A year ago – almost to the day – I posted on here to make some possibly convoluted parallels between my experiences as a PhD student, and those as Roller Derby Fresh Meat. Now, a whole 12 months down the line, still fighting the PhD drafting and editing process and still pushing myself to new and ever-expanding Roller Derby goals, I feel compelled to do the same again. Things are pretty similar to how they were in February 2014, and yet totally different. I’m still writing up, I’m still skating. But I’m also working (in a job I actually really enjoy) for two and a half days a week. And training for a half marathon. As well as feeling ever-increasing pressure to finish that thesis and spending a lot more time in on-skates training. And it turns out that when you keep adding things to your day-to-day routine, eventually you can’t really cope anymore. And you’re likely to have some kind of emotional outpouring.
STEP FORWARD WONDERFUL ROLLER DERBY SUPPORT NETWORK!
I’ve always been a crier. It’s my instinctive reaction when things are a bit much. It’s something I thought I’d grow out of, and never have done. As a result of a rather large meltdown in a training session, I forced myself to look at why this was happening. I listed all the things that were stressing me out, and – despite the fact it’s often frustrating – Roller Derby did not form the basis of a single one of those stressors. It’s simply that the intensity of practising full-contact sport can produce that physical outpouring of all of the other issues (I know! What a revelation!). I was pretty embarrassed, and then I remembered that actually, these people are so well-placed to offer support. We’re a team, after all. So I asked for help, and my oh my did I receive it.
From practising turning your beliefs about success from “I must achieve this” to “I would prefer to achieve this but I won’t give myself a hard time if that doesn’t happen”, to actively telling somebody when things have gone awry that you’re going to reset, to articulating to others what your stress responses are: these all seem like simple solutions but to have them explained to you by people who have all been there themselves – and just want to help – makes all the difference. In working on a PhD, where you spend most days not only working alone but also working on something that is just different to what any other PhD student is working on, it’s really easy to forget some of these things and instead beat yourself up about your perceived lack of progress, which brings me to perhaps the most important thing I have been reminded of this past week: “Look at the way you speak to yourself”, I was instructed. “Would you ever speak to a friend that way? Would you ever be ok with somebody else speaking to you that way?” There was a quick, clear answer: No. Because no human worth their salt goes around telling their mates they’re clearly failing, clearly not working hard enough, and should be ashamed of themselves. So as I went to kit up and (literally) get my skates on, I scrawled a note to self on my arm. YOU GOT THIS.
Pretty simple, yes. A cheap trick to convince myself of an ability to cope that I didn’t know if I had. But the thing is, it worked. We all need to give ourselves a break sometimes. We’re trying, and that’s the important thing. Still editing a thesis draft, maybe. Still trying to even conceive of the body movements that mean certain stops can be executed whilst on eight wheels, yep, that too. But we got this. And we’ll get there.
(With thanks, as ever to the excellent Tiger Bay Brawlers, and zero apologies for once again trying to turn lessons from Roller Derby into lessons for life. If you want to see the Brawlers in action, come along to Newport, South Wales on the 14th & 15th February & watch them play some of the best teams in the UK as part of Tier 1 of the British Championships.