One glorious day, a small miracle happened. It was at a professional tennis tournament in Turkey that I was about to play in. I was in the qualifying draw and playing against someone who was ranked much higher than me. He was also bigger, hit the ball harder, played smarter, and was much younger than me. (Yeah, good luck with this one, Dennis!) I knew going into the match that the only way I would have a chance was to hope that he was having a very bad day and get into a mental rut (which he was known to do), so I could string some points and games together.
In tennis, you need to win six games to win a set and every match is a best two out of three sets. Some matches can take a very long time to complete and can be very intense mental battles. I remember what I felt like going through my usual pre-match nerves, but I never experienced it quite like this before. That day I had a huge anxious lump in my throat feeling(known as Globus Hystericus) and dizziness. I went to the bathroom five or six times, surfed the web for an hour in the players lounge to get info on my opponent, changed my shirt a few dozen times because of heavy sweating (no exaggeration), and then did a warm-up that would match a high performance training session. I was absolutely exhausted, and the match hadn’t even started yet! There I was, playing someone who was better in most aspects than me on a tennis court, and I had beaten myself up so badly with my anxious habits and warm up routine that I had little or nothing left to give when the match started.
Grave Thoughts to Brave Thoughts
Most people don’t realize how brave and courageous people like us—anxiety sufferers—are. Every day we fight for our lives, hoping that in the end we’ll survive these awful experiences to live and fight another day. So, what I lost in energy and stability I gained in will power, which was what I needed to stand any kind of chance that day. If there was a glimmer of hope, I would fight until the last point to give myself a chance to reach my dream as a tennis player, which was to be professionally ranked on the ATP tour.
After our five-minute warm up, some of the anxious feelings started to die down, and I started to relax a little. I went down quickly, losing the first set 6 games to 2. In the second set, I thought if I could hang around long enough to put some more shots in play without beating myself, I might have a chance to pull this match out. I went down again 4 games to 2, but that is when things started to turn around.
A friend of mine, who I had been practicing with leading up to the tournament, started shooting photos and videos of the match. He had previously told me that he was doing a documentary about the financial and physical difficulties in a life of a professional tennis player. For some reason, when my American opponent saw him shooting the photos and videos, he started to lose it. The score became 4-3 and I was back in the second set. My opponent asked the referee if my friend would stop snapping photos, but the ref didn’t see anything wrong with it.
Then the very next game my mom showed up to watch the match (I love you mom!). My mom always did everything she could from the sidelines in a cute and legal way for me to win a tennis match, so when she arrived at 4-4 in the second set, I knew I had an even better chance to come back. She cheered for me so loudly that my opponent started to lose it again, and the next thing you know I won the second set and we were going into the third set totally even.
At this point I knew that I had some great momentum, and although my friend was done his photo session, he kept clicking just to keep my momentum going. More and more people were showing up to watch our match that should have ended over an hour ago. For the first time I found myself drawing energy from all of those people, rather than being scared and worried about being judged for my every move. It seemed that everything was aligned perfectly for a huge upset win for me, and there was a feeling of invincibility in that third set that I hadn’t felt before. The tennis ball looked like a basketball, and not only was I playing some of the best tennis I’d ever played, I was entertaining the crowd in ways you normally don’t see at a low level professional tournament. The adrenaline was definitely kicking in in a positive way as the prayers from the local mosques in Turkey rang louder and louder in the background.
Being In The Moment
I loved every single moment and didn’t want that feeling to end! The final set took an hour and a half, and at the end I fell to my knees the way my tennis idols used to and listened to the roar of the crowd after the final point that I had won. If I could think of a few moments that were the greatest in my life, this would be in the top five for sure. Thinking back on this experience I wondered to myself, how did this happen? After being so defeated in the pre match and the first set, how in the world was I able to come back and not only make the match competitive, but win it in the end? All of the odds were against me, and no one believed in me, including myself. But then people started to like me as the match wore on, and I started to have this very real and positive connection with that crowd.
The power of the mind is amazing. When you have absolutely nothing left physically, your mind can find ways to keep you going and give you a chance to prevail in the end. To take control of your thoughts, then to have those new empowering thoughts turn into positive action in your life is extremely important. It may be one of the biggest tools I’ve used to conquer my 6 year anxiety disorder while still trying to keep my dreams alive of becoming a full time pro tennis player.
As I look back on that match and consider some of the things that worked for me that day towards controlling my anxiety levels, I realized that although I was down and out for a set and a half, I never complained. In fact, I really enjoyed the journey that I took to eventually get that win. The same approach should be taken when you are in the early stages of ridding yourself of anxiety. Enjoy the good and the bad – as ridiculous as that sounds. When anxiety starts to beat you up mentally and physically, stand up to it and realize that these thoughts and feelings are here now, but soon they will be gone.
Nothing is stronger than your own will. If you draw enough strength from others you care about like I talked about in this story, as well as having the attitude of “I’m feeling awful now but deep down I know I’m on the right track. I have the tools to move through this in the end.” You will move through it in the end, and when you do, you’ll look back and laugh at the way you once were.