how throwing a plastic disc through the air is changing my life

Featured imageSince the utter failure of my attempt at seeking help for mental health issues over the past two decades, I had resigned myself to a life of despair, and didn’t care much whether I lived or not. Due to a latent childhood trauma I have been unsuccessfully dealing with a diagnosis of “Bipolar 1, Severe with psychotic features and social phobia”, a mouthful, I know. Having healthy relationships and feeling accepted have both felt out of my reach for as long as I can remember, but that has been changing recently. I have now been free of suicidal impulses for over a month, where it used to be a day-long struggle, every day, and I am starting to gain a positive sense of self that I never believed possible before.

Some people will not be shocked to find out what is helping, as I have come to learn that what is working for me has worked for others with similar stories, but we don’t talk about it because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues such as addiction, escapism, social anxiety and the many others that can plague someone for life. I have been in and out of urgent care, psych wards, and dealt with county crisis workers, have seen many psychiatrists and psychologists but no treatment plan developed seemed to do anything for me. I tried counseling, meditation, and prescriptions… I self medicated with alcohol… but always I came back to a bleak feeling of hopelessness. However, what was a glint of hope a few months ago is slowly turning into a viable path forward, one that is actually starting to get at the root of my problems and guide me forward, and that path, oddly enough, is throwing a plastic disc through the air.

Last fall, at the bequest of some friends who I thought were too arty/intellectual for sports, I started playing a sport called disc golf(it’s golf but you throw a disc instead of clubbing a ball), and three major aspects of the game have somehow started to re-orient my psyche.

Firstly, the frequent communing with nature. This is something my life was missing. Before I would go on walks or bike rides, and during the walk or ride I would feel better, but instantly upon returning home my general anxiety would return. I exercise, always have, so I know that exercise itself is not a treatment. With disc golf it’s different. Rather than passing through or over nature on a walk, disc golf causes me to interact with it. Over the course of a season you see the changes in foliage, the swelling and receding of ponds, and the natural processes of life and death present in the woods. You breathe the dense forest air and in the fields bask in sun(or rain or snow!). Being that connected with nature has been something I have missed since living in the mountains and deserts of Mexico.

Second, social interactions are naturally focused and the community surrounding the sport are a more accepting group than I am used to. This is a major aid for someone with my level of social anxiety(and believe me it’s high!) because it takes the focus off of me so that instead of feeling as though I am standing helpless in front of some terrifying monster waiting to judge everything I do and say, I feel I am standing alongside friends all enjoying the simple yet profound pleasures life can bring. I still get highly self-conscious, and my performance suffers because of it, but the overall effect is that the course and the game give me a buffer zone that in and of itself provides reason for interaction and conversation, two things I will avoid like the plague if given the chance.

The third, and likely most important aspect is the… what I will call “zen” of the sport. Performing well requires being in touch with the whole of your body and also your surrounding environment, which is a state that modern Americans very rarely achieve anymore given the 21st century ability to sit on one’s ass all day and still feel as though something was accomplished. In order to deliver that disc in your hand out into the woods or over the field you must surrender not only to nature but to yourself as well, and it’s a very internal, primal part of the self that is being engaged in this moment. If you start doubting your body’s natural conviction you will know it right away. You can see it in the face of every thrower the second they release the disc, you can tell as you let go, without even looking at the disc, if you achieved the line and flight you envisioned, because your mind is thoughtless when you get it right, but riddles with dissonance when you have it wrong. And it has taught me not only how to be present inside and around myself, it has also taught me to let go, because you cannot control every gust of wind or downhill roll, these things happen and you must deal with them gracefully.

The practice at shutting off self-doubt is, I feel, the key factor in what I hope to be my slow yet final healing process within myself. I have even noticed my personal relationships improve from these experiences, and have found that a new voice has begun to emanate from me, that a new love of being and inner peace–acceptance of life and self–have started to crowd out the negativity and fear.

If you also struggle with social anxiety and depression I couldn’t recommend playing disc golf highly enough. It even sounds weird as I say it in my head because the activity itself seemed almost antithetical to my normal mode of being at first(that of a sad lonely depressed artist whom the world stands against), which to the chagrin of magic pill makers is maybe the very rub itself.


22 Responses to “how throwing a plastic disc through the air is changing my life”

  1. May 18, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    Welcome to the community bro! Glad to have you 🙂 I totally agree on all 3 points.

  2. 2 Tero
    May 19, 2015 at 3:55 am

    Happy you found help in our great sport, I agreed with every point you made. The people in this sport are generally amazing.

