Posts Tagged ‘Martial Arts’

Sticher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/urbantacticsstudios/warriors-den?refid=stpr 
itunes:https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/urban-tactics-krav-maga-warriors/id969549693?mt=2

Asher Smiley is a Krav Maga Instructor out of Petaluma, California. He is certified in multiple organizations including the IKF, where we originally met. His school is https://kravmagarevolution.com/ . In this podcast we talk about Self defense, whats going on with policing, the riots, some politics of course and a little bit about being Jewish and Israel.

Sticher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/urbantacticsstudios/warriors-den?refid=stpr itunes:https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/urban-tactics-krav-maga-warriors/id969549693?mt=2

This is based on the original series UTKM Blog series “Its Not so Black and White” which included “Understanding Use of Force“, “Knee on Neck“, “Police training should be better” and “How we should select for police“. with added commentary in between each. This serious was originally created to take a deeper look at police and use of force after the death of George Floyd. It is recommended that you watch the use of force video on the knee on Neck post.

Choosing the wrong training partner could have disastrous consequences (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader w/additions

Recently, we have been doing a series on injury in martial arts, from the emotional aspect to recovery. In this one we are going to discuss one way to help in preventing injuries.

That is learning to pick the right partner.

The reason for this is the right partner can make your training experience even better, whereas the wrong partner can make injuries can happen. In Krav Maga and other martial arts there is phenomenon referred to as the “spastic white belt”. These are individuals who are chaotic in their movements or they are much bigger than others and try to muscle through everything (even if they do not know it the technique). This odd species of new student is common in any gym, and, while it is ultimately the instructor’s job to manage them, you have to watch out for them and know how to protect yourself. You are, after all, an adult; thus you can make adult decisions.

This means, when it comes time to pick a partner, know who you would like to be with to optimize your training.

Of course, if you are new then the Instructor should be assigning you a more experienced student to work with, in order to help guide you in the process. Although sometimes it’s simply the luck of the draw, as the instructor has no control over who shows up to any one class.

Beyond that, when an instructor says “find a partner” that’s when you need to act swiftly to pair with a person (or persons) who you know you can train effectively with. Often what happens when the students are told to get a partner everyone kind of looks around and waits, but this is how you often end up being “picked last,” and getting stuck with someone you, and everyone else, didn’t want to be with.

If you are lucky the instructor will be on point and notice your discomfort, or they don’t like the pairing, due to size or skill, and will change it for you. However, once again, you are an adult and there is only one instructor, so partner picking really becomes about ownership and taking responsibility for this very important task.

What things should you consider:

  1. Have you trained with them before? – This sounds obvious but it isn’t always. If you have trained with someone before and you are comfortable with them, then try to partner with them quickly. Or if you have trained with someone before and you didn’t enjoy it then try to avoid them (as politely as possible). Of course, if there is a big issue or a valid concern, make sure to talk to your instructor. In general, you want to partner with people you are comfortable with, so that you are relaxed and focused while learning, and therefore can train properly.
  2. Have you seen them training before? – If you have not trained with a person, then have you seen them train with others? If not, then ask yourself “were you practicing proper situational awareness?” If you were, then you should have some idea if they are a good option for you based on their actions, and the reactions of their past partners.
  3. Is their size and skill appropriate to the drill? – Unless the instructor has specifically asked you to train with someone much larger than you, then, especially as a beginner, it might be better to partner with someone who isn’t too big or too small. For some activities, like holding pads, size and skill won’t matter as much (unless they are a heavy weight, in which case it might not matter who holds the pads, it still hurts). Other techniques, like bear hugs or grabs, will be difficult at first if the person is to big and strong compared to you. When you are starting out you need to get the technical aspects down first before you can “go ham” with full aggression.
  4. Do they have a “reputation” at the school? – Have you heard people complain about this person’s power control? Have you been warned to watch out for them in certain context, eg. sparring? Are they known for going to hard or not following drills correctly? Forewarned is forearmed! Some people may be great to drill with, but in sparring they can’t control their power, some just don’t get the basics of holding pads. In any case, bring it to the attention of the instructor if the situation doesn’t improve or is dangerous.

