Rough Day, But Not As Rough

CW: Mention of Suicidal Thoughts

Today was … yeah.

It wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had. Not by a long, long, loooooooong measure.

But it was the kind of day that starts with a reminder of the fact that the ballet company I worked my butt off to be worthy of is still on hiatus, and that since I’m moving, it’s very unlikely I’ll be dancing with them much, if at all, ever again, and that as such the part of my career that meant the most to me is still stalled (pending auditions, etc). This is, for me, a big deal.

I’m also tried and probably haven’t eaten enough bc my schedule is weird and nothing sounds like food, so I’m sure some of this is just down to the fact that I turn into a giant toddler when I’m hungry or tired, let alone both.

So, anyway, right now, my brain is simultaneously like YOU ARE AWFUL, LIFE IS AWFUL, EVERYTHING IS AWFUL and also like OMFG STOP BEING SUCH A GIANT DRAMATIC EMO TODDLER (while yet another part is like Can’t we just stop being so judgmental of our own emotions, here? Sheesh).

But, also, another part of my brain is like, “Dude, you know what? I remember that we’ve felt like this before, and it was terrible and sucked and felt like it would go on forever, but then eventually we stopped feeling like this. So, I’ma let you finish, but you know, it’s very possible that eventually this will stop, too.”

It reminds me of a thing I realized about my suicidal episodes, which come on very fast, usually when I find myself feeling trapped: I can tell myself to wait a day (or an hour, or thirty seconds), and if nothing has changed, I can kill myself then. I tell myself that over and over, until finally I stop having to tell myself that. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes it takes less than a day.

But so far I’m still alive, partly because I really mean it in those moments. Like, I tell myself that option is there, and bizarrely, that helps me feel a tiny bit less trapped. That probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it often works for me (in combination with having people in my life who can help me, of course).

Anyway, I think this is the first time my brain has chimed in with NOOOOOO EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE AND IT WILL BE HORRIBLE FOREVER and another part of my brain has said, “Hey, you know, that could be true, but experience tells me it probably isn’t[1], so instead of getting caught in this idea–though you can go on feeling that way, over there, it’s okay–I’m going to hang out and wait and see,” and I’ve been able to sit with that paradox without it losing sight of that second thing, really.

  1. I mean, notwithstanding the fact that in some ways life is unrelentingly horrible to a lot of people. Like, for an incredibly large number of people, that is pretty objectively true, though so many of those people are incredible at enduring things nobody should have to endure. But that’s a different sense of the thing.

I am still struggling with being knocked out of the thing that was so central in my life, and not having somehow gotten my crap together enough to audition last year so I wouldn’t be in this position now (though I’d still be moving, so I’d still be facing the terrifying gamut of auditions). The structure of company life brought a lot of sanity with it, for me; it helped shape my time in ways I’m not good at doing for myself (I don’t mean that as a value judgment: it’s just not a thing my brain does well, and that’s fine). It helped me grow both as a dancer and as a person in ways that I’m not doing, or perhaps not doing as much, under current circumstances (I’m sure I’m learning other things, but the thing you have doesn’t replace the thing you lost; that’s just how grief is).

It’s been hard to talk about this because, quite frankly, the response one often gets is, “Why are you complaining! You have no idea how lucky you are to have had the time that you did in that company.”

Which is both dismissive (grief is not lessened by knowing that one has lost something rare and special; not at all) and, frankly, incorrect. I would hazard that I know better than anyone alive the staggering constellation of circumstances that coincided to give me my time at LexBallet: I know keenly and viscerally just how incredibly lucky I am.

But I also know that luck was only part of it, and that an ocean of hard work and no small measure of sacrifice was also involved.

Grief is real; grief is hard; and still I work not to cling to grief, but to say, “Hello, grief,” and let it be there, while also knowing that other things will come, though I have no idea what they will be, and they might not be the things I imagine that I want.

So here I am, sitting with these things that I feel, and sitting with the uncertainty of things, and part of me is in turmoil about it (though probably more in turmoil about needing to go to bed and/or eat) and part of me is at peace with that turmoil. Which feels kind of neat, in its own way.

And now I’m going to go feed my inner giant emo toddler and go to bed.


PS: the thing that made everything boil over this morning was having a bad day in class in a way that felt like a step backwards: I kept not trusting myself to have the exercises, and instead of just saying, “Ah, feck it,” and going for it, kept watching everyone else in the mirror to make sure I was right, which then actually prevented things from sticking in any meaningful sense, which led to a kind of crisis of nerves in which I couldn’t pick things up because I was busy being afraid that I couldn’t pick things up, to such an extent that L’Ancien called me out on it (which I deserved).

That reminded me how much confidence I’d gained during my time with LexBallet, and which (in that moment) I feared I’d lost, which gave my brain (which was already in a weird place, probably for purely biochemical reasons for once) a thing to hang up about, which colored the rest of the day, which might otherwise have been only a normal day in which some things sucked and other things rocked and most things were just meh.

Besides being okay with sitting with the place where my head is now, part of the answer is to be willing to say, on mornings that I’m as foggy as I was this morning, “OKay, I’m going to hang back and give myself more time to pick things up.”

Sometimes forcing myself to go in the first group every time is a good strategy. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s silly to cling to that strategy when it’s not working.


PPS: At the end of class, when I finally got out of my own way and decided to just trust that I knew the combination, I got some very nice remarks from L’Ancien. That should tell me a lot. I’m sure it will when that part of my brain is ready to listen.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2022/02/02, in #dancerlife, adulting, adventures, ballet lessons, ballet-adjacent, balllet, life, mental heatlh, reflections. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. But so far I’m still alive, partly because I really mean it in those moments.

