Are you there, roller derby? It’s me, Battlecat.

Where are my scrimmage shirts? I don’t know where I put my mouthguard. I need to find clean socks. Do I even have pants? Where would they be? I haven’t slept much this week and things are hazy. Maybe I shouldn’t go to practice. Maybe I should stay home and eat crackers for dinner and fall asleep in front of Netflix.That would make me feel so much better than going to practice.

This is a lie. It’s a lie every time I think it. Sometimes willing myself to leave the house and get myself to practice is a larger challenge than practice, itself.

From the time I was very small I’ve been struggling with mental illness. Anxiety, depression, blah blah blah. At eighteen years old I finally got a solid diagnosis that made sense to myself, and to my family. “General Anxiety and Bipolar Disorders”. Sheesh. Unfortunately, this diagnosis came at the same moment that I decided college wasn’t doing it for me, and I chose to leave. This also meant I could say Goodbye to any and all health insurance. I’ve never taken any medications. A blessing and a curse.

For some time being aware that there was something not quite right about my brain was enough to keep me on the straight-and-narrow. Go to work. Pay your bills on time. Make time for your relationship. Etcetera. Though sometimes I wouldn’t do those things. Without an outlet, be it creative or athletic, making sure you’re always doing the right things can be a problem. Doing nothing but sleeping for a week wasn’t such a rarity. As well as, you know, forgetting to eat. Staring at the walls. Blowing $200 on a fancy teapot that I really didn’t need. I didn’t even drink tea, and yet here I was with no money and a fancy teapot. Smart choices. Eventually this lead to my long term relationship falling apart. I didn’t speak to my family, anymore. I had no friends, and was not confident at my job. Things needed to change, so I did some soul-searching to try and find ONE thing that could be a positive constant in my life.

Somehow, it was like the clouds parted and a voice shouted down to me from the Great Unknown, and it said “HEY DO YOU KNOW WHAT ROLLER DERBY IS BECAUSE YOU SHOULD”. This was the moment one of my housemates had rented that Ever So Popular movie, “Whip-It”. My eyes popped out of my skull in disbelief that this roller derby thing existed. Or maybe it didn’t exist. Regardless, I spent the evening typing “roller derby ann arbor” into every search engine just to see what I could find.
Lo and behold, there it was staring me right in the face. Ann Arbor Derby Dimes. I knew nothing about how the sport was actually played. All I knew was that I got to wear roller skates and hit people and go fast and that’s all I needed. Within a month I had bought skates, gear, and spent any extra time I had skating in tiny circles in my kitchen. I like to refer to this chunk of time right before I started any actual practices “The Baby Times”. Where I’d tell my roommate all about how I figured out how to t-stop. Bouncing potential derby name ideas off anyone who would listen. Wishing I knew what “ABEC” meant, or “durometer”.

Photo © Andrew Potter

Photo © Andrew Potter

I will never forget going to that recruitment event. I’ll never forget having the captain of the travel team coming up to me and saying that it’s okay if I decide I don’t like it. It’s okay to buy cheapie skates to start out because roller derby isn’t for everyone. I’ll never forget looking at her and just letting her know that, “No, I’m gonna skate derby. It’s gonna be great”. My awkward self who hadn’t had any real friends in years was suddenly surrounded by a ton of bad-ass looking ladies drinking huge beers and laughing. I wanted to play. I wanted to be friends with these girls! So I tagged along to every derby event I could. Even if I had to go alone, I went. Looking back now I’m sure I was so irritating at first. Everyone probably talked amongst themselves about the weirdo scrawny 19 year old who shows up to everything. Oh well. I hadn’t stared at the walls in weeks. I had been remembering to eat breakfast. All the time I spent inside my head was now spent teetering around in Riedell Vixens.

Flash forward to 2013. I wish I could remember the month/year combination that I started skating, but it’s so hard.. Roller derby has been the biggest chunk of my life for a long time. I’m so thankful that I found this league, this group of women, who have been there for me every time I needed them. Through sad times and good times. Who could remind me about how “I’m too good for that boy”. Who made me banana bread when my dog died. Who gave me a mattress when I moved into my first apartment by myself. These women are all superheroes, and they make me want to be a better person. Every one of them has helped me to help myself. These days I can’t say my brain feels better, because it doesn’t. I still have sad times and grey skies, but it’s hard to dwell on it - it’s hard to let that consume me when I have roller skating games to play with all 100+ of my best friends.


Battlecat 9
Photo ©Andrew Potter 

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