Mental Health

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I’ve thought about writing this, and my hesitation to do so is part of the reason I feel that I must. The excuses are pretty easy. It’s “private” , it’s none of anyone’s business, it’s no big deal, I’m doing better now, what if a future employer finds this, and so on.

We must destigmatize discussions about mental health, and normalize open and honest sharing and support one another if we wish to become a healthier more functional society.  Our entangled weapons training, lifting, striking, shooting, it’s all for naught if we aren’t taking care of our mental state. I was taught that pain shared is pain lessened, and that joy shared is multiplied. So I’m sharing.

“There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.” –John Steinbeck

The first few months of quarantine where good. I continued working, our jiu jitsu school was shut down but I had a friend come over to train one day a week and we’d have dinner and hang out. I spent Sundays with my coach training and shooting. I upped my range days to three days a week, I lifted more regularly and started hitting PR’s regularly as I put on a few pounds of muscle. I was making videos for youtube, sleeping well, and everything felt in control. My wife was laid off and that was a huge relief to me because she was at home and safe. I felt like I adapted fast and was making progress. I was happy with myself.

But time wears on, and the fuel started to run low, and the outlook for our society started to get worse and worse. Yes, I was well physically prepared. But isolation is a real motherfucker. Left to just sit and think and slowly cut off from all my outlets and interactions in retrospect it’s easy to see the break coming.  But I didn’t see it coming. I slowly withdrew.

I don’t think I ever before have had such clarity as now on the level of my activity. I never worried about falling to sleep. As many of you know I was up early in the AM, I would train before work, work a full day, lift or teach or train again in the evening and my days where all always packed. I kept schedules and calendars and if you wanted to do something we would need to schedule it at least a month out. I would crash each night as soon as I stopped moving and normally slept around 5-6 hours a day.  I couldn’t really comprehend it until it was gone.

Now the schedule was blank.

Suddenly my wife got called back to work. I didn’t think it was safe. I started thinking heavy about her getting sick. It got dark in my head very quickly.  I had my first panic attack. I minimized it mentally, just said I couldn’t sleep well, I didn’t want to worry anyone. Then I had my second.

I was now terrified of sleep, the escalation was sudden and harsh. The depression hit like a brick wall.

Now many people following this blog know I’m a shooter, and shooting and gun ownership are prominent topics here. I am proud to say that the moment I no longer trusted my judgment I immediately locked up all my guns and gave the key to a friend. I was in no state to be making life and death decisions. I’m glad I made that choice and I wish that an open discussion about depression will lead more people to be able to speak freely and make responsible decisions.

I couldn’t sleep, if I dozed off I woke up with a start. I was barely hanging on at work. My mind was telling me I was a failure, worthless, a drain on everyone that cared for me. I thought I would surely lose my job, my wife, my home, that I would be homeless. There was no hope in my mind. I sat up all night crying.

I’ve always felt very in control of my emotions. Suddenly my mind was turned against me. Luckily I have the very best friends in the world, and was able to immediately reach out for help.

There are too many people to list. But they came out in force and met me for a walk in the park,  picked me up cause I couldn’t drive, listed to me on the phone. The people in my life asked “what do you need?” and then gave it to me. I just need to come sit on your porch with you for a little, I just need a call, I need support, I need to be told I’m going to be ok. Over and over they delivered. I have the greatest wife in the world, she held me together and carried the weight of my sudden crippling injury with compassion and strength.

Without a strong support network this is not something that is easily survivable. I feel great empathy for those who find themselves where I was without a supportive spouse, or friends, or a culture that allows them to speak out without shame.

Luckily I had not only the best support network I could hope for but no shame in speaking honestly with those people and seeking help. I immediately started seeing a therapist, saw a doctor, went to support group meetings, talked about what was going on with me honestly and loudly and then took whatever direction was given me. Including medication, which is not something I ever envisioned myself needing. But I was sick, and sick people need medical care, so I listened to the professionals and I’m glad I did. I went to our CEO and with tears in my eyes explained I would need some time off work. I was told “whatever you need” when I thought I would get fired. Everywhere I felt rejection and shame I was met with acceptance and love. This disease lies to you, don’t believe it.

It has helped me tremendously to look at this as an injury. It is ok to get hurt, and it is ok when your hurt to ask for help, to take time off work, time off training, time just to heal.  As someone who’s always been driven and hyperactive learning to take a moment to really take care of myself has been an important step in my recovery.

And now? Now I’m sleeping again, I feel like myself again. I’m finding safe outlets for myself while maintaining a cautious attitude towards the current pandemic. If we are framing this as an injury right now I feel like I’m in that place where I feel good enough to go and get hurt again. I certainly recall when my neck was feeling better and I went way too hard and caused serious damage to myself. So just like my C-Spine or my shoulder I am doubling down on PT. Now is not the time to let up. I’m making regular scheduled hikes with friends, I’ve taken up biking, I’m learning to mediate. I’m learning to more actively use video calls to stay in touch, I’m reaching out to new friends, and once again I am optimistic and have hope. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m thankful for it, I know I do best when I am moving.

We didn’t come this far just to come this far.

Shawn Lupka

 

 

 

 

 

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