Mardy Fish - The Weight

tipsa...don'tlikehim!

Talk Tennis Guru
http://www.theplayerstribune.com/mardy-fish-us-open/

" Don’t play."

I am hours away from playing in the biggest tennis match of my life: the fourth round of the U.S. Open … on Labor Day … on my dad’s birthday … on Arthur Ashe … on CBS … against Roger Federer. I am hours away from playing the greatest player of all time, for a chance at my best-ever result, in my favorite tournament in the world. I am hours away from playing the match that you work for, that you sacrifice for, for an entire career.

And I can’t do it.

I literally can’t do it.

It’s early afternoon; I’m in the transportation car on my way to the courts.

And I am having an anxiety attack.

Actually, I’m having several anxiety attacks — at first, one every 15 minutes or so, but pretty soon every 10. My mind starts spiraling. I’m just freaking out.

My wife is asking me, “What can we do? What can we do? How can we make this better?”

And I tell her the truth: “The only thing that makes me feel better right now … is the idea of not playing this match.”

She hesitates, and looks at me for a second, to make sure I’m serious. I am serious. This isn’t me thinking — this me reacting, feeling, trying to survive. She answers plainly. “Well, then, you shouldn’t play. You don’t have to play. Just … don’t play.”

*

My anxiety disorder started in 2012, during what should have been the high point of my career. I was at the end of a long road — a few years long — on which things really started to come together for me.

In 2009, I had had this sort of eye-opening experience, this turning point. I was 27. Up to then, I’d had a nice career. It was a career that, in many ways, I could be proud of: I’d won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, had some results at a couple of Grand Slams, seen the world, made a good living. But it was nothing sustained.

I was newly married, and my perspective was changing, growing. And I think I just sort of realized, in a way I previously hadn’t … that “nice,” as a tennis career, wasn’t good enough for me. That I wasn’t finished. That I still wanted to do some really cool things in the sport. And that, most importantly, it was now or never.

I changed my diet, my lifestyle and, honestly, my whole outlook. I went from 202 lbs. to 172 lbs. — I found my “fighting weight.” I wasn’t really 100-percent sure where any of this was going to take me, but I knew that I had to find out.

In 2010, I started to get results. I beat Andy Murray in Miami in straight sets — a result that I never would have gotten a couple years prior. I played back-to-back five-setters at the French Open — losing the second match 10-8 in the fifth to the No. 14 seed Ivan Ljubicic, but playing at a fitness level that I never would have been able to reach before. I won two tournaments in a row that summer, in Newport and Atlanta — beating John Isner in the Atlanta final amid a heat wave on a court that was about 150 degrees. I lost the final in Cincinnati to Federer 6-4 in the third, a match I easily could have won. And I beat Andy Roddick — who had beaten me like a drum, eight straight — a couple of times.

2011 was even better. I had my best results at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. I passed Andy, one of my best friends, to become the No. 1-ranked American. And then — and maybe coolest of all — I officially became a top 10 player in the world. By the time 2012 rolled around, I was No. 8. It was everything I’d worked for, and built for myself almost from scratch, over those last few years. I wasn’t Just Another Guy on tour. I was on an elite level.

And that’s when the anxiety attacks started. Anxiety is hard to pinpoint from a cause-and-effect perspective, but when I think about its genesis for me a couple of things come to mind.

The first is that my expectations changed, both externally and internally, along with my ranking. Looking back, this wasn’t necessarily the healthiest thing. My dissatisfaction with the status quo — that had been so helpful when there were 20 players ranked in front of me — crossed over into something more stressful, and then destructive, I think, when that number became reduced to seven.

The idea that I wasn’t good enough was a powerful one — it drove me, at an age when many players’ careers are winding down, to these amazing heights. But it also became a difficult switch to turn off. I was, objectively, doing great. And looking back, I wish I had been able to tell myself that. But doinggreat wasn’t something that my frame of mind back then had time to process. All I could focus on was doing better. It was a double-edged sword.

And the second thing is that I began experiencing these heart arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is basically the electricity around your heart, malfunctioning. My heart would go a little crazy, and I wouldn’t be able to stop it. It was really scary. I took some time off, then had a corrective procedure called an ablation, after which I was ostensibly “fine.”

But when I returned to the court that summer, around Wimbledon … that’s when I began to get these really weird, new thoughts. Uncomfortable, anxious thoughts. Like I was nervous about something that was going to happen — even though it kept not happening. And I think that what I went through with my heart was, in many ways, this trauma lurking in the shadows of those thoughts.

