Category Archives: mental health
It’s funny: when we speak of someone being “unstrung,” we typically mean it in the sense that a harp or a piano that has been unstrung is usually having a pretty bad day.
We don’t typically mean it in the other sense—that a bow (the old-fashioned kind made from wood and/or horn and/or bone) should be unstrung regularly, lest the tension of the string ruin its strength.
I think I’m experiencing a bit of both right now.
It’s deeply unpleasant to miss a week of class. By day three, I begin to suffer from the sneaking suspicion that I’m losing my figure if I eat at all (please note, if you’re new to this blog: this a criticism I apply solely to myself—I’m not generally prescriptive about dancers’ bodies, unless the dancer in question is me). My history of anorexia is still, essentially, history … but I’d be lying if I failed to admit that its voice speaks louder when I’m forced to sit down for a while.
This is complicated by the fact that my internal mirror, my mental representation of my body, is updating slowly: that I’m starting to see myself as this rather athletically-built kind of boy, possibly the sort that runs to fat by current professional ballet standards (though perhaps not by any saner standard in the world).
Likewise, I begin to feel frustrated: I know I’ll have to work back into my body a bit; that ballet in particular is an art that demands constant practice. If I miss class for six days, I, my director, the audience, and even the spiders in the stairwell will know. And I’ll really, really know. My deep rotators are, by this point, slowly morphing back into deep potaters (though I am at least feeling well enough to do simple turnout exercises now, provided I do them lying down or in small batches).
And yet it would be impossible and unhealthy to dance through the illness I’ve had this week—I might have milked a few more classes out of myself, but it’s probable that for every hour I strained to charge forward, I’d pay back a day in interest. The show must go on, but at the same time it’s stupid to feck about with a fever and an aggressive infection that has already colonized your upper respiratory system and is eyeing your lungs. If you have to do a show and you don’t have a second cast, you do it; if you’ve got a slow week of class and rehearsals, for goodness’ sake, just take a minute and heal.
Now is no time to get sick—at least, not sicker than I have been. If there’s a good week to take a hit from North Tonsilia, for that matter, this was it: next week is PlayThink, then it’s tech week for Weeds. This week we had fewer rehearsals than usual, and none that were unusually demanding. There was time to sleep and recover.
Time to sleep and recover also means time to review video of Tenebrae and think about work and consider how to move forward.
It’s still a little weird to think about myself as a professional dancer and as a nascent choreographer. It’s really weird in this way that it’s not as weird as it once was. I’m starting to think about the long game; to consider strategies for working as much as I can for as long as I can. It doesn’t seem as ludicrous, anymore, to think seriously about choreographing projects and so forth.
In that light I should think about trying to avoid, say, choking to death. I sliced up some steak to eat with a salad today (now that I can eat salad again :P), but I failed to account for being pretty much unable to breathe through my nose, still. I wound up aspirating a longish piece of steak in the process of trying to bite through it, and D had to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Obviously, it worked: out came the steak, and after a few minutes I was able to go eat my lunch, which I’d literally just started.
Still, it gave me pause. I’ve managed to choke on things before, as one does, but never so badly that I couldn’t sort it out myself. It was less scary than one might expect: like, the initial feeling was, “Oh, I’m choking, I should sort this out,” followed by futile attempts to somehow dislodge this strip-o-steak, um, psychically or something?
The problem being that by the time I staggered into the living room where D was, I was kind of redlining and started to panic as I realized I couldn’t remember the universal sign for “choking,” which apparently is not instinctive :O
That said, I was still able to make a faint gurgling hiss somehow: apparently that, combined with the usual hand-waving that I do when I can’t find words, prompted D to realize that I was choking.
The actual experience of being Heimlich-ed was interesting: there was a moment of, “This isn’t worki—” and then all at once it had worked and I was holding a disgusting, slimy strip of meat in one hand. Weird. After that there was a brief episode of the physical rage that’s my universal response to physical threats, but in a particularly helpless-feeling fashion that made me sit down on the floor and say some colorful words.
And then I realized it was just that—the same reflex I always have—and that I was fine and D had basically just saved my life by correctly reading a particular form of interpretive dance that I do when my language coprocessor crashes.
Which, in retrospect, is really rather funny. So now I have another amusing story to tell at dancer parties, which are basically the only parties I attend, about how interpretive dance saved the day.
