#1 – Being a legit MMA Fighter makes you LESS likely to get in fights outside the gym.
Training as a legit MMA fighter takes A LOT of time & physical/mental energy & when you spend that much time getting punched & kicked & thrown around & choked, the LAST thing you feel like doing is spending any energy fighting the idiot who cut you off or stole you weight bench. Being a legit MMA fighter makes you more mellow bc you know that you could most likely kick the shit out of 90% of the people who would try to pick a fight with you & you so develop a silent confidence & therefore let things slide. You have nothing to prove.
On the other side of this coin is the irrational, unpredictable pregnancy irritation that could become a blind rage in .2 seconds. Being pregnant gives you zero tolerance for anyone’s bullshit bc everything you do is an exhausting struggle – be that physical or mental. Being pregnant means at any given time you are 3/4 of the way to telling someone to get the f*ck away from you, to back the f*ck off, or to smarten the f*ck up (you say “f*ck” a lot while pregnant, it’s a fact). Add to this the fact that you are/were a legit MMA fighter: you are now a weapon of mass destruction primed to go off at any moment & to restrain this takes immense energy, focus, will & sugar, which in the end only adds to your irritation.
#2 – Being a legit MMA fighter gets you in wicked shape & so you get to enjoy feeling like a sexy beast.
It takes so many hours of ridiculously hard work to get prepared for a legit MMA fight & the physiological response is usually to drop body fat. The benefit of being in the best shape of your life is that you LOOK like you’re in the best shape of your life & you get to walk around knowing that your bulging muscle & obvious athletic prowess is appealing (even if only to you) but also terrifying. Being in fighting shape is the ultimate Alpha expression & you’ll feel it…even if the rest of the world doesn’t.
In stark contrast we have pregnancy.
As a legit MMA fighter, being pregnant means you’re in the worst shape of your life & most horribly, not bc you chose this (in the sense of quitting exercise/healthy food), but bc mother nature & evolution are sneaky bitches. You cannot outsmart them & you cannot outwork them. Being pregnant means that even if you eat well & workout you will gain weight (as you should). You get slower & bigger & softer & the Alpha feeling gets replaced with the Zeta feeling: a word I made up that means you’re at the end of the alphabet bc you probably feel so hideous & unfamiliar to yourself. And if you weren’t so exhausted from pregnancy induced insomnia you’d work out at 4am so you could avoid having to even see people in such a condition bc their lack of fear is also irritating. Also, bc it helps you avoid getting in fights.
#3 – Being a legit MMA fighter, especially female fighter, means people are afraid to talk to you.
It doesn’t matter how friendly & nice you actually are, if people know that you’re an MMA fighter & you also have the physique of a legit athlete, most people are intimidated by you. My experience has been that muscular women are scary in our society; add to that the fighter bit & you are an outright freak of nature. This can be really annoying, however, you can be assured that people WILL NOT say really stupid/offensive things to you (except about your muscles). They also will NEVER touch you bc they’re already convinced that you might attack them. So this perception of you, no matter how false, helps prevent people from pissing you off and/or offending you, bc they have the common sense to only say such things behind your back.
And then we have pregnancy; the time of your life when EVERYONE has an opinion about EVERYTHING about you. Your body, your weight, your overall size, what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, & worst of all they TOUCH you. Now if you’ve been paying attention you can see that so far along we have a highly irritated, most likely irrational woman that is unbearably uncomfortable with inevitable changes of pregnancy & then someone is going to comment on her changing shape & size & then follow up with trying to touch her growing belly!! It’s a disaster. To go from one extreme to the other is paralyzing bc it is such a strain to not tell people to f*ck off that it hurts your face. Like you haven’t noticed all these changes & the fact that your everything has muffin-top & your everything hurts & your everything is retaining water & your everything doesn’t fit you & everything has suddenly started to feel 20x harder to do (like stairs, putting on your pants, putting on your shoes, breathing, being alive in general etc).
