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My Personal Struggles With Emotion

I am going to allow myself to be quite vulnerable here, but I know I am speaking to an overwhelming majority with what is to follow.


The world is a tough place, no doubt about it. We are getting knocked around, many people are only concerned with themselves and as we all know, life isn't always fair. But how do we actually cope with these emotions? Are we actually dealing with them, or are we just suppressing them?


As many of you know, I have been entrenched in a significant period of growth over the past couple of years, none more significant than as of late to this point. I have decided to invest in a mentor for a few reasons.


For starters, we are all onions. There is layer after layer when it comes to who we are. Some of us have more layers than others, but we are all extremely complex beings. But on the onion, the outermost layer is paper thin- easy to extract from the rest of it. But as we get closer and closer to the core, the more difficult it is to remove the layers from the onion. We are the same, and thus as we get closer to the core, to truly crack open the onion, we need help. And so, I have decided to invest in myself, and secure a mentor.


The first session, twenty seconds in, I realised how much I struggle with emotion. Let me explain.


The most significant life event to this point was the loss of my mother. I have spoken about this at length, but when I reflect on the situation, it really shows my struggles with emotion. I was at a restaurant when I got the call that she passed. While on the phone with my brother, he said it was about our mom. I said okay, and asked what's going on. There was a pause- no words, no sound, just a pause. Ten seconds later, my brother asked if I heard what he said. I know the phone didn't cut out, I know he was talking, but my subconscious refused to register the news. He repeated himself that our mother had passed.


I left the restaurant, returning to the house I was staying at and went to the bedroom. There were a few people at the house at the time, I said nothing to them and walked in. I laid on the bed- I knew I was sad and I knew I was hurt, but I was emotionless. I laid on the bed for ten minutes or so before I got up, got in the car and went for a drive.


I went to a lookout point that I would go most nights when I was struggling mentally. I sat there and looked out to the skyline in front of me. Still, no emotion. My mother had just died and I had yet to shed a single tear.


Two days later I was on a flight back to America for the funeral. I had not slept since I got the call and I had shed a single tear when a teammate hugged me when he heard the news. I did not sleep on the 14 hour flight from Brisbane to LA,nor did I on the 5 hour flight from LA to New Jersey. I didn't cry even when a couple on the flight to LA asked why I was going home. They were heart broken for me and they nearly cried, but not me.


When I got home, I walked into my mom's house, getting ready to say good bye the next day, but again, no tears. It's bizarre to write, it's bizarre to think about it, but I had no emotion. The next morning, my brother and I were granted some time alone with my mom at the funeral home. Again, no tears. I knew I was sad, but I showed no emotion externally. Even my brother lost it when we saw our mom for the last time.


The only point I got upset that day, was after the funeral, everyone paid their final respects and an old teammate from prep school was in line and hugged me. I hadn't seen him in years, but he's as good of a guy as you will find. For some reason unbeknownst to me, that's what got me to shed a few tears.


This is not the only time this has happened to me, in fact, most life events, for better or worse, don't come with a rush of emotion as it should. I spent this week, trying to process the situation, understanding emotions and finding a solution to why I refuse to acknowledge them in the moment.


As a kid, I was emotional. Big time. Crying was never a problem, if I was sad, I cried. Doesn't bother me to admit it- it's healthy. But when my parents got separated, I stopped crying. I had to- I felt the need to hold responsibility that probably shouldn't have fallen on my shoulders. That's okay, because in life, we have to do what we have to do to keep moving forward. Many of us, especially back home, know all too well when it comes to this.


When my parents separated, I put walls up. I refused to let the world in because I was not going to be hurt again. It's a "normal" reaction in human nature, albeit, not the healthiest. I kept people out, even those close to me, and I isolated myself, my only concern being with myself, my mother and brother.


As I got older, this continued to be the normal behaviour for me. As I began to rise in sports, this pattern only became more solidified. Being an athlete was one of the best things that have ever happened for me- it gave me a free education, it has allowed me to travel the world, it put money in my pockets, given me some of my best friends and it has taught me invaluable lessons. On the flip side of all the positivity, it has done two things that have been detrimental to who I am.


