Sunday, March 1, 2015

An appeal for advice about returning from an injury

Derby causes injuries, and it's not always an easy or realistic thing for someone to expect to come back to this sport without anxiety. This anonymous poster has reached out to me to ask the derby community for advice. I think we all could spend some time pondering injuries, because our chances of being injured in this sport are pretty high. Recently, I broke a bone in my hand during a bout, and even though it was a minor injury compared to some, I felt vulnerable and mortal. I debated whether my hand injury was a gentle nudge from fate that it was time to wrap up my skating career. I'm still skating, for now, but major injuries do throw us for a loop. If you have any advice or a story to share, please post in the comments below.

Advice for Post-Injury Anxiety- by Anonymous

I am interested in feedback from the derby community - maybe we have skaters with an advanced understanding of psychology that can offer more details on this subject. I’m willing to take all the input I can get. First a little background…

I have returned from derby after a 2nd lower leg injury. Both injuries were freak accidents, like most roller derby injuries. I’ve watched a few people come back from similar injuries. In some ways, the physical healing of a 2nd ankle was easier with experience. With each break, I went through two surgeries, managed to keep my job, did a full course of PT, worked hard and came back when I knew my body was as ready as it was going to ever be. I’ve found there’s a period of relearning to trust your body, and that can be very challenging. The first time I injured myself, I was fairly new to derby and the return was a long process but in a good way - I had a long time of scrimmaging and conditioning before I bouted. I was confidently charging at goals without a second thought, but bouted only a few times before injuring the opposite leg at practice when someone fell across my leg. I never considered for a second it would happen again, to me.

The mental process is throwing me for a loop this time around. I trust my body and skills much less, even with plenty of support, feedback, and some skills intact.  I am again cleared to bout in a comparatively short period of time, and the reality is I need to polish up on some basic skills, form, and endurance. This is manageable, but it’s hard to focus and gain momentum. I am so haunted. I’ve had a life time of athletic injuries and I’ve never felt so affected. I’ve usually been able to get on the floor and work it out, and was in the process of doing just that, finding some pleasure in feeling like I could improve with each and every practice. I witnessed someone get hurt recently and I have had a hard time shaking the memory. The thought of following in her footsteps and earning a third break creeps in to casual thoughts throughout my day - whether I’m standing, moving, or sitting. I look at my gym bag, skate bag, whatever, and my chest clenches up with anxiety, down a spiral of what-if scenarios.  Progress in skills can’t keep away fluke accidents, and suddenly reasoning also sounds like bargaining to allow myself to continue playing a sport I love when I can strike all this internal drama. Someone else getting hurt has no bearing on my own health and future. But it’s like your own worst nightmare staring in to your face - one I lived through twice before. Just writing this copy has been enough to make me feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest.

How do I get past this?

I am seeking therapy, but I’m also interested in the perspective from the derby community, because it’s hard to find a therapist that gets it. It’s not easy to talk to people, I don’t want to appear compromised to teammates, and we all have our own shit going on. But those closest to me do know I’ve got something going on, despite the game face. I’ve never been a fraidy cat, and that is disorienting in itself. But now everything feels fragile. I mean, going to the gym or stepping down off a curb can inspire doubt, and I’ve been upright and mobile for six months, fully functional. And maybe talking about this, asking some of the tough questions, will help someone else, too.

I have been pretty much terrified of life for the last month or so, with my own nightmares creeping in to my waking thoughts almost constantly. I've tried to skate it off. I've tried to hibernate it off. I don’t want to go through life like this much less skate like this - and it’s creeping in to other areas of life. I'm running out of ideas. So, derby people, what would you recommend? Can anyone relate?


  1. I've gone through a first traumatic injury, but I can imagine a second would be pretty devastating. I've taken up serious cross training in the last year and noticed a big difference in my all over confidence... It's worked for me, I suppose. I fear derby a lot less... But in some ways I don't love it as much as I used to though I still like it a whole bunch. Returning or not returning seem like such final decisions. It might be easier to pace yourself and make smaller goals, reassessing the big picture one goal at a time.

  2. I have gone through 2 ACL reconstructions during my derby career and it is rough. I mean, I expected to get injured some time but the same thing twice?!! I don't have any 'official' advice but can speak only from experience. Everything you do is terrifying, especially after a second injury that you never thought would happen, but move slowly and do what feels right. If that means you don't bout for a long long time that is ok. Take your time and build up confidence again because playing scared is scary for you and your teammates. Just keep moving forward and at some point you will have an "aha!" moment and realize that you are even more badass than before injury.

  3. not sure if you'd call it irony or what. but i broke my left ankle in Feb '12, After reading this on Sun I ended up breaking my right ankle. No one around me on the track, totally freak accident. so i'll be watching to see what kinds of responses pop up. sigh.

  4. I broke/dislocated my ankle on the weekend. It's my first big injury ever. I'm glad you have started a conversation about it as I don't know what to expect.