“To cure a batting slump, I took my bat to bed with me. I wanted to know my bat a little better.”
— Richie Ashburn, Philadephia Phillies Center Fielder from 1948-1959
I used to have this theory that I was so in tune with the Giants, that my mood could somehow ripple out and effect the outcome of a game. If I was doing well, they were playing well. If I was down, they were losing. It sounds crazy, but honestly it used to happen a LOT — especially in 2012 (that was a good year for both of us). I haven’t thought about it all that much lately, but if my theory holds water, it could explain the dismal state of Giants baseball after the all-star break**, losing 6 straight, in stark contrast to their previous status as the best in all of baseball. Speaking of breaks, they’ve been hard-pressed to catch one; the pitching has been spotty, errors have abounded, and the team just seems lackluster overall, and very tired. Been feeling you, Giants.
It would make sense. So far this year, the orange and black have been beset by issues and injuries, setups and setbacks. Spirited starter Jake Peavy was swindled out of a huge portion of his life savings by a devil-in-disguise financial adviser. (For those of you who don’t know, Peavy is a guy with a heart of gold who has used much of his earnings to start a charity and positively impact lives and local communities where he’s played ball.) Veteran Matt Cain has struggled with a plethora of physical issues all season long that have sent to the disabled list more than once. Right-field Reverend Hunter Pence tore his hamstring and needed to have surgery, causing him to miss two months. 2nd baseman Joe Panik got concussed, 3rd baseman Matt Duffy strained his Achilles, Kelby “Specs” Tomlinson sprained his thumb, Ehrie Adrianza fractured his foot, and that’s not even that half of it. It’s actually been admirable, how well they’ve done in spite of all their difficulties, but not surprising for Giants fans who know how tenacious the team is, how deep their push-on-throughness runs. The team has continued to pick themselves up off the floor, play with heart and perform to the best of their ability. Lately however, it seems as though the adrenaline has run out, and the burnout phase has set in. Quite the slump, to put it in baseball speak.
Hitters, pitchers, or even entire teams, can fall into a slump — that dreaded dry spell where performance is poor, and nothing seems to be going right. No one is immune to a slump. Even the greatest players can experience them; the reasons could be mental, physical, or a combination of both that end up feeding off of each other. Slumps often turn into a downward spiral — a rough patch inducing a funk that collapses into a rabbit hole of misery, and digging ones’ way out after falling inside becomes quite the task. Some players, especially the more sensitive souls, can turn into their own worst enemy (Giants fans, think Brandon Belt). The 2005 slump of Miami Marlins’ Mike Lowell was another such example. Jeff Conine, a former teammate of Lowell’s said, “I believe the guys that struggle the most to get out of a slump are the smart guys that care. Mike cared more than anyone. He tried harder than anyone. But whatever he tried, didn’t work.” Fortunately, Lowell got better after he was traded to the Red Sox, but emerging from the slump took time.
How does this tie into my implausible (but not impossible) impact on the games? The answer lies in another question, which more than one person has asked me over the last couple months: “Hey, what happened to your blog?” Believe me, I was asking myself that same question. This was an undertaking that I started with such enthusiasm, shelved when my dad died, and resurrected from the ashes, then I stalled out like a car that was running on fumes too long. To those who inquired, I gave my excuse: “I’ve just been so busy” (which was definitely true, but not the real reason); then I would proceed to tell them about the 5 almost-finished articles waiting in wings (also true). But the real truth, and the one I was too embarrassed to share, was how down and uninspired I had been feeling. I was dealing with a major slump of my own.
It would make sense. This past year, I’ve been beset by my own issues and injuries, setups and setbacks. I felt like such a champ for awhile, thinking that I was handling it all so well…until I wasn’t. Things just kept piling up on my shoulders, and trying so hard to overcome them eventually overcame me, catching up with a vengeance and flooring me like a fastball to the chest at 98 miles an hour. Maybe the shock from my dad’s death wore off — I don’t know. But horrific nature of that car accident, all of the mystery surrounding his death, and the never-getting-to-say-goodbye-part, intensified the “normal” (if there is such a thing) grieving process, and brought waves of sorrow so powerful that I didn’t know what to do with them. I tried to be brave to comfort my mom, who had lost her husband of 43 years, and be a strong support for the rest of a heartbroken family; those roles I did my best to take on. As the person in the family most like my father, it seemed only natural, but trying to be everything to everyone else didn’t leave a lot of room for me to take care of myself. As the summer approached, it got to the point where everything morphed into a tunnel of darkness in which I could see no light at the end. The grief on its own could have been cause enough, but in the months since his death, I’d also been dealing with the demands of a hectic, high-stress job in which I’m the person all my co-workers look to for direction, an assortment of injuries including two sprained ankles and a torn rotator cuff, a month-long lung infection (in Chinese medicine, the lungs are the storehouse for grief), a brutal back-stabbing by a jealous friend, and a car accident of my own. That’s not even the half of it, but I’ll spare you the rest. Let’s just say it took its toll. At the risk of sounding dramatic (God forbid!), I went through each day feeling lost and totally alone.
