Sunshine on the Sideline: Successes & Failures of 2020

This will be the last “Sunshine on the Sideline” of the 2020 fantasy season, and I want to share a bit about my experiences this year with life changes, mental health and the impact it has had on my content creation. 

I still want to highlight a charity, and since I’m going to be sharing some of my experiences with mental health, I would like to call attention to Mental Health America, a charity working hard to help people address the spectrum of mental health issues people struggle with. This year hasn’t been easy, and they can use all the support they can get. 

2020 has been a hard year all the way around, and though many things went wrong, it wasn’t without its silver linings. I was given a lot of opportunities for self-improvement and growth. I struggle a lot with anxiety, to the point that I was getting sick to my stomach and giving myself acid reflux multiple times a day. 

I was in a fragile state, and my anxiety level was so high almost anything could set me off, especially at work, which stressed me out more than any other part of my life. It also doesn’t help that I am good at controlling what emotions I display outwardly, which only exhausted me more. But I couldn’t exactly quit my job; it was paying for me to continue to pursue my degree. It left me at an impasse, and as time went on, things got worse. 

Then, COVID-19 began to hit America, and my anxiety was reaching levels at which I was having near panic attacks daily. And I couldn’t even escape at night. I was grinding my teeth so hard while I was sleeping that my jaw hurt. I was starting to get genuinely depressed. 

I also have a tendency to overload myself, often feeling as though if I’m not doing self-sacrificing things and adding objective value to the world, then I’m wasting my time. That feeling got me to the point where I couldn’t even relax. I felt guilty for doing anything at all that could be considered a waste of time. Video games, music, movies, television, creative pursuits. You name it. If it relaxed me, I would feel guilty spending time doing them. 

This trapped me. I couldn’t relax to unwind after work and get my anxiety to a manageable level. Work felt like a waste of time, so I felt guilty about all the time I spent there. It would often cause me to freeze entirely after I got home from work. I couldn’t decide what was the most important thing on my to-do list, so I would shut down and scroll Twitter instead. 

Social media became a crutch that I used to avoid my problems. It wasn’t a sustainable cycle, and it truly made me hate myself. I know that’s a hard thing to write, but it’s true, and I want to be transparent about my experience because I know I’m not the only one. 

I hated myself, and I didn’t even realize it. Which brings me to the first silver lining of this year: the six-week quarantine. During the first wave of COVID, my company closed down and gave us six paid weeks off, truly a blessing compared to how things happened for millions of others. 

During those six weeks, without the stress and anxiety of work, my wife and I really became aware of how bad I was at relaxing and self-care of any kind. So, those six weeks became the beginning of me learning to like myself and to be nice to myself. I did my best to try and work through some of my anxiety issues over this time. 

It was a slow process. I did end up letting myself play video games for the first time in three years, and I finally got back into reading and other relaxing hobbies. Alongside that, Seth Woolcock, my friend, and the person responsible for creating In-between Media, lost his job. He quickly found his own silver lining and began to work on setting up the company. 

Seth gave me a great outlet for my creativity and accountability for getting it done. Unfortunately, mental health issues often aren’t quite so easy to shake, and it wasn’t enough to prevent all my issues from rushing right back in at the end of the six weeks. 

Returning to work was hard, and things were worse than ever. Then to top it all off, one of my co-workers got COVID-19, and we had to shut down an additional two weeks. By the end of those weeks, I received a call and was told that I no longer have a job. I was scared and angry, but also felt an odd sense of relief. When I told my wife I actually couldn’t help but feel a smile coming on. So much stress and anxiety left my body knowing I’d never have to go back that it was hard not to. 

But, fear not, it didn’t take long for my brain to latch onto the new anxiety opportunities. How will I pay for school? How will I find a job in this market? How will we pay bills? 

Long story short, I spent the next four months unemployed, and my mental health declined even further along the way.

It affected everything. I couldn’t sleep, I was overeating, I wasn’t working out, I was forgetful, and all of my motivation to write or produce content was sapped out of me. Eventually, it all came to a head when my wife sat me down and explained to me how I’d been acting. I wasn’t much of a person, and I certainly hadn’t been a good partner to her. No matter how good or bad things were, I would find a way to turn everything into a source of intense anxiety. I was trapped in a cycle that I couldn’t break, and I needed help. 

I know that therapy is normal and that everyone I know who has tried it said it helped them. But there is still a stigma around it, and I was nervous. I thought I didn’t need it. I was wrong.

I’ve been in therapy for about two months now, and it’s changed my life. I mean that. I truly mean that.

I finally started another job, and I desperately wanted to avoid falling back into the patterns of anxiety and stress that made my last one so miserable. 

Thanks to therapy and an extended break from social media I have so far, my new job is easily the best I’ve ever had. And I know that it is in large part because therapy helped me get ahead of the issues my brain was creating for me. 

I’ve also realized that I don’t need to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and that the content I create helps me and can still help others, even if it does nothing but make them smile.

