Fighting with Anxiety

Greetings!

Welcome to my first post and all that cliche junk. As you’ve probably noticed, the title of this first post is the same as my blog itself. Unsurprisingly, talking about this topic is what inspired the topic of this blog. Between a conversation with a friend about Belegarth and anxiety and a bandwagon post going around Facebook regarding what someone thinks when they first square up against someone else, I got to thinking about what I think when I square up with people. Having the severe anxiety that I do and everything that comes with it, what crosses my mind before, during, and even after fighting tend to be a bit different that solely what I see on a person. I separated my thoughts/challenges into “hurdles” in hopes of making it easier to explain and to understand.

This first hurdle is one that quite possibly literally everyone faces at some point in their lives. It’s that negative voice in your head that tells you you’re not strong enough, not capable, not loved or cared for, being too much, not liked at all, that everyone sees you as a horrible person, or that there’s no point. Whatever it is saying, it’s a voice we all fight with at some point, especially in Belegarth. Many of us are self-proclaimed nerds and many of us fit the stereotype in some form or another. Many of us have struggled with our self-esteem and things like not being good enough, not fitting in, not being loved, not being acknowledged. I’d say that majority of us struggled with these through a good chunk of our lives. To then come into a sport where you have all these people struggling with the same things and also struggle with communicating all that in such a that others can help… Once people are finally able to communicate that, it’s a beautiful thing, but I digress. This is the first battle for everyone.

From there, you add mental illness and trauma to that already difficult fight with low self-esteem and it only compounds that voice. It compounds everything, really. Mental health and mental illnesses are not easy to manage to begin with. Add in a sport where you have to manage it extra and you wind up with a lot of these “nerds” who are falling into these holes, because they’re suddenly swallowed by more than they’re used to. They’re used to daily life struggles, if even those, but especially not the event/non-mundane version of them. It can be devastating. The first struggle is your mental illness. Always. Every social situation, every fight (of all varieties), everything that you do up to and then at an event. Sometimes you get to deal with two fights, yourself AND your mental illness. For me, they are usually one in the same, but there are also too many moments where they are just different enough that it feels like you’re fighting too much, too many, and you can’t fight enough to get out of it.

My first difficulty, having the anxiety that I do, was fighting itself. It was actually getting out onto the field, asking people to spar with me, etc. I started out really gung-ho, but then got really turned off to fighting. I already had some trauma in my past, but had more hit me after that point that left a lot of canyon-sized breaks in my soul. Many of these issues and traumas still effect me to this day. Because of them, by the time I showed up I was so stressed out just trying to get there that I didn’t want to add more stress, anxiety, and panic. Fighting with something else was just entirely too much, so I just didn’t do it. On occasion, I would go to something like the Valkyrie classes or ask someone to spar or teach me. I’d always make sure to watch when others were teaching people or sparring them, too.

Then I became a Squire. There’s a lot of social pressure in this sport and self-pressure to be exemplary, to become a “Good Knight” (hee). Because of that, I had to face all my “demons” head on. My Knight, Sir Rem, expects their Squires to be proficient in as many aspects of this sport as possible, which includes fighting. It has always been a goal of mine to become proficient in fighting, but I didn’t know how to get around my mind and my mental illness. There were several other aspects to this fall, but I fell harder into my anxiety. Because now I had this perceived social pressure to fight all the time, to get good, to be good, to be great even. This pressure to become an exemplary Knight, to be someone people feel they could go to for good fights, good advice, teaching, building, and all these other aspects that I, up until this point, felt like I couldn’t handle. Now I had no choice but to handle it. Not handling it meant that I wouldn’t keep my Squireship and wouldn’t someday get Knighted. My goal now outweighed my desire to not do it and my stress/anxiety.

There were innumerable talks had with Rem regarding this topic alone because of how much I struggled with getting out to fight. I would show up to practice literally shaking, because I was so scared I couldn’t breathe properly. I had to take so much time to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare myself just to step out onto the practice field. It was so fucking hard. Then I had to go fight and deal with this continually while I was fighting. I stopped trying to keep track of the times I’d step off the field early or wouldn’t spend the whole time fighting. I’d have to take time, sit down, and recenter myself in hopes of not shaking so much or to make sure I caught my breath again. Just being able to step out on the field was definitely the first hurdle.

