Hold On

Submitted by Ace on April 5th, 2013 at 8:05 AM

A Google search for “sports as escape” produces about 300 million results. A similar query for “sports as entertainment” reveals over 3.5 billion.

A search for “sports as inspiration” generates 296 million—a lofty number, sure, but it’s telling that (at least by this wholly unscientific method) we tend to view sports as a way to avoid our problems instead of a source of motivation from which we can better ourselves.

I include myself in that number. Normally, when watching sports, it's for entertainment, or to take a break from whatever pressing real life issue I don’t want to deal with at the moment. Through circumstances largely outside of my control, however, covering Michigan basketball this season became an exercise in understanding and appreciating why we really care and what can be produced through a deep connection with sports.

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In my junior year of college, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a less common name for the illness that better captures its severity—and I’ve suffered from symptoms going back to my senior year of high school. It’s a disorder about which much is still unknown, including both its cause and cure. In fact, it's still the subject of controversy, especially regarding the CDC (a story that is both too unrelated and too lengthy to detail here, but I’d strongly encourage you to read this article).

The primary symptom of ME is “post-exertional malaise,” or what ME patients often refer to as the “push-crash” phenomenon. It is exactly what it sounds like. The amount of energy available to an ME patient varies greatly on a case-by-case basis, but we’re all in the same boat—if an ME patient uses more than their allotted energy (whether over the course of a day, week, month, or even year), they will pay for it dearly, with compound interest, in the form of worsening symptoms.

I’ve experienced crashes before, but mostly in the years leading up to my diagnosis. Without knowing what I was dealing with, I spent my first three years of college taking 16 credits per semester, working as a receptionist at the Michigan Union, and living the social life of your typical liberal arts major at a state school. My family and I realized I was dealing with something more than a sleep issue when I was fired from my job for repeatedly calling in sick and put on academic probation for failing, of all things, an intro-level stats class—one I probably attended twice, choosing much-needed sleep instead.

Pretty shortly thereafter, I went to see a world-class ME specialist in North Carolina, Dr. Paul Cheney, and received my diagnosis. In the aftermath, I slowly but surely made significant alterations to my lifestyle. I took fewer classes, pushed off graduation for a semester, and moved back home (for those who aren’t familiar with me, I grew up in Ann Arbor and attended U-M) for my final year-and-a-half of school.

Upon graduating in December of 2010, I did not go searching for jobs. Instead, I stayed home, enjoying my new-found freedom to spend more time with friends and posting on my old blog. I turned down a chance to interview for a PR position at GE in Cincinnati; on its face, because that wasn’t the field I was interested in, but mostly because I wasn’t in a position to take a demanding job away from my support system.

When Brian posted the MGoBlog job opening in August of 2011, I leapt at the opportunity to continue blogging—a profession that allows me to mostly work from home, with flexible hours and the opportunity to write about my hometown school and alma mater. For my first year on the job, I continued to live with my parents, and despite the new work demands my health improved markedly.

At both my parents’ and my own behest, I moved out last September, renting a place with two close friends just down the street from Michigan Stadium and the Crisler Center. Dealing responsibly with ME while still trying to live a normal life is a constant game of testing one’s own (constantly changing) limits, and it was time to find out where mine were. Through the end of football season, things couldn’t have gone better—work was going well, I had a sufficient social life, I got to live away from home with a pair of great roommates, and I even resumed some level of physical activity, playing co-ed soccer over the summer at Fuller Park and working out in a gym we set up in the basement. When basketball season rolled around, I took the chance to expand my coverage and applied for a season credential, looking to attend every home game and some handpicked away games.

As it turned out, I added a little too much to my plate. As Michigan raced out to a 20-1 start, I felt my health start to decline. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Crisler, incidentally. While I hunched over my laptop, my lower back ached, a signal that my body was tapping into my adrenal glands for an unsustainable source of backup energy. I became increasingly sensitive to sound and bright light—pregame player introductions were particularly uncomfortable, even painful. But I wanted to be there, and not only because of my job—I savored every second of watching the Wolverines electrify a building transformed from gray obsolescence to modern basketball mecca.

In January, I was granted a credential for the February 2nd game at Indiana. A few days before the game, I asked Brian if he’d like to go in my stead; I’d spent the week feeling flu-ridden and unable to think clearly, and even though he declined to take the press pass I didn’t make the trip down to Bloomington. For the past two months—except for the week when Brian mercifully granted me sick leave—I’ve mostly worked from my bed, and in this final push before the offseason everything in my life has taken a back seat to work. This week, I came back to my parents’ place in order to make matters easier on myself, and we’ve decided that it’s best for me to move back home when my lease is up in the fall.

