This ended up being a long one. I delve fairly heavily into my mental health situation, fair warning haha.
Every year there is a wealth of Parkour events for both the casual and more serious practitioner to fill their calendar with. One of the larger coaching events that has been available each summer over the last 13 years is the London Rendezvous, run by Parkour Generations.
This event was held over this last weekend and Greg and I attended it for the first time. When we got back into training in May we figured Rendezvous would be a good short-term target to give ourselves so we could have something set in the calendar that we were getting in shape for and helping us to structure our training as we started back up again after 2 years away from the discipline. This year the event had a lot of emphasis on world renown coaches and in the run-up to the event there was lots of social media content on how all the coaches who would be at the event had been training for many, many years and that there would be a vast well of knowledge for us to tap into. All pretty exciting, especially as someone who is still re-finding their feet with Parkour and who is keen to learn as much as possible.
Most of the weekend was really positive. There was some exploration of technical elements such as foot placement, preparing for sketchy jumps and learning how to bounce out of an unsuccessful jump safely, but there were also plenty of creative sessions exploring movement games, quadrupedal movement and finding movements in spots that initially looked like they offered nothing to train with. These sessions were all very useful and both Greg and I felt like we took a lot away from what was given to us during these sessions. We have plenty that we can begin to apply to our own training and to apply to our approach to training as we go forward.
There were some less positive aspects to the weekend, although overall they were outweighed by the positives. I’m still processing a lot of my thoughts on the aspects of the weekend that I found odd or uncomfortable, but I can begin to discuss my feelings on certain subjects.
The one occurrence that was, in the moment, very much a negative thing for me was the triggering of the worst panic I have ever experienced. I hurt myself. I caused myself damage. I haven’t done that during an attack for a while and it was a pretty significant cause for concern that my level of stress escalated that rapidly and to that degree. The reasons for the attack were fairly complex in some ways and I can attempt to break down why it occurred and what it allowed me to learn about my own approach to training and my views on certain training methods in use by some of the wider Parkour community.
Since a very young age, I’ve had a lot of issues with anxiety and depression, although this wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult. More recently I received a diagnosis of ADHD. It was also suggested by the doctor at the time of my ADHD diagnosis that I should get checked out for an Autism diagnosis. I haven’t pursued that, because I’m not sure it would benefit me at this stage, but it does play a factor in my day to day life and helps to explain some of why I experienced what I did during the last physical exercise at Rendezvous.
At the end of the day, we were brought to the Spanish steps in front of Wembley Stadium. It’s a decent number of steps. We were told that the task was to, as a group, reach 500 reps of the steps (upwards) in backwards QM, or if backwards QM was an issue to squat on each step as you went up the stairs. This seemed like a good challenge. As a group we’d probably need to do 5 reps minimum, 7 maximum to reach the 500 reps target. This seemed like a challenging but achievable amount of exertion for most of the people present after the activities we’d all taken part in over the weekend. We were told we needed to choose a partner and carry out the challenge with them, with the goal being to make sure your partner didn’t get left behind and to work through the challenge together. Also fine. Starting together and finishing together is a moto that PKGen always appears keen to follow. The final detail was that we were told that we had ‘1 hour to complete the challenge’, which seemed reasonable and would allow the slower members to get a few reps in without the faster members ending up doing too many more. The wording there is important though, 500 reps as a group and we had an hour to complete it. So we began the challenge and as I predicted I found it a challenge, but I felt that 7 reps were achievable and I’d be ok to manage that despite feeling physically and mentally tired after two days of training.
At a bit past the half-hour mark, it must have become apparent that we were going to reach the target decently within the hour. Because of this, the parameters were then changed. Two of the coaches would now be working against us. Every rep they completed removed one from our total.
At this point, I was on about 5 reps and therefore pretty close to completing the expected target I had worked out I would probably need to do. I was also fairly mentally tired. The environment was loud, the Spanish steps are very colourful, it was hot, my mind was pretty tired from the two days of thinking, concentrating and training I’d just undertaken. Looking back this is not an ideal situation for someone with ADHD to be in. It’s a perfect recipe for a sensory overload. in a worst case scenario, a sensory overload is often followed by some form of panic attack or a seizure depending on the other related conditions an individual may have.
A potential issue that a lot of people on the Autism spectrum can experience is the need to have a plan, a need to know what is happening and have pretty specific times, targets and goals. This can often mean that we take things that have been said very specifically. Whereas a neurotypical person might be able to see additional outcomes in a spoken phrase, someone with Autism might only be able to accept one outcome, the outcome that they have understood from what has been said. Later on these additional outcomes migth be able to be understood, but it takes time to process why the outcome was different from what we expected to occur. The ability to understand why something has changed is not something that comes easily to a lot of people with ASD. This plays a bit of a factor in why I completely lost it when the new parameters were suddenly introduced.
When we were told we needed to do 500 reps as a group and we had an hour to do it, that is exactly how my mind accepted that phrase. As we began the exercise I was able to process it and figure out what was expected of me. So when those expectations were changed from ‘you have an hour to complete this task’ to ‘we are spending an hour doing this task’ I no longer knew how many reps I was expected to do, I no longer had a goal, or a plan and combing that sudden jolt of uncertainty with the fact I was already primed for a sensory overload, the wash of anger I experienced from no longer knowing what I specifically needed to do pushed me aggressively over the edge.
