Social Anxiety and BJJ
Every time I post something on this blog I think it's the hardest thing I've had to write. And then, without fail, a couple weeks later, something else happens and I'm yet again at a point where I feel like it's the hardest thing I will have to write.
It's not the putting words to page that is the hard part. It's knowing that after the brain dump, and the revisions, and finding a picture to put with the post, I will have to take a deep breath, and force myself to hit the "Save & Publish" button. I started this blog because I was having a hard time, and thought maybe I could make someone else's experience a little easier. I thought it would be fairly anonymous. I thought maybe fifty people in the entire world would ever find it, and if it somehow encouraged even just one other woman in her BJJ journey in the littlest way, that was my goal. And then somehow it caught on, got shared, and all of a sudden I was getting emails and messages from Estonia, Argentina, Italy, Australia, Colombia... and then I noticed that people locally were sharing it, too.
Although it's never been said to my face, there's a feeling that I shouldn't be writing, that it's somehow not allowed, especially because I'm a white belt. In my opinion, I think that actually makes this platform more valid and valuable for those starting out. I can write about my experiences acutely, as they happen, while the details are still fresh and the emotions are still palpable, ready for me to squeeze words out of them to try to accurately communicate the meaning of my experience to you. But there have been several points in my writing where I have stopped to ask, is this even allowed? Is there an unwritten rule that I am simply too ignorant to have recognized, that makes my transcription of this fledgling BJJ journey a transgression? It's funny how someone being vulnerable and sharing honestly can seem like such a threat. I was told by several people that it would be a good idea to "fess up" and tell the professors at both schools I've trained at that I had a blog with thousands of readers. Like I was doing something wrong. I did tell them, and both seemed like they couldn't really care less. It wasn't a big deal to them. So I wonder why it's a big deal to others.
I'm honest with you, and I expect you to be honest with me. If I haven't felt the sinking - the breathlessness - as I am thinking about what word to assign to the message that I am trying to communicate, I know that I have not been as completely bare with you as I could be. I often have to ask myself, What am I really trying to get at here? How can I dig deeper? I know I have hit on something transcendent and powerful when I can feel the pressure in my chest, the prickling up my spine, the undercurrent of hypoxia. That's when I know it's real. If I am going to write about my experience then I might as well be as brutally honest as possible. What's the point, otherwise? Anything I could possibly think or feel, I know there are others who experience the same thing. That's the safety net. There's a knowing that as I step into the fissure between what is comfortable and what is hard to admit, there are others who breathe a sigh of relief with me, and catch me as I fall. And somehow this falling into reality - the chaotic, the feeling of being ripped, shredded, and torn up - somehow always leaves me new again, and better yet, in the arms of those who dare to share themselves with me, too. That's what reminds me to insist on shedding pretense and force myself to articulate for you in words the truest rendition of my experience that I can access, be it pretty or not.
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I'm trying to find the least cliché way of telling you that I almost cried on the mats last night. It's never happened before, and I'm sure it will happen one day, but I've never before seriously considered walking off the mat and crying in the change room. And we were only at the warm up.
I used to have social anxiety. I purposely say "used to" because I simply just don't want it to be part of my life anymore. Some of it still comes up for me, but I am quite intentional about choosing to live my life a different way. The last panic attack I had was a few months ago, and prior to that, it had been about a year since I had experienced notable, debilitating anxiety.
I grew up in an environment where I learned agoraphobia, and I worked really hard throughout high school and University to overcome my paralyzing fear of being in groups of people. I'm typically known as a very confident person, and I think that's because I've learned how to hold my head high and push through during very, very challenging times for me. In trying to "be normal", I haven't had any other choice but to be confident.
There are times, however, where I have noticed symptoms of anxiety crawl back in. If I am absolutely overloaded with stress, I can become much more prone to experiencing anxiety to the point where it could affect my functioning. For instance, in school, I have had to reschedule an exam, and make up a mandatory class, because I simply could not bring myself to attend as I could not face being in an enclosed room with no windows with such a large amount of people.
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It's not the jiu jitsu that makes me anxious. It's the people. Talk to anyone with social anxiety. It's not the training that scares us; it's the people. This is the point where I know I am writing something valuable for someone out there - because right now I can sense the blood running through my arteries, and my muscle fibres contracting in my arms, the pressure gradient of my lungs pulling oxygen into my body through my nostrils. It's the focus of the fight/flight response.
Choke me all you want, put me in a triangle, take me down, I don't care.
Look at me with no expression on your face, so I can't tell what you're thinking? That scares me.
Last night I didn't do part of the warm up. I lied and told the coach it was because I was afraid of hurting myself. Really, it was because I felt I couldn't breathe because people were watching. It's not their fault, and I would never ask someone to not watch. My challenge in functioning adequately in a normal situation that I choose to put myself in is not their fault. It's my problem, not theirs. I realize that the guys sitting along the wall are just tired from their class that was held before ours, and don't really care what a bunch of white belts are doing. But all I can feel is you staring at me. And I hate it.
I started running over ten years ago, because I knew when it came down to fight or flight, I didn't know how to fight, so I best know how to get away. This is representative of how I've typically dealt with many stressors, removing myself physically from the situation instead of dealing with it head on. I haven't been very comfortable with fighting. Fighting means staying. Fighting means facing the reality of what's happening (whether people are watching from the sidelines or not).
What do you do for a training partner who has social anxiety, or some kind of anxiety disorder? Honestly - nothing. There isn't really much you can do, because it's not about you, it's about them. It's about how they experience the world. You would have to change the whole world for them, and I don't really think that's healthy. We all need to be able to face challenges and realize that the point is not to avoid fear or anxiety, but to realize that those emotions are normal for everyone, and are not going to kill us. We can feel them and let them pass, and learn that life goes on even after the anxiety has dissipated (and it will). The best thing you can do for me on the mats is to smile, and to keep doing what you're doing.
I know that no one limits me more than myself. And I'm proud of myself for not leaving the mats last night when I got anxious. Because fighting means staying.