Why Roller Derby Is Exactly the Thing a Middle-Aged Working Mother Needs.


Let’s face it: 40 years old, married, with an elementary school kid and a full-time career. Not just a job, a career. What business does such a person have jacking around with a dangerous, highly aggressive, grueling sport like roller derby where the women are almost half my age? I know of at least one person in my life, the one who claimed to carry the “BFF” title, thinks I have no fucking business with it. So, this is kind of a vent session, because the more I think about her desertion, and forfeiture of our relationship (she just ignores me), I have come to realize that it isn’t me: She overtly disagrees with, and is possibly very jealous of, the choice and dedication I’ve made in roller derby as my hobby. Therefore, I thought I would just get it out, and set the record straight for anyone who does – or does not – know me and the struggles I’ve had.

So, here are the top reasons roller derby is “just the thing” a middle-aged working mother needs.

Identity. Ok, call it a midlife crisis or whatever – feel free to use that label if you dare – but a couple years ago I reached a point in my life where I asked my husband, and the universe, “Is this IT? Is there nothing for me to look forward to? Nothing for me to get excited about? I work, I come home, we take care of our daughter, then do it all over again? Who am I, really?” My only descriptors of me as an individual were his wife, her mother, and a marketing person. I spent every day waiting for something great, something better, to happen to me. I was uncomfortable in my own skin because I didn’t feel like I was unique in any way. I sucked at making shit, I can’t draw or play an instrument, I don’t sing, and writing wasn’t something that really revved my engine. I’m pretty good at photography, but again, not something I craved to do all the time. And I hate running. When I heard about roller derby and saw it for the first time, it’s like I woke the fuck up. Whoa! I skated as a kid, so it wasn’t a new skill for me. And I still had my skates. Finally! Something new to try, something I knew I could do, something I lived for as a kid – skating. Now, I’m still all those things, wife, mother, career woman, but now add to that roller girl. Er, woman. And athlete.

Fitness and health. Mentally and physically. I never imagined that anyone, much less me, would refer to me as an athlete. I’ve been in the best shape of my life these past two years and it’s GREAT. I feel so much better about myself, and what I look like, and how I feel, that I actually WANT to do more and I want to fuel my machine with good food. I was on a path of drinking too much, smoking too much, eating like crap, over weight (by my standards – 160 lbs on a 5’9″ frame) and sedentary, in constant pain, and falling into a depressed state that was painfully obvious. Nothing made me happy. I didn’t even look forward to vacations, or Christmas, or anything. Many thought my marriage wouldn’t last another year. Roller derby saved my life, and my marriage.

Self confidence. Roller derby is not just physically taxing. It’s also mentally taxing – and I have had anxiety attacks during practice. But for every anxiety attack and every doubt I have of myself, my resolve gets stronger. It’s made me a better employee, a better mother, a better wife, a better team mate. Too bad that BFF isn’t around to share in my successes. I’m pretty fucking awesome now.

Setting an example of determination, and never giving up. Four. Four times I’ve gone through the “fresh meat” probationary training period for an elite banked track league. I’m within three weeks of the final evaluation I’ll do a fourth time. The fact that I’m toughing it out a fourth time is setting an example for my very impressionable 7-year-old daughter: never give up, keep practicing, and it takes hard work to achieve your dreams and goals. Plus, the admiration and support of my husband is priceless. He’s my biggest fan, and is there setting me straight when the brain boogers try to tear me down. He’s my eternal rock, and my eternal mental coach.

A community of people who won’t give up on me. This – the anthropology of it all – is the crowning jewel. People I barely know care about what I’m doing, what happens to me, and are there to congratulate and celebrate my successes, and pick me back up when I’m down. You know, kind of like a BFF, but I have 30 of them. And they make me smile Every. Single. Day.

So there you go. Those are the most important reasons why, as a middle-aged working mother, I have all the fucking business in the world to think I can do roller derby. In this community, I’m ageless. And I belong.


Why Breaking My Ankle Was Possibly a Good Thing


I broke my fucking ankle last week.  When it happened, I didn’t think I’d actually broken it but went to the doc-in-the-box just to be sure.  Yep, broken.  Luckily, it wasn’t a “bad break,” specifically a “distal fibular fracture.”  Which means, no surgery, and it should heal up just fine.  I basically pouted as they wheeled me out to my car from the skating center, more pissed off than in pain because I knew that derby would have to wait for a couple months.  I’ve never broken a bone before, and I thought I would be devastated when it happened.  Surprisingly, it’s turned out to be quite an eye-opener for me.  So, I thought I would share the top 10 positive things this experience has done for me.
 
