Watch Jaclyn’s inspirational story When Life Gets Better by filmmaker Sam Rivera. 

Tiger Schulmann’s student, Jaclyn, shares her story of how kickboxing training helped her fight severe mood disorder.

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, I want you to know that you are not alone.  I’ve been there. I know how you feel.  But there are always options, and you get to decide what works best for you.  

Years ago Jaclyn stumbled on something that made her brain stop for a minute in what seemed to be a constant battle with racing thoughts in her head: kickboxing.

Women in kickboxing pose (Reference: Freedom Photo LLC)

The life I was living… 

I suffered from major depression and anxiety for a very long time, really as long as I can  remember. I tried everything: therapy, different medications, even stayed in hospitals for  countless nights. I listened to my doctors and did my best to make myself better. 

But nothing alleviated the mental pain I was in and allowed me to function how I wanted to.  

Medications sedated me, and yet I was too terrified to sleep at night. I was afraid of  everything, but mostly, I was scared of myself. I had zero control over my brain and over my  life.  

Eventually, I reached a point in my life where I just accepted my mental state and  started to solely exist and go through the motions of life. I was miserable. Is this how life is supposed to be for me?

Sometimes you only need one thing to hold onto and start healing

But life doesn’t constantly throw lemons at you. If you are lucky, there are people who love  you and care for you.  

In my case, that was my sister.  

She wanted to try kickboxing at Tiger Schulmann’s Princeton and asked me to go with her. I said, sure, why not? I love spending time with you.  

I had zero expectations and zero excitement. I wasn’t even nervous.  

And that first class…wow, it was rough. Physically, I thought I was going to die during that  class, but I left utterly empowered and revitalized.  

Kickboxing was the only thing so far that made my brain stop for a minute.  It changed my whole life. 

It changed who I am.  

I found something that silenced my thoughts for a minute.  

And that was it.  

I was hooked on kickboxing. 

A lesson that changed everything for me 

My body started to change in the first few months of training. I lost weight and instantly felt better about myself. I met amazing friends and became a part of the TSK  family. We train together; we laugh together; we support each other. When I have a bad day, simply the thought that I have this phenomenal community to rely on makes me feel calmer. 

The biggest lesson I learned came by accident when Sensei Billings spoke about our values and things that are important to us.  

For the first time, I asked myself: What kind of person do I want to be? I mapped out who I currently was, who I wanted to be, and who I didn’t want to be. I did that about 3 years ago, and I continue to look at it, reflect on it, and update it as I continue to grow. After all this time, I finally love the person I am today, and I’m so proud of the struggle  I went through and continue to overcome. 

Kickboxing at Tiger Schulmann’s Princeton taught me that I could be stronger than my diagnosis’ if I chose to be. I was able to change myself and the trajectory of my life when I learned and believed that it is all within my control. 

Why has nobody told me this before? 

Weeks had passed before I realized I was feeling better. I had more energy, I was motivated,  and I could deal with everyday problems with ease. But, of course, it couldn’t be just because of my kickboxing classes, could it?  

I remember the first night I started googling the benefits of exercise on mental health.  There were countless proofs that exercising only 30 minutes per day may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms by releasing endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that instantly make us feel better (according to the Mayo Clinic). 

Only 30 minutes per day.  

I had numerous sessions with different psychotherapists and talked to various doctors, but  no one had mentioned the importance of physical activity for mental health.

I’m still fighting, but that only makes me stronger  

It’s all still very much a work in progress. My anxiety and mental illnesses are always trying to find clever ways to re-manifest themselves, making every day a small battle. However, now I can just keep thinking about the fantastic future that awaits me and actually believe it. I stick to things I know will make me happy, I know what triggers me, and most importantly, I know that nothing lasts forever. 

Kickboxing was the piece of the puzzle I was missing to create the life I wanted to live. The life I adore and cherish.  

The life I live right now.  

Nothing about this journey was easy. But I’m nonetheless grateful. I’m eternally thankful to my sister for pushing me into that first class. She continues to push me and encourages me all this time. I’m grateful to my Sensei, who changed my life in ways he may never know,  and for the family I’m surrounded by in our school. This entire experience would not have been what it is without all of those factors.

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