Personal Growth: A Journey from Tennis to Self-Discovery

Tennis was just the beginning, or the end, or the end of the beginning. Whatever it was or is, it made me everything I am today and then it made me make more of myself.

I’m struggling to write this and articulate all that has been jumbled in my head for so many years. But I also have a deep burning desire to share my story, influence young men and women and help them gain perspective. Not to learn from my mistakes but to understand that life is a long journey, not a sprint as I thought it once was. 

Sprinting I numbed myself to who I really am (and who I am becoming). And my body and mind revolted against itself in violent bulimic episodes for years until I collapsed. It was in those moments of fatigue were I felt peace, after vomiting and crying myself to sleep my mind would finally quiet. No way yoga or meditation could have saved me then. My environment was drenched in depressive behaviors. I needed an outlet and did not know I had been doing this to myself as a way to beg my mind to listen to my heart. 

I went through the long and painful process of letting go of something I had thought I was expected to do. To complete a task I was waiting to cross off my to-do list not realizing that there would always be tasks to cross off and the more tasks I crossed the more would appear because there is no end to such a cycle. I had convinced myself it was how to live, how to breathe, how to think but as I matured my mind and heart turned against me. I was trapped in a dichotomy of two worlds. Many can say I feel this too and nothing makes Neha’s situation more special or more difficult. But as I look back it was so clear, so poignant a message and I have tennis to thank for that. I could continue this path and be someone I had convinced myself from the age of 9 I was supposed to be or I could stop, reassess and move forward in a healthier and richer life. A very difficult choice to make at a young age but I learned and will continue to learn how much will power I really have.

My world ended at 22, I lost everything I had worked so hard since the age of 9 to become. At least it felt that way. A simple “and what do you do?” would send me for a toss deep in to the confines of my room, my closet, the balcony, my roof pondering life deciding weather to jump down or get over myself. Like a soldier wounded from battle who only knew to be a soldier was suddenly given a new identity and asked to be happy. To figure it out to blend in. what followed were years of depression, anger, intense anxiety and crippling confusion. What I wanted, what I craved was something, just one thing that could just fix everything.  I needed it like a magic pill, like the way I was always told if I had just did this one thing. If I had just lost those 10 pounds. If I had just hit that one forehand in instead of out, if I had just listened better, if I had just tried a little harder life would somehow become happy or the way it was supposed to be. Life would become how I was promised it would be, full of celebrity and autographs and winning tournaments and fancy dinners and fulfillment and happiness and expectations and at last peace of mind.

But peace of mind is a funny thing; you have to cultivate it daily.

I’ve finally had to accept that happiness isn’t a destination it’s a state of being no matter how cliché that sounds. The rollercoaster of my wins and losses mirrored the roller coaster of my emotions. I had learned to live in flux. BALANCE- I used to think if I just had balance. If I just had something else to do while on the tour, perhaps I wouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. Forget the pressure they put on me, what really killed it was all the self-doubt, all the self-bashing; I thought that was the answer, that was the way to win. But it turns out that was exactly what was getting in my way. I had to let myself live and err and miss balls out or I’d never get them I, I’d never win.

The self-bashing didn’t stop I took it straight to another pressure cooker, college. At first I was happy just to pass too overwhelmed to think of getting good grades or to actually devote myself to studies. What was all this for anyway? I had so much resentment. How was I back here now at 23? It was supposed to be at 33 at the end of my long illustrious tennis career when I would prance around a place like Princeton with millions in the bank thinking ‘well this is fun’. Instead of feeling like I had to make something of my life all over again and I better find it out quick because I’m already behind and I’ve missed that boat. Only to find I was behind on every boat and if kept thinking that I had to catch the next boat I would always be behind. It became a habit, thriving on feeling behind, last, worst.  Just like how I always played my best when the anticipation of losing pervaded my mind. When I was so far behind, about to lose, completely surrendered and accepting my loss.

I was desperate. I needed something I could find and build of my own and recreate my expectations, I needed to recreate my ‘Wimbledon’. 

I searched and searched and then crashed and burned again and again until I realized that the insecurities deep within me to be good enough, to feel good enough for…myself? Would never allow me to fully succeed. Sure I had ‘accomplished above average” but did I believe it was good enough? No, what kind of a concept is that!? Who in their right mind who wants to achieve anything in life decides that something is or isn’t’ good enough? Bullshit therapist jargon.

Now I’m thinking, what have I pushed myself to do out of a place of self-satisfaction versus self-dissatisfaction? Very tricky words for ex-athletes: satisfaction, achievement, good enough. Better, best, more, harder is what I respond to. But self-satisfaction? The word makes me cringe, if I accepted I am good enough, I am satisfied I wouldn’t do anything with my life. I would just sit on my ass and eat all day and get fat. 

No I wouldn’t, I’m not wired that way. But if I took action out of a place of self-satisfaction what would that action be and how would my perspective change and how would I talk to myself? Suddenly the world looks so different. I’m dizzy.

I’m 29, I’m back home, learning to slow down. Its painful, I have to make excuses for myself as to why I’m allowing myself this so called “easy pace”, this “enjoyment” instead of accepting its because I want to be happy and am finding happiness in allowing myself to be me. I hate the idea of giving myself a break as if I’m supposed to always be doing something arduous, complex, extreme, only meant for the select elite.

In Yoga they say root to rise, that helps me think that there is something better for me in the future. But what if there is not? And while I try to worry and put ammunition behind that train of thought, the joy and peacefulness of being me is slowly creeping in. And from it is coming stable moods, a smile, more love for my loved ones, more patience, more creativity. The last one I am most fond of. Chains from my mind are slowly being unleashed and I’m starting to think in new ways. My brain is not overwhelmed with the same thoughts of feeling unsettled, unhappy not good enough, move on to the next, more, go go travel, get out. It is feeling happy in stability, in being present and experiencing each day. Sometimes I think this evolution is just helping me survive this normal mundane mediocre existence of life. My imbalances and impulses made life fun, made me feel like I was racing towards some impossible dream like Don Quixote.

I’m still not sure what this all is but I’m so enjoying just being happy day to day. I’m a bit anxious that I’m so happy and relaxed and that I’m taking the ‘easy’ way and that’s bad so I’m trying to punish myself but this time it’s not working so well. And now I just don’t like not knowing where to put my focus everyday. But I like listening to what I really want deep down in my heart. That voice is indeed getting louder.  And I’m challenging all my old ways: the way I walk, the way I talk, where I’m going, why I’m working out at 6am and all that. And it just makes my brain hurt because it makes me think a lot. It’s all just annoying because I don’t ever want to go back to feeling like I did before but I’m not quite sure where I’m headed.