Training when super miserable – can you wall-run out of a pit of despair?

It’s not something that I like to discuss often or make a big deal about, but sometimes I have issues. Real issues, I mean – I get extremely down, super anxious and don’t function so well. This isn’t particularly unusual. Around one in four people will experience this kind of thing at some point. Exercise can do wonders for it, and there is now an organisation dedicated to teaching parkour for mental health – it’s called Free Your Instinct, and you should absolutely check it out and donate if you can.

There’s also a dark side to training, though. People always tell me it’s great that I try so hard with parkour and train so hard in general, but the drive that lets me keep on going when other people might give up can also lead to me putting so much pressure on myself that I snap, which has happened to me recently and made training incredibly difficult.

My progress has not been good, other than balance skills. I feel like I’m getting absolutely nowhere, and that I may as well walk away from parkour completely. I’m unable to train the simplest things without telling myself that I’m not good enough. The slightest feeling of pressure – and we’re talking “try to get some good reps jumping to this thing within the next twenty minutes” pressure – makes me dissolve into a crying mess on the floor. Every failure or even perceived failure leaves me lying awake at night feeling like I have no worth as a human being.

Yes, really. No, that’s not proportionate, healthy or remotely helpful.

I am not posting this for sympathy, although I appreciate that people have showed they care. It’s very kind. The thing is, I highly doubt that I am the only person who experiences this kind of thing, and it should be talked about openly if people are going to deal with it. And what do you do when one of the most effective treatments for crushing depression is making you feel worse?

What you don’t do is stop. Personally, if I am not active for any length of time, I feel like I’m going insane. This puts me between a rock and a hard place – the thought of trying any parkour stresses me out as much as giving a speech to a massive crowd in Trafalgar Square while having forgotten to wear pants, but if I simply drop my main training activity, I’m likely to make myself feel even more down. So what can I do?

I can change it up.

I might feel awful that I’m getting nowhere with parkour, but that’s not the case with everything. My rollerskating is coming along pretty well, I’m making some good longboard progress and neither activity causes me stress, even when I fall over (probably because I have so much safety gear I feel like Robocop).

Basic conditioning is a good thing to keep going with. Unless I’m destroying myself going for a new max backsquat because I made a ridiculous bet with a man who has biceps bigger than my head, conditioning work isn’t stressful. Stopping conditioning, however, is. Having some routine, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning (other than work, I guess) can be really helpful in this kind of Black Pit of Despair (BPOD for short). It beats wallowing around eating ice cream, watching cartoons and complaining, anyway.

I can try something new. Routine is good, yes, but I sometimes find that trying something different can help pull me out of the BPOD. I don’t know why this is – maybe it’s because I’m easily distracted. As well as stuff that is completely different, there are also things that are LIKE parkour, but are NOT parkour. There are a few adult gymnastics classes around that I want to try. Since I haven’t actually done it yet, I’m not currently beating myself up about my lack of progress with gymnastics. I’m not wearing a leotard, though. That’s not going to help at all.

I can separate the legit problems from the weird made up stuff.

I couldn’t sleep the other night because I was worried. You see, I’m going to Italy for a juggling convention (it’s going to be all acrobatics all the time for me, though) in August. I have flights booked. What if the airline loses my bag? WITH MY TENT? Oh god. What will I do?

This is an example of a non-legit problem. Rather than a genuine issue making me feel anxious, I feel anxious and have pretty much invented this non-existent bag loss four months into the future to latch onto. At this point, there’s no point in coming up with a constructive solution, because I will simply find something else to latch onto in an endless cycle. While it’s fascinating to see what utter bullshit I can come up with, it gets tiring. Instead, stress management stuff – breathing exercises, gentle activity, whatever – are the way to go to dissipate it.

On the other hand, I do have a genuine issue with a lack of progression in parkour. It’s not worth histrionically falling into a BPOD while wailing continuously for hours on end, but it’s a thing that can and should be dealt with. In my case, I think that I’m missing some fundamental movement skills that I’m not going to get through parkour classes. 99.99999% of people starting beginner parkour classes are already reasonably fit, competent at some kind of sport or activity and have tried a bunch of stuff. This was not me. This means I’ve been wondering my I can’t kong a wall without having become comfortable with movements as simple as bunny-hopping over a gym bench (it’s ok, guys. I can bunnyhop now. It’s just an example). I’m not 100% sure how to address this, but trading out some parkour for gymnastics might help. It’s a more rigid system, yes, but it might make room for developing extremely basic skills that I haven’t looked at properly.