Now bear in mind this is only my experience & there are plenty of great things about being pregnant (or so they say…just kidding…not really) but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.
I’m sure I’ll add to this list.
I remember many years ago I began reading up on Buddhism in an attempt to try & alleviate some of the struggle & pain in which I’d engulfed.
This was back when I was quite sick with Anorexia; so obviously it seemed way easier to address my problems by diving headfirst into spiritual exploration & existential questioning than it did to eat a sandwich.
Of all the things I read on this topic over the years, the lesson that has always stood out the most, & simultaneously pissed me off the most, is the teaching that suffering is created not necessarily by specific situations, but rather, our resistance to such situations.
Now as someone with a fair amount of trauma littering her past, the idea that my “suffering” wasn’t related to the actual situations I was thrown into as a kid sounds like utter bullshit. And it would be if that were the point of that teaching, but I don’t believe it is. I believe the suffering being referenced is about that which we experience as decision-making adults vs. children at the mercy of adults.
But I’ve come face-to-face with this teaching a lot over the past year due to this injury.
I have physical pain: there’s no denying that & that pain has very little to do with my refusal to accept anything, though I most certainly made things worse by continuing to train the way I did. But I was legitimately ignorant about the severity of what was going on.
But after a couple hard mitt sessions a few weeks ago, I sent myself into a spiral of pain (again). I set something off with this injury & haven’t had a single moment free of pain in the 3 weeks since. Today I’m at the point where I’m just sick-to-fucking-death of being in pain bc it impacts my life significantly. It impacts my well being. It sinks me.
So as I’m sitting or laying somewhere thinking thoughts of feeling sorry for myself & being angry about how this is the Never Ending Story of my life. I remember that lesson: suffering is resistance. And I think to myself, “What are you resisting?” And then I get super irritated at myself bc ultimately I want the answer to be NOTHING.
This is being done to me. Sure, I did this by over-training & not listening to my body & pushing too hard, too often but I am behaving now & yet still I keep experiencing this pain. I am not resisting. I am being attacked. Targeted. Unfairly ambushed by fate. God. Goddess. The Easter Bunny. All of them. Everyone is after me.
But you know what’s killing me?
It’s not just the pain, & I most definitely am not downplaying the pain, but it’s that I refuse to lay down & quit trying. I won’t just sit around. And when I have this kind of flareup, I get anxious by thinking that I’ll never get better. That pain is going to be my ongoing reality. That I won’t be able to do most of the activities that I enjoy & that make me feel good. That I’ll get fat & soft & weak & out of shape.
I don’t accept this as today’s reality bc I’m terrified this means I accept this as permanent…even though other Buddhist teaching are about lack of attachment & impermanence….but I’m not a Monk so cut me a break.
I’m not exactly sure what my point is. I suppose it’s simply shining the light on that fact that I realize I make the experience of physical pain worse by not just accepting it as where I am today. Admittedly, It’s tricky bc I have been struggling with this for over a year now. I’ve had a lot of “today’s” filled with pain.
But I do have good days…I’ve actually even had good weeks.
And perhaps if I’m super honest with myself, I might find that when I trigger these soul-crushing bouts of relentless pain, I’ve often (but certainly not always) caused it by not respecting where I am “today.”
I still want to be where I was when I could walk & move & train without any concern of pain.
I still want 100% from myself bc I haven’t quite wrapped myself around what my new (& hopefully temporary) 100% looks like.
Or the fact that asking 100% of myself today doesn’t mean the same thing it meant over a year ago.
I’m not sacrificing my body for the pursuit of skill perfection or athletic evolution.
That sacrifice cost me greatly.
I guess today’s 100% isn’t about pushing to my limit & then 10% more. Instead, 100% is about listening & respecting my body for where it is & what it needs 100% of the time….which realistically will mean 75% of the time.
I’m not very good at it yet. I think I’ve been resisting where I am. I like this reality: it sucks. It’s painful & unpredictable & unstable (physically) & hard to navigate.
