Group events cause me anxiety.

No matter how much I like the people, no matter how much I support the cause, no matter how good a time I think I will have, group events and activities are almost a guaranteed anxiety trigger for me.

That makes me want to retreat. To my bed. With my phone turned off and my curtains drawn. Ironically, despite all of this, I am a very social person. I knew after my brain injury that I couldn’t hide, or I would never stop hiding. I make myself engage, participate, contribute and show up, no matter how badly I want none of it. I used to love being out and about. Now, not so much.

I make myself go. I make myself get dressed, make food, pick up food, grab drinks, pick the right heels, take out or put in the big earrings, whatever I have to do to get myself there and prepared to participate. It’s a point of pride for me to show up dressed and prepared. I like to make an entrance. I like to bring the best dish. I like to get noticed for what I contribute. I like to be charming and tell entertaining stories. That’s what makes it worthwhile for me, and that’s what calms my anxiety.

Joining a twice weekly pickup game of Pongis (volleyball on a tennis court with a large tennis ball) with a bunch of teens and twenties offered me the chance to do none of that.

I am not great at team sports. I am not very athletic generally. I am not competitive in this area. I am not as fit (and young!) as everyone else. I do not have as much experience. My clothes don’t matter. My group coping mechanisms don’t work here.

My attitude does.

This is an amazing and kind group of people. They accept people who have never played, who are not good at the sport, who are not competitive, who are competitive, and they teach and support and encourage and split up teams fairly and don’t stack the deck to feed their egos. It is such a healthy place for someone who struggles with anxiety in groups.

My brain injury makes me anxious on the way to play even though I know I will be accepted and supported and have space to goof off and make lame jokes and miss the ball. It would be so easy for me to stay home. And yet I go, because this is one of the few chances I have to be challenged and supported at the same time. The beautiful thing is that they have no idea what they are doing for me. They aren’t even trying, they just are who they are, they play their sport and I have been awed at the gift of acceptance they have extended.

I hope that I can offer the same.