Anxiety and derby are funny things…
Jumbo [Shrimp] asked me to write this post a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but put it off. The more I tried to think about it, the more I got lost in the intensity of what it could be. What was the point in just writing my life story? Who would actually want to read that? What if my anxiety wasn’t real, and I was making a fool of myself in front of people who were actually afflicted? What if everything I wrote just totally sucked? Funny story, true story: I was panicking over writing my anxiety post.
I finally started writing this after a friend linked me a fantastic article that described anxiety as “kind of like going for a walk when it starts to rain and realizing that you don’t have an umbrella. Everyone else seems to have an umbrella. And they all ask ‘Why do you always get rained on? Why don’t you just buy an umbrella?’ Except you CAN’T ‘just buy an umbrella.'” This rang all too true, except for me, anxiety is “kind of like being hit to the floor while jamming for your B team against your all-star team and panicking so badly that you hyperventilate. And they all ask ‘Why do you always freak out? Why don’t you just calm down?’ Except you CAN’T ‘just calm down.'” Now, realistically, no one said those things to me, quite the opposite actually, but that dirty little monster that is anxiety whispered all kinds of terrible things into my ear and made me believe that everyone was judging me and thought I was a failure. The entire time that I was on the ground, I was flailing my hands ridiculously as though it will help me calm down, failing miserably at catching my breath and attempting to apologize with every breath I managed to get in. Why COULDN’T I just calm down?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Realistically, I’ve almost always been a little high strung (insert snickering laughter from the peanut gallery here.) Growing up, anxiety was bringing home my first “A-” and crying when my mom found my hidden report card because I was terrified to tell her that I’d “gotten a bad grade.” Anxiety was constantly moving schools and holding my breath while walking into new classes, so sure that everyone would hate me. Anxiety was full body shakes as I stepped off of the bus at boot camp having, until then, been the “golden child” and therefore unaccustomed to being screamed at for anything, much less nothing. This young, anxiety was hardly more than discomfort. I hated these things, and generally avoided them, but coping was not difficult. With a little bit of perseverance, I could (and did) make it.
In 2009, when I first started playing roller derby, I was in the middle of a career in one of the hardest jobs in the Navy, miserable in an unhealthy marriage, terribly out of shape and desperate for something to call my own. Anxiety was being terrified of being divorced and alone at 23. Anxiety was being one in a handful of women in a male-dominated military field that boasted an 80% drop out rate. Anxiety was constantly moving between cities and feeling like I had to hold my breath as I met people for the first time, so sure that they would hate me. Walking into practice for the first few times was terrifying, but although I was new, unskilled, and very far below everyone else on the team, every stop that I learned, every time that I executed a hit, every few seconds faster that I skated was too much like a shot of serotonin into my brain for me to care. Any time life got too rough and the evil anxiety monster would creep up on me, I would put on my gear and “skate it out.” As life got harder, and the fear got worse, skating was exactly what I needed to push forward.
Fast forward three years. Anxiety became another new job, another new city, a new team. Anxiety became hiding behind my phone at group functions to stop my shaking hands and to focus on something other than how people looked at me. It was being terrified of being an awful person for choosing my own happiness and ending up divorced. It was fear of being a failure if I couldn’t balance skating, school and a relationship. As if all that weren’t enough, for the first time since I started, anxiety also became competitive derby: being an alternate/at the bottom of the roster, being terrified of learning new moves, drowning in the thought of torn muscles and broken bones and losing sleep at night trying to decide if that team and those connections were worth losing job opportunities for. That dirty little monster in the back of my head started telling me how terrible I was, that no one on my team really liked me and that we’d all be better off if I just gave up and moved on. The safe haven of roller derby had not only been infiltrated, but it was now a breeding ground for the fear that I had escaped when I joined. All of the progress and confidence that derby had given me seemed to come to a screeching halt.
Another year passes. Anxiety is now another move, another new job, and yet another team. Anxiety is 4 years of skating felt as though dumped down the drain because I stick out like a sore thumb from everyone I skate with. Anxiety is falling on my face repetitively during inter-league tryouts because I’m not used to floor changes with humidity, my newly learned plows aren’t working and being sure I’d never make the (any) team. Anxiety is clinging to my phone like a security blanket, ready to vomit, waiting for draft calls. It’s hearing gossip and choking back panic of what’s being said about me when I’m not around. Anxiety is my body betraying me at practice for seemingly no good reason, leaving me shaking violently and forcing me to hold my breath so I can stop the tears until I get to my car, so no one sees how weak I am. Some days, it feels so tempting to retreat to a comfort zone and quit. Those days, the progress I’ve made is harder to recognize and maintain than others.
I wish this was a “Roller Derby Saved My Soul” post. I wish I could say that roller derby had all of the answers for all of my anxieties and that I could tell you all of my secrets. It isn’t and I can’t. What I can tell you is that if any of this rings true to you, you’re not alone. I’ve found more people who understand me and more people who support me here in derby than ever before in my life. I might never have been able to make it this far, especially without medication, if it weren’t for the support group that derby has given me. Sometimes anxiety cripples me. Sometimes it pushes me to find my new comfort zone one step further. Sometimes derby is the answer to my panic. Sometimes it causes me to be a frazzled mess on the floor. No matter which side of the coin derby or anxiety decide to land on that day, I know that I’ve got teams of fellow skaters and friends that love me for who I am, believe in me and have helped me through some of the worst days of my life. With all of that, anxiety is nothing more than another funny thing in my life story.