Of course, at the end of the day, some people just need a bit of work and help to be good partners. Most people don’t want to do things wrong, and they certainly don’t want to earn the title “spastic white belt” and become pariahs in their gym. It could be that a few minutes before or after class is all it takes to clue someone in about how to hold pads, why a drill flows a certain way, or how to figure out pulling punches/kicks. Helping someone improve, or informing them of something they didn’t realize they were doing incorrectly will benefit them, you, and the rest of the students. While this is largely up to the instructor, again, if you are an adult, working on your communication skills with your training partners is important. It is, after all, a very important aspect of stage 1 and 2 self-defence.

Either way, mastering the art of picking a partner and/or building your partners up is more important than you think. After all, without good training partners you will not develop at the rate you want. Or worse, injury might be in your future if you pick the wrong partner. So, think hard, communicate effectively, learn to spot those who work for you as a partner, and get to them quickly for training.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Editors Note: This post was originally written on November 9th, 2016, As we are currently doing a series on injuries we thought we would re-post some past articles on this topic. This one was written by Assistant Instructor Dave Young who is a professional musician as well as martial artist. Like many who train martial arts, injury is a big concern, especially if it can affect your ability to do your other hobbies or your job. Yet, many musicians train in the martial arts without issues, like David Lee Roth of Van Halen. The discipline and consistency needed for music is much like that of the martial arts, so it should be a natural draw for musicians, but fear of injury can often prevent many from learning something they always wanted to learn. See our previous post on Injury Anxiety. This, however, has never stopped Dave, who has since moved out of the city and we wish him the best. We know he will continue his martial arts journey no matter where he is, so keep an eye out for this bearded warrior.

Audio By Jonathan Fader
daveyoung2

In any martial art, there is always the risk of getting injured. I think most martial art and self-defence students have experienced at least one mild injury during their training. This is the trade-off; training that is meant to prevent violence requires violence, so it must be imbued with an inherent risk. Yet, being trained allows you to reduce risk in a real fight.

How can you avoid injury in training and avoid injury in a real situation?

As a musician, my hands and my brain are the two most important things that allow me to write, record, and perform. Thus, throwing punches and getting hit in the head may seem counter-intuitive towards preserving these body parts. There is a balance between avoiding injury to maintain my ability to work, and taking the risk of injury to be able to defend myself and my family.

First of all, I am NOT a fan of being punched in the face or hit in the head in any manner.  Many studies show that repeated blows to the head, even those that don’t cause concussions, can cause long-term changes in the brain and have lasting neurological effects. That being said, it is very important from a Krav Maga perspective to experience high pressure real world situations and be able to react appropriately.

In a fight, you are going to get hit, so experiencing the real thing in a simulation-type environment is invaluable as a learning tool.  At UTKM, we spar in a very controlled manner, and this is great for safety.  Even so, accidents happen. Everyone is at a different point in learning to control their strikes (and their emotions), so the best way to avoid getting hit, and protect your brain, is to train hard and improve your technique.

The best way to avoid getting hit, and protect your brain, is to train hard and improve your technique.

When it comes to protecting my hands, the same idea applies: Hone your technique.  I work hard on improving my technique so that I retain thorough muscle memory of the proper movements and positions, whether I’m punching a bag, focus mitts, or sparring with one or many opponents. This reduces my chances of injury — remembering to keep my hands up, fist at 45°, elbow slightly bent, and so on. When I ingrain this into my muscle memory, I won’t need to remember to do it in a distressing situation, my body will know it and do it.

Better hurt in the gym, than killed on the street

Perhaps, I will never be required to fight for my life or to protect my family. Nevertheless, in the end, I would rather train hard and perhaps break my hands defending myself successfully, than be overly worried about hurting myself in training and ending up seriously injured in a real confrontation.

In a fight, you are going to get hit, so experiencing the real thing in a simulation-type environment is invaluable as a learning tool.

Written by: Dave Young.

Episode 52- Blog Post Series – What Pokemon Taught Me

You thought I was Done with this subject!?! Wrong! Here it is again in audio with additional commentary on the topics discussed of What Pokemon Taught Me. The blog Posts written earlier this year are as follows, “What Pokemon Taught Me about Losing“, “What Pokemon Taught Me about being OK with who I am“, “What Pokemon Taught Me about Health and Nutrition“, and “The First Line of Defense“.

