I enjoyed being one of the smart kids at school
I grew up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania USA and was always a perfectionist at academic school. This came naturally to me, but was also a trait from my mother. I genuinely enjoyed excelling and being one of the “smart” kids but none of this ever caused me any anxiety.
I was also pretty emotionally sensitive, a book could upset me greatly and I’d sometimes take on emotional guilt from others. I started dancing very young, but neither I nor my family took it seriously until I was about 11 years old when I switched dance schools.
Not recognising what anxiety is
My first memory of anxiety came from around the time when I first started competing in ballet competitions. I didn’t recognise it as anxiety as I believed it rooted from a physical problem. Of course I was stressed. It made sense to be overwhelmed at 13 with hormonal changes, increasing workload at school and now ballet competitions. But when it got to the point that I felt physically ill and thought I might get sick daily, I knew something was truly wrong. Unfortunately, my parents and my teachers didn’t understand it and neither did I. I was under a constant dark cloud for about a year from the physical symptoms. I didn’t understanding what was wrong with me, which I am sure contributed even more to the problem. Little did I know that the physical symptoms were stemming from my mental health.
Anxiety continued to come back and forth in waves for nearly a decade, some particularly bad. I finally recognised it for what it was thanks to other ballet friends who had similar stories to tell. I took medication for a while, came off it, then I went to a therapist. Over the years I made progress, but it was never going away and I felt pretty helpless at times. I felt like I couldn’t do the things I wanted and it wasn’t just at school or at work. It affected me outside too; friendships, flying, commuting, even just being in a room full of people and feeling like I couldn’t escape, I found terrifying.
Unending support and understanding
It wasn’t until after I got into my current relationship with my boyfriend that I started to feel on top of my mental health. The unending support, trust, and more deep understanding that there is much more to life has been invaluable. He has helped to remind me of my identity beyond ballet and recognise that everything will not fall apart if I’m not perfect at my job or perfect at whatever is on my to-do list.
I have small moments of anxiety, as it has not disappeared. With this unending support I have not felt so lost or physically burdened for years now. I’ve found confidence in my ability to help myself.
I now recognise triggers and I’m able to cut off my negative, over-thinking tendencies and transforming them into self-acceptance. I can dance with much more happiness and freedom and my more positive frame of mind has been noticed by many of my friends and co-workers. I have to be mindful of it everyday but it’s making me a happier person. Best of all, I know that I am healthier and stronger for it.
Speak out about mental health
Whatever situation dancers find themselves in, some on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than me, I encourage them to recognise their symptoms and seek help. When others help you, you can start to help yourself. Dancers’ lives are extremely complex. Most of us take on adult-level stresses at a very young age we decide our career path perhaps ten years before the average person. It is an artistic career, which brings along the ups and downs of doing something you’re passionate about and have given so much for and it is also regrettably competitive. The more we speak about mental health, the more that silent sufferers can get the help that they need. I hope that some of what I’ve told may help someone out there.
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