In the days following the incident in Herceg Novi I didn’t had any other panic-attack, or any other symptoms, or whatever you want to call it. But I was feeling edgy all the time. That same week I went to see some psychiatrist. His offices were located in the basement of the main hospital. Yeah. I know. And I am not trying to be mean, because I understand we all have our issues, but still sitting in this basement of this main hospital, waiting on my turn and looking around at the patients that they had walking around.
I guess their lunch time was over and they were allowed to walk around a bit. I hope I don’t sound offensive to anyone because I really am not trying to do so. Panic attacks are nothing to what some people have to deal with, but that didn’t help me as I was sitting there in that basement. Looking at everything around me and really scared of not knowing how much is my life going to change. Finally my name gets called. I hoped that nobody heard it but me. The doctor came and we went to his office. We talked about my situation and he explained to me that I had a classical panic attack. He advised me that as a start I should stop the intake of any stimulants or anything that could affect my energy levels. No coffee. No tea. No energy drinks. No alcohol. No sweets. If I smoked weed, or did any kind of drugs he advised me to stop with that too. Cigarettes were also a preferable no-go, but understandable if the person continues to smoke. He said that I should avoid situations which could cause me extreme stress. On top he added how training hard and straining myself could also play a role in developing a panic-attack when in combination with other stress factors. The psychiatrist spoke about so many things, which I would have to change and stop doing, that I got even more scared. I am still kinda in a shock from everything that had happened in Herceg Novi few days ago and his words were supposed to give me some peace and solution to all of this and not create even more problems.
At the moment I had no choice, but to oblige. I left that office feeling like a prisoner of my own body. The next day I spoke with Zdeslav about it. He was actually very understandable of the whole situation. In my head I was afraid that he will use this thing to make me into a back-up goalkeeper, or to undermine me in some ways, but to Zdeslavs eternal credit, nothing changed and I remained the starting goalkeeper. As a precautionary measurement I will not play the next game, which is being played the following weekend and after that one I will be starting again. As far as everybody was concerned my panic-attack was a one time thing and it didn’t repeat itself. The truth was far from it. In the following 6-7 weeks we had played five games. Kotor away. Jug home. Medvescak away. Primorje away. Mladost home. As already agreed with Zdeslav I will not play the first game in Kotor, and then its business as usual. I went with my team to Kotor as a back-up goalie. I was very scared and timid. Even on the bench, but I had no panic-attacks, or anything similar. The next game and the games following were a bit different. I think that I should add that I had no panic-attacks in my personal life, or during training. Not before, not then and not now. My first game back as a starting goalkeeper we were playing a home game against Jug Dubrovnik.
Even before the lovely lady started to announce the players names, I knew I was in deep shit. As the teams were gathering themselves to go in front of the audience for the the opening ceremony, the first hints of a panic attack would already creep themselves on me. Same lack of breath. Heart wanting to jump out of my chest. At certain points blackness around my periphery vision. Scared. As we would align in our robes for the players and the officials introduction, my knees would start to give up on me. I was barely able to stand. Fighting with all my power not to faint in front of everybody. Of course nobody around me knew anything about it. None of my teammates. At least I hoped. I survived that whole opening ceremony in a daze. On that walk after the ceremony towards our bench I was able to regroup myself a bit. I realized that by focusing on my breathing I managed not to faint and used that as some grain of hope. Its not so embarrassing going through it once. Having one humiliating scene in public is not that bad. You could brush it off and write a 3 piece article about it in some 6-7 years time, but at that moment I was thinking that if I have one more situation like I did in Herceg Novi that my life would be over. I always knew that there is more to life then Water Polo, but at that point in time Water Polo was my everything. I stood on the edge of that pool and waited on my captain Marin Ban to give the signal for all of us