Monday, 30 March 2015

Dancing, depression, and me.

This is one of the most difficult, most distressing, most desperately secret things I have dealt with over the last four years. It is almost impossible for me to put into words, and even more unimaginable that anyone would understand - however I do now feel that I need to put it into a format that my friends may be able to comprehend - to speak out and be bold, as I have done during the course of my recovery from a debilitating and destructive mental illness, and in doing so take this overshadowing fear of what was, and try to see what could be instead.

I was a dancer, at the start of my career. That's what I wanted to be, from watching Cats at ten years old, and for a long time it seemed like the only option available to me. I couldn't sing for toffee, and knew nothing at all about acting. But dancing was fun, and people told me I was good at it - Baby Perfectionist Me liked to be told she was good at things - and I could see myself going far with it.

I don't remember when it stopped being fun. Probably around the same time I started to forget how to be happy - impossible to pinpoint an exact moment. It was gradual, and dependent on circumstance. If I got everything right, AND was pointed out by the teacher as the end of the class, it was my true calling in life and the best thing in the world and I was almost happy. If I got everything right and did not get pointed out at the end, I'd panic. I hadn't worked hard enough, clearly I was secretly rubbish and people were just being polite. You can imagine how I felt on an off day, when I forgot moves, fell out of my turns and bumped into everyone around me.

Depression makes no exceptions. It's grasp reaches everything. To begin with - when you first realise there is a problem - it feels like there isn't a way out. There isn't a happy place, no respite from self-loathing, and there is nothing - nothing in the world - that will bring you joy. And if there is - well, then you don't deserve it.

I turned my joy into self-harm. It's still difficult for me to call it that - but that was what it was. I knew where to hurt myself most - in my dance lessons. I would consciously, deliberately, look in the mirror and loath. I would look at other people and say "if you were any good, you'd look like them." I would set myself impossible goals and constantly tell myself how awful I was, because I was utterly convinced that that was what I deserved.

When I left college, and had my first major meltdown, I stopped everything. I didn't go anywhere near a stage for about a year. Things crept back into place slowly - singing was always going to take a while - but I've been so incredibly lucky to have worked on some of the shows on my CV. I'm beginning to find my feet as an actress - which, in truth, is where my strength and longevity as an artists lies.

Dancing frightens me. I could give you a thousand excuses to not go to class, and it's really because I'm utterly terrified.  It frightens me because I know how wonderful I could feel while dancing, and it frightens me because I know how cruel I can be to myself. I cannot fully concentrate on the dance itself, when I'm in class now. I'm constantly monitoring my mental state. Altering cruel thoughts, becoming aware of when my old Am Dram teacher pops up to tell me how terrible I've become and how disappointed she is, and conjuring bouncers to forcibly remove her from the room. Years of developing a certain mental attitude when I walked into a dance class is going to take twice that time to undo. I'm determined, though to do it. I want my joy back. And I want it back unconditionally. I want to not be the best dancer in the world...and love it anyway.

I recently bought myself my first ever Month membership to Pineapple. I promised myself to only do classes I liked. I love theatre Jazz. I know the music, I can assume a character, it's fairly simple but full of life. I feel like I did - like I should. One day I will get that back with tap, jazz technique, ballet, all the things that used to bring me joy. I am confident that the love is still there - and when I uncover it, it will have been worth every agonizing, exhausting, courageous minute.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Artist's Way Week Five check in

Another very long and very stressful week, but I managed to keep on top of my exercises this time! Hooray!

And my goodness, am I noticing some changes! I do still have my panics, but when I do, the recovery is quicker - I am becoming more assertive, more clear about what my boundaries are, I have a higher level of respect for myself and my wellbeing. Last week I really felt the morning pages were a bit of a chore and while that has happened a couple of times this week, on the whole I felt they were a productive outlet and helped me get my head together for the day ahead. I missed one day. I got in to my friend's house at 1am from Gainsborough and got up at 5.40 for work - the maximum lie in I could allow myself. I tried to do the pages at work but it's hard to free-think when you have a bulletin scheduled every 5 minutes.