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I promise that there’s a non-depressing point to writing all this, but first I feel the need to say something about what I’ve just revealed. The reason I’ve only told a small group of family, close friends, and co-workers (actually, just Brian) about my illness is that one of the worst aspects of being sick—for anyone, in my experience—is being related to as a sick person by other people.

I am not defined by my illness. I do not need your sympathy, which could be better directed towards any number of other places. I live a rich and fulfilling life. I love my job. I have a very understanding boss.  I have a great group of close friends. I have access to world-class, cutting-edge medical care. Most importantly, I have a wonderful, supportive family. As soon as I’m able to get some rest, I’ll be back to my normal self, and even if my normal may not fit your definition I happen to really enjoy it.

The reason I’m writing about this, and writing about it now, is to illustrate a larger point. I should probably get around to that now, shouldn’t I?

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Sports were an escape for me before they became my job, and even then the, let’s say, wide-ranging nature of blogging versus more traditional media has allowed me to continue relating to them as a fan. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the Sports As Microcosm Of Life, Big Picture stuff (except to convince my father that I’d chosen the right career path). I simply love watching them, and am endlessly fascinated by humans pushing their bodies to unseen heights, as well as the intricate strategies and minutiae that drive team sports—hence my gravitation towards football, perhaps the most violent and entertaining version of chess. When Tom Rinaldi appeared on my TV screen, poised to tear at my heartstrings over a soft piano soundtrack, I almost always changed the channel.

When searching for inspiration, I never turned towards sports, instead looking to any number of other things: music, beer, friendship, traveling, beer, family, school, job hunt, beer, etc. These last two months, however, I’ve either been cooped up in my room or covering Michigan basketball—alternative options have been limited.

If this were a Michigan hoops team from another year—especially any of the years of my childhood—perhaps I’d be feeling different about my life right now. I’ve been so fortunate to cover this particular team, in person for all but a couple of home games and from home for the rest. Their success alone has been a source of considerable joy, of course, but it goes far beyond simple wins and losses. Even given the same success, a different team with a different coach probably wouldn’t affect me the way the 2012-13 Wolverines have.

It hasn’t been hard to muster the energy to write about these guys, and frankly that’s not the case when it’s time to put together a football recruiting roundup. Getting to watch this crew, whether I’ve been in the press seats at Crisler or glued to my couch, has been a true pleasure. They’ve made my job easy at a time when that can’t be said for much else in my life.

I’ve drawn inspiration from Trey Burke’s unflappable will, the way his expression never changes regardless of circumstance*. The same goes for John Beilein’s genuine decency and mastery of his profession; Mitch McGary’s infectious enthusiasm for, well, everything; the sacrifices players like Jordan Morgan, Matt Vogrich, and even Tim Hardaway Jr. have made in the name of the team; the love these players show for each other. I wouldn’t change a thing about these last two months, crash be damned, and those guys deserve much of the credit.

Sports can be an escape, sure, or simply a source of entertainment. But there’s a deeper level, too, and looking back I think it’s influenced me more than I’ve ever acknowledged until recently.

Yeah, I write about kids playing games for a living. That may not sound fulfilling to most, but it works for me. I’ll feel no shame about my maniacal fandom this weekend, allowing this team to grab my emotions and take them where they take them. They’ve earned that right. Whatever happens in the next four days, I’ll never forget this team and what they’ve unknowingly taught me—about perseverance, loving what I have, and appreciating being a part of something greater than myself—in the course of their being kids and playing a game.

*Celebrating miraculous 30-foot game-tying jumpers excepted, of course.

Comments

Seth

April 5th, 2013 at 9:38 AM ^

And yet you still manage to find the energy to never make a copy error. You are our McGary, and we draw our inspiration from you.

Swayze Howell Sheen

April 5th, 2013 at 9:41 AM ^

It's really nice to have a forum where publishing these types of pieces goes hand in hand with the typical sports analysis, etc., that we read here. A more personal mgoblog is a better mgoblog.

And good luck with your condition; I'm sure it could in some ways help (rather than hinder), as a more balanced life may be more fulfilling than one in which you are always going full tilt at work. As my mother (a doctor) used to say, "always remember, someone's got it worse than you." 

