Since I was about maybe 12 or 13 years old, a large part of my identity was centred around being a rugby player. While I was at school it wasn’t necessarily in the forefront of my mind, I was too busy being a teenager but when I went to university it literally took over my life. I trained 2-5 times a week either with the team or by myself, I helped organise the club, the team, matches and I watched all the rugby that was available either in a campus bar or the rare occasions it was on terrestrial tv. It was eat, sleep, and breathe rugby. It seeps into your skin and becomes part of your being - part of your identity. Anyone who’s played university sport knows that you are generally identifiable as the sport that you play and you can spot lacrosse, netball or hockey at a mere glance. I loved every minute of university sport, the team, the socials, the camaraderie and the silliness. I made friends for life in that team and memories I’ll never forget. But what happens when that sport or thing that makes you feel like YOU disappears?
When I was injured in 2015 I thought I’d learnt to deal with that. I suffered a fractured spine that kept me from playing any contact sport for about a year and a half and went through a whole range of emotions from denial (if I wasn’t going to play rugby I was going to take up boxing) to depression simply because I didn’t know what else to do. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I (despite not feeling it) did in fact have control over the situation. So that just meant throwing myself into other stuff like helping facilitate rugby and running the O2 Touch Rugby instead and that got me through it. Having got through to the other side of it I could see it all clearer (ah the gift of hindsight) and I thought to myself ‘Ruth you really need to stop being so reliant on rugby’.
Yet here we are a few years down the line playing for York RUFC. I’ve seen some of those players every week (bar the off season) for the last three years and I love being part of the club. Now my work and main other ‘hobby’ is the gym and those three things provide me with the vast majority of my social interactions. So you can imagine the shit show that followed a year of lockdowns and having my main outlets taken away from me. This time I wasn’t in control and that suddenly made it a lot harder to manage.
Now that doesn’t mean I should have started a new hobby. I certainly felt the pressure to learn to play an instrument or some other skill to ‘better’ myself and feel like I was being productive. No shade to those who did manage to learn a new skill but I think that pressure on social media definitely made things harder for a few people. However, lots of people will have had it much worse - made redundant, lost their businesses or lost loved ones. In those circumstances, sometimes the best thing you can do is just make it through.
What it does mean for me is that the things that I think make me who I am as a person are too heavily centred around the things I DO. Not the person that I actually am. Yes I am a coach, a rugby player, a person that likes to lift heavy-ish things for fun. But I’m much more complex than that. If you took those things away I wouldn’t disintegrate into dust (as I discovered in 2020) but I would (and did) feel kind of lost.
I’d honestly be surprised if that doesn’t resonate with at least a few people reading this.
Whether you played a team or a solo sport, you moved to working from home or you couldn’t attend whatever social clubs you would usually frequent, having those things forcibly taken away from you presents a challenge that not everyone is equipped to deal with. On another parallel you might be a new parent during this pandemic. Thrust into parenthood with little other social interactions or help and your life now revolves around a tiny human being. You might feel like your whole identity is now mum or dad. But it’s not and I think that’s so important to remember.
So how can we improve the relationship we have with ourselves? It’s not an easy question to answer. I personally think that a good portion of this initially needs to come from self reflection and challenging those aspects of your life (and your perceived identity) that you think you NEED. That with a good old dose of self care on a regular basis.
Try this. Write a list of all the things that you are to the various people in your life. Your family, friends, colleagues, the lady that serves you coffee every morning. And then write another list from your own perspective. Sit down with a cup of tea in a quiet room and take the time to write about who you are in that very moment - free from outside influences. You might find that lots of these things overlap but that’s ok. The bigger point is that you might just be one or two things to your child, friend or team mate. But you, sitting in that chair writing all those things down are a culmination of ALL of those things and more. You are your experiences, your thoughts, your feelings, your hopes and your dreams.
Then if you are like me and tend to attach your identity to the things that you do, write a list of all these things. Then underneath each one, write or imagine in depth what would really happen if that thing was permanently taken away from you. Chances are, it’s not really as bad as you think and there’s almost always a way for you to adapt to that new circumstance and either find an alternative or make what you have got work. It’s just a little easier to see when you’re not LIVING it.
The other thing to remember is that while this pandemic has been going on a long time and there are undoubtedly cons to the lockdowns (I am pro lockdown to save lives before anyone pipes up, I’m not about to debate that) - it will not last forever. I repeat. It will not last forever.
I do think that in the long run we all need to prepare ourselves mentally for when we need to retire from contact sport or running marathons. As we age, there will simply come a point where the body can no longer recover effectively. I hope for all our sakes that it is as far down the line as possible. But the earlier we can learn to keep some separation from the things we DO and the people that we ARE, the better equipped we will be to deal with those things that life suddenly throws at us (injuries, sickness, accidents, pandemics etc). With that we learn to adapt and as a result, we grow internally and become more resilient to change. If you can deal with sudden change without it destroying your well-being then you’re in a good place.
The other side of this is a big old scoop of self care and self love. And that can come in whatever form you feel like. You might treat yourself to a soak in a hot bath once a week or indulge in a meal out with your partner every so often. Self care to you might just mean saying no to working later than your fixed hours every night or taking a couple of hours a week to just sit quiet and read your book. Whatever it is, prioritise it and cherish it. You cannot be the best person you can be unless you take the time to look after yourself as well as other people. Watch an episode of Queer Eye if you need a lesson in this! So many people spend their lives either running around after other people or doing nothing but work work work. Yes, the ‘hustle’ is important but if it means you work 7 days a week 16 hours a day and you do nothing else outside of ‘work’ then quite frankly I feel sorry for you. Similarly, if you’re projecting that onto your social media then you are part of the problem.
If you’ve made it this far through my ramble then I appreciate your time immensely. These things take time, effort and often a lot of setbacks before we can fully know our true identities. Even then, humans are so complex - constantly changing and evolving - that I actually think it would be a little scary if we knew EVERYTHING. That being said, if we can learn to adapt and grow when faced with difficult times and situations, there’s nothing but benefits to be had. It's certainly on my to do list.
Bend don’t break and be kind to those who need it.
Thanks for reading pals, enjoy your weekend x