Mental Health Awareness Week

Hey kids! Man, this weekend I discovered how spoiled I’ve been the last month. I cooked all of my Tahini recipes one weekend mid-August and I made Breigh’s victory ice cream Labor Day weekend. I honestly haven’t made and photographed any #CookedByTFW meals in forever. I have some ideas for post-fight recipes, innnnnnnnncluding a meal for your DOG!!!!!! (Sorry cat owners…)

But this week, I was drawing blanks as far as ideas go, and I was probably going to ask Coach L.A. to cover for me next week, given that it’s fight week and I’ll be focused on making weight on Oct 13… in case you didn’t know, I am in fight camp (we’re going calm this week. I’m about 120 words in an only have one all capped word so far). I panicked this past weekend trying to come up with SOMETHING! (144 words, two all caps.) It was stressful. By Sunday night, I started to get incredibly anxious, had a small downward spiral, and then I realized the answer was staring me directly in the face.

Spoiler Alert: We’re not doing a recipe this week, kids. Flip through the dozens of past recipes and make your favorite… share pics of it on social media and use the hashtag #CookedByTFW.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t getting a post today. The answer to my anxiety-riddled weekend fret was pretty simple: The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week. Over the last year and a half, I have been sharing my mental health struggles on social media. I wanted to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week by sharing with y’all today how fight camp – were you aware I am currently participating in a fight camp? (see, calm) – and, more specifically, cooking for myself during fight camp quite frankly got me through this past year and my struggles with depression.

There is an unfortunate stigma around mental health. Folks are often accused of being “weak” or “faking for attention.” I am aware at the gym, I am viewed as a leader. I am the self-proclaimed “Face that Runs the Place” and “Champ who Runs Fight Camp,” after all. I hope my experience working through my own depression let’s folks know that you aren’t alone, I believe you, you matter, and you deserve a healthy brain.

Anyone who is connected with me on any social media platform has probably seen the hashtag #TymCheckIn. I use it when I’m being candid about my current mental health and most of them aren’t positive. They often paint a pretty bleak picture. But that is their purpose.

April 2016, I literally LIVED on my couch, only getting up for food, the bathroom, the gym, and to take my dog to the park when I felt guilty for lying in the same spot for 20 straight hours. I suffered alone. It was unbearable. I didn’t speak to anyone about it. I put on a happy face in public, and then binge watched TV on my couch. Numb. Without hope for the next day or a plan for getting myself out of this emotional death spiral. This is going to sound scary, but I honestly cared about literally NOTHING (two all cap words in one paragraph… we’re getting out of control, folks). Nothing. Not. One. Thing. EXCEPT (three words)…

I wanted to get back in shape. I had put on a lot of weight during my employment at [redacted] Country Club. I ate a bunch of cookies, the employee meals weren’t healthy, and I worked hours that prohibited me from going to TFW regularly. At my largest, I was around 245 lbs. Once I quit that job, I started working out again and floated between 215 and 230 lbs. By the end of April 2016, I was 225 lbs and that’s when I started two hashtags (y’all, I’m REALLY [I can’t stop all capping words… it’s a sickness] good at making hashtags): #TymCheckIn and #MakeTymsAbsGreatAgain, because back then NOBODOY THOUGHT HE WOULD ACTUALLY WIN AND BECOME PR… let me not get started.

I’m rambling. Let’s recap: April, I wallowed alone. May 2016, I decided to do something about it. I was going to get my weight in check AND start opening up to folks about what I was going through. That’s the purpose of #TymCheckIns: To never go back to April 2016, dealing with depression alone.

I’ve asked Editor-in-Chief Coach L.A. to share some screenshots of some of those posts. Warning: there’s a little potty language in them. The reason I asked her to share these selected check-ins with y’all is because they each have some connection to either food or fight camp. I’ll do my best to add context to them.

I’ve been working on this post since Sunday night, adding and deleting stories and topics, and I’m still not sure how much I want to share. I’m trying to be mindful of length, but – really – I am deathly afraid of actually opening up about this stuff with folks (something I address in one of the screenshots). But let me start with the good news first:

After over a year of searching, I recently found a therapist who I really like. I’ve done four sessions with him so far, with the fifth scheduled for Oct 11. It has really helped me during this current fight camp – did you know I was in fight camp? (It doesn’t have the same ring to it in lower case) – and I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to find somebody to talk to if you are feeling… anything. Therapy can be great and should not be limited only to when your brain is “broken.” We could all benefit from it. In the last month, I have seen a drastic improvement in my mental health, which is allowing me to be a better functioning person.

We’re at about 975 words right now… hmmmm… I have so many ideas about where to take this. Where to begin?

 

One of the myriad of problems with depression is that you can be aware you are going through a low, you can be aware of the logical steps you should take to address it, and depression will rip away your motivation – your ability – to help, heal, and love yourself. For me, that manifested in several ways, but a major one was my sleep schedule and appetite. I basically didn’t have either. My day job allows me to make my own hours, so I would just work (when I was actually working) whenever I was awake and sleep whenever I wanted.

Summer 2016, I was fairly decent about waking up in the morning… but a lot of times, I wasn’t eating until mid-afternoon. This past summer, during bad days, I wasn’t sleeping or eating at all. I would stay awake for anywhere between 24 and 40 hours straight and the only time I was guaranteed to eat was immediately after the gym.