You guys, I swear my life is not normally this interesting.
You may now proceed with the obvious jokes related to choking on huge meat, biting off more than I can chew, etc.
Si vous parlez français, mes chers lecteurs, and/or if you speak Ballet, you know that “pas de problème” can mean either “no problem” or “problem step.” It’s one of of those puns that never gets old, as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, class this morning began as an ongoing pas de problème in the latter sense, since I was still semi-disoriented (I probably should have skipped the sleeping pill last night) and oddly stiff.
Eventually, my body decided to bring itself online, although my brain lagged behind and kept asking stupid questions like, “Are you sure this Sissone travels right?!”
(Yes, Brain. It begins left foot back and travels sideways. Which way do you think it’s going to go? I mean, it could be a Sissone under … BUT IT’S NOT.)
Regardless, it wound up being a semi-acceptable class, which was good, because it was packed and a significant portion of the company came today. I wasn’t at my best—my body never quite finished organizing itself—but I wasn’t at my worst, either.
I’m debating whether HRT means I should actually devote some time to intentionally stretching on the daily. I’ve felt tighter the past week or so than I’m used to feeling, but I’ve also just returned to serious aerial training and done some serious sitting down in the car (we drove to Saint Louis again, this time for a fantastic dance festival).
I suppose it couldn’t hurt to be more intentional about mobility, anyway—especially going forward, with more partnering and so forth on the agenda.
After the Jessica Lang show, D mentioned to me that he thinks I should start strength training with an athletic or personal trainer who understands dance precisely for the purpose of partnering—especially lifting other guys. He rarely makes suggestions about how I should approach my life as a dancer, but when he does he’s usually right, so I’m contemplating how to move forward in that regard. Señor BeastMode is an obvious choice, if he has time in his completely crazy schedule to take on a client right now.
On a broader level, I’m experience the weird cognitive landscape specific to once again having to acclimate my mind to changes in my body. Obviously, I’m trying to work to avoid hypertrophy as much as possible, since I don’t need to be bigger, but at the same time the influence of hormone therapy is changing the overall shape of my body.
Sometimes I’m okay with that, sometimes I’m not. I’m trying to really internalize the idea that it’s okay to be someone who is a dancer, a bottom, and also rather athletically built.
Obviously, this is a refinement of my ongoing body-image weirdness … but it’s such an oddly-specific refinement, I guess. The dancers in Jessica Lang’s company (Jessica Lang Dance, ou JLD) made me feel a little less alien, since there are several guys in JLD who are small, rather pretty, and built like the proverbial brick …. houuussse (da-na-naaa-na … they’re mighty, mighty).
I felt that this occasion called for some Commodores. You’re welcome.
Given that JLD’s choreography skews strongly towards ballet (albeit contemporary ballet), and that ballet is my preferred idiom, it was nice to see boys whose bodies resemble mine (only better trained, I am forced to admit) working in a major professional company.
- …Which is fine, because it turns out that I lurve contemporary ballet.
I realize that, as far as work is concerned, this continues to amount to First World Ballet Problems. Several people who know me have pointed out that my body is not out of line with the standard for male ballet dancers; I’m on the small end and rather powerfully built, but not to such a degree that you don’t see similar guys in ballet in general. Mine is, K suggests, a Bolshoi body rather than a Balanchine body. I’m down with that. I like the Bolshoi better anyway 😉
On a different level, though, the way my body has changed, is changing, is forcing me to redefine my understanding of myself in accordance with my sexuality. I’m not a waifish little twink anymore, but evidently the kind of guys I find interesting (including my husband) are not interested only in waifish little twinks.
I don’t write a great deal about my sexuality, in part because this blog is really more or less about dancing at this point, and in part because my difficulties with it are sort of, like, Queer 452 difficulties instead of Queer 101 difficulties. This may not be true for any of you who read this on the regular or who are reading it right at this very moment, but I suspect that a lot of people who are less familiar with queer issues might not quite grok the source of my internal conflict (well, a significant portion of men might not: female aerialists, who sometimes wrestle with essentially the same problem of the disconnect between their outer Aerial Beast and their inner Dainty Girl, are likely to get it in one, so to speak).
