Written By: Evelyn Tadlock
Living with chronic illness and pain is something that I do not wish on anyone. However, millions of people do live with them, as do I. I was born with Neurofibromatosis Type I, which is one of three types of NF. These are NF 1, NF 2, and Schwannomatosis. NF 1 is the most common neurological disorder, occurring in every 3,000 births worldwide. My NF causes tumors to grow on my nerves inside and outside my body. It also caused other symptoms including, but limited to: scoliosis, cognitive differences, daily pain from internal tumors, and I get the occasional gi-burn on outside tumors. Complicating matters, in 2014, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease where my immune system is eating away at my nerves’ protective covering. My MS symptoms include, but not limited to: muscle pain, muscle fatigue, spasticity, and increased anxiety. So, with both NF and MS, I am in daily chronic pain and my muscles seem to want to give out more frequently than they would have when I was younger. Many would think that that it is impossible to get into sports or any athletic activity with such a diagnosis. I dissent! Physical and mental disabilities are not a housebound sentence. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise!
I never considered myself the athletic type since NF also caused motor control issues all my life. Anything involving balance and coordination was on my “nope” list. In 2005, my senior year of college, I was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu at the Relson Gracie Association. I found that Jiu-Jitsu was something I could do despite my physical limitations. Also, at this point in time, my back pain had increased in severity. Regardless, I was hooked and found that as I started to train more, the pain became manageable! It was a wonderful, life changing experience. After a while, I started to do competitions and received my hard-earned Blue Belt in 2006.
Unfortunately, due to life’s twist and turns, I had some of those dreaded Jiu-Jitsu breaks. As a result, my symptoms worsened and then, with the MS diagnosis, I thought I was done. I knew how severe MS could become. I wanted to go back to training Jiu-jitsu but did not want to risk stopping again due to health. Courageously, in the Summer of 2015, I started to take classes again. Flash forward, defying the odds again, I am now a purple belt (2 stripe) at Marcelo Garcia of Dallas. I also started competing again, being active on the IBJJF competition scene.
I strongly do believe that Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone. We all have seen those memes and inspiring articles on Facebook. However, I know it is not a complete cure for chronic symptoms. Somedays it is extremely difficult, and you will have those certain days. However, I am able to manage my health and strength by making certain life and health choices. Here are some of my suggestions on training Jiu-Jitsu with chronic illnesses.
- It is okay to take time off!!!
Do not judge yourself too harshly for missing a day or two. Your overall health is more important. Personally, and call me crazy, but I want to do Jiu-Jitsu until I die. I cannot do that if I neglect my health. Sometimes, despite managing my symptoms, the pain or flair ups are too much. The same goes for if you get sick with a virus or infection, you would give yourself extra time away, right? Especially, if you are on any extra strength medication. Your immune system is already compromised, do not worsen it by training too much, while trying to recover. If you have that insatiable hankering (like we all do) then stagger your days back in order to get accumulated to a normal training routine. Once back on the mats, if I do not still feel 100%, I ease into the training, less rounds, and more drilling. Same goes if I have manageable flair up days and I can still make it to class.
Regardless of flair ups or illnesses, I also try to implement one rest day where I do not do any physical activities. It is hard, but the body needs rest. Your body will thank you. Resting and taking extra time off is not the end of the world. It will not affect your Jiu-Jitsu negatively. You are resting for a better you and that means better Jiu-Jitsu. There are other things you can do to feed your Jiu-Jitsu mind. If you are able to get to the gym, you can watch a class, or you can watch videos online. Do enough to satisfy your mind and feel comfortable that you are doing the best for your body.
- Get enough sleep.
This is a case of: “Do as I say, not as I do”. I juggle a full-time job and attend all the night classes I can. I do not get home until around 9:00 or 9:30PM. I must get up early for my shifts. My sleeping is not ideal, but I try to catch up when I can. My goal is 7 hours minimum. This is an ongoing struggle and it is real. However, sleeping is when our bodies repair, especially needed after those multiple rounds with a black belt.
- Good diet.
From my experience, having a solid, clean, healthy diet helps my fatigue and pain management. My diet may not work for you, but what I did to get started was an elimination diet. I eliminated certain foods for a week or two then added them back; evaluating how I felt. Right now, I practice intermittent fasting, consume no gluten, no cow milk, no beef, and mindful of grains/carbohydrates. If my body feels bad, due to diet, on top of everything else, then it does not help my Jiu-Jitsu.
- Try Supplements.
I take a variety of supplements along with my required medication. Seriously, Vitamin D and C will help you keep from getting sick (as much as possible), whether you are out in public, work in an office, or training on the mat. For me, it is easy to get sick with a compromised immune system, so supplements are key to my maintaining my health. It is not foolproof, but it really does help. Also, I found that Turmeric helps with my inflammation and CBD oil works wonders. However, you will need to check on the legality of CBD in your state.
There it is, my battle plan for dealing with chronic illness and training Jiu-Jitsu. Make sure to take time off when you need to, get your sleep, maintain a healthy diet, and try out some supplements. Jiu-Jitsu has done wonders for me, but I still must be take these extra steps to maintain a healthy body to keep doing what I love. I cannot accomplish my Jiu-Jitsu dreams with a broken body. So, take heed, live well and train hard. I know it is cliché, but here it is with a twist: when life gives you lemons, make Jiu-Jitsu lemonade!