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Overcoming My Own Demons

*Caution: discussion of suicidal thoughts. Reader discretion advised*

Something I've eluded to but rarely dived into within the space of Matter Athletica, is my own personal back story. While I wont make it a novel, and will leave out alot of the extra details; I thought it worthy of some writing to share, and perhaps even help someone else deal with something similar.

To create some context, Im someone who'd played competitive sport up to decent qualifying levels most of my life. I began at 5 and a half years old playing rugby league, up until the day it was taken away from me. In that time there was state titles, there was A-Grade grand finals and the desire to keep pushing that as far as I can.

Fast Forward to Young Adulthood

When I was 21, I had the euphoric world at my feet mentality. I had a partner, I was a high earning trade apprentice, I was working my way up the grades at a new club, and earning a somewhat name for my self trying to go further.

Sadly, unbeknownst to me, that would all be taken away in the split of a second.

Travelling to work on regular morning routine. The drop of hat saw everything change. I constantly think of all the things that could have gone different that morning to end up where I did. Perhaps I changed lanes sooner, perhaps I slept in 5 minutes, perhaps I took the potential shortcut, or perhaps I called in sick. All of these possibilities would have stopped the spiral of events that would unfold and change my life.

It was however not the case, and what happened, happened. I was the first car off the line at a T-section, and a rushing, ignorant lazy driver collided into the passenger side of my car. At what was deemed well over the speed limit to attempt at making the green light.

This started me down a path I could have never imagined and changed my life forever. Emotionally, mentally, financially, physically. Nothing was the same from this day.

Road of Paperwork

After seeing a local gp getting some medication and assessing some inflammation I located on my lumbar, I was given a few days off and then told to go back to work. A fortnight later, after attempting to lift some timber formwork off the ground at work, I felt a pain like nothing I have ever experienced before. A shock shot from my mid back all the way down to my toes. This moment was it for me, I knew here that something was severely wrong.

My foreman put me into the first aid office on site. I left my tools and my bags and I limped my way to the car, and had to drive my way to the Drs. I could barely stand, bend, twist, walk. Everything was agony. After years of high contact Rugby League; this point in my life was the most painful thing Id ever experienced.

To the point I will get most vulnerable here. Life got really dark for me after this. This began a long road down the pursuit of compensation, workcover, injury assessment and long term duration of injury. I never set foot on that job site again from the day I drove out of that car park. I lost everything I had known. I would never play high level rugby league again, I would never touch a tool belt again, my relationship would not last the duration of the proceedings. Basically everything I knew at the time was gone and done, my identity as I knew it was swept out from under me. I was lost, defeated, broken, shattered, and had no idea what was going on.

To top this all off, following half a decade of illness and medical conditions, my father had been diagnosed terminal with extremely rare form of multiple myeloma. Due to my inability to work and do anything constructive, It was asked of me to be his carer. So, after moving out of home, to pursue work, and sport careers I would come home to help keep my dad alive and look after him best I could. During this entire process, lasting about 4 years in total I would see 19 drs and 2 psychologists/ psychiatrists. I would rack up an intense rehabilitation bill and basically go financially broke twice. I would undergo epidural cortisone procedures, only to have them do nothing.

The funniest part of all of this was, during my legal proceedings I would have to be interrogated by professional Dr's that doubted, humiliated, and questioned me at every turn. I cannot tell you whats it like to experience the pain and the deflated sense of self that I did, and have Drs tell you you're faking it. That you are 'right for work' and this would heal in time.

The Darkness Creeped In

I will admit here and now that this brought on some dark and messed up thoughts in conjunction with everything that was going on.

I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I couldn’t see the end point, I couldn’t find a win and was constantly undermined by friends, family, doctors, and the like. I was defeated and saw nothing left to stay for. If not for my legal support team that helped me through and guide me through this process I don’t think I would be here.

So what actually happened?

I was diagnosed with chronic impairment of my lumbar spine, a % disability of spine functionality, sciatic impingement on my left side, degenerating thoracic discs, I was diagnosed for a period with reactive depression, personally I felt slight amounts of PTSD when driving that I kept to myself and worked on confronting, and suicidal tendenices/ thoughts. I can attest to contemplating the bridge I drove over several times in my travels to my partners house from my parents when someone else could look after my father. I was also treated with a multitude of drugs that severely escalated in dosage to manage my symptoms. To the point I would argue a developed dependence, and physiological addiction to. I had also developed insomnia due to the sheer pain and constant thoughts, I just could not sleep.

