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Published on March 26th, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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Five Stages of Grief and the Third Year Beginner

By Kate Thulu

I know a little something about derby setbacks. Over the past eight weeks, I’ve felt like a cartoon. You know the one–a person tumbles head over heels down a mountain and just when they think they reached the bottom they start tumbling again. I bombed travel team tryouts. Ouch. I didn’t get picked up in home team draft. OUCH. Then, in the most painful tumble of all, I missed passing my WFTDA minimum skills 25 in 5 lap test by 8 seconds.

I was reminded by various people that…

…swimmers can lose by 1/10th of a second.

…if it were a rodeo, 8 seconds would be something to be proud of.

…close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Those 8 seconds radically altered the trajectory of my roller derby season. Before the assessment, I was prepared for a full season of bouting on my new home team. Now I have to go through the curriculum for new skaters…again. Back to basics for the next twelve weeks. No scrimmages. No bouts. I’m a third year skater in the training program.

It’s maddening because I passed the 25 in 5 test last season and graduated from the training program to the rookie team. I skated in two bouts. How did I get worse over the course of the season? When I think about my situation, I alternate between insane laughter, stoicism, and mild depression. That sounds a lot like grief, doesn’t it?

The last time I dealt with grief I learned about the Kubler-Ross model. Also known as the Five Stages of Grief, this model gives perspective on how people might experience the loss of terminal illness and death, but can also apply to personal trauma and life changes. I realized that the sense of loss I felt stemmed not from the performance setback of failing the laps assessment, but losing all the privileges I had as a member of the rookie team because of it. A simple disappointment became grief at the introduction of loss. I applied the wide range of feelings I experienced as part of the Kubler-Ross stages to begin dealing with them. Here’s how it breaks down for me:

Step 1: Denial

I can’t believe I missed it by 8 seconds. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just derby. I don’t even care. On Facebook, I linked to the episode of The Simpsons where Bart gets put in the Leg Up remedial program. Ha ha ha. See how lightly I’m taking this? I’m fine. I’m even in on the joke.

Step 2: Anger

How the did I end up here? I pretty much wasted the last two years of my life on something I’m not good at. Why didn’t anybody tell me my skating sucks? 8. 8 seconds. I should’ve pushed harder. Why am I still struggling with something other people can do so easily?

Step 3: Bargaining

I would give anything to be able to skate like So and So. I wish I could just get my feet to do what it takes. Maybe I’ll take a Leave of Absence then come back when my head is on straight. If I take a break from skating, I’ll come back I’ll have a better handle on it.

Step 4: Depression

I disappointed everyone who believed in me. Just another thing I failed. I’ll always be left behind. I can’t win at anything. I have no value as a teammate. What’s the point of going on with this? I’m so tired of telling everyone I didn’t make it. Being rejected by the coaches hurts so much.

Step 5: Acceptance

It may be true that I didn’t work as hard as I could have to improve last year, but it doesn’t mean that I should give up. Going through the training program again will give me more time to work on the basics, and I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t need the work. Everyone who believed in me still does. This is supposed to be fun, remember? It’s going to be okay.

Identifying my feelings and accepting them as normal has been a major step in getting to a place where I can move on from this experience in a productive way. I know I’m not alone. Many unfortunate situations could cause derby-related grief—an injury, relocating to a different league, getting sick right before an important bout, difficult financial issues, etc. Even in temporary situations or when there’s an alternative solution, any unpleasant change in your relationship with the sport that involves loss can cut deep.

I consulted leaguemate and mental health professional Therafist for some information about coping with grief. My favorite advice from the information she sent suggests that after a trauma, “it is often important to give yourself time to reflect and to take some specific actions of self-care in order to gradually allow life to return to normal.” So I wrote in my journal, laid low on social media for a few days, and made time for other non-derby activities I enjoy. I knew I had turned a corner when I started to feel grateful for the chance to work exclusively on my basic skills for a few months without the pressure of preparing for bouts I might not be ready for.

Fortunately, I have a great support system at home and within my league. Even at my lowest, I still feel hopeful and encouraged by people who are rooting for me. I hope the same is true for anyone dealing with derby grief. I’ve been told by many a veteran skater that the setbacks and disappointments of derby don’t end—they just change. Even though I’ll face more obstacles and setbacks in the future, I know I will never again grieve the same way. The nature of loss does not readily allow second chances. I’m lucky that this grief, however significant, was the result of a temporary situation that I can control. No more cartoon complacency for me. It’s all live action sports from here.

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