Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health’

The exercise and mental focus found in Krav Maga training helps balance internal strife.
So one May walk in peace Audio by Jonathan Fader

“So that one may walk in peace”, the wise words of Imi Sde-Or, highlighted in the UTKM student guide and white belt workbook.  To me it certainly has a compelling draw; not only as a journey, but as a destination.  I’m a lifelong learner who has exhausted many of the usual avenues in trying to keep balance in my life and to feel at ease. Over time I noticed that all my endeavours to achieve this sense of stability lacked a universal application, resulting in the need to move onto the ‘next’ thing. I was successful and restless at the same time, and I was starting to feel like the clock was running out on finding a means for me to balance all of life’s ups and downs. After almost a year of poking around the UTKM website, I attended my first Krav Maga session on March 19th, 2019, not quite sure what to expect or how I would respond.  

So who the hell am I anyway?

Well, basically, I’m a middle aged dad with two intrepid grommets (active kids who can’t drive), a dynamic wife, and I love to ski and kitesurf. Believe it or not, I’m on my 40th season of riding sticks in the snow, and my old man knees reveal themselves whenever we do side lunges during warm up.  I’m on my second (third?) career as a teamster in the film industry and I keep my life simple by being active, hanging out with my wife and kids, and doing some of that skiing stuff in the backcountry mountains.  This sounds easy, but I have a complication that throws this ideal state into flux: my soul seems to have a tendency to either drive or attack itself.  This unsteady state has been the fire under many of my successes, but also the root cause of many unnecessary life problems that I have brought to bear on myself and my family.

I’m relatively easy going and hardworking but I also have a deep-seated temper.  With this all-over-the-map mix, it feels like my soul has either an itch that needs scratching or a scar that needs healing (perhaps both?).  My upbringing was pretty solid with lots of opportunity for success, so I’m not claiming a ‘woe is me’ scenario.  I have no idea how this internal state came about but I do know that when I’m not in a training scenario that involves a routine and pushing limits, I get restless, frustrated and worst of all, angry.  In my personal experience, the expressions of rage are not about being mad at something but more about ‘losing control to gain control.’ It’s fleeting, fragile, and ineffective, as the fallout tends to be greater than the gains.  In the past I controlled this uneasiness through competitive endurance sports, but the feelings of peace and stability started to decline when I could not complete the required 20-30 hrs of training time per week.  At age 41 all of my left ankle ligaments had to be surgically repaired and I knew that I needed to move away from doing all types of adventure sports, instead seeking to embrace lifelong activities that challenged my body and mind.

So why Krav?

As I mentioned before, I have engaged in many different activities to bring about some ease to my ongoing restlessness, ranging from competitive cycling, skateboarding, playing bass in bands, and completing an MBA at UBC.  These endeavors certainly did add a positive element to my life but they all missed one essential element: a lifelong universal application.  Once the event or opportunity was over, the skills and training that satisfied my soul’s itch/scar conundrum would fade away.  Essentially, it took me almost a lifetime to realize that my relentless pursuit of new activities was never truly meeting my needs and that I needed a baseline skill that I could bring to any activity of my choice.  If I’m the only caretaker responsible for keeping my life in balance, then I need an universal approach to help manage the ever-changing elements of my life, including my emotional cycles, its benefits and its responsibilities.  

Ted Climbs Mountain tops both real and metaphorical

The UTKM whitebelt handbook states that “Krav Maga is not a martial art but rather a mentality and self-defence system that starts with critical thinking and situational awareness.”  Bingo… the philosophical match I was looking for, with the training scenario that I enjoy.  More importantly, the UTKM curriculum also emphasizes gradual skill building and deep appreciation of the basics. I love new things and the ‘soul itch’ I described earlier has a tendency to drive me too quickly, desiring progression vs mastery of skills that I have learned. This has always caused some interesting problems. For example, my ankle injury was due to the fact that I tried to land a skateboard trick in my 40s that I couldn’t even pull off in my 20s… oooops.  With Krav I learned to embrace a new learning approach that would test my resolve through simple physical movements in complex scenarios. I find that it is impossible to feel restless or uneasy if my body is positively fatigued and my mind has been challenged to act.  

After two years, one busted hand and several sparring humiliations, is it still a good match?  

Well, my ongoing restlessness feels more often in balance than not, and I love the fact that Krav is an ongoing mental and physical discovery, which is adventure at its finest!  After a long week at work, I enjoy the challenge of requiring myself to be 100% present for several hours. My daughter and I spend the drive home laughing about our various sparring mishaps, but also talking about things we learned.  It’s a shared experience that I would never trade for anything, and I one day hope to bring my son along (he’s training BJJ at Budo Martial Arts).

Still not convinced by my post? Well, today I had my commercial driver’s medical exam to renew my class 1 license and the physician was a little in disbelief over my low heart rate and ideal blood pressure despite an average 85 hr work week. The physician joked that I did not look like a typical ‘truck driver’ and that I seemed very relaxed and engaged for a Sunday morning.  I left that appointment with a feeling of pride knowing that with all this training, lifelong learning, and exposure that UTKM brings to us students, we really do get the opportunity to “walk in peace.”       

Written by Ted E. – UTKM Yellow Belt

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

Balancing Ego: Sometimes you must build it up, sometimes you must push aside. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As this series has been on martial arts and ego perhaps its time to define “ego” as per the dictionary:

e·go – /ˈēɡō/ noun

  1. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. “A boost to my ego”

Similar definitions:

  • PSYCHOANALYSIS: Ego – the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Ego – (in metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject.

In layman’s terms it basically means “how we see ourselves, how we think of ourselves, and how we value our self-worth relative in the world.” Ego can help or hinder you. A healthy ego can give you confidence which will allow you to accomplish the tasks that you wish to do without the inner dialogue, that is often negative, to hold you back. If people perceive you as confident than they may be more willing to help you or follow you. On the other hand, an unhealthy ego may also help you achieve your goals, but will also hinder you socially as those around you may simply consider you arrogant and unworthy of listening to or following.

One thing that seems to be consistent with regards to ego, healthy or unhealthy, is that you must build a healthy view of yourself that is positive while trying your best not to push your ego onto others. There is a reason people like modesty or other comparable personality traits; because if your ego is too much, for one reason or another, especially if someone has a negative view of themselves, they will perceive this as an attack on their ego.

In short, people are hard. Yet, we are innately social creatures that need to be around others. Yes, it’s very complicated.

