For the past two weeks I have been roller skating on a bike path near my apartment. I have been skating off and on my whole life. At 7 I got my first pair of roller blades and protective gear. I remember skating up and down the red driveway of our little house in Oakland CA. I discovered quickly that falling wasn’t scary since the pads protected all the parts of me that could get hurt.
My dad is a master at jam skating. Jam skating is an African American skating style consisting of a combination of dance, gymnastics, and roller skating, performed on roller skates. Not to be confused with roller blades. My dad often showed off his graceful dance skills when we went to skating rinks and I loved watching and cheering for him. I was very proud and still am. When I was around 14 I asked him to teach me. He gave me an old pair of my mother’s skates, since she wasn’t using them, and he began to show me how to do crossovers (crossing one skate in front of the other) and basic steps in our garage in Sacramento. I skated round and round in little circles. My dad loved old school hip hop and r&b. He blasted it from the stereo and it echoed out into the cul-de-sac. When I was decent enough, we would do what we practiced at skating rinks in the center. I felt special, talented, and connected to my dad. I have not consistently practiced since then, but when I do get together with him to skate every now and then, I am able to keep up fairly well.
Today (July 25, 2020) I went to my usual skating path and while I was finding a parking spot, I saw a group of about five people with roller skates gathered at the start of the path. Major coincidence right?! I felt excitement, and also a pang of anxiety. I often get nervous about meeting new people but I am on a renewed path, challenging myself to do better. I don’t really want to go outside and skate around by myself. It seems nerve-racking and what if someone sees me eat asphalt? I have wanted to find other skaters to roll with for a long time, and didn’t know how to go about it. My logical self or higher self, depending on the day, understands that it is only in trying new things that I will see that there was really nothing to be worried about in the first place.
After I parked, I opened the driver side door, sitting sideways on the seat and put on my skates and protective gear. This time I also included a black bandana in my back pocket as a sort of “towel” for when my forehead started to leak sweat. I skated my way on over to the group taking deep breaths. I wanted to know who they were and what group this was, but felt that familiar fear clutching my gut. In these moments, my anxiety tells me things like “you’re awkward, you’ll embarrass yourself, you don’t belong here, you won’t be good enough to skate with them, they won’t accept you into the group.” I got to the corner they were gathered at and somewhat gracefully got up onto the curb. I looked at two women sitting on the only bench, raised my left arm, waved, and gave an enthusiastic “Hi!” They replied back cheerfully and introduced themselves. By the sound of their names, they played roller derby. That greeting alone signaled to me that I was okay and everyone was friendly. When a few more skaters arrived, bringing the total to around 9, they suggested everyone go around the circle and introduce themselves. This is good, I thought. After introductions they announced we would be mostly skating in the streets since they were smoother than the path with all the cracks, and we would need to look out for cars. Then away we went, I did it!
After a mile or so of pretty fast skating, I felt my lungs start to give out. I had asthma as a child and physical activity has repeatedly proven to be difficult due to my lungs having difficulty keeping up with the rest of my body. I drifted to the back of the group. I pondered what I should do if I needed to stop. Do I just stop on my own and bow out for the rest of the session? One of the women came to see how I was doing and I told her I needed a break. She said she would stop with me. I sat down on a curb and drank some water. The rest of the group came back and waited with me while I caught my breath. One woman whom I learned was the jam skater, took this time to show another person some dance moves. After a few minutes I felt a lot better and we continued. I was proud of myself for speaking up when I felt I couldn’t continue. Everyone was understanding, and it didn’t throw off the trip at all. This is an important occurrence for me to remember. With anxiety, it is easier to remember things that are hurtful. There were times in the past where I voiced my needs and was treated harshly. Now, I must remember that I am safe and I don’t have to hide parts of myself for other peoples’ benefit. My body is so used to jumping into fight or flight mode. If I challenge myself to do things that I feel anxious about and have a good experience, I can train my body to not anticipate danger or a threat.
I was able to keep up after my break, though I did feel like a baby skater compared to the other rollers who were spinning and skating backwards with the grace of a synchronized swim team. It didn’t matter though. I was out there skating with a group to music, and it was awesome. I am proud of myself for saying yes to a social opportunity. I am also inspired to work on my stamina and other skills like stopping (super important) and skating backwards.
Those who don’t know me well have no idea that I struggle with social anxiety. I hide it very well and do my best to push through the negative thoughts. I find that when I “fake it til I make it” things go really well. Now, my new goal is to become comfortable with meeting new people. I’d say I’m rolling in the right direction.