At the same time, I get that it’s aggressively First World Problems-y to be like, “O, woe is me, I have grown up to be this ripped little mesomorph instead of a dainty little ectomorph.” Like, yeah, I get that there are bigger, more problematic problems by far.
And yet, we live with what we live with.
I should note that this isn’t a question of consciously hanging on to some kind of ideal that I know isn’t going to work with me. It’s a question of some really outdated conditioning disrupting what might otherwise be a very natural process of being like, “Oh, okay, this is where my body is going, and this is the stuff I like to do with my body, here’s where I fit. Cool.”
I feel like ultimately it will take a while and a kind of re-conditioning … maybe even some very conscious de-conditioning. That’s going to be a challenge, since the source of the conditioning in question remains my life’s most significant trauma and one that I’m still working to address.
Either way, I should stipulate that I’m grateful for my body and what I can do with it.
I should also stipulate that I’m encountering some of the typical, boring adolescent problems: acne and, um, errr, ahh, wow, there are an awful lot of very freaking hot guys in the world, did you know that? (Actually, just, like, hot people in general.) Seriously. HOW DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY LEARN ANYTHING IN SCHOOL between the ages of 13 and 18, or what have you???? Thank goodness ballet requires so much focus it’s like wearing blinkers (except sometimes, between exercises, when you’re standing there watching and your brain drifts off and is like DAMN HE LOOK GOOD, WHERE YOU GET THOSE CUTE TIGHTS BOY, oh crap was that piqué-piqué-rond or what?).
I’m not sure how to address the latter problem, and today I was really disappointed when I went to the ONLY STORE IN TOWN that reliably stocks Queen Helene’s Mint Julep Mask, which is what I use to address the former problem (acne), and discovered that they were fresh out. I got some other mask that is reasonably acceptable, but it turns out that Amazon carries Queen Helene, and it comes in a tub. The tube version is fine, but a little hard to manage one-handed when you’re languishing in the bath with a good book, so since the price is right and so forth I think I’m just going to order it from Amazon from now on.
On the upside of the whole acne thing, my skin has decided to be way oilier than it used to be, and not to be as ridiculously dry as it has been for basically my entire life. That is a welcome change, to say the least.
I’ve probably come to this conclusion before, so my apologies if this is tiresome.
I make the same mistake over and over again (what was that definition of madness, again?)—deciding either:
- …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
- …that I’m feeling much better and that, as a result, my depression is just about over and I’ll be fine any old minute now.
Then I find myself flummoxed when I don’t magically turn into … well, not a normal person (as D always says, “Average was never the goal!”), but a not-depressed person … overnight, or when I overextend myself and just can’t even for the next five days.
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a motto that some might call “strategetic” and others might call “cowardly.” In short:
When all else fails, run away
And live to fight another day.
(Coincidentally, this exact phrasing is the motto of Daniel D’Aeve, a semi-cowardly knight [he doesn’t like loud noises, for one thing] and accidental pirate [he doesn’t like boats, either] and the semi-hero of a musical I’ll probably never finish, but who knows. Miracles do happen.)
I’m not going to wrestle my depression into submission. That’s not how this works.
If I keep engaging it head-on, this gorilla will always, always wrestle me into the ground. Depression is like … I don’t know, wrestling some kind of mutant alligator that has gained the ability to steal your strength and make it its own as long as you keep fighting. (I feel like there’s almost certainly a Japanese monster movie about this already, but if there isn’t, there should be.)
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a more conservative tack. I know that I’m too impulsive to entirely avoid wrestling the alligator—sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing so until the alligator is already doing death-rolls at the bottom of the pond—but I’m going to try not to, like, walk up and pick fights with the alligator … even if that means letting it live in my house for a while.
In other words, for a little while, I’m going to try not to do as much.
I’m not going to stop doing everything, of course, but I’m not going to push quite as hard for a bit.
Instead, I’m going to revert to the best strategy I’ve ever found for keeping myself afloat in the midst of one of my moderate-but-grinding depressions: Do Two Things.
Oddly, I thought I’d written a post about this strategy before, but I can’t* find it, so I’m writing it now.
*Which is to say, I ran a search, devoted exactly 30 seconds to looking
for it, and then I gave up because I realized that if I kept it up I’d
start reading old posts and never finish this one.
So, in case you’re wondering, here’s how it works.
