Panic Atacks during a Water Polo Game – Part 3/3


My first panic attack happened some 7 weeks ago. By now I have given up on a single solution to help me get rid of this. It was not only one thing that pushed me over that edge. So I figured that it is going to take more then one thing to free me of this. Looking back and writing about this and trying to give words and meaning to my experiences has also been a part of that same process. We are all trying to achieve our goals. Sometimes your goals overlap with other peoples goals. I am slowly starting to realize that and started slowly to put my goals into perspective with other peoples goals. There is not a carved out way for me to be whatever I want to be, neither is for anybody else. That felt frightening and liberating at the same time.


Our next game was against Mladost.  Already few days before the game articles were being written. Interviews were being made. Come game day and the stands were full. Never mind what my issues with Zdeslav were, in this situation I still felt like I should have his back. Its not like I said anything about it, but whatever the tensions in the press were between my coach and the other people I still thought that my coach was right on the matter. And still do. At that time Mladost had six or seven players on their team who were a part of a broader list for the Croatian National Team. My club had zero players on this 20+ players long list. So, naturally we were all a bit pissed about it. Me included. The press included. The full and packed stands included. My panic attack… included. We came out for the opening ceremony and I saw those full home stands half cheering us and half angry at the “influential” northerners. The people came to see us beat them. I wanted to take it all in, but I didn’t allow myself. I was trying to ignore everything around me and just focus on my breathing. I was afraid that it would overwhelm me. For this game I had a different strategy. This game is probably going to be decided in the last quarter. I decided that I will cruise at the begging just so I can be sure to have enough energy in the tank for the later quarters. I remember after one of my early blocks the crowd even started to chant my name. TO-MO BU-JAS TO-MO BU-JAS. That happened to me for the first time ever. Those are the moments for which every player lives for. I wanted to explode and block heaven and hell, but I had to control myself. The play continued. Imagine the silence when during the whole “TO-MO BU-JAS” chant I receive some dumb goal from some 8-9 meters. Typical. By the middle of the second quarter we were down 1:4. I felt like I wasn’t playing good, but I still wasn’t feeling drained. I made it almost to the half time just by concentrating on my breathing and ignoring everything else. We were down by three so I decided that I have no choice anymore and that now is the time to pick up the pace a bit. I don’t know how but I guess my team also got the memo and they picked up their pace too and by the middle of the fourth quarter we were up 5:4. When we scored for 5:4 some 4 minutes before the end of the game the whole fucking place erupted. Not a single soul was sitting on those stands. Everybody was yelling and cheering. It shook me. It really shook me. I never felt anything like that. I did not saw it coming. It was not part of the equation. I forgot about the game for a second and I just looked and enjoyed the stands. Whatever I was going through at that moment seemed so small and insignificant. I felt so small and insignificant. How can anything be more important then all those people being happy and full of joy. I am only one and there is so many of them. I took a deep breath and dove into the pool. Even under the water I could still hear the stands yell. It made me once again aware that there are things in life much bigger then me. In so many ways its just me playing water polo, but in so many ways its so much more. I should be thankful that I got to experience it. That moment when you see and feel stands erupt is amazing, but when you experience it for the first time… it truly is indescribable. You think you know it all, until you don’t.

That one second before I dived out was the most scared moment of my life. You ever had those moments when a second lasts a lifetime? Never before, or since have I been so scared. I apologized to God if I am doing anything wrong, but I am not me, if I don’t go out and play the way I want to play. If in the process I end up embarrassing myself, or worse then so be it. I am willing to take my chances and to deal with the consequences. I’m okay with having fears, but I am not okay with living in a constant fear of my fears. I dived out and for the rest of the game I was prepared for whatever. I felt that the decision if I am going to faint or not, is not going to be decided by me. From that point on I focused only on the ball, winning the game and nothing else. Expecting a guillotine that never fell. The game finished. It ended in a tie. 5:5. I felt like my soul was exhausted. I somehow reach the dressing room and sit down. Just numb to everything. And then comes my teammate Jere Marinić Kragić. The Animal. And starts giving me shit about that one goal that I have received in the first quarter. I was so tired I even forgot that I had just played a game haha. I look at Jere for a moment wanting to explain him what I just went through, but I just laughed and accepted the blame for that one goal. It was from some 8-9 meters haha. The Animal was right. If I didn’t fuck up that one goal, we would have won. So is the goalkeepers life. He was holding me accountable for my mistake. Its not like I wouldn’t have given him shit if he had messed something up. I’m not a goalkeeper who likes to give shit, but I do give shit where shits need to be given. It is only fair that the same rules apply to me. After that game I was seriously thinking about giving up. It was just draining me too much. Coming into that season I wanted to prove myself so badly and I was driven by the wrong reason. I was angry a lot at everything and water polo was my place to make things right for me. I felt like the world owed me stuff and that other people should oblige by that rule too. I realized that the world and nobody owes me anything. We all have our own demons and stuff that we need to learn to eventually let go. Water polo stopped being fun for me some few years before. I should start having more fun. Water polo should be more fun. Life should be more fun. I need more fun in my life.


