Anyone who knows me, or has been friends with me on Facebook for a while knows that I suffer from depression. I wrote a blog piece on tumblr about it a while ago, so this is not simply going to be a repetition of what I wrote there. This will be about how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helps me (and others I know) to cope with what we have, rather than lamenting about how it feels. There was also a good article on jiu jitsu times about having depression and training, so I’ll try not to leach to much from that either. First, some stats; 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from some kind of mental health problem in any given year. A lot of people know this one, can tell you it off the top of their heads, but I’m not sure they really think about it. 1 in 4 in any given year is an awful lot of people. Look at your group of friends or your wider circle. Say that on average there’s 20 people in your wider circle, that means 5 of them may suffer, or may be currently suffering, from a debilitating mental health problem, and that’s just the average.
Well, right now I am coming out of a dip. At least it certainly feels like I’m coming out of one. If you’d have asked me how I felt last week on a scale of 1-10, the answer would have been about a 3 at best. Today it is probably a 6, so that’s a definite improvement. Last week I still managed to make it training though. It was the one thing that actually got me out of bed, dressed, and out of the house. The week before that however, I wasn’t so lucky. My illness knocked my knees out from behind and there was little I could do except try and get back to my feet. Sometimes that’s all you can do, wait for the worst of it to pass. I have seen enough of these symptoms in myself and in others to know that it will pass. It just takes time. I suppose in this I am lucky. Even in the deepest funks that I have suffered, I (as yet) have always been able to gain perspective to be able to see that this is just a moment in time, and that there will come a day when you feel better, whether that’s next week, or next month, you will get there. Maybe it’s because in this last year alone I have been through five dips – some worse than others – and always managed to make it out the other side. I know that others aren’t as lucky in this, so I won’t pretend that this is something I take for granted, but this perspective is something that I am extremely grateful for.
And I think part of this strength of mind comes from Jiu-Jitsu. This is a sport where you are constantly defeated, constantly humbled, and constantly flummoxed by those who are better than you on the mat. Yet each and every one of us who trains has always managed to come back, to try again, and to find a way around the problem. Without a strong presence of mind, I don’t think that this would be possible. It would be so easy to give up when feeling defeated, or when your training has plateaued and you’re not entirely sure where to go from that point. Yet we don’t. We get back up, brush ourselves off and work hard to solve the issue at hand. I think this is magnified even more when you compete. I have been beaten a lot in competition and yet it has never defeated me. I have always looked at what happened, and how I could improve and/or avoid the mistakes I made. It gives me a drive to come back and try again. In this sense, whether we like it or not, losing may actually be more valuable than winning. In losing you can see where you need to improve, whereas in winning it can seem as if you don’t need to change up your game.
Competition aside, just having Jiu-Jitsu helps me immensely. I have one of the best teams/gyms I could ever ask for, and they are a really important part of my support system. I think part of the reason for this is that I literally trust them with my life. I know that sounds ridiculous, but BJJ is a dangerous sport. I put my body in their hands every time I step onto the mats, trusting that they’ll gauge my size/skill level and not attempt to break me in half. The physical aspect aside, however, and I trust these people immensely anyway. I don’t think you can be that physically close to someone and not trust them. It’s anathema to me as to how that would work. As well as the actual training aspect, just knowing that those people are there is also incredibly helpful. I consider them to be friends. If I’m in a particularly deep funk on any given day, just knowing that I can go to the gym and be around people is extremely helpful. Whether I’ve got the energy to train or not, just being surrounded by people can sometimes be exactly what I need. It takes me away from the silence of the house. It’s not just the joys that actual Jiu-Jitsu can bring on it’s own, such as final getting that technique, or winning that roll, it’s the other parts that come with it as well. For example, last night, I tried meditation for the first time at the end of my training session. We must have looked extremely odd, sitting on the floor in utter silence, staring at the white mats for twenty minutes, but it was one of the best things I could’ve done at the end of last night’s session. I felt relaxed and at peace after we had finished.
So, for those of us who do suffer from mental health issues, just stepping onto the mat can be a major struggle each and every day. Usually, once we get there, things are a little easier (although this is not the case for everyone), it’s the actual getting there that’s the problem in the first place. Gathering up the energy to put on your spats and rashguard and to make it down the gym can seem like the biggest thing in the world. Yet we know that if we can make it, a really good training session and our support system will be there to help us face head-on whatever it is that’s haunting us that day. On the flip side, if we can’t make it, if the weight is simply too heavy, or the anxiety just too much, we know that that support system will be there, waiting for us when we can manage. Jiu-Jitsu isn’t going anywhere for me. It gives me something to focus on when all other things seem trivial and insignificant, and the group of friends it has brought me remind me that I am not in the least bit alone when I am feeling low.
I think as a last word I’ll just say this; I’m not trying to say that Jiu-Jitsu is a cure all for mental health problems. If you take meds (as I do), stay on them. If you want to see a counsellor, go and see one, do whatever it is that helps you cope alongside your BJJ. I just believe that, certainly for me, BJJ is a fundamental part of how I cope and tackle my depression when it decides to hit.
Until next time,