Pants here! Well, my full derby name is Hunt-Her Pants (like Hunter Pence, the baseball player, but no judgment if you’re like, “who the hell?”), but please, call me Pants. If you knew what I looked like and you saw me on the street and yelled, “Pants!”, I would respond.
Anyway, before diving into my first blog post, I’d like to introduce myself:
I’m a Pacific Northwest native, but I spent almost a decade in Massachusetts before relocating to California. In fact, I started my derby career with a small league in Western Mass called Pioneer Valley Roller Derby back in 2013. I took a three-year hiatus when we moved, before jumping back in with Bay Area Derby’s Reckless Rollers and then landing in Antioch with Undead Roller Derby. Outside of derby, I have spent time writing for news publications on the East Coast and studying all things related to basic healthcare and biology in California. I am currently in the process of obtaining my Registered Health Information Technician certification, which is a fancy way of saying I am an expert in medical records and everything pertaining to them.
Other fun things about me: I am a super cat mom, I’m a history nerd, I love to knit, and of course, I love to watch baseball. I will be marrying our league’s announcer in August and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m also a big fan of #derbytwitter and if you would like to find me, just search for @JBuddly.
The following post is about yet another topic I am passionate about: mental health. To be specific, it’s about surviving and enjoying roller derby with a mind that battles against you.
Let’s get to it…
When most people think of roller derby, they see tough girls on eight wheels slamming into each other and beating each other up. What they don’t envision is the part where we have meltdowns, the part where we cry and slump down in defeat. It happens to the best of us. In fact, it happens to me all the time. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is absolutely crying in roller derby (I’m also fairly certain that there’s crying in every single sport ever), and if there was ever a queen of crying in roller derby, it would be me. I am not ashamed (anymore) of this fact. There are many reasons that we, as derby skaters, find ourselves crying on and/or off the track, but the thing that keeps me in tears is undoubtedly a mix of depression and anxiety, something I’ve been battling my entire life. Whether it’s that voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough, or that pit in my stomach making me want to barf on the track, I’m constantly the skater with misty eyes and a bowed head.
One such occurrence happened back in October 2017, in the middle of the day. It was during our first annual Halloween-themed, B/C level tournament, the Monster Bash. We had just finished our second game, during which nothing really noteworthy happened other than the excitement of playing roller derby. I sat down on the bench and began to take off my gear. Before I could get to my skates, a bomb of emotions exploded inside of me and I burst into tears. I buried my face in my smelly helmet and let the waterworks flow down my cheeks. My ever-supportive teammates did everything right: they hugged me, then they let me be. Jared (my fiance) comforted me, but my brain needed me to cry my way through our lunch break before I could finish an exhausting day of derby. This scene, while unfortunate, is one I’ve witnessed on many occasions. So many of us have moments of crying in roller derby and it’s important to remember that it’s absolutely, positively, okay. This sport, while incredibly fun, is not necessarily easy.
For me, roller derby is just one of those things: it’s either been the best for my mental health or it’s been the worst, but the “best” continually outweighs the “worst” and keeps me coming back for more. I’ve found that the community of roller derby coupled with the bits of confidence it’s given me, have made this journey 100% worth the tears. With that said, I still have to slog through the mud of depression and anxiety while playing this ever-changing, DIY sport. Navigating mental illness has brought a slough of challenges, but with each challenge comes a chance to find a solution. It may not always be pretty, but overcoming these obstacles has helped create the survivor I am today.