I almost missed my artist's date. I need to protect this time more! I went to a restaurant and had wine and ice cream - I also took my artist on a bus ride on the top deck at the front. It was glorious. Massage is booked for next week.

I have been using my prayer and affirmations, when I remember, and I have to say they have had a profound effect on my general level of peacefulness. I do feel better about myself when I have done my affirmations, in particular, and if I'm feeling anxious at night  speaking my prayer aloud helps to dispel any worries or lurking panics that may stop me sleeping. I may make some post-it notes with a suggested morning/evening routine on them and stick them by my bed to help me remember that these things do actually help.

My creative ambitions are becoming clearer, more solidified. I am having more thoughts about my Fundraiser in particular, and beginning to wonder more about the Peter Pan adaptation. I need to start actioning these things - a project-in-action to do list, if you will - and just get the ball rolling with these!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Artist's Way Week Four Check in

Well! Two weeks later, I'm eventually at the end of week Four. I am gaining so much more clarity in terms of  what it is my life is made of - I'm slowly losing the sense that there is too much going on, that I can't achieve what I want - I can see more clearly where I want to be, where I WILL be in a few years time.

Once again I completed all my morning pages. At first I tend to think "Ugh this takes so long, they're not doing anything" and then I get past the superficial talk of how tired I am and the things I'm grumpy about, and get to some big realisations about how I really feel about things. It's such a relief to be able to write like that and not have anyone want to look at it or analyze it, or even to know I don't have to read it back myself.

I didn't do an artist's date, for I am a naughty human. I did try to give myself time to have some peace - quiet walks without music in (limiting music was part of my reading deprivation), keeping my train journeys for watching out of the window instead of working, and I have noticed a big shift in my attitude to the need for peaceful time in my day. It was a long and stressful week but I don't think I got as wound up as I would have normally done - I felt more aware of why I was feeling down or anxious and thus was able to address it straight away.

I'm going to start to eat better. That was my "thing that I haven't changed yet." It's a comfort thing, it's an insecurity thing, it's a fear-of-nothing-changing thing, but I am so fed up of never feeling completely physically well. I had a lot of "I can't do this any more" realisations this week, in particular with regard to carrying instruments/stands/costume around on public transport. I am very close do doing my back in and I really can't let myself do that any more. Once I'm able to drive it will be fine - until then I need to think more carefully about what I'm prepared to carry about.

Ah, but the reading deprivation was HARD! I caught myself out SO many times, especially with Facebook, of all the useless things. I do like to read the odd article when they come up. I think what I need to do is allow myself some internet time, 30mins each couple of days perhaps, or even less, simply scrolling and reading buzzfeed articles. If I know there's time set for it, I'll be less inclined to do it.

I cleared out my wardrobe, too, and threw away more than I ever have done before. I am really looking forward to swapping in my winter clothes for summer and buying a couple of new bits too. I just need to throw the bin bag away and I'll be done!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Week 4...I messed up!

Well, Week four got shunted forward slightly. By slightly, I mean I sort-of-almost-skipped it. A combination of work-related extras, life-related anxieties and not finding time for my reading/exercises meant I learned too late about reading deprivation, was going to have to cram my written exercises...I thought it best to just begin Week Four yesterday, which is what I have done.
I DID do all my morning pages still, though, which is good! It wasn't completely wasted.

I have really come to realise, especially in this week when I didn't do any exercises/artist's date/me time, what a disservice I do myself by not looking after myself properly.  The creeping feeling that I need to eat better and exercise more is becoming stronger and stronger, and the yearning for some quiet time in my day, or to do yoga, is so much more noticeable. I am going to try a simple avoidance  of crisps and chocolate for the rest of this week, I think, and the week after - I will try to include, in my check-ins, a record as to whether I am feeling any better.

