This is just a harmless, cheerful-looking volleyball, ready for play. In theory. I think that’s even how I see it, but if I have to be in front of that net, with people all around me, those people (and especially that ball) fill me with dread.
There are plenty of things I am good at: school, music, socializing, French, getting to know new people. But when it comes to sports, the ones I love to participate in are swimming, running (if it weren’t for my knees), hiking, and capture the flag. Capture the flag can involve spying and subterfuge. The rest do not involve a ball. Why it is that I have good coordination on the piano and not with a ball, I’m not sure. Oh, and the big exception: soccer is fun. That involves my leg muscles and my feet. Completely different. And football? I have a hard time watching it, but I actually like to play it. Tackling people can be fun. Growing up, though, volleyball was the sport I feared the most at school.
When I worked at the Grand Canyon one summer between years at college, we used to play huge games of volleyball with all the employees. A couple of patient guys decided to help out those of us who really struggled. The motto that they had us repeat? “The ball….is your friend.” (It’s not the same without the dramatic pause in the middle.) I actually made a lot of progress that summer. I haven’t had much of a desire to play since, though, but I love to watch others play.
So, when it comes to PTSD and anxiety, doing things that you’re afraid of can be very healing overall. The tricky part? It needs to be scary enough, but not too scary. The whole “need not run faster than you have strength” still applies. (Mosiah 4:27)
I’ve been going to our single’s group’s “volleyball and board game” night one and off for a couple of years now. Yes, I’ve been invited to join in with the volleyball game many times. I finally decided last week that maybe I should give it a try. People were mostly just warming up. I didn’t stay in very long, but I was proud of myself. Then this past week, I decided to try again. I stayed in longer. But then they “really needed people,” so I stayed in even longer. For several games. Those of you who have never experienced this kind of anxiety may not understand this, but I could feel my anxiety level getting higher. I kept thinking (how many times have I been through this?) that if I breathed in and breathed out and tried not to panic, I’d be okay. But I’d stayed in too long. I’ts not like the kind of panic that you can hold off for a while, or make feel better: it takes over, completely. I was telling myself that I was fine, but I was intermittently forgetting where I was and what I was doing. It’s disorientation at its finest. It only lasted a split second each time, but it wasn’t good. The game ended, and I was sitting out in the hall trying to get my bearings back.
I had fun, but I need to honor the limits that I know work. When I first was dealing with these high levels of anxiety, it seemed like it took forever for me to figure out what those limits were and to learn how to stand by them to both myself and others. I guess while I’m trying to heal, it’s not much different.
The people I was playing volleyball with were all extremely supportive and kind, so it had nothing to do with that. And I have not given up: I’ll just honor my limits better.