by Christie Mackie

Image credit: Christie Mackie

They say that when you’re depressed, you lose interest in many things that, once upon a time, made you feel alive. What they don’t tell you is that when you develop depression at a transitional stage in your life, the cognitive dissonance between this lack of interest and your desire to enjoy the offerings of your new situation can be overwhelming, at times even more exhausting than the initial disinterest itself. You find yourself wondering, “How could I ever lose interest when there are so many wonderful, stimulating – often over-stimulating – things around me?”

However, that’s what happened when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 17, mere weeks into university. By the time I graduated in 2016, I was burnt out, frustrated with the constant flux of university relationships, fearful of where I was heading. In the seven months following my graduation, I became increasingly disillusioned. I no longer felt like a whole person, because there was nothing left to ground me. I wouldn’t say I was inherently unhappy, but I did feel like a radically different person. I didn’t recognise myself.

In January 2017, serendipity led me to a new hobby that gave me that elusive drive to pick myself up – physically and emotionally. I started really enjoying something again for my own benefit and nobody else’s. In the past, I’ve mainly stuck with hobbies because I’m good at them, and validation of my prowess from other people has bolstered my enjoyment. My new hobby was demanding in all regards, and for weeks I was the worst person there. But it didn’t matter.

Roller derby and I found each other at precisely the right moment.

Despite the fact that I had first seen Whip It (the wildly inaccurate yet somehow life-affirming 2009 film starring Ellen Page) when I was 16 and had thought about roller derby on a regular basis since then, I never thought it was something I could do. Of course, I knew Edinburgh had a fantastic league, Auld Reekie Roller Girls, but did I have the money? No. Could I skate? No. Did I have the time? No. Did I expect that I would be the worst derby girl ever, given my non-confrontational nature and clumsiness? Absolutely.

I have never been “sporty”. Growing up, I was harassed endlessly by classmates and PE teachers alike, leading to disordered eating habits – I felt it was the only way I could have control over my body and get my own back on those who had hurt me without having to actively confront them. I went to the gym as much as possible throughout my last two years at university, on the advice that it would improve my mental health. I enjoyed it, but I also can’t help but wonder if I merely enjoyed it because it felt like I could bend my body to my will even when the same couldn’t be said for my mind. Perhaps I believed that if I took up less space, I’d be happier.

Roller derby is all about taking up space and reclaiming one’s own physicality. The premise of the the sport is reasonably straightforward: each team (usually consisting of 14 players) sends out five skaters at a time, four “blockers” and one “jammer.” The jammer must score as many points as possible by passing skaters from the other team. The blockers must help their own jammer get past, while building walls and hitting the other team’s jammer to prevent them from scoring. Although the premise of the sport is simple, it’s the complex tactics you learn, fancy footwork you perfect and friends you make along the way that make it so special.

As much as roller derby champions the idea of taking up space physically, it also promotes this idea in its ethos. Roller derby is an entirely grassroots sport, run by skaters, for skaters. The majority of roller derby leagues are composed of women, although transgender and gender-expansive skaters are welcome and celebrated. While I can only comment from the perspective of a cis woman, I, like many others, find this incredibly empowering – we are the people who grew up being picked last for team sports, who believed sport was not “for us”, who are fed up with the status quo of women being told they should exercise to get a “beach body” and not because, as I’ve learnt, exercise can provide an incredibly fun and unique bonding experience. We are the feminist revolution of sport, fighting against the stereotypes of what women should and shouldn’t do. We can be extremely aggressive on track, but it will always end in hugs, high fives and compliments showered upon one’s opponents.

Roller derby taught me to love my body for all it can do, not what it looks like. It taught me how to be bad at something and persevere because you know the end results – whether it’s learning how to take those baby strides without falling over, being able to turn around while moving, skating 25 or 27 laps of the track in five minutes, passing your minimum skills assessment, or eventually making it onto a team – will be worth it. It has brought some incredible people into my life, people that I know I can always depend on.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s restored my ability to be truly passionate about something. They say that you should never give up on something that you cannot go a day without thinking about, and if that is true, I see derby in my life for many years to come. As an anxiety sufferer, I overthink any new activity and thus rarely find myself trying unfamiliar things for fear of being judged. But sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes those people don’t judge you, and they become Your People.

Sometimes you just need to throw yourself in wheels first and roll with it.

Author Image: Christie Mackie

Christie Mackie

Christie is a chronic daydreamer and worrywart in her early 20s. When not busy with her fundraising day job, she plays roller derby, reads, bakes and tries to lift heavy weights. She can often be found musing about mental health and social justice issues.