I am finding the reading deprivation - and for me, this extends to the reading of Facebook, Twitter, and simply to letting my mind wander off in an unproductive direction for hours on end - really, really hard. I am constantly catching myself. Constantly. Especially when it comes to focussing my mind, now we're into the evening and I'm tired, I am starting to struggle in the latter end of my to do list because it is taking quite an effort to stay focussed and I just don't have the energy for it. I AM achieving more in the precious little time I have to myself, and this is hugely beneficial in the evenings when there is so much preparation to do for the next day, and it is nice to have to time for observation on trains or on walks to and from places. I will start to itch to put my headphones on and dance eventually, though, and that is one of my biggest time-wasters.

I reviewed all my Artist's Way work so far yesterday and created a sheet full of activities and pass-times that make me feel better spiritually and artistically to draw on when I have an afternoon free or am looking for inspiration for an Artist's date. I also wrote my Artist's prayer, and it goes as follows:

I speak to you, the magic in the universe.
I present myself as a vessel for that same magic.
I open myself to the magic of creativity, and offer myself as an artistic instrument.
I surrender all that is harmful and doubtful, and I open myself wholly, in heart and mind, to new ideas.
I trust in your reach, infinite possibility and power for good.
I trust in my own strength to do your work.
I ask that you help me live my life by curiosity and possibility.
I ask that I will never be restricted by feelings of doubt, worthlessness, or despair.
I ask that I be healed by my art, and that my art possesses the power to heal others.
Help me to be a loved and loving creature,
And help me to move through this life, and into the next, with the sense of having been touched by magic.

I have been struggling with the word "God" for some time now. It too closely resonates with my Christian past, and everything I have come to reject from that particular branch of faith. I do not want a deity to lean upon, or hide behind - I have made my peace with the openness of that particular question, and I choose to believe in Love and Hope. And what word can there be for that, if not Magic? My prayer appeals to all that is well and wonderful in the world, in a hope that I might spread that Love and Hope.

Until Sunday.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Artist's Way Check-in week 3

End of week three and I have to say, I have felt terrible this week - as per my little tantrum post on Thursday! I have done all my morning pages - I have had a couple of "guh, do I want to do them this morning?" but they have proved invaluable for my wellbeing - I think if I'd skipped them, I would have really struggled. My anxiety has been particularly difficult to get under control. My pages this week have ranged from the very mundane to angry and sad - a lot is coming to the surface at the moment. I know, in my experience, that when embarking on a course or a project such as this I tend to slump at around this point - when things begin shifting - and have a bit of a panic and a meltdown. I'm taking it as a good thing...(??!!?!)

Whilst I haven't had the burst of writing I had last week, things are starting to seem possible. I've taken a couple of baby steps towards things I never thought possible, or didn't allow myself to think possible. Despite my panics, I am actually beginning to solidify some confidence in what I can do and what I can create. I have gotten some sorting done and plans for more, and now I feel like I WILL be able to see the project through as opposed to just fantasising, sighing, and resigning myself to "eh, I'll never actually do that." I really went about setting a running order for my fundraiser, I told my friend I was interested in collaborating on some workshops with her, I made some notes on a song to choreograph to - lots of little first-steps.

I sort of accidentally did my artist's date this week, and my week became such that my arranged time for an artist's date became taken up by something else - so HOORAY another artist's date but I'm not sure I can claim credit! I ended up with a couple of hours to myself so I went to the Southbank Centre, lounged on a sofa and spent some time people watching and writing a poem for the King Lear programme. I feel a great enjoyment in the writing in a way that isn't pressurised or stressful - I'm much more open to going "Ok, I'm not quite happy with that bit, but let's move on - I'll take a fresh look at it later and something better will come." It feels much more natural, an expression rather than an exertion. It was great being in a space that was at once quiet and full of people - I sat where there was a kind of gentle bustle, it was very soothing.