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/urbantacticsstudios/warriors-den?refid=stpr
https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/urban-tactics-krav-maga-warriors/id969549693?mt=2
Episode 50 -Blog Post Series – Self Defense is not just physical

Welcome back to UTKMs Warriors Den Podcast with host Jonathan Fader. This is the first of many Blog Post Series podcasts where whenever we write a series we will add it as a blogpost with additional commentarty. This series covers a variety of topics including, Digital Self Defense, Financial Self Defense and Mental Self Defense. This series as read and discussed by Jonathan Fader, UTKM Lead Instructor.

Judging when to use force, and to what degree, is complex and time sensitive (Tony Webster)
Audio by: Jonathan Fader

The other week I wrote about the recent police incident resulting in the death of George Floyd, in the post titled, It’s not so Black and White

As this has become such a large and complicated topic, with factors such as dissidents, political activists, misinformation, and the media all blurring the facts, I thought I would expand on a few aspects of policing and its complex, often intricate, nature. Perhaps you have never heard of these concepts, or perhaps you don’t care, but if you have an open mind you will at least attempt to understand both sides of any argument.

For most of the world’s population, fighting may be a daily reality, or even a way of life; though for many others it is the stuff of nightmares. Now imagine being in a job where at any point you may have to literally fight for your life. This is, for often the case for people in law enforcement. Now imagine being under a constant microscope, whether right or wrong, and having to deal with one of the most complicated situations an officer may ever have to deal with: The appropriate application of force in a given situation.

To clarify (again), in the George Floyd case the use of force was NOT appropriate.

Before I move forward take a look at this:

This is an old “Use of Force” chart I made. One of the regular comments I receive from viewers is, “This is too complicated!”

My response is always, “Correct!”

It is complicated, and that demonstrates the complexity of the decisions and processes that need to go through a person’s brain when making a use of force decision. Add to that the pressure from the awareness that if you screw up you could loose your job, or worse, your life. Then add the pressure of onlookers criticizing you, screaming at you, and filming you. Then add to that the fact that you may not have received the training you felt you needed, or not enough of it.

There could also be further considerations that are not immediately obvious: Is the person on drugs? Are they having a massive adrenaline boost? Are they bigger, stronger, and faster than you?

Forget being in a fist fight, have you ever been in a wrestling match with someone? Do you remember how difficult it was to think and act with someone’s entire body weight against you?

Believe it or not, trying to move another human being who does not want to be moved (or comply at all), is very difficult. It doesn’t really matter what your belief system is, because this is simply a fact. In one example, this anti-police activist found out how difficult it can be. It doesn’t matter the source of the simulation, as, done properly, the results would be the same; it will always be harder than you thought.

It is the hope of every officer, be they police, security, or military, that when an arrest is required verbal commands are enough to elicit compliance. Unfortunately, as you know, this does not always happen.

Even with training it can still be difficult (police generally do not get enough, a topic I will discuss in another post). One thing Krav Maga realized is that when it comes to violent people, you MUST use violence to prevent harm to yourself or others. You can use your words all you want, but if someone is coming after you, then you are going to have to apply force appropriate to the situation. Words do not always work, and whether you want to or not, you will find yourself in a complicated situation where even the slightest mistake can get you fired, suspended, or dead.

What about those who didn’t resist violently? Well, you are correct, in those cases extreme use of force would not be warranted. A lighter touch is certainly needed when the situation allows for it. But, let’s say someone is just being difficult when putting the handcuffs on, and despite multiple verbal commands to comply they chose not to? Then a slightly higher use of force is needed.

Prior to the recent protests many people believe (usually on the left) that the only people who should have the permission for use of force is the government and its agencies (the police, FBI, etc.). If this is the case, if you believe this, then you must admit you know very well that you should comply with the police when necessary. Yes, there are bad apples out there, as the internet has shown, and these should all be removed from duty completely and immediately. But, for the rest of them, they will never know if any given person is going to comply or not. If the answer is “not,” then given the authority granted to the police by you, the citizen, then you must understand use of force is warranted to elicit compliance.

Enter, the complicated decision tree above. The situation will go well, or not, depending on your experience, skill, and training. On a good day, the officer involved possesses all three. On a bad day, maybe only one.

