Goodbye, Comfort Zone. It’s time for a Birthday Gauntlet.

It’s no secret that if you want to do jiu-jitsu you have to be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Often. It’s pretty much a slogan of sorts for the sport.

Jiu-jitsu – learning to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

The first few times I heard that, I thought it meant solely about learning how to deal with pain and that suffocating feeling of pressure and the physical uncomfortable-ness of…everything. But, obviously, it means so much more than that. It’s not just relating to the physical uncomfortable, it’s the mental uncomfortable too (and for me there’s plenty of that!) At least that’s what I think when I hear that statement.

For the last year and half I have ventured out of my comfort zone in so many different ways. In the beginning it was simply walking out on the mat and participating. Sure, I say “simply” but it didn’t feel so simple at the time. It never does when you first start to jump over that line of your comfort into the uncomfortable. After getting over the first hurdle of just doing class, it was saying goodbye to my personal space and getting over the extra close nature of jiu-jitsu. Then it was rolling with people other than my husband. Eventually it lead all the way to competing and then competing again after I lost horribly. I could probably give you a thousand ways I’ve crossed the line of my comfort zone in the last year and half. Some big, some small, all worth it.

113

In something like jiu-jitsu, getting out of your comfort zone is a constant requirement if you want to find success. Just when you think you are comfortable with it all, something new comes along to test you. I have found that I would venture out in the unknown layers outside of my comfort zone to conquer one fear and find another waiting for me just a little further out. It’s like that quote, “Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” Well, every next level of jiu-jitsu will demand a different you. A stronger you. A tougher you. A smarter you. And, the only way to find those versions of you is to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

So lately, over the last few weeks, one of my “outside my comfort” challenges has been deliberately putting myself on my back, more specifically working from guard. Being on my back has been an area I have avoided both because I usually end up getting passed and smashed which really sucks, but also because I really, really am lacking in skills from there. I would get someone in my guard and freeze. I knew that if I wanted to get better the best option was to put myself in that situation and learn as much as I could. Last night I found myself constantly regaining guard, going for sweeps, attacking, and chaining attacks and transitioning from one to the other quickly. It felt great and those victories never could have happened if I hadn’t put myself in an uncomfortable situation.

I’ve grown to love these trips outside of my comfort zone. They always lead to growth, to finding out what you are capable of, and even when it leads to an epic failure, you always learn something from it.

Enter the birthday gauntlet.

Sigh.

The birthday gauntlet has been one of my biggest fears. And I’m not even talking about my own gauntlet. My stomach always does a little flip flop when I find out it’s someone’s birthday and we have to do a gauntlet.

Pause for a second to explain what this is for the non-jiu-jitsu-ers: On your birthday you roll with each person in the class for 30-60 seconds. No breaks. No resting. Just constant attacks as you try to not die. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” quite like a room full of people trying to attack you. 

Each time we do these gauntlets I stand there in the line, waiting for my 30 second turn, and get so nervous. Use to I was so afraid of looking stupid and making mistakes, but really that’s not so much what bothers me now. I’ve learned to own my white belt stupidity and accept that I suck and I try to hold onto the hope that no one is going to judge me beyond my white belt ignorance. Now that I’ve gotten over so many birthday gauntlet fears, it’s all striped down to the very last one. The biggest one:

I am terrified of situations that put me as the center of attention, more specifically when everyone is watching me.

This has been one of my biggest setbacks throughout life. I do not like the spotlight. I do not like everyone looking at me. Even just walking into a room full of people and those few seconds when everyone turns to look at you, that has always been so uncomfortable for me. This probably explains why I always arrive 15 minutes early to every event I go to.

A week ago my husband asked me if I was going to do my birthday gauntlet. “I don’t know,” I said. “I struggle to get out there in front of everyone for just 30 seconds. How am I ever going to be able to do it as the center of attention for all the seconds? That thought just terrifies me.”

“Well, that’s exactly why you should do it,” he told me.

