Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our members and give them the chance to tell us a little bit about their Jiu Jitsu journey.  This week, we’ll start off with Susan Sampson, who received her blue belt in May of 2017.

Why I Love Jiu Jitsu… It Helps Me Control My Anxiety

There are so many reasons I love Jiu Jitsu. Like many people in this sport, Jiu Jitsu has changed my life in ways I never dreamed of.  Jiu Jitsu has given me so many things- health, love, friendship, confidence, even a new career. 

Today I’ll tell you about how Jiu Jitsu has helped me with my anxiety. 

I’ll never forget my first panic attack.  I was 3 weeks out from graduating from college, and everything was about to change.  I was leaving the Student Center at Western Carolina University after meeting a friend, sitting in my car when all of a sudden it hit me.  It started slowly, with me not being able to catch my breath, and then… BAM! All of a sudden, I was drowning, right there in my car, not able to breathe, sobbing, crying out, clutching the air, drowning.  I somehow managed to call my college advisor and life mentor, Dr Malcolm Abel, who directed me to the nearest ER.  I don’t remember how I made it but I drove myself to the nearest hospital and they told me I had just had a panic attack and sent me off with a prescription for Xanax and instructions to take it as needed. 

From there on, they got worse.  Much, much worse.  Dissolving on the bathroom floor in a puddle, not able to move or breathe or speak, much less explain to my then fiancé/now husband why I was crying and gasping on the bath mat.  Drowning in my own inability to breathe.  

I took my first Jiu Jitsu class in 2010, but the gym wasn’t the greatest fit for me and my future boyfriend/now husband who was one of the coaches was really hard on me in class (shocker, I know) and I ended up quitting Jiu Jitsu for boxing.  When I re-started Jiu Jitsu in mid-2015, under a new Professor, I was being prescribed Xanax for my panic attacks, Welbutrin for my depression, and Ambien for my sleeplessness.   I didn’t start taking Jiu Jitsu seriously until January of 2016 when it “took” and I finally started training regularly, every day, taking advantage of all the incredible coaches around me and not just Jason (It’s hard training with your husband but I’ll save that for another day).  As I trained more, and grappled for longer periods of time, after a few months I found that I no longer needed the Ambien to sleep- I was so tired from class and training extra on the side that I found it unnecessary, and I stopped taking it.  I had been through a very deep depression in the beginning of 2015, but by the spring of 2016 I was training regularly, losing weight, and though I still dealt with depression (and still do), I found that the more I trained, the better I felt, and I went off the anti-depressants completely.

Fast forward to today, a year after I received my blue belt and 14 months after my husband’s serious, MMA-career ending injury, (a story for another day, but let’s just say that experience left me forever grateful for his ability to walk and teach and grapple with me and our students, and has taught me to savor every day, and go for what you want, because you never know when it may be taken away).  I won’t tell you Jiu Jitsu has cured my anxiety- that would be a lie.  But what Jiu Jitsu HAS done is helped me learn to live with it.  Instead of moving along in my day and then BAM! finding myself crashing, with waves of panic drowning me, I now find myself able to identify the panic attack coming, I sense my inability to breathe, I feel my thoughts scattering, I see the wave, and I breathe. I use my Jiu Jitsu breathing and the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I use it to breathe, to reason with myself, to clench my hands tightly and focus on my breathing, and I get through it.  I no longer take Xanax or any of the medications prescribed to me.

I had a resurgence of the panic attacks this past January- which, not at all coincidentally, was at the tail end of an 8-week period where I didn't train due to laziness and a twisted knee (mostly laziness).  I was also going through a stressful period at work, and BAM! The panic attacks were back, and I was back to crying and gasping and drowning, every day, sometimes twice a day.  I finally stopped fighting myself and got back on the mat in February and within 6 days, 6 days of training every day, the panic attacks were gone.  Vanquished.  Six days. That's all it took for me to get a hold of myself again.

Who was it that said “The ground is my ocean, I am the shark, and most people don’t even know how to swim”? I think it was a Gracie, or maybe a Machado brother, I’m not sure, and by no means am I a shark, but Jiu Jitsu has stopped me from drowning, I have learned how to swim, and I am forever grateful.

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