Let’s add in one more complicating factor: Exhaustion. Police often work long shifts that may be physically and mentally demanding. Catch even a well-trained officer with good morals on a day they are at their limit, and even they are capable of making a mistake.

The point is, if you have never stepped in a ring, on a mat, or into and octagon (or just done some backyard wrestling), your ability to judge what is appropriate and effective use of force is severely limited.

It is HARD to wrestle, or tackle and control another person. It takes lots of consistent training. It takes a clear mind and consistent application. At the end of the day, all things considered, it is not so black and white. From moment to moment the appropriate use of force may change, and decisions need to be made in that moment, whether it was right or wrong in hindsight. Failure to choose and act could be catastrophic.

So, if you feel it’s appropriate to get educated on the facts, like trying to understand what it might be like for a Black person in American. Then I urge you to do the same and get educated on all the facts, including trying to understand how hard policing is and how hard it is to be good at appropriate use of force.

Fight the good fight, get educated, expand your horizons, and get out of that echo chamber.

(The next in the series will discuss police training.)

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Ancient bas-relief of Khmer martial arts training (at their school?) in Cambodia.

We are nearing the point in our collective COVID-19 journey where, legally or otherwise, businesses are starting to re-open. You can believe whatever you want, but I feel that, while the virus was terrible globally, the general populous and governments overreacted by shutting everything down.

However, no matter what I think, the damage has already been done. Now it’s about how can we grow and re-build from the metaphorical rubble.

Some martial arts schools are re-opening even though they are legally not allowed to; because if they don’t they will not be able to re-open, ever. Many businesses operate month-to-month financially, and I can say from experience that this is more often than not the case with regard to the martial arts community. This is why re-opening soon is essential for our type of business to succeed.

In other industries getting back to business within the context of rules requiring social distancing, group size limitations, and personal protective equipment (PPE), is a manageable constraint. Martial arts schools, by the very nature of physical, combative training, are going to have an issue. A temporary solution was/is to offer virtual classes, which is better than nothing and also serves to keep students in shape and in the learning mindset. However, in many cases (except, perhaps, for global brands) students may choose not to participate, for a plethora of reasons given our current circumstances, which makes it very difficult for the schools to stay afloat in an already challenging market.

With all this said, let’s assume that the school you train at is going to re-open in the near future, either legally or not. When it does, how should you proceed?

  1. Show Up – Now, more than ever, your school needs support. So show up! Even if you have to work out a modified payment plan for your school, due to job loss or other. SHOW UP! What this does is motivates your school’s instructors to build the school up with out worrying that the clientele won’t be there. It also motivates other students to come and train. There may be a group of people who might not want to start training when it comes time to open, but if other people are training and see that it is relatively safe (it is martial arts after all) they will feel more comfortable coming in. Additionally, if there is a great deal of community support, then it may be more difficult for local authorities to be to harsh on struggling schools; if there is one thing politicians hate, it’s public backlash. So, if you like your school, support your school. Make it a priority to show up even if schedules have changed or things are different at your school. Show up and support your school.
  2. Advertise For Your School – If you were not already, make social media posts. Talk to your friends and followers about your training. Make lots of posts and be public about it. The more your school is known the more people will want to come train. Even if you don’t feel comfortable training yet, you may have friends who have always wanted to try it and who do want(need!) to train. Now’s the chance for these people; it’s a win-win.

That’s it, it’s really just that easy. Show up and be loud about it! Remember, talk is cheap. Saying you want to train or saying you support your school is not the same as actually doing it. Talk all you want but if you don’t show up, and do so regularly, and help market your school, even schools that are able to re-open may not be able to continue if no one is there to pay the bills.

So, what are you going to do about your school re-opening? Will you support it or will you stay at home forever, while that thing you once loved fades to dust.

Audio By Jonathan Fader

During the Covid-19 lockdowns many people have found a lot of time to do a variety of things they might not normally had the time to focus on. For me, as many of the things I would like to do are not available or are sold out, I decided to reacquaint myself with one of my childhood passions.

POKÉMON!

Don’t lie, if you are under the age of, let’s say 40, there is a good chance that you too, at one time, wanted to be a “pokémon trainer” when you grew up.

Unfortunately, like many childhood dreams, this is one of those aspirations that is impossible in real life. Sigh, I can still dream.