    Yeah, I reckon something like that worked for me too.

    The best laid plans …

    I’m really loathe to recommend it though. It feels like a high risk strategy and flies in the face of most advice on dealing with suicidality (which is mostly made up by people who’ve never suffered from it.

    My almost lifelong suicidality disappeared in an instant almost ten years ago. I don’t really understand how it happened and to the degree I do get it I can’t really express it. But here’s the one piece of advice I feel OK with offering …

    When you meditate, try doing it outwards instead of inwards. One good method is metta, where you start by acknowledging the love you have for those closest to you and being with the feeling of it. Then expand that out to people further from you, eventually even those you dislike, and finally to the universe as a whole. Not the universe as a cosmological abstraction, but as you experience it through your perceptions and conceptions.

    You can look up metta techniques on the internet if you’re not already a practitioner.

    But I reckon there’s something even more powerful than metta when it comes to overcoming suicidality.

    If you don’t have a deity it might be a bit forced at first, but I don’t think that’s an insurmountable problem. Here’s what I recommend.

    Choose a pleasant outdoor meditation spot. Ideally it would be sunny with a light breeze you can feel on your skin without discomfort. If the weather is no good choose a comfortable, indoor position, preferably with natural light.

    Draw your awareness to pleasant sensory perceptions, especially on your skin. Allow the sensations to draw your attention outwards to their source – the sun, the wind, any pleasant natural sounds. Let the awareness of the source and your sensations of it merge. Be aware of your oneness with all there is – not in an abstract intellectual way but as sensory feelings and emotions.

    Feel the unconditional love of the universe and yourself for the perfection of that unity. Be aware that the good and the bad are just projections of separation. Of feeling that you act and are acted upon. Of the perception of an ‘ought’ separate to the ‘is’.

    Be aware that being itself is nothing more or less than the unconditional divine love the universe holds for everything in it. That life and death, pleasure and pain, are equally gifts of that divine love and expressions of your very being.

    You exist asher. That’s all the proof you ever needed that you’re completely embraced and loved by all that is. Surrender to that love. It’s what you are.

    • First, I don’t have words for how much this means to me right now, or how much i needed to hear it, except (of course) “thanks you?” So: thank you, from the depths of me.

      You’re very right about worship! It makes me realize that, in a way, that’s something I miss about company life—it is work, but also ritual and liturgy, and the same kind of flow one feels when singing in a choir or chanting in a group, and surprisingly often transcendent in the way that more traditional forms of worship are. We even have our departed saints (Agrippina, may her memory be for a blessing). And moving more directly into worship—organized and/or unorganized—makes a great deal of sense, and I think it might be very healing as well right now. Thank you ❤

      I had kind of forgotten about metta, but that's a very, very good idea, and I will definitely spend some time with that as an intentional practice, too. It actually very much sounds like how I experience the world when I'm dancing just to dance, which is another thing I should do more. Dancing just to dance is a good way of being just to be.

      It's funny that you mention being hesitant to recommend this approach to suicidality. I kind of felt the same way writing this, and I'm still thinking about whether I should go back and more plainly say, "Maybe don't take this as advice" or something. (Though I'm glad I'm not the only person who takes the advice of people who haven't deal with suicidal feelings on how to deal with said feelings with a dose of skepticism! I was lucky to have a therapist who kind of loved my strategy, thank goodness, and didn't try to deter me, but I'm sure she would have of it wasn't actually working for me).

      It's also edifying to hear someone else say they've used a similar approach. I've heard it now from a couple other people, and I wonder how many of us there are out there. I suppose, in the end, whatever gets you through gets you through, but there's something weirdly beautiful in the sheer perversity of this particular approach—like seeing a mountain goat apparently defying the laws of physics, or something.

      I feel grateful for your words and lucky to have bumped into you on the great and ever-changing Web. Thank you again.

      • It’s funny that you mention being hesitant to recommend this approach to suicidality.

        I was speaking specifically about turning the feeling into intentionality.

        In your case it’s “I can tell myself to wait a day (or an hour, or thirty seconds), and if nothing has changed, I can kill myself then“. In mine it was having a suicide plan that would take some time to implement.

        In a way it’s moving towards suicide and It would certainly be horrifying for those who care about you if they knew about it. It’s also considered a Very Bad Sign, of the sort that can pull the “danger to yourself or others” trigger and land you in a locked ward with a butt full of chlorpromazine. So it’s not without downsides.

        I feel having the plan protected me from acting on impulse and quite possibly saved my life, but I can’t know how that sort of thing would play out in someone else’s life. It probably worked for me in part because even at my lowest points I felt I could withstand anything for an hour or so, as long as I could see darkness at the end of the tunnel (so to speak). The way that my low moods also brought a lot of inertia that made it hard for me to follow through without procrastinating might also have been important.

        So I’d be reluctant to suggest someone add intentionality to suicidality for fear that their circumstances are sufficiently different to mine that they might carry out that intention. Or that someone else might twig to it and have them placed under a mental health order.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I can relate to so much of what you say. Your observations on grief are bang on. – An insomniac dancer far away having my own dance anxieties and rooting for you.

    • Thank you for your reply! Honestly, knowing I’m not alone really helps. Also, a billion apologies for being so slow to reply. Things have been stressful and weird and complicated, though also sometimes sublimely awesome, of course o.O I feel like I’m slowly catching back up to life now ^-^’

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