Dammit, I hate it when he’s right.

110

The second he said it, I knew I had to do. I had to push myself to that next level and conquer the super uncomfortable yet again. In a way I had gotten so comfortable with venturing out of my comfort zone for smaller challenges because I was doing it so often. It had been awhile since I had found something big, something really big to reach for, to challenge myself with.

The birthday gauntlet was the next big step I was going to have to take.

Even just sitting there on the mat before the gauntlet started with everyone lined up on the wall, I was so uncomfortable. Sitting there with everyone looking at me was so weird. My nerves were a mess, my stomach was full of butterflies. No longer was I afraid to lose, to get dominated, to get submitted in front of everyone. It came down to the real fears…

What if someone did a gnarly knee on belly and I farted in front of everyone?

What if my shirt gathered up and exposed my soft, pudgy belly?

What if a boob popped out of my sports bra?

What if I threw up on the mat from the heat and exhaustion?

What if ANYTHING embarrassing happened!?

What if, what if, what if…

108

What ifs are a real downer.

Obviously, since I am here today writing this, I survived. Nothing embarrassing happened. It was brutal. It was exhausting. But, I survived it and it was even kind of fun. I always love the aftermath, the “I did it, I put myself out there and survived,” high. Today I am in the mindset that if I can get out there and have my ass kicked over and over as everyone watches, that I can conquer any other fears I might have and do anything I set my mind to.

109

If anyone can learn something from me, from what I share here, I hope it’s from posts like this. My life has changed in such a huge way because of these constant adventures outside of my comfort zone. It’s amazing what happens there. It’s scary and it’s unknown and unsure and there’s no guarantee that everything will go as you want it to, but what you learn about yourself in the process is worth every single shudder of fear and butterfly in your stomach. It’s amazing the growth we experience when we are willing to put ourselves to the test. So, I hope if you are reading this, that you do something today, tomorrow, next week that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you’ll fail, but you will quickly learn that those two things are not what it is all about.

Do it. Get out of your comfort zone. You will not regret it.

111

 

The Cure.

 

It’s been no secret if you read my posts that I tend to struggle with depression from time to time. I don’t think I will ever be fully cured of depression. It’s always been something that is there, lurking, waiting for the right moment to show it’s ugly little head. However, over the last year it has become more and more difficult for my little cloud of sadness to take over, and the credit for that has to go to jiu-jitsu and the mental strength that comes with it.

To rewind a bit, I’ve had a few posts that I’ve tried to write and post here that have had a common theme: how ridiculously happy I am. I didn’t end up posting any of them because honestly they just seemed kind of boring for others to read and repetitive. No smart ass humor, no funny little puns, just straight up giddy, life couldn’t possibly get better than this, happiness.

But, here’s the thing about those of us that face challenges with depression, like I said, it’s always right there just beneath surface, waiting for your weak moment, a crack in the armor so that it can seep through and take over. The funny thing is that before this round of depression hit, I was so happy that eventually I was pretty much expecting something bad to happen. Who knew that happiness could inflict fears like that? Like I was so happy that I was almost terrified that something was going to come along and take it away.

And, something did.

Unfortunately, as you probably already know from personal experience, people are assholes. And my family got slapped in the face with that realization. I not only had to deal with it personally but also had to watch the impact of it on my family. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so protective over my family and I carried that hurt I saw and felt like a backpack and let it weigh me down like it was loaded with rocks. And, it was fucking heavy.

I’ve learned so many valuable tools over the last year and half to help me cope with this kind of thing.

Choose happiness.

Reject the negative.

Look at the positive.

Don’t give that much power over your well-being to others.

Keep moving forward.

And, when all that fails, just say “Fuck ’em,” and move the hell on.

As easy as it is to say those things, it’s not so easy to make them work all the time. I tried. I really, really tried to focus on the good in my life and get back to that ridiculously happy point. I didn’t give in to my depression. I didn’t stay in bed. I didn’t mope around. Instead, I fought back. I kept working out, I kept eating healthy, I kept focusing on the positive and moving forward. But, it felt like I was moving forward through sludge. I tried and it felt like none of it was working.

