skating through trauma


*Authors Note – The prevalence of PTSD and trauma-related mental health issues vary from country to country. Being a citizen of the United States, that is where I pulled my statistics for this article. I encourage you to research the risk of PTSD in your region and the resources available for those in need.

I FIRST DISCOVERED roller derby while an undergraduate. The T.A. for of my professors played and talked about it often. I was fascinated, but being a full-time student, spouse and mother left little room for extra-curricular activities. I promised myself that once I graduated, I would see what roller derby was all about. Fast forward four years. I had moved across country, was two months away from finishing my graduate degree, and my oldest was just shy of becoming a teenager. I saw a flyer for the local roller derby team and thought, “This is it. I’m ready to do this.” My first experience wasn’t stellar. The team invited me to a skate-with-Girl Scouts event and abandoned me alone there, the skaters having left the event early and didn’t communicate this to me. Upon hearing this, one skater reached out and encouraged me to come back. So I did and found I was instantly hooked. I loved everything about roller derby. The challenge of learning new skills. The unique personas of the skaters’ alter-egos. Being surrounded by women who had drive and determination. I couldn’t get through fresh meat fast enough. I was in love with the sport.

Then July of two thousand fifteen came and my life would never be the same. My then husband was suffering from an undisclosed mental health breakdown. In hindsight, I can see all of the warning signs, but at the time I was oblivious to the extent of his spiral downward. He would go on to poison and assault me, and then engage in other behaviors that would ultimately get him a twenty year prison sentence. My world was shattered. I went from a stay at home mom to a poor, single mother of three children. I became severely depressed. I had nightmares and stopped eating. Most of my time was spent crying in bed. When I did go to practice, I would skate with tears rolling down my face. For anyone to see me smile was a rare event. I tried to keep my head down. I froze when my coach would use an aggressive tone or mannerisms. Panic attacks became a regular part of my life. I wasn’t someone many people wanted to be around and some of my teammates expressed that sentiment. 

But four women in derby never gave up on me. My teammate, the one who had encouraged me to initially give roller derby a second try, was there when my husband was arrested and sat with me on my kitchen floor as I fell apart. Another talked me out of suicide on more than one occasion. They drove to my house and demanded I go to practice. They comforted me as I cried on the bench. They invited me to get-togethers and holidays and cared not if I spent the whole time sitting alone in the corner. They embraced me as I was and encouraged me to move forward. I changed teams twice before I finally found one that welcomed me with the same love. Through therapy I learned that many of the symptoms I was having were caused by post traumatic stress disorder and that I was not alone in my struggle. In the United States, approximately 8% of all adults will develop PTSD with that number even higher for women.

Acute stress disorder (ASD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after an individual has experienced a traumatic event including, but not limited to military combat, accidents, various types of assault and abuse or other acts of violence. Symptoms can develop immediately or days, weeks and months later. Using my own experiences and suggestions by Mayo Clinic, here are a few ways you can help your teammates who may be experiencing ASD or PTSD symptoms.

  • First, know that the details of their trauma is personal. Please never expect someone to share their traumatic experiences with you. Though talking can be very helpful to recovery, not everyone is in a place where they can or want to openly discuss it.
  • If your teammate looks melancholy or sad, please don’t say, “Are you okay?” I found there was no faster way for me to lose my composure than to hear these words. Choose another phrase like, “I’m here if you need someone” or “Would you like to talk or skate it out?” This gives the league mate the control. Those with ASD or PTSD had their control taken from them and regaining control over aspects of their life is important for recovery.
  • Even if they are standoffish, include them. Pick them as a partner for drills. Invite them to events and parties even if they have declined in the past. Encourage them to participate in committees and event planning. Talk to them about something you have in common, like roller derby!
  • Triggers come out of no where. A face or a sound may trigger a flashback or anxiety attack. Be compassionate and allow the league mate a safe space to process their emotions. Sometimes that means leaving practice early. Sometimes that means sitting on the bench for several jams during a game. Please don’t shame your league mate for taking the steps to ground themselves and bring their consciousness back to the present.
  • If talk of suicide occurs, please speak up. Encourage your league mate to call a suicide or veterans help hot-line or speak to a mental health professional or their primary care physician.
  • Compassion! Even if you don’t understand what your league mate is going through, kindness and compassion go a long way in helping those experiencing ASD and PTSD know that what they are experiencing is valid.

Healing from PTSD is a long and difficult process and roller derby can be a fantastic outlet to empower and assist those suffering with their recovery. Help your league flourish and your league mates feel safe by creating an inclusive environment. POC and LGBT+ individuals often have other complex circumstances that impact their recovery. Everyone experiences symptoms differently and assistance that works for one person may not work for another. Nevertheless, understanding, compassion and thoughtfulness are invaluable to all.

It has been three years since my trauma. I have made leaps and bounds in my healing, but I still get triggered, especially by loud noises and people. Ironic, I know, since roller derby has been such an integral part of my recovery. Part of my treatment is working through those intense emotions with deep breathing, reciting affirmations, and trusting others to help support and ground me. I still have a ways to go, but each time I talk myself out of that negative head-space, I am hopeful. I practice self-love because while I am not responsible for my trauma, I am responsible for my healing.


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