So with that definition (somewhat loosely) established in an super-overly simplistic context let’s talk about how this relates to martial arts.

The Instructor

Being a martial arts instructor is a challenging job. Depending on how you approach the activity it can be very rewarding, a long struggle, a hobby, or an enjoyable lifestyle. I would say that if 4 out of 5 businesses fail, 4.99 out of 5 martial arts or fitness business fail. It is naturally a hard business to get into. When you start you think, “I want to take my hobby into a lifestyle that can make a living.” It should be no surprise however that most martial artist who do it more seriously actually don’t make very much money. For those who do make money it is usually due to a difficult journey, both physically and mentally, that simply through consistency and hard work eventually paid off.

It’s this fact, that until you reach business stability it is quite common for the grind to affect the ego of the instructor, as their self worth is tied into their hobby and now livelihood. (After all, marrying a martial artist is often frowned upon as they are no doctor, lawyer, or something traditionally more prestigious.) During this period of stabilization it is often quite common for the instructors ego to feel unappreciated as students (at least in modern times) make all sorts of demands on the instructor, some reasonable and some not. Often the demand is to progress them faster or make things easier or “do things differently.” For a martial arts instructor this can be quite tough on the ego. A question is often asked; “Do I do what they want to keep business alive, or maintain my integrity and stick to my guns with the proper way to do things?” The latter can be quite difficult, as it often means less business and ultimately a view of yourself and your position in life that may include a lessoning self worth.  

It is assumed that all martial artists, through discipline and “spiritually grounded mind, body, and soul,” have a good, strong ego that is not too much or too little; so they, of course, are expected to have a positive self worth at all the times. This is simply false, because, like all persons, the martial arts instructor is human, with an ego.

For those who do well, their self worth and ego are boosted and they see themselves as a valuable member of society, contributing to the physical and mental growth of others; which includes the shaping of healthy egos in their students. Either from making students realize they aren’t as good as they thought, bringing their egos down to a more reality-based plane. Or by helping them build their ego through confidence, by achieving goals and making progress as they rise through the ranks.

A martial arts instructor with an over-inflated ego and self worth, with a little charisma, can very quickly become a cult leader, teaching nothing more than bushido for the sake of boosting their ego. Beware the McDojo!

A martial arts instructor with an under-inflated ego (a.k.a. a low self worth), no matter how good their skills are, may have a difficult time inspiring others to develop themselves and stick too the difficult path that is the martial artist.

The instructor must remember to manage their ego while also managing the skills and development of others, and remind themselves it isn’t always about them but about developing others.  The method in which this will be achieved varies, as there are many paths, but some paths will attract fewer students and others will attract more.

The important thing for the instructor though is to always keep in mind; why they are doing it and what about it makes them happy?

Some instructors may be totally happy with a modest living, so long as they can practice and teach their arts. Others may only be happy with thousands of students and will achieve this at all costs.

The balance is a tricky one.

What is too much ego, or the right balance of ego, confidence, and self worth really depends on the person.

But the martial arts instructor who fails to understand that ego is part of not only being human but is ingrained in the martial arts for practical, philosophical, and historical reasons, may find themselves in the worst of all worlds.

For how is any student to learn properly if the instructor loses the most important battle of all, the eternal one that isn’t with the opponent but the ego and the internal dialogue?

The Student

The student wants to learn martial arts for ego, self worth, and more. Just like the instructor, they too have an eye on being something more, something better. Though for them the journey with the ego is different.

Some come in thinking they are tougher than they are, others not as tough as they are. In both cases there is often an underestimation of the time it will take to achieve their goals. When this is realized it is often the first ego beating that a student has. Fear, doubt, or just life gets in the way and although they may tell themselves they will train they do not follow through with their original plan of becoming “the ultimate warrior.” These students lose the battle with the ego with questions like; “What if I can’t do this?” “What if I am not good enough?” “What if I can’t train enough?” Before they even really start to try, their ego and confidence says “it’s easier to quit now then to keep going,” because it will, of course, be easier than the path to the goal they originally had.

Another battle with ego students sometimes experience is with the school itself, the instructor(s), and their training partners. Though martial arts is ultimately a solo activity, rather than a team activity, it can often make students forget that there are other people to consider; the instructor, the school, and other students. The student makes it about themselves and only about themselves. They care nothing for the struggles of the instructor or the school, or how they may help benefit their fellow students. It is a battle between the ego’s demand for the primacy of the self and the social demand for others. It can be far too easy for the ego to take over and make the journey only about the self. This will ultimately lead to less desirable results, as the instructor may simply gloss over the difficult student, or other students may not want to train with them. The ego must not win this battle if the student expects to have the best journey, to the best version of themselves, to achieve their martial arts goal. The ego will say this is an “individual journey,” but without the instructor, the schools, or the fellow students, your progress will simply be hindered and it is a battle that must constantly be fought, remembered, and managed.

Of course, there is the student that is a physical specimen and let their ego run wild, for they are the destroyer of worlds. This is, of course, what the ego says. No one challenges you and you are the best. While it may be true in your world, your gym, you may simply be a big fish in a small pond. This student also fails to realize, through the blindness of ego, that being the best physically is not the main goal in martial arts, just part of it. In Krav, at least, it’s to walk in peace.

Running around with an over-inflated ego will only ever cause conflict, both internally and externally. If this student let’s his ego win, eventually he won’t just fail, but the internal story that the ego has weaved will come crumbling down and the once high view of self importance will collapse into the pit of the question, “who am I without my physical prowess?” Some rebuild and some do not. It is an ego trap easily avoided by developing the other areas that one can gain by training martial arts.

The opposite student to this is the one with no developed ego at all and almost no self worth. Perhaps there are no physical skills present. Often these students rely far too much on the opinions of their instructor or others, and not enough confidence comes from within. Accepting their starting point, and the difficult journey ahead, is often far too difficult a challenge to face and will only be another metaphorical blow to their already poor self worth. A student like this must realize the importance of developing their ego and realizing that much of the martial arts journey is actually solo. If you quit to early, you will never grow; but that is, of course, easier. If they put their ego aside and simply do, rather than resist they will find positive growth not only in the ego and self worth, but in the other physical-oriented aspects that is martial arts.

