Seven Tips from a Roller Derby Introvert Who Lost Their Way

After nearly two-and-a-half years of participation in roller derby, I have recently come face to face with a very interesting, and rather overwhelming, self-realization: I have lost sight of myself. Despite achieving many personal goals within the sport (of which I am very proud of), developing some truly amazing friendships and forging great memories, over the past year I have felt increasingly irritable, stressed, anxious, depressed, exhausted and downright bitter and angry at times about the sport and my interactions with peers.

For the longest time I thought it was just a funk. I mean, what happened to the energetic, sociable and outgoing Kevlar of 2012 and 2013? The Kevlar who was at almost every practice, co-coaching his local derby team, reffing whenever he could, traveling and teaching and presenting on the sport. The Kevlar that was traveling to officiate a derby bout, double-header, scrimmage or tournament 3 weekends of the month. The Kevlar who was staying at after parties until the bartender turned on the lights and told everyone to go home. The Kevlar who sometimes didn’t even stop there, hopping into a car full of acquaintances to go to the after-after party in some stranger’s apartment. What happened to the Kevlar who was bouncing around the room, chatting with people, hitting the dance floor even though it made him extremely uncomfortable and constantly pushed himself to get out there as much as he could?

Then it hit me… I’m not Kevlar, I’m Kevin, and since becoming involved with roller derby I have exhausted so much energy on trying to be Kevlar that it finally caught up to me. I see now just how crucial a mistake that was. Rather than empowering myself through roller derby, allowing myself to see the strengths and potential I’ve always had and fostering healthy personal growth I instead focused on being this larger than life version of myself.

Have you ever seen the movie Youth in Revolt? The one where Michael Cera decides to be cooler so he creates this chain-smoking, ‘tough guy’ alter ego who sports a ridiculous mustache and aviators? Yeah, that’s what I was basically doing and it didn’t work out all that well for me either.


1. You don’t need to completely reinvent yourself in order to enjoy roller derby.

I‘m absolutely more introverted than I am extroverted, sometimes too much so. Here’s the thing though, almost nobody is completely one way or the other, unless you’re Amou Haji. So, while your personality may lean more toward one type, you more than likely have traits from the other side of the spectrum as well. Me being an introvert doesn’t mean that I don’t like to talk, that I dislike people, that I hate leaving my apartment, that sunlight burns me or that I don’t know how to relax and have fun. It just means that I strongly value personal space, being alone with my thoughts and that I’m most confident and comfortable in low stress social situations at someone’s house rather than at a crazy, loud, hot, packed club or bar.

Unfortunately, once I started to get really involved with roller derby I got it into my head that if I didn’t force myself to be this picture perfect “extrovert” I wouldn’t fit in, be successful or be able to enjoy the sport as much as I could. I constantly pushed myself to do more, be better and get out there as much as humanly possible. I went to every possible practice, went to as many league events as I possibly could, stayed up all night partying after game days and I packed my monthly schedule with bouts, scrimmages and tournaments. My derby name, Kevlar, became more than just letters on the back of my referee jersey. It became this new persona that I thought was a more outgoing and charismatic person who would accomplish more than I ever have before. People liked Kevlar! He was knowledgeable, skilled, passionate, confident, social and always willing to lend a hand or participate. I felt great! I felt needed, wanted and respected for the first time ever.

What I didn’t understand until recently is that I never needed to be somebody different, to be ‘Kevlar’, for people to like me, to make more friends or to be more successful. Kevlar was actually overkill. He was thick-headed and defensive, looking at everybody as if they were malicious beings and he arrogantly took on way more than he could handle.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, ease up! You don’t need to ‘fix’ your personality or completely change how you look, behave or think in order to be successful or have fun in this sport. Just be yourself and trust in your growing abilities. You’d be surprised at just how much you can accomplish.


2. Develop and pull essential skills from your extroverted side.

For some introverts, being attentive isn’t so much a problem as contributing is. Speaking up, putting yourself out there confidently and working in close physical and mental proximity with others can be extremely overwhelming. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in that. I’m the exact same way. However, playing, officiating or coaching roller derby requires all of those things! As such, you’re going to have to challenge your comfort zone in order to develop a strong voice, have confidence in your developing skills, take the lead every now and then and get up close and personal with those around you.