It was a pretty fucking terrifying experience. My entire face and my forearms became enveloped in a strange tingling sensation that I haven’t ever experienced before. Breathing became difficult, I was shaking, I couldn’t see properly, all sound became catastrophically loud and the shapes my eyes were registering were painful. I think initially I bit into the area between my thumb and forefinger in an attempt to release some anger and ground myself back into the reality that was swimming around me. I’m not sure exactly how hard I bit it but it was hurting for about 24 hours. I think I had some semblance of a conversation with a coach that I can’t really remember. I may have spat out some confused and angry words. I’m not completely sure. I didn’t understand why these new parameters had suddenly appeared, I didn’t understand why they were doing this when we were all already physically and mentally tired and I felt a colossal level of rage because ultimately the goal I had been set had been dissolved and replaced with uncertainty. Shortly after that Greg found me and began to help me regulate my breathing. At around that point the next announcement was made, which pretty much served to re-escalate the situation. I can’t remember whether the next announcement was that each rep the coaches completed now counted as 5 reps deducted from our total or whether it was that all the coaches were now working against us, but those were the next two announcements. Breathing got worse again, I might have punched myself in the head? but I definitely bit into my arm hard enough that there’s a lump of swelling over 24 hours later. The level of uncertainty was being increased before I’d figured out how to cope with the current level of uncertainty we’d been presented with.
Greg managed to walk me up the steps to where the bags and the water bottles were and at around that time, the next announcement was made that each rep the coaches completed counted for 10. This meant that each member of the group would have to be completing reps faster than the coaches because there were roughly 10 of us for each coach. Each member of the group would need to be completing the reps faster than people who had all be training parkour for over 10 years and who were arguably some of the physically fittest people in our sport. They were stalling us to make sure it lasted the hour. I think I punched myself a few times but managed not to keep biting myself and gradually tried to zone it out and calm down. When the hour was nearly up the announcement was made that the coaches would be working with us again and the conditions would be as they were when we started. I pulled myself together enough to go and complete a rep of squats with Greg (he’s not very good at QM) but my head was still very clouded with anger and stress for a while.
I stopped training Parkour for about 2 years because I reached a point where I was having panic attacks anytime I tried to do anything. I gradually became paralyzed with fear for every movement. To experience that level of emotional pain at an event for a sport that I have been growing to love again came very close to being utterly soul-shattering. I didn’t want to find my own brain driving me away from this discipline again. I didn’t want to experience that level of sheer terror ever, ever again, but there it was, filling me to the brim and erupting out of my eyes, my skin, my mouth, writhing around in my insides and stabbing into my ears. That’s the best description I think I can give.
I understand that the exercise was probably supposed to create a strong ‘start together, finish together’ type feeling, but at the time it simply felt like a challenge that was already going to leave me physically exhausted was being made harder for no reason other than to make it last an hour. To make people more exhausted after a weekend of training that had basically been a lot of fun just removed a lot of the positive emotion from the achievements I felt I’d reached over those two days. Ultimately it wasn’t fun, it made me feel trapped, it made me feel scared, confused and angry when ordinarily in my training over the last 4 months I have felt free, I have felt strong, happy and positive about my steps forward.
Perhaps I just don’t possess the mental fortitude to take part in massive conditioning challenges, which is understandable, I used to be incapable of walking down the street without headphones in and at my worst panic attacks would be triggered by something as simple as knocking a pencil off my desk. There are some obstacles that will take me a long time to be able to tackle and although I am continually trying to move forward, situations like this may always be beyond my reach.
The mentality of conducting conditioning exercises to breaking point will always confuse me and I don’t think I will ever be able to understand it. It’s very old school, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself but this extreme conditioning doesn’t feel particularly applicable to a lot of the people who are coming into Parkour today. I’m not the only person like me. I’m not the only person like me who could potentially experience colossal benefits from training Parkour. From what I’ve gathered since initially starting my Parkour journey back in 2012, PKGen is an organisation who seem to want to bring Parkour to a wide group of people and open it up to all who wish to try it. Does that include people with additional needs? Parkour is about adapting to an environment and a situation but how does the average coach respond when they have a student who is considerably slower at responding to a situation and processing what is being asked of them? I am worried that a situation similar to what I experienced on Sunday could drive a person away from this discipline when it could serve to help them massively when presented in the right way. The last exercise they asked us to do at Rendezvous was not presented particularly well. It could have been done better, but it brought forward a lot of emotions and thoughts in me that I feel I can turn into a positive force.
The end of Rendezvous was horrendous for me at the time, but I feel a strange surge of energy and motivation to find out who is already delivering classes for those with additional needs, for those with mental health problems and for people who are less physically able, such as the elderly. I want to discover what is already being done and how I can potentially become a part of that effort. An effort to make Parkour a discipline for as many people as possible regardless of ability and to research how a discipline based around adaptability can be coached in a way that allows people with additional learning needs to learn how to adapt and move with their environment under significant levels of potential adversity. Parkour teaches skills that could improve lives a hundredfold and I would love to become involved in making that happen. To give people who are not wired for this world the tools to potentially cope with living positively in a society that often actively disables them.
Achieving a level 1 coaching qualification will be my first goal, then I will look to the future and how I can transfer my skills and knowledge from my (approaching) 3 years as a support worker into a discipline I am very passionate about.
That went on for a while. Congratulations if you read this far! I hope I’ve presented my thoughts as I intended to.