In terms of synchronicity - which I have to say, the concept of which I'm not sure I really understand - I have found myself thinking, "ah, that worked out well" on several occasions, just in the trivial, everyday comings and goings, and one or two bigger, happy coincidences too.

One of the things I got very fed up with this week was people constantly suggesting that the root of my anxiety/depression lies in my "difficult" choice of career.  I come across it often when I try to tell people I'm not feeling well and they go "well, you have chosen a difficult lifestyle" like that explains away everything - I deal with rejection incredibly well, I think. I do auditions, then forget about them, I've made it a habit, I promised myself early on that I'd never put all my eggs in one basket, I vowed that I'd not tear myself up over "why aren't I getting jobs" and that aspect of my career is not difficult to deal with for me. It's an easy handle for people, and I lost patience with the things I AM struggling with being brushed under the rug because people think they know. Acting is just freelancing. Thousands of people freelance, and face the same rejection.
One thing I am finding difficult is being lonely - something that has cropped up over and over in the last few weeks of morning pages and exercises is how much I'd like to meet a close companion or partner to share my life experiences with. It's not something I have any experience of at all, which I feel horribly ashamed about, and I have a lot of insecurity about the way I'd be in a relationship like that, whether or not I'd be a good and loving partner. It's difficult because It's not the sort of thing you can force or arrange - you can only do so much. I feel if I did meet someone I'd have so many worries about how I should be behaving and not knowing how I should be feeling that I'd just mess it all up, and that's a pretty distracting thing to have at the back of your mind when you're trying to get to know someone.

Once again, I am looking forward to doing more work - especially eager to move forward from this difficult week - and seeing what comes of the next lot of exercises. I will probably also try and go back, collect some important points from previous exercises, to refresh and remind me of what I have learned.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Artist's Way - Olbigatory Week 2.5 panic

I have hit Thursday with quite the most massive crisis of confidence I've had in years in a massive, messy  rebellion of the basic principals that goes a little bit like this:

God I don't FIT anywhere. I am even supposed to BE anywhere? I literally have no definition to what I am or what I do with my life. I specialise in nothing. Jack of all trades, master of none. Specialist skills wandering around vaguely after everyone else thinking "How do they know all this?" and feeling out of my depth. Not so much a crisis of confidence as a crisis of Identity - I have nothing that defines me and it's AWFUL!  I have WASTED my time as a human being! What am I doing with my life? Literally just flitting around being mediocre at everything? There's so much I enjoy and so much I'm OK at doing and not a lot that's either one or the other! How the hell do I choose? I am running out of time, I'm getting on for 25, and I am just little fragmented bits of stuff with not even consistent personality traits. And it's completely hilarious that I'm suddenly trying to START trying to get my life together now. I'm supposed to be top of my game NOW, not in however many years time it's going to take to actually achieve anything. Just a lump of flesh and bone pretending to be "creative", definitive proof that some people were just born to be shit no matter how much work they put it. Someone has to be bottom of the pile. Hi everyone! Feel free to overtake, I've got a speed limit.


So as you can see, I have hit something of a slump. Working with a CBT thought diary kind of process - there's plenty of evidence that I am, in fact, a basic idiot with limited capacity for knowledge on any subject and essentially imagination-less.
I am most certainly not a specialist in anything. I used to get angry when people implied that I wasn't a proper actor if I'd not been in anything they knew, but now I see their point. You might be an actor, but you haven't established yourself until you've proved your skills on a widely-received platform. You're not a poet until you've got several collections you can produce, or well known on the spoken word circuit. You're not a singer/songwriter until you've got a following of some kind, people who want to see you perform. It has occurred to me that creativity only becomes valid when it is appreciated - otherwise what is the point? It's just an indulgence.  I certainly have not achieved any kind of status in my art - I don't even have a definitive look, a way I do my hair or make up - I'm far too normal to be a proper artist. I won't establish myself as an individual because I'm too bland, too trying, too stupid to figure out how to do half the things I'd like.