It’s wild for me to reflect on the last 18 months… 2016 was rough, but I was trying to tough it out as best I could. By this time last year, I began quitting on myself as a self-sufficient human adult. I began having trouble paying my bills. I had friends dropping groceries off at my house. The rare times I was working, I was doing it from a public library because my internet and cell phone may have been shut off. HOWEVER, I was in the best damn shape of my life. I was in my first fight camp in almost three years, and I was booked to fight November 5, 2016. More on that in a second.

Once that fight was over – I won, by the way, by unanimous decision – I felt lost… the high of winning lasted all of three days, if that. One of the screenshots I gave to Coach L.A. is from my Instagram account, where on a whim I baked brownies at 3 in the morning just a few days after my fight. (I don’t think we’ll get to it, but I’m a stress-baker.) By December, I’m relying on friends to pay rent, I can’t find a therapist, I’m miserable…

But I was right back in a fight camp. I fought January 28, a Saturday. I won, again. I celebrated hard that night… And by Monday, I was so uncontrollably miserable with my life, I was right back at the gym.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

By March, I was facing eviction; I had an ex literally bringing me food two to three times a week because she was scared I wasn’t eating; I can’t tell you how many nights that month, I sat in my car with my dog in the backseat, contemplating driving back home to Florida, leaving all my worldly possessions in Colorado, with the only thing stopping me being the fact I didn’t have enough gas money to get me to the Kansas state line…

Oh, and I was also successfully coaching three of our MMA fighters to three wins the day after St Patrick’s day and six first-time Muay Thai fighters for the upcaoming tournament. We had 5 medalists – 4 gold and a silver – and we won Best Team in Colorado. April, I was couch surfing, barely sleeping, completely withdrawn from everyone, AND right back in camp for a June fight.

I lost that one, split decision. The first loss of my career. I was already miserable when I won fights… Imagine me with this loss, knowing that I should’ve won, that I beat myself in that fight. I literally did not leave my room for four days, and all I ate was the Nutella everyone got me for the fight (Thank you Lori, both for giving me a place to live AND for taking care of Rosco, especially that week).

…wow, gang…

I did NOT intend for that to be as dark as it came out, but here we are. The point of that, however, was to explain how important TFW and fight camps were to my –not hyperbole – survival. When I was at my lowest, everything around me felt like it was falling apart. I spent every waking moment realizing I am “better than this” but being paralyzed, powerless. But when I was in fight camp, I had a small modicum of control. I could tune out all the negativity for 2-3 hours a day at the gym. I could see my body transform. I could show my creativity through the foods I prepared for camp. For the last year, the only sense of control over my own life I felt was during fight camps.

And honestly, that’s where a lot of these recipes you see every week came from. The best way to #MakeTymsAbsGreatAgain (hey remember when I told y’all about that and then rambled for about 850 words?) was to be held accountable in a real way. Fight Camp is a sacred ritual at the gym. We don’t let just anybody join the fight team, and when you’re in camp, you are accountable to yourself, your teammates, and your coaches. So when I was in camp, I was dedicated to representing my tribe. Part of that was figuring out easy meals that my depressed brain could make without much fuss, and make over and over and over again. And look at us now!

We’re at nearly 1,900 words; my skin is crawling with how much I’ve shared about my mental health and living situation. There are a few other things I had hoped to get to, but I’m getting super anxious about how long this post is. Here’s what I’ll say about stress-baking:

IMG_7997.jpg

Remember last paragraph when I said a lot of the #CookedByTFW meals are results of battling depression in fight camp? Well, the cookies and waffles you’ve seen on this blog are the product of Tym NOT (more all caps?) in fight camp. I mean… who comes up with bacon fat waffles? Me at midnight one night because my depression is telling me “you’re a failure and not good at anything” and my pride is like “oh, I’ll show you!” Boom… bacon fat waffles.

During fight camp for the June fight, I cannot tell you how many batches of Victory Cookies I baked (I gave away most of them) at 3:30am because I was so overwhelmed by… not working, not living up to my potential, having a subpar sparring session, failing the bar in 2013 by 7 points, forgetting to record a TV show, some random mistake from high school, WHO KNOWS! Depression can make your mind race about everything under the sun.

I had a whole story about “Cake in a Mug” – I even sent Coach L.A. a pic of one I made after a recent breakdown – but I’ve said too much already. I’ll teach y’all how to make it for the holidays and share the story then, maybe…

IMG_7942.JPG

Okay, that is enough for today. The TL;DR for this post is: I’ve had a not-so-fun time with depression over the last 18 months (actually longer than that, but it all spilled over last year), and I’ve used fight camp and cooking to give myself a sense of control when the world feels like it’s crumbling around me. I’m doing so much better these days because I finally got the help I desperately needed; not just therapy, but also relying on my family at the gym more. I hope if you take anything away from this recipe post that contains exactly 0.0 recipes in it, it’s that you are not alone and – more importantly – you are not the worst thing you might be telling yourself. We need to smash the stigma around mental health issues. And, as always, get the help you need and deserve. YOU DESERVE A HEALTHY BRAIN!!!

If you feel like you may harm yourself and need to somebody immediately, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and confidential!

If you or somebody you know might be dealing with depression and you aren’t sure how to address it with the people in your life, check out www.makeitok.org. They provide tips on how to start the conversation and get the help you or they may need.

LA Jennings