As of writing this, I’ve not put skates on my feet for almost three months. Over the 2017 summer, my ankles began gradually getting more stiff and sore after skating and eventually, back in November, they were became too painful to skate at all. I’m hoping to get back on skates in February 2018.
As athletes, we know that injuries are an almost inevitable and are part of sport. A full contact sport without skates has a high chance of injury, put some wheels on your feet and the probability shoots up. But knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier when it happens to you!
So lets talk about some of the messed up things that go through an injured skater’s mind:
We all know those people who just will not admit they are injured or that it’s as bad as everyone is making out.
We These people aren’t just trying to be brave or martyrs. Admitting you are really injured can just be too painful: It means you can’t play for the rest of the tournament, it means you’ll be letting your teammates down, it means accepting the fact you’ll have to have weeks or months off.
Our identity is often so intertwined with derby that we cannot fathom not being on skates. If you’re someone who never misses a game, never misses training and is never injured, the effect is compounded when it finally happens. There is just no way being injured is possible because it’s just not me.
During the denial period, you may continue skating or working out through the pain because, if you ignore the injury, eventually it’ll go away right?!
Panic and catastrophising
When you seriously injure yourself your whole derby future flashes before your eyes. Along with the searing pain of the injury, the pain of all the potential games, scrimmages and opportunities you might miss punches you right in the face too. All that hard work you’ve put in, for a brief moment seems lost and your heart sinks.
You might think, “This is it, my career is over”. You might imagine everyone else improving beyond recognition while you’re away and that you will never be able to catch up. You might see that your team succeed without your and believe that maybe you were actually the thing holding them back!
Anger and jealousy
You may feel brief anger at the situation in which you were injured, you might blame someone else or blame bad reffing or whatever else you can scapegoat. You might even get angry at yourself for being stupid or uncontrolled or unpracticed. You might feel angry towards people trying to help or people you think should be reaching out more. You might even be mad at your entire league for not caring enough or for ever convincing you that you could skate.
You might also feel jealousy towards those who can still skate. Watching derby might just be too painful because goddamnit I just want to play! You might even think people that aren’t injured but still don’t turn up to practice or put in 100% are ungrateful twatwaffles, don’t they know you’d kill to be on skates?!
And your contemporaries who seem to be getting better and better while you’re just festering in your pain and suffering? Fuck those guys!
Feeling like a fraud
Unless you have a visible signifier for your injury like crutches or a cast, sometimes you feel like you’re being over dramatic, lazy or even making it up completely. You might feel like everyone is rolling their eyes at you and just want you to get on with it. It’s just a sprain, stop being pathetic.
You might think that a stronger, better skater would just tough it out and skate through the injury – maybe you’re just not cut out for this derby life? Maybe you’re just being a total wimp? Maybe you’re just using this as an excuse to be a slacker?
A broken bone is real injury, you might think, I’m just faking it.
Everyone’s forgotten about me
Do you remember that scene in The Beach when that guy gets bitten by a shark? No one wants to deal with someone else being in pain and suffering, reminding them that paradise isn’t really paradise. So they shove him in a hut, far away from the camp – out of sight, out of mind.
When you’re injured, you can end up feeling like that guy. Everyone is getting on with their lives, you feel completely out of the loop and like an outsider looking in. You might imagine people are ignoring you on purpose so they don’t get reminded how dangerous sport can be. Why does no one care about me??!!
Suddenly, someone else is filling your spot. Someone else is getting the praise that you used to. Someone else is fulfilling your role. You can feel isolated, alienated and forgotten about.
Who even am I?
When your whole life is roller derby and it’s suddenly taken away, there can be a huge vacuum in your life. What do you do with all that time you would have otherwise spent at practice and games?
When roller derby is the only thing you are sort of good, it’s exit from your life can leave you feeling worthless. If your self esteem is wrapped up in being the fastest, most agile or most difficult to get past, what happens when that’s suddenly no longer the case? You can become riddled with self-doubt and inadequacy.
