From The Ground Up

If I’d never started BJJ there’s a chance I might not even be alive right now. That being the case, I thought I’d start a blog and share some of my experiences with others. Who knows, maybe someone out there, who is in the same position I was, could one day relate to my inconsequential ramblings on here and be inspired to give life just one more shot.

If you’ve ever hit rock bottom and managed to drag your sorry ass out and survive, I salute you. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Similar to depression, only those who have experienced it can truly appreciate the depths the human mind can sink to.

How do you know you’ve reached rock bottom? You fucking know. I was there for years. I’m not ashamed to admit that during that time I gave up and tried to take my own life. Fortunately it was a failed attempt; I’m not one of the living dead… although if you’ve seen me in a morning before my first coffee you’ll probably argue that fact.

But yes, I survived, I clawed my way back up, excruciatingly slowly, but I got there in the end. As I felt my humanity returning, I scraped together what was left of my dignity, gathered my almost non-existent self worth, and I signed up for my first BJJ class.

The first few weeks were crazy. I was surrounded by these strange people who liked to put pyjamas on and rub up against each other. The worst part of it was they’d all act like it was a completely normal thing to do.

At this point in my life, I’d been so isolated from other people, for so long, that even speaking to anyone was quite difficult for me. So you can imagine how hard it was to roll in such close proximity with so many different people. It was overwhelming… but at the same time it intrigued me. I wanted to understand more about this sport that sparked so much passion in everyone I met. After a few months I was hooked. Where antidepressants and counciling had failed; jiujitsu had suceeded. The mats became my therapy. They helped heal me. They gave me the confidence to reclaim my life. For that, I will be forever grateful.







What do you care about? Not on the surface, but deep down in that place you protect most fiercely, even from yourself sometimes, because what you’re scared of the most in the world is that you will never have it? A longing so intense that you push it far away from your conscious mind? I’ve been so protective of mine that I’d forgotten for the longest time what it is I really want from life. I thought for a while that I wanted to be great at jiu jitsu and win fights, so I poured myself into that for a while. But how can that be what I’ve always craved to my core when it’s only been in my life for a handful of years? No. I’ve lied to myself.

The thing I’ve been unconsciously searching for my whole life is unconditional love. In my desperation I looked in all the wrong places and grasped at whatever I found, oblivious to any signs to the contrary. Forever grateful for whatever scraps someone was willing to give to me. There could be 5 red flags and one nice comment and I’d focus on the one good bit and ignore the rest, because I was so desperate to be loved and accepted. 


This need, that started as a small child and never quite realised, became unhealthy and caused me to pick up self sabotaging traits along the way. Unhealthy attachment, insecurity, low self esteem. My fear that I will never truly be loved becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve been fed the idea that I’m not worth being loved. That there’s something wrong with me. That I need to be hidden from the world. That I should just accept that’s my lot in life and nobody will ever show me otherwise, because I don’t deserve it. I swallowed all these beliefs and they became a part of me. A part I hated but an integral part nonetheless. It’s hard to stand up for yourself and set healthy boundaries when you believe that you don’t really matter. It’s hard to question when it’s coming from someone you love and trust. You believe them. I still do it. I still wonder if they’re right. All the people I’ve put my trust in throughout my life have told me the same thing. They must be right… right?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I will always question everything now. I’ll never be stubborn or set in my ways. I’ll grow for as long as I need to. I’ll never be too scared of my own demons to dive right down and play with them, to ask them who they are, where they come from and what they want. I’ll make peace with them. I need to stop outwardly looking for love and acceptance and for the first time in my life I need to give it to myself. You’re the only constant in your life, so how you treat yourself will always matter more than how anyone else treats you. If I can find a way to love and accept myself, I’ll have something that can never be taken away by anyone. 