And while this resistance doesn’t account for my physical pain, it sure accounts for my wanting to lay in my Lay-Z Boy after work & eat bags of candy in pants with elastic waistbands.
That is why they invented Spanx, after all.
But I’ll resist the urge to give in & instead accept what I need to do today without concerning myself of what I might find tomorrow bc what I have learned is that tomorrow will most certainly not be better than today if I don’t respect where I am & what needs to happen today.
Well, the past almost 2 weeks have been bullshit.
I hit mitts twice 2 weeks ago & somehow locked up my SI joints & gave myself 1.5wks of wicked sciatica.
This is how it goes with this hip problem; my whole low back is so unstable that it only takes one little thing to set off a chain reaction of pain throughout my hip/low back/quad.
It’s brutal. I tried to go for a walk in the sunshine & had to cut it short bc the sciatica was so bad & my IT band was causing pain down my left hip/quad.
So I had to cut out all leg work for 2 weeks. Hardly any cardio bc I’m scared of making it worse.
It’s an incredibly frustrating situation to not be able to do what I want to do, particularly when what I want to do is so scaled back. Not being able to go for a walk? That is just ridiculous.
I’m really hopeful that the specialist will tell me what is wrong & what needs to happen to fix it because this whole walking on eggshells around this injury is taxing mentally. I can’t just enjoy being active.
I’ve done so many upper body workouts I feel like one of the dudes from my gym who trains chest/back/traps every day of the week.
But I’ve learned from many past mistakes that if I push through this pain I will wind up suffering a more intense pain for 2x as long & that’s just not worth it to me anymore.
I’ve switched my program from a 5 day split to a 3 day split so that I (theoretically) have more time for yoga & cardio & a metabolic session….but that depends on my hip/low back releasing.
I also found trying to get 2 hard leg days per week wasn’t always possible, bc sometimes my hip was sore & needed the extra break. So I’m going to keep 1 scheduled in & then hit a second body weight focused workout if my hip is feeling good.
Hopefully at some point this week I can work legs & get some easy cardio; at this point I’d be stoked to go walk for an hour in the sunshine. Not exactly my typical ideal “workout.”
I finally got a call from the specialist & will be going to (hopefully) get my hip figured out in May, which seems like a long time to wait but is certainly better than nothing.
My intention is not to get whiney, but I’ve been dealing with this pain for over a year now; it’s gotten to the point where the limitations I face have become natural.
People invite me to do specialized training, like plyos or something, & I have to say no because if I did that I wouldn’t be able to walk or sit without overwhelming pain for 1-2 weeks.
I also still can’t lay on my left side. Or cross my legs. Because doing either one means when I go from seated to standing, I get a razor sharp, breath stealing zap of pain in my hip that prevents me from being able to take a step for about 5-10 seconds.
I also can’t turn my knee outwards or move laterally without triggering the pain.
I’m not even upset about these things anymore because it’s been my reality for so long.
That isn’t to say I’m not fed-up & sick of fearing the pain & being limited in my movement. I’m just so accustomed to it that I don’t even think about it anymore.
So, I hope to have some answers by spring & to have a course of action planned out to fix whatever is wrong in there & that’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I could even be pain-free by next year!
I don’t know exactly how long it’s been since I made the ‘official’ decision to step back from MMA but I can tell you that things have been going pretty well.
The whole purpose of stepping away from MMA was to heal; I’d been struggling with this excruciating injury for 1 year & while at times it seemed to get a little better, there was always that inevitable set-back that resulted in me hobbling around in unrelenting pain. Usually, that set-back was found in wrestling/jits or kicking people (sparring).
The worst thing would have been to take this step back, give up the sport I love & dive head first into my pity-party (catered by the bulk candy section of Safeway) only to not get better. That would’ve been the worse case scenario because not only would I be sitting there in pain, feeling sorry for myself in hideous sweat pants, but I would also be no closer to understanding or fixing whatever was causing all the pain.