I was having trouble sleeping; I couldn’t sleep alone. I had to have my wife there, with me, always. I had to have someone in the room, always. I was a guy who loved being on my own. I loved traveling on my own, that solitude. That feeling of shutting off your phone and heading on a long flight … that used to bring me peace. But I couldn’t travel on my own anymore. My parents had to come out to Wimbledon. I needed people around me at all times, period.

And through it all, I just kept having these … thoughts. This anxiety. I became consumed by this exhausting, confusing dread.

And the attacks just kept … getting … worse.

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Ironically, at this point I wasn’t experiencing any problems on-court. I was still having results: fourth round at Wimbledon, quarters in Canada and Cincinnati. I was still playing well.

It was only away from the court that this problem existed, and compounded. That these thoughts kept creeping in. And they were becoming more and more frequent: from once or twice a day, to a handful of times a day, to eventually — when it got really bad, by the end of the summer — every 10-to-15 minutes. Anxious, overwhelming attacks of thought. When I’m back at the hotel, I’m googling “anxiety disorder,” “panic disorder,” “depression,” “mental health” … but really I knew nothing about any of it. I didn’t know what to do. I just had no idea.

At least, I told myself, it wasn’t happening on the court.

And then it happened on the court.

It was at the 2012 U.S. Open, at the end of that summer. I had to play a night match in the third round against Gilles Simon — a higher seed than me, but I was playing better than my seed. I felt good about my chances.

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tipsa...don'tlikehim!

Talk Tennis Guru
It’s a great position to be in. Night matches at the Open are reserved for the best pairings, but also for favorite players — the players people want to watch. And I was one of them. After years and years of being on the outside of that looking in, now I was part of it. I wasn’t playing in someone else’s match. It was nighttime at the U.S. Open, and I was playing in “The Mardy Fish Match.”

That was special, but it was also stressful. The match was up and down, really emotional. I was on edge the whole time: fist-pumping, throwing my racquet, and feeling … anxious. I was anxiety-ridden.

And I’ll never forget when it happened — the first, and only, anxiety attack I would have on a tennis court.

I was up two sets to one, and we were at 3-2 in the fourth. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked at the clock. It said 1:15 AM. And that, for whatever reason, was enough.

That was my trigger.

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My mind started spiraling downward in this snowball of thoughts: 1:15. Oh my gosh — it’s so late. I’m going to feel terrible tomorrow. We’re going to play this long match … and I’m going to have to do press after … and then I’m going to have to stretch, and eat … and I’m going to feel bad about that …

And it just kept spiraling and spiraling to the point where I couldn’t control it. I had no idea what was going on, tennis-wise. No idea. I don’t remember a thing. Somehow I ended up winning the next three games, and the set, and the match. But I don’t remember it at all.

All I remember is the post-match interview. Justin Gimelstob was interviewing me, and he’s a good friend of mine. I remember looking at him before it started and telling him with this incredible urgency, “Please hurry.” Justin had no idea what I was talking about. But I just kept telling him, “Please hurry. Please hurry.” I had to leave. I had to get off the court.

Once it happened to me on the court, I knew. Nothing would be the same again.

Then two days later, it all came to a head.

We were in the car, driving to my next match against Roger — and my thoughts were filling with dread. Would it happen on the court again? Was I going to get an anxiety attack, again, in front of thousands of people? Was I going to get an anxiety attack while trying to do my job?

The thoughts kept coming, and they wouldn’t stop. They just kept coming, and coming, and coming. I was in a very bad place.

And my wife just kept looking at me, and repeating herself: You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play.

And I was listening … but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking, Can you imagine? Can you imagine if I didn’t play this match? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. In that moment, I couldn’t wrap my head around anything.

But then, finally, I heard her. You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play. 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.

*

Three years later, I’m back at the U.S. Open for the first time. And though I think that I can still play at a pretty high level, this will be my last tournament. After the Open, I’ll retire from tennis.

This isn’t a sports movie, of course, and there won’t be a sports movie ending. I won’t be riding off into the sunset, lifting a trophy. I’m not going to win the tournament.

But that’s fine by me — because honestly, this isn’t a sports story. And I think it’s important that my story not have a sports vocabulary. I didn’t “choke” in Act Two, and I’m not going to “win” in Act Three.

This is a life story.

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.

I want to be a success story, in my own way. And I think that retiring on my own terms, in the tournament I love the most, is part of my being able to do that.

