I’m Not Ok, but I’m A Lot F*** Better

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Whether you entertained the jargon of psychiatrists or not, if you had met me two years ago the consensus would have remained the same: I was ****** up. I live with the holy trinity of mental disorders. I suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), persistent depressive disorder, and Obsessive-compulsive disorder. What all of that amounts to simply is that I used to be deeply unhappy and scared for a majority of the day. These days I have been feeling a lot better, but a lot of things have changed since that time. I moved from New York City to live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I left my old job and began teaching children English, and most importantly I began studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Perhaps I was unhappy because of past trauma, or because we all are living in an era of mass consumerism, or maybe it was my diet and the fact I never devoted any time to a spiritual practice. Whatever the cause may be, the results were unbearable. I still have a nervous tick of combing my hair that remains from when I constantly dreaded being struck dead by a brain aneurysm. My life before training was filled with an almost daily panic attack and concluded each night with the thought that I would not wake in the morning.

The change that occurred after I began training was a gradual one but no less profound, and I believe that there are several reasons how and why it happened. I believe that all humans need a physical outlet, but I believe that jiu-jitsu is the best source for it. There are aspects of jiu-jitsu that make it unique as a sport and imbue it with a quality that transforms people both physically and mentally. Primary among these is the community. I know that I speak form many practitioners of the sport when I say that it is because of whom they train with that they train so often. For myself this has been no different. My gym-Kaohsiung Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu-is filled with a suspiciously large amount of great people. So many people in fact that I am beginning to become suspicious, but that is probably just the remnant of mental illness talking.

I am not the only person to take notice of the therapeutic effects of a community however. In Buddhism, the word sangha (僧伽) refers to community and it is considered one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism. Buddhists believe that sangha is imperative in maintaining a healthy practice of meditation and that it fosters an environment of positive influence. Anyone who practices jiu-jitsu will notice a clear similarity between this sentiment and our own. A positive and challenging training environment are essential for getting better in jiu-jitsu. The benefits of a community are not limited to jiu-jitsu however, and I am proof of this. At the end of the day we are still very much monkeys. We are comfortable when we belong to a tribe, a club, or a community. A sense of belonging and acceptance are pinnacle in a healthy mental state, and jiu-jitsu gave me that and more.

The training did not just give benefit to my life. It also took away a lot of the bitter parts of my daily routine as well. For some people, jiu-jitsu motivates them to change their diet, quit smoking, or rid themselves of any number of the vices. For myself, my poisonous and hurtful thinking was the first thing to go. On the subway to and from work or school I was constantly plagued by thoughts of impending doom. The slightest sensation in my body was enough to convince myself of any number of health issues. This endless stream of thoughts clouded my days and prevented me from seeing the world around me. It removed me from the present and forced me to retreat into an endlessly, self-involved nightmare. The first time I ever rolled with someone I noticed something missing immediately. I wasn’t thinking. It was quiet, and I was aware. The bliss of living in a moment, free from the fetters of my worries was profoundly liberating. Eventually, this effect persisted off the mat and I was living less in my head and more in the world with everyone else, and adding more people to my sangha.

I was also in the habit of bullying myself quite a lot before I started BJJ. Often I would make lists or leave myself notes all around the house of things I needed to. I would burden myself with tasks that were essentially impossible for myself to accomplish and then berate myself when they were not done. This endless cycle of planning, failure, and torture was a constant companion to the laundry list of other anxieties. Jiu-jitsu taught me to change my attitude towards failure. In BJJ, one finds out quickly that becoming frustrated with failure will become and exhausting endeavor. The entire creed of jiu-jitsu itself is that loss is not only important; it is essential to becoming better. One needs to imagine how revolutionary this shift in thinking was for someone like myself. Everyday I amassed failures that I believed were a direct comment on how worthless I was as a person. Now, my coaches and friends were telling me that these failures weren’t maladies but were individual chances for improvement. Instead of addressing problems like a child in a tantrum, I could now assess my failures and treat them as opportunities for growth.

If it isn’t apparent at this point, I will make it plain: Jiu-jitsu has not only improved my life, it has saved it and made it worth living. It has taken my faults and made them into virtues and merits. It has given countless and true friends from all walks of life. Jiu-jitsu would have been worth doing simply by itself. It has been the most fun and endlessly interesting puzzle. I have never found anything so enjoyable in my life. The fact that it has saved my life as well has grown my love for it beyond already infinite measures. Make no mistake; I would not be writing this article if it were not for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the people I study it with.

 

Special thanks to Dan Imal Reid, the man who saved my life

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