By Jessica Quiroli
I started writing, and the baby started crying.
My sweet one. She doesn't know I just want five minutes to write, to breathe, to work on projects gathering dust. I don't feel guilt or that I'm a failure. I just feel overwhelmed.
After thirteen years as a baseball writer, most of them spent covering minor league baseball, I'm on the bench more often lately, waiting for the opportunity to jump in the action. I'd decided before I'd even known I was pregnant that I was changing course. I wanted to write more in-depth baseball stories, dig deeper. I envisioned trying new things and expanding as a writer. I knew I wanted to work on projects completely outside of baseball, such as continuing to study screenwriting. Connecting in that community has also been inspiring. As I was expanding my focus, with the biggest moment of my life just around the corner. I'd be expanding in other ways, of course. But I wanted to live quieter, simpler, and find more meaning in everything in my life. Learning I was pregnant actually aligned with my shifting focus.
Sometimes I'll keep writing, and she'll find something to do as she gains more independence. But it's usually not for long before my sweet one is crying or whining at my feet. This happens during phone calls, work emails, and so on. I spend my time wisely. I can no longer be so free with it. That's good for me, but sometimes that reality catches up and becomes frustrating.
The day I began this story, and she wouldn't quite give me a moment, I stopped, explaining softly that I needed a few more minutes.I played with her with one hand, while trying to form sentences for a story that I'd planned, done the research for, gotten sources on the record, and told readers, many of them paying subscribers, that this story will see the light of day soon. I'll be late. I know that. It's ok. She needs me. I want her to need me. I don't ever want to miss anything, or for her to feel she's second. So, as I try to strike the balance and care for my needs, and still work and do things I love, I'm also always letting my child know that she's most important. I return to the story, to the stats, to the baseball stuff I know so well. I juggle the experiences. There are days I drop it all. I'll sit down to work, and instead I'll meditate while staring out the window. Or I'll read a magazine and eat dark chocolate. My mental health needs my focus too.
I write this not knowing if I should be this candid. Will this affect my career? Am I opening myself up on a personal level that I'll regret? The intersection of those parts of myself--the one that loves to create and share, and the one that safely guards my private thoughts and experiences--has smoothly co-existed and then crashed at different times in my life and baseball career.. I know I'm not the only one, but, as the story goes, I often feel that way. And the baseball world moves quickly, leaving you behind if you're not savvy, prolific and engaged on a consistent basis. You're supposed to be much more of, in the words of the wonderful Erika Jayne (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills...yes, I watch that sh**), a "showgirl." Everyone in sports media tends to be more of a personality these days. That's never been easy for me. Now, more than ever, that aspect feels a bit strange. I like showgirls...or show business. But I'm not sure today's show bizzy style of sports reporting is quite my thing. I don't like the desperation over every job, every story, every bit of information obtained. I've also watched the impact of social media on colleagues. Believe me, they're obsessed with their stats too.. There's a need to be "verified," rather than just build relationships you value, while creating stories you're proud of. I don't want to focus on being liked or image building. I want only to write, connect on a genuine level and share ideas.
I looked around for work this season, investing most of my time and efforts to AHOD, I don't get tons of quality sleep, but I've learned to outsource, hiring someone to come to my home a couple of days a week, for 2-3 hours, to run errands, go to the grocery store, clean the house, and tend to her while I'm a few feet away trying to work. She's developing trust, relying more on being social. I still can't reconcile the part of myself that wants to continue my baseball career with leaving her alone with a caregiver yet. I'm fortunate that I'm not the main source of income. I can make that choice. But if I want to continue contributing to this industry, I'll have to find ways to make this all work. But HOW? There are many questions, answers aren't always easy, the journey has an offering of many millions of books telling you HOW. But still...really, there is no perfect book no perfect answer.
Welcome to my baseball mama life.
And then, there's this...
I've suffered from severe depression and social anxiety from as early as I can remember. Writing, depression and anxiety have always been companions. In the last two years, I've searched for ways through debilitating depression, while also trying to be more open, comfortable and present. Social media and the sports industry can make everything-- anxiety, depression and even the most basic human insecurities-- worse. Social media can also deeply connect you with others with similar experiences. Social outlets provide a community; that community has grown with more high profile media people becoming increasingly open about their struggles.
Our strange lives in sports aren't always conducive to mental health. I've come to terms with that over time, realizing I've put myself in high pressure situations to do something I love. But many of us, in our own way, find a way to make it work, to thrive, to be authentic, and stay mindful of our needs. As social anxiety goes, I want to be seen and read, but not seen only read...sort of known, but only in ways I can control. But, yeah, that's not how this industry, or any industry, or, life in general works. That is, however, how social anxiety and depression work. Your feelings are often symptoms, and it's been eye-opening, and very helpful, to fully understand that.