 

TheThief

April 5th, 2013 at 9:41 AM ^

Kudos to you Ace for a really good article. I don't mean that as in "This is a really good article for someone having to deal with what you are dealing with" I mean that as in "This article was really good and it may have just taken Ace from a good read to a must read in my book."  (My book is very exclusive btw, it's basically the equivalent of winning a Pulitzer)

I have been lurking on this site for almost 4 years now, and I feel like this week has produced some of the best front page stuff I have seen so far. Impressive, when you think about how Football oriented this site is.

hfhmilkman

April 5th, 2013 at 10:00 AM ^

This is for Ace and anyone who has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.  Check out the Discover Article page12.   Chances are there may not be a monolithic cure as there may be multiple vectors.  The arcticle discusses the premise that B-cells become misguided because the T-cells accidentally tells them it is okay to attack the body.  They observed that rituximab reduced or removed CFS symptoms for a certain length of time until the B-cells recovered.  Suppressing the immune system may not be the best long term solution. However, this could lead to researchers zeroing in on the source instead of treating the symptom.  In the given study two thirds of the subjects responded positively to rituximab. 

BiSB

April 5th, 2013 at 10:54 AM ^

This is for Ace and anyone who has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Check out the Discover Article page12. Chances are there may not be a monolithic cure as there may be multiple vectors. The arcticle discusses the premise that B-cells become misguided because the T-cells accidentally tells them it is okay to attack the body. They observed that rituximab reduced or removed CFS symptoms for a certain length of time until the B-cells recovered. Suppressing the immune system may not be the best long term solution. However, this could lead to researchers zeroing in on the source instead of treating the symptom. In the given study two thirds of the subjects responded positively to rituximab.

Well, obviously.

ggoodness56

April 5th, 2013 at 10:00 AM ^

I'm so blessed to be able to read this blog. As someone who's in remission, it's so inspirational to know that there are others on here fighting, through their own battles. In a way, these Michigan sports teams become part of us in different places of our lives; and in some unique way, we are all able to draw something different from them. Whether it be strength as we age or joy to our youth, there is an unseen connective tissue that exists in the community, that warrants are acknowledgement from time to time. Thanks Ace!

CooperLily21

April 5th, 2013 at 10:01 AM ^

In the worst of times, just know that your support group goes beyond just your immediate family and group of friends in Ann Arbor.  You have MGoFriends across the country and dare I say the globe that are willing to answer any call for help.  You help provide us with information and entertainment and we are prepared to give back at any moment.  All you have to do is ask.

quiverfull

April 5th, 2013 at 10:02 AM ^

no sympathy, but take care of yourself and get better.  

 

if i had one suggestion it would be to try to (responsibly) get as much physical exercise as possible without of course tripping another ME cascade.   some days that might be walking to the bathroom, others it might be a soccer game, but to the extent you can handle it, get out there. 

 

blessings.

q

kehnonymous

April 5th, 2013 at 10:02 AM ^

Another typically excellent piece, Ace. I was going to extemporize onto a bit about how this reminds me of why blogging (in sports at least) has evolved into hands down the best way to follow your favorite team but it went nowhere and instead reminds me why you, not I, write for MGoBlog.  Here's to many more years of not only living, but thriving, with ME.  Don't overload too much when (not if) we win it all Monday.  And, lastly, how grateful are all of us that you are here and not exacerbating your condition by instead having to cover Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams?

BiSB

April 5th, 2013 at 10:08 AM ^

Great piece. Thanks for sharing.

On the bright side, this ridiculous year of sports ridiculousness will be over soon, so you will hopefully be able to grab a well-deserved break. In the meantime, GIF SOMETHING DAMNIT.

DefenseWins

April 5th, 2013 at 10:25 AM ^

I wish you the best Ace.
It's hard to properly explain the impact sports have. The connection to YOUR team. All I know is it makes getting through difficult times just a touch easier.

Michigasling

April 5th, 2013 at 10:29 AM ^

and insight into the guy with the perpetual smile (at least what we've always assumed from what we see on these pages), you've given us a greater understanding of an illness that is one of many that have been misunderstood, misrepresented or simply dismissed, attributed to stress or neurosis or simple malingering, before science caught up and recognized that the sufferers were really suffering.  Whether they have the cure [yet], that simple recognition can be medicinal in itself, knowing that you're not insane or lazy or a weakling or narcissist or whatever names are thrown out.  I've had a couple of those "weirdnesses" myself, not nearly as serious or debilitating, but just learning there was an actual cause was freeing, after years of keeping things to myself.  And in those cases, once I learned the cause, I could handle the symptoms. 

From what you're saying, science is catching up with yours-- a good sign that they've given it a real name that doesn't imply simple laziness.  I remember early on there was speculation that the illness formerly known as CFS may have been caused by the virus that causes mono (another illness I didn't respect until I had it).  Is that still being considered, or has that been eliminated as a possible cause? 

Thanks, Ace. 

EDIT:  Thanks to milkman for the science update.

 

aenima0311

April 5th, 2013 at 10:30 AM ^

Ace - 

Thank you for writing this. My mother was diagnosed with CFS/ME a few years ago. Other than her, you're the only other actual person I know of who suffers from it. She's not a sports fan at all, but I will definitely be forwarding her a link to this article. 