For years I allowed myself to be defined, not by who I actually was, but by what someone else convinced me I was. If you’re around someone long enough, you can start to pick up their language, their mannerisms and sometimes their views, especially if they’re being systematically force fed to you on a daily basis. I internalised everything to a degree, but luckily I was never fully convinced. Because here I find myself, almost a blank canvas, after discarding those false definitions of myself from my psyche. Realising how hard it is to create a whole human being, that was never able to fully form under it’s own steam. How do you create yourself? Where do you begin? What do I need to become a real human being? I feel like I’m floating in a vast expanse of emptiness, aware of myself enough to try to avoid accidentally filling myself with bits taken from the people around me, the people I’m close to. I know I’m now predisposed to do this because of my conditioning, but I dont want to. Not ever again. But it’s harder than it appears. It should feel liberating, and in way it does, but more-so than that, it’s daunting.

Reality doesn’t seem as solid as it used to. I realised this may be because I spent a large amount of my time in a more primal state before. I was always subconsciously on ‘high alert’, in survival mode, hyperaware of the nuances in the atmosphere. Just thinking back to how much time I spent in this state makes me feel exhausted. Now that I no longer have a need for those states, I almost feel like I’m in a dream, as in everything is not as sharp or in focus as it was before. This is all new. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do. I’m trying to figure it out. I know I have to do it on my own. I’m having so many new experiences, things most people take for granted and don’t give a second thought to. I’m in awe. I’m waiting for them to be taken back. I’m experiencing them and not knowing how to respond appropriately. Sometimes, even when things are amazing, I want to run away and be on my own, just so that I can regroup, analyse and decide what the correct response should be in each given situation.

So many times I’ve wanted to apologise to the people around me for what I’ve analysed and determined to be inappropriate reactions to varying things. I’m awful at responding to messages. I get anxious when I have messages to reply to, even from the people I’m closest to because I’m worried that however I reply may be wrong, they may take something I say in the wrong way and be hurt, upset or angry, so I put it off, then I feel worse for doing that. Even that is relatively new. I went years where I had not a single friend to speak to. I’d had to cut them all out of my life. I became so used to just my own company that I forgot how to be sociable. I can tell you that it’s certainly not a skill that we have naturally. It’s something we learn through interacting. You take away that interaction for extended periods and you take away that ability. It has to be relearnt. I’m still at the stage where I have to try really hard. I don’t think people notice, for the most part. It’s so hard.

I just want to feel normal. I feel like my life itself is normalising but I can’t keep up, I can’t digest what’s happening at the same speed. I feel like a freak and a fraud. I know things take time, and I’ll probably get there one day, I just need to be patient, and stay aware of the progress up to this point.

I’ve inadvertently blocked so much out. Memories come back unexpectedly and catch me off guard. I haven’t actively tried to forget anything, quite the opposite in fact. I try to remember where I came from, so I can retain the appreciation for where I am now. But something is keeping vast amounts of memories from being easily accessed. It sometimes makes me wonder whether I’m distorting the past. Reimagining it somewhat. The confusion this can cause is so frustrating. I feel lost a lot of the time.

I’m not complaining; I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my adult life. There just seems to be a lot of unexpected things that came along with it and I haven’t quite gotten my head around all of it yet. It’s a journey that’s equally exciting and terrifying. I guess, regardless of where we’ve been, none of us know where we’re ultimately going to end up.

Guest post: Daniela Ilieva

My name is Daniela. I’m a 21 year old BJJ blue belt. A pessimistic avantourist with a violent fear of failure, fighting on daily basis with my biggest opponent – myself.

My cheerful/cheeky personality would never give out what lies beneath the surface and this might leave some people really shocked. I’ve always felt the need to speak up so other people like me could know they are not alone in this fight, that feels like no time limit, no holds barred death match.

I moved from Bulgaria to Scotland in 2015 by myself, straight after finishing High School. I made the decision to move because I felt suffocated in my own destructive thoughts, fueled my depression and eating disorder.

When I was a kid I was bullied a lot in school for my weight. I’ve always looked older than the other kids. I felt older also. Being a victum of verbal and physical abuse made me hate myself to the point I could not look at myself in the mirror without thinking that I am worthless and I do not deserve to live.

In my desperate attempts to “become normal” I started a suicidal diet that left me brainwashed for years. I went from 80kg to 55kg. Somewhere in the process I also developed an eating disorder that has been part of my life for the last 7 years.