I have lost my identity, because all of my self worth became tied into my success as an athlete (but that will be a story for another time.) It has also caused me to be who and what I am not. I was having a conversation with someone a few months back, and they pointed out how soft I actually am. In my nature, I don't like to get fiery, I don't like to be brash- I would rather be soft. In the world of athletics, this is a big "no-no."


She pointed out to me that as an athlete, you become programmed to analyse the person in front of you, find their flaw, and destroy them because of it. It was such a groundbreaking moment for me. It's true, strategically, you are identifying the weakest person on the floor and influencing them to shoot the ball from places they are uncomfortable rather than letting the best player get easy shots. What we as athletes don't realise, is we take that nature and bring it off the court, field or pitch and bring it into our daily lives.


Further to that point, athletes don't want to be identified as weak or soft. We are taught that you must be tough and show no signs of fear. You constantly hear, "we are only as good as our weakest link," insinuating that the weak must become the strong to survive.


Make no mistake, I am not comparing the work of an athlete to the life endangering duties of soldiers, but we are taught that we are going into war. Each game is a battle- filled with physicality, pressure, quick decisions and, above all, a need for toughness. We are taught to fight with passion, being unafraid to express your emotion, as long as it is in an aggressive way.


If you watch an NBA game, there is a 1000% chance you will see a player yelling, pounding his chest, screaming after a dunk- because we are taught that's how you play the game. It's a war, don't be the weak link.


All of those emotions- aggression, extreme toughness, feeling as though you are actually in a battle, and especially anger, are not who I actually am. I have been taught to be what I am not. (To be clear I am not saying this is wrong- to be competitive at high level sports you do in fact need these things otherwise you will not find success and your career won't last long.)


The issue is not that we have to believe in those emotions- the issue is we are not taught to keep those emotions in our respective sport. We have no idea how to balance them in our daily lives.


Let's for example take a more physically demanding sport, football. Football players are literally training themselves to be able to physically destroy the person in front of them. If you blow up the player in front of you, you can then find the ball and blow them up. It's four seconds at a time of gladiators. They have a mindset of destroying everything in their path, however, at the risk of generalisation, they can be more brash than other athletes (there is always the running joke about playing pick up basketball with football players and how they just tackle you instead of playing basketball.)


So if emotions are getting mixed signals, and blended into who we are as humans, why am I personally getting so angry on the court and outside? The answer is simple- I had no idea how to process my sadness for a large portion of my life. I grew up playing football - be tough. If you cried, you were soft. If you showed any emotion outside of anger or aggression, you were soft. "Don't be soft," is what we're told.


As I am learning through mentorship, anger masks sadness. Sports bring the emotion out of me, because that's where it is supposed to come out. And so, that's where the anger started to show. For five years in particular, I have picked up more technical fouls than I care to admit. Gotten into more shoving matches than I ever should have and acted so far outside of who I really am, my perceived image is on the opposite end of the spectrum than who I really am.


To blur the lines further, that anger carried over into my daily life. The smallest things would frustrate me for no real reason. But why? By playing basketball, I was in an outlet where anger and aggression was "allowed" to be released and so I did. Subconsciously, I needed it, my body needed to let go of the sadness and it was done so in the form of anger. My subconscious didn't know the difference between the court and my daily life- it only knew that I was allowing myself to release emotion I hadn't detached from through anger. So I remained angry.


Awareness in our emotions is key to evolving as people. My first step in evolution with my mentor, is now understanding my emotions. Understanding that it is okay to feel sad, angry, disappointed or whatever other emotion may come to surface. It's okay to feel, to understand the emotions that are surfacing. Each emotion is always just that, an emotion. Anger is not actually negative, because that is where creativity is sparked (hence why so many brilliant creatives have a reputation for throwing temper tantrums.) The importance in emotions, I am learning, is to not be a victim to them. We must learn to control them, not be reactive to them. And that is my focus for the moment- to control all of my emotions, understanding why I am feeling the way and accepting them when I feel them.


Do not be afraid to show emotion, regardless of what society tells you, you need to do. Feel the emotion, and accept it for what it is. By doing so, you won't hold onto the baggage that consumes so many of us. You will find the inner peace we are all so desperately searching for and the world will become a much brighter place.


Love to you all.