First, you get depressed. This makes living seem like a tedious uphill grind, and causes you to write poems empathizing with Sisyphus, and generally makes every single little thing that you have to do in order to continue to remain semi-afloat seem like a hideous impossibility.
Second, you own up to the fact that you don’t want to do anything. You don’t feel up to doing anything. You drag yourself to class because some part of you dimly recognizes that things will only be worse in the long run if, on top of recovering from a depression, you also have to get yourself back in performing shape or auditioning shape or what have you in the span of 3.4 days somewhere down the line. But other than that you feel like you just can’t even.
Eventually, you begin to feel slightly better, and then you look around your house and you realize, Holy Hell, it looks like a tornado crashed through a paper mill, a diner, and a thrift store before chugging right through your door. And also the cat has somehow contrived to get maple syrup on his head (which he doesn’t mind in the least, but you do). And you are out of Kleenex.
Some part of you thinks, “I should do something about all this,” while the rest of you just gazes around at the chaos with the proverbial thousand-yard stare and no idea where to begin.
That’s where Do Two Things comes in. You tell yourself, “Okay. There is no way I can do all of this right now, so I’m just going to do two things today.”
Then you turn to the thing nearest thing—or the nearest thing that feels like you have some hope of accomplishing it—and you do that thing.
The whole strategy hinges on this one truth: that sometimes “Do The Dishes” counts as one thing, and sometimes, “I’m going to wash this one dish” does. Sometimes, getting out of bed counts as one thing, and sometimes completely unmaking the bed, rotating the mattress, and remaking the bed counts as one thing.
It doesn’t matter. You judge yourself by the standard of where you are now. You give yourself permission to wash this one dish and that one fork.
The funny thing is that usually once you get started—once you wash the One Dish—you’ll usually find yourself thinking, “Ah, well. I might as well wash this entire stack; it’s not going to take any longer, really, and I already have my gloves on.”
So often Doing Two Things turns into Cleaning the Kitchen—but you have to remember not to look at that fact too directly, or your motivation might catch your scent on the wind and bolt. Wild motivations are flighty like that.
In my worst depressions, sometimes my Two Things are as simple as getting out of bed to get a drink, then eating a bagel while I’m already up.
When I’m well into recovery, they may be as complex as making the dining room ready for company and re-organizing the closets.
Either way, I give myself permission to feel like if I’ve done my Two Things, then I have done enough for the day.
It is, of course, totally okay to do more than the Two Things. It is pretty much impossible to do less: even in the pit of the kind of depression that keeps you confined to your bed or the sofa, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have to use the bathroom at least twice on any given day. If you’ve been in that place, you’ll understand why that counts. You just start with whatever Two Things are in reach.
Do Two Things acts both as an accessible goal and as a limiter.
If I’m having the kind of day that starts with “I am going to wash this One Dish,” then I know that, no matter how significant an uptick I might feel, I probably shouldn’t tackle rearranging the closets (which always sounds like a good idea, but turns into a nightmare because D has lived in this house for 20 years and almost never gets rid of anything).
Even if Washing the One Dish turns into Washing the Dishes, the knowledge that the first of my two things began as “Wash the One Dish” keeps me mindful of the fact that I’m not yet fully recovered, and that I shouldn’t start burning tomorrow’s matches today.
So there we have it. For the time being, I’m going to Do Two Things. This will help me get through the current slog without overwhelming myself (at least, without overwhelming myself as often).
Anyway, I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for anyone else as it does for me, but feel free to try it if you want to. It’s also good for getting started when you just plain feel overwhelmed, whether you’re depressed or not (this is a key feature of Adulting with ADHD).
Went back to Trap 3 last night.
I almost didn’t go, then realized that the real reason for not going is that I didn’t want to know how much ground I’d lost.
As long as I keep thinking about it that way, I’ll only keep losing more ground.
It was just me (Trap 3 is a tiny group even when we’re all there), so BK and I focused on conditioning. Evidently, single-whatever hangs are a forté of mine: I did single-arm hangs, both sides, and they looked hella solid. I didn’t even know I could do them at all. I’m forced to admit that I actually look pretty ridiculously sexy hanging from a trapeze by one arm. WTF even is that?