Aside from the many cute pokémon, like Pikachu and Togepi, and the addictive nature of trying to achieve that lofty goal of “catching them all,” coupled with a brilliant cross platform global strategy, there are numerous reasons that Pokémon was, and is still, great.

While I did not think much of this as a kid, as I re-watch the original seasons, as well as the many, many, many seasons I missed (and they are still making new ones!), one of the great lessons the show teaches is that it is, in fact, OK to loose.

Even as a child I often thought the lead protagonist, Ash Ketchum, was a terrible pokémon trainer. This is mainly due to the fact that, in the original few seasons, he didn’t actually earn many of the gym badges by winning battles, but rather by foiling the plans of the “evil” Team Rocket. This means he probably didn’t actually deserve much of his respect as a trainer. So what did make him such a good trainer?

I think it’s the fact that win, loose, or draw, he would always keep going; he stayed consistent and kept a reasonably good attitude. Compare this to so many other cookie cutter kids shows or superhero series, where the protagonists always win in the end. I think Pokemon was a refreshing change, as it was far more based in reality than most other shows in regard to “winning.”

In most cases, these kids’ shows always result with the protagonist winning, which shelters young kids from one of the most important life skills; learning to fail. Pokémon, in contrast, showed you could win, loose, or draw, and still come out stronger.

For it is only in your losses that you can learn to improve. Only through adversity do you realize you need to change. If you only ever win, and only ever achieve the best, then you may not know how to truly assess and improve yourself.

A good, real life example of someone who clearly can’t handle loss would be Jon Jones. An amazing fighter who is one of the very best, yet is chronically having issues with the drugs and the law. Perhaps, had he faced a loss, or true adversity, he might have learned to be a better person as well as a better fighter. Maybe, had he been a pokémon trainer, this is a lesson he might have been forced to learn.

Whether you love Pokémon or hate Pokémon, the fact remains that it was and still is a worldwide phenomenon, one that experiences a resurgence in mass popularity every few years with some new version of the game. If you pay attention, you may realize that it’s a much better TV show for your child to watch than so many of the other cookie cutter junk out there; as it portrays the challenges of life (though in a fictional setting) in a much more realistic way.

So, whether it’s for your child, or yourself revisiting your childhood love, perhaps it’s time to look at Pokémon for some of it’s deeper lessons. Then learn to internalize the truth that it’s okay to lose, so long as you learn from it, and use that lesson to move forward and grow.

No matter what your endeavors are, keep going, stay consistent, and perhaps you too will metaphorically “catch them all,” as you will have built yourself up to the very best that you could be, a little bit at a time.

By: Jonathan Fader

This is the third part in a series titled Self-Defence is Not Just Physical.

Many interconnected factors contribute to a mental health breakdown. Defend yourself by taking action!
Audio by Jonathan Fader with additions

Out of all the topics covered in this series, this is the one I have the most formal education in. While my experience isn’t enough for me to claim to be an “expert,” it does provide me with insight on the topic of mental health. What I can say for certain is that in the area of mental health there is often a lot of “noise;” there are good studies and there are bad studies, and then there is everything in between.

One thing I learned early in the Psychology field is that, what is considered acceptable in a study isn’t necessarily appropriate to apply directly to the general population or to inform understandings across multiple cultures. I also learned that there are massive divides running through the world of psychology, as various schools of thought and areas of focus often do not get a long.

“…[T]here are also deep uncertainties in the field itself. Psychiatrists have no blood tests or brain scans to diagnose mental disorders. They have to make judgments, based on interviews and checklists of symptoms.” (Benedict Carey, “What’s Wrong With a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree,” The Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2006)

Ultimately, Psychology, while it is considered the science of the mind and behaviour, is not an exact science. The often referenced checklists of symptoms are typically based on the information provided in the much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

More often than not, these complications make finding good advice for mental health difficult, especially if you are in the “thick brown soup” (so called by Safi Bahcall on the Tim Ferris Show) that can be a mental health episode.

So let’s forget any formal training or education I’ve have had, but rather focus on the fact that I have personally dealt with mental health issues; in the form of Clinical Depression, from both nature (family genetics) and nurture (learned behaviors and crappy adolescence) components. Of which I feel I have mostly cured myself, with little help or support from the few close people I had in my life (which makes it even harder). So trust me when I say I understand, even if you get the impression that I am insensitive to your mental health plight.

