Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sisters Doin' It For Each Other: Support in Derby

And I'm not talking sports bras.

Recently, I outed myself as having some anxiety issues, especially when it comes to derby. The response since from the other players and the honorary sisters among our refs has been wonderful. Because I asked for specific help, namely help with skills training, I've found myself surrounded by potential coaches, all offering their time and support. Players have offered to help during skates at our local rink and even during practices. I've been really overwhelmed by the generosity of the members of our league, who have proven that derby isn't just about pushing yourself to excel. It's also about helping other skaters do their best.

Asking for help can be tough for any skater. Often we're afraid of looking weak, especially in front of such strong, dedicated people as the ones who choose derby. But luckily those same people are so often so generous. Asking for help is tough, but once we do ask, we have a whole league behind us. And with that many kick-ass skaters coming up behind you, you are a force to be reckoned with.

More generally, I've had skaters approach me to offer personal support off the rink.  I was worried that the other skaters might be put off or uncomfortable after I explained why I sometimes miss practice or leave early. Because anxiety isn't a visible illness, sometimes it's difficult for people to understand. Of course, I forgot to take into account that I'm not the only anxious player and even those skaters who haven't experienced anxiety are willing to try to understand those who have.

For every skater who has offered support, my faith in derby, in LOCO, and the community we're building here in London has been renewed and made all the stronger for it. All I can say to the amazing LOCO community is that I thank-you for every stride I make on the track. For the significant bruises on my rear, however, I will just thank the floor.

So, with all that the skaters of LOCO have given me, I'm going to try to give back by doing my best, by asking for help when I need it, and when finances permit, buying a round at the bar.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Rollerballin': LOCO's Yearly Good Time Social

Photo Credit: Jackie 'Bride of Breakin' Spine' Haycock

Roller derby leagues are known for partying. And LOCO, being a rec league, holds this particular derby tradition in especially high regard. But if there's one special party LOCO goes in for, it's our yearly Rollerball. Rollerball is a derby prom, awards show, graduation ceremony and hootenanny all in one: on Saturday night, we filled the Victoria Tavern basement to the rafters with a live rockabilly band, derby girls in their finest (and in some cases their shortest) and a whole lot of red and black decorations.

Why is Rollerball particularly special? I mean, we party with the least incentive. Why the fuss each February? Rollerball is the night we salute our skaters - not only do we give out awards in categories like Best Jammer, Best Booty and Most Competitive, we also point out how every skater has grown over the past year. On Saturday night, I was utterly delighted to see that the planners had written specialized introductions and ordered skate level (absent but forthcoming) dog tags for every skater, not just the rightful winners of Best Dressed and Favourite Mama Hen. Everyone got their moment. Even the refs.

When not dancing with dangerous abandon with my partner and my LOCO lovelies, I watched the crowd and, rather unusually for me, I was just happy to be in the moment - and it was such a lovely moment with my derby family, constituted by these amazing people all brought together by a sport dedicated to strong women supporting each other. My partner and I had both started the evening a bit anxious, but by the time we tottered to the cab home, my faith in my derby community was reconfirmed, renewed in a wash of glitter, sweat, and love between the folks who support their sport and each other.

And that is why Rollerball is a big deal.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Tripping on the Track: Anxiety and Roller Derby -- Part Two

Last Monday, I asked the question: what is an anxious derby player to do? Obviously I'm no professional, but I can speak from what has and hasn't worked for me.

Totally Off the Track

Deal with the anxiety itself. For some folks, a combination of therapy and medication can do the job. Others prefer to do yoga and eat right. It probably wouldn't hurt to do all four of those things. My point is that if you have anxiety, working with it is a daily process, even on the days you're not exposed to the things that trigger your anxiety. Make sure you're actively engaging with your anxiety off the track and positively reinforcing your efforts because you're doing hard work.

Regarding therapy, if cost is a concern, check to see if your student union, employer or parents have any coverage that can ease the cost. Local hospitals may even have out-patient or group therapy programs that you can participate in at no cost. Check in with your local mental health resources. In my experience, I've had a number of therapists over the last fourteen years of being in and out of counselling and it took a lot of work to find ones that worked for me at the time. Doing goal-oriented cognitive-behavioural therapy has helped me feel more able to intervene when my mood and sense of well-being start to go south. You have a lot of options, however. For Canadian examples, see the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health or the Mental Health Helpline.

Within Your League

First thing's first: be open about your anxiety with your derby family. Don't lie. Being open will take a great deal of the shame and embarrassment out of your anxiety. If that's intimidating, consider telling someone you trust in your league, so you can get their support. Once you share with them, being open with others may seem less scary. Personally, I came out with last Monday's blog post and everyone's been amazing.

Chances are, anyone you tell will do their best to be supportive. But beyond that, letting the anxiety cat out of the bag will better enable your league to help your derby experience by modifying things for your benefit; for example, if you bring it up with your skater rep, there might be an alteration in how practices are structured, if a particular aspect of practice triggers your anxiety. Or if you're feeling behind, ask a fellow skater for extra training. Derby is, at heart, about the skaters. Any league worth its salt will support you.

