SELF-LOVE | Thoughts

From the dawn of time, I remember learning I should treat others the way I’d like to be treated. As the first-born child of God-fearing, Methodist-raised parents, this message was delightfully reinforced by studying Luke 6:31 while in Sunday school.

“Do to others as you’d have done to you, boys and girls,” the Pastor’s daughter preached as identical, corresponding coloring book pages were passed around the class. My Sunday school friends and I then scribbled in a Caucasian Jesus to bring home to our parents so they could accidentally misplace it in the recycling bin later that week.

As kids, most of us have been taught to treat others the way we want to be treated. Whether it be our parents, religion, or watching Disney’s Bambi (“if you can’t say anything nice…”), we somehow figure out that life tends to be more enjoyable and rewarding this way.

But sometimes we are so adamantly taught how to treat others; we forget how to properly treat ourselves.

How often do you hear a friend dismiss a sincere compliment, catch a parent disapprovingly looking at his or her reflection in the mirror, or see your sibling caught in a toxic relationship?

It has taken me an extraordinarily long time to write this particular post and not because I have a shortage of feelings about self-love, but because I feel as though I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’m a work in progress, but this is a place I think many of us identify ourselves as being in. I dismiss compliments, get caught up in how my physical appearance is lacking compared to others’, and let toxic relationships fester for longer than I should let them. All these things add up to quite a lot of unhappiness.

Until recently, I identified “self-care” and “self-love” as taking five minutes out of my life to apply a face mask or buy myself a pretty dress as a reward for an achievement. These can definitely be expressions of self-care and self-love. But while doing these things can certainly be a way of properly grooming yourself to become the best version of yourself that you can be, I think there are many other facets to learning how to treat yourself with love and respect to maximize your enjoyment from life.

The first is learning how to truly love your physical appearance. The second, in my humble opinion (hey, I’ve been living for 26 years now, that gives me some clout), is who we choose to surround ourselves with.

SELF-LOVE: Physical Appearance, Diet, Exercise

While I’m never one to say “no” to an undressed wad of cold, plain spinach, and long (plyo-filled, of course) walks on the beach, I’ve learned that part of my satisfaction with my body relates to more than just what or how much I choose to eat or workout. My satisfaction comes from how I view food and exercise and what their function is in my life.

Like many women, I’ve struggled with food guilt, binging and purging, abusing the treadmill, counting calories, and struggling to adhere to a workout plan amongst countless other negative behaviors. My senior year of college, I convinced myself that a strict, vegan diet was the pinnacle of all health and further convinced myself to adopt an unmaintainable, intense workout regime.

I’ll look so great, I thought. I’ll be happy.

It’s no surprise that when I set myself up with so many lofty goals surrounding my physical appearance, I failed spectacularly. I hated working out. I didn’t see myself getting thinner. I hated food, which I now felt alienated me. My skin was still acne-prone and cutting dairy out wasn’t helping. To make matters worse, I viewed these failures as an innate character flaw in myself. Food and exercise had always been something I knew I could control, so I controlled them obsessively to feel like I had discipline in my life. Once I burned out, however, I stopped working out and limited my calories to “make up for” my decreased activity. I felt like sh*t. Was I a sh*tty person for not having a pristine physical body or lacking the consistent drive to get there?

A large part of how we see ourselves and how we determine our self-worth comes from our relationship with food and exercise. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, deviations from standards of beauty (flat abs, a miniscule waist, a dance-hall ass, you know the drill) can equate to a perceived deficiency of character or lack of self-care. We all know this is ultimately not true, but sometimes it’s quite hard to remember. It’s difficult to be a woman or gay man on social media. We’re bombarded with images on a daily basis of gorgeous tanned skin, pearly white teeth, and airbrushed perfect bodies. When we become acclimated to these images, it’s almost a cruel reminder looking in the mirror to see how we may not measure up.

Since I’ve turned 26, I’ve found that whatever images I’m plagued with on social media, I’m most happy with my body and self-image when I have a relaxed, non-image focused, sustainable attitude toward food and exercise- not when I’ve achieved a week-long calorie deficit and lost five pounds. I spent a vacation on the beach a few weeks ago and for the first time in a long time, I did not feel the need to hide or cover up my body. I found a sustainable workout regime (and I hadn’t lost weight!) that focused more on just getting me moving as well as found a non-calorie deficient diet I could manage. I enjoyed working out and appreciated preparing dinner. Confident in this, I accepted that my body is just that, – a body. A body is just that, but also so much more. It’s wonderful tool to aid me in doing what it must- living. I can enjoy hiking, dancing, hugging, laughing, and anything in between with what I have now, and I feel infinite. I can do all these things enjoyably without washboard abs, perfect skin, or after a five-day juice cleanse.

