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Bella B: I learned to skateboard, but this is what skateboarding taught me

As Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 draws to a close, we’re pleased to bring you this brilliant guest article from mental health advocate and skateboarder Bella Borgers

I’ll be honest – some days I think: wow, I really shouldn’t be on a skateboard.

I’m terrible at looking both ways before I cross the street and I feel genuinely guilty about the number of times I’ve literally stepped on my mother’s toes – I’m that clumsy. Not to mention, I burst into tears when I’m afraid (even at the sudden whisper of BOO!) and I’m completely anxiety-ridden when I feel like people are watching me. Oh, I also suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) so my mind is erratic and hopelessly tangled at best. But nothing makes me forget the trauma more than when I’m on my skateboard. Don’t worry, I’ve come to love and accept what I cannot change – but believe me, anyone would need a day off from the disorder. Skateboarding gives me that, and so much more.

The first thing skateboarding taught me is how convincing your brain can really be. And by that I mean, it will repeat the words ‘I can’t’ bouncing around your head at a pretty high volume. What I’m glad to have realised is that I was constantly proving myself wrong. There are so many *tiny* victories worth celebrating when you are first starting to skate, and actually that continues for a long time. It really becomes clear quite quickly that with some practice, you are completely capable of surprising yourself! Having anxiety and depression means it’s pretty hard NOT to lean into what your brain tells you you aren’t good enough to do. But actually, most days I come home with a lot more ‘I can’s’ than ‘I can’t’s’. Let’s not forget your brain is a muscle too and even when I’m not at the skatepark, I find myself thinking ‘I can’ a lot more than I used to.

It really becomes clear quite quickly that with some practice, you are completely capable of surprising yourself!

It has to be said – the bad news is you’re probably going to fall. But here’s the good news: you’re probably gonna get up and try that trick again. Skating hurts – it’s addictive, annoying and some days I want to throw my board into a ditch. But really, it’s more of a mind game than a physical one, and I think you’ll find you win a lot more than you lose. Recently, I’ve found that I’m falling a lot more than when I first started. I’m actually pretty happy when I come home with a couple bruises now because I know that I will have worked really hard at something, and made that small (but great) effort to step out of my comfort zone. And I think that’s important for anyone! Does achieving something really feel so rewarding if it comes easy?

Bella with @empress_skateboarding who do amazing, important work, supporting survivors of sexual assault through skateboarding.

Skateboarding taught me to look at the same world through a different lens – and I welcome that! I remember the first time I found a ‘spot’ I wanted to skate – at the time, I was still learning to push. My boyfriend and I would skate around the quiet streets during lockdown, and I found this little arch, lower in height than my hip and about two metres wide. I had this urge to just crouch down and skate through it, so I did. As I approached it, knees shaking because my balance wasn’t very good yet, I (quite obviously and dramatically) tripped and came crashing to the ground in a heap of laughter even though I had just seen my life flash before my eyes. I learned in that moment that fear was just that – fear. And I still had all my limbs and really, I felt okay. That experience alone I won’t forget because I realised I was seeing something simple as something much more exciting. I know after that ungracious fall, I  daydreamed about how much had changed since I picked up a piece of wood with four wheels on it.

I love that even the bad days are good days. Yes, even the bad days are good days. I tend to sing this in my head when I’m out on a skate. I’ve learned to be grateful for whatever that day will bring. If I don’t quite get to do something I have been trying for a long time, I still try to make the effort to feel proud of myself. It’s always been surprising how a trick has become that little bit easier the next time I try it even though I haven’t landed it before. I’ve learned to celebrate every small piece of progress. Especially the progress that is happening when it doesn’t feel like it. This way of thinking perhaps, has been the most transferable to my every day life.

Despite us inhibiting a human body, we spend so much time in our heads. Skateboarding gives me that time to connect with and listen to my body. Because of my mental health, I tend to dissociate (or feel away from) my body a lot, but having a hobby that I enjoy and is also physical, has helped me reconnect with my self in a way yoga never really could quite do as well. Some days I can ollie, other days I can’t. Most of the time I can shuv, but there are times I really, really can’t. And that’s okay. Skateboarding teaches me not to (mentally) beat myself up, and makes me feel better about letting some things go.

Despite us inhibiting a human body, we spend so much time in our heads.

Skateboarding gives me that time to connect with and listen to my body.

I also think you can’t talk about skateboarding without talking about community, and there really is no community more supportive. Because every skateboarder will have taken the same steps to get to whatever level of skill they are, a kind of shared beginning, the *hype* felt at a skatepark, or even online on Instagram, is so humbling. It becomes (for most people) second nature to cheer someone else on, and share advice when there’s something new you want to learn. We don’t often feel that these days, in workplaces or in other types of sport. But it’s something that we should all be conscious of doing in our daily lives regardless, don’t you think?

Bella and Annie from @oddgirlsgoskatehull - a wonderful woman with a very positive attitude about skating, who supports everyone - especially learners.

Having *officially* caught the skate bug, I’ve got used to telling myself to get outside and get out of my head. I read somewhere once that highly anxious people love to keep busy because it keeps them distracted from their nerves. I can vouch for that and admit that often I feel guilty if I’m not doing something productive. But skateboarding has become the most rewarding form of self-care I have found in 27 years. It reminds me that whatever I have going on, it’s both important and wonderful to take that time for myself.

Now, nothing I’ve said here is new – I’m not a therapist, and I’m no psychologist either. I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to know most of this is stuff we should already know as humans, and our parents/guardians/self-help books have probably already mentioned once or twice before but the reason why I need to reiterate it, is because if you have eyes and legs or trauma in your pocket (surprise, everyone does!), I hope you find that thing you love. Having good mental health, and taking the time to look after it, takes practice. It’s one thing to try and convince yourself ‘you can’, or say ‘tomorrow is a new day’, but having skateboarding (or something like it!) means my brain actually practices having that mindful, self-compassionate voice alongside the other negative voices that are all a part of being human. Make time for that project, that hobby, that community that teaches you how to be a version of you that is so much more than you thought. It will always be worth it.

You can follow Bella Borgers on Instagram
In the images

@oddgirlsgoskatehull A collective of Art 🌿 Skaters based in Hull

@empress_skateboarding Empowering and building confidence in women and girls through the means of skateboarding 💕🤘

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 10-16 May 202.
Find out more

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