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Anxiety and OCD: how I confronted my own barriers in sport

Being picked last helped me pick myself first
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HANNAH FLEISCH/THE VARSITY
HANNAH FLEISCH/THE VARSITY

I remember the moment I realized, “Wow, I kind of suck at sports.” I was 11 years old, and I had a wide-open shot to win my little league basketball game. I promise you there is nothing more crushing than airballing the game-winning shot with a packed gym watching you.

The gym fell silent; I could feel all the eyes staring at me, all these parents wondering why I got the ball. 

In my two seasons of house league basketball, I scored one jump shot. That’s right. Two points in two years. Nobody ever passed me the ball because they had no faith in me. 

After spending my childhood constantly being picked last for sports, I wrapped up my hoop dreams and realized, “Maybe I’m better off catching the ball at the three-point line and hoping for the best.” It definitely took its toll on me. 

I spent summers practicing in my backyard, studying my idols Steve Nash, Brandon Roy, and Kobe Bryant. But in the end, anytime I touched the ball in actual action, I choked up and coughed up the ball. My teammates would roll their eyes, as if they expected as much.

Much later on in life, I discovered that my struggles as a child — not only with sports, but also with social situations and school-life balance — were the result of anxiety and OCD. All those years of sleepless nights spent thinking about countless steps up and down the court without ever touching the ball once weren’t actually healthy, apparently.

It took me a long time to come to terms with these disorders, and eventually, I took steps to take back my life. I started focusing on being patient with myself and confronting my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I started becoming more comfortable with myself and my friends, loosening up around them. 

When I was 18 years old, I finally played my first good game of basketball. My friends convinced me to shoot some hoops in my backyard during a barbecue, which eventually led to a full-on scrimmage. For once, I was finally being asked to be on someone’s team — I wasn’t just the pity pick.

I was being guarded hard and knocking down shots. I’ve never told my friends this, but that’s honestly one of the best memories I have. 

Nowadays, not only do I love watching basketball, but I also finally love playing it again. While I still have my bouts of self-doubt and am still getting better at handling my OCD, playing basketball has become an escape for me, something that brings me tremendous joy. While I may not be as good as the athletes I spent my childhood watching, I can proudly say that I’m a pretty good shooter and absolutely should not be left open on the court — and I can finally throw those crazy passes like Nash could. 

If I could tell 11-year-old Angad one thing, it would be to take a deep breath, pull up those socks, and play your heart out, without caring about what everyone else thinks. In fact, I’d give that advice to all the past versions of myself, but hindsight is 20/20. If these words can resonate with even one person and make them feel like King James anytime they pick up a tennis racket, dust off their cleats, or hit the hardwood, then I know I have done my job.