Today is World Mental Health Day, and Philadelphia area sports fans are struggling to cope with crushing losses by both the Phillies and the Eagles.
As fans shudder in the spiritual void that surrounds them and contemplate the meaning of life, psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb and WHYY’s Behavioral Health reporter Maiken Scott consider their quest for hope in this conversation. They discover that healing can sometimes be found in shared misery.
Scott: Dan, how did you feel after the Phillies game? Describe your emotions—you are a big fan.
Gottlieb: I felt a little numb, a little shocked, like anybody feels after a trauma. I felt tearful and morose, and didn’t have anywhere to go with my sadness. By the next day, my mind settled down, and I reconstituted myself and my thinking, felt more stable, realizing that it was only a game. And then, by late Saturday I thought, tomorrow is football! I had hope that I could once again be a Philadelphia sports fan, I thought “they are going to bounce back, they are going to be MY EAGLES, Vick won’t throw any more interceptions, Andy Reid will be the great coach he once was, they will be great” and then, oh my god, was I crushed yesterday. I struggle between knowing that it is just sports, and that my life has no more meaning. I will be okay, there’s always next Sunday to whine and complain about.
Scott: Do you enjoy the whining and complaining, is it that shared suffering that creates a bond between fellow men?
Gottlieb: There are few things that I enjoy more. As a therapist, I tell people that self pity is like poison. But when I get together with a bunch of guys, and we eat toxic waste, we stuff ourselves with greasy potato chips and wings, and the Eagles are going down the toilet, and we’re just whining and complaining, and it feels so good. Even the indigestion I get from the food is worth it.
Scott: Is it better to brace yourself for disappointment—a popular strategy for sports fans in this region?
Yes, that’s what we do. We are are trained from childhood to do this by our parents and grandparents, it’s a generational phenomenon that has been going on in this region for two or three thousand years. It has been part of our fabric and we enjoy it, it’s the pleasure we take in suffering together
Scott: and it’s a perfect way to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Gottlieb: Yes. That’s true. “Phillies offense sucks, what do you think,” and there we are. We are buddies in misery. It’s a way of feeling connected.