Anxiety, how to choke that monkey

Posted: March 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

If you read my last post you will see I competed in the Missouri State BJJ tournament this past weekend. I wanted to talk about something that has been very crippling in my life at times. It is dealing with anxiety.  By no means am I qualified to give advice on dealing with anxiety and mental disorders, I just wanted to discuss some of my feelings.

            I have known for maybe the last 3 or 4 years I was developing more and more anxiety, when it came to dealing with stressful situations. Competition being one of those. Competition is not something that was new to me. I grew up playing every sport known to man. I competed in wrestling tournaments, martial arts tournaments, football, baseball, basketball, track, and a few others I can’t remember at the moment. I have searched and searched my memories for any feelings of anxiety competing when I was younger. I cannot think of one time growing up that I truly got really nervous competing. As I got a little older I began competing in MMA matches and submission grappling tournaments, still no memory of any real anxiety with competitions.

            The first time I really remember having any real anxiety for a competition was in 2009. I was scheduled for a pro MMA fight. I worked hard. I was in great shape. My training camp peaked at the right time. My weight cut was pretty rough on me, but I made it thru it. I was relatively healthy. I weighed in the night before at 186 on the dot. My opponent weighed in. We signed all our paperwork and I thought we were good to go. I got a call early the next morning that my opponent’s blood work had not come in like it was supposed to. So the fight was in jeopardy of not going on. For some reason, this came down on me like a ton of bricks. I remember the feeling in my stomach like someone just kept kicking me and kicking me.  I also remember thinking screw this. Why am I doing this to myself?  I didn’t get the yes or no for sure until I got to the building for the fight. It was a relief to be released from the stress. I did not have a big team around me in my fight career at the end. I was always the coach. I tried to alleviate this type of stress in the guys I trained; I just did not know how to do it for myself.  My pro MMA career never took off and I suffered a career ending injury just a little over a year later.

            The one thing that did stick around was the anxiety. I noticed that it crept into my life a little more and a little more.  I was completely out of martial arts for about a year and a half. Then I made the decision to get back to it. I started to rebuild my team with a focus on jiu jitsu instead of MMA. This also meant getting back into competitions.  I had a good group of students and was getting back into the swing of things again until that nasty monkey I had found in 09 started to sink his hooks in and choke my competitive spirit. I had planned on going to a few tournaments, and even went as far as printing out the directions and packed my gi. But each time I talked myself out of going. I would tell myself all kinds of things, like I didn’t have the money, or I didn’t want to leave my family for the day. Now I have always had the support of my wife and kids with pretty much any venture that I had my heart set on. I would talk myself right out of going. At the time my school was very new and granted I had supportive students, they just weren’t ready to compete. So I would’ve gone to them by myself.  I wouldn’t violate one important rule of marriage and jiu jitsu, if your significant other is not a jiu jitsu competitor don’t drag them to tournaments.  So this meant I would have to go alone, with no team. I started to see a pattern with my anxiety. I kept teaching and in a few months I had a couple of students who were ready to compete. I did my normal night before routine. Printed my directions, packed my gi, and got a good nights rest. The day of the tournament was here. We went up, competed, and it was a very good day. I took a first in a second in gi and nogi. One of my students took a gold medal and the other put in some good matches.  I did not even notice one bit of anxiety. I went, it was a good time, and was ready for the next one.

            I hadn’t started to figure out what was causing some of my problems at the time. I can look back now and see some of the holes I left exposed in myself.  I do know that stress and anxiety will kill you. It will make you old and miserable way before your time.  I remember making the decision to close my MMA promotion down and then close my school down, hoping to alleviate a good deal of stress from my life, and in turn anxiety that was building in other parts.  I knew my anxiety was putting stress on my life, but I had only truly felt it when I was doing something difficult like fighting in a MMA fight or competing in a grappling tournament. These things were like matches ready to light my fuse.

            Let’s fast forward a few more months. I have had the chance to do something I have never truly been able to do. I have joined a jiu jitsu family. I now have a great BJJ instructor and have become an official part of the Gracie Humaita family.  Although I have not been able to train as much as I would like to lately I had started to put together one of the missing pieces that I personally need to not feel so anxious. I was part of a team.

            I did my normal ritual again of packing and getting ready. I did not feel 100% anxiety free, but I did feel relieved that there were people counting on me, that there were people looking forward for me to be there.  I am really for the first time in years putting this anxiety in perspective. I can see where it put strains on my life, my wife, and my family.  There are a couple of things that have given me the insight to be able to do this. First this blog. It was given me an outlet. Second, my family, without there love and support I would not be able to do the this or the last thing to give me the insight into myself. That would be jiu jitsu.

            I look back now with a new insight into why all of those competitions growing up and early in MMA career were anxiety free. I always had a great team and family support.  That is the one thing a good jiu jitsu family can do for you. Just like it has started to do for me again, it can sweep that monkey off your back, mount him and choke him unconscious.

            If I can offer one major piece of advice, find a jiu jitsu family. Find that support you only get from a family.  I may never get rid of all my anxiety, but I know I will always have people there to help me thru it.


Thank you Brian my instructor, JW my Professor, all my Cape BJJ teammates, Colby and Kael my boys, and my beautiful wife, for helping me be free from that monkey and letting me do and be a part of something I love so dearly.

  1. Jeff Ellis says:

    Great Blog Don! Very good insight.

  2. jon says:

    Thanks for having the courage to write this. I found it helpful for me. I know I’m not alone.

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