As a proud and private person with a deeply ingrained “put your best foot forward” streak, I tend to be very reluctant about disclosing the more challenging aspects of my life with others, even those closest to me. I don’t want to drag anyone down, be the bearer of bad vibes, or possibly shatter my image as the eternal optimist. I like to go out into the world with my head held high and a smile on my face. I have a darker side — I think everyone does — but my “be the light” philosophy isn’t just a bunch of bullshit — it is genuinely who I want to be and how I want to live my life. When I write, I want the happy Christina to come streaming forth, telling tales of wonder, not singing songs of woe. I’m no stranger to sorrow, and my happiness has been hard-earned. Being joyful feels natural to me. So to feel as though I was sliding backwards after coming so far in my life carried with it a secret shame. My heart got so heavy that it started manifesting in my body as that kind of weariness that gets into your soul and down into your bones.
I have long held the belief that something good always comes out of something bad. Everyone and everything is my teacher, and I am responsible for the quality of my experiences. Throughout all this, that side of me was saying “count your blessings… it could always be worse… I still have much to be thankful for.” Another side of me felt so far removed from everything I thought I knew, that it was like trying to put on clothes that no longer fit. All the work I had done, all of the teachings I’d studied to get to where I was, mattered not. I was completely apathetic to “finding the silver lining”, which is not like me at all, but after what felt like a constant stream of sucker punches, my dominant thoughts were more like, “Seriously? Are you kidding me?” Suffice to say, my creative impulses took a nosedive. Maybe it IS just an excuse, but grief added to stress multiplied by ongoing physical pain isn’t exactly the greatest recipe for inspiration.
In the past when I was feeling down, I would turn on the ballgame, and it never failed to lift my spirits. In the days following my dad’s death, I took great comfort in it, and the 2015 postseason (even though the Giants weren’t in it) was like medicine for the wound. I longed for baseball’s return in the lonely winter months of the off-season. Unfortunately, soon after the 2016 season started, I realized that baseball had become a mixed bag. An all-time favorite activity shared with an all-time favorite person becomes all-time bittersweet when that person is no longer there. It got to the point where I was barely even interested in watching baseball, much less writing about it. That was one of the biggest bummers of all actually, that something I loved so much, something my father passed along, and something that has been such a saving grace for me in the past, couldn’t even cheer me up. How much I wanted to exchange a text with my dad, sharing our old lines like “Vogey for President!”, “Rally time!” and the often used “Reverse genetics”, our standard response when one of us would pay the other a compliment. I would pick up old copies of the Giants magazines to try and get inspired, ones that I didn’t get around to reading last year. Since I always had them mailed to my parents’ house so my dad could read them first, I kept finding pages with his comments scribbled inside for me to find, and my heart would break. I got scared to even pick up the magazines; scared I would find something he had written, and simultaneously scared that I wouldn’t. In creating Big League Love, I had wanted so much to make my dad proud, to carry on his legacy with a spirited and plucky stream of blog posts, but I found myself rather hard-pressed to meet my own expectations.
Down and down into the slump I went, making matters worse by the fact that I was upset with myself for being in the slump in the first place. I much preferred the me-of-perpetual-good-cheer to the miserable creature who seemed to have taken her place, and I wasn’t cutting myself any slack. “If I can’t be happy Christina, then I lay low until I feel better,” I would tell myself. Reaching out or having a conversation seemed tiring at best and terrifying at worst. Death tends to bring with it a series of cliche one-liners that I got tired of hearing, like “He’s in a better place” (okay sure); “His spirit is always with you” (okay great, I believe that too, but it still sucks); or “You should focus on being thankful that you had such a wonderful dad. Most people don’t have that” (As if grief and gratitude cannot co-exist). Instead, my secret wishes consisted of owning Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, sleeping for a week, or going on a retreat where I didn’t have to talk to anyone. Elizabeth Gilbert at the ashram in Eat Pray Love comes to mind, wearing a pin on her blouse that states “I am in silence”… if only I could have gone out into the world wearing one of those! My only desires were to rest and be quiet — preferably with a large glass of wine.