The second hurdle has to do with the act of fighting itself. Due to some of the specific kinds of of abuse and trauma I’ve dealt with, I have a large trigger when it comes to yelling and other loud noises. Between that and some of the sensitivity in my ears/hearing, these noises can spook and trigger me quite a bit. The nature of the fighting field is that it will be loud: People are screaming, “Red,” left and right, communicating their shots, the hits connecting themselves, sometimes even purposefully making louder noises (i.e. screaming, hitting their shields) to distract people. These can all lead to sensory overload, a panic response getting triggered, or both. They can cause me to jump, to shake, my head and/or vision to fuzz over a bit, and other things. They alert my senses so fast that I’m now looking for that threat. It’s kind of amusing, because usually people try to use things like screaming to distract people, but instead I become more alert. My mind has perceived a threat and is now on edge and ready to be attacked. While this can be a good thing, the worst part is that it’s real fear. It’s real fear that I’m about to be seriously hurt, that I’m now in real danger, that I’m now literally fighting for my life. The amygdala is what signals that you need to be on edge because you are in real danger. It sends so many emotional and physical responses that it causes pure panic. When I first started fighting, it was much worse and there was only so much time I could handle that much adrenaline before I needed to step off. It is such a grueling task to separate that real and intense panic and fear from foam fighting. It’s near impossible at first. It’s also insanely unsettling to feel that the people you know and love, the people you care about, the people you go drink and party with later are literally trying to kill you. It makes for an intensely arduous battle. The second hurdle was the fight against all the panic I’ve experienced and apply to the present, the survival tactics that I’ve built up, and my brain jumping into survival mode almost instantaneously. No matter what I do and have done, I haven’t been able to make it go away, either. It’s always there. The only thing I can really do is my best to acknowledge it, to keep working through it, to keep moving, and to keep fighting.

Outside of the automatic responses that happen like panic and survival mode, the next hurdle is The Voice. For me, I actually separate my brain into Rational Brain and Irrational Brain. Rational Brain is basically just my brain. Irrational Brain (sometimes Anxiety Brain), however, is the side that will tell you that everyone hates you despite them standing in front of and telling you they love you. Irrational Brain will tell me everyone hates me, I’m not good enough, I’ll never get knighted, I’ll never win this fight, I’m not strong enough, fast enough, I’m just not enough, I’m too much, and more. When Irrational Brain has a hold of me, these things are all truth. Part of why I separate them is because they do actually feel separate. My Rational Brain knows these thoughts are irrational and will even provide evidence that these thoughts are false, but Irrational Brain generally doesn’t give up despite the evidence. These are thought processes I still have and cannot stop.

Having to sort through these processes becomes the Third Hurdle. If I square up for a fight, depending on where my anxiety is in that moment, those invasive, horrible thoughts are right there. When I first started, I couldn’t fight them, make them stop or go away. No matter what I did, my Rational Brain had absolutely no voice. If it did, it was so small I couldn’t hear it, because Irrational Brain has full control. When you’re doing things like ditch battles, especially at practices, you’re basically just dying repeatedly. Every single death that happens becomes a new negative thought. It becomes another tally on the wall of my brain of something else I’m not good at, something I won’t be good at, something I’ll never be good at.

This is that first hurdle all over again, but it’s repeated throughout the entirety of the fight, practice, or event. It’s a constant hurdle. Sometimes the hurdles that are already there have this hurdle directly behind it and I have to jump over two, maybe even three at once. It’s painful trying to push past those thoughts when you’ve never been able to before. When you’re at a point where your mental illness is this constantly consuming black hole, it’s almost impossible to pull yourself out. It’s painful to continually step out onto that field, repeatedly lose, not do as well, not do “good enough,” whatever your brain deems as “good enough,” and not do that. You get weighed down with that imaginary tally. With where I was at, I could only take so much of that, too, before I had to go ground myself. Or before I had to decide it was too much, go home, and usually have a giant panic attack in my car on the way. It was and is beyond overwhelming. It’s another fight that literally always happens and the only thing that happens is that, as long as you keep fighting, you get better at it. You get better at fighting that voice first. You get better at fighting that panic first. You get better at deprogramming any things that were programmed into you for however many years that caused and/or exacerbated this illness.

