Bianca Thomas is on a global journey competing and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Bikini Fitness Bodybuilding. With a a strong academic background in Molecular Biology (MSc) and Strength and conditioning (MSc), Bianca also has plans of starting a PhD.
Bianca is a big believer that sport should be used to improve lives and wants to share the knowledge she has learnt along the way to mentor and support others.
When I left Brazil a week ago I knew I had learnt a lot and I knew I was returning a different person. For one, I have shaved the back of my head into a ‘gangsta’ undercut; this in itself either speaks of total insanity or great sanity; I haven’t decided which yet. At the moment, I’m laid up in bed with flu and I still can’t quite put my finger on what is different, but the feelings of contentment, calmness and happiness that I left with have not subsided despite losing my voice and being holed up in bed with boxes of Beechams flu remedy as my only company.
Training in Jiu Jitsu in Brazil was an experience of extremes and uncertainty for pretty much the entire 4 months I was there. At times this was tricky and I would have given my right foot to have a situation that met me in the middle, but in terms of human experience, I think we need it all. We need both the challenge and the comfort zone, happiness and sadness and to experience winning and losing because it is this richness of experience and contrast which teaches us perspective.
I would say I am a recovering perfectionist and a recovering control freak. I have spent the majority of my life in a crippling state of worry, which brought neither me nor anyone around me anything good. Contrary to belief about the benefits of perfectionism, my experience of this is nothing good ever comes of this. As such, I had to unlearn fundamental personality traits or perhaps I should say, learn the appropriate time and place for them.
Life can occasionally teach us rather stout lessons we didn’t ask for, but every now and again we learn something truly wonderful through that harshness. One of my big lessons was that life does not need to be so hard. Achieving and being successful (whatever that means to you) can be really fun. I stumbled across experiencing fleeting momentary calmness in chaos by complete accident one day. This was, however, enough to make me want to make the conscious decision to learn more of it.
I’m a big fan of challenges; because it is within this we grow and progress and I’m convinced this is linked to happiness. Of course, it is all relative – what one person can do with ease, I would start perspiring over and vice versa. For instance, the thought of trying to erect an IKEA bookcase throws me into fits of despair and I still don’t understand Facebook; but going to Wales in the middle of the night to hike on my own and sleep under the stars fills me with joy.
When you experience challenge (either intentionally or unintentionally), you are going to get a healthy dose of uncertainty that goes along with it. The key is learning to find comfort in discomfort. I most definitely was not gifted with this trait at birth (in any way, shape or form) – I have had to learn a way to do this.
I find the idea that our personalities are deeply embedded and immutable is really disempowering and I believe we can learn much more than we think. I have learnt to be both an introvert and an extrovert; and although it may make me sound like a disingenuous nightmare, it is just human nature to be many things at many different times. Complexity is therefore, in my experience a great expression of human authenticity.
My big lesson on this trip was becoming accustomed to uncertainty and it’s a good lesson to learn because there are really only two certainties in life – 1. We will die and 2. Nothing ever stays the same. Trying to exert control over one’s life (or another’s) is a very quick and painful route to misery; this I know well. The best tool for coping with this always works out to be mindfulness. I use this to answer the question – in this precise moment – am I ok? The answer is usually yes! You are fine. Ask me if I will be ok in 5 minutes and that would create a very different feeling. Sometimes when a situation is particularly frightening, forget ‘just for today’ and think more ‘just for this second’. Mindfulness or ‘being present’ is extraordinarily powerful in getting you through difficult days and moments because it relieves us of anxiety. It is this skill, which I inadvertently ended up cultivating really well because I had to.
There have been many undignified moments on this trip but one I can remember quite distinctly was being sat half naked in a gaping hospital gown wired up to a cocktail of opiates after injuring myself doing a deadlift. High on Tramadol, I was trying to override the fear that I had done something horrific to my spine. I was thinking this isn’t a great situation to be in, especially as I was thousands of miles away from anyone I know, I couldn’t even walk and I had a competition I desperately wanted to do in 6 weeks.
Whilst being in pain is never fun, mindfulness was the thing that allowed me to keep a sense of humor and to stay positive throughout my recovery – and that is the difference between surviving and thriving. The theme of ‘thriving’ is a big part of this trip – how can we use challenge to change us, but in a way that is fun and exciting rather than terrifying.
Learning how to find peace, joy and excitement in the unknown is therefore probably one of many things I am learning. Mindfulness and acceptance of ‘what is’ has helped me immensely. Perhaps it is for this reason, I am able to pack up my house with relative ease as a way of financing the continuity of this trip. I have gone ‘all in’ because that is how much I believe in its value. This trip is often greeted with looks of bemusement when it seems on the outside I’m doing something relatively arduous for little reward, but the reward is immense. The reward is finding new ways to deal healthily and positively to all challenges; mental, emotional, physical and spiritual and contrary to belief, these things are teachable because I have had to teach myself.