Of course, this is easier said than done, which is why I had to reach into my big bag of social skills to pull out specific communication techniques for specific situations. Everybody does it and you don’t need to drastically alter who you in order to reach your goals, you just need to tweak your interaction techniques a bit. Take job interviews for example. As an introvert with an anxiety condition I find job interviews to be high stress and I can easily put myself into a panicked state if I don’t ground myself. If I REALLY need or want the position, what do I do? I prepare for it. The day before the interview I practice making eye contact with myself in the mirror as I talk, I practice introducing myself professionally, I carefully pick out what I’m going to wear, I practice standing straight and confidently and when it is interview time I draw from all of those communication skills. I walk in tall, extend my hand, shake firmly, smile, speak clearly and concisely and for the next hour or so I’m more sure of myself than Spider-Man is.

Whether you’re skating, refereeing, serving as a non-skating official or announcing, do the exact same thing on game day! Treat is like a job interview. In the days leading up to a bout practice calm breathing and grounding yourself in the moment (recommend both of these things prior to every jam), look into the mirror and repeat self-affirmations and don’t worry if it all feels alien to you at first. What you’re essentially doing is reconditioning yourself to replace unhealthy, self-defeating and negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, empowering and positive ones. This will take time, but believe me when I say that it is well worth the effort!


3. Never underestimate the importance of recharging yourself.

I need space and time to recharge. Quiet time to read some comics, play video games for a few hours, watch a few episodes of Doctor Who or to work on creative writing projects that I’m excited about. Whatever it is that you do to relax, unwind and feel refreshed, make time for it.

Recharging

Power level: OPTIMAL.

The mistake I was making early on with roller derby is that I was not allowing myself that incredibly important alone time to recharge. I was always committing myself to more and more things, even if I deep down knew it was too much. When I wasn’t out I was going home and watching roller derby, talking about roller derby, reading about roller derby, writing about roller derby, roller derby, roller derby, roller derby… Whatever you did to recharge before roller derby, keep doing it. Read a book, have an Attack on Titan (seriously, watch this show) marathon, go for a quiet drive or bike ride, whatever. Do it and do it often!


4. Call Yourself Out on Over Thinking and Over Analyzing

I have a very bad habit of making a mountain out of a mole hill. I over think and over analyze conversations and experiences until I exhaust myself on all accounts. For example, last September I was head reffing a pick up scrimmage in Prince Albert and a challenge on points was called. I heard both sides of the argument and for whatever reason, it made sense in my head to take back some points awarded. In my mind they had been awarded in error. Afterward, a skater and fellow official, who I admire and respect immensely, approached me and respectfully, calmly explained that taking away points awarded is not a common practice. Once a Jammer earns a point that point can never be taken away. Oops, take a deep breath, learn from it and move on, no biggie, right? Nope. I over analyzed that entire situation like no other. I was embarrassed, mad at myself, obsessed over all of the things I could have done different and how because of me the outcome of that scrimmage had been negatively affected.

Social situations pretty much went the same way. Spilling a drink, giving a dumb answer to a question, being asked something I didn’t know the answer to, thinking of how to respond to a text messages, etc. I obsessively over analyzed everything from my performance to how I said hello to somebody I recognized at a bout.

I’m happy to report that I’ve REALLY curbed this unhealthy behavior over the past six months by doing one simple thing: calling myself out on it. As soon as I start to obsess on a situation or conversation that has already happened I say to myself “Kevin, you’re doing it again. It’s done and it’s not as bad as it seems.” Then I focus on something else. I’ll hop on youtube to watch movie trailers, I’ll pop on the blog to work on content that is sitting in my drafts folder or I’ll get up and go for a walk with my fiance. Another great exercise is to pay attention to your self- talk and practice realistic thinking.


5. DO NOT use alcohol as a confidence booster at after parties or social gatherings.

To combat my anxiety, discomfort and stress at after-parties I drank, lots. While it did lead to me being less inhibited, it also became a problem. I’ve thrown up in derby folk’s cars, I passed out in a tree house in Brandon, MB, and I spent a few hours of my 26th birthday drunk in a car trunk. I even once blacked out in a hotel in Swift Current after a bout and a league mate literally had to break into my room to wake me up. Sure, people had a good laugh and told stories of how hilarious it was but the reality of the situation is that I had developed unhealthy drinking habits.

All behold my shame!

Behold my shame!

If you are feeling really anxious, stressed or uncomfortable at an after-party, put the drinks down! Alcohol is NOT liquid courage. Sit at a table with some friends, see if you can gather a few people to go somewhere more mellow or just head home after a few hours. Booze is liquid regret when used irresponsibly.