But this has left me in a bit of an odd spot because I’m realizing that, as I’m able to get back into hobbies I’ve set aside, I like a lot of things. I’m a huge nerd in every way. I love video games, movies, music, sports, learning, history, science. The list goes on and on. I also have this drive to create content, and I want to be able to create content about whatever happens to have my fancy. 

Only making fantasy football content makes that a bit difficult and having limitations really kills my creativity. And now that I’m working my way toward opening myself up to the world again, I want to share it all. I enjoy writing this column, I love getting to talk about important charities and also sharing my thoughts and research on dynasty fantasy football. 

That being said, change is needed, and so Sunshine on the Sideline will stop being a bi-weekly column and will instead transition into being an avenue for me to share charity and dynasty content as I get the itch to do so. At the end of the season, I intend to take a break and brainstorm ideas for moving to a larger umbrella for content—something that will allow me to be able to talk about the wide spectrum of things I enjoy, in whatever medium fits it the best. 

I also owe a huge thank you to Seth. He’s been a great friend and has been incredibly encouraging through my mental health struggles, helping me explore beyond fantasy football and move to a space where I can produce my best content. I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing after taking a break to celebrate a successful football season of podcasting and column writing, but I am excited for whatever comes. I’m feeling better, taking things day-by-day, and I’m taking my life back. And for that to happen in this year of all years is, well, just amazing. 

In keeping with the theme of introspection and transparency, I want to discuss a critical part of improving as a dynasty player. Taking time to evaluate your performance throughout the year. It’s always a good idea to go through what went right and what went wrong. 

If you won, what can you do to win again next year? If you got last place, how can you make sure that you come out swinging next season? No matter your situation, there is always room for improvement. So, I would like to share a couple of things I did right and wrong this year and walk you through my process to hopefully help you honestly examine your own season. 

Success No. 1

James Robinson (Jacksonville):  End of examination. Just kidding, but honestly, this is the reason that you play waivers and pay attention to all aspects of the game equally. I went out during the offseason and made a lot of trades to strengthen my running back core in dynasty. I was stacked at wide receiver with D.K. Metcalf, Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans and JuJu Smith-Schuster providing me with starters for my receiver and flex spots. But I was weak at running back, relying on Josh Jacobs and Joe Mixon to carry me through the season.

I decided to pursue Robinson as a potential insurance policy in case rookies didn’t pan out or injuries plagued my team. That turned out to be the thing that I attribute most to returning to my second championship game in a row. I spent only $25 worth of my Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) on Robinson out of a pool of $1,000, which means that I am starting to learn my lesson about blowing all my FAAB on the Week 1 or 2 blow-up players. 

Failure No. 1

Over-reliance on name value instead of production:  This is something that I try to fight myself on frequently. I want to win, not lose, because I started someone who isn’t producing due to having a false narrative built up about them. This year, I failed in one glaring way: Smith-Schuster.

I’m a lifelong Steelers fan, and I wanted to get a good Pittsburgh player on my dynasty squad, so I put out the feelers and ended up getting Smith-Schuster. I got him to be the WR3 for my team behind Evans and Golladay. Though, now he’s firmly behind Metcalf as well. 

But my issue was that I was so excited about having a Steelers player on my team that I was woefully ignorant to his subpar performance, at least for what I was hoping he would be. I rolled him out all season, and he contributed to a few losses in games I could have won, had I switched it up and played the hand from my bench. Thankfully, I snapped out of the haze and benched him last week, a decision that probably saved my championship run. 

Success No. 2

Knowing when to divest from a declining player:  My quarterback roster coming into the season in this one-quarterback league was Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz, with Tua Tagovailoa on my taxi squad. Partway through the season, it started to become more and more obvious that Wentz wasn’t himself and what I had hoped would be a slump that he could work his way back from seemed to be turning into a permanent decline right before my eyes. 

So, I started to shop him around. I ended up pulling in Philip Rivers and an early second-round pick for next year—a win for sure. Tagovailoa seems to be rounding into form nicely, and should Rivers retire, I can likely turn that second-round pick into another quarterback in next year’s draft. I also want to stress that I was a big Wentz fan and coming to terms with that decline was hard, but it has to be done, and I’m happy I got the trade done before Jalen Hurts came onto the scene and took things over. 

Failure No. 2 

Not trading enough:  I’m usually all about trading. I love it, and it’s one of my favorite parts of dynasty. But this season, I just didn’t do it much. I made two splashy trades in the offseason and one trade in-season to handle the Wentz issue. So, why am I chalking this up as a failure? Because of the trades that did happen that I wasn’t a part of. 

Seeing some of the trades that my league mates made with certain player evaluations made me regret not putting the feelers out there more frequently. Derrick Henry got traded for Stefon Diggs and Damien Harris. Had I known that was available, Allen Robinson would be gone, and I would have this championship 100 percent on lock right now. I want to be careful not to over-tinker, but it is obvious that I didn’t do a good job being diligent in my trade attempts this year. 

I hope everyone had a great fantasy season in 2020, or at the very least, I hope you had fun and found a way to escape the harshness of the pandemic and all that has come our way this year. Happy holidays to you all, and I’ll be looking forward to next year!


Find me on Twitter @ThomasCuda and check out my other columns here on In-Between Media.