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“The Standing Eight Count” by Luke

4 October

by Freedom Of Mind

Blogs

This weeks blog post comes from Luke, who wanted to write about the relationship between his mental health and Muay Thai (a form of boxing). He talks openly about his own journey…

TW: Cancer, suicidal thoughts, depression.

There you stand, hazy and confused after taking a relentless barrage of blows. There’s an eerie silence and you become acutely aware you are all alone. No one to save you. The referee in your face, his expert eyes casting judgment on your ability to continue…the count rising…’5! 6! 7!’…pressure building…it’s now or never.

But what if your head doesn’t clear, you can’t get your breath back or your legs will no longer support you. What if there’s no fight left in you?

It felt like I had lost my fight one miserable winter’s afternoon.

On my way to work I found myself crying, walking towards an oncoming train at Mile End station with an uncontrollable desire to jump. Sure, I’d thought of suicide before – on a daily basis in fact. Hell, I’d even planned where I’d blissfully hang and where I’d buy the rope. The thought of death seemed so serene to me I almost longed for it. Yet never had the urge become so strong that my body was acting upon it. This was when I knew I needed to seek help and fast. I screamed out loud ‘NO, NO, NO. STOP!’, people looked at me strangely, I ran out of the station and began my road to recovery.

For a while I knew something peculiar was occurring and the clock was ticking, but I’d always dismiss it with the good old Yorkshire belief that ‘tha’ll be reet’. I was just being soft I’d tell myself. On reflection I was far from ‘reet’ and after a series of consultations with a psychologist it transpired my mind had been silently battling itself for a very long time.

Roughly 8 years ago I had a choice to make, give up fighting or watch my degree slip away. It was a painful pill to swallow but I begrudgingly chose to stop competing in Muay Thai. This inevitably led to me skipping training and embracing the standard student lifestyle of drink, drugs and parties. For a while I really enjoyed it, properly loved it – these vices are simply not available to you as a fighter and I was reveling in it.

However there’s a fine line when you lead this lifestyle and I’d embarked on it almost out of spite at not being able to do what I loved. For that reason it began to spiral. It became a habit and not a choice. I had kind of submitted to the fact I didn’t need to look after myself anymore, what was the point? – I wasn’t going to fight again.

Then the cancer struck.

Instantly my life was turned upside down. It’s the worst possible thing you can ever hear. After a couple of surgeries and months of recovery the cancer had gone, the doctor told me I was “fine”. Physically I was, there’s no denying that, but mentally I wasn’t. Again, I’d give off this persona of a strong Yorkshire lad and dismiss my concerns, but inside I was a ruin. From therein I was drinking and abusing my body not to have fun, but to escape. Reality scared me.

I had zero desire for anything anymore. Literally nothing. I became uncharacteristically short-tempered and very defensive of my idiotic behavior. Strains in relationships with people started surfacing, particularly with my girlfriend, as I tried to isolate myself and things were quickly spiraling out of control. Isn’t it strange how we neglect those closest to us in times of despair?

The tipping point came as a culmination of factors – drink, drugs, emerging relationship issues, no self-respect and ultimately the lack of desire to live. The stresses of a PhD life served to amplify this deeper unrest and in a back-handed way I should be grateful to the PhD for that – it ultimately led me to that horrible situation on the tube platform. It’s an experience I will never forget and hopefully never revisit.

Through seeing a psychologist I learned a lot about my past and how that affected my present. I also learned techniques on how to approach and overcome the shit that life will undoubtedly throw at you. The therapy brought balance to my life and also guided me back to Muay Thai.

I may not be an active fighter anymore, but Muay Thai has been in my blood since the first time I stepped into the gym at the age of 14. The musky smell of sweat mingling with the sharp scent of Thai oil. The satisfying crack as someone smacks the pads. The shouts of ‘oooee’ in admiration of a well-executed technique. The camaraderie and jovial banter. The positivity. All this feels like home to me, indeed I class my fellow stablemates and coaches as family. Muay Thai has shaped me into the man I am today and I owe an incredible amount to the sport. It is my source of serenity, I now realise that and It’s comforting to be back.

Looking at the bigger picture, perhaps my experiences with depression were beneficial, clearly my lifestyle choices needed addressing and I needed guidance in life. Perhaps depression is an evolved mechanism that triggers change. After all there is no light without dark…It’s safe to say this is only true if people speak up and seek help, else they may never see the light.

That said, it’s important for us as a society to understand and be supportive. It’s everybody’s responsibility to recognise the signs of depression so people don’t suffer alone. We are pack animals, we have always and will always rely on each other for success.

Professional help saved my life.
Muay Thai has given me life.

I have a long road ahead, but I’m once again proud to be alive.

My fight is back, hands are up, head is cleared, I’ve nodded to the referee…let me back at it!

If you feel personally affected by any of the issues, please visit our talking and support page for more help, or use the “I need help now” button at the top of the page.

Illustration for this piece was created by Ed Leeds.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.


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