  3. May 19, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Thank you for sharing, this article is so true. I have found the days I am most stressed out, when I go play disc golf all other things in life don’t matter–just being in nature and connecting with it, while watching the sweet flight of the disc, amongst like minded individuals. The disc golf family, really is the best family their is! Cheers to you my friend.

  4. 4 Go Throw
    May 19, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I, too, suffer from anxiety and obsessive thoughts. Disc golf has been so very beneficial to me too. Thanks for sharing!

  5. May 19, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    peace love and disc my friend………….

  6. May 19, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Disc golf has changed my life as well. I suffered from chronic back and neck pain from childhood fractures, along with sitting at a computer for years. I was eating ibuprofen every day and would have to lay down after a short walk in a park. My friend invited me out for a round of disc golf when I was 40 yrs old, which I didn’t know the sport existed, and I was instantly hooked! It’s 6 yrs later and I play 5-7 days a week and I feel better than I did in my 20’s! I rarely take Ibuprofen and and have to force myself to take a day off from playing, once in a while. I also suffer from depression and social anxiety, but have also found my mental well being, from the Zen focus and social interaction, has been so much more consistent. The physical and mental benefits of this game are invaluable. So glad you discovered this beautiful sport, as well. Thanks for sharing!

  7. 7 sharon
    May 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Wishing you many fun days of play and travel.

  8. 8 Greg
    May 19, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Well-stated points in this nice essay. When I was struggling through a very difficult transition in my life, disc golf was a refuge, and it was a HUGE help to me. It might not be exaggerating to say that it saved me. Glad you are feeling some positive outcomes!

  9. May 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, You’ve given me a powerful glimpse into how and why disc golf is so important to my son. Wishing you continued good health and happiness.

  10. 10 Nolan
    May 19, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Hey, I loved this article man. It was moving! Would you consider writing a column in a magazine about disc golf? I want to start a magazine with compelling disc golf stories. Not just tournaments and pro news and tips. Send me an email if you are interested. I would like to inform you ahead of time that I am not doing this for profit right now and it will be released as a pdf!

    • 11 Nolan
      May 19, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Not for profit*

    • 14 imnotme
      May 19, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      Nolan, I would be happy to help tell the deeper stories behind the sport, since publishing this article I have come to find that many people have had similar experiences and it would be my pleasure to help highlight those. I have received numerous PMs about people overcoming alcoholism, drug addiction and more through this wonderful “sport” and they are stories that deserve to be told.

  11. May 19, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Great article man! And thanks for being open and sharing your story 🙂

  12. May 20, 2015 at 7:24 am

    It’s encouraging to read stories like this.

    I don’t play as much as I used to, but the impact of the time spent on the sport has been overwhelmingly positive.

  13. May 20, 2015 at 8:09 am

    AMEN Brother, a short while ago i worked at a disc golf store in Shelton wa and met some great people, this is a great sport and a great bunch of people we encourage you to tell as many as you can that this help with ptsd and much more we are Blessed to have the park right here in Shelton as well as the shop josephvarley

  14. 18 elise
    May 20, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    I’m happy for you. Although I don’t throw, I feel the same way about nature. When I feel overwhelmed sometimes it takes a while for me to figure out that’s what I need. Outside+knitting makes Elise not a dull girl. Thanks for sharing.

  15. 19 Randy
    May 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Beautifully written, insightful thoughts about depression, anxiety, life, and disc! well done! thanks for sharing and best wishes to you for continued clarity and wellness. Be Well!

  16. May 21, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing. Much of what you wrote rang true for me. I have been playing disc golf most of my life, starting as a teenager (53 now). I stopped playing for a while because of pressure from a spouse (ex) but picked the game back up several years ago. I call it my therapy, for all the reasons you listed.

    Good luck in the future and enjoy!

  17. May 24, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Reblogged this on scotterit and commented:
    Not fun being on a roller coaster. I have some of the same issues and have found Disc golf very helpful with the social freeze and the way a panic attack has left me frozen in my tracks and shivering in fear of acceptance.

  18. 22 sean power
    May 30, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for relating your story so honestly. I too suffer from many similar “differences” as you. (Don’t like the term disorder- that describes the mess in my house, not who I am). I also have rediscovered disc golf and am finding it to be very therapeutic as well. While I enjoy the zen pursuit of the perfect disc flight, communing with nature, even just a reason to get out of the house (and my dispair); I often find that simply having something to look forward to gets me through a day and helps to stave off depression. It has helped some with social isolation, and I look forward to meeting new disc golf friends and participating in the disc golf community. I would be really cool to throw with you one day!

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