On the cusp of my mid-twenties, I found myself living in a converted cattle shed out in the arse-end of rural Ireland. I was overweight, failing my Master’s degree, and working an internship for peanuts. Let’s not forget the black pit of all dark days: my girlfriend at the time broke up with me over a lack of aforementioned peanuts.
I drove an ancient Nissan Micra that leaked petrol every god damn time I filled it up. Any time I drove over 60km per hour, that junk pile’s relentless rattling reminded me of how truly fragile my life was. Just like that car, I was being shaken to pieces, breaking at the bolts.
Things were rough. I got depressed. Severely.
I vividly remember sitting on the floor of my converted cattle shed, darkly gazing at a length of rope on my lap. When it wasn’t the rope, I would hold and quietly regard a razor blade while listening to angsty Linkin Park songs. The lyrics sang of a consuming, confusing force inside me, pulling me below the surface. For a while, that song of lacking self-control and feeling never-ending fear became my anthem.
…I know. Linkin Park. Ugh. I guess that just goes to show you how bad things really were.
I can’t count how many times I thought of grabbing that rope and making a one-way trip to a secluded spot with a big tree, or making that razor blade the last thing I ever touched. I felt as though I was an observer of my own life. It was just a movie, one of those god-awful horror movies where viewers are screaming at the screen, begging an idiot character not to go into the murderer’s dark basement without so much as a flashlight. I could almost hear the audience calling out to me, shouting for me to shift my life into some other direction. Depression pulled at me, though. I was being controlled, completely at the mercy of the garbage screenwriter that was dreaming up my life.
Maybe you know someone who’s suffered from depression or had an anxiety attack. Chances are, it’s someone close to you. Maybe it’s you. You, or they, might feel compelled to write, blog, or talk about your experience to help others. That’s to be encouraged; it’s brave, but let’s draw a very thick, important line, here:
When someone “survives” a negative mental health event, there’s a temptation to tell a triumphant tale and perform an uplifting story of how they slew the great dragon of depression. You know that rags to riches story; “…started from the bottom now we here.” That struggle for success against all the odds, enduring an abusive childhood, having a bitch of a mother, having a dickhead of a father, sleeping on the streets, making it off the bread line. These are real, horrible struggles, and a lot of inspiration can come from hearing about how someone overcame adversity. However, the moment those stories are reduced to fluffy, bullshit storytelling, they lose their meaning.
My journey back from the brink was propelled by martial arts. I practised Judo, MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a means of therapy kind of. At the start of that journey, it was all about the Fight Club mentality of “hit me harder to dull the pain.” I began to see that all of life’s problems become background noise when some guy is either trying to break your arm or knock you unconscious.
Gradually, I progressed beyond the Brad Pitt / Edward Norton unhealthy “hurt me” angst, and way beyond Linkin Park lyrics. I found “my thing,” and started focusing exclusively on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu above all other martial arts. Developing a fighting spirit for life is a good way to get yourself unstuck and moving towards your most authentic aspirations and potential.
By immersing myself in martial arts, I found out just how helpful it can be in all facets of life. Sure, I learned how to twist people into human pretzels, but I also gained a more practical skillset. With an expanding ability to settle inner emotional and mental conflict, I was able to twist my own problems into pretzels, too.
Just because I learned that strength, doesn’t mean I’m qualified to teach it. Why make myself a middle man when I can simply point you to the true masters? I did not write this article because I feel that I have attained some wisdom and now feel qualified to preach. I did all of this typing because this is the article that I wish existed when I was swimming in my own personal abyss. The simple act of writing it helped me get through those tough times. Maybe it will help you, too.