by Mel @troubleon8wheels
This is a very visceral blog post, and has brought back feelings and memories that I have long buried. I believe in working through difficult times though - the right thing to do is very rarely the easy thing to do. I've chosen to write this blog post as part of #worldmentalhealthawarenessday2020 however, I the writing of this was emotionally tiring, and I couldn't bring myself to publish this yesterday.
So you started to roller skate. At some point, you will no doubt have been tempted by the lure of the skate park. The footage of women shredding with ease in quad roller skates in sunny climates, or blazing down a street throwing the most incredible jumps on the way is inspirational! I too was hooked by this. I mean, these women were adults right? I learned to skate as an adult... how hard can it be? It turns out that riding the skate park at any kind of angle that defies gravity is very very hard! Early skate park adventures in late 2014 were great fun. We were all learning together. Falling together. Supporting each other. The way it should be right?
This is me from 2015. I don't have those Lolly skates anymore, and they still look pretty fresh there! I don't remember what I was doing here - I'm going to guess it was turning around, going from the hair whip.
At some point I recall IGORS (International Game of Roller Skate), which demanded more time than I had. When others were able to practise tricks in the skate park, I wasn't. I had a primary aged child and demanding full time job, so trips to the skate park were weekly at best. My friends started to move on skill wise, and as they did, I felt less and less able to join in. We were all there to practise, to learn, to have a great time. I kept telling myself that I was having a great time, yet somehow decided that putting myself in the role of chief videographer was best. I laid on the deck, crouched in the bowl and at the bottom of ramps to get those precious pieces of footage for the 'gram. Just to be clear, no-one asked me to do this. It was my own lack of confidence that made me feel inadequate and small next to the increasing skill of my friends. I could see the rate that they were progressing was much faster than me - they had supportive partners or fewer work requirements - therefore more time to skate. I simply took myself out of the running instead of continuing to try. I had fallen into the comparison trap and viewed footage of myself harshly. That stall wasn't good enough because I didn't actually hang on the coping for enough time. That jump was well inside the transition - how would I ever air out? May as well give up now. Even though I was saying the right words, my mind was holding me back. Fear is a powerful emotion. Jealousy is even worse.
I bought new equipment. Moxi trick wheels to be exact. They were the hardest wheel I owned at that time, and I eagerly put them on. I was like Bambi all over again and any shred of confidence I had was instantly dashed. Within half an hour I had given up on myself, and switched back to my old familiar wheels and resorted to do the same familiar things. "I can't afford to break myself," I said inside my head. "I need to work, be a mum, be a wife. I can't do those things if I am broken."
For almost two years I stagnated at the skate park. I didn't want to go, jealous of my friends hard earned skills. Of course, they had all put the enormous time into practising, while I made excuses for not showing up. Still on the comparison game. I became a single mum, which made not showing up all the easier, as now I had even more to lose. "If I break myself now, and I can't work, who will look after us?" On the rare occasions I managed to get to the skate park; if someone offered to video me, I was quick to refuse. My mind went blank - I didn't have a 'best trick' only a series of really terrible ones (in my opinion) that were easy to learn. If my protests were ignored, I was disappointed with how it looked. I became my own worst enemy, every self -fulfilling prophecy being played out.
Were my skate park days just over? More than once I went to the park, sat in my car outside and shook with anxiety. More than once, I forced myself to go inside, decide it was too busy and then left in tears.
I told myself I was a dancer. That skate parks were just not for me. It's amazing that other women feel able to skate in these places, and I'm pleased for them, but I don't like heights, it's all too big and scary. I genuinely don't like heights by the way, and would rather crawl around at the top of big ramps than stand up. Actually, it was my mind being big and scary and giving up.
I think it was the passing of time. Maybe it was a life coach who came to my workplace and told us all to be more grateful for what we have. To enjoy the small moments. I am a really happy person the vast majority of the time, it is just this one place that I feel so alien that I couldn't make peace with. Whatever it was, something in my head settled, and I had that epiphany moment of being my own worst enemy at the skate park.
One day, I put a set of Discoblox on, and took myself to the skate park on my own. I went and drilled a bunch of basic skills on the smallest ramp possible. Then took the exact same skill set to the next size ramp. I continued working my way up the ramp sizes. I was prepared to fall. I was also prepared to take it easy. I was prepared to see myself moving much slower than it felt.
