Did you grow up playing sports? I did. We were a basketball family. In my area you played softball/baseball in the Spring and Summer and either Basketball or Soccer during the school year. I also played volleyball, tennis, and I ran track. Of course, all of these were secondary sports, and they didn’t matter as much at the other four. Basketball was the sport I loved the most because it taught me that no matter what, I can do something, anything, if I push myself hard enough, practice the basics, and never give up.
Throughout my life, I have kept these lessons with me. Whenever I have wanted to give up, I push myself to overcome that feeling. Are there times I have quit? Yes, but basketball also taught me that sometimes, you need to sit down and let others take over. Always play to your strengths and work on where you need help. In a team sport, a great team works together to achieve a win. A great team doesn’t let any one person carry the game. A great team has a great coach who can tell them when to push, when to sit down, and what they need to work on. And it is hard work to be great.
I had a rare coach in Junior High. Coach Tate was the kind of coach schools drool over. She taught us the fundamentals of the game. Every season, we would relearn how to dribble and pass correctly. She would have us running drills until we could do them in our sleep. She didn’t just say, “Guard the basket while on defense,” she would show us how to squat down, slap the floor, stay down, move our feet, and box out any girl trying to get to our basket. Most importantly, she would never let us get sloppy.
In one game we were beating the other team so badly, they had no chance of catching us. We had a point guard who could run like the wind and jump as high as the sky. It got to the point where we would rebound the basket, pass it to her and let her run to the other end and score. We were having a blast. That’s when Coach Tate threw down her clipboard and yelled at us from the sidelines, “Girls! Can you run my offense just once? Once in this game?!” We slowed down and did what she said. We didn’t dare rebel against her. If we didn’t do what she said we knew we would pay for it by running drills and the offense over and over until we were sore, tired and close to hyperventilating in our next practice. As we ran back to the other side of the court, ready to play defense she yelled out, “Ladies! Hit the floor!” All five of us squatted down in a plie position and smacked our palms on the court and snapped our arms into defensive position. The poor point guard from the other team started crying as she brought the ball down the court.
What was the point in all of that? The coach wasn’t trying to intimidate the other team. They had already lost. No, coach was teaching us that even when we are riding high and scoring big, we still needed to get back to basics and play the fundamentals of the game. Thriving with a chronic illness is a lot like this. On those days we are feeling good and riding the wave of a “normal” day, we still need to pay attention to the fundamentals and play defense.
Practically speaking, “playing defense” means listening to your body and doing all the little things that help it stay on top. For me that means taking daily naps, even when I am in the midst of something fun and don’t want to stop. It means eating the right kinds of foods for my body; foods which I know will give it the fuel it needs and not sabotage my progress. “Playing defense” also means not pushing my body too hard, saying “no” to some activities, finding a quiet area at a party where I can catch my breath and ground myself, and taking all of my meds and supplements. We don’t just “play defense” for ourselves, we play it for the good of those around us too. If I can catch myself before running my body all the way out of energy (hello, spoons), then that means those around me won’t have to help me to bed, or dress me, or baby me.
Somedays, I still need that kind of help. Somedays, “playing defense” also means knowing when to quit and let others take over for me. Sometimes it means, not helping, not doing anything for anybody else. This is a difficult thing to do because it feels selfish and irresponsible. Honestly? You have to conserve your “spoons” (energy), and you are helping others by not using up all of your strength. Listen to your body. Monitor your needs. Don’t be afraid to sit down and ask for help. You are strong enough to let your care be a team sport, but you are the only one who knows what it takes to defend your healing progress. So, how do you play defense?