Final Thoughts on Ego

There are, of course, many other ego traps or challenges that students or instructors may face. The only way to find out which ego battles you might struggle with is to start your martial arts journey and never stop, even if it only means casual training. A battle never stopped is a battle never won or lost, but rather a journey. Which is how you probably should view the hardest battle of all, a journey with ups and downs and loop-de-loops but one that only ever should have progress and nothing more. This battle is not with your instructor, your students, or the world around you, but rather the battle within, the one with your ego, the one with yourself, the one that matters the most.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

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Knowing how to avoid danger increases your chances of survival dramatically! (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

The “4 stages of self-defence,” as taught by UTKM, is the basic order of operation for what you are doing when presented with conflict; be it physical, social, or otherwise. The order, moving from best option to worst, is; Avoidance, De-escalation (Defusing), Preemptive Self-defence (Strike First), Reactive Self-defence (React Last). Understanding the basics is easy, but, like all concepts, understanding when and how to apply them correctly can be trickier.

The major reason for this is the simple fact that if you do not truly understand what you are doing and you lack the experience to make a quick and correct decision (and you do not have your instructor whispering the answers into your ear), the real world situation is suddenly more complicated than it was in training.

Grasping the nuanced application of a technique, how and why it works, and when to employ it, can be the result of you being fortunate enough to possess an innate ability to understand intricate contexts, or, as is more common, it can be accomplished through consistent training. Consistent training makes up for talent by internalizing the details, purpose, and application of a given technique (or reaction in a scenario), to the point that your nervous system and decision making process will, more often than not, fire correctly under duress.

To help foster a better understanding of these key concepts, I, and others at UTKM, will be sharing real world experiences relating to the four stages. Each week we will expand upon one of the concepts and give examples.

This week it is the first and arguably most important stage: Avoidance.

“You win 100% of the fights you are not in.” – Nir Maman

First you must accept the fact that you cannot always avoid. For example, applying avoidance as a self-defence tactic for interpersonal conflict will most likely result in further problems. The concept of Avoidance simply suggests that it may be better to avoid than to confront in most situations However, and this applies particularly when it comes to bullying or active violence, sometimes the best option is to directly confront the source of conflict. After all, Krav Maga was built on the idea that sometimes running is not an option. So, please, do not interpret this stage as permission to be passive-aggressive or to never deal with life’s problems, that is not the correct application of this concept (and, honestly, if avoidance is always your chosen option in life, this may be indicative of other, deeper problems you are struggling with.)

So, lets start with some examples from my youth:

  1. It was Halloween night, and, like most young teens (I was maybe 15 or 16), I wanted to go out. In our area, big house parties were not a common occurrence, but what was all too common were hoards of teens and young adults roaming the streets like a hungry packs of wolves, looking for fun and perhaps trouble. I was with the group of friends I usually ran with at the time, and we ended up crossing paths with another pack of teens. Walking together with them, in costumes, masks, and painted faces, with candy and fireworks in hand (legal then, but illegal now, likely due to these same ravenous packs of ne’er-do-wells getting up to yearly mischief) we were on the boredom-fueled prowl. Some confident and bold, others just trying to fit in. In my case, the latter seems like it was the appropriate category. I mean, is that not what one of the best features of Halloween is; You get to dress up and pretend to be something else, something grander, something more powerful? It is after all, “All Hallow’s Eve,” where dressing up as something scary was meant to fend off the roaming spirits and demons that walk the earth on this night, every year (so the legend goes). But masks and make up can only mask you for so long. One of the older boys in a mask, I did not recognize. Clearly a leader, out front, loud and obnoxious, identified himself to me. It turned out this masked individual was someone whom I had issues with in the past. He was also dangerous, in the literal sense, much like that of a hungry alpha. He regularly got in fights (and won), regularly had police interactions, the circumstances of which were anything but innocent fun, and he “may or may not” have had ties with even more violent individuals who were known to police. He was also much bigger than me, a good bit stronger, and far more athletic. Which, through a child’s eyes, was a terrifying thing, even though I considered myself tougher than perhaps I was and, like most males, overestimated my skills. I had no training and no experience, just an over inflated ego. It was, of course, dark, and I did not like the things coming out of this guy’s mouth, nor the energy in the air. The feeling of fun turned to a dread and an uneasy churning in my gut (yet to be filled with candy.) It was uncomfortable. Concerned that the hoard was full of individuals who did not in fact like me, not to mention the de facto alpha, this was not ideal for an enjoyable night. So I decided to listen to my instincts; it was time to leave. My pace slowed, I fell to the back of the crowd, then quietly, but swiftly, faded into the dark, walking to my home a few blocks away. Later, when I was asked by my cohort where I had disappeared too, I made up some plausible story. The reality is, it was probably the right decision. Those uneasy feelings we have may be wrong sometimes, but it is often better to err on the side of caution, as we never know how things will escalate. There is one thing for certain; if you are not feeling your best, or you are uncomfortable, it can be easy to do or say the wrong thing and cause a situation to quickly shift from manageable to disastrous. So, in that case, with those personalities, avoidance was the best choice. No harm, no foul, no hospital.
  2. I was an awkward teen with no sense of who I really was yet. Which meant I was not so great with the opposite sex. So, when female friends came into the mix, it was always a joy, and an uneasy excitement (the kind only a teenage boy knows.) For a time, I frequently hung out with two girls who were a year or two younger than me. Feelings were always mixed, as I liked them each at a different time; which meant I would often go out of my way to spend time with them. Lacking experience and confidence, of course, things never went the way I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time. Like many youths lacking good mentoring and guidance, I had trouble controlling my temper. I would never hurt anyone, but it was obvious to those all around me. Like a tornado striking down in an open field, I was loud, boisterous, and, to some, terrifying, as the fear that the destruction might come your way. (This is something I still work on daily, though with calmer mind, maturity, and fewer raging hormones it is much easier to manage.) One of these girls had a cousin, equally attractive in my eyes. Someone who I had met previously, at a random community party. She was troubled. If I am informed correctly those troubles continued to impact her in adulthood. Whenever she came around to join us, it never went well. I was POSITIVE she would intentionally say or do things to illicit my temper and unleash the tornado for her amusement. I was cold, dry air, she was warm, humid air, the inciting words and actions were the required updraft. Everyone said I was either crazy or imagining it. Nonetheless, there came a point at which I could no longer stand to be around her. So the strategy I employed was avoidance. Anytime she randomly showed up, I would find a reason to leave. If she was already there with my friends, I would make other plans. Everyone thought I was being unreasonable. However, I did not like having my fun outings turned into episodes of anger, thus, to me it seemed like the better choice. It also prevented me from hitting a breaking point and actually doing something I would regret. Despite the fact it made me look even more weird and unstable, socially, in many respects I probably made the right decision by practicing avoidance. (In hindsight, and perhaps re-framing the situation, it turns out that this girl may have actually liked me. I was told by someone, later down the road, that she was very likely trying to illicit my aggression on account of a secret, let’s say, fetish for violence. Had I been more confident, then perhaps I would have handled it differently and allowed my cold dry air to meet her warm humid air, but given my lack of knowledge at the time, avoidance was still the best strategy. Lest the tornado met the hurricane and all hell broke lose. It probably wouldn’t have been good for anyone.)
  3. If you think bullies disappear after high-school you may have practiced avoidance a little too much, and may in fact be a shut-in who is living in a perpetual state of self-imposed exile. As the internet has shown us, most people are not as stable and confident as you think, and many have bully-like tenancies at the very least; trying to use force, intimidation, or aggression to get what they want. Or, they simply have not learned to manage their anger like others and emotionally lash out at people when they are challenged, or whenever things do not go their way. I learned to deal with these people early in my youth, and as an adult I tolerate it even less. I, of course, generally employ Stage 2, deescalation, as much as I can; using my words and avoidance, as Stages 3 & 4 (outside of physical violence) are not at all appropriate in day-to-day life in a Civil society. Which means, as an adult, mastering the first two stages is that much more important. Especially when you live in a strata (eg. a condo or townhouse). Personally, I despise stratas, as it is all to easy for a bully, or someone who has a bully-like attitude, to get on the council and try to tell others how to live or act, or has a personality that leads them to take issue with being challenged (due to their perceived powers.) I personally think stratas have been nothing but a disaster, and will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually, but until then, you, like me, will likely have to deal with them at some point. Without getting too detailed, there was some conflict between me and those on a strata council. Whether I was in the wrong or the right isn’t important, sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn’t. However, several members of the council seemed to think it is acceptable and appropriate to yell and scream at people when they don’t like what was said or done. This is, of course, utterly inappropriate, and in the adult world could constitute bullying and harassment. Obviously, this is something I will not tolerate. Extensively researched, well-worded letters where sent! The goal of these letters was not to demand compliance one way or another, but rather to make it clear that I am not the kind of person to pick a fight with, verbally, physically or otherwise. Initially they got the hint and basically stopped bothering me. Later, another incident occurred where a member of council, once again, decided to scream at me. After making it clear that this was an inappropriate (and futile) tactic it didn’t seem to matter, they saw me as a threat to power, and continued. As an adult, I made the decision that, clearly, these individuals are old, unstable, and have never resolved their personal issues. I understand, but I still have no patience for it. I privately told another, calmer strata council member that their fellow’s outbursts were boarding on harassment. Moving forward, I just ignored the problem individuals and do not engage. Clearly they have problems, and those problems are not mine to solve. I made it clear that I will not be pushed around, they all seem to have gotten the hint. I avoid conflict with them, they avoid conflict with me, and we now all live in a cold peace where, so long as we don’t bother each other, all is well. While it is certainly not an ideal situation, I would rather have good relations with my neighbours, it is, in modern times, often quite impossible to get along with everyone. So, practicing a peaceful yet aware avoidance strategy will, in the end, help keep things calm, and less stressful.

