TSMMA Cherry Hill‘s Rachel Kendall Overcomes Anxiety & Disorder by Training MMA
by Rachel Kendall – TSMMA Cherry Hill
But how? There’s so much running through my mind. Why can’t I stop these thoughts? What’s wrong with me? Ok…think about now…am I good enough? What if I lose? Who is watching? Will I let them down? I have to be the best. What if I can’t do it? What if I fail?
It’s CONSTANT. This dizzying, non-stop mental tug of war between doubt and over-analysis…between fear and warped perception. I’ve never been able to control it. .
As much as I would rather not admit that it’s true, I feel that this is important to share for those who are also experiencing the same thing. I am diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and have been receiving treatment since the age of 19 because I refused treatment long before. Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior–from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of depression on the other. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder last for days, weeks, or months. And unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function. The problem with this “illness” is stigma and self-sabotage. All mental illness seems somehow looked down upon, seemingly “fake” or overly diagnosed, but with Bipolar it becomes almost impossible to separate “this is not my fault and is real” from “stop complaining, you’re just obsessing, you’re just out of control…again…and it’s not normal.” Regardless of medication, of therapy and of self-education – it has often debilitated me with doubt, interfered with my work and my relationships. I have an extremely supportive family and friends, but in the end – when it’s just me and my mind in a room, it’s the most difficult part of my life.
How does this relate to a testimonial about Tiger Schulmann’s MMA and my recent experience training with Joshu Baker you might ask, it’s very simple. I’ve been an athlete since I was six years old. I was in competitive gymnastics for ten years when I was young, played and and was named all-state in three varsity sports in high school and was a collegiate athlete for Division I Crew in college. Regardless of the sport, one thing remained the same. I was told by every coach I’ve ever had that I had the innate ability and physical talent to be an All-American Athlete…if they could just get me out of my own head. Yet again, my seemingly uncontrollable mind takes over.
Being a perfectionist athlete and a person dealing with bipolar disorder makes for a pretty consistent flow of “what if’s”. What if I had been able to just be confident enough to reach my peak, my potential? What if I didn’t get overwhelmed by pressure and expectation so easily? What if I could just be free from my wildly overactive mind, just long enough that my body could actually perform to the level that everyone said I could? What if I could finally be free of this “thing” that never seems to go away and be happy personally? What if I…
Right… let’s fast forward to now. One of the only places I could ever seem to escape my mind was training at Tiger Schulmann’s. I began in North Plainfield, NJ under Sensei Paul Querido. For eleven years it was the only thing that could give me relief. Watching Munah Holland and Robyn Klenk and Mike Murray and Stephen Regman fight in the ring and in the cage had always inspired me, but I never thought I could do it. I never doubted the skill, discipline, and technique that Sensei Querido had given me, but I doubted myself and my mind. I knew that the pressure and nerves and expectation would be astounding, but there was nothing I wanted more than to prove myself and make Sensei Querido proud. When I moved to Philadelphia for graduate school two years ago I finally got my chance. Training now out of TSMMA Cherry Hill under Joshu Shane Baker, I knew that Joshu Baker, Sensei Querido and Shihan Simpson would know how to prepare me and I trained harder than I ever had for anything before. Triple the hours on the mat, running, extra strength training, traveling to four different schools and dieting to cut ten pounds. When I finally got there everything was ready, except my mind. I did well though, I won, but without being able to stick to the game plan. All I wanted was to be in control of my mind, the thing that seemed to negate any amount of physical training I could prepare for.
I’ve had five fights in the last year, and for this entire process the physical training has been the same, but during this time, one thing has emerged…one thing has changed. Joshu Baker was able to take the unshakable foundation that Sensei Querido had created and solve the final piece of the puzzle. For the first time, I experienced what it was like to breathe.
“Ok Rachel, Deep breath. Breathe in…and out. Again, in…and out. …”
Who knew it was that simple. I never did. I had tried that before I thought. It never worked. Until now…
When I train with Joshu Baker, I feel as though the dizziness of my whirling mind calms down, the confusion and overwhelming feelings become temporarily muted, and in no uncertain terms “it will be ok.”
He has this uncanny ability to make everything simple and STOP the manic nature of my thoughts. He breaks it down to “just 2 or 3 things Rachel, nothing more. You’re right here with it and I’m right here with you. You’re ok, take a breath.” When I start to shake my head and panic, when the thoughts and the over-analysis and the self-doubt come flying back in, he just makes me look at him and breathe. He smiles and stands with me…in my intensity, in my worry, in the attack I thought would never secede. It’s this silent calm that is what’s different. It’s different than anything I’ve experienced before.
In my last fight, at the Capitale, a place I have always dreamed of fighting, Sensei Querido allowed Joshu Baker to be lead corner while he stood with us in mutual, solid and experienced support. It was my most challenging opponent and the pressure was on. In the warm ups, I was a wreck. I felt all the same nerves that I always had before, the same creeping anxiety and self-doubt. What if I can’t execute the game plan? What if I get beat in front of all of these people, in front of Shihan Schulmann… What if…
“Hey…hey…look at me Rachel (smiling), right here. Breathe… In…hold it, and out.”
“No, look at me, In….Out…”
And for the first time, in that fight…it worked. After the first round, I came back to the corner, tired and thinking as always…but when I looked up there it was, that face of calm, of composure of “it’s gonna be ok.” I felt safe and finally, I could breath. All of the sudden my body felt light again and I was thinking clearly…not obsessing about the mistakes I made Round 1…not worrying about Round 2. Just “right there with it.” After the second round, within seconds of sitting in the corner, I felt more energized than I’ve ever felt before going into the third round of a fight. Joshu Baker had barely got to 4 on the count and I was ready. My face was calm and for the first time, I felt like I was in control. It was thrilling. That last round, after a crucial reminder to actually use my legs from Sensei Querido, I fought the best, most technical round I have ever fought and won a close fight knowing that something had changed. This was only the beginning.
I am not writing this only to say thank you to Joshu Baker or Sensei Querido, or because I want to explain how I’ve grown as a fighter. I am writing this because in my training and more personally in my life, I have never been able to control my mind. I’ve always felt ashamed and embarrassed for having Bipolar disorder and felt it would always control my life. I have never genuinely felt able to calm down and to breathe. It’s a feeling that I cannot do justice to in words. I am writing this because what Sensei Querido has allowed me to have physically and what Joshu Baker has allowed me to access mentally has finally changed me, but in an ironic way, it’s done something more. It has allowed me to access my potential, to finally feel my ability. It has made it possible to see that I AM what I’ve always feared I couldn’t be. When Joshu Baker took the time to deal with my frustrating lack of confidence, my unending questioning of everything and my break downs, he gave me the one thing I thought I would never be able to find…hope.
Tiger Schulmann’s MMA has changed my life in so many ways, but this chapter of the story has been, by far the most important. I would say to anyone out there dealing with a seemingly unexplainable mental struggle, dealing with the stigma and self-hatred of being diagnosed with a mental illness that feels “fake” on the outside but extremely real on the inside, that this can work. This can finally help. Finding an outlet for stress, a way to stay healthy physically AND mentally that can travel with you, throughout your life, I’m not sure what else is more important.
What is more important in life, than being able to breathe?