I have a strong aversion to mud. Not even as a young girl can I ever remember thinking, “Yes, I totally want to squish my fingers and toes into this mucky piece of earth! This gooeyness is SO MUCH BETTER than Barbies.”
Unfortunately, one of my family members really did believe that mud was much preferable to dolls. (She also loved frogs and toads, but whatever).
One day, as my grandma used to tell it, while Grandma was baby-sitting, we were playing outside. All of a sudden, I started screaming and carrying on. My grandma answered my hysterics, only to find my poor little self unconsolable because there was mud smeared down my perfect pink coat.
This same family member also informed me that we tried washing off in the dog’s water bowl. I don’t remember that. I probably blocked it out. But even so, I’m pretty sure those experiences must have catapulted my mysophobia.
So, several weeks ago when my sister texted to ask if I would play on her mud volleyball team, I bet you can guess what I said.
Yep. And I quote: “IDK. Regular volleyball, definitely. Not sure about mud… I’ve always had an aversion to it….”
And then the next day I sent her this: “I am leaning toward playing…can’t believe I am saying that!”
So, that’s what I did with my time last weekend. I played mud volleyball. In the mud.
Just in case you might be distracted by what kind of crazies actually hold a mud volleyball tournament: my hometown does. Every year before school starts, the Marquette Recreation Board hosts the tournament as a fundraiser. This year it was so well-attended, three teams were turned away.
The day was full, with six different match-ups in pool play. The winner from each pool went on to play in the championship. My team wasn’t one of those…this time. The excavated dirt from digging two courts is used to make a giant mud slide. I absolutely did not participate in that part of the festivities. I do have standards, after all.
However, despite my aversion to it, spending the day slipping and sliding, sinking and diving, the mud started to become inspirational… probably because it filled my ears. I really couldn’t help listening.
As I have shared before in this column and on my blog (justswritehere.blogspot.com), I spent many years in the pit of depression. In fact, only this last spring did I “graduate” from 18 months of regular counseling and EMDR, a specialized therapy for trauma patients.
Coming out of that muddy pit was hard. And from my volleyball experience, here are a few reasons why.
Once you step into the mud, it works against you. It pulls at your feet to suck you in, especially if you stand in one place. And even if you move, the mud works to make you slip and slide, with every intention to make you fall head-first into the muck. And once you fall, it’s extremely hard to get back up.
There are lots of hidden obstacles that protrude from the muck. And you can’t see them. The only way you know they are there is when you step in the right place to get your foot sliced open, or you land on one as you fall.
Mud is the great equalizer. Playing mud volleyball, all the assets that made me a good volleyball player—speed, agility, jumping ability, leg strength—were no longer valuable. And the longer you are in the pit of depression, the less your individual talents and strengths are used, because all you can do is fight the sucking, pulling mud that threatens to overtake you.
Once immersed in mud, it cakes on your skin and dries. When left on, the crusty mud flakes off bit by tiny bit, only when scraped. It takes rushing water and scrubbing to really get rid of the residue.
But the most revealing part of the tournament was the team element. Those people willing to also get into the pit and work together to win a game. In my emotional muck, I finally discovered how much strength other people bring to the healing process.
A single person can’t play on every team. I get that. It takes the right combination of people to form a cohesive team. And forming a team can be a process of trial and error.
Some people didn’t want to play. Some people were willing to stick toes in. Sometimes they were willing to sit on the sidelines and cheer me on. Both have value, of course…but they don’t win a game.
But gradually I had people who said yes to playing.
I had people willing to get into the pit with me. And those people got dirty. Those people helped me up when I slipped and fell. Those people are priceless.
I’m so thankful I have that kind of team in my life.
And I plan to be the same kind of teammate. One who slides right into the muck and covers the court, picking up balls that fall into the gaps, encouraging others to press on, and finding ways to win.
Working together, point by point, winning is possible. Even in knee-deep muddy muck.
Malinda Just has been writing her monthly column for the Free Press since 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.