to jump in. I just looked in that pool like I was looking into my own soul. Is all this worth it? Sorry for the drama, but man. At that point I was also scared of not knowing how long would it take anybody to notice that I have fainted before they try and rescue me? Also scared if this is going to become something what everybody is going to associate me with. Last time it happened it was an away game, but now we are playing home. The captain signals us all to jump into the water. Shit. I am not ready. They all jump and I stay few seconds longer and make a quick game plan in my head. From now on every time I thought I will go over that edge and faint, I would just focus on my breathing. I decided that I have to rely on my instincts and what happens happens. I jumped into the pool and tried to calm myself. Focused on my breathing and accepted the fact that there is no way in hell I will be able to go full power in this game. The most important thing now was to reach the end of the game… Conscious. Never have four quarters seemed so long and so far away as that moment before the referee signaled the start of the game. Honestly playing against the Jug helped a lot. For a goalkeeper playing against Jug is harder then playing against any other club. Even when they play bad, they still play smart, well balanced and team-oriented water polo which is based on searching and exploiting their opponents weakest links. Its not like beating Jug was off the table. We were a good team, but at that moment in time Jug seemed like a big bite to take. So I decided that I will not stress myself a lot with this game, but still try to not fuck up a lot. I was more focused about keeping my pulse and breathing in check then about the score. I basically cruised through the game. I blocked only “my side” of the goal. If somebody from Jug shot behind the block I was nowhere to be seen. Each quarter was a lifetime and those breaks in between seemed like a blink of an eye. Of course, at no point in time did I show that anything was “wrong” with me. In the end I somehow gutted it out and finished the game… Conscious.
Imagine my relief which I was not allowed to share with anyone haha. Later I hated myself for playing below my standard and not giving my best. I hate playing it safe and being an alibi goalkeeper, but at this point I still didn’t know, or understood how to deal with any of this. I was not mad at me because we lost to Jug, but I was very frustrated because I am starting to realize that this thing could really affect my life. For two weeks I did everything what the doctor said I should, or should not do. I gradually increased my work rate and was almost back to my old hard working self. During the training I was able to go hard and not have any panic attacks. I did what the doctor told me. No tea. No coffee. No sweets. Barely any cigarettes. I went to play the game against Jug and I still experienced the same stuff. After those first two weeks I noticed how I am slowly starting to be afraid of everything. Should I stop playing water polo altogether? I didn’t know how will I fight this thing, but I knew by then that whatever that doctor said I should do doesn’t work for me. I started to read around a bit about this. Not fully aware of what this is, but aware enough to know that this is something that not only I have to deal with. Our next game was against Medvescak. In that game we were the clear favorites. Surviving the game against Jug gave me at least some confidence that if shit does hit the fan I would know how to get a hold of myself and not cause any scene. I was still not sure if I have enough in my tank to play the game at my level, but I decided that I should start the game strong and hope that the game is decided by the half time break. I’m not saying that this is how you should approach a game. That’s a bit risky, but in a situation I was in, being risky was very practical. With that in my mind I went into this game. The game went a bit easier. That don’t mean it was easy haha. It was still the same panic attack stuff, but a bit milder. Against Jug we could afford to lose, but not this one. That first quarter drained me more then all three after combined. It helped a lot that my team played seriously good defense. Scored a lot of team goals in the offense and by the half time it was pretty clear that we have this one in the bag and I could cruise the rest of the game. Few of those new 17 and 18 year olds played a bit in those last quarters, so even if we did receive a goal it was easy to put the blame on them haha. We won the game. I am still scared shitless, but satisfied because I survived one more game with this thing over my head. In one way I am trying to deal with this thing, but in another way I am still trying to keep that number 1 spot.