Talking about it — and keeping the conversation going, and going, and going — is also part of that. Mental health is not a very easy thing to talk about in sports. It’s not perceived as very masculine. We’re so trained to be “mentally tough,” in sports. To show weakness, we’re told, in so many words, is to deserve shame.

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.

*

As for what comes next, I’m not sure. I’m 33 now, and I know that I’ll never do anything as well as I played tennis. But that’s fine.

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.

Those are the victories, for me.

But there is no tournament to win for mental health. There are no quarterfinals, or semifinals, or finals. I will not be ending this piece with a sports metaphor.

Because sports end in a result. And life keeps going.

Mine, I hope, is just getting started.

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Mainad

Bionic Poster
A remarkable and moving account.

But it seems that, at some point, Mardy just couldn't deal with the pressure of being a top player. He was more used to being the happy journeyman of previous years. He knew he had the game and the ability but just didn't have enough belief in himself when he finally got there. I could be wrong, but it looks like that fundamental lack of self-belief triggered the anxiety attacks and maybe the heart arrythmia which compounded it?
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
A remarkable and moving account.

But it seems that, at some point, Mardy just couldn't deal with the pressure of being a top player. He was more used to being the happy journeyman of previous years. He knew he had the game and the ability but just didn't have enough belief in himself when he finally got there. I could be wrong, but it looks like that fundamental lack of self-belief triggered the anxiety attacks and maybe the heart arrythmia which compounded it?

That is how I interpreted it. Glad he came out with this, as the way media had portrayed earlier was that his time off was related to heart condition.

I think the heart condition was not a symptom. It was a result of his mind not being strong enough.
 
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DRII

G.O.A.T.
A remarkable and moving account.

But it seems that, at some point, Mardy just couldn't deal with the pressure of being a top player. He was more used to being the happy journeyman of previous years. He knew he had the game and the ability but just didn't have enough belief in himself when he finally got there. I could be wrong, but it looks like that fundamental lack of self-belief triggered the anxiety attacks and maybe the heart arrythmia which compounded it?

IDK...

I think something may have occurred in his personal life to trigger the episodes.
 
D

Deleted member 733170

Guest
Whatever your opinions about the controversial subject of medical health, you have to admire his candour in telling his story.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Whatever your opinions about the controversial subject of medical health, you have to admire his candour in telling his story.

True, he needs appreciated for being truthful. I always thought that the pressures of being on tour over the years, ultimately caught up to him.

But on reading and re-reading article, he makes it sound as though he did not manage his expectations very well.

The first is that my expectations changed, both externally and internally, along with my ranking. Looking back, this wasn’t necessarily the healthiest thing. My dissatisfaction with the status quo — that had been so helpful when there were 20 players ranked in front of me — crossed over into something more stressful, and then destructive, I think, when that number became reduced to seven.
..
And the second thing is that I began experiencing these heart arrhythmias.



I think the expectations he had for himself lead to the anxiety attacks .
 

Cheerful

New User
True, he needs appreciated for being truthful. I always thought that the pressures of being on tour over the years, ultimately caught up to him.

But on reading and re-reading article, he makes it sound as though he did not manage his expectations very well.

The first is that my expectations changed, both externally and internally, along with my ranking. Looking back, this wasn’t necessarily the healthiest thing. My dissatisfaction with the status quo — that had been so helpful when there were 20 players ranked in front of me — crossed over into something more stressful, and then destructive, I think, when that number became reduced to seven.
..
And the second thing is that I began experiencing these heart arrhythmias.



I think the expectations he had for himself lead to the anxiety attacks .

I agree with you on the expectations bit. The question is, was it a conscious choice of his to have them in the first place? I think you'd find the answer to that question to be no. He wouldn't have been able to turn a switch and poof, make those expectations more manageable. Who wouldn't do so if they could?
 

DirtBaller4

Rookie
I never knew what an anxiety attack was until I came back to tennis a few years after having a large spinal tumor removed via surgery.
I signed up for a 4.0 flex league, and while my back still hurt 24/7 I decided to just play through the pain. The tumor displaced a couple of discs.

Well, four hours before the first match my father came into my office and said, oh your playing 4.0 right out of the gate? I said yeah, he smiled and said, get ready for an ass whooppin'!

After that, my mind started echoing thoughts of "what are you THINKING?!?!?!" "your going to be in so much pain tomorrow" "These guys are all going to wonder what you are doing on the tennis courts, let alone playing 4.0" "You are going to make you back worse, and then your 7 pain will be 10 24/7" "You are not going to sleep well ever again if you make your back worse" "Is all of this worth it?"

