Guest Blog

Exhaustion Beneath The Mask: Learning Mental Limits And When To Ask For Help

07 Feb 2018 by Serena DeJesus

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind.  As always, I have been working in, and out of the gym. I’m also dealing with some (minor) nagging injuries. Apparently, I’ve been on a drag, though those close to me disagree on just how long that drag has been. Some people think that it’s been months. Some people say it’s only been a week that they’ve noticed me appearing drained, and less of my usual bouncy self.

Hiding my exhaustion is part of who I am.

There are many variables that drain me, but it’s often difficult for me to identify that it’s happening (until it’s too late and the dreaded burnout has already sunk hooks in me.)

Hiding my exhaustion is part of who I am. Due to my sensory issues (the biggest drain of my energy), just being out in the world doing normal things like socializing, and doing what I love can grind me down and send me running to the pillow fort in my bedroom. Even the things that bring us joy can be a labor of love. 

I don’t regret my life or anything (or anyone) in it, and I never will.  That said, I can’t deny that I feel like I’ve been flooring the gas and feel like my wheels are spinning, while I’m not going anywhere is the understatement of the century. It’s a busy time for everyone at my gym, including myself. It’s also a busy time for me outside of the gym, with a seemingly endless amount of work I take on. 

Last Saturday, things came to a head, when I had a much needed sit down with my coach. He was worried about me. He knows as well as I do that my brain isn’t always my strongest muscle, even though I give good effort.  He knows I am prone to anxiety issues. I overthink things. I can get lost without guidance. He is concerned that although I have been working hard, my mental state needs some work.

I had to think of who to talk to, and more importantly, how to de-stress myself.

As a fighter, mentality is everything. Without the right mentality, you lose the fight way before you go in the cage. With that reality check hitting me over the head with the force of a baseball bat, I had to think of who to talk to, and more importantly, how to destress myself. 

My friend Roxy noted some negative thoughts, and my being more tired than normal. She and I know it’s okay to have a bad day or two, but she noted that it’s been going on for longer than that. 

I can't always see when I'm in trouble.

This confused me. I can’t always see when I’m in trouble, but I’m not going to doubt someone who knows me and my gym/fight routines as well as Roxy.

I asked my mom what she thought. There’s no denying that she saw it too. She believes it’s a combination of training, and staying in constant fight readiness, dieting, and overloading my schedule that’s draining me.  Historically, this has been an issue. Three years ago, during constant dieting and training, only to have bouts cancelled due to opponents pulling out or getting injured, had me ranting like a lunatic on social media (which I’m not proud of, but hinted strongly that my frustration levels had peaked.)

When I asked my strength and conditioning coach Lorenzo for feedback (who is also great mentally straightening me out), he suggested that I may have entered stages of “burnout” When I hear the dreaded word, “burnout,” I don’t normally associate that with mental health. It’s a term generally thrown around regarding car racing, or video games, right?

Lorenzo’s conversation sent me looking up “burnout” on the internet. Descriptions found on psychology sites online were pretty much like reading my diary. I’ve been experiencing almost everything listed.

The result?  I have been trying to lessen how much I take on, and taking  time for myself, to do things that I enjoy, like hiking more, and getting out time in the sunshine. 

I have to remember that while I am doing, and dealing with things that most people don’t, I’m not super human.

It's okay to take my "I'm OK" mask off.

I have to acknowledge that it’s okay to be tired from everything going on inside my head. It’s okay to take my “I’m OK” mask off, and to let the people who care in, and finally take some time to take care of myself, and to let my body heal.

As I write this, it's fall, and the sun is no longer a deadly laser. As the leaves fall from the trees, we know they are ready to rest and regenerate… to prepare for their next spectacular event. 

Sometimes Mother Nature is the best teacher. I really do have to spend more time with her. 

Serena DeJesus

Serena DeJesus is the First Female Professional Mixed Martial Artist with Autism. She's 5-2 in her MMA career, has the Tuff-n-uff Bantamweight Champion Belt, and is an active autism ambassador for the non-profit Fighting For Autism. When she isn't training or fighting you can find her nose buried in philosophy books or video games.  To read more from Serena, check out her blog