Until I would step on the mats at SFC.

It was like an instant relief from my little dark passenger. I mean instant. Like I had taken a drug and it had washed away the shit I was dealing with.

107

I was effortlessly smiling, having fun, enjoying the people around me. I was back to my ridiculously happy place. I knew that jiu-jitsu was having a positive impact on my life for sure, but it almost blew me away how much better I felt when I was at SFC. The happiness even followed me home.

However, if it was that easy to kick depression’s ass, I wouldn’t have even noticed it coming to the surface in the first place. By the next day, my sensitivity would get the best of me and I would be back in the dark. For almost two weeks I’ve done this.

Go to class. Feel great. Let the hurt seep back in. Fall back into a funk. Go to class. Feel great. Let the hurt seep back in. Fall back into a funk. You get the drift.

The great thing though is that after each class the happiness lasts longer and I can feel the depression getting weaker and weaker.

Yesterday the day was going by so slow because I couldn’t wait to get to class. I had spent a large part of the day in a little bit of a funk and I knew what “drug” I needed to get past it.

Jiu-jitsu.

I’m telling you, I stepped on the mat and an instant smile formed and never left my face. I had victories, I had losses, and I had a wonderful time through it all.  I had so much fun talking with other people, smiling through pass-sweep-submit, rolling and learning. It was such a relief from what I had been going through. My husband asked me if I felt better, my response was, “I feel amazing. I feel like I’ve taken an anti-depressant, like stepping onto the mat is my cure.”

And, it is.

This morning, as I write this, I feel like I’m back to my blissful reality. Grateful for the life I have and the people in it. It’s like jiu-jitsu removes the fog and I am able to focus on the good in my life.

A great marriage with a husband that still, after 13 years, makes me so, so incredibly happy. Sometimes we are so happy that I can’t believe how lucky we are that out of this whole world and the many different crazy paths we’ve both taken, we somehow found one that led to each other. When it comes to marriage, I can’t imagine that it gets better than this.

A strong, loving relationship with my kids. They might drive me insane from time to time. Hello! We are going through pre-teen-dom! Losing your sanity is not optional. It isn’t always easy but they are both loving, caring, good little dudes that I am proud of and I am so happy to be their mom.

Between the marriage and the kids we have a home we have built together and find comfort and happiness in. “I love our family and our life!” is something we say often.

A mom, an aunt, a sister that are always there, supporting, having fun, loving each other, and adopting in those through marriage like they are one of our own. They all treat those around them with kindness and respect. It’s also no secret that I’ve had issues throughout my life, and this family has never left my side no matter how difficult the situation was.

A group of badass, inspiring beings, full of heart, determination, and perseverance that may try to choke me and kick my ass, but they do it to make us both better. You just can’t find more quality people than you can on the mats at SFC. I’m sure of that.

And jiu-jitsu, I’ve never been this mentally strong and I have jiu-jitsu to thank for so much of that. Sure, I’ve struggled with depression the last few weeks, but because of jiu-jitsu and that mental strength I’ve been able to stop the bullshit I create in my own head almost immediately. I’m not adding to crap we have gone through with my own poisonous thoughts. I may have still felt depressed, but I didn’t add or create more sadness out of nothing, out of ridiculous things I make up to beat myself up with. I’ve never been able to conquer that part before, to stop my own bullshit before it even starts. Jiu-jitsu has taught me more about life and myself and what I am capable of more than anything else I’ve ever encountered.

105

Jiu-jitsu has not only helped me to face and conquer the bad in my life, but to also see and value all the wonderful in my life as well. I’m convinced that it is my cure for depression and as long as I continue to train it will give me the tools to handle both my own self and how I deal with those that try to bring me down.

Depression can fuck right off. I’ve got jiu-jitsu on my side.