Whether you are a teen, an adult, or a senior learning to practice good avoidance (and when to move to the next stage) can be extremely useful, not just in literal sense of physical self-defense, but also to help you manage the hardest part of life: Other people. These skills can be innate or learned. In my case, it seems to be more of the former, though through practice I refine them as I go along. Perhaps as an Ashkenazi Jew it is in my genes to be cautious, and avoid whenever I can, as thousands of years of oppression and living in fear is likely to impact your genetics a little bit. (Think Woody Allen, the stereotypical, nervous Ashkenazi Jew, albeit a extreme case.) Regardless of how you come to learn these skills, learning it early, and learning it well, will only mean one thing; a happier, more peaceful life. One in which your visits to the hospital due to violence are low, and your conflict related stress is that of calm waters rather than a raging storm. For if you find yourself raging too much, too often, you may find yourself battered, bruised, and broken; because you failed to manage your mental state (see awareness colour code.)

Written by Jonathan Fader

Getting a workout in could be as easy as challenging the kids to a “sit-up contest” (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

When my first daughter was born, my martial arts training faded into the rear-view mirror, and my overall fitness with it. It is a big adjustment to have another human being be more important than you in your own life. At some point you have to make serious changes to compensate for the new stresses, obligations, and pitfalls, otherwise you are in danger of becoming someone who you don’t want your children to look up to.

Finding the “Time”

I am a firm believer that, as a parent, you don’t “deserve time to yourself” (“deserving” things is a marketing ploy, an appeal to emotion in order to sell you spa packages and chocolate), in fact, sacrifice is your new normal. However, as parents we are still human (mostly), and therefore still NEED to take care of our bodies, maintain social ties, express creativity, and pursue passions; otherwise what type of role model are we?

Let’s be honest, we all “found” the nearly 3 FULL DAYS it took to watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, so we aren’t really talking about “time” here, we are talking about “energy.” At the end of a long day you are tired; work, life, and the kids/partner have drawn the life force from your body, and the last thing you want to do is expend more of it on exercise.

Ironically, multiple studies have indicated that as little as 20min of low-to-moderate intensity exercise, just three times a week, can reduce feelings of fatigue. Whereas more committed regimes (30-40min of moderate-to-vigorous) will improve on your mood and fitness, in addition to your energy levels.

Logically, if you improve your energy level (and mood) you will find that you have more “time” for your family and a greater willingness to attain the balance we all need between Family and being human (ie. your physical, emotional, mental health)

Beyond energy, overall fitness is important for a few reasons:

  1. Maintaining your fitness means you will be around longer for your family.
  2. Physical fitness contributes to mental and emotional fitness, allowing you to contribute positively to family interactions.
  3. Teaching your family good health habits will mean they are happier and around longer too.
Finding the Actual Time

“I don’t have time to ______, I have kids!” is a classic excuse for not doing … anything. Once we have tackled the real, underlying problem of energy, it can, depending on your family’s schedule, be difficult to find the minutes or hours to engage in non-parenting activities. (Remember that “sacrifice is your new normal” concept?)

Step 1 is to make good health a priority. Not just “make time for it”, but actually make mental, emotional, and physical fitness a family value; talk to your kids about what you are doing, and teach them why it is important (especially as you get older), and invite curiosity.

