The Silent Warrior
The hardest battle is within; every martial artist has heard this time and time again, and knows this to be true. The battle within our self often goes unseen, un-discussed, and covered up. Yet, the battle rages on. Sometimes, we seek help, advice, and solace from our friends, family, and professionals, but most of the time, we don’t. Emotional battles, psychological battles, and looming depression are issues that no one likes to talk about; we, as martial artists, train to be strong – in body and mind – so, when we have these internal battles, they are almost always compartmentalized, stifled, and kept inside. While this may seem like the ‘right’ way to handle it, nothing could be further from the truth. Bottled up emotions, anxiety, and depression is dangerous. The emotions are controlled initially by sheer willpower, and then the emotions become stronger and uncontrollable. When the will is no longer sufficient to handle the sadness, loneliness, stress, and feelings of despair, the warrior often turns to other sources to block the pain; the most common being alcohol and drugs. This works for a little while too, but it’s a temporary relief for a constantly growing, intense pain from within. Eventually, the pain becomes too much to bear; the loneliness, despair, and feeling of absolute helplessness becomes so overwhelming that the man or woman suffering, can only see one logical solution..only one way to cure the pain. They may or may not realize the hurt, the grief, and the shattered lives of the family, friends, and loved ones they leave behind, when they reach the point of no-return. They only want the pain to stop.
Yesterday, the world was shocked to hear that Robin Williams had taken his own life; Mr. Williams was an icon in American television and Cinema over the past 4 decades; he was well-loved, respected in his craft, extremely talented, physically healthy, and wealthy. But..Robin Williams was a lonely, distraught, and severely depressed man. By his own admission, he had battled alcoholism that was fueled by depression, and he even spoke candidly about the subject in a recent televised interview. Robin Williams spent his life making other people laugh, yet he had no joy. With all of his success, his fame, and even his loving family, he was fighting a raging battle of constant sadness and loneliness that no one else could see.
This seems to happen with celebrities, powerful people, and public figures more than anyone; Perhaps it’s the stress of being under constant public scrutiny, or being expected to be perfect all the time. Police officers, war veterans, martial artists, are in this category of powerful people, and public figures to an extant. Police officers and combat veterans routinely see things that can’t be unseen. The experiences become memories, and the memories become nightmares. The combination of memories, PTSD, stressful working conditions, family or financial problems, are often too much to bear. The other variable is that police officers, soldiers, and martial arts teachers are the ones that others depend on for strength. In our own eyes, we aren’t allowed a moment of weakness, sadness, or depression; even within our own peer group, it’s an unspoken assumption of weakness to reach out and ask for help. This has to change. NO-ONE is immune to depression. NO-ONE should feel so strong that we can’t or won’t ask for help. Very recently, a friend and martial artist took his own life; a man that I had trained with, laughed and talked with, on numerous occasions in North Carolina. Paul was a highly ranked, highly skilled, and well respected Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate teacher. He had a great life, or so we thought. It’s always shocking to find that someone was silently battling demons that we knew nothing about. Did we miss warning signs? Did we miss an opportunity to help? Did we listen enough? These are all haunting questions that can never be answered. Anyone that has lost friends or loved ones to suicide will always have these questions looming over them.
To everyone reading: please understand that no-one is immune to depression. This can be brought on from a number of sources, and untreated, can be fatal. If you know anyone battling depression, please extend your hand and your heart; reach out and help them, even if they push you away or become angry for meddling. It isn’t about you, it’s about them, so have thick skin and be persistent.
If you are sad, depressed, and even considering leaving everything behind, please call 1-800-273-8255. This is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. There are people that want to help you. Depression is a raging, silent battle, and is something that I have dealt with on a very personal basis. You can fight it, and you can win. But you can’t do it alone.