Last week I went to a talk by Catrina Brown, a professor of social work at Dalhousie. Her talk was on women and depression, and I almost skipped it because I figured I was already an expert, being a woman and depressed. But I went anyway, and spent the full 45 minutes nodding and taking furious notes.
“Women can be really hard on themselves, more so than on others,” she said (after acknowledging the inadequacy of the word “women” and of the erasure such generalizations can cause). She described this as an emotional regime, and at its most extreme, emotional totalitarianism, in which we carefully police and manage our own emotions (and behaviours), and attempt to discipline ourselves when they do not meet a standard.
Why am I talking about this in relation to roller derby? We’ll see if I can get there. For the 45 minutes of that talk, I felt seen. She described with shocking accuracy my thoughts, my feelings, the things I say internally and out loud to myself, the patterns I get stuck in. It was affirming, but it was more than that; I felt her validate all the effort I put in every day: the effort to be put together, to finish my work, to care for those around me, and the refusal to care for myself if I couldn’t first achieve all those other unending tasks.
I guess this is where roller derby comes in. This sport, and more specifically this league, has made me feel seen. For a few hours a week, I can be in my body, detached from my work or from the people in my life that I care for, sometimes at the expense of myself. For a few hours a week, I can fall and fail with no repercussions, and I can celebrate my successes with no sense of guilt or worry. I am happy for the people around me, and they are happy for me. There is room for all of us to succeed. There will be room for us even when we don’t.
This world can be a difficult place, and in times of heightened racism, misogyny, transphobia, and ableism, in times when austerity is the leading practice, there is so little room for basking in pride, self-love, success. When I finish some work, I turn immediately to the next task. When I win a scholarship, I keep it quiet because not all my friends were so lucky. When I do well, I remind myself of my privilege, my luck, and the systems that made my success possible at the expense of others. And I know this is important, but sometimes I lose myself in it.
So this is my epiphany: I need this space to celebrate myself. I need a space to let myself off the hook, and to feel those deepest emotions without managing or disciplining them. Right now, roller derby is this space. I look forward to practice. I come home on Sunday evenings so happy, and with a list of things to boast to my partner about. I feel the ache on Monday and Tuesday and remember that I earned it. I treasure all the feedback from trainers and my fellow skaters. And I dwell in this happiness.
To others balancing mental health and roller derby, I found these posts super helpful. The first one is on getting to practice, the second one is on those times when you can’t do it, and the third one is on how to get through practice.