Becoming a mother created the biggest challenge mentally and physically, while also completely shifting my baseball career.Men in the industry have families to think of, yes. They have children and partners they love and often miss, especially beat writers on late post-game deadlines.There are men in baseball who are the primary caregivers, many often working from home; they're the exception, not the rule. Maternity leave, the majority of childcare, and postpartum depression are issues that distinctly impact women. Our industry still works best for men, especially the single guy with no kids, moving around the industry with far more ease. I'm falling behind them. I can see that. It helps that I'm not upset about that very often. Even when I was on top of my game, those guys could move with a lot more ease through an industry that's mostly comprised of them.
The care of children isn't all that's left to women. There's the obvious. The pregnancy and birth experience are long, stressful and absolutely life-altering.Your energy entirely shifts. Our recovery can take weeks or months or, in my case, two years. I took time to find my way back to the possibility of going back "on the field." And I'm scared. I'm not entirely sure of myself. I feel like I've started over again in some way. I'm different. I've got a lot more to consider. I have some things organized and operating smoothly. But there's so much that is not and I don't expect that of myself. That's freeing. I'm taking my time. I'm breathing. Postpartum depression has its own set of challenges. I'm doing my best. Going back, but going forward. This road has been long.
My pregnancy was fraught with difficulties, trips to the ER and lots of bed rest. One week after finding out I was expecting a child, my Grandfather died. He was my hero, my baseball buddy, the person who knew me as no else does. He loved me like he loved everyone: with openness, joy and a healthy dose of discipline when one truly seemed to need that push. I was still living in Florida, bedridden, worrying I was going to lose my baby after a scary incident one morning; I never told my grandpa I was pregnant. After that, I didn't tell many people. I stayed quiet. I grieved, gestated, and, while still studying stats and trying to contribute, studied pregnancy and childbirth. I tried to keep my grief from being too intense, hoping that my sadness or stress didn't impact my child. I turned to my loving partner with all my woes, all my needs, each one met. I was supported in my little cocoon. The daily physical toll of the illness, throwing up sometimes three or four times a day, unable to taste food, unable to keep food in the fridge because I didn't want to smell anything, kept me not only from leaving the house, but blocked me from focusing too much on emotions. Grief would have to wait. Joy over impending motherhood would be diluted by the excruciating relentless sickness. I had to focus all my energy on physical wellness and a delicate life I was completely responsible for. And, as a consequence, the baseball life I'd known for over a decade was halted. I didn't mind that much. But I also didn't know how to cope with all these changes, all at once.
I took some baseball writing work, including one story I wrote in bed, bleary eyed, hungry, under intense stress, and on nausea medication that barely worked. Modern medicine is really slow on that front. In my second and third trimester I took more work, did phone interviews, and made a few trips to ballparks to work on stories. I knew my "leave" had begun when I climbed some familiar stairs, and almost fell over retrieving a pen. I looked down at the baseball field, feeling utterly disconnected from a space I was so accustomed to feeling at home in. I needed to actually go home. Baseball season was now gestation season.
But while postpartum depression comes with motherhood, social anxiety is a whole other bear that's growled at me for years. I've ignored those feelings, and, upon reflection, I see how hard I pushed away that struggle. I still do at times. But now I'm much quicker to sense my twister of emotions building. I definitely care for myself with increased awareness. I no longer fear those feelings. They're more normal than I used to believe.
As much as we love social media for various reasons, there are many pitfalls for people struggling with mental health, who are trying to maintain success or just stay on track in life. I've always been slow to recover from heavy emotional blows. Just my makeup I guess. I move on quickly, but I tend to hold on internally, and memories can be fresh as the day the thing happened. I realized recently that I've spent the last couple of years trying to recover from a ton of those kinds of blows. And, I see now, I've not quite bounced back.That's motivated me to reassess my place in the world, and my place in baseball.
In the past few years, I experienced professional and personal relationships crumble with people I valued and cherished. I'm the first one to call myself out. Apologies aren't hard for me. Supporting people via social media, or other ways, isn't conditional. I don't care how popular you are. I'll ride or die. But as I was rounding the bases (hey, that's actually pretty accurate *wink*) to arrive at pregnancy and motherhood, I learned that social relationships can be sticky or not what you might've believed. I also realized that sports media was getting so competitive that even I might've not noticed how desperate colleagues felt. I wasn't paying attention to a lot of things, and I was hurt by many people. I had to make decisions that weren't just about my career, but about the path my life was on.
In the middle of that turmoil, a devastating loss, and pregnancy, I decided, almost inexplicably that, hey, now's the time to take on the biggest project of my baseball life!
All Heels on Deck was a very small idea in my head for a long time. Not the name, but the concept. I wanted to build a site that expanded baseball media. I didn't want to write on the site very often.. The focus was to be on others, my contribution mostly behind the curtain. I wanted to create a platform for others and pay them. And, to be exact, as you already might know because you're reading this site, the focus of the platform was baseball writers who are women, PoC and LGBTQI those underrepresented voices in baseball. They'd write about the game, and about all sorts of things related to the game-covering gender, race, homophobia, transphobia, and that would mix with baseball analysis, trade evaluation and other creative, fun baseball stories. I had a vision. After some planning, and asking for feedback from people in the industry, the plans was set in motion.
