the next eleven hours. However, the lengthy downtime is still more than worthwhile.

Thus, once more, do kindly try to seek out enterprises to pour your whole being into. It is a relief that I find hard to describe, to be able to distract my impaired mind without the help of pills or laying down on psychiatrists’ sofas. For the long run, I cannot say for certain how long  will futsal be able to keep me preoccupied. Nevertheless, the distraction it provides me is a welcome one indeed. One that I hope shall last for a long, long time.

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