6. Stop using “social awkwardness” as a crutch.

I’ve tripped over nothing, I’ve said hi to somebody I thought was waving at me when they really weren’t, I’ve gone for a fist-bump when somebody was looking for a handshake, I look like Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black in most photos taken of me, I’ve told many jokes that nobody laughed at and on countless occasions I’ve walked around with mustard stains on my shirt or pants. We’re all weird, we’re all awkward, each of us has our own quirks that boggle the minds of others as we all fumble through our lives.

Even the most confident looking people don’t really have it all figured out either. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over her dress at the Academy Awards, Ashley Simpson did an extremely awkward jig on stage after her infamous lip synching mistake on SNL, Justin Bieber threw up on stage during a concert in Pheonix, Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and countless celebrities have had pictures published of themselves showing nip slips and accidental panty shots as they climb out of a limousine. Hell, whether you want to believe it or not, at one point or another even the magnificently sexy Ryan Gosling has likely picked his nose, farted louder than he had hoped he would in the presence of others, coughed while drinking, stumbled over his words in a conversation, missed landing a high-five, sneezed so hard he sent a booger flying at somebody, had milk come out of his nose and said many things that resulted in him over analyzing it afterward.

Photo courtesy of Mike Squire.

Photo courtesy of Mike Squire.

Life in general is weird, awkward and challenging. If you’re shy, cool, own it and be aware of your personal needs for that. But don’t miss out on valuable experiences and possibilities because you’re convinced that you’re going to make a fool of yourself. That’s just your fear making excuses and protecting your ego. Nobody wants to look bad, embarrass themselves or be disliked, but it happens. To all of us. Sometimes daily!


7. Having a few true, close friendships is more valuable than having hundreds of acquaintances.

When I got involved with roller derby my friends list on Facebook exploded. Hundreds of derby folk were adding me and I was adding hundreds of derby folks. For a while, it was really cool. My news feed was the most active it had ever been and I was really starting to feel as though I was an important part of a big community. I mean, I had 300+ friends! Or so I thought.

There came a day not too long ago when I found myself staring at that list of 300-and-something “friends” and I realized that I did not really know who the vast majority of these people were. In fact, I could not even recall precisely when or where I met most of them and I hadn’t actually even held a full conversation with many of them since we became Facebook friends. Yet here I was sharing the intimate details of my life, goals, passions and opinions with these acquaintances while, in turn, being bombarded by their love lives, drinking habits, body modifications, political/social opinions and the occasionally half-naked selfie taken in front of a bathroom mirror to show off their new muscle definition from derby and Crossfit.

Honestly, I actually began to feel increasingly stressed, anxious and irritable about it all. Social media was becoming cumbersome, especially in combination with all the time spent at practice, volunteering, traveling, teaching and officiating. I stopped responding to messages, texts, emails and phone calls, feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated and exhausted.

The reality is that in my excitement about becoming involved in roller derby, and meeting new people, I had rapidly traded my few close friendships with people I truly connected with for a few hundred acquaintances.

Foster and value your true friendships! Making new friends is great but seek out true connections with people, avoid superficial bonds, and don’t push away your amazing friends from before roller derby in the process.


Kevlar 2Written by Kevin ‘Kevlar’ Dennison

Always learning things the hard way…

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4 comments

  1. As someone with major social anxiety, I love this post. I’m trying to stop thinking everyone hates me at the moment, and more than that I’m trying not to care. Its not easy, as you’re aware! I understand the whole trying to be someone you’re not thing. Getting out of that situation is really good.

    1. Thank you for commenting, CharleneObscene!

      It most certainly is not easy and I don’t think anyone truly, ever stops caring about how other perceive them BUT I try not to obsess of it lol. I’m really glad you enjoyed the piece!

      Kevlar

  2. Hey Kevlar – thanks SO MUCH for writing this post. My most recent post is about getting crushed by the roller derby blues, and several of my friends commented about the challenges that introverts face in roller derby. I’m introverted, have anxiety/depression (but am being treated for it, so that’s progress…), and went into derby knowing that it would be a huge challenge for me. The mental/emotional challenges are way bigger than the physical ones (although I’m pretty sure they impact the physical aspects of derby, too). I’m at the point where I’m considering throwing in the sweat rag, but I’ve not made any decisions yet. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks – I can relate to all of the above (hand waving all of it). It’s hard to get out of our own heads sometimes, especially when we introverts are used to spending so much time there! 😉

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