Self-love comes from a place of finding sustainable methods that help you find YOUR beautiful, whether it be on the inside, outside, or both. We all know what society finds beautiful, but when is the last time you asked yourself what you find beautiful about you? The more I’ve grown into my twenties (a tumultuous time, let’s be honest), the more I place value on loving myself for who I am and my effort to become a better version of myself. Part of this comes from remembering to practice forgiveness- forgiving myself when I’m not able to finish my workout, and not feeling guilty over eating what I want, when I want to. I’ve grown to appreciate a makeup free face, guilt-free donuts, and loving my body (and mind!) for what it can do for me. Loving yourself begins with thankfulness and forgiveness. After all, a body without a beautiful mind is simply an empty vessel.  

SELF-LOVE: Relationships

We are who we choose to surround ourselves with. Some of these people are in our lives whether we choose to have them there or not, including family members or co-workers. Others, we choose, such as friends and partners who become family.

Much of our happiness or lack thereof comes from this community of people. Will they be there for you or abandon you when you need it most? Are they someone you trust? How do they treat you?

Self-care is taking a part in positive relationships (both romantically and platonically) with those who lift you up. A positive relationship will demand the best of both parties, show you how to truly love and be loved, and teach you more about yourself. You’ll feel safe, trusted, and empathetic and return these courtesies to the other party involved. Cutting those out of your life who do not fit this criteria can immediately be the most painful experience in the world, but how can you care for yourself if surrounded by negativity?

I’ve been pretty lucky to stumble upon some of my closest friends through sports. High school volleyball gave me some of the healthiest friendships that I’ve had for the longest time. Distance has certainly taken a toll on how often we talk, but we all know we are there to support one another whenever or wherever. Through college, I gained more friends as I weeded through others. In my toughest times, they lifted me up and shown me unconditional love not unlike my own family. Relationships are never perfect, but at the end of the day, I’m grateful knowing the friendships I continue to foster push me to be a better, happier person.

After moving away from home, I’ve attempted navigating through a different type of relationship I’m most unfamiliar with: romantic relationships. Romantic relationships have always been more of a challenge for me. This past summer and fall, I let an overall negative romantic relationship fester because I so desperately wanted affection and thought I’d found it. I couldn’t be more wrong. I had been independent for so long and I wanted someone to take care of me, someone to be my best friend and someone to support. As we all know, relationships are a two-way road. I hated who I had become when with this guy and didn’t feel like myself. I was embarrassed. I hardly recognized the girl that left her house at night just to see him for a few hours, knowing full well I’d never get what I truly wanted: a stable, loving, relationship.This past winter, I did what I knew I had to do. I broke things off. It still hurts to this day, but I learned the hard way that just because someone else does not love you, does not mean you should not love yourself.

This past year, I did not do an overall great job of surrounding myself with healthy, positive, romantic relationships. This is why I especially consider myself lucky to be surrounded with friends and family who remind me I am very much loved for who I am. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the hard lesson of not letting my self-image be contingent on someone else’s perception of me. It’s taken some time to begin rebuilding myself up again, and I’ve done so through the positive relationships I choose to surround myself with.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I have less time to entertain negative friendships and relationships. I’m figuring out what I value in a relationship and am learning to say “no” to anything that is not that. Remember that you always have a decision, even when it feels like you don’t or when it feels impossibly hard. By evaluating relationships consistently, I’m practicing self-care and self-love. Surrounding myself with positive relationships serves to make me an overall happier, more secure person. I’m able to more effectively navigate life’s trials and tribulations with loved ones at my side.

***

So my question to you is this: what are you doing to self-care and self-love? It could be something as simple as acknowledging a friend’s compliment or finally having the courage to end a relationship that has been negatively impacting your happiness. It could even be as simple as taking five minutes during the day to apply a GlamGlow Supermud face mask.

Learning to love and care for yourself is not as innate as we may think it is. Life happens quickly. We become complacent, allowing ourselves to think that diminishing happiness is simply a reminder we should re-adjust to this new self-prescribed norm. What we may not realize, however, is that we can be much happier than we think. It starts from within and can require practice.