10. Overcoming a fear. Next to childbirth, a broken bone was near the top of my Most Feared List.  It may have been the bone I broke, but it wasn’t near as excruciating as I assumed it would be. Yes, it hurts, but way less than childbirth but more than a derby bruise.  It’s been a bigger pain in the ass than a pain in the ankle.
 
9. Patience. Well, I can’t get from point A to point B as fast as I could, and I can’t do as much, like clean up the house, as quickly and easily as I could. Thus, it has taught me patience through lack of haste and being unable to do much about the house or laundry. I have to be OK with it just being a disaster for now. Nobody ever went to hell or death row for stuff being out of place or a little dirty for a little while.  I’m being patient and remaining objective that there’s only so much I can do, and not letting the fact that things aren’t perfect get to me and make me bitchy.  I’m sure it will rear its ugly head at some point, but for now, I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff. 
 
8. Appreciate my upper body strength. If I hadn’t already been fairly strong in my upper body, getting up and down the stairs and toting my body weight around would have been much worse than the broken bone itself.
 
7.  Pack Mule-ery.  Figuring out how to carry shit upstairs, downstairs, to meetings, etc., has never been more mentally challenging. I have discovered I can carry my cell phone, notebook, laptop, food, purse, backpack, kid’s shoes, stuffed animals, and a fountain drink up the stairs in one haul on crutches. Barefoot. On ice.
 
6.  Down time. I don’t think I realized it, but I needed some derby-down-time.  I had been physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing myself for want of official derbydom for 2 1/2 years that I didn’t realize that I needed to take a break to appreciate it again. I’m looking forward to getting back on my skates in a few weeks in the beautiful late spring/early summer weather.
 
5. Making the right decision.  I was facing a decision whether to try out for the banked track league again, a fourth time, or wait it out and stick with flat a while until the fall banked track tryout.  I was going to decide, literally, the day before. Well, fate made the decision for me, and I was surprised when I found myself totally OK with that.  A year ago I would have bottomed out emotionally because this broken ankle (I actually felt I wouldn’t be able to take it if I injured something and couldn’t continue, like I’ve witnessed so many before me), because I was so anxious to “make it” into the league.  However, I have found that I feel renewed and quite ok that the decision was taken out of my control. I believe everything happens for a reason. For example, I’ve heard things are getting more dangerous in the league, with more major injuries than ever before. So maybe the class they take this weekend will change that, and fall will be a better experience for me. We shall see. 
 
4. Love for skating.  I want to skate really, really bad, so I miss it. A lot – and it’s only been a week. So this experience has made me thankful that I have a physically taxing activity that I love so much, that keeps me in shape, and relieves my stress all at the same time. Therefore, I have a lot of awesome shit to look forward to in a couple months.  Although a little scared, I can’t wait for the day I get the all-clear and can put on my Riedell’s again.
 
3.  My skates need adjusting.  I have mentioned to people several times that I was falling backward – a lot – on these new skates. And they would tell me I’ve just got to get used to them. Mmmkay. Skated on them almost 3 months, and I’m lucky I haven’t broken my tailbone. This time, maybe somebody will heppa sista out and make adjustments that will give me better stability – like, move the plates back some, or get a bigger plate altogether.
 
2.  Love for my team and my league. I miss the shit out of my start-up, mash-up team, and my compadres in the recreational league B group. That community is so powerful for someone like me, who can be abrasive and sarcastic and aggressive and friendly all at the same time. And they love me for it, and accept me for me. I don’t have to prove anything, just be myself, share, and learn.  I’m getting so much more out than in putting in, it seems.  There are no egos, no judgement.  And that is priceless.
 
1. Love of the game.  I think we all start this journey because we love skating, and love the idea of community, and love the idea of letting it all hang out. I think very few actually come to this sport for an honest-to-goodness love of the game itself. I’m no different – skate fast, turn left, hit a bitch, don’t fall down. Right? No – I have discovered that you have to genuinely love the game itself, the idea of getting someone cleverly through a pack of bodies, and scoring points, and being a winner. I wasn’t in love with the game when i started; hell, I didn’t even know how to play it. Liking the game is fundamental to your personal success as a derby player. I mean, if you don’t like the game, why play?  I should say breaking my ankle didn’t make me love the game, directly, but having the downtime and not being able to do it has flared a desire to play that I was missing before. More so, what’s made me love the game, too, has been the experience of joining the flat track recreational league, and playing with people who want to teach it. Had I been chosen for the banked league, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. And had I not had the opportunity, I wouldn’t have broken my ankle the way I did – an experience that’s already taught me 10 valuable lessons in and of itself.  
 

