I love roller derby.
Being part of a roller derby team was the first time as an adult that I had a solid group of female friends. I’d always felt like a bit of an odd duck; I never fit in with a “group.” I had girl friends in college, but I still gravitated toward friendships with men. Roller derby gave me a sisterhood.
I used to skate. A lot. I skated two or three days a week, and did off-skate workouts the other days. I had never been athletic. Roller derby gave me physical prowess, strength, and endurance. I felt proud of my body and what it could do for the first time in my life. Roller derby helped me love my body and exorcise some of my body image demons.
My confidence in life was always limited to certain environments and contexts. Roller derby helped me develop a confidence I could carry everywhere. I started learning to reject unhealthy messages, and to take care of me for the first time. I learned how to say Enough!
In roller derby, life was divided into two-minute jams. Life went the same direction. Only certain hits were permitted. In roller derby, life made sense.
Then migraines happened. And we lost our practice space. And I lost derby for a while.
It’s been a slow, tedious process as I learn to live with pain. I am relearning what I can eat, and in what quantities. I’m learning how much sleep I need on school nights, on weekends, and when I’m in recovery mode. I’m learning what kinds of activities are possible, particularly exercise.
In September, I met with my graduate advising committee to go over my degree plan. The meeting was on the fourth floor of the Education building; I decided to take the stairs. By the time I reached the fourth floor, I could feel my pulse in my scalp. My head pounded; I could feel the blood pressing against each blood vessel in my brain. That was the last time I exerted myself for four months.
I skated only three times in 2014. When school started in August, my migraines hit me in successive waves. I could not exercise. I became (even more) depressed. In October, I started a trigger-free diet because I was desperate to make the pain go away; even if I’d been able to physically exercise, I couldn’t shove enough calories into my facehole to support the exertion.
I missed skating. I missed my derby sisters. I missed feeling strong, accomplished, challenged, and sweaty. I missed hitting people. In a leap of faith, I signed up for skate camp. Skate camp is designed for newbie skaters, or for skaters who do not have experience with derby. My derby wife and I have derby experience, but we were very out of practice. We wanted to start over right; we signed up together.
As skate camp neared, I was excited: 2015 was going to be my comeback year.
As skate camp neared, I was nervous; nay, I was scared. As long as I didn’t try skating, I could always theoretically skate. If I tried and failed, it was one more thing the migraines took from me. This was my Schrodinger’s Cat…on wheels. Something I’ve learned in 12-Step is to ask for help, so I told my derby wife I was scared. She told me we would go as slow as we needed to, and that my legs would be fine. I love her.
The first day arrived. I ate a solid meal, picked up my bestie, and drove to the rink. My skills were intact along with my muscle memory. I was a little wobbly, but as soon as wheel touched track, I knew I was home. I skated the full two hours. I felt victorious.
Yesterday, I went to skate camp again. I skated for the first hour of drills. A piece of velcro in my helmet irritated my scalp. It felt huge. That should have been a sign; I obsessed over it the whole time I was skating. During our timed lap drill, I felt that familiar pulse-in-the-scalp sensation, accompanied by flashing lights. I coasted to a stop and sat against the wall.
As the time wound down, my derby wife met her goal for number of laps around the track. Yesterday was not my day; yesterday was for her. She had her own health journey a few years ago, and I can recognize how far she’s come. I’ll get there, just not today. Bouncing back isn’t turning out to be very bouncy. My brain and body have to relearn to communicate. I need to determine how far I can push myself, and when.
The track still feels like home. When I’m rolling, my legs remember. My hips remember. My brain wants to remember. I felt like Dory yesterday. My sister has called me Doris for years. Many years. When Finding Nemo came out, she thought Dory was the perfect addendum to the Doris nickname. It seems so much more fitting on migraine days. And yesterday, as I watched the fresh meat skate around the track as hard as they could for five minutes, while I tried to will my heart rate down and my head back to normal, I teared up as her words echoed in my ears:
I remember it, I do. It’s there, I know it is, because when I look at you, I can feel it. And-and I look at you, and I… I’m home.[close to tears] Please… I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.