Evidence against, sparse though it is, is nevertheless there. I do keep getting acting jobs, which in itself is a kind of demand - people want to work with me, something about me (Who knows what it is) suggests potential, and I feel in my heart that I do my job for the right reasons - I do feel artistic joy when I work, despite all the challenges I come against, and enough of a sense of "Ah, THIS is why I do this"  to make me want to continue and reassure me that I DO have some artistic sense. I am highly skilled in my own way - I am good at auditioning, which is rare, from what I've seen and heard - it has taken a lot of practise to enjoy my auditions, but it's a skill I can draw on for the rest of my life.

It is true that one of my biggest bug bears is that fact that I neglected my interests at school in favour of schoolwork, but I have worked hard and almost caught up - I am getting to know better and better every day what I want out of life and what I want to achieve, but I have this constant fear that it's too late, that I could have done more by now, that I can't do what I want now because I should have started earlier. I do feel stupid sometimes for carrying on, really stupid - the thought of exposing myself and my work is even more terrifying because it won't be "here I am, I know what I'm doing", it'll be "Here I am, right at the beginning, and I know this is not as good as it should be PLEASE TRY NOT TO HATE ME TOO MUCH." The only thing I can do, short of time travel to go back and work harder, earlier, is to just keep working and hope I can get back to where I should be.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Artist's Way - Week 2 Check-In

Week two of my work on The Artists's way work and I've noticed quite a huge shift. I did all my morning pages again this week - The first half hour or so is so crucial to me in terms of setting my mood for the rest of the day - If I wake early and can't get back to sleep I can end up thinking myself into a panic attack, or into tears, and the morning pages have REALLY helped me curb that. I find it so much easier to arrange my day in terms of the tasks I have to do, just to purge my worries and expectations before I'm even out of bed so I can focus on the tasks at hand.

The content of the pages themselves have come as something of a surprise to me - when I've a mild annoyance, I'm vicious in my language. I express a lot of anger and occasionally bitterness with out actually becoming angry or sinking into despair, which is a huge relief. There is a lot of longing in them - More than I'm aware of, or more than I LET myself be aware of, which is probably more the case. The positive and the hopeful outweighs the Negative but quite a substantial amount though, which is another welcome surprise. I have learned a lot about the way I see the world, and gained a small amount of confidence in the way I handle problems, which was fairly non existent before.

Something pretty crazy happened - I've penned about five sets of lyrics. I can't believe I'm even typing that. It feels sort of numb to me - it wasn't a huge achievement or a big event but just part of my day to day workings - it felt simple to do, and the basic principals of Creativity being a natural human activity are suddenly resonating very strongly with me.

I wrote one about my old tap shoes at the circus - they were in tattered little bits and I lived in fear that they'd fall apart on stage - and afterwards just burst into tears because it suddenly hit me hard, rally hard, how much I missed dancing. It's choking me up now just thinking about it. I did myself some big psychological hurt in my dance lessons, my own quiet, private form of self harm when things were really bad, and I do think somewhere underneath all that is my 10-year-old self watching Cats and thinking "I want to do that." I put my tap shoes on and danced a bit, just improvised, which I tried a couple of times before years ago and it just felt awkward and forced. This time I could have carried on for years. I am afraid of that hurt - the capacity to do it is there, and I know how horrific it can get. I need to dance more, is what I inferred from this week, entirely and completely by accident.

For my Artist's Date I did some guided meditation. It was a much needed break in a hectic week - it highlighted my need to clear my mind as often as I can, ESPECIALLY when I'm busy.

My gut instinct is to just carry on. Carry on with all I'm doing and keep building my faith in myself and in all the arts I love and really try and repair my broken love for dancing. It will not be the same dancer now - The dancer then was constantly comparing and trying to meet expectations and did not love herself. The person who dances now comes to it with the open heartedness of a little child running away from everything else in the world. I need to go back to dancing.