So there it is, folks.  What a difference a few months can make.  I look back on where I was when I started this blog, and the healing I’ve experienced, emotionally, is incredible.  I don’t even know who that person was and, now, I think even with the broken ankle, I’m happier than I have been in many, many years, and I couldn’t be more thankful. 


Executive decisions.


I’ve been on the shit end of executive changes twice in my career. Both times, there’s been a vacancy in the VP of marketing spot when I’ve taken a director role. One was a startup, one was an established company that, unbeknownst to me at the time, has a reputation for a heavily revolving door and suffers a 38% turnover rate.

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The first time it happened was at a startup. I was hired to begin marketing programs to drive demand. I brought on a web designer/programmer, and did the paid search, display, and email campaigns myself. I hired a salesforce.com consultant to train an admin on use, reporting, set up, and workflows. I worked very closely with the inside sales managers to give them what they needed, and garnered feedback on lead quality to ensure that the programs we were running were developing quality leads. When I started, I had one lead development associate who qualified the inbound leads from the web and events. Eight months later when the changes to executive leadership were made and the layoff happened (a company of 36 laid off 7, someone in every department), I had driven enough leads to warrant four lead development associates.

I was hired by the founder and CEO, but as the venture company handed over series B funding, the company’s pockets were burning and the investors wanted them to bring in an expensive new CEO, relegating the founder to a “president” status. As was the “new CEO”‘s MO, he decided to hire an an expensive new VP of marketing he relo’d from Boston. So, when the expensive new salaries came into play, I guess Mr. Big Britches VP figured he could do my job himself and “eliminated” my position. After what I had heard about the company blowing through their funding, I can’t say I was all that surprised by the layoff. Additionally, I had come to my own conclusion that the product was more smoke-and-mirrors than tangible, proven results. I had already begun looking around a bit, but had hoped I could do so casually through the end of the year. Not so. It still pulled the rug from beneath me, and then they insult me by telling me I had only one more paycheck coming – so just two weeks “severance.” It was my first time to be in such a situation, and in 2008 at that.

The second time it happened, in 2011, it had everything to do with a “personality conflict” and the tendency of this new guy to clean house (like the other guy) and backfill with “his own people.” He fired my counterpart in marketing communications about 2-3 weeks in, which put me on red alert. Not surprisingly, he backfilled her with someone who had worked with him previously – the proverbial “writing on the wall,” that was. But, because I had a team that really liked me, it took him longer to decide to File-13 me, too. It was really an amicable parting – although I was upset, they did give me severance pay through the end of the year. Granted, it was only 6 weeks, but better than the two weeks I’d gotten before. I found out recently that he did backfill me with, shocker, someone who worked with him before.

I see this as a way for someone who looks good on paper to cover up the fact that he fundamentally sucks at his job. If he can’t lead “strangers” to greatness, he has to cover up that lack of development skill by bringing in trusted compadres, no? Additionally, I knew there was a personality conflict – he accused me of “railroading” people into my ideas. I called this “grasping for straws,” because most of the time I acquiesced to others’ ideas knowing eventually I would have to whip out “told you so” and try mine. I was there to get shit done, not have a kumbaya or coddle or fluff people. I couldn’t make him happy, no matter what. I would deliver what he asked for, but he would tell me it wasn’t. Yet, he also couldn’t tell me why it wasn’t what he wanted. His description of what he wanted matched exactly what I had delivered. All in all, I couldn’t do anything right, and we had a serious communication problem. Once I was out the door, he had the audacity to leave my network on LinkedIn. That about sums it up for the type of person he is.

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I have met very few executives who haven’t lost what I call “The People Chip.” You know, that part of your brain that remembers what it’s like to be in the trenches. I ask time and time again how these assholes get into leadership positions – I mean, were they assholes on their way to the top or did the Asshole Chip consume the People Chip when they got there? And then I remember – they likely got to the top because they made no friends on the way there. Me, I like to sleep at night, so I don’t shit on people, steal their ideas and take credit for them, step on them, or throw them under the bus. If that’s what it takes to become a VP, well, then, I guess I’m just not VP material. I’ve met very few executives who are skilled at gaining your trust and respect, because they look out for you, mentor you, go to bat for you. A leader is only a leader because their people believe in them and, thus, follow. Developing people is a lost art, I think primarily because many professionals in the work place these days wasted time sitting in a classroom a few extra years instead of getting real work experience. Then, they arrive on the scene with an MBA and think it’s spelled G-O-D. Most MBAs I’ve met, or worked with (primarily men), are pompous, condescending ass-whipes who wouldn’t know real leadership if it was smeared on their top lip. They’re so oblivious to what real leadership is that they don’t realize an employee’s failure is a direct reflection on him as a manager. Leadership roles are handed to them because they have a couple extra letters after their names, not because they’ve laboriously earned their way, with respect, to the top. I had a boss once who was an MBA, supposedly in marketing, and I recall having to explain to him, on three separate occasions, what an “impression” was with regard to online advertising. The innerwebs had only been around, oh, I don’t know – 20 YEARS.