Throughout my life I have also had friends and acquaintances who have experienced various states of a variety of mental health issues, such as Severe Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Manic and Clinical Depression, PTSD, and much more. I have been exposed to such individuals simply by virtue of not living a sheltered life, and by recognizing that, perhaps, the saying “birds of a feather flock together” has some truth to it. For those who had both decent genetics and stable upbringings with good role models, in my experience, these people often struggle to deal with those who have mental health issues; often due to prevalent social stigma causing those with mental health issues to perhaps be naturally drawn (pushed?) to each other. This, of course, results in a history of rather interesting, albeit difficult, personal relations.

Merely two paragraphs ago I mentioned that I often come off as insensitive to those who have mental health issues, but, really it’s about my understanding of a simple fact:

If you, with all of the mental burdens you are feeling, want to get better, there is only one person who can truly help you get better…

You!

It’s a harsh reality to accept, especially if you are struggling. Medication (which I took for a few years and it did help me) or counselling (which I also dabbled with) will do nothing for you if you don’t do the work to change how you think and how you live your life. (Outside intervention may even be re-enforcing the way you think and feel.)

Much like addicts, the story we like to tell ourselves is that no one understands. Even when we meet other people with similar problems, if not identical, we still like to say things like; “But you don’t really understand,” “My situation is worse,” “You can change, I can’t.” A topic by the way recently discussed by Doctor Drew on the Podcast The Fighter and the Kid, so don’t just take it from me, take it from an addictions expert.

While, yes, there are extreme cases, most of the time you are no different than that other person experiencing the same thing. The cause or specifics may be different, but the feeling is the same. There is a reason after all, those people experiencing the same mental health problems often have very similar brain scans. Because, fundamentally, in your brain it’s the same problem.

This means that once you can get over yourself, and realize you want to get better, you are likely already halfway down the path to a happier life. The next step is getting off the couch and doing something about it.

Medication

I figured starting here is a good place since its probably one of the more controversial topics. Generally I operate on the “bell curve” model for most things. Some people who have mental health issues serious enough to need help may need to be on medication indefinitely, lets say 5-10%, some people may never need medication, lets also say 5-10% and then everyone else falls into some kind of spectrum (dependent on many factors).

Let’s start with something very important first. For most people, the first thing you do in a mental health episode/crisis is to contact a doctor, whether they be a General Practitioner (GP) or a walk-in clinic. Therefore, it is likely that the first person you will interact with only understands mental health in a general sense. Furthermore, they may not be able to consider the larger context of your life or specifics of your particular situation.

In general most GP’s and the like only have one tool: Medication. In my opinion, pills are often over-prescribed and should rarely be the first course of action. It is, however, the easy route, even though it is really not the best place to start. A reminder though; some people do require medication, even if its only for a short time. But, in general, long term use is not advised in most cases (again, in my opinion).

The reason I say this is a simple one: Sometimes the factors causing a mental illness or episode are very much environmental factors, such as a horrible job, terrible home life, a death in the family, or lack of social skills. Doctors rarely have the time to truly dive into your life to figure out if it’s a non-biological factor that is causing your distress. You may not even know! People like to lie to themselves about the situation they are in, and it can take weeks or months for people to open up and be honest.

Questions you should ask yourself are; “Can a find a different job,” “am I able to change my living conditions,” or “is there a family history of this issue” (even an undiagnosed one). This should always be the place to start.

Often this means deep and difficult discussions with yourself, which may result in requiring serious, and also difficult, life changes. This is why medication is often the route people take. Because it’s easier.

For the record, I was on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for about two years, and for me it was a great help because I finally started to understand what people were talking about when they said “just be happy.” My mind literally had no frame of reference, internally, for this notion, and I simply couldn’t understand. This is why, in my case, where there is clearly a family history, it was hard for me. Being on medication really helped me gain the basic framework from which to start building the internal/external skills to cope and change how my mind worked. But I knew being on SSRIs long term wasn’t great, as they do have drawbacks; I was lucky they only made me feel fatigued and robotic. Weirdly enough, the latter helped me socially, as I was “more likable” because I was less emotional or reactive. People liked the toned down version, but for me it really wasn’t a long term option, so I slowly weened myself off SSRIs after about 2 years (which was it’s own struggle).

