Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
If not for roller skating, I probably could have spent the entirety of this pandemic alone indoors, letting my depression take the reins.
As a deeply introverted person who’s often exhausted by going out, California’s stay-at-home order wasn’t too bad at first. I was content nesting in fleece blankets, working from home in loungewear, and catching up with friends over FaceTime. But when the two weeks stretched into two months and health experts predicted that the pandemic will drag on well into next year, the novelty of social distancing wore off and an overwhelming sense of dread settled into its place.
I picked up skating when I moved to Los Angeles about three years ago. A friend invited me to Rainbow Night, a weekly LGBTQ party that a local roller rink has been hosting for decades. I fell in love. Rainbow Nights feature a specific time slot for more accomplished skaters to skate backwards, practice spins, and dazzle onlookers with their glamorous tricks. Enamored by the vintage disco ball and determined to join the glittering couples waltzing through the rink, I bought a cheap pair of skates online and made it my mission to learn to skate.
Life got in the way, and the skates remained unworn for the better part of two years. They sat on the floor of my closet, so every time I opened my door to root for a purse or a pair of shoes, I’d bump into them. I’d ruminate over using them for the weekend, but would inevitably forget that they existed until the next time I needed an item from the depths of my closet. Aside from a “sexy skate” class I took earlier this year with actress and skater Ana Coto, who’s now a viral TikTok star, the skates I so enthusiastically bought during my first months in my new home were unused.
There were plenty of times when I had a free afternoon that I could have spent learning to skate, but I put it off because I hate doing activities that I’m not already good at. I rarely bake, because I don’t have the patience for waiting for dough to rise. I nearly flunked math in high school because once I stopped recognizing the foreign symbols on worksheets, I gave up on even trying to understand it. When I was eight-years-old, I was enrolled in youth soccer and after attending one practice, decided that I’d spend the rest of the season “playing defense” by sitting in a far corner of a field and reading a book I snuck under my jersey.
Skating, unsurprisingly, is not easy. Though I could skate forward with some semblance of stability, doing anything else felt unnatural. And because I couldn’t pick it up off the bat, I gave up before really trying. During my class with Ana, I remember attempting a spin, crashing hard, and preemptively deciding that I simply wasn’t meant to spin on skates. Ana, who was far more patient with me than I deserved, assured me that my body was just fighting it because my muscles weren’t used to moving like that yet. After the class she made me promise her that I’d keep practicing, but as soon as I got home the skates were tossed back onto my closet floor.
Then quarantine began, and I started feeling restless.
Then quarantine began, and I started feeling restless. My rock climbing gym, which I had visited almost four times a week, closed before California’s March stay-at-home order started in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. Daily walks were eerie reminders of the city in standstill, and my once-cozy apartment felt stifling. Even hiking felt risky as Angelenos flocked to the few trails that stayed open. I thrive on movement, and no amount of YouTube yoga classes were enough to keep me from sinking into depression.
About a month into the stay-at-home order started, my then-boyfriend mentioned that there was an empty, accessible rooftop on the parking garage next to our favorite breakfast spot. With some convincing, I agreed to try skating again. We snuck onto the rooftop with our skates, some speakers, and a cooler of spiked seltzers.
I sucked. The uneven asphalt was no comparison to the roller rink’s professionally maintained mahogany floors. I felt awkward and clunky and all around self-conscious. I took a few bad falls that would leave me sore for days. In spite of my newly bruised knees, I felt good for the first time in weeks. Leaving the confines of my apartment yanked me out of the depressive pit I had been sinking into.
Obviously, a single day in the sun isn’t enough to cure depression entirely. I was diagnosed with major depression and general anxiety disorder in college, but didn’t begin treating it with medication until this year. Taking anti-depressants and practicing mindfulness aren’t enough to keep my mental health on track, either. Everyone’s brain is wired differently, but in my personal mental health journey, I’ve found that I need a combination of medication, practicing mindfulness, and physical activity to stay afloat. Multiple clinical studies conclude that sustained, low-impact exercise is an effective method of preventing depressive episodes. A 2017 study published in General Hospital Psychiatry suggests that exercise and antidepressants both increase connections between neurons and increase the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine, chemical messengers that are out of balance in depressed brains.
The word “unprecedented” has been used so many times this year that reading it fills me with unbridled rage, but there really is no playbook for this year. Time feels warped and socializing with masks on makes interactions confusing. My first skate on that rooftop feels like it happened a month ago at most, but so much has happened between then: I broke up with that boyfriend, cycled through several hair colors, and adopted two cats. Skating also became one of the new constants in my life.
Like many others trying to exist through this pandemic, this year put life on hold. I’m immensely privileged in that I’m still employed amid a months-long unemployment crisis, and that I’ve been able to stay home while millions of essential workers risk their lives. The static nature of social distancing is impossible to escape, though, and I’ve spent days languishing in what comedian Dan Sheehan dubbed “the hell zone.” Over the last nine months, skating has forced me to leave my musty nest of a depression pit and actually go outside.
My depression feels like a weighted blanket.
There have been countless days during quarantine when my depression feels like a weighted blanket; I could get up and go about my day, or I could succumb to the suffocating, but comfortable weight and stay in my warm bed. Sometimes it’s easy to throw the weighted blanket off, and others it’s just too much effort to stop being horizontal. Skating, at least, forces me to go outside before curling up back under the blanket, and makes escaping from it the next day feel more manageable. And when I am feeling so overwhelmed that I need to stay under the secure weight of my depression, the viral TikToks of roller skaters is usually enough motivation to attempt their choreography.
I’ve had weeks when I skated every day for hours on end, and others when all I could muster is a quick lap in my building’s parking lot after days of not touching my skates. Over time and with practice, I’ve learned to use the muscles that were so resistant during Ana’s skate class. I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself when my ambition gets ahead of my body’s physical limitations. Since March, I’ve worn my old skates until there was barely anything left to skate on, and have amassed a collection of bruises, scrapes, and burns. This year may have put life on hold, but I at least figured out how to spin.
I’m not going to make some saccharine claim about how buying roller skates saved my life. But staying active, in addition to regular therapy and antidepressants, have kept me afloat through this otherwise nightmare year. Aside from the endorphin rush from exercise and exposure to sunlight (depression is also linked to vitamin D deficiency), having tangible goals while everything else in my life feels like it’s on hold has vastly improved my mental health. Learning new tricks, building my own pair of custom skates from scratch, and being able to see friends from a safe distance at the skate park give me things to look forward to and make me feel like I’m making some sort of progress in my life.
Listen to TikTok and get a pair of skates. It’s worth it.
If you want to talk to someone about your depression text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Alliance on Mental Health helpline at 800-950-NAMI. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can text the Crisis Text Line or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.
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