These experiences have defined who I am, but, most importantly, have taught me a valuable lesson when considering a new job: be very cautious when taking a job where the head of the department for which you’re being considered is vacant. Otherwise, you just might find yourself one of the 12.2 Americans on the government’s payroll when they hire their new savior – likely an MBA who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you, nor your talent.


I’m Bringing a Stick to this Shit Pot of Gun Control.


gun controlI have a gun. Two, in fact. I carry my Smith & Wesson .38 Special in the glove compartment of my car. One night, I was glad it was there, when I was flanked in a parking lot by two individuals I didn’t know who we’re trying to make chit chat and get me to go out with them. I didn’t have to make a move for it, but I was fairly confident in politely brushing them off, knowing it was within reach if they became threatening.

I also have a Beretta .20 gauge shotgun I use for dove hunting. In our house, there are exactly 15 total firearms, most are hunting rifles and shotguns. My 6-year-old even has her own pink Daisy Ryder BB gun, and she knows it can hurt someone or some thing. We have taught her about gun safety, and she’s witnessed what a gun can do when she went hunting with my husband over thanksgiving. We are responsible gun owners. The guns come out for hunting, and are locked up in a cabinet when we’re not, and they are locked up with empty chambers, and bullets locked in a separate compartment that takes a different key. The keys are in a box on top of the 8-ft tall cabinet.

In light of the tragedy, the horrible, sad, frightening, shocking, heartbreaking tragedy in Connecticut, the discussion, of course, on Facebook and in the media, turns to gun control. Should there be more, stricter, laws? Should guns be banned altogether? What about rifle sports, like hunting, target, and skeet shooting? Get rid of those, too? Use bow and arrow to keep the wildlife population under control? It’s a controversial topic that gets revisited again and again when some nut goes off his rocker. There are passionate and logical arguments on both sides. It comes up in discussions about politics, safety, terrorism, and laws. It’s definitely an issue, and I don’t have the answers. What I do know is that banning the sale of firearms will not solve the problem. Perhaps even making it harder to buy guns wont solve the problem, either.

Unfortunately, the only people who heed and obey the laws are the good, honest people. People like me and my husband. It doesn’t matter how much waiting time, background checks, security measures, and licensing are put into place – there’s no way to predict if someone is going to snap. And when someone snaps, then they have the will – and therefore, will find a way. PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE GATES OF QUALIFICATION TO OBTAIN A FIREARM. There is a black market, criminal organizations, and just plain stupid-ass individuals willing to sell their guns on an open market to a stranger. It’s too easy to go OUTSIDE of the process to get one. When will people wake the fuck up about that fact??

Do you really think that banning the sale of firearms is the answer to the problem? If you do, you’re an idiot. If you think that the black market wouldn’t explode, then you need to pull your head out of your ass and consider the drug problem in this country. The same exact thing will happen. The black market will explode, and the crazies and criminals are going to have their guns, regardless – and law abiding citizens will have nothing but Cutco and Louisville Slugger to protect ourselves. Like the burglar who hurt himself breaking into someone’s house and sued the homeowner – it’ll be the person defending themselves getting the assault or manslaughter charge, not the low-life piece of shit that got himself shot for being a low life piece of shit. Take away guns, and we are all sitting ducks because the VIOLENT with have them, No. Matter. What.

I saw a Facebook post from some guy that said, “Your gun makes me unsafe …. Level the playing field to no guns.” Really, dick wrinkle? You think it would “level the playing field”? Get a grip. It’ll level the playing field, all right – leveled with the grave sites of people and families who couldn’t protect themselves from an attacker.  So, please, do tell me more about how well criminals obey laws.

I tell you one thing that will reduce the general availability weapons, and that’s laws against the personal sale of firearms. The government should enact a law that says if a weapon was used in a crime, and the perpetrator was not the registered owner, then the onus goes back to whomever was in the records – if there was one – and they go to jail not just for selling a firearm illegally, but potentially charged as an accessory to the crime. Force people who have guns to go to a legitimate dealer to sell it so there’s a proper transfer of the weapon following the laws of licensing. Its called CYA. It still won’t stop the people who appear normal and just snap, but it will make it harder to get a gun if you pre-calculate your crime. Maybe there is already such a law in place, I don’t know – I am not intimate with gun control laws. I do know there is a web site called Gun Trader, but I don’t know anything about their procedures.

