Recently, I went away.
Deep into the backcountry.
And so this story starts:
A little while ago in a backcountry that was kind of far away...
There’s something about walking endlessly with nothing around you but rain, nature, and a rushing river that gives you a chance to think about things that you’ve actually been avoiding.
In this case, I’d been avoiding thinking about roller derby.
I’ve known for awhile that I wasn’t giving my team everything they deserved from me. Making practice requirements and volunteer hours felt so STRESSFUL. And then, when I couldn’t make them, it felt even worse.
I was suffering from what I call “derby guilt”.
Derby guilt is a funny thing. It doesn’t always mean you feel guilty about derby. Sometimes it means you feel guilty about all the things that you “can’t because you have derby”. But derby is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? Big enough that it becomes something we have to balance and plan things around.
And roller derby isn’t a one-person show, it’s a group of other individuals all relying on each other — relying on you — to skate, run a business, and thrive as a unit.
So despite being a hobby, roller derby becomes more. Something much more than a lot of us ever imagined. And when something means so much to you, it pulls at you.
Sometimes, the pull is good. The drive to succeed and build something amazing. The drive to empower others and be empowered. The drive to be aggressive and kind and supportive and powerful all in equal measure. Seeing yourself in a way that you never have before. Being a part of something that is larger than yourself.
Sometimes the pull isn’t good. You lose sleep. You miss out on bedtimes, parties, people outside of roller derby. Your work, school, friendships, and family suffer. You cry yourself to sleep at night because you had a terrible practice. You’re short and snappish because you haven’t slept or you’re in charge of some huge roller derby project that no one will commit to.
Derby is this expansive, wonderful thing. But sometimes it expands too much or too quickly and can kill everything else in your life that is also wonderful.
The feelings of guilt that derby engenders in us are usually irrational. There. I said it. This guilt is often unnecessary and actually pretty counter-productive. Guilt over something that you legitimately did wrong leads to empathy and growth. Guilt over obligations can cause the opposite.
For example, if I were to run over someone’s cat while I was texting while driving, there would be a pretty rational level of guilt associated with that. I was doing something that I know I shouldn’t do and the consequences were terrible. I could easily empathize with them and understand how they feel. It might even lead me to make a pledge to not use my phone while driving. The subsequent twinge of guilt I feel every time I reach for my phone and remember that smashed little cat helps keep me accountable.
Irrational guilt is more pervasive and less “healthy”. When I feel guilty for not making a practice or not being able to attend a fundraiser, that guilt doesn’t really go anywhere. I can make pledges to attend practices forever and ever from here on out, true. But the fact that I missed that one practice will eat away at me. It might even make me angry or resentful at the thing that dragged me away from practice OR towards the practices themselves.
The key to handling irrational guilt is self-forgiveness.
Easier said than done, though, right? The next time you’re feeling irrationally guilty — about anything — remind yourself of the following to help minimize your guilt:
- You didn’t know then what you know now. Even the best fresh meat program doesn’t adequately prepare someone for exactly how INTENSE roller derby can be. It takes up a lot of time. It takes up a lot of mental space. It uses a ton of physical energy. And it often molds you — forcefully sometimes — into someone different. You didn’t really know when you started exactly what you were getting into and it’s okay to remind yourself of that. Acknowledge that it’s a lot to handle. Then proceed from there.
- You’re doing your best with what you’ve got. You can’t control derby and you can’t control life. The decisions you make are the best decisions for you at the time. Be kind to yourself and assume that you had only good intentions when making the decision that you now feel guilty for. Yes, sometimes past you is a real jerk (Really?!? You couldn’t have changed the toilet paper roll?), but usually past you is just trying to do the right thing.
- Some things are beyond your control. It sucks that you can’t go to that away game because you have a previous engagement. There’s nothing you can do about it. You will survive. Your team will survive. Allow yourself the space to recognize that sometimes you legitimately CAN’T do everything
- You might have set your standards too high. This ties in with number one. Are you expecting more from yourself than you can actually give? Is it the “falling short” that causes you the most guilt? If you have a life outside of derby, you’ll have to negotiate trade-offs. Again, you probably can’t do everything.
- You have the right to look out for yourself. A burnt out, stressed out you is not beneficial for anyone. Making decisions and choices that benefit you actually benefits everyone. I’m not nudging you with my elbow and telling you to be selfish, but doing something for someone else to avoid feelings of guilt isn’t serving you in the long run. Or in the short run.
There’s nothing wrong with throwing yourself into derby. There’s nothing wrong with keeping derby at a distance. As long as you are intentionally making the choice, you have nothing to feel guilty over. (Even though you still might.)
When I returned from the backcountry, I sat down to write what might amount to the most difficult email that I’ve sent in a long time; an email to my Training Committee telling them that I was stepping back. I’ve officially begun a leave of absence that, if I take care of myself, will turn into another season next year.
And I feel guilty, of course.
But I also feel relieved.
Ultimately, that showed me that I *probably* made the right decision. But the guilt will still be there. For awhile at least.
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