It’s been Mental Health Awareness Week this week and it got us thinking about how important it is to take time out from your day to day life and look after yourself. For many of us, roller derby is that escape; from work stress, family drama, our own negative thoughts and keeping up with the unrealistic expectations that get put on us.
We collected a few statements from people within our league that talk about the struggles they face and how roller derby fits into their self-care routine.
“My dad was murdered November 2013 and struggled hard to cope with such a tragic loss at the age of 25. I started roller derby to help me focus on something whilst the court proceedings were going on. I went to KRG’s open day in Jan 2014. Once mins passed I picked the number 29 to mark the day I lost my dad, but gained a second family who put up with my ups and downs. They all helped me with the toughest time of my life and I owe them so much. I still have so many bad days, I’m not judged, instead I’m flooded with messages of support and all the hugs I ever need. My Roller buddies are my therapy and an important part of my life.”
Sometimes you don’t have to have experienced trauma in your life, your body and brain just stop functioning the way you’d like them too. This next skater uses roller derby to escape from everyday stress and keep their life on track.
“Roller Derby has been such a positive influence for me, it has given me a healthy form of escapism. All through my 20’s I suffered with my mental health “stress triggered depression” which basically means if things get bad I can fall apart and just stop functioning. It then takes everything in me to fight that and, to be begin with, fake being ok, until I actually feel ok again. There have been 3 particularly bad episodes the last of which was around the time I started Roller Derby. Focusing on passing mins, that tricky footwork, endurance and that pesky rules test! Aiming to throw hits and play some derby meant I could forget all the other crap for a bit – and didn’t need to be at all fake about it.
Now, 2 years in, I’ve discovered a huge percentage of derby players suffer in a similar way -and they’re not afraid to talk about it! (Which was often an issue in the “real” world). With this amazing support group, of alternative people who are just accepted for who they are, I’m successfully coming off medication and am feeling stronger – physically and mentally than ever before.”
Not being afraid to talk about mental health is such an important part of the battle. It not only helps to give sufferers a voice to explain how they feel, but starting discussions about mental health can also help to normalise such conditions. In our league we have appointed welfare officers to talk to struggling skaters.
“As I’m off skates at the moment I wanted to still try and contribute to my league. I had a baby 4 months ago and being inactive has been a real challenge for me, I’m a yoga teacher, so along with Derby I’m active everyday and I can really relate to impact of finding yourself without the anchor of physical activity and the role it plays in maintaining mental health. But for now healing and taking things slowly is what’s right for me. So I hope I can help other skaters if they need to chat during time off skates due to injury (9 month or otherwise). In my job as a yoga teacher, one of my specialisms is working in recovery, physically and along with mental health professionals treating young people healing from addiction, eating disorders and trauma.”
Anxiety is normal for anyone trying something new, but when you start having these feelings regularly, triggered by the smallest thought or situation then it can seriously affect your life.
“Before I started roller derby, I was in a bad place mentally as my course was very stressful and I had no healthy outlet. I was so anxious that I found talking to new people terrifying and actively avoided social situations. It was so bad that I had to watch two recreational league sessions before I joined in because I was too nervous to put skates on. However, once I got brave enough, I found that everyone was lovely and I grew in confidence each week. I gained the strength to quit my course, found a job that I love, and progressed with skating the whole time. I’m now captain of the All Stars and lead regular recruitment open days, where I’m talking to lots of new people all at once. Roller derby has given me confidence and an outlet for other stresses, meaning that my mental health is the best it’s been in a long time.”
A common theme for roller derby players, in our league particularly, is using the sport as a form of stress relief. Regardless of what is causing stress in your life, for some reason skating fast and hitting other people really puts it all into perspective!
“So I guess I found roller derby a massive support while writing my thesis, back home skating with Limerick Roller Derby. They gave me something to look forward to twice a week where I could just switch off from writing and data analysis. Honestly don’t know how I would have coped without it. I think from there roller derby has given me a second identity. A mechanism to be myself, as well as more physically and mentally fit.
It’s not constant though, sometimes I struggle with the sport. Lots of very strong people (in all meanings of the word) with different friendship groups and a full contact sport can be sometimes an anxious environment. However, there are always friendly faces and people around to boost you and vice versa. Also even if you don’t skate the environment is fun and generally positive. There have definitely been nights I enter the sports hall feeling glass half empty and leave a couple hours later feeling glass half full. It’s a very important sport both physically and mentally for me – so I guess… thank you derbyverse!”
Thank you to everyone who volunteered their stories for this article. It’s hard to talk about yourself, it’s even harder to talk about things we don’t particularly understand or like about ourselves. In KRG we will always encourage our members to talk about their feelings and let someone know if they are struggling. We know we are a support network for so many people and we respect that.
Look after yourselves. Look after each other. #MHAW18
Photos taken by Michael East at some of our open days – keep your eyes peeled for our next one, it’s coming soon! You can also see the All Stars and Knightmares in action next week vs Portsmouth Roller Wenches! Check out the Facebook event here!