I have to wonder if conceal and carry was more widely practiced, how much less would there be armed robbery and mass shootings? If the chances of the perpetrator getting shot by a potential victim were higher, maybe it would make someone think twice about their violent actions. Even still, I suppose in something like this, the perpetrator expects to die. Would it have deterred that douche bag from shooting innocent children at Sandy Hook if it were widely known that all the teachers were armed? It’s certainly an absurd thought, arming our teachers, but probably still would *not* have deterred said douche bag because clearly he wanted, planned, and expected to die.

Is the answer to place armed guards at every school? First, it was metal detectors and searches of personal belongings. Now, it’s down to one way in, one way out, monitors, cameras, IDs, and name tags. My daughter’s elementary school follows the same procedures, and it seems secure. But not to the extent Sandy Hook was. You can still walk in to the front door of the school, and sometimes no one is sitting there to intercept you, and you have to wait for someone. I think I’m no longer comfortable with that “open front door” policy, and I wonder if they will be making changes in light of Newtown’s events.

Like cancer, school shootings in present day seem much more prevalent because of the mass media and readily available information on demand. School shootings in the U.S. date back as far as the 1700s, as reported by Wikipedia in this comprehensive list:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States

sandy-hook-victimsMany of those shootings listed were in the days where every person actually CARRIED a gun, and religion was more prevalent not just in schools, but in every fabric of society. So you can’t blame it on “lack of God in our schools,” either.  Still, it doesn’t make the events of recent years any less disturbing. Part of the problem is the glorification of such criminals in the media. A post from Morgan Freeman on Facebook said [in the mind of the disturbed] it’s better to go out a famed monster than it is a sad nobody. Sensationalist media have made these monsters household names, while the name of not one victim is remembered beyond the first weeks of the event.

No, the issues of what’s happening, and has happened, do not rest solely on the shoulders of gun control. It’s all wrapped into a perfect storm of gun control, sensationalist media, and the stigma and expense of mental health care in this country. If you’ve never sought the help of a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist, the MAJORITY of them do not take health insurance. At $100+ per hour, who can afford an hour or two hours per week? The many people who need the treatment are not financially in a place to get it – or, they are in denial that they have problems and don’t seek help or reject it when it’s offered, or encouraged.

This problem runs deep and wide, and it’s up to us and our country’s leaders to aggressively seek out a solution among all those who are responsible – health care, media, and gun laws. Don’t take the easy way out and blame it on gun control – it’s not the only issue at play here.

My heart breaks for the community of Newtown, and those parents.  Maybe this is the tipping point to make positive change to address all the issues, not just the one.


All I Wanted for Christmas was to be a Rollergirl.


It’s been almost two years since I started this journey with roller derby. I began in February 2011 with roller derby academy classes on the banked track. In April, I began skating outdoors in my neighborhood on the smooth asphalt, sometimes twice a day, and sometimes up to 9 miles at a time. My neighborhood streets are not flat, I’m either going up a hill or coming down a hill. I changed my eating habits, and my body agreed with my regimen and rewarded me with muscle I’ve never seen and a dress size I haven’t seen since high school. I tried out and made “fresh meat” training in June that year, but was cut because my basic skills still weren’t up to par and I had injured my knee. I let myself heal before getting back on my skates, and started the academy classes and skating outdoors again. I waited 7 months for the next tryout, and made fresh meat training for the second time – and made it through to the final assessment. I was cut in June because I didn’t show enough “aggression” or understanding of the game. [sigh]

I tried out for the third time in September, and made fresh meat training for the third time – through which I made it all the way to the final assessment again. I was cut for the third time on Saturday night, because the “intensity” wasn’t there in the game. But in my skills assessment, they said, I looked amazing. I’ll admit that this time through training was rough. I am and have been battling significant depression and anxiety, and it sucked away my motivation and my passion for the sport and skating in general. I almost quit training at least three times, because I thought I couldn’t do it and even had myself believing I didn’t like it any more. I know now it was the depression, the brain boogers haunting me. My health also came into question, as the last couple weeks I came down with an upper respiratory infection, plus when I was having one of those “FTS” (Fuck This Shit) nights, I would have a mini panic attack that impacted my breathing enough that someone suggested a rescue inhaler for exercise-induced asthma. But I know it was anxiety from not performing my best, not being driven to perform my best, compounded with the disappointment that I no longer thought it was something I wanted – which made me sad. Ever tried to keep from crying when you’ve just sprinted for a solid minute on a banked surface? Guess what, breathing becomes a problem. One night at practice, I left the track and went to the bathroom to cry like a fucking baby, because I was so disheartened by how I was feeling. Would it ever go away? Was I fooling myself? At 39, was I the stupidest bitch on the face of the planet to think I could actually do this? Should I give it up and return to just being happy with re-organizing the house and obsessive cleaning as a hobby? It made me even sadder to think about that.

