The Life You Save May Be Your Own

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Kung Fu, Trauma, and Panic April 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — weordmyndum @ 3:23 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been studying Indonesian kung fu for around 6 weeks now.  I really enjoy it, but I’ve noticed it’s also heightening my anxiety/panic and dissociation.  I generally do fine during classes, but afterward I notice I’m VERY on edge and frightened that everyone is about to try to hurt me, to an extent that borders on paranoia.  I’ve had a few panic attacks after class, and the anxiety is heightening my dissociative symptoms.

I have particular trouble when we do verbal self-defense.  I’m fine with the physical stuff, breaking holds and such, but forcefully saying no/stop/move back/etc. really freaks me out.  Even though I feel comfortable with the instructors and the other students in my class, saying no triggers this fear of retaliation or punishment that doesn’t fit the situation.  Knowing it’s an echo from my past doesn’t help me feel less frightened in the moment.

I was very involved in another martial arts style (US Yoshukai Karate) several years ago without problems with triggers, but I suspect I wasn’t getting triggered because I spent a lot of time using self-harm and my ED to manage my PTSD symptoms and numb myself to triggers.  It’s new to me to be present and in my body while feeling triggered and terrified.

I’m considering scheduling a time to meet with the head instructor and talk about this with her, but I don’t know if I have the nerve.  I’m also not sure what I would intend to accomplish with that, since I don’t want the class to be changed just to accommodate my anxiety/trauma issues.  The head instructor is not the one who usually teaches my class, either.  While I like the guy who teaches my class, he’s several years younger than me and male, which makes me uncomfortable bringing it up with him.

I guess what I’m looking for is some thoughts on how to handle this.  I want to keep going to my class because I really enjoy it, but I don’t want to have panic attacks and dissociative symptoms afterward.  Has anyone else been in a similar situation?  I’d really like to hear how other people have dealt with it.  (Thoughts are also welcome from people who haven’t been in the same situation.)

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5 Responses to “Kung Fu, Trauma, and Panic”

  1. Well, it seems that I get panic attacks and dissociative symptoms from life in general. I guess I’m a pansy that way. I get so nervous around people that sometimes I freeze up, yet I work with people on a daily basis. I would say that it gets easier the more I do it, so maybe it would take putting yourself in the situation again and againt to desensitize yourself? I just spend time recuperating by being alone later. I don’t know what would work for you, though. I wish I could be of more help.

  2. bprubble Says:

    I have not been in this situation, so take my response with a grain of salt.

    6 years ago I broke my arm snowboarding (after only doing it for about 2 years). I kept trying to go every year and I never got any better because of how terrified I was and because I would almost ALWAYS end up in tears by the time I got down the mountain at the end of the day. It was a definite trigger for panic attack/tons of stress. To this day, my body has a stress reaction to actually driving to the mountain. And deep down there is something that still terrifies me about it.

    Last year I came down in tears, and went to join my mom in the lodge declaring “I quit! That is it!”

    This year, I live an hour away from a resort and was given a free season pass. I thought to myself “This is a golden opportunity…I’ll go and see what it’s like.”

    Every time we went this year I got better and slowly, I got over my fear. I began in November just where I had left off…with paralyzing anxiety and constant negative thoughts about falling. When I think this way…I fall more and almost re-broke my nose.

    Slowly, every time I went I got rid of a little more anxiety and ended up getting my own snowboard. After committing to it even further I knew there was no turning back.

    Now I can honestly say that I love snowboarding, and I am in control of my thoughts when I am in the stressful situation that used to trigger panic attacks every time. I also identified that riding with my Dad and Brother REALLY triggers me. My brother tries to encourage me but is demeaning and my Dad is worried about me and just making sure I won’t hurt myself.

    Now I don’t snowboard with them, but I LOVE going with my friends! And maybe now that I’ve worked through it I will be able to handle going with my family.

    I am SO glad that I decided to work through my extreme fear/anxiety. It was really hard mental work, but now I have a hobby that I truly love and am pretty good at.

    It sounds like you honestly LOVE martial arts and that even if it causes you anxiety, you are still getting something out of it….or else I think you would have stopped a long time ago.

    Don’t be afraid to figure out a way to reduce some of the triggers to make it YOURS. Talk to the guy….he might be more understanding than you think! People in extreme sports have (at one point or another) struggled with at least some anxiety around it.

    Good luck!!! Btw kung fu is so badass!!!!

  3. brandic32 Says:

    Wow, well I am actually in admiration of the fact that you can do martial arts. That is quite a feat in itself! I don’t actually have much in the way of advice (sorry), but I wanted to say that I can relate. I have always had an awful time in saying “no” or “stop”. For some reason, I have a feeling that recently I had someone (perhaps my therapist? I don’t remember) trying to get me to practice saying no… or perhaps something else to do with boundaries. Okay, nevermind I really don’t remember.

    Anyhew… It’s hard when we’ve had past experiences where we weren’t listened to, and our “no’s” weren’t heeded. It seems natural that putting oneself in a situation where you need to exercise this defense would be triggering. I think it’s a great long-term goal.

    • weordmyndum Says:

      Yeah, I think a lot of my difficulty with the verbal self-defense stuff is the act of saying no.

      When I was being abused, I never fought back physically. I don’t think it ever entered my mind to try. So the physical self-defense, breaking holds, doing sweeps, and so forth, I can handle with no problem. But I did sometimes say no, and that led to worse abuse as punishment. I think that’s why verbal self-defense is so upsetting to me. I do feel silly about it sometimes, though.

      • brandic32 Says:

        Yes, I never tried to fight back physically either. (That’s where dissociation comes in I suppose.) The abuse that I endured is actually all very blurry, but I have a semblance of a feeling that I tried saying “no” too, and that it was met with anger and manipulation. No wonder these things are hard, huh?
        Ps. You shouldn’t feel silly about it. I imagine it’s a very difficult issue for everyone who has been abused and whose “no’s” were unheeded and even met with retaliation. So it would actually make a lot of sense that this would be a difficult issue for you.


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