Anyway, it can’t be overstated that a doctor whose first response is to give medication, without proper follow ups and a significant look into your life and context, in my opinion, should not be a doctor anymore; they are just being lazy and dishonest. For me, the decision to go on medication was only after I had done everything else (from therapy to moving to another country). Even then, it was only after a serious manic depressive episode that it occur to me that there was actually something seriously wrong.

So, should you go on medication? Which type should you go on if you do? For how long? Should you go on something meant for short term relief or a long term regime?

These are all good questions that really need to be deeply considered, with yourself, your doctor, and any consulting mental health professionals you have access to.

I generally believe that if you have not done anything to improve your situation, then you should try other strategies first. If after several life adjustments things still haven’t changed, then medication, even for a short time to get you moving, may simply be what your brain needed to rest and heal.

A word of warning: To my knowledge they don’t really have a good way of knowing which medication and at what dose to give to start people on. It’s often guesswork based on feedback from the patient. The thing is most people give very dishonest feed back, for whatever reason. I remember going on one type of SSRI at 5mg, nothing changed. Then 10. Nothing changed. My doctor said “let’s do 20mg and if it doesn’t work we will try a different type.” I casually asked the pharmacist how to know if it works. They said “If it’s working you will know.” The pharmacist was correct! For me, that particular brand, at 20mg, was like a ray of sunshine in the darkness. It immediately kicked in. Later, when I was going off the meds, I was only on 10mg, and eventually none. If you are honest, you will know if it is working or not. Do not just say it is if there is no real change.

Therapy

This may be a better place to start once you have identified that there is an issue. Here’s the thing, therapy, if not covered by medical insurance, can be very expensive indeed. One thing that drives me nuts is when mental health professionals try to tell a person who is broke and already struggling that they can find a way to afford counselling sessions, at $100 dollars an hour, at least once a week, because “it’s worth it.” While it may very well be, it might also be more of a financial burden than the individual can handle.

The other thing is, just like doctors or any other professional, there is a reason there is always a “best in the field.” Many therapists, whether they are a psychiatrist, private therapist, or public therapist, will be better at their job than others. This means that the chances of finding someone who is effective, who you connect with, and who you can afford, is very difficult.

However, especially if you don’t have a support network, someone is better than no one. What I will say is, don’t just stick with the first person who could see you. If you don’t click, you don’t click.

I would also caution that, in most cases, if you have to see them for more than 6 months or a year, other than maintenance checkups, they may just be taking your money. A decent therapist can often give you want you need in far less sessions than you think. That is, of course, if they are decent and they are not trying to take advantage of you.

For some, several sessions may be required at regular intervals at the beginning to assess and build a framework, others may only need one. It really depends.

I would like to stand up for therapists, though, and say that, often the reason things haven’t gotten better for a person regularly seeing a therapist is that the person is using the therapist as a crutch and hasn’t actually done anything to improve their life outside of therapy.

Remember, the responsibility for getting better is on you, not the therapist. They can only guide and advise, they are not supposed to tell you what to do. Which means that if they keep saying the same thing to you for years, the fault is on you. I know, people don’t like to take responsibility, even in normal times let alone mental health situations, but, sorry, it’s the truth

There is a reason, after all, that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), still tends to be the most effective type of therapy for treating a variety of mental health issues. As the onus is on you to do the work, on a consistent, daily basis, and re-shape how you think about the world and yourself.

So, pick your therapist wisely, and remember that you need to want to get better, no matter who you talk to.

Support Network

They say having a strong support network helps. That is, if you have one. Some people are lucky enough to have a strong group of supportive friends they built from high-school, or have strong family support on all levels. Though to be honest, if you have severe mental health problems there’s a good chance you did not have a very strong support network from the start. If you do, than that’s awesome, you have a leg up and I am very happy for you.

In my case though, I had few, very consistent, people in my life who did offer support. The reality is for me, they did not have the skills, knowledge, or time to really help me in a more meaningful way. I suspect that for many this is a familiar experience. This is why, no matter how hard it seems, it may be on you, and you alone, to get help and get better. (Notice a theme?)

