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.

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