I am happy to be slowly getting better. I still have setbacks but nowhere near the degree I had when I was training for my sport everyday.
I’ve been able to add full leg workouts to my regimen, which was a bonus because it had been about 10 months since I’d been physically capable of training my legs, which was depressing because I’d actually built myself some impressive looking legs (hello quad sweep). I know that sounds like a weird thing to care about but I’m weird like that. So my legs lost most of their power & definition because my hip couldn’t handle external loading.
My leg workouts now are not what they used to be. I did plyometrics at home about 2 weeks ago, which resulted in muscles so sore I debated wearing Depends diapers so I didn’t have to try & squat down onto the toilet.
It’s been tough to reintegrate leg workouts because I have to do sissy leg workouts: I am used to single leg pressing 270lbs & doing step ups with 180lbs…or something like that. My point is that my legs were strong & now if I do the leg press (which I’ve only ventured to 1x because I’m not sure that my hip would be happy) I do single leg @ 90lbs. Mind you I do about 20-25 reps each set, but that doesn’t help me feel like any less of a wuss.
There is no place for ego in my workouts.
I’ve continued to box as a form of cardio & simply because I love pad work/bag work. I have to make sure that it’s set up in my week appropriately or else that still bugs my hip & SI joint.
I would say this has been the biggest challenge for me; having to structure my ‘intensity’ so that my hip isn’t over-loaded through cardio/leg work/boxing on an ongoing basis. It’s really annoying.
But honestly, I should have been doing this all along as it was this lack of appropriate structure to my training which led me here (most likely). I went too hard, too often. The problem is that I like to train hard: if I’m not sweating & pushing myself to the outer edge of some limit, then I don’t enjoy it as much. It doesn’t satisfy me.
I know this is wrong. When I do plans for other people, I focus exclusively on periodization & making sure there is ample rest & recovery to body parts/systems. But I didn’t prioritize this for myself. I was chasing the athletic edge and even though I know that athletes need rest in order to attain & maintain their edge, I still refused to apply it to myself. I was too caught up in pursuing ‘better’. I obviously think I’m pretty fucking special.
Now I have no choice but to do this or I can’t walk properly & I’ll initiate a chain reaction that can take up to 2 weeks to stop & that means 2 weeks of horrible pain & extreme physical limitation.
But I am learning; now when I feel something funky going on in my hip or SI joint, I back off. I rest or pick something that doesn’t stress the joint. I still push a bit hard but I’ve learned where that threshold is.
Do I miss my sport?
Do I wish I was still doing it?
In some ways, definitely. But in other ways, I do not. I put up with a lot of things while I was fighting because I had a goal. Each fight presented a new opportunity, so I followed it. It was a natural progression that kept me focused & looking ahead. But my gym was going through some significant changes & it was impacting me significantly both personally, & as a fighter.
Going to the gym was as much passion as it was a job; I had to show up when I didn’t want to, both for myself & my training partners. It’s an expected piece for any legitimate fighter. But the changes taking place at my gym were making it increasingly difficult to show up & I felt like I was compromising parts of myself that I wouldn’t normally compromise because I had no where else to train (I wasn’t going to move).
Stepping back from fighting has brought a lot of freedom to my life. I have more time available to enjoy a variety of activities. I have more time for family & friends. I train differently at the gym & this change has brought new energy & focus into working out. I also don’t workout for hours on end. I enjoy boxing (or kickboxing if I could kick) for the love of the sport, not because I feel pressured to nail down a new skill/ability. I do what I do because I want to, not because I have to & that’s very liberating.
Most significantly, I am in the least amount of pain that I’ve been in since December 2012 & that is priceless to me. Constant pain starts to wear a person down; it dulls life.
And, as it always does, the process I’ve had to embrace through healing myself physically, has been mirrored in other areas of my life. Once I decided that I could no longer tolerate the ongoing experience of pain & that I had to stop & listen to my body & listen to myself, I have found that I have less tolerance for situations or people in my life that bring negativity.
