How I Came to be an Inside Fighter

I have felt compelled to share this story for a long time now. There are many reasons why I feel so compelled, but I think the biggest reason is that I believe there is someone out there that needs to hear this. Once upon a time, that someone was me.

Four years ago

Let me start by rewinding four years ago to when I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Baltimore to finish up college with a summer internship at a small pediatric rehab hospital. I moved to the 11th floor of a worn down apartment building and didn’t know anyone in Baltimore besides my fellow intern/new roommate who I met for the first time when I dropped my bags on the cracked parquet tile of our new living room. I enjoyed the internship, socialized on the weekends, and fell in love with my new city. I also dealt with some serious depression, but chalked it up to homesickness – after all, I was having fun and living out “my dream” so how could I be truly depressed? After finishing the internship, my supervisor offered me a job as a full time Child Life Specialist. If you’re unsure what that is, a Child Life Specialist provides play therapy for children who are sick or terminally ill while in the hospital to prevent trauma and promote growth and development. This was exactly what I wanted to do. I, of course, accepted the offer.

I got my dream job

In the fall, I moved into a tiny row home closer to the heart of downtown Baltimore that I found on Craigslist, which was already inhabited by three other people. Every day at my job, I worked relentlessly to care for the sick children and their families. I enjoyed it at the start, but I slowly began to experience the burnout I’d only heard about in textbooks. There were children dropped off with no parents, babies who were addicted to drugs that had to go home to their addicted parents, children that died, and the list goes on and on. It was a true awakening to the realities of so many families. I had known things were hard in this world, but to be so close up and involved with them every single day was something I never got used to. I greatly valued quality time with the children, but the demands from my supervisor were great. My pay for this job was $16.50 per hour. The bedroom I rented cost $850 per month. The rest of my money was mainly spent on food, going out, student loans, and flying home to Chicago to see family on occasion. The stress of separating my work life with my personal life while managing my growing financial needs was incredibly stressful. Not to mention, I was trying to meet people, make friends, and date. To help with these quests, I started spending more money on drinking to take the edge off. Then I found myself partying every weekend, sometimes multiple days per week to keep up with my growing social needs. It was all fun and games until it started affecting my emotionality and I was experiencing serious highs and lows.

And then I found boxing

In the mix of all this, I met an experienced boxing coach at my gym. I have always loved sports and fitness, so when he asked me to try boxing I couldn’t resist. That first session, I didn’t once think of any of the stresses going on in my life. I was having fun punching and I instantly felt a confidence boost. After the best workout of my life, I was disappointed to learn how expensive lessons were and knew I could no way no how afford them. Luckily, the coach generously offered me an internship where I could roll wraps and clean gloves in exchange for free lessons. I was absolutely inspired by this. I started waking up at 4am almost every day to meet him for morning runs in the park followed by boxing at the gym (and of course, I rolled a wrap or two). As time went on, this coach taught me all that I know about boxing. I loved the technicality as well as the emotional release of it. And being athletic my whole life, boxing came naturally to me. Although considered a violent sport, it brought me peace of mind. It was one of the only positive things I was doing in my life.

How I slowly destroyed my life

I’m not proud to admit this, but I feel it’s important to be candid. Outside of the gym, I became more and more reckless. I totaled two cars within a six month span, abused alcohol and weed to cope with my nagging anxiety and depression, isolated myself socially, lashed out at those closest to me, argued with my boss weekly, hardly slept, ate less and less…need I go on? I was destroying my life and myself. And the scary part is I hardly knew what I was doing and how it would affect me.

Although the boxing was keeping me somewhat afloat, I was unfortunately not strong enough to handle the stress and my increasingly strong negative emotions in a healthy way. I ultimately ended up in the mental ward at Johns Hopkins where I was diagnosed with mania and bipolar I disorder. I look back on this younger me and wish I had loved myself better – at the time, I didn’t know how. I was afraid to seek out a psychiatrist – afraid of the stigma that often goes along with having a mental illness. I wish I had sought out stories like this so that I understood I wasn’t the only 20-something year old going through this and that my situation was not as unique as it felt. Even though I have the most supportive family and friends, it was so hard to talk about. When I knew I needed help, I didn’t even know how to ask for it. My hope is that this story reaches someone who needs to hear it like I did and encourages them to get help before things go from bad to worse.

The outcome

Although a sad series of events, I’m truly thankful I went through this because it has shaped who I am today and propelled me to completely change my life. It helped me find my true passion for fitness and I became a personal trainer and boxing coach. I grew up and learned how to be healthier than ever. I found the right medicine, right therapy, meditation, changed my habits and used exercise as my main coping mechanism. I’m not saying everything is always sunshine, I struggle with my illness from time to time, but it has gotten much easier to manage. If you are going through something unfavorable, whether it is an illness, life situation, loss, etc., know that growth from it is possible and probable. And here I am to support you through that growth, build a community of fitness and love without judgement, and tell you how I came out at the end of my particular match as an inside fighter.

With love,

Diana

Let Me Explain What This Means to Me

How I chose the title of this project

When dreaming up names for this project, I must have thought of about 100 different options. I went back and forth because I wanted the title to be representative of the content and something that resonated with my life. For those of you who don’t already know, fitness is my jam, especially boxing – I teach it for a living and it’s what I want this website to be infused with. So when I came across the boxing term “inside fighter”, a string was plucked in my mind. I knew this was what I wanted my project to be called.

I am quite short

Why “Inside Fighter”? Well, an inside fighter is someone who stays close to their opponent while fighting and delivers short and powerful blows to the body; you are literally fighting in your opponent’s range of attack. This style of fighting is especially useful for all the shorty’s out there. I myself am short. I am 5”0 (and a half inch but who’s counting). If I were ever to spar against someone, this style would be my best shot at taking the win…my arms are not long enough to be an outside boxer – most every person over 12 years of age is taller than I. Therefore, I am an “inside fighter”.

I have bipolar

More than anything else I want this project to be about creating a community and coming together to talk some hard things in an honest forum. Particularly mental health. It is something that I believe is super important to talk about and shed light on because unfortunately, there are still many stigmas that people have toward mental illness. I myself have bipolar I disorder and up until a couple months ago, I told nobody besides close family and a few close friends. I felt as if sharing my diagnosis would somehow change everyone’s perception of me. And here I am, ready to challenge that fear. I am not here to throw it in anybody’s face or say that I am my illness, I am here to say it is a part of me and it is a part of a lot of other people’s lives…why should we be hiding!? Mental illnesses are medical diagnoses. They are not made up “in your head” that you can “power through” and “think positively” to get better. No, they can be life altering, life threatening, and they affect 1 in 4 people worldwide. Did you hear that? Let me repeat…25% of human beings suffer from mental illnesses. That’s a lot of people. When I was diagnosed, I felt so alone. Like I was the only one going through this. The numbers say otherwise, but the way our society still views mental health can be isolating. Regardless of this, I fought through and crawled my way out of a dark place. I fought and continue to fight my internal battle…I am an “inside” fighter.

Inside Fighter is a place for everyone

In short, this project is about creating a safe place for people with or without a mental illness to come and learn from people going through it, different from a quick search or WebMD article, and for people who are looking to improve their overall health and have fun doing it. I believe fitness is a great place to start when learning to deal with the mind and the body and fighting against any illness or problematic life situation you may be facing. Whoever you are, I’m so glad you’re here and I welcome you to take a deeper look inside your life and discover in what ways you yourself are an inside fighter.

With Love,

Diana