Skaters Speak: The Mentally Ill Elephant in the Room

by Justice of the Peach

Happy October Friends! Isn’t the change in weather gorgeous? The air, so invigorating with the chill. The crenellated orange globes of pumpkins appearing in the bins outside of the grocery, rousing your inner child. The faint, wistful scent of woodsmoke perfuming the air from another building in Denver that has inexplicably exploded. It is indeed a magical time of year that raises many feelings, most of them good ones.

October is a time where people begin to withdraw into themselves, to nest and reflect on the year before the tumult of the holiday season proper begins. It can also be a time of difficulty for those with depression, with the days getting shorter and darker. October is Mental Illness Awareness Month and RMRG would like to take a few moments out of your regularly scheduled programing to discuss.

The term “mentally ill,” is the hugely broad stroke term that people use to paint and describe everything from depression, to schizophrenia, to narcissistic personalities and the rest of the 200 other classified mental disorders out there. Despite the rampant prevalence of mental illness in the world (for example an estimated 275 million people globally are diagnosed with anxiety disorders) there is an overwhelming stigma attached to it, so that it’s generally swept under the rug, dismissed or ignored. This stigma isn’t a new thing. Historically humans don’t have a great track record regarding the mentally ill and differently abled. We are, however, getting a little better these days, and the trick seems to be like with most subjects shrouded in mystery, misunderstanding, and shame, to talk about it.

In this month’s Skaters Speak, we are fortunate to have someone who is willing to do just that, our own Barking Spider offers her story of what mental illness looked like for her. Because there are so many forms of mental illness, we’re only going to touch on one in this article, Spider’s fight with depression:

“At 32 I experienced a deep despair that lasted a good year. I was hit with several life shifting moments within a very short time and these experiences were enough to send me into a spin. I took some pills, but the pills were several years old and didn’t produce the desired effect of death. A mere 4 months later, I moved to Denver; a plan that was hatched before my suicide attempt, [because] I knew changing my environment would help me grow. My parents questioned if I wanted to move so far away, from Philly to Denver and under my new-found brave façade, deep down my depression still scared me. I didn’t want to come to a moment where I felt so low again and be alone in Denver, but I took a chance.”

Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness out there (300 million globally) along with substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Well! The population at large must be in full possession of the facts if it’s so rampant, right? Despite depression touching so many, it’s alarming that people’s “facts” about depression are things like: individuals become depressed only after a negative event, they’re just blue and it’s not a big deal, and that they can “snap out of it,” if they wanted to.

The truth is, depression (and indeed mental illness itself) has more moving parts than an octopus playing a pinball machine. It looks different for everyone. It can be genetic or situational, it can start in high school for some and not kick in until the nursing home for others. The severity runs the gamut from mildly debilitating to individuals trying to take their life. The number of treatments are as varied as the symptoms with medicine, psychotherapy, and environment chance just being a few. Spider’s solution in the form of an environment and lifestyle change worked for her:
“In Denver, I was determined to fight through depression by exploring new activities; hoping those activities would make my brain produce happy chemicals. Roller derby came into my life a couple years later.”

As for ‘snapping out of it,’:
“I won’t describe some sunshine and bunny tails moment where I became instantly happy ’cause shiz that doesn’t happen. Learning to skate while hitting people is a challenge, and that challenge sometimes creates a rollercoaster of emotions based on failure and success. Heck, most of the time I am not interested in playing because failure depression factors, but I know when at practice with my friends I am the happiest. I’m surrounded by good people and knowing that keeps me happy.”

Discussion is vital in demystifying and normalizing mental illness. If you feel like you’re exhibiting symptoms of mental illness- not just depression – or that someone else is, stick your hand up! It’s ok, we promise you’re not alone (look back at those statistics if you don’t believe it!). Mental illness is a part of life, not the incomprehensible phenomenon it’s generally regarded as. It’s our treatment and outlook on it that determines whether we succumb to those negative connotations, either as people who view the disease on the outside, or as those who suffer themselves. Spider closes by saying:

“I rarely go back to that time (the attempt) in my life. I usually think about how far I’ve come. Now I take a daily emotion pulse. [I ask myself] “If I do this, will it make me happy today?” I’ll get ready, but still take my emotional pulse before leaving to do any activity. In derby, I believe taking your emotional pulse is an important part of skating on a team. Take time for you, and if you feel that time is better spent lifting weights/walking/doing dishes/petting your kitty’s fuzzy lips then do it. But, come back to the people who care about you. Choose not to be alone.”

Further Reading: No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers
Speaking of Suicide