Letting go of MMA was about saying, “Just getting by isn’t good enough anymore.”
Letting go in life is much the same because whether you are living a life you love or loathe, you are the only person responsible for this & the only one with the power to change it.
This one shows my little vein a bit better.
Hopefully over the next few months it will come out of hiding a bit more.
I did an entire lower body workout this week!
It was pretty chill & involved A LOT of foam rolling & stretching in b/w movements & I made the following day a rest day let everything settle. BUT….
I didn’t get ANY stabbing pain in my hip the next day/evening.
Why is this worth writing to the Internets about? Because in the past 11.5 months I have completed a whopping 2 full lower body workouts & that includes the one from this Tuesday. Shuffling quickly across the street to avoid getting run-over when I jay-walk gives me stabbing pain, so this is pretty exciting stuff for me….which paints a pretty clear picture of the comical, yet tragic, state of my life for the past year.
This whole “rest” & “moderation” thing seems to be working. Who would’ve thought such sorcery & hippie shit would work?!
This is very encouraging because I am going into 2 consecutive pain-free days (not to say free of discomfort, but I’ll take what I can get) & that is FANTASTIC news because that means I am one step closer to NOT becoming an alcoholic or raging lunatic or quitting life all together, gaining 100lbs, growing a mustache & purchasing a Little Rascal Scooter.
My problem, or more accurately, one of my problems is that I believe that I must do the maximum, full tilt, mother load of everything & anything I do.
Gonna go for a walk? Nah, too easy – let’s jog up a hill…oh wait, jogging is for sissies, let’s sprint…that’s a way bigger hill over there…let’s go do multiple sprints up that one…I think I tore my groin…awesome, more pain = more calories burned.
Or how about – Yoga? Don’t mind if I do….what’s the hardest kind…no, harder than that…can I go faster….she’s bending way farther than me…I can do that for sure…oh my god, I think I ripped my vagina….awesome, more pain = more calories burned.
I will race you on the treadmill (when I can actually run). I will race you on the EFX. I will race you to the bathroom. I will pee faster. I will sweat more. No matter what I do – it has to be to the max. And it’s not actually in competition with ‘you’ but the metaphorical ‘you’, so really, it’s me: it’s yesterday’s me or tomorrow’s me or the me when I come down off of pre-workout. Anything less than walking the border of my max capacity has always seemed like a waste of precious time.
It’s really not difficult to see how I wound up so injured; I’m crazy & kinda stupid.
However, I had a small victory last night during my yoga practice. It was time for Wheel aka back bends aka not a good f*cking idea when your SI joint, hip & back have been buggered all week from your last time you did something you shouldn’t have been doing.
But as I was about to push up into my first back bend, I realized that this would not be assisting me in decreasing the pain in my ass region & so the logical aka smart thing to do would be a sissy Wheel.
So I did the sissy Wheel.
One part of me scoffed at how unimpressive this was & the other was relieved that I would not be requiring an ass doughnut at work.
It’s not exactly breaking news to know that most women exist in a love-hate battle with their bodies. Some of us endure more of a hate-hate relationship; resulting in a daily experience of torment.
I lived that experience for a ridiculously long time. I thought being skinny would fix everything, whatever “everything” was.
I became so obsessed with being skinny that I pushed myself to weighing 97lbs. I won’t detail the gruesome schedule required to attain this ridiculous number, but I will tell you that my eating disorder almost cost me most of my vision.
But this isn’t some depressing story of another messed up girl who hates her body & tried to starve her life into submission.
Rather, this is a description of the liberation I found in my sport & the threat I face in having to let go of it as I have come to know it. I’m sure this sounds melodramatic & slightly depressing, but I promise we’ll turn a corner if you stick it out.
My life as an MMA fighter brought me face to face with my physical self. It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that for someone to essentially starve & over-exercise themselves to 97lbs, one must make the decision to tune out the body. In my field of work this is known as “disassociation”; & this was something, healthy or not, that I came to master.
