When Losing Jiu-Jitsu Means Losing Your Mental Health

Photo by: Jared Loper

I’ve thought a lot about killing myself lately. There’s not an easy way to put that. I would like to be able to say it in a less brutally-honest way, but I think that’d be a huge disservice to how I actually have been doing.

For those who don’t know me, I struggle with depression and have written about it on this website before. I had hoped that I was out of the woods and recovered, but here I am.

I recognize that with the world in the midst of a pandemic, my problems are very small. I openly admit that I have not lost anyone that I love during this time, nor have I become sick, nor has anyone I’m personally acquainted with.

That said, depression doesn’t care. It still decided to come back and suddenly I had a plan for how I was going to kill myself. And I don’t think that I am alone in this feeling.

About twice a year I tend to fall into a deep depression and this year has been no exception. The difference is how my depression was exasperated by the effects of the pandemic.

Recently, I had been making a number of positive changes in my life that were leading to a more healthy, happier version of myself. I work as a special education teacher and felt like I had landed in the perfect role. I loved going to work every day. I had lost a large amount of weight and was on a good path, nutritionally. I was in the gym nearly every day either grappling or lifting weights or conditioning. I loved who I was and who I was becoming.

Very suddenly, all of those things went away.

Every piece of who I thought I was, I found stripped from me. I defined myself by the work I put into myself in jiu-jitsu and the athleticism I was working on for it. I defined myself as someone who was always looking for ways to self-improve. I defined myself by my work with my students and the progress we made together.

But now it’s all gone. I don’t get to participate in those things anymore and I was suddenly forced to confront who I was without them.

And I still don’t know that I have a satisfying answer for that dilemma.

But this morning, something in me shifted. I received a text from one of my lifting coaches and training partners. “How are you doing? Are you keeping your mind focused?” I tried to weasel my way out of the very uncomfortable conversation I knew was coming. But he asked the right kind of pointed questions so that I would either have to respond with the truth or with anger.

I answered with the truth.

He was very understanding and gave me some advice: “[You can] start with the simplest, most easiest task and build on it. So for example, today’s goals could be to brush your teeth and take your vitamin. Tomorrow you could brush your teeth, take your vitamin, and shower. And just build a little momentum.”

And weirdly, it’s what I needed to hear.

When I go through depression, I tend to self-isolate (which was very easy to do under shelter-in-place), binge eat, tell everyone that I’m doing fine, and get mad at myself for any bit of backsliding I do in regards to weight-management and fitness. I want to be at the top of where I was, all of the time. I know it’s unrealistic, but it’s what I want. My friend helped me recognize that I don’t have to be overwhelmed with trying to get back to where I was.

And I needed someone to reach out to me. Because as much as I talk about being there for each other and wanting to help other people, I have a hard time asking for help myself. I’m thankful to the friend who reached out to me.

There may be people you know of who could use someone to contact them and ask them pointed questions about their mental health. If you can think of someone, please do it. You never know who you might be helping.

If you don’t know of anyone, you can always donate to mental health organizations like #submitthestigma or NAMI.

For many of us, jiu-jitsu provides an outlet and a second home — a second family. Take this time to reach out to that second family and help uplift them.


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