Common tips for carving out this time:

  • In the morning
    • Get up before everyone else and fit in a work out, read, or meditate. Everyone else is asleep, so they won’t miss you. (Sleeping in is bad for you anyway!)
  • At night
    • As above, but hit that 40min routine after the kids are in bed.
  • Break into small chunks
    • If you cannot find a solid 30-50min span during your day, then sneak in exercise in the smaller gaps without being totally absent. I find that opportunities for an elevated heart rate arise throughout the day with my kids; running beside them on bike rides, playing tag, swimming,etc.. HIIT routines are great for utilizing gaps in the day, as they can be done effectively in as little as 20min (though you may need a quick clothes change and wipe-down if you are doing it properly).

Remember, this isn’t just about “working out.” While exercise has knock-on effects for your emotional and cognitive well-being, you should be seeking opportunities to maintain balance in the non-physical aspects of your life as well. If you can make time for exercise, you can make time to call an old friend, draw, meditate, etc..

Make Self-care a Family Activity

A fourth tip (more of a philosophy), for finding the actual time for your health and wellness is to involve your family in the activities you are engaging in. Combine any or all of the first three tips and incorporate the rest of your clan, directly or indirectly. For some families this becomes a bonding experience, a point of pride, or even a family tradition.

Whether you are sharing time in calm silence, challenging each other’s creative skills, cooking (a great way to teach nutrition, self-reliance, and science/creativity), or starting a basic exercise routine, you need to be aware that you are working in a group with varying levels of ability. Make sure that your expectations are realistic and plan accordingly. For example, have variations of each exercise that your kids can do safely, give time to your less proficient readers and have material they can work with, allow kids to “help” you if they can’t do something themselves. (I got lucky, both of my girls are very physical and are fascinated by the martial arts)

There is plenty of advice out there for how to tweak the activities you already love so that your “new recruits” can participate: Icy Mike, over at Hard2Hurt, has a great video on pad holding when training martial arts with inexperienced family members. And horror/B-movie superstar, Bruce Campbell, espouses the benefits of “Lollygagging” as a means of mental health maintenance. He defines Lollygagging as “the act of doing exactly what you want for an indeterminate period of time (preferably outdoors) for no particular reason.”

You will likely find that there are a lot of options for getting your crew into full-body health. The earlier you instill good habits in your young people, the easier it will be for them to maintain those habits throughout their lives, seeing these as an essential art of life (as we all should!). Children often don’t know the difference between play and exercise; you can use this blissful ignorance against them!

Be Wary of the Two “Busy Parent Fallacies”

Two common imbalances that I have seen among my fellow parents come in the guise of good choices, but are, in truth, thinly veiled excuses for neglecting yourself or your family:

  • Hiding from Family via Self-care
    • This occurs when you are never around due to the over-prioritization of your own health. You are always escaping family obligation and time with your kids (which can be tedious!) by forever having a workout, training session, or other “me time” requirement. Your brood needs you. Yes, working out or engaging in self-care is harder when you have to schedule it around others, but, re-read the above tips and you will be able to figure something out. Often you will end up with a hybrid (balanced!) approach, where some activities are done together, and some are on your own. Having a supportive and informed partner helps A LOT!
  • Hiding from Self-care via Family
    • This comes in the form of justifying the lack of action on your health and mental/emotional stability (and that of your family’s), due to claims that you are over-prioritizing “quality time” with your kids, or putting their needs first. While this may be noble in intention, it is often a socially acceptable excuse to let yourself go. I’ve been there, I know! It is really easy to say “I don’t want to be tired when I have to deal with the kids tomorrow.” But, eventually I discovered that shirking my workouts resulted in it being difficult to keep up with them and lift them over my head, plus I fell out of shape I became irritable (that’s not good for me or them). Again, re-read the sections above; exercise gives you the energy and mood stability to keep up and be chill!

Ultimately, this is a balancing act (the theme!), you will find that it is probably best to transition slowly at first; do some things early, some things late, and some as a group. This is a process, don’t be afraid to re-start, re-assess, re-think, and you WILL find something that works to get you back in the gym while fulfilling your duties as a parent, or back in the family while staying fit and sane.

In Summary

The goal is balance. Doing what you need to do to maintain your family life, while at the same time ensuring that you maintain yourself (so that you are of use to said family). Let’s not forget, as a parent you are now responsible for the well-being and development of a Human. They are famously complex creatures, and, like it or not, they are looking at you as the model for how to live and act; so it is of the utmost importance that you figure out how to maintain balance between improving their mental, emotional, and physical wellness, and your own. Ask yourself, honestly, what do you want them to see when they look up to you? For those moments when you feel weak, find strength in the example you are setting.

Written by: Corey

Sitting in silence can calm the mind and reduce the stress from constant stimulation. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Balance is the current theme: A simple idea, yet one we all seem to struggle with. At first the problem is understanding “what does balance looks like for me?”, then it becomes “how do I put some pieces together to achieve balance?” The easiest, and more understood, aspect is the balance in your physical life (fitness nutrition, etc.), but here we will, once again, discuss the challenge of mental balance.

This is a topic I am well versed in, both personally and otherwise. I have written a lot about it in the past, whether from the point of view of meditation and mindfulness, how music effects mood, or the overall notion of “mental Self-defence.” One thing is for sure, this is one of the most difficult areas in your life in which to find balance. (I, myself, am still trying to maintain and manage this one.)

For some of us it is harder and for others it is easier. If everything has always been good in your life, then it’s much easier to maintain a happier mentality, though if you go too far you may find your self having been sold on Toxic Positivity. On the other hand, if all you have ever known is sadness and pain, then getting out of that mindset might be quite difficult and you may find yourself grappling with Clinical Depression. The key, and something we don’t like to admit, is that we actually need a balance of all our emotions. We as humans must learn to control our more animalistic and compulsive tendencies to let our emotions overwhelm us. It’s time to channel the inner Bene Gesserit in all of us, and realize that without this control we are more animal than human.

Once upon a time emotions served us well, guiding us away from danger without thinking too much. Unfortunately, our ancient nervous systems are slow to adapt to the constant input of the 21st century. When we only had to find food, shelter, and company (and safety from animals, the weather, and marauding tribes who want to rape and pillage), we actually had a lot more quiet time! We would work during the daylight, and rest at night while the dangers lurked in the dark. Sure, we lived shorter lives, where everything could kill us, but they were nonetheless far simpler.

