Jiu-Jitsu as a therapy
A few years ago, during a very non-healthy period of my life (hanging out a lot, smoking and drinking, no exercise whatsoever), I started to develop a little insomnia which didn’t worried me at first, I mean… everybody has had a sleep disorder at some point or another, isn’t it? However, after a couple of weeks it escalate to a constant body illness. Panic attacks began to strike me at any given moment of the day forcing me to leave classes at university or walk away from people, sweatiness in the hands, pressure on the chest (or the idea of pressure in the chest), sudden thoughts of dehydration, of a certain “pain” in a unknown part of the body, maybe somewhere invisible for the doctors, a constant anticipation of a broken heartbeat stopping forever: Fear. (Brief note: for a better and more beautiful written idea of this feeling you can take a look to Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a true masterpiece).
Anxiety is a disease that can only be understood by those who have face it. People around me were trying to be helpful by talking to me, telling me that everything was fine, or “you don’t have to worry about the future”, “just relax”… They said in order to be nice, but people who doesn’t know the struggle get tired of you “trying to get attention” or just “not listening”. Meanwhile I avoided to sleep during a two months period, totally freaked out by the idea of dying in my sleep, living in a constant vigil mode and falling asleep anywhere and waking up scared to death; paying visit to different medical professionals, until a cardiologist set the thing straight: it was anxiety disorder and I should make an appointment with the psychiatrist. That one message was clear: hello Rivotril!
I was, and still am, lucky that my mom is a great psychologist and she talked me into try other options before drugs. So I was taken into meditation therapy, you know, breathing slowly, peaceful blank mind, and all that; it turned out I have no patience to get into nirvana, sad. Never the less, at that time a friend of mine opened his Vale Tudo-Muay Thai gym at downtown, nearby the place we used to rehearse at with the band, and he kindly offered a late-fat-musicians-training hour, that was us! In there I discovered that martial arts were an answer to my illness, every since you have to learn to stay focus and you get your body tired.
In this behalf, Jiu-Jitsu offers a singularity (an advantage if you like) in comparison to boxing or Muay Thai: you learn to deal with uncomfortable situations; if some 90 Kg mate puts his weight over you, you don’t panic, you breathe and try to figure out how to get out of there (ok, first hundred times you panic but then you deal with it), same with a choke when you test your chances until either you scape or you tap, but you learn to hold on. This is particularly important for an anxious person, because as soon as you feel the panic attack near you, you can rely on the fact that breathing and thinking will turn up your self control switch and you will face fear, not just hoping for it to go but actually standing up.
Best part of it is that you can practice without getting a black eye if your focus fails! as Alex Dincovici says on his post on Why we roll. What I mean is that you need to focus, as at any other art, so you mind cannot think of any fear or otherwise you will be punched or kicked, or submitted; we must admit that somebody taking your back is a little less than taking a knee on the stomach… just saying. BJJ gives us the chance to use our mind to set up a position and your body to execute, pressure and relief are part of the art; and somehow people, at least on my personal experience, are less violent since a very skillful technical movement is more appreciated than a visceral brute attack.
Of course this is a personal experience on the subject, and it is mandatory to have professional help if any of the symptoms is present in your life. The fact that it worked so good for me doesn’t implies that it will do the same for you, but we’re here to share! Hope it helps if any of you have ever felt this and I hope you get better soon!