Although I knew my heart wasn’t quite in it, and my head definitely wasn’t, it still wrecked my heart when they delivered the news. They told me I just need that extra time, that more work, and asked me if I was going to come back. “You said in the interview you would come back. So, will you?” I told her to ask me again in a couple days. It’s easy to say you’ll come back when you still have high hopes that you just laid your dick out there and did the best you’ve ever done – its entirely another thing when you’ve just been slapped with rejection for the third time.

The good news is that the doctor changed my medication and every day seems a little lighter, the cloud seems to be lifting and I want to put on my skates again and hit the street. Just when the cold snap arrives (thanks, Mother Nature!). The other good news is that I do have options, as that league is not the only one here. I could join the flat track recreational league that has varying levels of skill, and can gradually assess up and feel like I’m accomplishing something instead of struggling with this all-or-nothing deal with the banked track league. Plus, I’ll get scrimmage time, so maybe that will make me “more intense.”

All in all, I’m still not sure about trying out for the banked track league again. Tryouts are just in a couple months, and final evaluations would fall mid-season – which means they take even fewer girls and my chances would be even slimmer.

In reality, I don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to hang up my skates and walk away, because I’ve never been a quitter. They tell me it’s about the journey, not the destination, but I think the Griswolds could only take the family truckster to a closed park so many times before they say “Fuck you, Wally World, we’re going to Disneyland.”

I guess the hardest part is thinking about going through the process, AGAIN, fearing that, oh yes, they could reject me AGAIN. How many times should I let them break my heart? As one of my coaches, who skated in the roller derby World Cup games, said, “Intensity can be coached, desire cannot.” She believes in me; the question is, can I muster enough courage to believe in myself?


Passion is a virtue.


Do you know what it means to have an identity? For the longest time, I didn’t have one. I mean, I did, but it wasn’t unique. Everybody has a job that defines them. Everybody has a home that defines them. Everybody has a spouse or sig-o that defines them. Everyone who has a child, being that child’s parent is part of their identity. “Oh she’s so-and-so’s Mom,” or, “He’s so-and-so’s husband,” or “She’s a reporter for The Chronicle.”

Largely, pieces of our identity, by default, form out of our obligations of being a responsible, functioning adult member of society. But, for me, I realized it wasn’t enough a couple years ago. I asked Hubs, “Is this it? Is this all there is? Work your ass off and raise a child?” The primary catalyst for my frustration was that I had nothing to look forward to. My idea of “getting away,” or having a break, came in the form of Hubs taking pipsqueak out of town to leave me alone in my own house – with no obligations or responsibility for anyone or anything else but moi. But that didn’t happen very often, maybe once every 6 months. It allowed me to do things around here like clean out closets and re-organize. Those activities were freeing in many ways.

Still, I really had nothing to look forward to, to get excited about. No passion. My husband looks forward to hunting season with the giddiness of a 6-year-old waiting for Christmas. In a lot of ways, I was jealous of that. He had something to look forward to and had toys to go with it. Me, not so much. I tried photography, and for a while was into it – and I’m fairly good at it as far as amateur goes. But did it give me butterflies in my stomach when I thought about doing it? No. Did it get me out of bed each morning, excited that the day would bring me an opportunity to pick up my camera? Nah, not really.

Enter roller derby.

I roller skated as a kid, I mean, ALL the time. If I missed a Friday night at the skating rink it was a catastrophe. I taught myself to skate on the front porch of our long ranch-style house out in the country with some strap-on skates Santa Claus brought me. I think I was around 6 or 7 years old. When i was in junior high, Santa brought me some badass Riedell 265s with Sure-Grip Invader plates, Hartford bearings, and Zinger wheels. I went every Friday and sometimes Saturday nights until I was probably about 15. Then, high school, boys, football games and the like had me not going so much and eventually, it was months then years before I would skate again. But, I took my skates everywhere I moved, never getting rid of them. I couldn’t, never even considered it. I even took them to college with me, and they’ve been to every home I’ve lived in. They’re almost 30 years old.