I began developing ideas for stories and business aspects of the site, I was going through excruciatingly difficult months of early motherhood, while also feeling the combined intense protective love and joy that enraptured my heart, and took over my life. I struggled with so much, almost immediately. While I'd prefer to keep certain details private, I will say I felt emotionally ripped apart, lost and physically exhausted.
My love for my daughter and tending to her needs, and my pride and excitement for AHOD's launch provided daily inspiration. There was some backlash--some people didn't like the name--but mostly there was tremendous public support, mixed with healthy, important debate and discussion about the name, the idea and what the platform could accomplish.
I was still scrambling to make sense of a lot that was outside of that experience. As I suffered through painful changes and normal adjustments, I was mentally overwhelmed by the fallout of those professional and personal relationships. Nothing was ever resolved. Baseball, life, motherhood, the process of adjusting and reassessing continued.
I don't have proper words to explain how difficult the management of AHOD has been. The blog, and Patreon for subscribers, have not run smoothly. As May unfolded, I found myself unable to process simple emails about the blog. Every time I tried to write a quick response, my heart raced. I have been almost entirely unable to write anything of length or depth, outside of this. I haven't posted in a newsletter in longer than is regularly scheduled. I haven't sent out a team memo in a couple of months.
There are times I'm so overwhelmed, so exhausted, I question how I can put any effort at all into a baseball writing career. I've been at it a long time. Maybe I've lost my edge. Perhaps I just don't have the right amount of energy. Is it time for me to just do new things, entirely outside of that world I knew so well? I can't imagine the hours of commuting I used to do. Or the hours of research I used to focus on so intently, the hours breezing by. with my mind, stats and stories cruising through, developing mostly with ease. I have moments where I feel so disconnected from that person, and that period of my life where I was "Baseball Writer." I feel all the time like I'm watching a baseball game in the distance, on a screen with one eye, catching some moments, but still desperately wanting to BE THERE. I'm never in my seat for long. I am often unsure "who's on first."
In April, I connected with a health practice that focuses on women, and found a doctor that has been tremendous in helping me get healthy. She put me on a mild anti-depressant, something I would've been less open to, and would never have been open about in the not so distant past. I knew that I needed help, and couldn't function as I had been. My daughter needs me healthy, and so do I. Whatever that means, however I can take better care of myself, I choose that.
The minor league baseball season started and I set up my credentials with the Trenton Thunder, a place I'd spent so many formative years as a baseball writer. I had a few plates in the air, several outlets showing interest in my work. I felt ready. For what I still didn't know.
On a beautiful June day, the kind of day that is so perfect for baseball, I was set to cover my first game in two years, I had a severe episode of postpartum depression and anxiety on the street, while walking my daughter. I stayed in contact with my partner, and he assured me he was on his way. She fell asleep, and I sat in Rittenhouse Square Park weeping amid the beauty of a place I love dearly.
I don't now if I can return to baseball life this season. That day was a revelation. I slowed my mind down, fully realizing that I still have far to go. I'm still without answers. I know that's ok. I need to not worry about "Baseball Writer." I need to just worry about "Jessica." And my sweet one.
Those high heels I bought for my return to the field will be sidelined for now.
I've never quite figured out how to be in the baseball world as a person with clinical depression, or social anxiety. And I don't know how to be in the baseball world with the challenges of postpartum depression. The changes are more extraordinary than I expected. Many mothers will say the same.
Like any mom juggling the roles, and tending to mental and physical health, I don't have the perfect solution. Things are always changing, and we're always learning, and growing within our hearts to understand ourselves and the world around us. I tried to take a dip back into field work this season. I turned around, and, just like in the final months of pregnancy, went home instead.
Everything is different, but in many ways I'm still just me. I'll keep working through the challenges. I'll keep writing. As I always have. Like any good baseball player, I'm adjusting. I'm focusing only on what I can control. I want to be present, not looking back or ahead. Baseball, like motherhood, like postpartum depression like love and life, gives you many opportunities to just go out there, try to do something you can be proud of and feel is your truest, purest self.
Then, there's this...
I was sitting on the sofa with my sweet one, before that terrible June day, looking at the cherry blossom tree in full bloom outside our window. I could've stayed there for hours. I love baseball. I love writing. But I love the quiet of these moments in which I'm none of the things I used to be. I also love my wellness. I don't know how baseball fits into that picture, but I want it to.
In many ways I've expanded my point of view of baseball as a career, what I should be writing. And motherhood expanded and narrowed my point of view, probably equally. Much like postpartum depression and social anxiety. You have to see yourself as you are, and as you hope to be. Baseball requires patience. Motherhood and depression require even more patience. And so, I breathe, step to the plate when I can. And watch the world unfold from the bench, happy to be there, and happy to wait and see where I am needed next. As with everything in my life and career, I wait to hear where I'll be called.
Follow Jessica on Twitter @heelsonthefield