One of the constant struggles I’m faced with (and I’m sure anyone who deals with depression can relate to this) is making sure I don’t consistently miss practice. When you live with severe depression, there are days when getting out of bed is the hardest thing you can do, let alone getting out of bed and dragging yourself to a group gathering where you’re learning new skills on roller skates. Over the years, I have concocted a few strategies to help keep me motivated to get through the door. The first thing I do when I’m having a particularly rough day is to remind myself that 95% of the time that I go to practice, I leave feeling better than I did before I went. Therefore, going to practice is in my best interest. Yet sometimes, this simple reminder isn’t enough. On those days, I reach out to the people I trust the most. I’ll talk to my fiance and my closest derby friends about how I’m feeling, allowing them to either ease my anxious depressive episode or to remind me that it is okay to miss a practice here and there. I just have to make sure that I don’t use skipping practice as a way to ease my anxiety. As comedian John Mulaney says, “In terms of instant relief, cancelling plans is like heroin.” And yeah, it is. But unless you want to quit derby, missing practices consistently is only going to make the few you do attend much more anxiety-inducing.
So, what about when you make it out to practice, but once there, you still feel terrible? If you’re anything like me, you’ve had practices where you dragged yourself out of bed, through the doors and into the rink/warehouse/skatepark and then skated around with not only the fog of depression clouding your view, but the fire of anxiety building inside your body, ready to erupt at any small or large misstep. Before I knew the people in our small league, I would push through practice until I felt the mist hit my eyes, then I would go “to the bathroom” and cry in a stall, away from anyone who might make it worse with their (well-meaning) worry and attention. This gave me a moment to calm myself, to try to stop the shaking, and to just breathe. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal solution, but it allowed me to gather myself so that I could return to practice, finish the night and leave feeling like I accomplished something despite my own shortcomings.
Nowadays, I don’t need to run and hide as much. One of the best things I have done for myself is to open up to my fellow leaguemates and coaches. They now know that I deal with these issues (and who would’ve guessed it, but some of my derby pals struggle with the same things) and that there will be days when just showing up is going to be hard, and that hey, I might have to step off the track and cry before practice is over. Even if I don’t have to cry, sometimes I just need to step out of the drill and breathe for a couple of minutes before jumping back in. My advice to fellow sufferers is to find what your mind and body need, let your coaches, BOD members and/or teammates know what that is, and don’t be ashamed if you have to take a few moments to recover.
I know that we don’t all experience mental illness in the same way and that not all leagues are as supportive as others. But, statistically speaking, if you are a skater struggling with mental health issues, there is someone within your local derby community who is pushing through similar pains. I also know that it’s hard to reach out. It’s extremely difficult to show your vulnerabilities to those around you. However, in my experience, I have found that within this sport, there lies a community of strong, sensitive, passionate people, some of who will be right there to listen and support their fellow skaters on this fantastic journey that we call roller derby.
The last issue I’d like to address is the effect depression and anxiety have on the digestive system. Anxiety, in particular, has the ability to make it impossible to not just consume the correct amount of food but to keep any sort of food from upsetting my stomach. Over the years, I have learned to love plain, boring, flavorless carbs. If I wake up on bout day with more nerves than I can handle (which is frequently, even though I’ve played dozens of times), I turn to one or more of the following things: bananas, saltines, plain rice, drinking broth, and/or some sort of electrolyte beverage like Gatorade or Nuun, alongside of course, PLENTY of water. Don’t forget to hydrate! Dehydration can affect our nervous systems in so many ways, not to mention affect our athletic performances. Aside from the impact on food intake, anxiety loves to make my head spin. It loves to inflate my emotions to out of this world proportions. When that happens, I step aside, close my eyes and just breathe for at least 10 seconds. This trick has saved me on so many crazy bout days. Yeah, I still skate with that pit in my stomach, but at least it’s just an uncomfortable feeling and not an anxious outburst at my fellow leaguemates, volunteers and fans.
With all of this said, there are so many ways that mental illness affects us both on and off the track. Sure, I’ve developed many tricks to help push myself through the obstacles that depression and anxiety throw at me, but I know that not everyone suffers in the same exact way. While these things help me, they may not help everyone. The most important piece of information to take from this blog post is that there are other people who struggle with mental illnesses, even badass derby skaters like ourselves. No one is perfect and no one should expect you, nor anyone else to be. We’re all a part of roller derby, and we all have the ability to thrive within this sport if we give ourselves a proper chance.