Nowadays, our longevity is far less of an issue, but now we have so much more to deal with. Constant notifications from our pockets, constant forms of entertainment, and constant stresses from bills, work, and complicated interpersonal politics with far too many people than we evolved to handle.

No wonder people are losing their shit these days.

The fact is we have lost our mental balance, that is, a balance between being stimulated and finding inner peace through quiet.

If you feel like you are overstimulated and overwhelmed chances are, well, you are. In times like this the trend is towards meditation and time with your own thoughts. But for many the idea of meditation is completely foreign or uncomfortable. Recent studies have even shown that, for some, meditation can actually make their anxiety or depression worse. Unfortunately, as usual, there is no “one size fits all” solution. But for most of us there may be some benefit to finding the calm within the storm through practiced quiet time. Yes, that’s right, I said “quiet time” rather than meditation.

While there is lots of research on the positive benefits of meditation, I often wonder if it really is just about taking quiet time to think and be without all the noise. For me, personally, actually sitting down and meditating is quite challenging, as turning my mind off can be a difficult. So, if it’s not for you, then simply find the time to be calm and quiet.

For me lately, I have found great benefit in taking walks. No music, no podcasts, no companions, just me, myself, and I. During these walks I think about anything, or nothing, without the pressure of asking “am I doing this right” as many people unconsciously do with meditation. Find somewhere you like to go, perhaps close to a park, or just walk to a bench, sit, and people watch, with no real goal. The goal, ultimately, is to find a way just to be.

Simple right? I mean, it really is. Yet so many of us still forget to make the time for quiet. We know when we take care of children it’s important for them to be comfortable in the quiet, yet as adults we seem to forget this skill.

You don’t need to get swept up in some cult-like yoga center, or breathing practices, (though non-cult ones are great, like Wim Hof Breathing). All you need to do is realize that to find your mental balance in this chaotic, loud, and distracting world we have built, is to find the time for some unstructured quiet time, where you can calm your nerves and just be.

Seeking the balance inside that you always needed, may be only a matter of finding comfort in nothing. Not in a philosophical way, a literal one! Is it just that easy? You will not know until you try.

So, seek your mental balance and find your inner quiet, then, hopefully, that storm that so many of us think we see on the horizon may quickly fade into nothing more than dust on the wind.

Written by Jonathan Fader

A while ago, I wrote about taking control through training. What I was really talking about is achieving balance. Now, more than ever, Balance is what we need. In a world where it’s more important to “take a side” than to seek the truth, a world where it’s easier to believe what you are told rather than research it in depth from multiple sources. Now, more than ever, both as individuals and as a society, do we need to learn to take a more moderate approach.

 

Audio by Jonathan Fader

Enter the Jedi and the Sith. In the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are presented as the “good guys,” with the Sith as their polar opposite “bad guys.” This, of course, depends on who you ask.

The Jedi, disciplined warrior monks, claim to seek balance in the Force, yet their own moral superiority (among other things) blinded them to the quiet rise of the great Sith Lord Palpatine. If we look at the actions and beliefs of the different Force-user creeds, it could be said that the not so often spoken about Grey Jedi are actually the ones who seek balance.

(I am using the codes as in the photo though there are various versions.)

The Jedi Code is as follows:

“There is no emotion, there is PEACE. There is no ignorance, there is KNOWLEDGE. There is no passion, there is SERENITY. There is no chaos, there is HARMONY. There is no death, there is THE FORCE.”

Sounds nice right? So how did these warrior monks, bolstered by a set of seemingly simple guidelines, get so overwhelmed? Simple, they did not actually seek balance. Rather, they took a generalized, non-interference stance and planted themselves firmly on a “moral high-ground.” Even when asked or subtly manipulated they avoid getting involved in universal events. They assumed they were always correct and that their actions, as long as they are in line with their code, were beyond reproach. Can you relate? Maybe you can or maybe you can’t, but often this is the view we take of whatever group we have decided to latch onto, acting as though any other group might as well be the SITH.

The Sith Code is as follows:

“Peace is a lie, there is only PASSION. Through passion, I gain STRENGTH. Through strength, I gain POWER. Through Power, I gain VICTORY. Through victory, my chains are broken. THE FORCE, Shall free me.

Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Which is often how we view the Other. We assume someone or something we disagree with must only want to take power and control over us, to impose their ideals on us. While there is certainly truth in that regarding the nature of the Sith, their code is much more about personal growth than you may have realized.

This is part of the reason the Jedi failed; they became stagnant, unwilling to grow or change, the Sith, however, were adapting and changing, growing into better versions of themselves until they could strike.

Of course, it’s easy to demonize that which is the Other. But, if you really know Star Wars, then you know that not everyone thinks the Jedi are pure and innocent.

The problem with both of these creeds is that they do not actually seek balance, that which the Force (the universe) actually wants. The Jedi, much like many priestly sects, deny their true feelings and desires, and in doing so they deny the true nature of living. Their denial of what they truly are caused misstep after misstep because they were not using all the strengths they possessed, and refused to embrace their full potential.

The Sith, on the other hand, do not seek balance because they don’t deny any of their feelings. They don’t even try to control them. They unleash it all to try to bend the Force to their will. This, of course, leads to erratic and foolhardy acts. After all, there is a reason that there are not many Sith around at any one time. They all kill each other.

The irony of this is that, if you go too far in one direction they become one and the same. If you are too puritan, too ideological, then you may become so rigid and uncompromising that you find yourself eating your own (much like the Sith) because there is no balance to rein you in.

While the Jedi did not literally destroy themselves, their blind actions and/or inaction led to their downfall. But in a more real world sense, ask yourself: At what point does your group, based on strong beliefs and political ideology, come full circle and turn into the Other whom YOU though were the intolerant ones? When do the Jedi Become the Sith?

If you are honest, you will see it often throughout history.

The solution is true Balance; to control yourself and to embrace new ideas, to leverage the strength of both views and meet in the middle.

Enter the Grey Jedi!

Never heard of them? That’s because the movies don’t talk much about them but they were there (first mentioned in a comic and first seen in a video game).

They adhere to the following code:

“There is no light without the dark. Trough passion, I gain focus. Through knowledge, I gain power. Through serenity, I gain strength. Through victory, I gain harmony. There is only the force.”

Even on a quick read it is far more balanced. They embrace their true nature, while controlling and cultivating personal growth in the process., and they understand that the Force is something bigger and simply is.

