sad dog

“It’s January and February right now. Spring will come.”

My dad was offering me some words of comfort the other night as I sat curled up in my bed, sobbing and dredging up one ridiculous worry after another: regrets of things I did long ago, a reopened wound from a bitter breakup, letting go of pieces of me that I couldn’t get back. I felt lonely, vulnerable, and hopeless. I didn’t really have a rational reason to be upset, but it felt like the flood gates had been unleashed. Damnit, I was going to give myself something to cry about.

Dad suspected that I was feeling some post-black belt test depression, and he and Mom had even wondered before my black belt test if the crash was inevitable. Dad likened it to the depression some people feel after the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over: the excitement has died down, the fanfare has quieted, and now you’re back to life as usual in the suckiest months of the year. What’s the fun in that?

Apparently I am in a metaphorical January.

While I am thrilled to be a new black belt, I know I’ve lost some of my excitement, drive, and focus. Being waylaid by an injury hasn’t helped matters. Exercise always makes me feel better. I experienced that when I started to get a hint of the crash a few weeks ago, but an invigorating (and slightly insane) workout from a senior black belt student nipped that in the bud. Nothing like the sweet combination of exhaustion and endorphins to make you feel on top of the world.

I’ve been stuck at home recuperating for much of the week from severe back pain that struck last weekend. Other than some healing sessions with my physical therapist (it was almost worth hurting my back for all the lovely care and treatment), I haven’t moved around much, and I know my mood plummets whenever I become more sedentary. Obviously I hadn’t been able to go to taekwondo class, but I was also in too much pain to swim, do yoga, or my other normal actives. Even walking for long distances was difficult until yesterday.

It’s frustrating to feel this way and to have it possibly adversely affect my approach to taekwondo because life as a new black belt has hardly been ordinary—there’s no same old, same old as a newly minted Jyo Kyo Neem. I’ve barely learned one of the two (two!!) new forms I get to learn, and there is still so much to practice with hand-to-hand combat and defense against weapons. I’m not even used to seeing myself in my fancy new black-lapeled uniform and embroidered belt.

So what the hell?? I’m really not that upset about the back pain. I get injured all the time, and I know I always bounce back. I can handle physical pain. Emotional pain is a much stickier matter.

I really hope it’s a case of an emotional slump because I’ve been forced to be inactive and confined to my home (other than when I wasn’t at work or PT) and NOT due to a more elusive and dangerous habit I thought I had kicked: constant dissatisfaction. In the Bad Old Days, when I had low self-esteem, I was searching desperately for happiness in all the wrong places. I wanted other people, material possessions, work, academic achievements, and even my superficial looks to fill that void in my heart that I eventually learned to fill from within.

Nah, I’ve made it too far in my journey of self growth and kicking life’s ass to have gone back to my old destructive ways. I know I haven’t lost that little glimmer of inner peace, contentment, and newly found confidence. I’m just cranky that I can’t kick teenagers for a week or two.

This will pass.


9 thoughts on “The Inevitable Slump

  1. Ah my sweet ninja sister! I am sorry you are unable to kick teenagers for a little while…it is truly therapeutic ;). I remember going through a bit of a slump post black belt back in May, and you are right it will pass. When it passes you will come back with a vengeance..with a new found confidence that can only come with passing a black belt test. There is something that is deeply satisfying knowing you have achieved something so incredibly difficult. You are awesome lady! Thank you again for your recent post that renewed my desire to train! You never know what good you are doing by just being yourself! Good luck with your recovery!

    1. Thank you so much for your nice message! Maybe in a weird way I needed to take a break from it. I think having a week off to heal and a week off for Thanksgiving will give me enough time and distance from TKD that I’ll be renewed and reenergized by the time I go back.

  2. Hey! Just stumbled on your blog. I’m in my middle 30’s and I just got my 2nd degree black belt in TKD. This post really struck a chord with me. The year after I got my black belt, I really struggled. I had multiple injuries (it seemed like every time I recovered, I got hurt again). It affected my training, which made my skills go downward… and then I had a lovely talk with my instructor about how at this age the body starts to decline. UGH.

    And … yeah, training changes after black belt. At least, at my dojang it did. The attitude changes, and it can be hard. For me, I realized that I didn’t like taking chances as much (it’s less humiliating to fall on your face as a color belt). The details that help you improve are slower coming, so you get less rewards for more effort. And yes, I remember the months after I got the black belt, when the excitement wore off… My tactic for getting through the emotional slump was shifting my focus from trying to keep up with the black-belt teenagers to assisting with classes, helping teach students.

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