In my opinion, some of my success as an athlete came from the ability to disassociate from physical discomfort. In this way, I did what I knew I needed to do; I shut off, tuned out & did what had to be done. Being an athlete presents an interesting dichotomy; you must tune into your body because your success depends upon it performing properly, & yet a successful athlete needs to ignore the physical & mental pain/discomfort/exhaustion from time to time.
When I wasn’t in a training camp I trained 5-6 days per week for 1.5-3 hours & the more I progressed in my sport the more frequent my intense training became. I was fuelled as much by the pursuit of progress as I was the fear that anything less wouldn’t be good enough.
And I suppose that fear leads me to where I am today.
Every day, I am limited by physical pain. I used to walk into the gym & do whatever I needed to do without much concern over the potential cost to my body. I hoisted 250lb men in the air for takedowns. I ran at maximum HR for 20 minutes or more. I sparred with people twice my size. I was beat up & beat down & I rose each day to do it again because I knew it made me better.
Today I count myself lucky if I can push a moderate pace on the Ellipitcal machine.
My body is asking for things I haven’t given it in a long time. It’s asking for generosity & patience & kindness & respectful acknowledgement of limitation. And I know without question that it is the right thing to do. My physical pain is a testament to what happens when one chooses not to listen to what the body asks for.
But I find myself at the door to some of my deepest & oldest fears.
I am afraid that taking it easy & scaling everything back will cause me to lose many of the things I love about my life & myself.
I am afraid to lose my strength & power. I am afraid of losing the sense of knowing where I belong in the world. I am afraid of losing my fitness & getting fat.
I am afraid that what I have to give is not enough because it represents a fraction of what I am used to giving: to my sport, to my training, to my goals & to myself. No matter what happened in my life, I always had the consolation that chance could never claim my dedication.
I am in a period of readjustment & those demons in the closet are stirring. My sport brought me assurance because I knew that no matter what I looked like, my body was the result of performance. Regardless of how it looked, I knew it could do amazing things.
But I can’t do many of those amazing things right now & so the balance is unsettled.
But here is where I turn it around.
I’m not going to act like being in pain every day doesn’t suck, because it seriously sucks.
But underneath my frustration & self-pity is the opportunity to listen. And this might sound like some new-age-hippy-bullshit, but the truth is that my life has been consumed with “shoulds” & “could’s” & “have to’s” for as long as I can remember.
I suddenly find myself asking the most preposterous question: “What do I feel like doing?”
It’s not an easy question to answer because it’s been so long since I asked it & it’s a question long answered by fear.
At first it was my fear of ‘fat’ & then it was my fear of missing an opportunity. That’s not to say there wasn’t passion & enjoyment, but what I wanted was never as important as what I thought I needed to do in order to be better.
In life’s ironic way, I find myself unable to not listen to my body because it is relentless in its reminders of what it can & cannot do.
And I find myself amidst a very physical experience & yet like all of life’s big, crazy events, what this is really about, is not what is happening.
It’s about so much more.
It’s easy to life a life full of distraction so the buzz of your doing distracts from the internal buzz of thought & experience. I am not saying that a life filled with activities & hobbies is a negative thing, but I think one can become addicted such things because within stillness echoes the rumblings of our darker side.
Being fully present in our lives is difficult & exhausting. We turn on the T.V. or laptop & tune out our internal world. In many ways this is decompression; it’s how we unwind from a long day of work or school or raising kids. But just as easily, what we do becomes a distraction from experiencing life & ourselves.
Our lives are claimed through sequences of seemingly insignificant moments. Whether you like it or not, you are here now, in this form, for a limited amount of time. I do not know what you could do right now to claim this moment as yours, but I know you have the opportunity to claim it. Whether you need to take a walk & admire the moon, have a glass of wine, or forgive yourself for not being perfect, you have the opportunity to tune in & listen, because not listening catches up with us sooner or later.
And that might sound like some hippy-bullshit…but my name is “River”, after all.