The Grey Jedi tend to still be Jedi at heart, seeking peace and balance in the universe, but bending the code to allow for change and growth (in a balanced way).

It was, after all, a Grey Jedi who guaranteed the survival of the Jedi Order after most were gone. I am referring, of course, to Qui-Gon Jinn, who was the one who discovered the secret of life after death, despite the fact this is not something the Jedi would do. This allowed Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi to continue guiding those who came after them, keeping the Jedi alive.

So it is balance which we all, deep down, seek. Yet it is the hardest thing to do because we either define ourselves by rigid rules or labels that (we feel) cannot be broken, or we allow our emotions to overwhelm us. Both are disastrous in the long run. Any change is difficult due to the required self-reflection (you aren’t always right!), and the realistic assessment of your beliefs, behaviours, and choices (you can’t party ALL the time). Achieving balance is the hardest task many of us will ever face.

So most don’t.

Start by asking yourself: Am I truly seeking balance within myself? In my political opinions? In my religious beliefs? Am I being restricted by unbending rigidity, or losing myself in uncontrollable emotions?

No matter what path you take, if you are truly honest with yourself, then you will be on the first step on the journey towards balance, a mental and emotional stability which will help you find the peace and serenity that you seek.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

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.

Yes, it’s another Pokémon related post. (It’s not likely to be the last.)

Pikachu’s electrifying personality (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

I have always had an unusually rational and explainable confidence (though it’s origin remains unknown): Just DO things. Now, I am not saying it came from Pokémon, but, I am not saying it did’t come from Pokémon. One thing is for sure; I have always stood out as someone a little different. Maybe it’s a bad case of cognitive dissonance or maybe it was my love for Pokémon. Who knows?!

One thing for sure though, having confidence in oneself, who you are and your abilities, can go a long way in life. It’s not for the benefit of other people, it’s for ourselves, and how we view ourselves internally.

In Pokémon, protaginist “Ash Ketchum” has an unusual characteristic; he never forces, or even encourages, his pokémon to evolve into their higher forms. In the most famous example, his pikachu was offered the chance to evolve into a Raichu early on, using an item called a “Thunder Stone.” Most trainers would jump at the chance, because isn’t the more evolved form stronger and, therefore, better? Well, Ash and, more importantly, Pikachu did not think so. (It should be considered, though, that this may have been a marketing-based plot decision, as Raichu isn’t as “cute” as Pikachu and might have hurt the series’ brand, considering Pikachu was, and still is, the face of the series.)

For whatever reason, Pikachu decided he did not want to change for the sake of others; he was comfortable with who he was. Later in the series it was the same case for Ash’s Bulbasaur. It was captured by other Bulbasaurs and taken to the secretive “evolution ceremony.” Ash’s Bulbasaur decided, despite all his peers evolving, not to evolve again; he, like Pikachu, was comfortable with who he was. As it turns out, they both developed into stronger versions of themselves internally, becoming strong leaders in their own rights, despite not evolving into more powerful creatures.

While at the time I did not think much of it, hindsight often allows us to see where we might have learned lessons that were not directly taught to us. In today’s world there is increased pressure to conform to the narrative of society or our peers. Similarly, society told Ash to evolve Pikachu and peers told Bulbasaur to evolve. In both cases they were confident and comfortable with who they were, which afforded them the self-assured mindset to become the best versions of themselves whether or not they later choose to evolve.

While you should always be the best version of yourself, that does not always mean the version other people want you to be. This DOES NOT mean you don’t ever have to change! It just means that how you view yourself is one of the most important aspects of personal happiness (or personal destruction): it will inform your confidence (or contribute to a lack thereof) and inspire (or deter) your ability to be comfortable with yourself, and therefore your ability to experience strong growth.

So long as who you choose to be, and how you see yourself, is not destructive, dangerous, or extremely disruptive to the health, safety, and well-being of others, then you should be who you want to be and you should let yourself be happy with it.

Of course, if you are not happy with what you see in the mirror, or in your thoughts and actions, then you always have the power to change into what you want. In other words, you can choose to “evolve,” as is common when most pokémon are ready to change; either because they want to for personal reasons, because they have decided it would be in the best interest of their team’s success. Regardless of the motivation, the change is a choice to take action.

So, whether you want to be something else, or you want to be what you are, if you view yourself in a positive light you will have a much fuller, happier life.

What are you waiting for? Channel the confidence of Pikachu today, and be the best version of yourself that you can; so that you too can electrify the world around you.

Written 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

This is the second of three sections expanding on the original piece titled, Self-defence is Not Just Physical.

Audio by Jonathan Fader with added content

In the modern world, being financially stable can be harder than ever, especially when the vast majority of people are living paycheque to paycheque. One of the biggest mistakes the average person makes is not thinking long term, but rather choosing instant gratification; getting something now and having nothing for later. A common belief is that our school systems do not spend enough (or any) time on financial literacy. Basic education should include simple things like how to put together a rudimentary budget, how to prepare your taxes, or how basic investing works.

While we often blame the rich for getting richer as the poor get poorer, one of the reason this trend continues is that either “the rich” understand how to make their money work for them, understand the financial system and how to protect their money, or they have the resources to hire the people who do.

For most of us though, it’s really a matter of understanding we are starting with less. So unless you happen to have the next “big idea” it’s going to be a long term thing. Work hard when you are younger and invest smart, then maybe you can retire in your 40’s or 50’s.

While I am no expert, I can certainly tell you the things that I have learned (mostly from screwing up and being broke). What I can say for certain is that part of personal self-defence is the ability to be ready, financially, to deal with the inevitable financial blows that life will throw at you. Even if that means you had solid enough financials to have a line of credit on hand in case of emergencies. Though having money in the bank is ideal, having financial buffers will save you from the deep hole that is financial ruin. So be smart, and include financial planning in your self-defence plans.

Don’t Spend Past Your Budget

As a martial arts instructor teaching a style that is not overly popular in my region, living on a tight budget is something I have become used to. However, as the world is increasingly difficult to survive in with less money, managing what little you have is key.

A question I often ask myself is, “how do people who make 4, 5 or 6 thousand dollars a month, after taxes, still manage to be broke (or at least say they are)?” It’s probably because they seek instant gratification and buy everything they can rather than preparing for the future. They seek experience and the “now” over anticipating the future. While that’s fine sometimes, do it too much and you may be on the path to financial disaster.

Of course, the less money you have the harder it can be to stick to your budget, because you may have to make important decisions on what to buy or which bills to pay (especially in with complications like Covid-19).

