When recovering from injury, it’s important to be aware of your mental well-being and take proper care. For myself, I want to break down the whole “reaching out” for help with an injury but also with any mental health impact you might experience while injured. I’m not saying that injuries are synonymous with mental illness or depression, but HEY. It’s a thing for many, and it’s worth talking about.
Often, when you’re going through tough times, people say things like: Don’t forget to reach out. Hey, if you need some help, reach out. You’re injured? Call me, don’t be afraid to reach out.
I have said this before. I’ve heard people say this to me. I’ve heard other people say this to their friends. Overall, it’s intended as a nice statement, it means that the person who says it will try to be there for you when you need it. It’s a respectful space fulness that allows the person experiencing things to contact them whenever they feel comfortable enough to do so. It’s a totally reasonable thing to say to someone.
On one hand, you might just need some help vacuuming your apartment and feel awkward asking a friend to help you out. On the flipside, you might just need to go for coffee with someone because your brain has made you feel like an entirely different person and you have cabin fever and you might totally lose it if you spend one more day with your leg propped up in bed. *cough, cough* Spoken from experience.
So… why is it so hard to reach out? Or, why is it so hard for ME to reach out? I’m going to talk subjectively about this and to be clear, I don’t have a psychology degree, I’m not a social worker, and I have no edumacation on any of this. But I have dealt with depression and anxiety for over half of my life. I don’t often talk about it because I don’t like to lend it weight. I don’t like pity, I don’t like to cause concern, especially amongst those who don’t know me well. I’ve found a number of ways to respond to my situations in the best way possible. My ability to sort myself out is my own business and I’ve developed an overall pro-activity that makes me feel well equipped to weather any storm. It’s taken me years to develop and I am proud of myself for getting where I am currently.
But in recent news, a young skater took their own life due to the difficulty of coping with their current situation. It’s tragic and very sad and is worth educating yourself about (click the subsequent links to Derby Central and Derby Frontier). I felt like talking about mental health seemed timely. And while this isn’t about their specific experience, it really made me think a lot about what it means to “reach out”.
As strong as we can be, injuries and depression are an absolute whirlwind to deal with. This injury sent me through a bit of a doozy a couple of weeks ago. Part of it, I should note, is caused by lack of cardio exercise I can do because of my ankle break, something I consciously incorporate into my life to function as a mild-anti-depressant because endorphins – They be magical.
Mental health is very personal business for some. Which makes sense because for most, there’s nothing worse than getting unsolicited advice from people regarding it. Or feeling pressured into talking about it when you don’t really want to.
While I choose not to talk about it regularly, I understand what these Mental Health Awareness campaigns are all about. Those that encourage TALKING about mental health. There is a relative level of education that the greater public needs to experience to better understand how mental illness affects the people around them, from all socio-economic statuses, genders, sexualities, cultures, and age groups in life. There is a normalization needed regarding mental illness and how we create environments that don’t alienate people when they are not at their most functional or when they are in vulnerable periods of their life.
What is really needed here? I’m careful of these meme’s or posts about how to treat people with mental illness. I think that it sometimes generalizes things too much and fails to understand how people are different with how they seek help and support. It creates a homogeneous response rather than seeing it as potentially diverse and case-by-case. That being said, there’s some basic stuff in those posts that is pretty solid to reference if you’re trying to figure out how to be supportive: Listen to the person, you don’t need an answer to everything, stay in contact with them.
So back to my first question: Why do I find it difficult to reach out when I’m injured?
Part of this is because, while I don’t like to admit it, I’m in a vulnerable state. During this injury, I’ve realized this: While I am physically vulnerable, it’s important to work past believing I may be perceived as weak or unable to cope. Hell, we can back this up and say that even if we’re just feeling depressed and feeling vulnerable, it’s still not weak if you ask for help – that is and always will be a strength.
Photo by TJ Chase Photography
Here’s what I do when I’m experiencing this:
I SAY: HEY BRAIN, THIS IS WHAT IS UP!
(P.S. These steps are what I use for myself, you are advised to take this with a grain of salt and develop ones that work best for you).
Step 1 – Remember, you are not asking for people to fix you.
You’re asking for people to hang out along the way as you get better. This is not a forever-situation. This is a curve back to your regular (or future), functional self. People that care about one another want to walk with you for a while, it’s normal. Ever read the book, Wild? Think of that as your metaphor, there’s going to be people who want to walk with you for a part of the way. They won’t or can’t be there the whole way. This is your journey and you will get there. Haven’t read Wild? I dunno, go watch the movie trailer and you’ll get the gist: Reese Witherspoon self-exploratory adventure-hike film. Yadda, yadda.
Step 2 – Rollerderby is about being the strongest person you can be. Not a fake strong-person, a YOU-person.
I have trained myself to put my strongest self forward. Said in robot-voice: I am co-captain, must not show weakness. Must give it my all. Must lead by example.
THAT BEING SAID, cut yourself a fucking break, robot-face. You can be strong and that doesn’t mean that you need to hide yourself. The whole facade/character/persona thing in roller derby is SOOO 2009. Part of being strong and in control is knowing yourself and feeling strong enough to communicate where you’re at to the people around you. That doesn’t mean being passive-aggressive or guilt-tripping or having unreasonable expectations of people. Or expecting people to carry you out of the hole you might feel you’re in. For me, it means having big enough ovaries to talk about where I’m at and where I’m going. And it’s all going up from here, my friend, we’re always digging our way up.
Step 3 – Giving People a Heads-up is a good thing!