Then the physical symptoms manifested, I could not for the life of me, take a full deep breath! My heart was beating around 100 BPM, and this is FOUR HOURS before the match even started! I played through the 6 hour panic attack and went home, then took a long hot bath and finally regained my ability to take deep breaths.

I was totally exhausted. The match took a little over an hour and I think I pulled out a pair of bread sticks.
This happened again and again until I got a handle on it.

I had to just repeatedly tell myself, it's only a game.

It has been 4 years since that season, since then I have won 1 4.0 doubles title (last summer), and had a runner up finish this summer.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
I agree with you on the expectations bit. The question is, was it a conscious choice of his to have them in the first place? I think you'd find the answer to that question to be no. He wouldn't have been able to turn a switch and poof, make those expectations more manageable. Who wouldn't do so if they could?

It is natural to have that ego to try harder and go up the rankings.

We cannot say for sure he had no choice in the matter. One could question If he felt being in top 8 was so much stress for him, perhaps he could have done enough to stay around the 12-20 ranking where he could have been more comfortable mentally and where he was for most of his career without any problem ? You would think as a person on the tour for 10+ years, he would know what is required to continue to stay in top 8. It is not that he won a surprise major at age 18 and did not know how to handle his future. Mardy was a fighter and worked his way to the top handling tons of pressure situations.

Ultimately it is Mardy's decision and whatever gives him happiness is all that matters.
 

mbm0912

Hall of Fame
Is it too much to expect a player ranked No 7 in the world to have mental toughness ? Come on man. No need to get personal against that guy . He is asking a reasonable question.
A true anxiety disorder has nothing to do with "mental toughness". Unless you have personally dealt with it, you have absolutely ZERO idea what you are talking about.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
A true anxiety disorder has nothing to do with "mental toughness". Unless you have personally dealt with it, you have absolutely ZERO idea what you are talking about.

Where i have a little problem is that his anxiety attacks did not show up when he was ranked around 12-16. It got to him when he reached top 10.

Bottom line, I appreciate Mardy for dieting, fighting and having a second career surge to get to top 10, so late in his career. But he does not get any sympathy wave from me for his condition. I appreciate him for being truthful about his weakness.

I would rather reserve my sympathy for a guy like Roddick who missed 3 Wimbledon titles by a single missed volley.
 

DirtBaller4

Rookie
If he was having heart issues before than he may (subconsciously) feared for his life.
Having a panic attack physically feels like having a heart attack.
Perhaps If you are straining your heart (which you just had surgery on) you may just have a heart attack and die.

That is real fight or flight fear.
 

Inanimate_object

Hall of Fame
Where i have a little problem is that his anxiety attacks did not show up when he was ranked around 12-16. It got to him when he reached top 10.

Bottom line, I appreciate Mardy for dieting, fighting and having a second career surge to get to top 10, so late in his career. But he does not get any sympathy wave from me for his condition. I appreciate him for being truthful about his weakness.

I would rather reserve my sympathy for a guy like Roddick who missed 3 Wimbledon titles by a single missed volley.
Unfortunately for you, that's despicable. First you deny that he has a condition, ignoring medical evidence and now you questioning the legitimacy of his claim of mental illness. He's not mentally weak, he's mentally ill. You are seriously embarrassing yourself and as others have said, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.
 

mbm0912

Hall of Fame
Where i have a little problem is that his anxiety attacks did not show up when he was ranked around 12-16. It got to him when he reached top 10.

Bottom line, I appreciate Mardy for dieting, fighting and having a second career surge to get to top 10, so late in his career. But he does not get any sympathy wave from me for his condition. I appreciate him for being truthful about his weakness.

I would rather reserve my sympathy for a guy like Roddick who missed 3 Wimbledon titles by a single missed volley.

Who is asking you for sympathy? Would you consider Diabetes a "weakness"?
 

DirtBaller4

Rookie
Don't worry tennisaddict.

Some day you will understand that its not all about muscles and mental strength.

Believe it or not, bad **** happens to good people every day.
 

FD3S

Hall of Fame
If he was having heart issues before than he may (subconsciously) feared for his life.
Having a panic attack physically feels like having a heart attack.
Perhaps If you are straining your heart (which you just had surgery on) you may just have a heart attack and die.

That is real fight or flight fear.

Truth. I've had an anxiety/panic attack once, and it was absolutely terrifying. Shortness of breath, tingling, chest pain, heartbeat going through the roof - if you've never had one before, it's the kind of fear the paralyzes you, and is only made worse by the extreme reaction your body's experiencing.
 

