When Anxiety Attacks

Three weeks ago, Mardy Fish wrote an amazing article on The Players’ Tribute site titled The Weight. I stopped halfway through the article and took a deep breath.

“This is a story about how a mental health problem took my job away from me. And about how, three years later, I am doing that job again — and doing it well. I am playing in the U.S. Open again.

This is a story about how, with the right education, and conversation, and treatment, and mindset, the things that mental illness takes away from us — we can take them back.

Tens of millions of Americans every year deal with issues related to mental health. And the journey of dealing with them, and learning to live with them, is a long one. It can be a forever one. Or, worse, it can be a life-threatening one.

And I want to help with it.”

If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, had an anxiety attack, or know someone close who has struggled with anxiety, go read The WeightI wait (see what I did there …)

If you aren’t a tennis fan, Mardy Fish is one of the great contemporary American tennis players. He fought his way into the top 10 during the epic era of Federer/Nadal/Djokovic/Murray. A massive anxiety attack in the 2012 US Open against Gilles Simon shattered him. He beat Simon, but then couldn’t go on the court two days later against Roger Federer and withdrew from the tournament. The article and quotes are interesting – they say nothing about anxiety and are vague about the issues, referring back to a previous heart-related issue that had been discussed.

“We are not 100 percent sure what the issue is and if it is related to his previous issues,” Fish’s agent, John Tobias, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Mardy is fine and will return home to L.A. tomorrow. This was strictly precautionary and I anticipate that Mardy will play in Asia this fall.”

Three years later Marty Fish has done an incredibly brave thing. He owned his anxiety, rather than let it own him.

“And just like that, it hit me — I remember it so vividly, and so powerfully. Oh god, I thought. I’m … not going to do it. I’m not going to go out there, anxious, in front of 22,000 people. I’m not going to play Roger. I’m not going to play. I didn’t play. First, I didn’t play Roger. And then, I didn’t play at all.”

He turned a weakness into a strength.

“But I am here to show weakness. And I am not ashamed.

In fact I’m writing this, in a lot of ways, for the express purpose of showing weakness. I’m writing this to tell people that weakness is okay. I’m here to tell people that it’s normal.

And that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms.

Addressing your mental health is strength. Talking about your mental health is strength. Seeking information, and help, and treatment, is strength.

And before the biggest match of your career, prioritizing your mental health enough to say, You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play …

That, too, is strength.”

His fearlessness about being open about his struggle is so powerful. We are all humans. We are all big bags of chemicals. The chemicals mix in lots of different ways.

“I still deal with my anxiety on a daily basis. I still take medication daily. It’s still in my mind daily. There are days that go by where I’ll think to myself, at night, when I’m going to bed: Hey, I didn’t think about it once today. And that means I had a really good day.”

How we deal with the mixture is what ultimately matters. I loved watching Mardy Fish play tennis. It was fun to root for him. It was pretty awesome to see him drop 30 pounds and totally transform his game. And now it’s even more awesome to know that he’s playing the game of life every day, doing his best, and helping the rest of us understand that having and dealing with mental health issues isn’t a weakness, but instead it’s just part of life.