After enduring many years of hardship, you were finally diagnosed properly. Can you talk about how things turned around for you?
Without the proper diagnosis and the proper tools, it is a hard battle to fight. Especially if you don't know what you are fighting.
My treatment now, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is not a cure all. But it teaches you the necessary skills to cope with high emotions, urges of suicide, self-injury as well as the ebb and flow of everyday life. That, along with medication and exercise, has been the foundation of my journey towards recovery.
But I still struggle everyday validating my sense of self worth. I question everything I do, especially my need to exist. But I've come to understand that at times what I feel may not necessarily be what I have to do.
How do you deal with situations that make you feel emotionally vulnerable?
If there is a chaotic environment, a loud room, an argument unfolding, or anything that feels out of control, I become over stimulated.
This used to happen often, where lots of things were going on at once. Something as simple as big family dinners would completely overwhelm me and cause an anxiety attack, wreaking havoc on the rest of the week.
I know now to look out for things like that. I can recognize my triggers now and will remove myself from the environment until I return to my baseline.
Yet you were drawn to boxing, which seems an unlikely choice. How did this happen?
After my diagnosis I wanted to do something empowering and stumbled upon a boxing gym. I was drawn to these people who wanted to push themselves in a different way and were open to learning new things.
For the first 3-5 times that I sparred, I cried and was completely overwhelmed. But then I started to learn the sweet science, practicing shadowboxing, heavy bag, double end, and speed bag - and bringing it into the ring.
Boxing reminds me to show up, do the work and then reap rewards. It teaches me to work through the emotional chaos and, yes, there will be another day. For a person with BPD, it's quite comforting to be reminded of that.
Can you describe what goes on in your head, getting into the ring and being in the middle of a fight?
How much time do you have? Ha! Seriously, preparing on the day of a fight is emotionally draining! But once that bell rings, I leave all my doubts, all my questions, all my anxiety behind and focus on one thing. Winning. The practicality of the issue is that there is no time to think negative thoughts or feel anxiety.
It's one of the things I love about boxing and melds well with my treatment. It forces you to be mindful and in the present moment. Nothing else can bother you or else you'll get hit! And even if you do get hit, you can't dwell on it- or else you'll get hit again. So you learn very quickly to stay in the present moment.
As a fighter, what happens when your opponent is extra provocative, trying to get a rise out of you? Do you ever feel yourself getting out of control?
Fortunately I've had an exceptional experience working with other opponents in the ring.
The ring is perhaps the best place I've found to deal with my emotions. It's almost as if boxing were a conversation - even an argument or a heated debate - but your emotions must be kept focused to the task at hand.
It's kind of like exposure therapy. You may get overwhelmed with a flutter of punches, but you learn how to maneuver around it, using counter aggression with speed, with smarts with angles. All those things you practice- round after round, day after day, become part of your arsenal so you don't have to feel out of control.
That's why showing up for training is so important. Boxing is one of the most difficult sports out there to train for and to perform at; you need all the preparation and skills to get you there. Much like my journey in treatment for BPD.
You've put yourself out there, not only as a boxer, but also lecturing to groups about BPD. What is more taxing emotionally, speaking in front of a crowd or being in the ring?
There is nothing like being in the ring. Sparring gets close, but even that is miles away from the feelings you get when you're in a competition. When I talk in front of a crowd, it's more of a one-way dialogue. A monologue. They're paying attention, nodding heads; there might be some questions and answers.
But in the ring, there's a three -way conversation going on, you, your opponent and your coach. And it's all improvised. When you get really good at fighting competitively, boxing is a lot like jazz. But, right now, I'm still learning the notes, the phrasing, the beats and the rhythm of it all while trying to keep my cool and stay aggressive. It's a fine balancing act.
For others suffering from BPD, who aren't boxers, and are looking for emotional tools and outlets. What do you suggest for them?
There is something that exercise does for the mind/body makeup. I highly recommend some form of physical activity just because it reaps so many benefits.
I found boxing to work because it gave me an outlet for anger and aggression, which I felt I could never display. For others, it's something else. They need to search for tools, projects, work or forms of fitness that will keep them anchored.
I believe that the more you fill your life with things to help build you up, the better you're able to keep the disorder at bay.
Do you have any final words?
We can do great things not only despite mental illness, but also maybe because of it. If it weren't for my diagnosis, my treatment and my desire to feel empowered, I would have never gone down this road with the hopes of boxing in Madison Square Garden.
Now I have something greater to live for and to live and do for others to help them believe in themselves. Somehow it gives my suffering meaning. That is my hope. That is what I believe. That is what I want others to receive from my story.
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