Not long after I started to look like a “normal girl” I got sexually abused, which took my self-loathing on another level, making me hating my body for years to come. I’ve always felt like I’m not enough, but this made me feel completely worthless. Every morning I was waking up starving, weak and exhausted. And if there was a day I woke up not feeling weak I automatically starved myself even more so I could feel weak again. Then I went from not eating at all to eating everything I could see. I started hiding food so I could binge eat later and force myself to vomit it. In my sickest days it felt like I was suffering my punishment and then cleansing myself. I felt weak but I felt light. I was more brainwashed than ever.

Until one day I had enough of this vicious circle and I started to fear that I’d gain my weight back. I was done being the victim. I was done being weak.
I joined a local MMA gym coached by an amateur MMA fighter with a wrestling background. My first coach, Sheriff, was the first person to believe in me when I couldn’t even look at myself. Before he went abroad he told me to go and find a coach that would help me develop the potential I had within me. He told me about the strength and determination I possessed.


Before moving to Scotland the first thing I looked up was a place to train. And this is how my love story with Aberdeen Combat Center started.
I was invited to the BJJ classes by my coach Martin Young, who lent me my first GI. An old-school Faixa Rua from his training times in Carlson Gracie London. Halfway through my first official BJJ class I dialocated my knee cap. I still don’t know what was worse – having to wait 40 minutes on the mats in agony or the paramedics cutting his GI trousers into pieces to put the knee in place.

I’ve been through many things since moving to Scotland. I’ve been broke; having no money for food or electricity. I ate boiled pasta with sugar for a month. I was homeless. I was lost. I felt like the world wouldn’t lose anything if I was not there, and I couldn’t speak about any of this with my parents because I didn’t want them to worry any more. I also had no one in Scotland. I was more alone than ever. Sometimes it felt like the bad times would never pass, but another one of my coaches and my biggest anchor, Nath MacDonald, taught me to use the adversity as fuel.


After the accident I fell in love with Jiu Jitsu. Instead of being put off from the injury I become obsessed. I managed to drag myself there day after day to watch the guys train. And I was there every day until I could join them again.

Jiu Jitsu changed for me for good.
It taught me that I am not worthless. It taught me that I can achieve anything I put my heart and soul into.

What keeps me going in my lowest days are all the people I’ve met through BJJ and all the people I’m going to meet. I’ve been to 7 countries on my own so far and the BJJ community have always welcomed me with open arms. Regardless of gender, nationality or language barriers.
Now I don’t get panic attacks when I have to speak to group of people.
Now the only thing I see when I look in the mirror is a strong young woman.
Now I smile in photos without feeling self-concious.
Now I am not at war with food.

I still have a lot to work on with myself. I’m still the insecure girl who wanted to disappear. I still doubt myself and fight my own thoughts on daily basis.

But now I know I am powerful, now I know how to fight back with a smile and laugh in the face of my depression. One day I will get her. One day I’ll make my depression tap. Until then the journey continues.


On Denial

I’ve never progressed in any significant way in life without having to go through something that absolutely terrified me. That comforts me when things are particularly hard, because I know that it’s a necessary part of any worthwhile journey.

It’s easy to try and convince myself that I’m a totally different person to the one who got trapped in an abusive relationship for many years, and I do feel like that was a lifetime ago and a person I can barely relate to being. But I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that I am that same person. A little stronger and wiser perhaps, but still that same person who was too scared to stand up for herself, who allowed herself to be exploited and bullied on a daily basis. By trying to convince myself that ‘I’m a completely different person now’ I could fool myself into pinning all of those weaknesses onto, in essence, another person. But I am that same person. And I have to accept that. Because it’s the only way I’ll be able to fully come to terms with everything that happened and let go of the anger and guilt I still harbour and to really move on.