This hurdle comes and goes as the next hurdle or not. Sometimes if I’m lucky, I actually get to fight the person. More often than not, though, the next thing I’m thinking about it all the things I need to do in our fight. I start trying to play out the fight in my head. The second hurdle is Anxiety Brain and the Past, the third hurdle is Anxiety Brain and the Present, this fourth hurdle is Anxiety Brain and the future. It’s this constant overthinking of: I can see these things, so that’s what I need to hit. But if they count that, I need to counter that, too. After that they’ll probably swing on this, because this is what is open on me now or open once I make this move. Knowing this person, they’ll probably fake this shot. My brain starts to list every single thing that I think you might do or that I need to do in order to be successful in this fight. Or even just to successfully take this limb, this is what I need to do, this is what I need to counter, this is what I need to block, this is where my sword needs to be, this is where my shield needs to be, where my feet need to be, and my body and their body need to be placed. All of this comes to me in an instant, like birds or bees swarming at me, swooping into my face. Many times, I know what I need to do and I know that I know it, but it’s trying to quiet that voice long enough to actually do it. I’ve definitely gotten better at being able to quiet it and go with the flow of the fight, but it’s still usually there somewhere or at some point during.

I could technically split this next part into another hurdle or make this Part B of the Fourth Hurdle, since it’s a related thought process. After the fight is when I start to reanalyze. Generally, it’s a great thing to analyze your fight, how you died, how they took limbs and countered certain things. For me and this hurdle, though, it becomes a giant list of all the things I “should have” done, but didn’t do. That, because I should have done it, but didn’t, I just suck. “Reflecting” instead becomes berating that I’m incapable or a horrible fighter because I died to the same shot several times. The hardest part, though, is that I then dwell on it forever. You can ask me about spar sessions I had a year ago and I’ll most likely still remember them. If it was a simple, fun fight, maybe not as much. But if it was a Squire fight or important in some way, it basically becomes embedded in my brain. I can even tell you about certain practice where I got down on myself, things I should have done, shots I missed. They just don’t leave my brain and some things I can recall completely clearly. They even pop up at practice or events. This is why it’s a Part B, because it becomes that before-fight hurdle where my brain will recall all these fights where I failed at a shot, block, or to succeed. It legitimately replays these fights where I “failed” in some way while I’m getting ready to fight or in the middle of the this current fight.

It’s disheartening, because if my Anxiety hole continues, it goes into other Squire fights or important moments that I’ve lost or messed up. Basically, here’s this list of failures or when you weren’t good enough. Then I have this itemized list of “fuck ups,” and this fight is simply something else that you’ll be adding to this list. And here’s where the hurdle process repeats itself. It’s literally debilitating. I’ve had to find a secluded area and sob before because I’m so overwhelmed with all of this that I can no longer function.

The Fifth Hurdle is where I, finally, get to have an actual fight with the actual person.

 

These are all things I fight with, obviously daily, but every time I go to a practice, an event, sparring, even with pell work. My brain tells me it’s not worth it, it doesn’t matter, it’s not going to change anything. It tells me that I’m a failure and that’s all I’m ever going to be.

I’ve definitely gotten loads better, but it’s something that I’ll literally fight with forever. I don’t think it will magically go away, but one can definitely hope. The only thing that gets better is that I get better at managing it. I get better at living with it. I get better at fighting alongside of it and with it instead of fighting against it or succumbing to it. It’s a part of me and the hardest struggle is accepting that my anxiety is a part of me. That, no matter what I do, I do it with Anxiety. And no matter what I do, I’m going to have to overcome that anxiety, to acknowledge and push past it enough that I can still do the thing; Whatever that thing may be.

❤ ❤ ❤

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