2-3 days per week I go to a nondescript building where grown men (and occasionally women) will try to choke me to death and break my limbs. It costs $120 a month and it’s completely legal. Sometimes I think I’m going to die when I’m being crushed under the weight of someone twice my size, but I know that all I need to do is hold out for a few more seconds so I can escape or just politely ask him/her to let me go. The twisted community I belong to is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy.
For 30-60 minutes a class, a gang of stronger and/or more skilled students take turns reminding me that I’m not a winner, but I am a survivor. Jiu-Jitsu is about proving that I can endure 7 minutes of misery and come out alive on the other side just to relive that torture after a minute of rest.
Bipolar is a black belt that I can’t ever beat. It’s always 5 moves ahead of me and knows just what to do to cause maximum damage. Every time I think I beat it, it comes back even harder as if to punish me for thinking I could win. It wants to suffocate me and break my body. I could let it, too. Just give up and never get back on the mat of my life. Walk away from everything because I don’t want to deal with the pain of trying to fight this seemingly invincible opponent.
And yet I still go to Jiu-Jitsu class to get beaten by guys that are just as invincible as this illness. Some of those guys I’ll never be able to beat, but they know that they’re going to see me on the mats again. I could quit so easily and no one would judge me. This sport is hard on the body and the ego. Still, something compels me to go back and get my ass kicked.
Most of my ability to survive and escape while sparring just comes naturally because I’ve been surviving a mental illness that started to sink its hooks into me when I was 14 years old. What I do learn everyday I spar is that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed by a force more powerful than myself. That I may be suffocating, but it won’t last forever. That if something becomes too much for me to handle, I can tap out and live to fight another day. Surviving Bipolar is the same as fighting for 7 minutes in Jiu-Jitsu hell. It isn’t about winning. It’s about getting so used to the futile struggle that I can keep fighting my losing battle against Bipolar.