DirtBaller4

Rookie
Yeah I was surprised by how physical it was!

This isn't just a worry you have bothering your thoughts.

This is a full blown simulation of the feeling you must get when you are about to die.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Who is asking you for sympathy? Would you consider Diabetes a "weakness"?

If you look at my earlier posts, I never said he is mentally weak . If he was a weak guy, he never would have made it to the top.

I said he probably did not have the adequate mental strength to stay in the top 8. Was that something that he could have trained or was it a condition he was born with that it was an impossibility to turn it around ? We don't know.

When Mardy is saying that looking back he should have handled his expectations differently, I seem to infer that the outcome was something he could control .
 
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mattennis

Hall of Fame
My wife is a psychologist. My ex-wife is also a psychologist. I have seen hundreds of patients at home (my wife treats them, and my ex-wife does it also), all kind of people. We know more and more about anxiety and mental disorders, but it is still very little. There is so much more we still don't understand.

It is not about "mental weakness", nothing that simple. There are so many different type of persons that have had it. Even previously healthy and "strong" people can have it any moment.

There are some factors that seem to be important, but not in all cases. I have seen some cases that we don't have a clue why they have those terrible symptoms.

It is a great error to dispatch it as simply "mental weakness".

It is something infinitely more complex and worth to study in a serious scientific way (to the benefit of those thousands of people that suffer it and to better undertand the working of the brain/mind).
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Unfortunately for you, that's despicable. First you deny that he has a condition, ignoring medical evidence and now you questioning the legitimacy of his claim of mental illness. He's not mentally weak, he's mentally ill. You are seriously embarrassing yourself and as others have said, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.

Would you ever learn to criticize a view point and not engage on a personal level ?

This is a public forum and people have different views. If someone does not share what you think, that does not give you any right to go over board and suggest that it is 'despicable', 'embarrassing' and such.

And while on the matter, don't fabricate. I never said he is "mentally weak".

Your earlier posts have been deleted, that should give a clue to you that you are doing something incorrect.
 

Inanimate_object

Hall of Fame
Would you ever learn to criticize a view point and not engage on a personal level ?

This is a public forum and people have different views. If someone does not share what you think, that does not give you any right to go over board and suggest that it is 'despicable', 'embarrassing' and such.

And while on the matter, don't fabricate. I never said he is "mentally weak".

Your earlier posts have been deleted, that should give a clue to you that you are doing something incorrect.
Views are different than facts. If you want to debate whether mental illness has physiological proofs, take it elsewhere. Your ignorance IS pathetic. Fish has a mental disorder. He's not weak or less of a man or athlete. Take your cynicism out of here.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Views are different than facts. If you want to debate whether mental illness has physiological proofs, take it elsewhere. Your ignorance IS pathetic. Fish has a mental disorder. He's not weak or less of a man or athlete. Take your cynicism out of here.

I would not take it elsewhere. If you don't like it, use the 'ignore' option.

At the same time, if you engage in personal slander, I would continue to report.
 

Inanimate_object

Hall of Fame
I would not take it elsewhere. If you don't like it, use the 'ignore' option.

At the same time, if you engage in personal slander, I would continue to report.
Slander? You are happy to deny sound medical facts in the face of a conclusion you would rather not admit - and continue to use your incredible medical talents to refute Fish's medical diagnosis. That's what we call ignorance. It's not an opinion - it's a denial of facts. Cynics are so quick to retreat when someone calls them out on their bs.
 
J

JRAJ1988

Guest
Mardy Fish is an inspiration to others. Anxiety like Depression is becoming a major issue within people from all four corners of the world, you have to go through it to truly understand the toll it takes on ones life.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Slander? You are happy to deny sound medical facts in the face of a conclusion you would rather not admit - and continue to use your incredible medical talents to refute Fish's medical diagnosis. That's what we call ignorance. It's not an opinion - it's a denial of facts. Cynics are so quick to retreat when someone calls them out on their bs.

Listen, I am not denying he had a surgery and medical diagnosis. Was that something that he could have managed by handling expectations ? I think he could have, when i look at his long career and his past success. You may think otherwise.

Fish did not say that his medical condition led to him curtailing his career. The first thing he talks about is misplaced expectations.

If i don't agree with what you consider as facts , that still does not give you the right to use words like 'Despicable' , 'embarassing', 'pathetic' 10 times in 3 sentences.
 
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