On Skates

Even if anxiety affects your derby life, you might be fine once you have your quads on. You might not be. Be sure to be open and honest with yourself: don't try to ignore, deny, or rationalize your way out of your feelings. If you're at practice, be at practice - try your best to be present, even if it's difficult. Check in with a derby buddy and when in doubt, take a deep breath and check in with yourself. Ask why you might be reacting a certain way and what the relevant things are that you can and can't change. Above all, practice forgiveness toward yourself.

My Bottom Line

When your anxiety impacts your ability to do an activity you love, it can be unbelievably tough on you. It can be hard to remember that the effort is worth it. But you are worth it. If you are living with anxiety, you are doing something hard and you are being someone brave. You are my hero.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Tripping on the Track: Anxiety and Roller Derby -- Part One

Like many skaters, my derby life is impacted by a medical issue. Unlike a lot of skaters, however, my issue isn't a bad knee or, say, asthma. I've had anxiety issues on and off since childhood but only started treatment in the last year. At the moment, I'm on medication, seeing a therapist and trying to eat well in order to keep my general health in good condition.

Since starting derby, my anxiety has had varying impacts on my experience of the sport. I started derby before I started my medication and that went as well as could be expected. The effects were clearest if I was even a few minutes late to practice. If the clock read 7:01, I wouldn't be able to get out of the car. I would get upset or bargain with myself, but eventually I would just go home. Even on good days, I would have headaches and nausea during the time before practice (something that goes back to my days of Karate for Kids and my dad accurately predicting I would be fine as soon as I got there). And, as my dad predicted years ago, as soon as I got into the YMCA (or went home), the symptoms went away.

As I started medication, this subsided. I still had pre-practice jitters and still felt socially uncomfortable during practice - to this day, I still have trouble shaking the sensation that I make people uncomfortable - but it was livable. For a while, I was getting to practice fairly often. Then again, for a while, I was on tranquilizers.

More recently, though, I've been having trouble again. Because of my academic work (ostensibly), I haven't been making it to practice at all. I tried again on Friday night. I got a ride and managed to stay at practice for about 30 minutes before I broke, cried, and called my partner to ask for a ride home. It was only as I was taking off my gear that I realized that I had been so anxious previously that I hadn't noticed I had forgotten to put on my elbow pads.

I could identify particular things that made me anxious that night: I felt as if I had lost key skills during my time away, which led me to feel too inexperienced to do regular drills and too "old" a skater to get away with doing basic skills training with the fresh meat; I felt embarrassed for staying away so long; I felt dumb for forgetting one of my knee pads; I felt anxious.

In some ways, it really comes down to that last one. On some days it seems like no matter how perfect conditions might be otherwise, my anxiety ramps up and undoes everything. Perhaps the thing I resent most about anxiety is that it takes away the activities you love. And I do love derby. I love it enough to, unusually for a derby girl, face the prospect of throwing up before practice.

So, what's an anxious derby girl to do? Check back on Thursday for some ideas about keeping your derby worries limited to how impossibly good your shorts look.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Business Review: Roller Derby Shirt Club

Today, we're reviewing the recently launched Roller Derby Shirt Club.

What Is It?

The Roller Derby Shirt Club is essentially a "Cheese of the Month" Club but with roller derby shirts. You pay for a 6 or 12 month subscription and get a shirt for every month. Each shirt is based on a logo of a different team. Along with the shirt, you get basic info on the team featured and some small miscellaneous derby merch (company stickers and the like).

How Much Does It Cost?

There's a sliding scale based on where you're ordering from.  The rundown is as follows, courtesy of the Roller Derby Shirt Club's website:
USA: $75 and up for 6 months, $145 and up for 1 year.
CANADA: $85 and up for 6 months, $165 and up for 1 year.
Everywhere else: $95 for 6 months, $185 for 1 year

That does rightly sound like a significant chunk of change, but the price per shirt is really very reasonable. 

What Else Do I Need to Know?

You can update your shirt size and shipping address. They don't seem to do refunds, however, so don't expect that $185 back if you end up not liking the shirts. Leagues and roller derby-related companies can get in touch with them to get involved.

So, Did You Like It?

Yes, but with a few caveats for the potential consumer. Every shirt is sent out at the beginning of the month, so be prepared for a few weeks of waiting if you're a Canadian or International customer. I signed up back in December, so I started with their very first shirt. The shirt arrived, along with an information sheet on the team featured and some stickers and company logo-type stuff that isn't really my bag. The shirt itself featured a cool logo printed on soft cotton. Rather awesomely, RDSC keeps an archive of featured teams and shirts, which I look forward to seeing grow. January was the Rollergirls of the Apocalypse from Germany.

Sizing seems to run a bit small on the shirts, so if you waver between sizes, go for the bigger one. The cotton is nice and soft, but doesn't scream durable, though time will have to tell on that one. RDSC is not for you if you want folks to think you actually got the shirts from the leagues themselves: each shirt features the RDSC logo on the sleeve, so you'll be kept honest.

My initial sizing estimation was off, so I emailed RDSC to change my subsequent shirts to a size up. They got back to me really quickly, so my experience of their customer service so far is very good. I still have a too-tight t-shirt in my closet, but I might either donate it to my league or keep it in case of laundry days or sudden weight loss.

All in all, I'm happy with my  purchase and I'm looking forward to having tiny derby care packages coming my way each month, especially since they'll give me a chance to learn about new leagues. Actually, starting next week, for each shirt I get, I'll post about the team featured. So, in terms of inspiration and sweet derby wear, I feel pretty much covered.