Derby and Depression: An Honest Account

As an invaluable member of Vice Squad, V has recently made a winning return to CRD after taking some time out this summer. Our resident nippy jammer and tiny blocker would like to talk about the affects mental health issues can have on both your personal life and sports performance with some advice about how to get through tough times.

So, here’s the thing… I have a problem that is affecting my derby career. I carry this heavy weight on a daily basis and it even affects my physical health as well. You see, I’m a double D kind of gal. No matter how much I try to push aside the worries of this cumbersome issue, I may have to just say TITS to this and learn to live with the sometimes painful and terrible hindrance that being a DD entails.

TITS! What’s so bad about having a more voluptuous bosom and what’s that got to do with derby, you ask? Well I’m afraid in my case, nothing. I’m talking about a still greater taboo subject: depression. Depression and Derby. My own DD that try as I might to keep them separate, it isn’t working.

I’ve been depressed since I was a child and this nasty dark cloud of hopelessness has plagued every aspect of my life… from relationships, to education and work. Depression doesn’t socialise well nor do amazing party tricks, and will score no points for popularly.  So how the hell can I take on my DD issue and push my tentative, delicate derby career forward? Well unlike your average DD there’s no surgical reduction on offer. Can I do this DD thang, or has derby no place alongside depression?

Denial didn’t work. Taking breaks, that increase in length, didn’t work. It just leaves me constantly behind and frustrated. I might just try something radical and rather slink off and hide in shame and embarrassment, except this depression isn’t going anyway, and maybe I could accept it into my derby life and try to control the demons rather than the other way round.

This does not involve me believing I can act like the world is ending every time a jam doesn’t go my way or dissolving into tears every time a voice is raised, but accepting whilst a general understanding of depression is helpful, no one can be expected to automatically know when I’m having a bad day or even need to treat me differently. This is derby, not a counselling service. Knowing how your depression works and what triggers off unhelpful whispers of self-doubt and paranoia can sometimes be a step in the right direction into having a feeling of being more in control.

Be honest about whether you feel emotionally and physically well enough for a game. That way you take pressure off yourself and at the end of the day, derby love abounds, but your team needs players who are 100 percent leading up to and during a game. DON’T isolate yourself and feel a failure – while it’s disappointing, which anyone with an injury or medical problem will admit, if doing the best for your team means sitting one out, then take it with good grace. Sitting tearfully on the wrong side of the track will only highlight your possible feelings of failure. Watch the game… shout encouragement to your team mates (maybe not SMASH THAT GASH ‘fishwife style’… it’s supposed be family friendly and all that!)… learn from the game and move on.

Depression tries to sneak into everything I do: mine even affects my concentration. Tell your team you still can’t get that tactic into your head. Write it down. Shout it out. Hell, tattoo it on yourself. Just admit you’re struggling and ask for help. Find ways you can improve your game that does not involve tearing yourself to pieces after every training session or game. More importantly; don’t give up. It only empowers the depression and can make you feel more useless and ashamed of your condition.

So… can a DDer take on derby? Yes, you damn well can. Can a DDer learn to accept what she or he is? Can understanding your illness, its limitations and bashing positivity all over it help? HELL YES!  I’m tired of allowing myself to feel useless and ashamed. I have successfully left my problems and depressive tendencies off the track and just played derby for Derby’s sake. No drama…no tears. No depression leading me blindly by the toe stops tripping me up every time I actually have to push myself.

So if like me you are DDer: accept what you are, but don’t let it take lead. Always be in front, and push yourself. You can get so used to depression you even end up letting it score all the points and forget to fight back. Using depression as a reason for not achieving your derby goals can turn into a safety net you conveniently fall back on time and time again. But saying that, for some just putting on their skates can be a triumph in itself: nurture every triumph no matter how small and never compare. Like yourself, depression is completely individual. Also remember that it belongs to no one else, including your team.  Let’s chase that black dog off the track and if it needs to be let off the lead and given a treat later then fine. Play and enjoy derby: that’s what its there for. Simples, right!

Simples, right? Well, maybe not: fighting talk helps and getting into a more positive frame of mind. There’s no magic wand, and I would never be so patronising as to suggest you just need to pull your socks and get on with it!  You need to get professional help and not be ashamed to take medication if needed – whatever action your Doctor suggests. Not only will you find you can cope with life in general but all the amazing highs derby can give you too. As everyone’s depression manifests in different ways what works for one might not another; saying that, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from other players. There are support groups just for derby players with mental health issues and other medical problems.

The only thing I would suggest is not letting the illness become your crutch.  Fight, and even when everything seems too hard, and that you’re drowning, reach out and let someone help you to your feet.  Strap your skates on and plough through it. You can become a successful player and DD your way to the front of the pack. It may be a harder fight for some but that’s what makes it more worthwhile.  Derby is one of the sports that doesn’t discriminate on many levels. Though you can also use this as an opportunity to leave your everyday self behind and for a few hours a week embrace the fun and physical activity, and yes, sometimes pain that’s involved with playing derby. It’s easier to soothe physical bruises and breaks than a broken mind!

So here my journey reawakens once again, and this time I will take it easy and be kind to myself. Remember the only role model you need is YOU. You are amazing: You are a derby player.

Photo credit: Daz Wilson


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