The reason it can be difficult to have a strong support network is because those in your life who have their shit together more than you often are too busy with their own lives. Or they don’t have the energy to deal with what, to them, seems like a difficult friend.

I can say that for me, someone who has always struggled to have strong connections with other people (partially due to mental illness, but also the fact I am a strong-willed person at the best of times), the majority of the people I thought were my friends essentially bailed on me because I was too difficult to deal with. You can look at this a few ways:

  1. You are just too much – This may not be a popular thing to say, but dealing with people suffering from mental illness is tough. Unless those around you really have their shit together and have the right temperament, you may actually be just too much for them to deal with at that time. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s an all too common scenario. It’s not that they don’t care, they just can’t make you a priority in their life. It’s okay, everyone has their own lives. These are the people you should forgive, as it is more an indication of their life than yours.
  2. They were not very good friends in the first place – To be honest, though I admit I am a difficult person, I would say that this is the category into which the majority of the “friends” I had before my major episode fall. I say this because the vast majority of people didn’t even try. They just saw I was being difficult and bailed on me outright. If this is the case, then be happy that they are out of your life. They clearly didn’t care enough to ask if everything was alright when the signs are clear as day that it is not. Don’t feel bad, just know that when things get better you will find new friends and you will be happier for it.
  3. It really is your fault because you aren’t even trying to get better – This applies to those people who have an active support network who are always trying to help, yet years later nothing is better. There is a point, whether you realize it or not, that eventually people will give up on you. I am sorry, but you may be just too much, in general, and you aren’t taking responsibility. Either you may need to seek different professional help, or realize that, if you don’t change, everyone in your life who matters will be gone. If you don’t want to change so that you can be happier, then there is nothing anyone else can do for you. It is ultimately on you. They tried, you didn’t. After a long enough timeline, don’t be surprised when people walk away.

The trick is to know which category you fall into. If you have an amazing support network from the past, or a new one you have discovered, whether it be a new friend, a support group for your mental illness, or a therapist, then that is awesome. But, if not, do you fall into one of the three scenarios mentioned above, or is there another one? The truth is you probably won’t actually know until later, when your mind has calmed down and you can think clearly. It may even be years later that you finally it out. But know, though, it is easier with a support network. So make building or finding one a priority in your first steps. You can get better without one if you really want to, yes, it is a lot harder, but it can be done.

In a country like Canada there is little reason why you should not be able to find something, as there are many government funded resources and groups you can access. Even if they are not for you, they can often start you on a path to healing, one way or another.

Conclusion

Mental health it can be a difficult topic to talk about objectively, as there is so much emotion and ego involved. One thing to remember is that you are not alone. In this world there is someone else who is feeling the same as you are. This is actually, in a weird way, good news, because when enough people have the same issue it means there are resources and solutions available. You just have to start looking.

The first step is identifying that there is a problem, and which problem there is. Once you do that, you will be able to find the path that allows you to get better, so you can live a happier, more productive life.

I have met people who have had all sorts of mental health issues, some, at times, were quite serious, but they managed to get it sorted out so they too could be happier and healthier. Others struggle with the same problem for years and years because, despite being given the same advice from everyone around them, choose to stay in the shitty mental state they claim to want to move on from.

The latter probably do want to get better, but they have found all sorts of reasons not to.

The choice is always yours. I know that if you are reading this you want it to get better. You want the pain to go away or at least lessen. And, yes, it is pain, just like breaking a leg or bumping your head, but this one is not so simple to fix; it will require hard work and change.

This post is not meant as a comprehensive mental health guide, it obviously can’t be. Rather, it is meant to offer a perspective in thinking about mental health.

This series has been about the fact that self-defence is not just physical, which means I wanted you to consider other areas of your life that could take a little bit of self-defence. Our lives have become ever more complicated; more so that our nervous systems are adapted for.

If you are able to take care of yourself physically but not mentally, and your whole world seems chaotic and painful, then what good is physical self-defence if you still are struggling to see the light?

The answers are all interconnected. Whether the concern is physical, mental, digital, or financial, they are all aspects of your life. You need to live a balanced life, and seek to better yourself a little bit every day. Build one and it can build the others.

So what are you waiting for? Make your life happier, healthier, and better today, even if only a little bit.

By: Jonathan Fader