The thing that helped me conquer my social anxiety

(Originally appeared on HelloGiggles)

I started playing softball when I was seven. For the next decade, not a single month passed without sports being a huge part of my life. At eighteen, I auto-crossed my car because it was the only legal way to drive like I was in NASCAR. I’m very competitive with most things. I really enjoy winning, often to the point of it becoming overwhelming. I would leave softball games angry even if we won, because as a pitcher I didn’t strike out enough people. My team almost made it to the little league world series championship, but the anxiety and pressure to win was too overwhelming, so I ended up having a terrible game.

When I wasn’t obsessively perfecting my windmill pitch, I was in my best friend’s backyard practicing free throws. The guys we had crushes on played basketball so we had a great excuse to invite them over. I was taller than everyone and extremely socially awkward, so playing basketball with guys was a great way to interact without feeling entirely insecure. Also, I really enjoyed wearing my uniform to school on game day. It was like wearing really cool pajamas in public.

But, like most rebellious teenagers, I eventually quit all athletic activity to focus my attention on more important things: parties. If dancing to techno music while wearing giant pants in a Detroit warehouse was a sport, I’d have at least six glow-stick trophies. Instead, I have a shoebox full of homemade neon bracelets and flyers from parties called “Happy Vibes” and “Groove Attack.”

Since then, I’ve inquired about adult softball leagues, ultimately without any helpful developments. Finally, in the beginning of 2014, I found a group of women who were putting together a basketball team.

Our team captain wanted to play organized basketball, so she recruited women who were all searching for the same thing: fun physical activity that involved social interaction with awesome people. Half of our team had never touched a basketball before our first practice, which made the learning process challenging, but extremely rewarding. It’s rare for adults to take up a new sport or (in my case) dribble a ball for the first time in ten years.

Prior to the start of the season we went to sign our team up and realized the women’s division within the Los Angeles Municipal Parks Department didn’t exist. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only team inquiring about the league. We needed to recruit teams in order to even play, so we reached out to every woman we knew and the interest to play organized basketball was staggering. Six teams were formed that first season, which turned into 12 the next season, which is now at 26. To put that in perspective, the WNBA has 12 teams. If you work in the comedy/entertainment business in LA, there’s a good chance you know someone who plays in this league.

Making friends as an adult isn’t easy. I’m riddled with insecurities and judgments that didn’t exist on the playground. Also, in the same way people are in monogamous relationships, I’ve always been in monogamous friendships. My shyness as a child limited my ability to be a social butterfly. I rarely had the courage to put myself out on a limb, so when I finally felt comfortable with a new friend I wanted to hold on to them forever and make them my ride or die BFF.

The upside to putting all your eggs in one basket is you have a ton of eggs (some of which you can hard-boil and make into egg salad sandwiches!), but the downside is you’re left with no eggs when your cat jumps on the table and knocks the basket over. That’s how it works, right? For me, I was blindsided when my best friend from middle and high school grade decided she no longer wanted to be my friend. To this day I still don’t have an explanation why.

Luckily, my sister’s best friend started to include me in their hang-outs, and the three of us were like Wilson Phillips if they couldn’t sing but loved thrift stores and skipping school. Having the same best friend as my sister was perfect. We saw her as more of a family member than a friend.

Unfortunately, circumstances arose that have hindered our friendship and I’m faced with the realization that I haven’t tried to make any other close friends in over a decade. I’ve had boyfriends that were intrinsically best friends, but I never went out of my comfort zone to establish another close female friend. The dilemma with my current best friend has been very tough, but luckily being on this basketball team means I have about a dozen built-in female friends that I see at least once a week.

Team sports have always been enjoyable as a social activity for me because I’m terrible at basically every other type of social interaction. Dinner parties scare me, but I can play sports with people I just met and not even think twice about my social anxiety. Being thrown into a world full of incredible women has been (in the words of everyone on Facebook) a blessing. Not only is my team amazing, the entire league is full of creative, smart, and talented women. I’ve made friends I never would have met if it weren’t for basketball. We support each other’s projects and passions, attend music and comedy shows, birthday parties, and we’re even traveling across the country soon to attend a teammates wedding.

I always look forward to practices and games. Even if I’m tired or in a bad mood, I instantly feel better after running up and down the court and making jokes with my teammates. I hate working out so this is great way to combat my laziness. We’re also lucky to avoid the negative drama that is often associated with women’s friendships like in every female-centric reality show or secret Facebook groups where everyone is always yelling at each other to stop being bitches. No one in our league gossips about anyone else or starts rumors. We only bring positive energy to the group and so far it’s been wonderful. This league is like the bizarro high-school year I hope never ends. I truly plan on playing basketball until I’m seventy-five. It not only alleviates my social anxiety, it’s been a place where I found so many valuable new connections.

Article originally appeared on HelloGiggles

2 thoughts on “The thing that helped me conquer my social anxiety”

  1. I’m the same with friendships (all in with very few people), so I understand the dangers of losing friends. Sports also helped me become more socially adept. I’m glad the Pistol Shrimps has brought you to a comfortable place. Please continue to find reasons to write. You never disappoint.

  2. I’ve been following your stuff for a few years now…which I acknowledge sounds a bit creepy. Luckily, social media has taken the ‘creep’ out of it, leaving only ‘y’ which is pretty ambiguous, so not really helpful. Come to think of it, social media has actually put quite a LOT more ‘creep’ into things . A whole ‘ton’ o’ creep you might say. But, intriguingly, it’s still ok to say you’ve been following someone. Which I have, you.

    And even though I don’t know you from Adam (or Eve) I have to say (how English-sounding?), I think you’re pretty great ( which spoken in a Hugh Grant accent sounds hilarious. Or Hugh Laurie accent. Any of the Hughs in fact – Bonneville, etc). Not only is your writing brilliantly incisive, and your photography vivid, so are your thoughts and whole demeanour. There’s something about the way you talk which is incredibly sparky and magnetic. I suppose it seems ludicrous to declare someone great when you’ve never even met them, but there you go.

    I’ll just have to daydream about bumping into you one day in a coffee shop in London (or NY) saying ‘Hey, you’re Melissa Stetten aren’t you…?’ Which you’d probably hate…

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