I felt like I was starting from -10 on the scale of progression, but of course, that wasn't true. I had music in my ears and actually had a bloody lovely time. Somehow, I dropped in almost every ramp in the park that day, my heart beating so hard! I put it down to the Discoblox giving me the way to cope (#copingmechanism) and I continued to climb back up and drop back in until my heart slowed. Finally, free of my mind, I didn't actually care how the footage looked. It isn't about how it looks - the question we need to ask ourselves is "How does skating make you feel?"
If you feel free, sassy, invincible then you should skate. If you feel bigger than you did before, more confident and proud of what you have achieved, then skating is for you! I have told people many, many times to "only compare your progress with your own." Humans are naturally comparative though, so this is a very easy thing to say and incredibly difficult to do. I have been wrestling with finding the words for this blog post for a while - the Gangsters know I have been talking about writing a series about mental wellness for a quite a few months now!
I try to live my skate life as I live the rest of my life - as honestly as possible. You won't find a cheeky camera angle on my personal feed anymore, because certain camera angles make tricks look much better than they actually are. I think this is important because:
*people do still compare - we can't help it!
*if I was to meet you for the first time and skate in person with you, I don't really want you to be underwhelmed with me or feel that I have somehow deceived you into thinking I can do much bigger tricks than I actually can.
On the recent trip to Cardiff and Cornwall with Gangster Jess Glithero, to meet up with other members of our skate team, I was more than happy to have a go. I don't like dropping in, because the whoosh of speed is something I can't yet control, though I still do smaller ones. Happy to push myself slightly beyond my limit, but not too far, because I still can't afford to break myself. And do you know what? I had the best time! I did still spend a bunch of time behind the camera, videoing Jess, but I also asked her to video my runs. I don't care about the angle, I was just proud of myself for making it into a skate park I didn't know and having a damn go. I showed up for myself. Watching my video vs Jess skating, I am slower of course, but I now tell myself this is what that feeling looks like. At the moment I'm not comfortable to go faster in places I don't know well. It takes time to feel at home and know the transitions. And that is fine.
What are your thoughts about the two photos below? They are taken from slightly different angles, the one on the left is at a lower angle, which can give the impression the trick is higher than it actually is.
I know my skill level is way lower than it could be, but so what? I lost so much time inside my own head worrying about... I don't even know what now. I haven't put the time into skate park practise, I don't have a background in gymnastics, and I'm prepared to continue to make slow and steady progress. Actually that's just progress in roller skate skills full stop. It's always slow if you have a life like mine. If you work, if you're a parent, if roller skating is a hobby for you, I got your back.
Roller Girl Gang represents the people who skate for a hobby. It is your mindful headspace where you feel free, a chance to escape from the world for half an hour, an hour or more. Our gangsters regularly worry that they're not skating enough, they're not representing Roller Girl Gang adequately on social media. I want people to have a healthy relationship with social media, where it serves to connect you, teach and support you. I want people to feel happy when they skate and that is all. I'm not worried about that, as they are real humans, with real lives, supporting their communities in so many different ways. They are an amazing bunch of humans, and I'm delighted that they choose to continue to represent Roller Girl Gang proudly.
I'm on a mission to convert the world to a life on 8 wheels, because it gave me confidence that I didn't know I had. That confidence that you can do something hard, spills over into your regular life for sure. The knock on effects are multiple too - a more active lifestyle is healthier and your body releases more serotonin. You meet amazing people and travel to wild and wonderful places!
Let's just bring this back to ourselves though. I also believe we shouldn't be asking "Is this good?" and seeing validation from others. It's a subtle difference to seek clarification in technique, but to ask "Is this good?" suggests there is a binary - a yes or no only. Either yes, you are good at that trick, or no, it's not good enough yet. Roller skating is a journey - you are somewhere along a continuum of skill-based learning. At what point will you decide that it is 'good' enough? In my experience, setting little goals is fabulous and can be very motivating, I'm just asking you not to pin your happiness on it. You don't need to be able to do a fakie stall in order to be happy. That may be your next goal, but enjoy what you can do now too. You can be happy with what you have while still striving for more.
Be careful what you consume on social media. People track their own progress in different ways and what works for one person won't necessarily work for someone else. If you realise that you've fallen into the comparison trap, just unfollow or mute their feed. Better still, take a #digitaldetox and spend time away from the 'gram doing something for yourself. What can you do that will raise your serotonin levels and make you feel good? Looking good and feeling good are not necessarily the same thing!
In conclusion, I believe that "How does it look?" is not the question we should be asking. Let's ask instead, "How did that feel?"
Thank you for reading. x