WE COULD DO WITH A HELPING HAND!
We're not ones to usually ask for help, and have pondered whether we should, however its our love and passion for our gym and community of wonderful people that has us putting our hands up asking for a helping hand.
Warning, this is a long post, but if you can, please take the time to read it as it's a personal story about mental health, one that we wish to share with you all. It's a story that only a few months ago we would have been scared and worried to share publicly for fear of being judged, however, we want to help remove stigmas around mental illness and share our struggles over the last few years.
In sharing our story we hope that we may help others who have experienced mental illness personally, or who have seen a loved one experience it. Anyone who has experienced mental illness knows just how debilitating, life changing and in some cases, life destroying it can be.
I've had mental health issues for as long as I can remember, but the last 2-3 years have been some of the toughest and most challenging years of my life. I almost lost my life and standing here today hand to heart, I say that I'm lucky to be alive, with my family and life intact.
I guess my mental health issues started badly about 2 ½ - 3 years ago, when I was injured and had to stop fighting. I couldn't even train, I was in so much pain. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me fighting and training martial arts has been a part of my life, pretty much my whole life for 23+ years. I went from being a fighter and an athlete, to not being able to even train. I lost my focus, and my identity a bit.
I decided to focus my energy on coaching, another passion of mine. This was bitter sweet though. I love coaching and teaching people and watching them grow and learn, however it was difficult seeing everyone enjoy themselves when I couldn't do what I enjoyed doing and was in constant pain from standing and coaching every day.
I started to feel unhappy, unmotivated and lost. As other fighters would know, if you're not training and fighting, you're normally eating very badly. I pretty much didn't eat anything healthy for about 3 years. At first I was using food as an emotional crutch. It then became a habit I was unable to break. An addiction, which I later found out was common after being diagnosed with a mental illness. It was normal for me to have 2 large energy drinks a day, thrown in with the rest of the junk food I was eating. Anything to keep me going when I was struggling to get out of bed. My diet and lifestyle was leading me to an early grave, something that I started to hope would happen when the grips of depression really set in.
The arthritis in my left hip started getting very bad to the point where I could hardly walk or spread my legs apart more than 500mm. I couldn't demonstrate techniques when coaching, I couldn't go for a walk with my family, I couldn't kick a footy with my son. It got to the point I couldn't even sleep properly from the pain. I felt like a 70 year old man at only 40 years of age, and had no quality of life.
Also around this time, some intense things happened that triggered off depression. A close friend passed away unexpectedly. My grandmother had a stroke which left her paralysed and in a nursing home. My mum had a heart attack, which thankfully was only minor; and a few other issues over the years.
It was around this time that I was diagnosed with pyrrole disorder and bipolar. I was also told that I would need a hip replacement done, which I couldn't have for 2 years as the private health fund said we were covered but when we sent through the code it didn't fall under that operation which meant I faced another 2 years of chronic pain and no quality of life.
I spiralled into very deep depression and anxiety. So bad that I couldn't be around people. I remember having to leave one of our gym Christmas parties early as I was getting dizzy and almost passing out. I ended up getting one of my migraines and on the way home throwing up continuously from anxiety. This happened all the time after anything social, or even just going out to shopping centres or anywhere public really. I couldn't deal with being around people, even my closest loved ones. Leaving the house was a struggle. Everything became a struggle and anytime I had to leave the house I would end up in bed for days because of the anxiety.
The depression really set in at that point. I avoided leaving the house. I avoided being around people. I was suicidal but couldn't bring myself to do it, but thought about it all the time, and came close to doing it. Finding myself sitting in the dark in the garage with the engine still running thinking all I need to do is put the windows down, but something always stopped me from doing it. I think it was the exposure from friends and family that have taken their life and seeing what it did to my mother and my friends as well as myself when they lost a loved one to suicide.
I pretty much ended up giving up on the world and was in such a bad way I went to sleep one night, and couldn't get out of bed the next day, which then lead to three months of me being bedridden.
During these three months, my poor partner Alina had to put on a brave face despite the struggles happening in our personal life and run our business solo, bring up our son solo (who was also suffering from what was going on, despite us attempting to shield him) which was flowing onto his behaviour at school, do everything around the house to keep it running, and to try and be strong and steady while supporting me through my mental illness struggles. Thankfully Rasa was a big help during this time with stepping in and keeping the martial arts classes running (and Pat stepping in and helping out with classes also, and cornering our juniors during competitions), and BeeJay stepping up and running fitness classes when Alina wasn't able to, and Stuart's mum for being there for us during tough times.
After finding out I'd stopped taking my medication, and saying to Alina that I was going to kill myself, refusing to go to hospital for help when Alina suggested it, Alina made a decision to call the paramedics as she could tell that time was different, and it would happen. I was taken to the mental health hospital where I was admitted and stayed for a month where I was able to start to get the help I needed and start to get back on track.