We’re all capable of using extreme mental gymnastics. Sometimes it may be to convince ourselves that we can’t, or don’t need to, do something that in our heart we know we really should be doing. We can come up with endless reasons why we aren’t taking action when we know we should, and a lot of the time we can be pretty convincing and make ourselves believe these are true, when in fact all we’re really doing is lying to ourself in order to not have to face the truth. Facing things head on, making difficult choices and doing things that scare us or make us uncomfortable is the only way to grow and reach our full potential. Moreover, sometimes the ‘easy option’ is in fact anything but. I’ve experienced this directly so many times and consequently put myself in a living hell as a result. For myself, I found that what gave me the worst inner turmoil was living in a way that was utterly incongruent to my nature. To resolve that, because each time it’s happened I’ve reaching breaking point and had no choice but to do something to sort it out, I had to make extremely hard decisions, decisions that terrified me, decisions that planted the thought that perhaps killing myself may just be the easier option. But it’s an illusion. It’s just the transitional stage, from the known to the unknown. That isn’t always a bad thing. I now know that, for me, living in harmony with my nature is a necessity. Whatever I have had, or will have, to sacrifice in order to do that will always be worth it. Making these choices has improved my mental, spiritual and emotional health, far beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and I’m still far from the end of that journey.

We aren’t meant to placidly wander though life, trying our best to avoid difficulty and seek as much comfort as possible. That is, unless all you want out of live is a constant, vague sense of dissatisfaction and low grade existential anxiety.

Just checking in…

I haven’t written anything for quite a while. I haven’t felt like I was in the right place to. I’ve been fighting a lot of internal battles and can’t quite manage to win many of them recently. I don’t generally like to write during periods like this because I don’t want to spread negativity.

I had someone contact me a couple of days ago; a fellow female jiu jitsu competitor who I had never spoken to before. She had just read the blog and told me how much it had helped her and encouraging me to keep on writing. It was a lovely reminder of the reason I wanted to start it in the first place. I’ve been struggling to feel like I have a place in the world recently, a reason to be here, anything at all, and coming up with next to nothing. Those messages I received felt like someone throwing me a lifeline, just when I needed it.

When I feel at my lowest, I don’t tell anyone. I don’t feel like I have a right to bother anyone else with it. But it’s hard, because it’s at those times when I really need someone to talk to, or a hug, for someone to just tell me everything will be ok… but if I don’t reach out, none of that is possible. I don’t want anyone else to feel like that, ever. If anyone reading this needs someone to talk to, I want you to know you can message me if you feel like there’s nobody else you can talk to. I won’t ignore you, I won’t judge you, I won’t think you’re just looking for attention, I know that sometimes the hardest thing to do is reach out to another person when you’re feeling at your worst, but that’s the most important time to do it. And you never know, you may be helping the person you reach out to just as much as they help you… ❤

Existing vs Living

I love fighters. Why? There’s no lying on the mats, or in a ring, or a cage; whatever form it’s in. You step out into that arena and you give it everything you have. You’re exposed, completely. Everything you have or haven’t done up until that point will be manifest.

There’s a beautiful vulnerability in that. You go out there knowing nothing is certain. There’s always the possibility of losing, but you choose to go forward regardless. This is why I have so much respect for all competitors. To even step out there shows a strength of character not everyone possesses. Winning or losing detracts nothing from that.

I see it as a metaphor for the fragility of life. We will all die at some point. We have no idea when. Whenever we step into our cars we are passively accepting that possibility. It could happen at any time. And yet… knowing this, we are all still out here, trying our best. We don’t despair of these facts. We work, we laugh, we love, we get on the best we can.

I have met people who are in their 50’s and 60’s and have never voluntarily done a thing in their life that’s scared them. That thought alone terrifies me. If you’ve never moved out of your comfort zone, how do you know what you’re truly capable of? How do you know yourself, entirely? There will be aspects of your personality you’ve never accessed. How can you go through life not knowing your own limits? It’s impossible to ascertain the depths or your character without being in certain situations.

I’m not judging anyone who chooses to live like that. I just personally can’t understand it. I wouldn’t be satisfied living a life where I wasn’t being forced to dig deep inside and discover things I didn’t know were there, based on a necessity arising from the situations I was putting myself in. I wouldn’t feel alive.

You don’t have to compete to achieve these things, there are a million other ways of challenging yourself and pushing your boundaries. That’s only one of many.

On a slightly different note; you often hear about people falling completely in love with jiujitsu. There are numerous reasons why. I have my own. But I found myself wondering whether these were all superficial reasons, and perhaps there was a deeper explanation.