I watched banked-track roller derby on TV in the 70s, and a lot of times it was the only time my brother and I could agree on what to watch. A couple years ago, when “Whip It” came out, it made me vaguely aware that roller derby was making a comeback – but I never thought much about it or sought to see the film. Then, in 2010, a vendor at work on a Friday afternoon said to me, “We’re going to the roller derby Saturday, come go with us!” And I was all, “Whatchoo talkin’ bout, Willis? Roller DERBY?” And he said, “YEAH! Haven’t you seen ‘Whip It’? It’s about the league in Austin!” I was all, no, I have not seen “Whip It.” But it planted a seed. I didn’t think anything else about it until when, a few weeks later, I was doing laundry and flipped on the TV for some noise. Flipping through the movie channels, I spotted “Whip It,” and thought, “Huh. Ok, let’s see what this cheeseball movie is about.” Well – I wound up watching the whole thing, completely captivated. When it was over, I had an epiphany – I CAN DO THAT SHIT. So I pulled my skates out of my closet and inspected them. The wheels left a lot to be desired, but otherwise they were in good shape. I found out later, ironically, that the type of skates I have we’re made in the 70s specifically for banked track roller derby.

I did some research, discovered that there was, in fact, two leagues in Austin: one banked track and one flat track. Then I looked up skating rinks and found there’s an adults-only night on Tuesday nights. So I announced to my husband that I was going to start roller skating again, and I wanted to go for a couple hours on Tuesday nights. He thought it was a great idea. So I took my skates that first Tuesday night, and was astonished at how uncomfortable I was on them. As a kid, I was the badass zipping through the crowd at top speed. I felt like I was starting all over again. But, I knew it would get better, and sent my skates for a tune up. I was back the following Tuesday night, and went almost every Tuesday night during the last quarter of 2010. My husband even gave me new wheels and bearings for Christmas. By this time, I’d told him what I was thinking about doing. He didn’t bat an eye, I think he was just happy I was exploring a hobby.

We went to our first banked track roller derby bout in February 2011, the season opener. I have to say I hadn’t smiled or had so much fun in my entire life. My husband and I were immediate fans – hooked from the start. I went to get a beer and saw a table set up that said, “LEARN TO PLAY ROLLER DERBY.” So I strolled on over, casually looked at some of the info. Then I asked the woman behind the counter, “Am I too old to do this?” I was 38. I told her I had just recently started skating again, and wasn’t sure I was ready to take classes or anything like that. First, she told me that you’re never too old – she was drafted to her first roller derby team when she was 41. Then, she told me, “If you are ever going to consider trying out, you’ll want as much time on that banked track as possible.” Boy, was she right.

What roller derby has done has been to give me an identity outside of those normal, every day responsibilities that make up who we are. It has given me something to work toward, something to look forward to, something to be excited about. It has made me an easier person to live with, and a better role model for my daughter – I think it’s important for her to see an example of passion and working toward a goal. She knows I’m trying to get on a team, and I know she’s proud of me because she tells her friends and school mates that “Mommy roller skates a lot.”

For some people, their kids or their job is their passion, and they look forward to it like I do roller derby. For me, though, I needed something extra – an outlet, that “thing.” A hobby. I never in a million years thought it would be something that is such hard fucking work. But it is, and I love it.

I think it’s crucial for everyone to have an identity through an outlet of some kind – outside of those things expected. I am frustrated by people who have “joint” Facebook pages with their spouse. Is it a trust issue, or do you really define yourself solely by your relationship? It’ll suck if you split up, because then, who will you be?

I know who I am. And I like myself much better now that I have my “thing.” And I guarantee you that my husband will agree that I’m much easier to live with. If you don’t have your “thing” that tickles your tummy and warms your toes by the very idea of doing it, I urge you to explore and find it. Think back to what you loved as a kid – it may still be there. In the end, you’ll be amazed at how much better a spouse, a worker, and a parent you’ll be.

Have your “thing?” What is it? I would love to hear about it. Follow me on Twitter at @auntievenom and tweet out your passion. Tag me and include #whatsyourpassion in your tweet, or post it on my Facebook page.

Go forth. Find your passion.

20121103-093907.jpg


What I Learned from Living Hell.


You know what sucks the prolapse end of a dead buzzard? Depression. That’s what. It sucks the ever-living life out of you. It sucks out your motivation. It sucks out your passion. It sucks out your desire to be responsible. It sucks out your desire for survival. It sucks out your happy.

I found myself wondering, “What happened to Me?” I mean, the Me I used to be, the one who made people laugh. The one who relished life. The one who worked her ass off and was great at what she did. The one who knew who she was and where she was going. The one who knew what she wanted and needed out of life. I get very upset when I think about what that was like and realize that it’s gone.