Later, we worked a shin slide-down. It’s hard to explain what this is, but I’ll try: you get yourself into a hip hang/forward fold, then take hold of the bar from below, engage the hell out of all the things, and then—without bending your arms—slide your legs over the bar and then down the forward surface of the bar and eventually under it. I’m assuming that, given sufficient strength and skill, you can eventually shin-slide all the way back around into a planche.
Anyway, the first time, I let my arms bend. BK asked me to do it again without allowing the bend or dropping out of it and said, “I think you’re strong enough.”
I realized in that moment that she was right: indirectly, she was saying I hadn’t really given it 100% effort. She was correct. I hadn’t done so because I was afraid. I had to ask myself what I was afraid of: falling?
No. (For one thing, I forget to be afraid of that.)
- I had this same experience as a kid, when I had to get back to training on high bar after a break and convinced myself, ridiculously, that I couldn’t kip up. Ditto learning layouts, which got me called out in front of the entire gym: “Come on, you’ve got to those long legs, you can do this!”
It felt weird and a little scary to admit that out loud, but I did. BK has that effect on me. She’s a dynamo and a stunning performer, but also a good listener.
I’ve realized that the best listeners help you hear the things you don’t know you’re saying (regarding which: had a long chat with a friend yesterday that had that same effect—if you’re reading this, you probably know who you are, so thanks <3).
Anyway, I redid my shin slide-down and it was better. I’m stronger than I think I am (as every trapeze instructor ever has told me).
So I guess I’ll be working on this fear-of-failure thing. It is, I realize, the same thing that prevents me from nailing down a reliable double tour; same thing that makes me fail to commit to my turns sometimes, which makes the difference between a single and a quad.
Curiously, fear of failure begets failure. So I should really get back to joyfully fumbling forward, dancing for the sake of the dance, like I was doing before the stakes felt so high.
One other thing. I keep thinking I’m getting used to my body, and then discovering that, no, I’m dead wrong.
I’m drifting back towards being what I think of as “stage fit”—the way my body is when I’m in regular training—which means,basically, that I’m losing fat pretty quickly. I looked at myself while I was preparing for long-arm beats yesterday and my brain did the thing where it automatically flips through its internal camera roll and slotted the body I was looking at in the amongst male gymnasts[2,3]. That felt weird. Not bad, just surprising—and surprising in part because it wasn’t bad.
- Specifically, the more-slender phenotype. Floor exercise boys, mostly, which should really be no surprise as I was a floor-exercise fiend.
- The mental camera roll, I have discovered, also plays a role in the pleasure of navigation, especially over long distances.
Also surprising was that it didn’t feel feel jarring: like maybe I’ve done enough looking at my body now that I no longer expect to see 120 pounds (or less) of anorexic twink, and instead the mental image is finally updating. Spending basically all my time around other male dancers who are, themselves, adults probably helps. My frame of reference is different than it was.
I’ve struggled with this in part because it’s so unconscious. I walk around in the world with a brain that’s constantly tossing up visual information along with all the other sensory data. I’m good at navigating in part because, in addition to a fair dead-reckoning ability, I’m constantly awash in sensory memories. If my visual and vestibular memories—experienced simultaneously with the present moment—match the sensory input of the present moment, there’s a damned good chance we’re on the correct path.
The same thing happens with people: I’m forever awash from within in images and sounds and scents and textures, though people change their clothes pretty frequently, so the matches are only partial a lot of the time.
Yet, with regard to myself, I ignored the existence of my body for a long time. I didn’t like thinking about it and expected it to return to a familiar configuration. It seems silly now: bodies don’t work that way. They’re more dynamic than roads and paths (which also change, but more slowly). So by not looking at my body, I retained an out-of-date mental map of said body. When I finally started to look again, it was as jarring as going to your old house and discovering that it’s been completely rebuilt in a very different design.
If I think of it in those terms, I’m forced to acknowledge that the current design is much better for the way I’m living in this house/body. So I seem to have developed a broad-shouldered and powerful architecture: so what? That architecture facilitates some of the central things I like to do in this body, and doesn’t prevent other things I like to do in this body.
There’s a percentage of men for whom this architecture is less attractive than my 120-pound twink architecture was. There is another percentage for whom the opposite is true. Rationally, I understand that it’s stupid to feel out of joint because you’re less attractive as one thing now and more attractive as another. Eventually, you have to get over that and start knowing it viscerally. I suppose I’m beginning to feel that, too.