What if we started treating ourselves the way we treat our loved ones?


Self-care for me is 12/10 dancing in the rain.


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Dating for (Mentally Ill) Dummies

It wasn’t my best date, but it wasn’t my worst either. He showed up, unlike my first date ever in college. That was a plus.

He was sweet, I knew that much, but I found myself straining to find common ground amidst lengthy, awkward pauses. Tense crossed legs, vigorous nodding (don’t dissociate, damn it), I gripped a cold fizzy beer in my right hand like the lifeline I knew it was. Feigning interest, I propped my chin in my hand and noticed that his eyes flicked towards my now-exposed wrist. Self-consciously, I jerked my arm off the high-top table and back into my lap.

We needed a distraction. He had mentioned salsa dancing in passing earlier, so I drained my IPA in ten seconds and vaulted myself off my chair, date in tow. The poor guy probably thought he was gonna lay the pipe that night.

After a ten minute Uber ride, we flashed our IDs and a quick smile to the bouncer and entered a sticky-floored bar in downtown Cambridge. Shaking my head when asked for another drink, my date and I hit the dance floor. Under the flickering lights and gyrating, sweaty bodies, a bridal party from my college’s hometown screamed at my arrival and asked if I was dancing with my husband.

Grinning like an idiot, I smacked her shoulder and yelled, “HE’S MY BOO” over the pounding bass. Whipping my hair around like a banshee, I fumbled with my date’s shirt buttons and unceremoniously unbuttoned his shirt in the middle of the dance floor. An hour later, I soberly drove him to his house and dumped him off on the curb. I hope he didn’t see me exchanging numbers with that Julian kid earlier. Gawd, being manic was so great.

The dates I’ve had are few and far in between, but it’s safe to say that between myself and my friends, we have a few stories to tell.

If “getting out there” and “meeting up with hawt singles” on apps is what gets us millennials off our phones, off our asses, and into the arms of that girl/guy who had a puppy in photo number three, then so be it. I used to balk at the thought of exchanging messages through an app only to meet a rando in a bar, but now I have learned to embrace it for what it does and the purpose it truly serves (meeting people!).

Dating is hard. I often find myself wondering how the hell two people can mutually agree to see one another after a first date. Through many (MANY. I’m a HAWT piece of a**!) trials and errors, these meet ups have taught me to live in the moment and chill out a little bit. Not every Tom, Dick, or Harry will be your potential husband. What they will be is a potentially good time, so offer to split the beer, get to know the human next to you, and enjoy being in the moment.

Easier said than done though, right?

It used to be a lot harder. As I’ve described in previous posts, I’ve had a somewhat abnormal dating past life due to several factors, the largest being my mental health.

After a particularly ugly break up in high school, I was confronted with parts of my illness I was in no capacity and had no idea how to control. I became angry, frustrated, and increasingly negative while in the throes of my anguish- but most of all, I became scared. Scared of myself, scared that I was unable to control my mood, and scared I was unworthy of loving someone or being loved in return. Undiagnosed and not treating with a psychiatrist or therapist at the time, I had convinced myself at the age of eighteen that I couldn’t be trusted to date or see anyone until I “fixed” myself. Unfortunately, this delusion continued on through college.

As you may be well aware of (but I was not at the time), mental illnesses aren’t something you can “heal” or “get over”. It’s a bit harder than just taking your Prozac, drinking water, and reading up on the latest edition of “Dating For Mentally Ill Dummies”. Mental illnesses are for life. For some, myself included, it’s sometimes just a matter of learning how to properly cope and find ways to be successful despite maladaptive learned behaviors and thinking patterns.

In hindsight, I spent years (yes, years!) too afraid and discouraged to put myself out there and go on dates, worried I’d become obsessive, manipulative, and insecure like I had been in high school. What I failed to accept until recently is that I’m no longer the girl I used to be.

Now that I’m cognizant of the fact I’m better equipped to handle what life throws at me, I decided to make some changes and take some risks this past year. I know I’m far from the functioning capacity of one who has not struggled with a mental health disorder, but I understand it should not inhibit my pursuit of happiness and self-discovery. With this in mind, I accepted that dating would be an uphill climb, but one I was willing to undertake. Life is simply too short to close oneself off to pathways just because they may be painful and difficult.