I have a friend that is extremely open about their mental state and while I don’t think I could be that open about it – I see value in how they approach it. Because it gives your peers and friends a heads-up as to why you might not be out and about. It also helps people not get the wrong idea. To say, hey, I’m not feeling up to it lately, feeling mentally low… But let’s touch base next week. This kind of messaging is a totally okay and normal thing to do for your friends and family. If you’re not familiar with vocalizing these kinds of things because you’re still struggling with coping, that’s ok. Keep working on it. It gets easier over time.
Recently, I talked about where I’m at mentally with a few teammates lately, and it’s totally awesome how understanding people are regarding it and how they shared how they went through it to with whatever previous injury they experienced. OMG, bonding with people is the best. Feeling in common helps the “Am-I-Crazy” question go far, far away to a distant, shitty planet produced by LucasFilms in the mid-2000s.
Step 4 – Your injury and your mental state is not WHO you are.
It does not define the person that you’re capable of being or a permanent state you will be in. Everything in life changes, everything has ebbs and flows. Things go up, they come down. I love this quote that I read a while ago, tough times don’t last, tough people do. When shit really hits the fan, I think of this affirmation. I also like to imagine myself as a rad, old person telling that back to me, and potentially laughing at my young/naive ways (see: older blog post about being the kind voice to yourself that is encouraging…for me, sometimes the voice is a future-me that believes that I’ll get where I need to go). Woo-hoo, getting an inside PEEK on how my brain works! We play roller derby, I’m assuming at least 70% of us are big-time weirdos and I whole-heartedly embrace this.
Step 5 – Reaching out in a way that’s comfortable for you
Take it easy. Take it step by step. Not good at asking for help? Anytime you’re about to say “no” to help, or make an excuse, ask yourself if this is the time you could possibly feel comfortable enough to be okay with it this one time? Maybe? Then take a risk and try it. It gets easier over time, it begins to feel better.
Remember, you don’t even have to mention where you’re at emotionally. Reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean you have to share your life-story. Do what feels comfortable and what feels right with the people around you who are nice enough to be supportive as you work through your injury.
Step 6 – Don’t be afraid of professional help
Don’t be afraid of professional help that YOU feel comfortable with and consent to. If things are really taking a turn for the worse and your holistic approaches are not doing it for you, remember, you are a warrior. You are strong and capable and there is no harm in going to a doctor and talking about a process to get yourself back on the right track. Whether that means counselling or taking medication or seeing a naturopath or whatever. You are a strong and beautiful person who is meant for great things. This is one of those terrific challenges that will build you into a future self that will look back at this situation with pride. Remember, it might hurt right now, but you can do this. I believe in you.
Tips for Helping!
Before I wrap this post up, I want to offer some tips for teammates or friends who want to try and help their injured/downed skater.
Thinking: “This is gonna suck…” | Photo by Bob Ayers
Here’s a roller derby visual for people to understand injuries and mental health and how to help:
It’s a scrimmage scenario. The jammer is the person dealing with depression due to an injury (or otherwise). They are on their own for a lap, trying to imagine the best way to get through what they’re dealing with. They are solo, they have isolated themselves but they know they have to prepare themselves because they are quickly approaching the pack. When they hit the pack, the blockers step in. The blockers can’t “SAVE” the jammer. They can’t solve the situation for the jammer. They can’t remove the opposing players, they can’t alter the environment. But they can help make it easier, they can soften the blow. They can create a situation where the pack is easier to get through. And for those blockers who were able to take a second to look and create an offensive move to screen one opposing player for her, it’s appreciated. The jammer is still doing most of the work. She has to dig in, believe in herself, and keep plowing through walls and big hits. She will get out of the pack. And maybe she’ll call the jam and things are all good for a while. Or she might have to run the gauntlet again. In which case, she’ll need to reach out to her teammates to help her get through the pack again.
There are lots of resources out there on how to help people going through issues. Yeah, some of those meme’s/blog posts I was semi-critical about further above. It gives some tips on how to approach it if you’re totally uncertain or inexperienced with knowing what to do when someone is feeling unwell. Everyone is different, just keep trying to be the best teammate or friend you can be. Learning how to best respond is a process, too!
To close, I just want to mention that I know that many people and women in roller derby who are challenged with various mental health issues whether they are injured or not. If you are reading this, to me, you are a hero when you step on that track. When you wipe those tears from the parking lot to the arena. When you shake it off so you can focus on your team. When you turn your sadness into a proficient competitiveness during practice. I am your biggest fan even on your hardest day because I know how difficult those days can be.
We have the opportunity to create an inclusive environment in roller derby in which we should aim to try to support each other. As a community, we can get better than this. We can build something that is rarely seen in the wider mainstream culture. That’s what makes roller derby so special to me. We are a unique island of how the world could be, and yeah, it’s not perfect and it’s got a suitcase of baggage and drama. But we can do this, we can make better environments. We are those people. This is an area in life where we are empowered and encouraged to be the change we want to see, so let’s step it up and reach out to each other and move forward together. Let’s learn from our past, from our mistakes, our short-comings and work towards change. Grab your teammate, grab yo’ friend.
We’ve got bigger fish to fry, a current hegemony to take down, a movement to keep pushing forward.
Keep healthy, keep well, keep track of yourself.
P.S. Thanks to those who messaged me after this post. Ironically, it made me feel super uncomfortable! Which is hilarious. I’m still glad I wrote the post though.
Take note, if you are in need of immediate help, please contact the following services:
Suicide Prevention: Find a Centre across Canada
Here to Help – Suicide Prevention
Trans help line across Canada: To reach the Trans Lifeline toll-free from anywhere in Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366.
Mental Help Line Canada
USA Suicide Prevention Line