In the long run, of course, it doesn’t matter. But it helps to understand what’s going on inside my brain that has made this so difficult for so long.
It will be more difficult, ultimately, to undo the conditioning that grants so much importance to my desirability as a sexual object (which is complicated and definitely its own post, but one I may never write because, well, it’s complicated).
But this feels like a kind of progress. It makes me less angry with myself for being unable to easily decouple the old body map from the present day. I was going about it all wrong, but I think I’m beginning to understand why. It was uncomfortable in a very confusing way, so I just avoided it for a while.
I don’t know where this will all lead. I feel like being less prescriptive about my own body is a possibility. The remnants of my eating disorder want to fight that tooth and nail, but it’s starting to feel like anorexia is no longer running the show.
I am not too delusional to admit that this might not be the case if my body, in its present configuration, was not aligned with certain conventionally—attractive standards: indeed, if it wasn’t aligned with standards that a lot of gay men regard as aspirational. I may not be a scrawny little twink at this juncture, but anorexia and I are willing to live with a kind of grudging truce as long as I’m basically hot: the implication being, I suppose, that I’m still controlling things (which is almost patently untrue: this body seems to respond almost magically to certain inputs, which happen to be what I was doing anyway).
The difficulty with fighting anorexia, for me, lies in part in its insidious assertion that if I don’t adhere to its dictates, I’m weak. Never mind that people who are professionally strong (hello again, trapeze world) keep telling me I’m strong; never mind that my entire way of life is pretty rigorous (I don’t say “disciplined” because, ultimately, I believe discipline is just motivation in a fancy hat: I live the way I live because I’m motivated, pure and simple).
Anorexia whispers that if I don’t ignore hunger and drive my body to exhaustion, I’m weak; that if I accept a body built on different architectural lines than it was during my adolescence, I’m weak. If I remind it that accepting weaknesses is a kind of strength, it says I’m making excuses.
I don’t know if that voice will ever be gone. If I’m entirely honest, I must admit that’s in part because a part of me doesn’t want it to go. A part of me that is not my anorexia is, nonetheless, complicit in my anorexia. That might be universally true of people who live with anorexia. It might not. Who knows?
Another part of me says, “Your body is a very fine instrument. You need to take care of it. It needs fuel. How else can you ask anything of it?”
So here I am, in the middle of this conflict, eating soup and taking a rest day because I’ve realized that I’m ramping up the training schedule and it’s necessary, because I haven’t re-adapted yet. My scars are itchy in some places and nearly invisible in others. My shoulders say I’m a gymnast and my hips loudly proclaim that I’m a dancer. I, such as I am, am living in this body, with this mind. And slowly I keep peeling back the petals of the lotus; the layers of the onion; unraveling the sweater.
For what it’s worth, I’m reminded that at the center of the onion, there is nothing.
A couple years back I noticed that my tuchas has developed an oddly triangular profile.
Recently, I noticed that it has once again returned to a triangular shape.
Today I realized that it’s a function of conditioning: as I progress from (relatively) out of shape to stage-fit, my butt progresses from “round” through “triangular” and finally to “square.”
Huh. You learn something new every day.
In other news, we left at the crack o’ dawn yesterday for Atlanta, checked into our hotel at 3 PM, established a CirqueLouis outpost, then proceeded to regroup with the crew before dinner and Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia.
And speaking of Luzia—you guys, it knocked my socks off.
Luzia is a beautiful show—funny and tender and full of love for a place and for the people k and cacti) who make that place shine, not to mention packed with the high-calibre circus performances that give Cirque du Soleil its stellar reputation.
B on the straps was, for me, the pinnacle—he’s beautiful and performs with ardor and pathos. I don’t really have language to describe his act. It was breathtaking.
We also got to roam around on the stage—which is fecking amazing, you guys; the technology!—and backstage, where the CduS cast trains and gets physical therapy and does everything else and where the giant amazing puppets live.
After we chatted with the cast about circus stuff (and other stuff) over drinks, which was awesome. I tried to do a lot of listening. You learn a lot that way.
There’s much to be said for a life in which a business trip means watching a phenomenal performance and talking shop with phenomenal performers, then conducting a 5-hour long mobile meeting—part post-mortem on their show, part post-mortem on ours, and part spitball session for the next show—on the drive home the next day.