I have good days and bad days. When I have a bad day (by bad, I mean restless, yet unable or unwilling to do anything – including the things I love like writing and skating – other than watch ID and take a leak), I don’t know why. About a month ago, my psychiatrist put me on a medication because she diagnosed me with panic disorder with depression and anxiety. The first few days sucked terribly. I cant even put into words how horrible I felt. I didn’t want to do shit but lay in bed. Doing anything at all was a struggle. Just the thought of doing dishes was exasperating and daunting. Then things lightened up a little. It’s like the medication started kicking in, and I was able to focus. I had a little energy, I had things I needed to get done. I was on a mission to get organized and get back on track. Then, a few weeks ago, I got food poisoning and was sick for two days. In addition to feeling physically crummy, the emotional “blues” came back. It wasn’t as severe as when I started the meds, but enough that I just felt … Blah. Gray. My heart wasn’t even in skating, or practice, although at practice I still give it 110%, and I feel a little better afterward. I just wanted to sulk in the bed.

The source of the depression, anxiety, and panic was that miserable job and that more miserable client. The whole experience fucked me up, bad. I couldn’t do anything right – never had the right answers, never processed the question properly, couldn’t retain information, couldn’t learn, wasn’t inquisitive enough, and then, when I was, the response was, “You should know that.” So eventually I was afraid to open my mouth about anything. And it didn’t occur to me until a couple days ago that I was actually a victim of workplace bullying. I was in a perpetual state of anxiety for fear of failure and losing my job. My self confidence went through the floor, and my brain just stopped working. Period. I couldn’t remember from day-to-day what it was I was supposed to be doing when I walked back into The Pit of Hell. And the whole experience has impacted who I know I am, and what I know I’m good at.

Yesterday, I saw a page on Facebook called “Stop Workplace Bullying,” so I looked it up. It never occurred to me that workplace bullying actually happens and, in fact, it may have happened to me. Not blatantly, but psychologically, and it was coming from two people. One person who was supposed to be transitioning duties to me and helping me learn one of her roles wasn’t, and was withholding vital information – as well as taking every chance in a public forum to discredit me. And then the other person constantly told me I wasn’t “getting it,” no matter how hard I was trying. Yet, he did it under the guise of trying to “help,” but applying so much pressure, unrealistic deadlines, and belittling my opinions because they didn’t match his. He even implied at one time that buying a car wasn’t the best idea.

Wikipedia says that workplace bullying is a problem that has invaded the life of 37% adult Americans without invitation. In its more severe forms, it triggers a host of stress-related health complications — hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety, to post-traumatic-stress disorder. The person’s immediate job and career are often disrupted.

I was subjected to three of the following types of workplace bullying, and portions of all five:
Threat to professional status – including belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures
Threat to personal standing – including undermining personal integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes about target, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation
Isolation – including preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding
Overwork – including undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions.
Destabilisation – including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target.

I began having panic attacks, and every Sunday at about 4 p.m., I would have a crying fit at home. I felt guilty if I didn’t work at least 50 hours a week, even though I had a preschooler and a husband who travels for his job 30% of the time. I felt obligated to check and respond to email 24/7, because it was expected. I stopped going to doctor’s appointments or the chiropractor for fear of being scrutinized about not being there enough. One day, my daughter was going to have her dance recital at 3 in the afternoon, and when I told him I needed to leave early, the response was, “That’s fine, but they really should have those things at night so the parents can go.”

Finally, I had had enough and realized I could no longer go on like this. It SO wasn’t worth it. So I told them that I didn’t think it was a fit for me 6 months into it. Despite the horrible, agonizing experience, and the mental healing process I’m having to now go through, I did, in fact, learn something. First, I learned what my limits are. Second, I learned how to spot the type of people with those psychopathic personality traits so I can avoid them. But most importantly I learned that nothing, especially a job, is worth the kind of fear and mental angst I was going through. I discovered that I am willing to sell everything we have and live in an apartment in order to be happy. I just want to put a roof over my head, eat, take care of my daughter, play roller derby, and pay the bills – and be happy doing it. And we may well have to sell everything and start all over – people do it every day, and we too will survive. Finally, as it turns out, the reality of being unemployed is a million times better than that fucking place, and that fucking person, and all that fucking anxiety. I’m learning every day to let it go. So should you.

If you believe you are a victim of workplace bullying, you should go to your HR department immediately. For more information on workplace bullying, what it is, and resources to help, start with Wikipedia: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_bullying


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