I'm impressed by how well you've fought through and managed a disorder that can make a simple act like getting out of bed seem impossible. All without a break in coverage or noticlble work quality. I also completely understand not wanting to be branded as "sick". The hardest thing I've noticed my mom struggle through has been people who think that this disorder is all in her head or that she's just lazy-tired all the time. I hope calling it ME can help out in this regard. It's so hard to make people understand. 

TexanGOBLUE

April 5th, 2013 at 10:50 AM ^

From now on you are 'EL' Ace in my book amigo. I appreciate your work and the obstacles you overcome on a daily basis. Keep up the good work and I sir, tip my hat to you. You ever in the Houston area, let it be known and I will make sure you get the best Mexican food you've ever had. If an enormous meal of outstanding Mexican food doesnt help you I dont know what will. (Ok maybe I do know, but it isn't legal).

drewro02

April 5th, 2013 at 11:04 AM ^

Was a great piece of writing. I can relate to this years team being an escape from life. I haven't missed a single game this year (I even was up at 3 in the morning in England while on a work trip to watch the Minnesota game). My best friend was diagnosed with cancer in November (it has since been diagnosed as terminal), and for those few hours when this team has played it has given me a release from life like nothing else can. Even sitting on my couch watching, I have built a great affinity for this team, and their unselfish, humble, and enthusiasm. Go Blue!!! Let's cut the nets down Monday night!!!!

Piston Blue

April 5th, 2013 at 11:58 AM ^

Your recruiting posts are what brought me to mgoblog and I love the basketball write-ups you do too. I'm glad that you found your dream job, because there aren't many out there who would do what you do on a regular basis.

snowcrash

April 5th, 2013 at 12:18 PM ^

"...one of the worst aspects of being sick—for anyone, in my experience—is being related to as a sick person by other people." 

This is spot on.

I briefly had cancer 11+ years ago, and well-meaning people treating me as an invalid nearly drove me nuts. What really helped was to interact with people who didn't know that I was sick, which in my case was mostly students in the class I was a TA for.

Hope they find a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome sooner rather than later. In any case, keep up the good work.

OldBlue78and81

April 5th, 2013 at 1:29 PM ^

I remember somebody posting a complaint a few weeks ago about the writing on the front page.  Well, this was beautifully written and much appreciated. Good luck and thanks for all you do.

 

mishler3

April 5th, 2013 at 1:54 PM ^

Just a beautiful piece of writing. I hope the good days are better than you expect and the not-so-good ones aren't too bad. Great perspective on life as we put so much of our emotions into this school and the athletic teams. As always, Go Blue.

saveferris

April 5th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^

This was a great read, Ace, and really gutsy to share something so personal about yourself with the MGoUniverse. I first heard about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when I read that Michelle Akers suffers from it, and she was the best female soccer player in the world for the better part of the 90's. just proves your point that the disease doesn't define those who suffer from it, since you can overcome it to be a 2-time World Cup champion or a bad-ass college blogger.

Ace

April 5th, 2013 at 2:35 PM ^

I just want to thank everyone again for their comments—your understanding and support make me think I could've done this a long time ago, though this really felt like the right time to post this.

I should probably thank Trey Burke for that.

buddhafrog

April 5th, 2013 at 9:10 PM ^

To me, the hardest part of CFS was not telling people.  When I tried or felt cornered into explaining, it just didn't turn out right.  I felt defensive partially becaue the name sounded so ... blah.  This was in the early days of CFS before ME was known or a name.  I would've so much prefered that.  At that time, some doctors argued that CFS was not real.  It was difficult.

I haven't told anyone about my condition in more than ten years, mostly because I've been able to manage it almost completely and have gotten used to learning how to live a fun/meaningful life.  But partially b/c I hated having to tell me.  Not exactly ashamed, but damn, it was difficult and confusing.  My wife doesn't even know.  It is ridiculous, I know.

Your post gives me the opportunity to share this, which has been good for me.  Thanks.

Ace

April 6th, 2013 at 12:55 PM ^

It means a lot to me to know that this has reached someone else in the CFS/ME community, buddhafrog. I've been around a couple people who also were diagnosed in the very early days, and I know that must have been very, very difficult, and I completely understand your decision not to tell anyone. If, as you said, this helped you get through that in any way, that's the best thing that could've come out of writing this.

On a personal note, if you ever feel the need to talk to someone who knows (at least some) of what you're going through, don't hesitate to send me an email.

SituationSoap

April 6th, 2013 at 10:04 AM ^

Ace, you're a kickass blogger and hands down, one of the best sports journalists in the country. Take care of yourself. As Count Reugen told Prince Humperdink:

 

"If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything."