She was having a panic attack, which is cheating. – Anna Spargo-Ryan

She was having a panic attack, which is cheating.

She was having a panic attack, which is cheating.

I haven’t been watching much of the tennis. This is because I hide in my bedroom and play Triple Town all day.

But Victoria Azarenka has been watching it. Playing it, too, and now she’s going to be in the women’s Australian Open singles final. Because she is a cheat.

She basically panicked, she was choking, so basically she was just buying some time to clear her head.

Here are some important things to note: Azarenka did not refer to her experience as a ‘panic attack’. In fact, later on she came out and said that a “locked rib” had caused her pain and breathlessness. The ‘panic attack’ bit came from moronic tennis elite who, and this is the important part, chose to use ‘panic attack’ to describe what happened to Azarenka. One can only assume that they did this because a ‘panic attack’ is a widely known synonym for ‘illness fallacy’.

“LOL you guys let’s say she had a ‘panic attack’, everyone will know what we mean then, you know, that she’s pretending.”

Silly Azarenka. She should know that panic attacks are imaginary and that the only reason anyone would ever fake having one is to get out of doing something they can’t be bothered doing anymore, like playing tennis in front of millions of people.

These are some of my favourite quotes from the article:

No mention of a health issue that was anything but mental.

Unfortunately for Victoria, she made the mistake of thinking that a mental issue, however minor, is a health issue. It’s a brain issue, you guys! Your brain isn’t part of your body that can be injured! Only real illnesses count in tennis! You can’t take time out of a match unless there is something actually wrong with you, like your arm has fallen off or aliens have abducted you.

Still, American commentator Pam Shriver was among those to claim that Azarenka had acted outside the rules of the game. “You can’t just leave the court for 10 minutes because you’re having a panic attack”.

The rules of the game require you to stay on court until you can’t see, breathe or hear anymore because your senses have been overthrown by the feeling that you are going to die. Alternatively, you can choose to retire sick, but only if you don’t claim that it’s because of a legitimate illness.

Would she be bothered if it was nerves, rather a tweaked ankle or sore knee, and thus strategic rather than legitimiate?

Everyone knows that ‘nerves’, as panic attacks are often dismissed as being by idiots, are actually just a strategic approach to cheating someone else out of that which they rightly deserve. Panic attack on the train? Strategic approach to getting a seat. Panic attack at work? Strategic approach to taking five minutes in the toilet that no one else gets to take. Panic attack at home? Strategic approach to watching chick flicks instead of Terminator Salvation.

Tellingly her opponent, Sloane Stephens, who has in all ways proved herself to be a fair and reasonable competitor in Melbourne, didn’t speculate on the legitimacy of Azarenka’s ‘pretend condition’. This may be because a) she is not a sensationalist journalist, b) she realises that not all illnesses are visible on the outside, or c) she is just not a fuckwit who demands that a panic sufferer justify their decision to sit down and breathe through something that “feels like a heart attack.”

Mental illness stigma is alive and well in the world of tennis.


  • Nat

    January 25, 2013 at 8:34 am Reply

    Ugh! The stigma behind mental illness pisses me right off!!

    In 2013, I can barely believe people can be so narrow about what constitutes as an “illness”. Come on people! We can’t see the air we breathe – does that mean its a figment of our imagination?! NO! The same principle goes to illnesses that aren’t visible from the outside. Particularly mental illness.

    Rant over…

    Anna – great writing!! :-)

  • Dianne

    January 25, 2013 at 9:14 am Reply

    Thank you Anna for your continued honesty and writings. Know that you make a difference by sharing your experiences and thoughts on mental illness. x

  • Deb @ Bright and Precious

    January 25, 2013 at 10:21 am Reply

    I can’t tell you how important this post is. YOU are an absolute legend for speaking the truth.

  • Dunja

    January 25, 2013 at 7:13 pm Reply

    This is a really tricky one. I’ve likewise thought about the fact that the stigma around mental illness serves to completely illegitimise Azarenka’s use of a medical timeout yesterday (if indeed it wasn’t a physical issue…which it doesn’t appear to have been).

    But at the same time, being a top tennis player requires a mental resilience that I don’t think is particularly common amongst those of us who aren’t elite athletes. It’s why sports psychology exists, and it’s much of what differentiates the top 5 players from the rest.

    Do I think mental illness in whatever form should preclude people from most jobs and activities? No, of course not. But should you be a professional tennis player if you don’t cope well under pressure? Well, probably not.

    The medical timeouts and the circumstances under which they can be used probably need revision, but Azarenka has chosen to be a pro tennis player, which means abiding by the rules as they currently stand when she plays. At present, those rules don’t allow for timeouts because you’re stressed or panicking on court (and I suspect this is because it’s harder to assess and/or treat than a physical injury). Certainly Azarenka can question them, and I think a good case could be made that a panic attack is grounds for a medical timeout, but I’ve hardly seen her campaigning to allow timeouts for mental as well as physical injuries or illnesses. As world number 1, she’d be in a better position to do so than most.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      January 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm Reply

      I appreciate what you’re saying, and I agree that of course there is a certain required level of both physical and mental fitness in order to play professional sport at such a high level.

      One might argue that we should also be excluding people who have knees with a tendency to twist, or ankles with a tendency to roll, or calves with a tendency to cramp. The impact on the game is likely to be similar, but more importantly the response from the game should be the same.

      It does sound like Azarenka herself called timeout because of chest pains and shortness of breath, which is a medical condition whichever way you look at it. The ‘panic attack’ claims came from commentators and media, and my beef is with them more than the rules of the game. As long as ‘panic attack’ is a synonym for ‘bitching out’, and it’s being used in this way by high profile and public figures in international events, we’ll go backwards :\

  • Kathryn

    January 26, 2013 at 8:54 am Reply

    I was thinking panic attack is used so much in everyday conversation that it’s lost its meaning but then people are always saying they are having heart attacks but you wouldn’t ignore someone who actually had one.

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