***

I’m not unaware of the shock that has passed across some of my dates’ faces as they see the deep purple scars on my arms, a visible talisman of inner turmoil from my past. For some, my mental health been a deal breaker. For others, it’s served as a topic of conversation that has led to unexpected common ground.

It’s a road divided. My mental illnesses serve as a fork in the road where I know only one of two routes may be chosen after my illnesses been revealed. Either we will see one another again, or we will part ways contingent on this reality.

This fork in the road used to worry me, but I’ve learned to let go. I have nothing to apologize for, I have nothing to hide. My mental illnesses are something I will have for the remainder of my life and whoever I end up with will be well aware of this. As long as I’m working on getting better, I see no reason why they should be thought of as having a negative impact on my dating life.

So although it’s taken me years to build up the courage to go on dates, I couldn’t be happier I finally took the chance. I can’t expect (and don’t expect) every date to end perfectly or even well. I’m becoming better at dealing with rejection, though it sometimes hurts more deeply than I know it should. I’m a work in progress. I’m better off learning how to deal with the ups and downs of dating now rather than avoiding it altogether because I’m worried something will go awry- because things always do.

The more dates I go on, the more I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing- even through heartbreak. I’ve never characterized myself as someone who is resourceful, but now I’m forcing myself to deal with my mental illnesses head on instead of avoiding them. Becoming comfortable in a fluctuating state of disquietude doesn’t allow growth and I’m learning to embrace this, however scary it seems. And so far, it’s been a painful, yet wonderful road filled with lessons I’m beyond grateful to continue learning.

 

 

Picking Up the Pieces

If any of you know me well, you are well aware I am currently in possession of four or five diar- journals. They’re journals.

I’d be in possession of six if I could find the journal I wrote in fifth grade when I recorded my feline endeavors at recess as “Blackstar”, leader of Thunderclan, but I think I must’ve done a great job hiding it because I’ve been looking for years now to no avail. One of my high school friends will undoubtedly bring it out just in time for my engagement party within the next ten years. Thanks! ❤

The first journal (alright, it really should just be called what it really is…a “diary”) is a spiral notebook with a hard pink cover. A flower adorns the cover and “MY JoUrNaL” is printed sheepishly around the stem, as if an afterthought. My first entry is dated November 18, 2005.

Once inside (if you could unlock it, that is), you’d realize all of the entries are pretty mundane- unless you were my younger sister at the time. The diary included the classes I went to in seventh grade, Venn diagrams of my crushes and their strengths/weaknesses, and random song lyrics I had been feelin’ at the time (Duran Duran). Basically, anything you would imagine would be in a journal which has, “THIS BOOK BELONGS TO NO OTHER THAN THE GREAT KRISTIN, NOT YOURS SO DEAL WITH IT” scribbled on the front inside cover. Yes, it was scrawled proudly across the page in sparkly gel pen. It was 2005, man. A hell of a year for any millennial.

The most satisfying part of having a diary (or several) is being able to glimpse back to a time where memories might ordinarily have become muddled by time or bias. Having the ability to look back at written material has served me well. When I wasn’t meticulously recording my crushes and their daily interactions with me (“omg Alex saw me in the hall today, I think he looked at me”) or showcasing the spelling fads of 2007 (“i no i shouldnt b saying this but i ❤ jordan. his eyes r awesome tho”), it is interesting to see how my brain processes information at the time.

Though my spelling has gotten much better (I still struggle with “i” before “e”, except after “c” or whatever the hell it is) and I’ve become less boy crazy since the days I hid behind my bed to scribble down the events of the day, parts of my thirteen year old self carried over into my college years- for better or worse.

Hidden between the hundreds of pages I’d written about volleyball, soccer, and crushes was a girl struggling with self acceptance. She just didn’t quite realize how much this struggle would impact her late teenage years quite yet.

Middle and high school can be remembered fondly to some, while others bask in the glory of having the class bully unclog their toilet forty years later. To say the least, it may be a time best described as having many highs and lows. :.)

Our innocence waned as we learned cuss words on the bus from the older kids, we finally figured out what Chat Roulette was while at a sleepover, and broke curfew…again and again.

My childhood was somewhat more sheltered than most in the sense it was mercifully uneventful until my teenage years.

My diary entries noticeably shifted as 2005 slipped to 2007, then 2008. I continued to sporadically write into high school, but did not write much beyond a few entries in 2008 and two in 2011 (one had been ripped out). I began writing less about my crushes, favorite songs, and daily encounters with my teachers and family.