It’s at these times in life when budgeting comes in handy, or rather it would have had you done it. One of the hardest things for people to do, especially when they don’t have much money in the first place, is to include in their budget a “rainy day fund” and retirement savings. They may not seem important now, but they are! (I’ll come back to this.)

A basic budget should include necessities such as housing, food, and, in most cases, transportation. Anything beyond that, at least according “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” may in fact be a luxury. If you have the money to spend more, then have at it. But if you don’t, think, do you really need the newest iPhone?

Ok, so enough talk. In the absence of credit, a budget is simply the act of planning your finances so that money coming in can cover the costs of money going out. If you have no credit, or options similar to this, then a budget is a MUST. If you do not create and follow one, then you may find your self not eating.

Lets look at something simple.

Mike has $3,000 after taxes every three months.

  • Rent = $1,200
  • Food = $500
  • Transportation = $800

After the basics are covered Mike has $500 extra a month. Most people would spend that on eating out or “toys.” A smart planner would take some of that and put it away, even if it’s only a little. Lets say he puts $100 a month away into retirement savings and $100 into a emergency fund, that now leaves $300 for entertainment and toys.

What if Mike works hard and earns a raise? He now has $3,200 every three months. If Mike was already financially stable, why not put the extra money directly into savings or investments. If he was doing fine without it, then he will have a $200 boost in savings without noticing a change in his lifestyle.

While most people these days do not like to operate in a frugal mindset, in the long run planning investments and emergency funds into your budget is crucial; so that in the hard times you are not destitute. So be smart, start early and reap the later benefits of a well planned budget.

Invest Early and Consistently

Assuming you manage to put something away for investments and retirement, the earlier you do it, the better. Have you heard of something called “compound interest?” Essentially it’s interest on the interest. This is the key to long term savings and building your early retirement.

If I put $100 into my retirement savings, and it averages a 3% return annually, then after one year it’s $1236 (depending on the frequency interest is compounded). The next year I put in another $1200, which would also receive the 3%, but so would the original $1236, resulting in $2509 rather than just $2,472. Which basically means that first $36 in interest, which you didn’t invest from your pocket originally, is continuing to grow for you. The earlier you do this the more the interest stacks, and the longer you have the more you earn.

If you started saving for retirement in your 20s vs your 30s the difference in the end number can be quite staggering. The amount of money you would need to put in during your 30s, to get the same results you would have gotten if you started modestly in your 20s, is quite a lot more than you think (the math is out there). I say again; Start early, even if its only $50 per month.

The best way to start early is of course as a parent. Start saving for your child’s future, (and not just for school) in a trust and your child will have an amazing head start. of course don’t just give it to them when they turn 18, make them wait and ensure they have learned financial literacy and good spending habits early.

Another important consideration in favour of investing early, and consistently rather than lump sum, is the ability to average out your costs of purchases across lows and highs in the market. The idea of “buying low and selling high” really isn’t what you think. Even the worlds greatest investor Warren Buffet, doesn’t try to time the movements of the market; he does his research and plays the long game.

Even when the market crashes it can be an excellent time to buy, if you are planning for the long term, that is, if you are buying more conservative “blue chip” funds, rather than trying to play the actual stock market. Which is not advisable, unless you have lots of disposable income and really know what your are doing. For the record, most people I know who play the regular market with only a few thousand dollars (which they can’t really afford to lose) typically lose. So play the long game and be smart about it.

Remember, even if you had invested in Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon early on, only to sell a year later and make some money, it is nowhere near the amount you would have made if you had held on. Of course, there is also no way of knowing which companies will be the next big ones, so if you aren’t sure I suggest leaving it up to the experts.

Nowadays, due to online banking, you can manage your money on your own. That being said, buying the professionally managed funds, in the long run in most cases, is going to give you a higher return than simply guessing and playing the lows and highs. Why? Compound interest and people who know better than you.

So start early, be consistent, and don’t just gamble, play the long game.

Diversify

Unless you happen to get lucky with the next big stock, and cash out just in time for you to see the crash, it’s best to diversify. In reality, even the best investors can’t time the market and may lose billions in one big market swing or crash. Those who come out on top tend to do so because they play the long game and have diversified portfolios, they still have money working for them, somewhere, when a crash outright destroys others.

Diversifying basically means “do not put all your eggs in one basket.” Even if you are playing conservatively and sticking to large professionally managed funds, you should have your money spread out between a variety of categories. Though what percentage is split how is totally up to you. Maybe you have 50% of your money in funds tied to your country, 30% to precious metals, and the remaining 20% in highly volatile, high-risk-high-reward, stocks. Maybe you have a different break down, really it’s up to you and your money managers to decide based on your own comfort and goals. Diversifying will almost always give you more protection if one area does poorly, and can help you with that dollar-cost averaging in the long run, making you come out on top even if times are tough.

Remember, the Dotcom bubble of the ’90s, or the more recent Crypto currency bubble? People lost everything because they put everything into a single venture and lost it all. Consider that if you are hearing about it on the news chances are the people who made the real money are already out and you are just a sucker.

Of course, if you want to put 20% of your money into such risky endeavors, no one is stopping you. You may make a killing, but it is all about when to sell, and most people sell too late. But, if the rest of your money is tied up in safer funds, then at least that 20% loss wasn’t everything.

Be smart, diversify, and (you guessed it) play the long game.

Conclusion

I should remind you at this point that finances are not my expertise, and I, admittedly, I do not have much money. These ideas are based on the lessons I have learned the hard way. Wisdom that only now have I realized I should have known and acted on years ago. But, if you don’t have a lot of money the banks rarely give you the best advisors; you usually only have conversations with sales people at the lower level. If no one in your family or circle of those who you look up has a good grasp on financial literacy, you may find yourself drowning in debt.

The earlier you learn these skills the better. Remember, most “get rich schemes”are just that, schemes. They fail for almost everyone and result in large financial loses. So try not to get swept up in the hype.

Protect yourself and your finances through smart financial self-defence. This includes knowing enough to know when someone is feeding you bullshit. For if you simply give your money to someone to manage outright, and you don’t know enough to check, you could actually find yourself losing it all to the next big Ponzie scheme (read up on Bernie Madoff).

Become financially literate, learn enough to play the long game, and start early. If you do, you will be in better shape than the majority of the population.

Remember, self-defence is not just physical. What other skills might you need to properly defend yourself in the modern world?

Written by: Jonathan Fader