I'm Still Here...

Ok so, im still here which means I didn’t do the extreme. So what did I do? Well, I thank my upbringing for what I did do. The same way I have handled most things since. My competitive side kicked into gear. Firstly, as I did in my teen years, I decided that taking my life, ending things here, would only give that asshole more of a win from me than he deserves. I lost that day, he got off with a minor crumple to his car, I lost everything. To this day I still remember the conversation with my self-deciding I would give him nothing else. (Yes I realise he didn’t personally win anything, this is just perhaps how my mind rationalises things). Whether he knew it or not, I was going to win.

So I set out to tick every box I could. Every piece of rehab and recovery possible. Physiotherapy twice a week, 5 am yoga/ Pilates 3 times a week. Core rebuilding program 3 times a week. Advanced yoga courses to enhance it, I would pick someone in my class that came regularly and decide in my mind I would beat them. I found a way to make yoga competitive in order to see It through. I would go on to use this technique many, many times over in many areas of my life.

This sounds silly but I can promise you, as a 21 year old competitive strong male, going back to 2kg dumbbells and only doing single leg, isometric body weight movements was deflating as something could get. So, I worked, and I worked hard. I learnt as much as I could about the injury, learnt and explored exercise variations and worked on my nutrition. I set routines and morning alarms, regardless of how much sleep I got I would wake up and start my day. I would get to the gym where and when I could at the same time. Never missed an appointment and attend all classes I was prescribed.

As things progressed, I would learn that my prognoses was chronic, my options were limited and basically given a list of things I’d never do again or be able to do…That was the best thing that could have ever happened. I refused the spinal surgery and fusions, at 23-24 by this point there was no way this was in my best interest.

Instead I took things into my own hands. I suffered, and anguished through core work, back strengthening, weight loss, basically rebuilding my self back up. I had a goal to achieve something, and would not stop until I did it. I set markers, targets, I'd set specific yoga poses to achieve so I could progress my mobility and strength. I'd do extra classes outside of my program and I even started swmming 4 -5 times a week to do cardio/ resistance without any pressure on my lower back.

The Day of Settlement

Then the day came I signed the settlement and had to move on with my life. I would receive messages from people unnecessarily close to me accusing me of faking it, making up problems, being lazy for not wanting to work yet they would never see everything I did to get back to health.

I had two choices in my opinion, be in pain, miserable, and kill myself or, be in pain and push forward regardless. Considering I was going to be in pain either way, the competitive side of never letting that bastard fully win was to much and I kept going.

Although dad passed away before It happened so he never got to see it, I went on to compete 7 years later in the ifbb Arnold classic bodybuilding show. 4 years after the accident my case was settled and I made new plans. As someone who had always loved Arny and the classic bodybuiding era, I knew my next goal was to persue this. If I couldn’t play or work in what I wanted anymore, this was what I would dedicate myself to. I swore no matter what happened, if I could get through my rehab and demons during those years post accident, then there was nothing I couldn’t achieve if I wanted it. So… I did it. Continuing to do it to this day.

Would I Change Anything?

Nearly a decade later I look back at that moment with a mixture of emotions. Yet I wouldn’t change a single thing. Those moments pushed something in me that you cant just create out of nothing. That sheer sense of defeat, and competitive edge to never want to feel that again either through death, or by hard work took me somewhere else. It showed me how resilient the human mind can actually be and how intense one can push themselves really.

It may sound like a gloat, or a big note of myself, however I still don’t consider myself a winner. I haven’t won a single bodybuilding show. I do believe however, I stopped losing that day. That man may never know it, he may not even care, but he created something in me that continues to push me now. It taught me to focus on the variables I control, it taught me to continually seek my limits and push my boundaries. It exposed me to higher degrees of mental fortitude and resilience.

Although that moment took everything from my first life, the life I believed I was meant to live; it led to the start of my second life. The place im in now. There has been many dark day’s since, questioning of myself and abilities. If the injury is too much, and days the pain flares up even a decade later. Yet to give in now, I would still argue is a win for him, and I will not let him (the mental version of him in my mind with whom I compete) have the sense of beating me. Is this healthy, maybe, maybe not. Is this just for me as a method to my problems, probably. Do I still practice it now, abso-fucking-lutely. I refuse to ever be defeated like that again. I never will.


Ben Mayfield-Smith

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