When I went into hospital, I felt I was about 0% of the best I could be. When I left hospital I felt I was about 30%. This gave me some sort of life back, thankfully I always had my family, and I also had the gym and community there as well which kept me going.
I was better, but still not doing too well. I still felt the grips of the depression and anxiety. I finally got my operation on my hip, which was great but my mental health impacted my recovery, which was slow, as I struggled to get my eating and rehab on track. I was at about 40% of the best I could be at that stage.
After recommendations from my doctor (as the medication wasn't helping), I booked into a private mental health hospital and got electric shock therapy to the brain. I did this for 4-6 weeks losing my short term memory, some of the movies I saw before I went in there, forgetting people who I met in there, forgetting what day it was etc. It was pretty scary for me, and for Alina and Jackson. We didn't know what would happen after and what my memory and brain function would be like, but I kept doing it and when I left I probably had improvement of being 50-60% of the best I could be.
After a pretty rough couple of years, things had started to look up. I got back to coaching and was enjoying it. I started to really get into the kids comp team and started to see the improvement over the following months. We had a great Christmas (milestone as Christmas is usually bad for me mentally), things were great, the gym was booming, I was starting to get my mojo back for training people and was starting to do a bit of training myself.
There was light at the end of the tunnel for us finally until, I still remember the date, 20th February 2017, some f&*kheads broke into our gym and destroyed it to the point we couldn't re-open. Unfortunately our insurance payout was not adequate enough to reopen and we had to go through the painstaking, emotional and physical tedious process of having to sort through the rubble of something we had put blood, sweat, love and tears into building up for years. It also really stung us financially as we had to spend a lot of money on getting the building back to how it was.
This sent me back about 10-15%. I remember sitting in the car once again in the garage thinking how easy it would be. But once again I had to keep moving on. I lost my faith in people, and the MMA community and didn't want to look at reopening and going near martial arts again as at that time I suspected it might have been people from that industry, although though the police believe it was youths.
Alina being the wonderful partner she is saw it as an opportunity to use some of the insurance money and savings to go overseas to do a health retreat to get everything back on track, and then training. To do a trip that would not just be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but a life-saving opportunity for us. That's exactly what it was, it wasn't a holiday for us, it was something that we needed to do after a hellish few years that almost destroyed us. We were able to start healing physically, mentally and emotionally, something that would not have been possible without that trip.
So I came over to Health Oasis Retreat in Koh Samui where I did a 28 day fast detox, no eating or food, just juicing and a really great detox program. I found a positive way of life, learnt to like myself again, and started to look at the future for the first time without feeling depression and anxiety. I got rid of a lot of parasites which I learnt can contribute to mental health. I got rid of a lot of gluten, dairy, sugar and other toxins out of my system which I also believe contributed to it.
I lost 15kg there and gained a whole new perspective on life and excitement for the future. Thanks to Andy and Katie, the health gurus there. I then went to Phuket where I was initially a little worried that I may not want to start training but once I got there with Alina and Jackson I started enjoying my MMA and training, eating healthy, making my own kombucha, sauerkraut, bulletproof coffee, implementing new lifestyle changes, and enjoying myself and spending time with my family healing.
I'm off my medication. I'm training. I'm eating well. Over the last three months, I've lost 23kg of bad weight and have put on muscle. I'm feeling happy, healthy and am living life again. I'm looking to the future for the first time in a long time with positivity and enthusiasm. Alina too has been able to heal a lot from what she's been through and has gotten her health and wellbeing back on track. Jackson has settled and is doing really well, and is happy to have his Dad (and Mum) back. We have reconnected and healed as a family and become close again, happy, healthy and stable.
We're back in Australia and looking to the future. So what does my future hold? I want to get back to what I love - coaching and offering a friendly, healthy, happy community for people to come and thrive, learn, grow, get fit, fight, make friends or just forget about the crappy day they've had.
We see this is being so important, over 5 years of running a gym and meeting so many different people from different walks of life, as well as talking to lots of people overseas while training at one of the biggest martial arts gyms in the world; depression, anxiety and other mental illness is so very common, and usually suffered in silence. It seems that a lot of people who experience mental illness are drawn to martial arts and fitness. If you've trained with us you know the benefits of our gym and we've been honoured to be able to help quite a few people turn their lives around in various different aspects which is something we'd like to continue doing.
How can you help?
We need a helping hand with funds to get our gym back on its feet. We've started a Go Fund Me page. Any donation, big or small would be greatly appreciated and would help us to get back up and running so we can start creating our community and gym again.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us. We appreciate the love.
Stuart, Alina & Jackson