I can be aware that it’s not unusual to feel like crap sometimes.

Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to about this has experienced some kind of crisis where they feel like there is no point in sticking with parkour. Everyone is progressing beyond them, they’re tired, they’re injured and they don’t think they can keep it up. This may not seem like much consolation, but the upside is that those who have been through it can tell you how they got through it. Possible ways I’ve been given include focussing on comparing your current ability to your former ability asopposed to the ability of others (easier said than done, I know. If anyone figures out how to actually do this, please let me know), concentrating on training that you find fun rather than pushing yourself to break jumps and do things that you find difficult, scary and emotionally taxing every time, and generally taking care of yourself (nutrition, enough sleep, all that boring stuff).

I can remember that it isn’t permanent.

Sorry to get all Buddhist, but one way or another every crisis passes. It might just go away on its own, or an external factor you weren’t even aware was causing it will be lifted, or maybe you need to see a doctor and get yourself assessed and go from there. Either way, it’s not forever. This can be a very difficult thing to remember when you’re stuck in a black pit.

I can get checked out if it doesn’t go away.

Statistics say that it’s pretty common for people to experience mental health problems.

On the other hand, relatively few people experience really serious problems. So if you suspect your bad feelings crisis is actually caused by an underlying mental health issue, you might well be right – but it’s probably not the end of the world, even if you feel quite bad.

People can have some funny ideas about medical treatment for mental health. Personally, I’ve experienced reactions ranging from “you’re making it up, there’s nothing wrong with you, get over it” to “you definitely need to be diagnosed or you will never get better”. I didn’t find either extreme helpful, personally. Don’t take lame advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. People will tell you that you definitely have X problem and it’s an illness and you have to treat it like a health condition that will always be there. Other people will tell you that doctors are just going to give you medication, and medication is definitely bad and will turn you into a zombie and not address your “actual problems.” Truth is, if you feel that this isn’t a temporary training crisis and you need medical help for depression or anxiety, that could mean anything from permanent medication to a meditation course. It’s extremely individual. If someone is telling you exactly what you need, they probably don’t know.

I know I am not my feelings.

I’m coming over all Buddhist again, aren’t I? Who the hell do I think I am, the Dalai bloody Lama?

Anyway. Feelings are feelings. Sometimes they seem absolutely overwhelming, whether you have a mental health issue or are just having major confidence issues with training, but you don’t need to identify yourself with them any more than you do an injury (did I mention my injured shoulder in this post yet?) or a technical issue you’re having with your climb-ups.

As someone who has recurrent problems with negative feelings, I prefer to think of it like the weather. Sometimes it’s sunny. Sometimes it rains and you need an umbrella. Sometimes it rains really, really heavily – but no matter how bad it gets, it will pass. And you may not be able to do everything in all weathers, but you can always do something.

I hope that some of these coping strategies are helpful for someone somewhere. I’m sure not all of them will apply to everyone, and that other people may have different methods that work pretty well. But for anyone feeling like this for the first time ever, it might be worth looking at this list. You never know.


4 thoughts on “Training when super miserable – can you wall-run out of a pit of despair?

  1. I wish I had known then what I know now i.e getting diagnosed with BPD after 3 years of training and feeling I was getting nowhere and feeling inexplicably slow, deepy afraid and exhausted…. perhaps I would still be training now?. Sometimes the dialogue you have between the wall/railing/gap and yourself needs a professionally intermediary and not someone who doesn’t understand mental health no matter how kind or good at Parkour they are.:.)


  2. “Sometimes it’s sunny. Sometimes it rains and you need an umbrella. Sometimes it rains really, really heavily – but no matter how bad it gets, it will pass. ”

    this. thanks!


  3. I enjoyed reading your article and then about your BPD diagnosis… Funny. Reading it I thought ‘this sounds like me’ especially the not knowing whether you’re habing a genuine fear about something of making it up. And how disabling it is… I was diagnosed with bpd 3 years ago too and have the same ‘weather’ coping strategy. It’s the first time I’ve read about someone’s diffivulties with bpd and not have it be an article about bpd, which I appreciate for some reason…brings a sense of humanness and solidarity that feeling this way is fine. Thanks for your post x


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