“If anyone knows me, they know the bullsh*t I’ve been through in the last couple years, and switching teams, and just trying to figure out my life, and getting my mental health right. Fighting is everything, and I just want to be a better woman all around, and becoming a better woman will make me a better fighter. I just want to chase that woman in the mirror every day. For the first time in my life, when I look in the mirror, I like who I see” – Auttumn Norton speaking with Aly Trost-Martin post-fight at Invicta FC 48.
On July 20th 2022, Invicta Fighting Championships Bantamweight Auttumn Norton made an eagerly anticipated return, at Invicta FC 48.
Competing professionally for the first time in 993 days, Norton stopped undefeated opponent Maria Djukic via second-round TKO.
Afterward, whilst conversing with Aly Trost-Martin in the post-fight interview, Norton was overcome with emotion, and spoke candidly of addressing her mental health, her desire to become a better woman, and liking who she saw when looking in the mirror.
It was an incredibly powerful moment, one that Norton deserves to be championed for.
After all, shining a spotlight on mental health on such a platform sends a powerful, and positive, message; that it is okay to talk about mental health.
“It’s nice because [mental health has] been getting to light more, and people aren’t just putting it away [and] saying just deal with your emotions quietly” Norton explains. “I just think you’ve just gotta reach out to people, and you’ve got to make sure you have good people around you; people you can talk to and trust”.
“Me personally, I started going to therapy a few years ago, and it completely just changed my life” Norton reveals. “None of it really had anything to do with fighting. It was all just my personal life you know; childhood, and stuff like that. I started to unpack a lot of things, and it totally made me see things from a different perspective”.
“Man, this one time, we had a huge breakthrough in therapy, and afterwards I walk outside, I look up to the sky, and the sky was so much bluer that it normally was” Norton shares. “The trees were so green, and all the colours were so vibrant. I don’t know what it was… I think from that moment, I realised you’ve just gotta talk about the things that are going on in your heart, and in your mind”.
Whilst progress has been made regarding mental health awareness, stigmatisation continues to surround mental health.
Yet, as highlighted in an October 2022 editorial by The Lancet, media has the power to combat such stigmatisation.
Thus when Norton spoke post-fight at Invicta FC 48, it was a shining example of the power media has to help reduce the stigmatisation; after all, Norton’s transparency reached a wide, diverse audience of MMA fans, and fellow MMA athletes.
“There definitely is still a way to go” Norton says. “I think we are heading in the right direction though”.
“It is hard to talk about our feelings, but to be honest when we open up and talk about our feelings, I think that doesn’t show weakness – that shows strength, because it’s a very hard thing to do” Norton explains. “I think we should shine more light on how it makes you stronger to open up and talk about what’s going on in your heart. Because there is the bad; there are people who think it’s weak to talk about your feelings – but it’s not. To feel emotions, it’s a very human thing; to be able to cry and feel, have empathy – it’s such a human thing”.
In 2014, Mind – a mental health charity based in England and Wales – published a report investigating mental health in elite sports.
Their research highlighted the deleterious effects of mental health stigmatisation surrounding athletes specifically; active athletes admitted a fear of what consequences may follow through admission of mental health problems.
This serves as a tragic example of stigma having the power to deter individuals with mental health problems from pursuing help.
Mercifully, the stigma attached to mental health is beginning to change.
Indeed, in 2022, professor Kevin Antshel of Syracuse University spoke with Syracuse University News of a reduction in mental health stigmatisation following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Antshel attributed this – in part – to increases in personal experiences of mental health conditions increasing mental health knowledge and awareness.
With such knowledge and awareness, stigmatisation is reduced, leading to a welcomed increase in open conversation about mental health.
With this shift, transparency from athletes in the spotlight should be celebrated, demonstrating that such dialogue not only continues to normalise mental health conversation, but is something that needn’t be feared sharing openly.
“We’re all struggling out here” Norton says. “We all have silent battles we’re fighting. We just gotta be there for each other, and just talk to people, and reach out. Especially, I think a lot of men are kinda told to deal with your battles silently – I think we need to shine alot more light on men’s mental health”.
“The majority of men, they kinda tend to just be tough about it” Norton continues. “You ain’t gotta be tough all the time! Just reach out as much as you can to whoever you can, to whoever you trust. No matter how hard it is to communicate what you are feeling just try your best, because as you keep talking, and getting it out, it’ll come out easier, and then you’ll just feel lighter”.
Of course, all too often there is a perception of invulnerability surrounding combat sport athletes.
After all, these athletes display tremendous courage, bravery, and toughness, for which deserves the highest respect.
However, as Norton highlights, these same athletes are equally still subject to all the emotions that comprise the human experience.
“I think sometimes people look at us and obviously, they see a fighter, but they also forget that before I’m a fighter, I’m a human being” Norton says. “I have all the same emotions as any other person, probably x20 because fighting is very intense. Any emotions that come through fighting are really intense, whether it’s sad emotions, happy emotions, excited, the moments of glory; they are just super highs and super lows”.
“Every fight I’m nervous” Norton admits. “I’m scared too – it’s a fight! So it’s a scary thing to do. You’re also scared of failure as well, so, it’s a scary thing you know, going out there. But I’ve been doing it so long. So now, I just have a better understanding that the nerves aren’t gonna go away until I’m out there. Being scared isn’t gonna go away until I’m out there. I’ve just made friends with those emotions, and I just understand them, and accept that they are part of the ride”.
“In order to silence the fears, the anxiety, and the nerves, you kinda drown yourself in your training, and you just build up your training and your confidence” Norton continues. “Having a plan, or going to practice consistently, that just tends to outweigh the anxiety and the fear. So, you just gotta trust in your training, and make sure you are around good people”.
“Just understand that you are gonna have these emotions, you’re gonna be nervous, you’re gonna feel scared, and that’s okay” Norton assures. “That’s another human emotion that is very normal to have”.
Norton returns January 18th 2022 at Invicta FC 51, in Denver, Colorado, against Ultimate Fighter alumnus Claire Guthrie (4-1).
The author extends his utmost gratitude to Auttumn Norton for her transparency, and for making this article possible.
Photo credit to Invicta FC (sourced from Invicta FC’s official Twitter account).