We are all animals. We are born with instincts; we have to be, in order to survive. A newborn will feel hunger and know how to feed. Hunger is essential. Without it we wouldn’t feel the need to eat.

Where did we get our food from before supermarkets existed? We’d hunt for it, (or forage, for the vegans 😉) for hours a day. We’d walk for miles, use the entirety of our senses, we’d be using adrenaline, and we’d have to do this every single day.

Now, what do we do instead? We jump into a car and drive to the supermarket. We weren’t designed for sitting in cars, or offices for the majority of the day. Our instincts and abilities are being wasted by the sedentary lives we’re almost forced into living because of how readily available everything is. Almost anything in the world can be delivered directly to your doorstep. It’s insane. And we wonder why so many people are depressed or unsatisfied with their lives. We’re not living how we were designed to live, in so many ways. We have basal instincts that simply aren’t being met by our current way of life.

Then, if you’re one of the lucky ones, one day you walk into a jiujitsu class and spend a couple of hours simulating a death match and all of a sudden you feel fuckin awesome. Why though? Maybe one of the missing puzzle pieces of your basal needs is finally being met. You’re doing something your body was meant to be doing. You’re accessing capabilities that you’ve spent most of your life completely unaware of. You didn’t even realise exactly what you were missing, you were just aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Sometimes we just need to go back to the basics. Would you rather have comfort or true fulfilment?

“Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.”
Nikos Kazantzakis

Stone Cold Bitch

I love to read. My idea of heaven is an empty house, a cup of coffee and a book. You can learn so much. There’s a whole universe of knowledge out there on paper. I love reading articles about the human mind and body; our similarities and differences fascinate me, how complex we are psychologically and biologically. I’ll never tire of learning. Outside of that, I usually stick to fiction when I want to relax and unwind. You might not think it, but you can learn a hell of a lot from fiction as well. You’re pretty much inside the author’s mind, so you get to see how that works. The location and time period; you’ll learn about other countries, customs, history. The character development will teach you how other people deal with their experiences and relationships through life. And you’ll pick up all of this information without even realising. You’ll just be enjoying (hopefully, there’s nothing worse than getting into a shit book) the story.

Something I once read that stuck with me was the idea of being able to access a mental state called ‘Heart of Stone’. The way it was described in the book wouldn’t be possible, but it still planted a little idea in my head. What if we had the ability to enter an emotionless state when needed. To take our ego completely out of play. There’s no doubt that emotions are an important part of being human, but they have a time and place. Sometimes they simply cloud judgement and stop us from being able to take a step back and view the full picture.

Imagine being able to stop and give yourself impartial advice, half way through an emotionally charged situation. Instead of continuing an argument by screaming, crying, trying to satisfy your ego by winning etc., you’re able to stop for a moment and rid yourself of every emotion you’re feeling, and then reassess the entire issue. There is no doubt that you’d see if from a different perspective. I know… easier said than done, right? But I believe we are capable of a lot more than we think, especially with practice and patience.

I’m only just starting to play around with the idea, but it seems to be valuable already. After coming from a highly emotionally and mentally abusive background I now, by contrast, don’t seem to feel much anyway, so it’s not that difficult to access. I seem to be able to shut down quite easily. It’s liberating. And a little bit scary. Sometimes I joke that I’m dead inside, but I’m only half joking. Secretly I’m worrying that I’ve been damaged beyond repair, but it does give me the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. I think it’s something which, done correctly, to the right degree, could be useful in a lot of different situations. The most obvious one would be during an argument, where anger and frustration would be the controlling emotions. But it could possibly help with pre-fight nerves, where fear would be the dominant emotion; leading to connecting feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, uncertainty. All coming from the ego and the fear of losing or performing badly. If you could take the ego away, and look at the situation you’re in more logically, the chances are you’d have more mental clarity. You’d be able to access the techniques you know faster and more easily, you could think of and implement a game plan more effectively. All because you freed up the space inside yourself that was previously taken up by negatively charged emotions. It’s something I’ll be trying to work on a little more, to see if I can get the balance right.

Anyway, I’m just theorising here. I don’t know whether my point was to read more books, or to give the emotionless thing a try. I guess both.