Depression is one of the most common mental illness in the world, and although many people incorrectly associate it with feeling sad all the time, the truth is that it manifests in a variety of different mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Before I was diagnosed, I started noticing that something was really, truly wrong when I went to jiu-jitsu class and things just felt… off. I felt like my brain was surrounded by fog, and the sport that had once brought me joy now made me miserable and confused. Sure enough, when I finally went to see what was wrong, I was diagnosed with severe depression, and it wasn’t until I got on medication that I started to feel like my old self again.
Everyone experiences depression different and having just one or two symptoms might indicate a lifestyle issue rather than a medical one. But if you’re experiencing these things when you show up to class every day, it’s worth your while to visit a medical professional and see if you’re fighting against a mental illness.
- You feel like falling asleep in the middle of class. After a tough day at work or school, even a sweaty jiu-jitsu mat looks like the perfect place for a nap. But have you ever felt yourself getting ridiculously sleepy even in the middle of a roll? Fatigue is a major symptom of depression, and it can definitely take over even when you’re turtled up and defending your back. If your brain is regularly trying to convince you to close your eyes just for a thirty-second nap when you’re pinned in side control, that’s not normal.
- You can’t focus on what the instructor is teaching. Even the best pupils occasionally zone out in the middle of class, but if you’re genuinely struggling to focus on what your instructor is teaching during just about every class, you might have concentration problems. People with depression often experience ADD/ADHD-like symptoms, so if you’re constantly having to struggle to remember basic techniques even for the time it takes to pair up with someone after a new move is taught, consider going to a doctor and seeing what’s up.
- The little things piss you off. There’s a difference between having a bad day and constantly feeling like a ticking time bomb. Jiu-jitsu is mentally and emotionally taxing, and you’ve probably experienced a few days where you wanted to throw your gi in the garbage after getting submitted one too many times. Constant irritability, though, is an indication that something bigger is at play. If you feel like you’re constantly on the verge of crying or storming out of the gym over things like getting dominated by your teammates or just not being able to get the new technique down pat, you might have a case of depression on your hands (or rather, in your head).
- You beat yourself up over everything. If you haven’t had one of those days where you just go home and spend a while hating on yourself for your poor performance in class or at a competition, you haven’t been doing jiu-jitsu for very long. There’s a problem, though, when your feelings of pessimism start controlling your entire jiu-jitsu journey. You’re going to have good and bad days in jiu-jitsu, but if every day feels like a bad day, that’s not normal. You shouldn’t be driving home every day with a little voice in your head telling you that you suck or that you don’t contribute anything to the team. If an external source such as your teammates or professor is making you feel that way, that’s another issue entirely. But if the only person telling yourself that you’ll never be good at this and that you’re an embarrassment to yourself is you, something is wrong.
- You expect yourself to fail. Jiu-jitsu is an awesome confidence booster, but admittedly, it takes a while to get there. You’re going to experience a lot of defeat, and it’s normal for that to wear on you to an extent. The issue comes in when you’re going into every class or competition anticipating failure. A lack of confidence can often be overcome, but when you have depression, it’s kind of a permanent fixture in your brain. You might sign up for tournaments and wonder what the point is since you’re just going to lose anyway. You’ll often set the bar extremely low for yourself not because you’re lazy or a quitter, but because you genuinely don’t believe you can achieve anything more.
- Your headaches are affecting your performance. Let’s be real here: once you start jiu-jitsu, everything hurts. Pretty much all the time. Forever. Your shoulders and back and knees are going to be banged up no matter what you do. But unless you’re not sleeping, eating, or drinking enough, you shouldn’t be getting unexplained aches and pains like headaches unless you’ve already been diagnosed with an underlying problem. Depression manifests in physical symptoms as well, and the physical activity we do in jiu-jitsu can exacerbate them. If you’re experiencing digestive upset, headaches, or cramps when you train, you should be going to a doctor anyway; they’re likely signs of some kind of medical issue, whether it’s depression or something else.
- You can’t motivate yourself. If you try to tell me that you’ve never experienced a day (or two… or twenty) in which you’d much rather stay home in your pajamas and watch TV than work your butt off on the mat, you’re a dirty liar. But what about when you feel like getting up to go train is just as much of a battle as the training itself? A lack of motivation is a huge symptom of clinical depression, and it really messes up your BJJ life once it takes a hold of you. Everyone experiences times when they’d rather sit on the sidelines instead of rolling, but you know yourself: if you’re usually the type who does. not. quit, transforming into the type who prefers the couch to the mat and tries to peace out of class as early as possible might be a sign that something’s not right.
- You hate training. As much as we jiu-jitsu nerds love to say that our sport is for everyone, the sad truth is that not everyone will enjoy rolling around with sweaty people as much as we do. Just because someone loses interest in jiu-jitsu doesn’t mean that they’re depressed, but a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities is one of the biggest indicators that you have depression. If you’re normally the type of person who eats, breathes, sleeps, and of course, trains jiu-jitsu, there’s a very high chance that you have depression if you start finding yourself dreading going to class. Going through a slump every now and again is normal, but depression has a sneaky way of taking away all the things you love. Pay attention if the thought of rolling is suddenly less appealing than a trip to the DMV — your depression might be trying to steal jiu-jitsu from you.
If you find yourself experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please reach out to a friend and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.