The girl whose biggest issue was worrying about not making the soccer team now drew a picture of herself pointing out her flaws, writing “ugly” repetitively over the page. I was pale, fat, had too large a nose, regretted cutting my hair, overdid my eye makeup, and hated my freckles. The date above the crudely drawn picture was March 21, 2008. I was sixteen.

Why couldn’t I look like the pretty, popular girls at my school?

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Above: Teenagers tend to be a bit hard on themselves when encountering a herd of their own kind at school. It’s a time often characteristic of trying to fit in- I was no exception.

It was the beginning of a long and difficult road, a struggle not singularly unique to my life.

The girl who looked back at me in the mirror continued to remind me of everything I failed to be. Not only was my appearance unsightly to me, but my perceived personality flaws were now under scrutiny as well. Bashing myself became a cruel hobby, the innocent child in me struggling to stay afloat with compliments I now felt were lies.

I was under the impression nobody liked me, I was a weak leader who constantly underperformed at volleyball, I was a failure/benchwarmer at soccer, and I was selfish. Coaches constantly told me to “fix my face”. Why did I look sad or bitchy one minute then become overly cocky the next?

Unbeknownst to me or anyone else at the time, I was in the early stages struggling with some mental health challenges. While it is normal for a middle or high school student to feel awkward and unconfident, my brain had been in overdrive and had convinced me I was an evil, horrible person undeserving of affection. While not an excuse for my behavior at the time, it definitely gives some insight looking back. It didn’t matter how much my parents and siblings loved and cared about me. I had convinced myself otherwise.

The insecurity, anxiety, and pessimism I had been feeling was further amplified when I thought I may not just be attracted to just boys like the other girls in my grade.

My hometown was a great place to grow up, but is not the forefront of progressiveness like many larger cities. Sexuality was viewed as a choice by many and the church I had attended since I was in preschool condemned gay marriage. I spent much of my junior year worrying someone would think I was disgusting, repulsive, and gross for feelings I had recognized since seventh grade. Taunted by upperclassmen in the halls, I spent time overthinking my every move while with my close friend.

At the time, I didn’t find solace at home. My sister and mother had correctly guessed I was in a relationship with another girl at school and I was terrified. Was the comfort and happiness I found while with my best friend and confidant worth the constant stress of being an embarrassment to my family? I didn’t have time to make the choice myself, as my friend chose to end the relationship before she graduated that spring.

Not only did I loathe myself, but now someone I had trusted deeply had denied we had ever been together. Heartbroken and confused, I began confessing my feelings through a Word document on my MacBook. I had to hide everything from my friends who had no idea any of the previous events occurred. Steadily, my writing became more dark and poetic, but pulled me away further and further from reality. I had no idea what was substantive in my life. I didn’t know if I was drowning in pain or if I was just numb. I began self harming to feel something- anything.

I continued writing at college after a year break. My freshman year had been a whirlwind of social events and stimuli, but I picked up the hobby again my sophomore year in the fall when my past relationship became a breaking point. I felt alone, insane, and didn’t know where to turn.

Entries became sloppy, ink trailed off pages, mixed with tears. An entire entry consisted of an untidy scrawl wherein I tried convincing myself I was another person. I had repeating the same phrase countless times until the page ended. Another page contained confused last rites. I was drunk nearly half of the nights I wrote entries. The same girl who worried over her appearance at sixteen had gotten carried away into a never-ending cycle of self loathing.

Writing had once been a fun release, a way to express myself not unlike my favorite characters from Meg Cabot books. My confessions and heartbreak had morphed into a twisted monster, threatening to finally convince me I was insane and unlovable, a worthy candidate of ending life as I knew it.

However, years later it serves as a reminder of how incredibly sick I had been during this period in my life. Though the entries are painful to read, it truly shows far I have come and how far off the rails I had gone during this period of my life. I had convinced myself of an overwhelming multitude of entirely false information. I lived my life off lies, overreactions, and misconstrued encounters. My illnesses had twisted my outlook on life and stolen years of happiness off my life. It took me awhile to realize my writing was not beautifully tragic, reminiscent of existentialist heroes like Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche before me, but instead a clear sign I was not well. 

Though some of my behaviors are still evocative of the girl who loved to hate herself, it is more clear to me than ever how much I had needed help at the time. I was lucky to have friends and family who sought out help for me. I’m grateful to this day, because the girl in high school and college had no idea how hard she’d fight to find happiness- and how much progress she’d make by the time she turned twenty-five.