izvor: Tomo Bujas Instagram


Then all of a sudden I became aware of something. If I don’t play water polo I can’t pay my bills. For the first time in my life Water Polo felt like a job. Weirdly that felt like a relief. For the first time in my life I had to play Water Polo. Funny haha. I decided to take it one day at a time and try to enjoy water polo. The way things are looking with my coach I am probably going to be looking for a new club next year anyways haha, so whats the point in stressing now. I might as well enjoy myself now. Monday comes. I come to training and Jere starts complaining to Ante Čorušić how the newspaper man wrote that the best players in the game were the goalkeepers. We both laugh. Jere continued insulting both me and the journalist and not understanding how could he write that the goalkeepers were the best players when I received that one goal from the parking lot and Jere scored on the opposing goalkeeper haha.  Ante doesn’t like to start a debate, or to end one, but he will gladly hear Jere’s story and support Jere in his opinion just for his own entertainment. Which annoyed me. I of course supported the journalist. Why should he write something like that, if it is not true? Ante said that I am right also. What annoyed Jere. And the fun continued haha. I took it one day at a time. One game at a time. One joke at a time. Never again did I allowed myself to not enjoy water polo.

Knowing what I know now would I have reacted in any other way? Honestly I wouldn’t. I would do it the same way I did. Why? Well lets put it this way. If I was playing against somebody who is having a panic attack, do you really think I would play any softer against him? Should I allow him to score goals on me because otherwise he is going to get a panic attack? Fuck no! Why should I? My team and me trained hard, we have our own families to take care of and now because somebody might have a panic attack we should do what? Play softer on him? Play softer against his team? If there is a player who fainted during a game, help him, get him out of there, put another one in and lets finish this game. If any player needs any advice about these matters I, and everybody else, should be there for them, but not during the fucking game! What we love the most about those four quarters is that nobody cares about anything else then about those four quarters. It works both ways. I was lucky in a way that the modern kids will not be. There were camera phones back in 2014, but the whole social media game was very different. At least I knew that the people who came and payed the ticket will get to see me faint and nobody else. People might talk about it, but only those who payed their hard earned money will get to see me faint and nobody else haha. Much respect to these modern kids dealing with all this social media problems as the adults try to figure out what the hell is going on. Keep fighting kids.



Thank you for your time and I hope you will have some awareness that this was not an easy thing for me to write. I don’t want your compassion, or sympathy, just understanding. I did not wrote this for any of you.

Sharing this story with all of you was very hard and at moments nerve wracking. My water polo career, journey and story were not special in any way, but still they were my own. I did not experience anything what somebody else didn’t already experience. I don’t know anything that somebody else doesn’t know. The reason why I share it in such a manner is my hope that one day in some 20+ years my own kids end up finding this 3 piece article that their dad wrote oh so many years ago. I hope that this article will give them some insight into how their dad was, the issues he had and how he dealt with them. I just want them to know as they are reading this that their dad loved them even before they were born and he tried his best to make this crazy and mean world a little bit better for them. I hope that this article is going to help you find the answers, or maybe give you strength in your lowest moments. Your dad had them too and a lot of them haha. I hope you will not follow my path, but instead find your own. I hope you will use my story only as a point of reference for your own life and nothing else.

Never forget. Life is beautiful, but not all the time and that’s exactly what makes it beautiful. We all need bad moments in our lives. You too will experience moments when you are down, low and broken. Just remember that somebody loves you and move on.

Always try to have a bigger picture in your head. Learn to be thankful for what you have in your life. Maybe as I was going through all of my worries I thought that it doesn’t get any worse then this. What I didn’t understood at that time is that in years to come I will face many adversities and hard moments in my life. In those moments I would think back on these 7 weeks and everything that happened in those games and find the inspiration I needed. If you are able to find inspiration within yourself something feels good about it. One last thing I want to share with you. Sorry, if that might sound lame but your dad likes good proverbs and quotes. This is one of my favorites and it’s a quote from the great Bruce Lee. “Pray not for an easy life, but pray for strength to endure a hard one”.



With Love




Tomo Bujas

March 2020