I quit boxing last night.
I could walk you through all the scheduling problems I was facing caused by my decision to go back to school part time in creative writing; how I was doing crazy contortions trying to figure out how to squeeze in the mandatory 3x/week boxing workouts to remain in our gym’s competitive program. But really, those details don’t matter. Because at the core, I knew that if I was still in love with boxing, I’d find a way to make it work – the crazy schedule would feel worthwhile. Instead, I was filled with dread. Warning sign #1.
Warning sign #2 has been growing over the past several weeks. Boxing and its emotional impact has always been closely related to my mental health – I explain that in detail here. Boxing has taught me so much about myself, lessons that I have taken from the ring and applied to my life.
My latest breakthrough in sparring has come with a surge of confidence. Hit me? I’ll be sure to hit you back. To dissuade you from wanting to hit me, I’ll occasionally hit you first, and I won’t hit kindly. Similarly, in my real life, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will not please everyone. I’d rather be respected, stay true to myself, and live with the knowledge that I am not universally liked, than expend energy constantly molding myself into a persona that will please everyone and all their quirks. That means I’ll say what needs to be said, regardless of whether or not my audience will like my message. I’ll formulate my message with respect, but I will no longer edit the content.
I am SO grateful that I have learned this crucial lesson of assertiveness – with every day, I am increasingly comfortable with my right to assertiveness. It is rewarding and liberating to speak my mind and own my life.
However, as my struggles to avoid the seductive pull of depression have increased over the summer, I noticed that boxing did not continue to bring me positive lessons. My challenge has been to resist the perpetual negative voices in my head that chip away at my self-esteem, brought on primarily by staying involved with a boy who had no intention of making me his girlfriend as well as navigating the difficult circumstances of supporting a friend in need who has no desire to be supported. I have chosen to place myself in both of those situations, and I am aware that the strain on my well-being is the cost of making those choices. Overall, I still am at peace with my choices – I chose to err on the side of generosity, love and friendship; the failure to achieve a happy outcome can never be laid at my door, nor would it have justified not trying. It remains, however, that I feel like I have fought a season-long battle against my paranoid brain that delights in taking the plethora of little incidents and twisting them into food for my deep insecurities of being unloveable, inadequate and undesirable. Being aware of my brain’s tricks makes its assault no less exhausting.
It is that constant assault that has ruined boxing for me. Every time I’ve stepped into the gym, I feel dread at having to steel myself enough to throw a punch, or take one. I don’t have anything left for this optional battle. What I want is the absence of punches, either metaphorical or physical. I need a break, a wee vacation. Life, and my brain, are throwing plenty my way, and I am fighting back as hard as I can. I don’t want to fight additional fights, that could be avoided by my simple decision to pursue other activities. Activities such as dancing, writing, ballet, yoga, running, or spending time with friends who love me and provide an essential counter-narrative to my paranoid brain that tries to drown out happiness with sorrow and misery. In boxing, a complete boxer needs a variety of skills: blocking punches isn’t enough. By choosing activities that bring me joy, I am counter-attacking my paranoid brain with skill and determination.
I am, and always will be, a boxer. But right now, the ring is my brain, as I fight against its determination to make me its victim once again. Like all the greatest champions, I have conviction I’ll win this battle.