Self loathing had been built itself into the core of my being as a teenager, but I’ve changed this after years (yes, it took me years) of therapy sessions. More recently, I finally took a chance and let myself truly believe I wasn’t a horrible person. It didn’t come easily to me and is sometimes still a challenge, but by learning to dismiss the cruel voice in my head (not to be confused with schizophrenia), I am becoming happier. It turns out life is easier when you’re not trying to cut yourself down (wow!).

So although we don’t have a choice what challenges we are born with (or being born at all), we have a choice of who we become. With the right tools and attitude, humans can be remarkably resourceful. These tools and attitude will come more naturally to some, while others will need to fight more to gain the necessary skillset to be happier or even survive.

I was born into this world with some odds stacked against me (acknowledging my privilege as I am white). A few mental illnesses loomed on the horizon of my late teenage years when I was a kid, but I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a loving family and friends who wanted to see me succeed and gave me the resources to do so.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’m learning to accept myself instead of resorting back to maladaptive behaviors and constantly putting myself down. Instead of allowing myself to get caught up in a tailspin of obsessive, pessimistic thoughts, I recognize my brain doesn’t interpret everyday events like a mentally healthy adult. Though it won’t always work right away, the fact I recognize my thoughts and behavior as unhelpful is a start.

Hopefully, I have a long life ahead of me (gawd willing). I might as well learn to like myself if I want to live my life to the fullest.

***

I’ve written less in journals or diaries as the years go on, but every once and awhile I take time to recount my day- no matter how mundane or uneventful. My journals have served as markers of my mental health through the years and continue to remind me that while life is ever changing, my overall positive attitude about life doesn’t need to.

In striving to find whatever positives I can, I’ve become healthier and overall happier. Even if I’m not entirely happy (who can honestly claim they’re happy all the time, let’s be real), I’m also learning through pain and sadness.

I’m not quite there yet, but I can say with confidence I am much better than I had been a year ago at this time. When morale gets low, I remind myself I’m not just living for myself, but I’m doing it for those I love. I know I want nothing more than to see my loved ones genuinely happy, so I try to put honest effort into becoming a happier, healthier person each and every day.

So far, it’s been working- because everyone deserves a chance at living their best life– one which includes true happiness and self-acceptance.

The Benchwarmer

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Being a benchwarmer ultimately led to my verbal commitment to Binghamton University my junior year of high school.

Though the gym was a comfortable seventy-three degrees, I shivered. Whistles chirped at odd intervals across the length of the gym. Cheering reverberated across the cold walls and snapped my attention back to the volleyball court in front of me. I tugged on my jersey’s sleeves until the ends were balled up in my slightly purple fists.

Brrr…

Self consciously, I sidestepped in front of the three teammates that clapped enthusiastically beside me. I sifted through the pile of warm up jackets on the chair adjacent to them until I spotted a label with a hastily written, “#13”.

That’s me, I thought.

The number didn’t stand a realistic chance of making the regular starting lineup sheet yet, but I felt a little flutter of pride all the same.

A few months earlier, I accepted an offer as an outside hitter on the top club volleyball team in the state of Wisconsin. Though I had experience as an integral part of my previous club and high school teams, I now found myself ridin’ the pine on a regular basis. Feeling deflated, I realized I had gotten accustomed to watching the sport I loved most from the sidelines.

***

My sophomore year at Binghamton University.


Being identified as a “benchwarmer” is not an easy concept for every athlete to learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen on a club volleyball team, twenty on a Division 1 team, or thirty on a professional team. It can be an intensely emotional experience, especially if communication between an athlete and coach breaks down.

After reminiscing about my club volleyball experience, I was curious to see how my colleagues’ experiences on the bench compared with mine. Admitting they weren’t always the star player or part of the starting lineup, many launched into personal recollections that included rejection, increased motivation, shame, confusion, and bitterness.

Even though I’ve been involved in athletics since the age of five, I never considered giving the psyche of the benchwarmer much thought. To me, it just seemed like a self-pity party I threw for myself on the sidelines as an angsty teen in high school. After more deliberation, I realized my time on the bench impacted my life more profoundly than I had previously given credit to.

The semifinal game at the America East Tournament. We won the championship game and received the automatic bid to go to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.


