Long story short: Don’t tell me to get back on the horse

“...the criticism of quitting coming from family and friends felt too severe. I wasn’t giving up on something I loved, or quitting out of fear. I was just leaving something that didn’t bring me joy.”

Image credit Tiffany Chan

By: Dilpreet Tatla 

“You’re getting off the horse again?”

This is a metaphor in my life that taunts me, because the first time I ever rode a horse (or at least tried), fear took over. I gave up and got off. Every time I quit something, the line “you’re getting off the horse” haunted me.

At first, I regretted giving up on things. That regret mostly came because people made me feel shame for leaving, even when I’d rather have stayed. Sure, some things I do wish had a different outcome. But most things I don’t, because I wasn’t doing them for me, but rather because everyone else was doing it, or I was told to do it.

Growing up, I was very privileged and fortunate to have taken different lessons and to have participated in a variety of activities, but I tended to quit them within days of starting. To my recollection, they weren’t what I wanted to do at the time. Often, I didn’t have an interest in them but I was forced to try new things, which taught me about my interests.

I believe skating lessons were the first of many things my parents signed me up for, and I remember them being very upset when I quit only a few days after. While I was thankful that they were allowing me to try new things, the criticism of quitting coming from family and friends felt too severe. I wasn’t giving up on something I loved, or quitting out of fear. I was just leaving something that didn’t bring me joy.

As I continued to grow up, I loved playing sports. That feeling of getting onto the basketball court with your team, and having a goal . . . it just made sense. I played as if the ball signified everything I wanted in life, as if when that ball went through the net, I would win it all.  Basketball was the only thing that made sense at the time as it brought happiness and fun, so I stayed and played from elementary up until my sophomore year of high school.

Somewhere along the way, basketball stopped bringing me that joy. Not only did I no longer want to play sports, but I really didn’t want to do anything, and I didn’t know why. I was starting to become anxious about everything. It had come to my attention that I was experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks, and was showing signs of depression.

After finding this out, big parts of growing up made sense to me. These underlying issues could explain the quitting, or not being able to do certain activities with my friends. For example, as things got worse, I no longer played basketball. I was not performing up to my usual standard and I had no motivation to go to practice. Again, I was told I was quitting, but what others didn’t understand was that some of my anxiety and depression was coming from the game.

The game no longer brought happiness as it once did, because now it was all about the admiration, the glory, and winning trophies. It was no longer a team sport but a competition to see who could be the best, and I found myself trapped in that world too. Even when I realized that was not what I wanted, I was told I was quitter for not continuing. My feelings were dismissed.

I didn’t quit because it was harder to perform at higher levels. I left because I didn’t like what the game now stood for, and who I was becoming from it. It no longer made sense to me, and it was no longer fun. I wanted to play because I loved playing, not because I loved what came with it. Some days, regret tries to creep up on me for leaving, but I remind myself it’s what I wanted in the moment, and it was a smart decision for my health mentally.

During this time and onward, I realized writing and music had always been a continuous interest of mine, and I started to pursue them more fully. I found myself happier. They helped with other problems I was going through, and with them I was able to shut out the negative voices, that told me I was a quitter. As it turns out, they are my passion.

Even in my leisure time, I would find myself “wanting” to do things, because everybody else was doing it, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be included later. But I now understand that was wrong, and I have to make my own decisions.  

So I got back on the horse with art: this time because I wanted to, not because I wanted to prove something to others, which is something I’m still struggling with.

Now I am pursuing different activities I like and getting back on the horse because I want to, not because others tell me it’s what I should do. I no longer listen to dismissive responses from others, because they make me blue and that’s not a colour for me.