My name is Caitlyn and I am 20 years old (I know I am still a baby lol). I first got into martial arts by watching the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor because my dad and his friend wanted to watch it so we went over to their house for dinner and to watch the PPV. After watching I thought boxing looked fun and something that I would want to try (which was an interesting reaction from someone with zero athletic ability).

I found a gym and I just threw myself into the sport and fully committed; I knew that if I was going to do this I was going to do it right. I was very bad at first but my passion made up for it since I started attending more and more classes slowly falling in love with the sport, people and the gym. I eventually started to get better and began to coach as well helping kids, beginners and especially women, which I loved and gave me a sense of purpose.

When I decided I wanted to compete I trained and worked at the gym along with going to school and working two other jobs. I would train for 2-3 hours 5-6 days a week on top of everything else I was doing and this commitment was something that everyone around me was praising. When I was at my highest level of training and was getting ready to compete I developed a chronic illness called POTs (postural orthostatic tension syndrome).

I became very ill and had to go to doctors and specialists; eventually, I had to take a year off training and most physical activity. With POTs I was fainting at least once a week, I would get extreme tremors after training and I kept trying to push through it and still go to the gym. There were circumstances where I had to use a wheelchair because I could not walk or stand without fainting. I was scared to go outside on a walk or to the grocery store alone in case I fainted. I could not shower without feeling faint and I was experiencing periods of high blood pressure where I would feel extreme nausea.

I had started to also get pain in my legs where I wouldn’t want to walk because they felt like someone was squeezing my blood vessels. I had become disabled and I did not know how to live my life anymore. That became one of the hardest years I ever had. Going from training and coaching 3 hours almost every day to basically being on bed rest was one of the most difficult things I've ever experienced.

I could no longer do the one thing I loved and put above everything else in my life. In that year I was forced to face some of the mental health issues I had already been experiencing (and ignoring) such as my anxiety and panic attacks. In this year I developed depression as well.

I was at my lowest of lows trying different medications and nobody around understood my situation. I tried 5 different medications (as I was told medication was the only thing that would be able to help me) and 3 different therapists but nothing was helping. With the combination of my mental health problems, physical health problems and not being able to train or coach the sport I loved while attending my first year of University away from home in a global pandemic I was in a situation that nobody would be able to understand but myself.

I thought with my physical and mental health issues that I would never be able to box again and I did not know what to do anymore. I had never been so low in my life and if it wasn’t for the friends who lived in the dorms next to me forcing me out of my room and forcing me to hang out with them every day I do not know if I would be in the same spot that I am in today. I had not realized at the time how much boxing had been helping my mental health struggles but at the same time when I trained too hard, it led to extreme burnout.

The resulting illnesses forced me to take a step back from my training to rethink what I was doing and if my training practices were healthy and were doing more bad than good. Something I commonly see in the martial arts community is people praising “commitment” to the gym and the more you go to the gym the more committed you are to the sport. It got to the point where if I was sick or couldn’t go to the gym because it was a friend's birthday, I would be scared of disappointing my coach and would just end up going to the gym instead.

Eventually, the gym came above everything else in life and that was not a healthy or productive mindset. Unfortunately, this is the mindset that I see being praised over and over despite the burnout or other negative mental health effects it is having. After that year I decided to slowly get back into martial arts and I decided to train in kickboxing and Muay Thai instead. I changed sports so that there would be a learning curve to overcome and I would be able to take my time in the sport without feeling the pressure or need to compete soon. After a little more than a year I have now learned to listen to my body when I train so that I don’t cause it to completely shut down on me again mentally and/or physically.

I prioritize balance in my training and I am going to have my first full-contact Muay Thai fight in January which I am very excited about. At first, I was scared that by listening to my body and balancing my training I would not be able to compete because I wouldn’t be as “committed” to the gym. In reality, training with more balance has made me a better athlete because now I am excited to come to the gym which leads me to be more productive during my training sessions. I have also been able to keep my body more healthy so now even though I still struggle with my chronic illness and mental illnesses I am not bedridden and I can successfully compete despite my illnesses.

I still have my bad days and I still struggle a lot but having that time off was very valuable to realign my values and my health. I have built-in support in my life and surround myself with people who support me when I need support and push me when I need a little push to come into the gym. My coach likes to say our training as martial artists is very yang and we need some yin in our lives to balance and become good fighters. He likes to make sure we have something reflective like journaling in our training and something relaxing like yoga to balance the hardness of punching and kicking.

I think that more practices need to take on this ancient wisdom once again to look back at the root of martial arts to create well-rounded athletes that will be successful in all areas of life. Oftentimes, as a coach, you also become a mentor especially when working with younger athletes and it is important to look at the mental along with the physical health of your athletes.

The way I was living and training before became so unsustainable that my body forced me to take a step back and re-evaluate my life which I will forever be grateful for even though that year was the worst and scariest year of my life. I now value myself and my body more than I ever had and I am more thankful, forgiving and compassionate to myself.

I now train at a high level again while taking care of my social, spiritual, physical and mental needs. It is not easy but it is a lot easier than not being able to get out of bed and not wanting to continue life.