Two social psychologists from the University of Virginia had a similar interest into the psyche of the benchwarmer and decided to study the phenomena in more detail. In their article, “The Social Psychology of the Benchwarmer”, Robert J. Rotella and Douglas S. Newburg come to the conclusion that some benched athletes “may experience [an] identity crises, the impact of which may be long-lasting and far-reaching for them”. In their report, the psychologists also offer suggestions for athletes, coaches, and sport psychology consultants to help respond to these situations effectively.

Overall this article has great intentions which I can give credit for piquing my interest. On the flip side, the authors come to broad conclusions based on a small sample size of athletes from the late 1980s. It also may have been supplemental to mention the possibility of an athlete who can learn positive lessons while sitting the bench. As always, hindsight is 20/20.

While the combination of prolonged bench time and poor communication will not likely impact the athlete positively, a lack of playing time can serve as an opportunity for some athletes.

This in mind, I can find no better example than former Ohio State basketball player, Mark Titus (of blogsite Club Trillion). He scored nine points during his entire four-year career but established a way to become indispensable off the court. He served as a practice and “pump up” player to the starters that won an NCAA Championship. His book Don’t Put Me In Coach is hilarious account of his journey “from one end of the bench to the other”. I’d highly recommend it.

On a more personal level, my experience offered opportunities to learn valuable lessons that easily translated to the workplace. Now that I’m about three years removed from the volleyball court, I have the ability to see how my role as a benchwarmer during high school impacted my life on an athletic and personal level.

Signing day, my junior year of high school.


After spending time as a six-rotation, front row and practice player through both club and high school, I decided to verbally commit to a mid-major Division 1 school as a high school junior. Overjoyed, I verballed because there was an opening for a four-year starter at this prestigious university.

The offers I had from universities with more competitive volleyball programs didn’t offer a four-year starting position like Binghamton University (NY). Though it’s nice to be a part of a winning program, I decided I’d like to have an immediate impact as a freshman. Without my time on the sidelines, I can’t say with certainty I’d make the same decision again. This is definitely a positive takeaway I wish co-authors Rotella and Newburg took into account in their article.

During my later club volleyball years, sitting on the side was tough. I felt cheated and unimportant, but I will maintain those who coached me had valid reasons for playing others before me if I wasn’t on the court. To this day, I hold no bitterness towards any of the people who impacted my journey as a player, whether I played or not. Feeling like you’ve been rejected is a hard aspect to swallow, especially at the ripe old age of sixteen, but it’s something that offers countless opportunities to learn from.

Not only has my time on the bench impacted my life athletically, but also personally. It’s nice to be an integral part of a team, but it helps to learn humility and perseverance as a player. This translates well into the professional world and your coworkers (and anyone you encounter, quite honestly) will thank you.

Squad of 2013.


As my mother told me from a young age, you’ll find ninety-nine point nine percent of the time there will be someone out there more talented than you. Sometimes you’ll be the star, other times not. Whether this is true in the athletic, real world, or both, there can be many opportunities to grow from.

If I could go back in time and tell my 16-year-old self anything, it would be to 1.) stop using so much eyeliner, 2.) invest in Apple, and 3.) let this time on the bench serve as motivation, not a sign you’re not good enough.

This isn’t to say every coach will have reasonable cause for keeping one athlete on the bench as opposed to another. As I’m sure we’re all aware, coaches are also human. Some humans have better intentions than others, but sports have seasons that end. This lesson certainly comes in handy in the real world while dealing with difficult managers and bosses. As my college sports psych professor often claimed several times per class, “sports are a microcosm of society”.

I had to include this photo, grainy or not. I’m now living in Providence so it’s a small coincidence!


In the short term, riding the pine may seem disappointing. Long term, I can say it eventually made me a stronger person and helped determine where I’d be happiest during my undergraduate degree. It’s exciting to be a starter or to feel important, but there’s also a chance to grow while off the court. What you learn through athletics often translates well into the professional world. I can definitely vouch for this!

Whenever you’re feeling bummed out about playing time, just remember you have the power to make what you can out of a situation. Sports have seasons, seasons end, you grow older and your knees and back will sometimes fail you. It’s times like these when I appreciate the lessons I learned on the bench more than I could’ve realized when I was sixteen. Though a very slim amount of players can say they aspire to sit on the bench if given the chance to be on the court, it’s not always a bad place to be.

Ride that pine with pride, athletes!

#12 was my favorite player to play against. She now coaches at University of Albany.