I arrived in Manchester on the Monday and met the Convicts. They had me in a room with another straight guy, and within the first ten minutes of us checking in I was in the early stages of aspie stress. He talked all the time, had no sense of personal space (within the first hour he had taken a shower in my ensuite bathroom ) and generally gave me the impression that I was going to have very little personal space during the week to come.
Things got worse at our touch rugby warmup. I wasn’t wild about playing touch rugby, and the fact that some of the guys were screwing around during the game and the briefings that surrounded day one complicated things further. I know people were just trying to relax and have a good time, but I wasn’t in the mood for it.
My coach asked how I was doing, and I told him that I didn’t think I was going to make it through the tour if things continued like this. The forced (or presumed) chumminess of rugby tours was never my thing. I had a meltdown in 2007 on a rugby tour to France when the joking and bravado became too much. Overall the coach understood, and another teammate told me that this was my tour too, and that I shouldn’t ever feel pressured into doing something that is going to make my tour miserable.
Tuesday was fine. We trained, and people were more focused (although there was still some screwing around.) There was a pub crawl which meant more social interaction, but I had the mental bandwidth deal with it this time.
Wednesday was another low day. There was more training, but afterwards preparations were made for a series of short skits in groups. I was tired from training and travel and the like, and the forced fun of acting out the sexual indiscretions of a teammate were not going to appeal to me. In the end, what forced me over the edge was something relatively trivial. My job was to make a chef’s hat out of two room service menus. That’s what made me snap. Being required to wreck two perfectly good menus caused me to curl up in a ball on the sofa in my room and have a panic attack. I hadn’t had one since last July when I was still working in Parliament. I recovered, but went to skit night with the rest of the team in a dazed state.
The club president took me aside and asked if I was ok. I was frank about my concerns, and he basically gave me permission to do my own thing. I’m an adult and I already had permission, but it was nice to know that I wasn’t letting anyone down. I went off and did my own thing for dinner and left the rest of the team to their bonding exercise.
I appreciate that this kind of exercise is good for most of the guys and they enjoy it, but it can easily become too much for me. The pressure to have fun, and to have fun in officially sanctioned ways becomes too much, and when I feel like I’, not having a good enough time, I feel like I am letting the team down. That is absurd, I knew it, and they knew it, it just took some time for me to accept it.
The next morning the club president came to visit me at breakfast and we talked more. Again, he said I should never feel pressured to do anything that is going to set me off, and that I should tell him or a coach or one of the tour staff if I was getting close to my freakout point.
All rugby clubs are a bit blokey. I’m mostly not. The Convicts are the least blokey rugby club I’ve ever played for and I can’t imagine any other clubs that I have played for or toured with being quite as understanding about someone who wanted to break the routine of forced fun.
I am happy to be a Convict, and I took that attitude into the tournament.