The next game was against VK Primorje from Rijeka. This was Primorje at its peek. The second most expensive team in the world at that point in time. I was also extra excited for this game because Sandro Sukno was coming back from a hand injury and I hoped to get my first block ever against him. I remember drinking an espresso before the game consciously knowing that according to my doctor this could make me have a panic attack. It was a good strong espresso. The one that makes you take a good pre-game shit. Never mind. Before the game Zdeslav already said how I will start and play the first two quarters and the second goalkeeper will get the second two quarters. Fair enough. So my strategy this time was that I will just go full power for two quarters and what happens happens. Hopefully block against Sukno. There was no pressure on us, or on me. It was more then expected that Primorje is going to wipe the floor with us. Even you the readers expect the same thing. Well… Au Contre. This guy managed to play his best game of that season and all the time having the worst panic attack he ever had. Even worse then the one in Herceg Novi. I am not saying that I am a better player then the Varga brothers, Obradovic, Muslim, Radu, Vican, Garcia,… but that day I dominated. I remember one man down action. I already had few strong blocks. Some 2 meter shots. Some one on ones. Their coach Ivan Asic called a time out. I assumed that Primorje is not going to shoot a fast shot. Score was either tied, or a one goal advantage for Primorje. By now they should have already be leading us by at least 5 goals, but yours truly had a killer game. So I predicted that they will take their time, develop their man up play and shoot in the last second. If one of these world class players was to take a shot prematurely and miss again… How to put it…? They are in big shit. So I basically went trough the typical man down motions for the first 18 seconds. Looking like I am there, but I am basically not there. I just focused on my breathing and trying not to worry when I would notice how my periphery vision would be getting blacker and blacker as their man up progressed. We played good defense and isolated Garcia on the right wing. Imagine your luck when Xavi Garcia is the one isolated after he receives a pass from Obradovic, who got the pass from Sukno, who got the pass from Varga. By that point I have played againts Primorje a few times and noticed a thing or two. A little tip for all of you about Xavi Garcia. He shoots most of his shots to his right, and in man down situations he shoots predominantly to goalkeepers left high, behind the players hand. So I just automatically jumped with two hands towards my left side and made a two hand block in such a casual manner you might have thought it was rehearsed. By the 20th second I wasn’t even focused on my breathing anymore. The blackness wasn’t only around my peripheral vision, but my vision was almost gone. My heart almost jumped out of my chest. I was done. Thank God the half time was approaching. I might as well be dying, because that’s how I felt. The last action of the first half. Obradovic gets a foul on some 5-6 meters away from goal. I jump to my high right and the ball hits me in my palm. I remember even my underarm hurting. After the block I grab the ball to rest for few seconds hoping all of this will soon end. At half time Zdeslav remained true to his word, he gave the second goalkeeper the second half of the game. The score was 5:4 for Primorje. Yours truly had by that time made 10 saves. Now I understand why most of you would be angry at Zdeslav because he changed me after those two quarters I just had. Once I got out of the pool I had to concentrate just to walk. I couldn’t speak. I really couldn’t say a word. I wasn’t just exhausted. I felt weak from the inside out. I never felt so fragile in my life. I got my robe and went to sit on the bench. When I past by Zdeslav I didn’t know what to do. In one way I am thankful that he took me out of that game, and still am to this day haha, but at that moment I had to “play the game” and act like I wasn’t pleased by that. After a game like that, I would have to play very bad for a couple of games in a row to lose my spot. In that moment that brought me so much relief in the greater scheme of things that I just decided then and there not to even try and understand anything what happened in this moment, but just to accept it as it is and not be mad at my coach, because he didn’t do anything what he didn’t already said he would do. I would advise you to take my next advise. Pick your battles. Zdeslav can’t restructure his whole plan just because I had good two quarters which we end up losing 5:4 anyways. So I acted like a good soldier and as I past by him I say nothing as we high five each other and I go sit on a bench and try to get a hold of myself and everything what has just happened.
After this game I went outside of the beautiful complex for water sports in Rijeka, hid myself somewhere and smoked the best cigarette I ever smoked. We get back home from Rijeka. All is good. On the surface I mean. Even the newspaper man wrote that he didn’t understood why was I substituted at the half time. Eh my newspaper man. If you only knew haha. Next game was against Mladost. At the beginning of the season my coach Zdeslav had a bit of a public feud with some people associated with Mladost, so naturally the press was all over this one and so was my panic-attack… I was not yet aware of it, but that is going to be the last game ever I will play with a panic-attack.