How to cope with your injury thoughts
Accept you are injured and that injuries happen
First, stop skating through your injury. Not only will it not heal but you will probably make it worse. Take your skates off, right now!
Now, read this article about skaters who returned from big injuries and remind yourself that breaks and injuries are not necessarily career ending. This list needs updating because since publication, Shoalynn Scarlett has broken her leg again and is about to skate with England at the Roller Derby World Cup!
Remember too that an extended time away from the sport is not the end of the world – think of all those skaters who’ve had a year or more off to grow baby humans. They manage to come back and still kick ass.
Roller derby will always be here, there is no expiration date on it or on you.
Take control of your healing
Go to the doctor, go to the physio and do what they tell you. Research and get a second opinion if you’re not convinced. Do your rehab diligently – even if that means rest! Find out all the ways you can train safely around your injury and invest in whatever you need to make your healing better.
Taking an active role in your recovery helps you to feel less helpless and at the mercy of your injury. It helps to give you focus and helps you to understand what is good pain or bad pain and allows you to see progress, even if it’s slow.
Find other things you enjoy
You are not roller derby and roller derby is not you – you have an identity separate from being a skater and the best way to stay sane is to discover that identity again.
Remember those days before roller derby? (Me neither!) What was it you used to enjoy? Maybe you went to lots of gigs. Maybe you were a gamer. Maybe you used to love hanging out with your non-derby friends. Maybe you used to love baking..
And if you didn’t have a hobby pre-derby, now you have the time to find something else you enjoy. I always find the best things to do are always on derby training nights anyway!
Enjoy the positives while you can
Yes not skating sucks, but what doesn’t suck is getting home at a decent time and having weekends to yourself again. Less skating means more energy for the gym and therefore, more gainz! Oh and you don’t have to wash your hair every day.. what a luxury. You’ve even saved a ton of cash you’d usually spend on the commute and that faint derby stank has disappeared.
There are plenty of positives to being off-skates, if you look hard enough. Enjoy them now while you can.
Reach out to your team and find other ways to be involved
I’m sorry to sound harsh but yes, people are busy and have lives and want to focus on their skating so they don’t always have time to check in on you. It can hurt but you can understand why. And it probably only feels like people aren’t reaching out purely because you can’t spend as much time with them. It’s up to you to be as involved as you want to be.
Whether thats going to practice off-skates – I find having a specific job to do helps me get there – getting involved with officiating or behind the scenes work you didn’t have time to do previously, do what you can to feel part of the team. Maybe now is the time to try out some coaching or bench management?…
Whatever you do, fight the urge to isolate yourself.
Set realistic goals
Get advice from healthcare professionals that understand sport – often, NHS staff only have time to get you back to “good enough” to get by. But a sports physio or therapist will understand that you want to get back to full fitness and help you figure out a realistic timeline.
From there you can set your own goals. Work backwards from your outcome goal – what you ultimately want to achieve (e.g get back on skates), to your performance goals – what performance levels you need to be at to achieve that goal (e.g to be able to squat with no pain) – and then your process goals – what you’ll do to achieve the performance goals (e.g stretch and foam roll three times a day).
These goals will help keep you focused on your recovery and help you track your progress towards being fully healed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Injuries – especially serious ones – can be a complete mind-fuck. Exercise and team sports release a whole host of feel-good hormones and being injured can be like going cold turkey. Combine that with all the other shitty bits about being injured and you can easily end up feeling depressed.
You may also be traumatised from the injury itself and be left with fear of hurting yourself again.
There is ZERO shame in reaching out to professionals – counsellors, sports psychologists or your doctor – to ask for help. There are also Facebook groups such as The Gimp Crew (U.S) and Team Metal Legs (U.K) where injured skaters share their frustrations, worries and successes. (Be warned, there may be graphic images of injuries)
And don’t forget your own team. Speak to your teammates, coaches and captains. Not only do I guarantee someone else has been through the same thing, they will be able to do everything they can to make you feel supported.
You are not alone.
What are your top tips for dealing with the mental side of injuries?