How long could this go on? I wasn’t sure. The good news (I guess) was, having overcome plenty of shall-we-say unpleasant situations in my life, I realized I was mired in another one. I also knew two other things–that my creativity was vital to my well-being, and this blog was important to me. If I were to let it go, if I were to give up on my writing, it would essentially be the equivalent of giving up on myself. Some days that felt like the best bet, so deep was this lonely homesickness for I-don’t-know-what. In the throes of a dark night of the soul, I often felt like a fish trying to swim in the ocean after an Exxon spill, covered in black, in quite the sticky situation. Moving forward didn’t feel the least bit simple, or easy. However, the compulsion to do so was starting to take on epic proportions of a Shawshank-Redemption nature; was I going to “get busy living, or get busy dying”?
Then someone for whom I have the utmost respect, someone who has been face to face with life and death and everything in between, suggested to me an idea. Instead of telling me to think more positively or trust the process or any other advice that seemed unhelpful at the time, the idea was that I simply embrace every aspect of my experience equally, that I invite everyone to the party, so to speak. A radical notion perhaps–what if I were to welcome this despondency with the same graciousness with which I would welcome, shall we say, the more charming aspects of my being? How could I, in words of Richie Ashburn above, take my bat to bed with me? Ashburn was actually being serious, he LITERALLY slept with a baseball bat in his bed when he was going through a slump. But how could I metaphorically take that advice? How could I understand my own slump by getting to know my bat better? Allowing everything in my experience to be exactly what it was, was the first step.
It was an approach worth trying, and a challenging one at first. Then, as it often does in my world, life and baseball started to parallel each other. The process started slowly; I would turn on the game in small doses, and just sit with myself. Sadness would come up, and I would notice it. The game would be lousy, and I would say “Okay… bummer, but okay”. And somehow, the Giants’ losing streak, instead of being viewed as (entirely) a disappointment, became a tool for self-inquiry. You see, the thing is, I really like this team, even when they perform poorly. Sure, I might get frustrated during the games, but because I like these guys so much, even their fallibility is endearing (and highly relatable). I’m not interested in perfection. Of course I would prefer that they win, but even if they lost every game between now and the end of the season, I’m not going to stop liking them. So riddle me this — why have I not been embracing my own experience with the same “for better or for worse” acceptance? I expect a lot of myself, but could I be willing to cut myself some slack, despite my own losing streak? Why wouldn’t I give myself the same Big League Love as I give to my team?
The answer as to why was simple — because I didn’t want what was happening. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling. I want to be happy, not sad, stuck, or in physical pain. But whether I wanted it or not, there it was… all of it. So finally one night, instead of trying to push even one iota of it away, or deny it, or hate on myself for it, I completely stepped into it. As fully as I possibly could, I sunk into my experience and just let it all be. A particularly sad song was playing in my head, so I straight-up dove into it — I found that damn song on YouTube and played it (twice). For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to feel all the grief, the tiredness, and the hopelessness I had been holding at bay for so long. Not in a “poor me” kind of way… far from it. Instead, it was a welcoming, an acceptance, an opening of the door to a cold and lonely side of myself that was standing outside in the rain, shivering and seeking acknowledgment. Rather than slamming the door in her face and telling her to go away, I invited her in to sit by the fire and get warm. And in this befriending, for the first time in a very long time, I actually felt like writing again, because I wasn’t trying to force something into existence, to feel something I wasn’t feeling. The grief is still there, but a much deeper acceptance of myself has emerged as well, and my priceless joy is coming back. As it turned out, adding insult to injury was not the least bit helpful in regaining my happiness.
I’ve always thought that my intention in writing was to inspire others, and to me, that usually meant sharing something uplifting, with notes of triumph and a hint of whimsy. Falling into a depression hasn’t exactly felt like the most inspiring thing to write about, but since sorrow strikes most of us at some point in our lives, maybe speaking my experience aloud will be just the thing that someone else needs to read at this point in their journey. Then again, maybe not. Who knows? Maybe if I worry less about writing something life-changing every time I put the pen to paper, I can just write. Maybe the best person to really inspire is myself, by extending love to every sticky, sullen feeling, by honoring myself for how far I’ve come, instead of chiding myself for how far I have to go. Maybe then, and only then, will my words flow unforced, from an authentic space. Maybe down the road, I’ll even look back at this moment and say, “Ah, so that’s why I had to go through that!” as I emerge from this period of self-imposed exile with a new understanding, a new resolve, and a new way of relating. Maybe, just maybe, instead of dwelling on the past or the future, I can simply be with this moment, just as it is, and say “All is well, just as it is.” Maybe, maybe not. One day at a time.
Maybe the Giants will wallow in the losses from their road trip, and really feel them deeply. Maybe, after a period of reflection, they’ll arrive back in San Francisco, ready for a new day. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll go out and get a win tomorrow. Maybe, maybe not. One game at a time. Once they get that win though, it’ll be a sure sign that we’re both doing much better 🙂