“I fell in love with skateboarding because it was individual; there were no teams, there were no captains, there was nothing to perfect. No style that had to be measured. It was completely opposite of what I saw in so many sports. It was creative. And to this day, that’s what I love, that’s always kept me back to it because it’s endless creation.”
– Rodney Mullen, aka the god father of street skating. A personal hero of mine
It is one AM and I am laying awake in my bed, my mind is swirling with thoughts so quickly that I can’t focus on any individual idea. My heart begins to race, and I can feel tears welling up in my eyes as I hold my hold them shut tightly and try to control my breathing. “One, two, three, four” I repeat to myself as I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, like I have read so many times is supposed to help with relaxation. It is not working, I start to panic as tears stream down my face and the instinct to run kicks in. So in a state of confusion I throw on clothes and shoes, grab my skateboard and head out the door of the basement suite I share with a room-mate I knew from work.
You should know I was always a shy kid, I was either inside playing with action figures or trailing behind my friends running off somewhere I was too scared to go. I was never comfortable being away from home, where I felt safe. It really should not have been a shock to realize that I would develop an anxiety disorder and minor depression. However I wouldn’t know any of this for many years, and not be properly treated until I was twenty-five. This would all seem to come to a head in 2013.
The sound of four polyurethane wheels hitting the broken pavement, the feeling of the grip tape trying to hold my feet in place as I shift them ever so slightly to keep my balance. I ride down to the parking lot behind our house, barely lit by the street lights around it and with minor rocks strewn all over it. I manage to find a small surface that is smooth and rock free, about 30 feet long and maybe 6 or 7 feet wide. I roll back and forth along this piece of paved paradise (sorry Joni Mitchell but I love parking lots sometimes) slowly at first, getting a feel for the space I have to work with. After a few minutes I kick off faster and weave back and forth along it, letting the wheels slide sideways as I spin 180 degrees. I occasionally stop to walk circles around my board, alternating my gaze from the board to the pavement ahead of me as I try to push my thoughts away.
2013 marked many big moments in my life, the end of a nearly 5 year relationship, the beginning of dealing with my anxiety and taking medication to curb it, and finally realizing what I really want in life. I would deal with many changes over the next six months, testing the dating waters and finding a place I was happy to call home. More on that later.
I spent hours in that back parking lot that first night, practicing the same basic skateboarding trick (the ollie) dozens, possibly hundreds of times. Methodical and obsessed with perfecting it I could think only of this, I was so utterly focused on this that without realizing it I had forgotten everything that was troubling me earlier in the evening. All of my stress disappeared the moment those wheels touched the pavement, I was alone and had only the sounds of my own skateboard to keep me company. And yet I was at home here in the abandoned lot at nearly 3AM, I had no sense of time or responsibility here.
Skateboarding helped me understand that there is always an element of chaos or random chance in life. Even if I assume I am in complete control of what I am doing, I need to be just as prepared to fall as to succeed. I need to be ready (but not assume I will) to get hurt, and for the first time in my life realize that I am strong enough to recover. Despite the lies my illness would tell me, that I was too weak, too stupid, too ugly, and so many other reasons why I was worthless. Skateboarding was something that I could improve upon, and much like with anxiety my only real opponent was myself.
I would spend many nights in that back lot, sometimes minutes and other times hours. I would come back to bed covered in blood or bruises from taking falls, but always I was satisfied, happy. It was one of few things at that time I could do and not be lying when I said “I am happy”. It was skateboarding that got me through some of the hardest nights alone, and I will still turn to my skateboard when times are tough and I need to escape for just a little while.
I would love to hear from anyone that has had similar experiences. And in future posts I will talk in more detail about my struggle, but even if you just had a bad day and stumbled upon this I hope it helped.
To end today’s post I would like to paraphrase something Marge Simpson said to her daughter Lisa:
“Lisa I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back. Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you, and when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.”