February 14, 2018

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Roller Derby: An Unexpected Coping Skill

October 10, 2017

Two things were constant in my life growing up: some form of physical activity, and mental illness. Throughout grade school, I played soccer, field hockey, and danced. My weekends and some week nights were filled with soccer balls, jazz shoes, and field hockey sticks. I loved being with a group of girls, sharing orange slices after a rec soccer game, or pasta parties before a big field hockey game in middle school; I loved putting the stage makeup on before our dance recital at the beginning of June. I don’t remember exactly when my anxious and depressed tendencies started, but I was eleven when I realized that sports helped me. When I was running around the field, or doing kicks across the floor, I was able to quiet the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough to be playing.


By the time I started high school, however, my depression worsened. I could barely force myself to get out of bed for school, let alone have two hour field hockey practices and dance. I quit field hockey and dance by the end of my freshman year of high school. I was too tired, I told myself, and I needed to focus on school. “Focus on school,” of course, meant go home after 6 hours of school and sleep until dinner time. “Focus on school” meant try not to fall apart every second of the day. Even after I started therapy and my therapist suggested I try to pick up a sport again, I declined. It would be weird for me to start a sport the middle of my sophomore year, even though I knew I would have been welcomed back. I made excuses for myself--when in reality, it was just my depression telling me I shouldn’t bother.


My depression got worse the less active I became, but I also became stubborn. Why bother going back to a sport when all I wanted to do was sleep? I started sleeping more and more, and shut myself off from a lot of my friends. This pattern continued on through the rest of high school, and while my depression lessened by the time my senior year rolled around, I felt it was too late to join a team. I went off to college, my depression lessened somewhat, and I threw myself into my studies, as well as a few clubs I felt passionate about.


After college, I came back to New Jersey to attend graduate school. During graduate school, my depression started to come back. I reached out to a friend who had recently joined a roller derby team, and asked her how she liked it. She stated that she loved the team, everyone was super friendly and understanding, and thought it would be good for me to join a team.


I showed up to Jerzey Derby Brigade’s practice on a Friday night. I had no gear so I had to borrow someone’s mouth guard (it was clean!), pads, and skates. I wobbled around on skates like Bambi on ice but I knew immediately that I needed to join the team. Everyone on the team was welcoming, and no one was bothered that I fell about five hundred times the first night--they just encouraged me to get back up and try again.


After skating for a few weeks, I started to be more comfortable around the vet skaters, as well as the other fresh meat. We’re allowed to pick “derby names,” and often, they’re puns on people we look up to, a personality quirk of ours, or just something we thought was funny. I decided on “Mental Thrillness” as a nod to my depression, and to prove to myself that I was more than just my diagnoses.


Through joining JDB, I realized that I can push myself and even though I have mental illnesses, sometimes all I need after a bad day is to “skate it out.” Even if I need to take a break in the middle of practice because something set me off, my teammates understand and no one thinks twice when I have to take a break. Jerzey Derby Brigade has given me a second family full of strong, powerful women who don’t think twice about someone’s past. All that matters is that we’re there for each other both on and off the track, and I couldn’t be more grateful for finding this team.


Photo courtesy of David A. Carter Photography.

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