July 23, 2021

White Belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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Over Prescribed And Stigmatized: Revolutionizing Mental Health Through BJJ


I was 17. The morning was cold, it was November 7th. I lay slumped over on the bathroom floor crying hysterically. I had just finished violently vomiting. When the sheriff arrived, he was cold and callous. He warned me that if I did not come with him willingly, he would place me in handcuffs. Tears streamed down my face and I reluctantly obliged. Apparently, protocol dictates that a sheriff report to all overdose calls. My overdose was not accidental though, it was intentional.

I deliberately ingested two bottles of pain pills the evening prior with the intention that it would be my last. Hands shaking, I swallowed them one by one. I drank them with a bottle of Gatorade (to this day I can’t drink that particular flavor). They were the tiny soldiers that would march me to my demise. I felt ill as the weight of so many pills filled my stomach. I took my last gulp and realized two single pills remained. I thought nothing of it. I was confident that the quantity would be enough. A Google search and a few quick math calculations ensured the quantity was lethal. Little did I know that in the bottom of that pill bottle I had left more than just pills. What I left behind in the pill bottle that evening were one part destiny and another part fate – they were the tipping point.

At the hospital, the doctor asked me my weight and confirmed in my chart how many pills I had consumed. She pulled out a calculator from her jacket pocket and made a quick calculation. She shook her head in disbelief. “You weren’t supposed to make it, but you did,” she stated softly. On the other hand, the social worker was blunt and direct. She asked me very blankly, “do you realize how close you were?” I looked at her with disgust. Of course I did! That was my intention. I felt as though I had failed in life and in those moments I felt as though I had failed in the face of death as well.

After a week in a psychiatric inpatient unit, I was released. I attended therapy daily and took copious amounts of medication to no avail. My previous diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder had been revised to Bipolar Type 1. As the years progressed, the therapy continued and the pills did not stop. They came and went, varying in type and quantity. The diagnoses also fluctuated – ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Type 2 and Major Depressive Disorder again. Each and every effort was to no avail. The daily struggle continued. Every. Single. Day.

I was impulsive and acted irrationally. I would feel a frenzy in my mind. I had an internal monologue that was negative and on constant repeat. I would lie in bed and not eat for days. I would stay in the same pair of clothes and abandon personal hygiene for days on end. I struggled to interact with others. My palms would sweat profusely and I would feel a tightness in my chest. I struggled to catch my breath. Everything was numb. I suffered, but I suffered in silence. I hid behind intellect and perfect grades. I hid behind a forced smile, cheery disposition and politeness. Each and every day, I felt as though I stood in a crowded room, screaming until my throat bled, yet no one could hear me or see the pain.

In 2010, I was introduced to Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. That is when my life truly began. That is when I started to truly live. That is when I began to truly feel. It is where I became human. When I step on the mat, nothing else matters. The moment my feet make contact with the soft vinyl beneath them, I am present. Something that I cannot quite articulate washes over me. It is here that my mind is no longer frenzied. It is where I find my inner peace. This is where I am allowed to succumb to frenzy and fury. It is where I can exist without judgment. This is the place where I am me. For me, that means the mania and the depression. On the mat, my expression of mania is acceptable. My expression of depression is acceptable. I no longer scream in silence, suffering in plain sight. Here I am seen. Here I am heard. Yet something far greater happens on the mats. On the mats, I achieve stability. I am not manic me. I am not depressed me. I am not anxious me. I am not awkward me. I am the ultimate form of who I am – simply myself.

On the mats I am a stable individual who is not subject to the tyranny and hate and stigmatization of society. Within the confides of the gym, I am not subject to the labels that society has placed upon my head. I am not held to the disgusting and misguided expectations that those labels place upon those who are presented with them. I exist within a brotherhood and sisterhood of those that I can connect with. It is the simple, “Hey! What’s happening” or “It’s so good to see you!” from my martial arts family that makes life worth living. Here I connect and here I am cared for in a capacity that is unique to our martial arts community. Here is where I have have healed and it is here that I continue to heal.

Considering my personal experiences with mental health, I have made it my life mission to help others. More specifically, I want to better harness the positive healing power of martial arts for both those in and out of the community. As a current doctoral student and former therapist, I want to bring this vision to life through an initiative. In order to do so, I need your help. I need your stories. I ask for your call to action. Please reach out to me via email ([email protected]) or Facebook (Facebook.com/cle927) so we can talk. I would be honored and privileged to be able to hear about your personal experience of how martial arts has impacted your mental health. Let’s get talking and let’s share the process of healing – together.




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