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Published on August 20th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Derbylife Writing Contest: “Roller Derby Saved My Soul: Not Just A Derby Cliché” by Anne Thrax

I’ve seen it on t-shirts and I’ve seen it on stickers: ‘Roller Derby Saved My Soul’.

Skaters have told me that derby gave their life meaning; that upon joining a league they found a supportive network of fellow skaters all waiting to share information and skating knowledge at the first hint of a question.

Derby provided challenges and created new goals to be reached, and allowed them to celebrate when their goals were achieved. Derby made life worth living!

This probably all sounds really sarcastic, but what many of these people don’t realise, is that when I say ‘roller derby saved my soul’ I mean it very literally.

I suffer from an anxiety disorder and clinical depression, and four years ago I had a major depressive episode, what most people would call ‘a nervous breakdown’.

I spent a couple of months in psychiatric care, and the next 18 months in a drug-induced haze. I lost my sense of self and all of my motivation and ambition, something which had defined me in the past.
People around me had always been convinced that I was meant for bigger things, that I would really ‘go somewhere’. The only place I went after I broke down was bed, or the couch. Friends thought I had left town, I hid away at my parents’ house for so long. I then spent a year in a mix of two moods; drunken party girl or drugged-out recluse.

Thankfully, after a year and a half of feeling like my life had become a Nirvana album, something changed. It was a new year, there were new meds, and a friend linked me up to a Facebook page about a roller derby league in my town.

I’m of the ‘Whip It’ generation, that was where I first saw ‘modern’ roller derby, and as soon as I saw these girls wanted to start a league in my town, I had to get involved. What I became involved in changed my life, my league would become the place I felt most at home, where I felt confident and brave but it would also be something that challenged me in ways I had never experienced.

Dealing with depression on a daily basis is hard, even with medication and regular therapy. What Winston Churchill referred to as ‘the black dog’ is constantly nipping at your heels. So when you’re trying to nail hockey stops on your gammy leg, and it just isn’t working, the last thing you need is your black dog yapping in your head that you’re shit and that everyone else thinks you’re shit and you should just give up.

Unfortunately with depression, that is often what happens. A depressive person’s subconscious is their own worst enemy, constantly throwing negative thoughts and emotions out of nowhere; it’s like having a really nasty heckler inside your head, at all times.

Imagine if you will, standing on the jammer line for the first time in a public bout, you’re getting amped up to do your best, and some jerk in the audience starts to yell out how terrible you are at what you’re about to do. It’s not exactly encouraging is it?

Some lucky people can block out that jerk’s voice, remind themselves that ‘hey, I’m obviously good at this, or my team wouldn’t trust me with the star’ and carry on rolling, and sometimes, I can do this too. But when that dog is howling and that jerk’s voice is getting louder and clearer, I’m defeated before I even move.

When you don’t believe in yourself and your own ability, why should anyone else? And if you’ve already convinced yourself you’re going to mess something up before you even try; the likelihood is that you will mess that thing up.

This is the influence depression can have over a person, a teammate, a friend.

This can extend to not even wanting to get out of bed in the morning, to not wanting to go to training, refusing to try a drill, saying ‘I can’t’ instead of ‘I can’t yet’. Depression can defeat you before you even get in the stadium, you’ve lost the bout in your head so you don’t see the point in skating your hardest, and it is a negative, defeatist attitude that is always in you.

So how do you beat that? How do you fight it off? How do you convince yourself that you can succeed when you’ve already told yourself you’ll fail?

Wouldn’t I love to know!

If I had the answers to these questions, then I wouldn’t suffer from depression anymore! My anxiety disorder would be out the window too, but alas, there are no easy, straight forward answers to these questions, as they arise in such situational ways that there is no right answer all the time.

Thank the derby gods, sometimes I do find an answer and those answers are what I want to begin to share with the derbyverse.

My journey may mimic that of other people in many ways and you may see yourself or your teammates in my experiences. We will all deal with doubt at some point, about ourselves and our ability, and many of us will experience performance anxiety, something which drives me crazy before bouts.

For me, it’s time I stopped being notorious within my league for hating talks about ‘feelings’ (I just have too many!) and time I stopped being ashamed of my illness and do more than ‘skate it out’. It’s time to talk it out and talk it out I shall.

Broken Hearts & Body Parts

Anne Thrax

This is an entry in Derbylife’s Writing Contest!

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