Little by little I feel like I’m starting to understand circus as an art form of its own, discrete from ballet and modern dance and so forth. I really owe that Jordan, our AD, who has been in love with circus all his life, who has built his life around circus, and who is teaching me (the company’s resident ballet boy) to really love circus in its own right.
Depression-wise, I’m making it back now, I think. The edges are still raw, and I need to respect that and not push myself off a ledge by diving back into too much at once. This is going to mean very consciously taking rest days, especially as I reset and shift back to a different rest-day schedule.
We’re halfway through November, somehow: I have roughly six weeks til it’s time to start hitting auditions.
When I headed to Florida back in September, January seemed unimaginably far away. Now it’s right around the corner.
BG, Killer B, and BW are rebuilding me as a dancer. Jordan is refining me as a performer. I’m not yet back to the place in which I feel like, Yes, I should go audition for ballet things, but I’m at least in a place where auditioning for cirque things and ballet-adjacent things feels like it makes sense.
I want to say, “Let’s see where I am in six weeks,” but I kind of think that’s giving myself too much room to weasel out.
Anyway. That’s it for now. I’m exhausted and ready to turn my brain off for the night.
I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.
I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.
But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.
Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.
I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.
Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.
I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.
Every time I’m forced to take a break of more than a couple of weeks from class, the re-entry period is an exercise in grinding self-doubt.
First, taking a break almost inevitably involves gaining a couple of pounds–generally a sum that the average person would barely notice, but which is all too visible when you return to the studio and are constantly surrounded once again by people with less than 10% body fat.
I may be all about body positivity, but I’m not very good at applying it to myself. I’m also entirely aware that I have somehow stumbled into working in a field in which the folks who decide who gets hired and who doesn’t tend to lean strongly towards lean bodies. Toss in the fact that, given my build, a little more size in the thighs interferes with my fifth position, and you’ve got a recipe for Dancer Meltdown in 3 … 2 … 1…
Worse, it always takes a few weeks to re-awaken and rebuild the muscles responsible for correct execution of classical technique–and even as people who don’t dance continue to harp on about my “natural” grace, I wind up feeling like a half-grown stirk in a dressage ring until things start working together again.
This week has been all about finding my core, not dancing like a swaybacked wildebeest, and remembering how the hell to do turns.
- Though, bizarrely, whilst I was not dancing, my chaînés improved dramatically–regarding which, WTactualF?
Predictably, the resultant emotional fallout has been a constant stream of thoughts like WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO AUDITION FOR THINGS?! and I’LL NEVER BE READY!
So that’s where I am right now. Off to my last week of sandbagging in Saturday beginner class, which I hope will leave me feeling like I can actually dance, and then Jack O’Lantern Spectacular,in which I’ll attempt not to dance like a swaybacked wildebeest before a captive audience of so freaking many.
(File under: Every Aphorism I Know I Learned In Bike Racing)
I’ve been having a tough time with re-entry following this summer’s intensives.
Not that I’m, like, pining for the fjords. Just…
Hmm. How do I explain it?
Going to a dance intensive is, in a way, very much like going to summer camp. You’re essentially excused from most of the responsibilities of adulting. Your daily activities are heavily programmed for you. You don’t have to juggle variables, interruptions, or random transportation disasters.
If you forget your ADHD meds, you make it through the day pretty well because all you’re doing, really, is dancing, and your brain works best when you’re in motion. You don’t have to remember a bunch of discrete, unrelated tasks and somehow accomplish them.
If you stay up really late bonding with your new dance family, it’s no big deal. You get up the next day, pour some strong coffee into your face, hit the studio, dance your butt off, and sleep like the dead when you get back to the dorms or your AirBnB.
And then you come home, and your body is adapted to an 8-hours-per-day-plus physical workload that you’re unlikely to match except during the most intense periods of rehearsal or performance, and you have to get back to Adulting (with or without ADHD).
For me, this illuminates one of the central challenges in living with ADHD: it never goes away.
To borrow a quote from Kiwi bike racer Greg Henderson :
- or a quote about success from Robert Strauss, who presumably doesn’t race bikes but could feasibly be a Kiwi; can’t be arsed to look him up right now.
You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.
ADHD is, in some ways, a gorilla that never gets tired. Instead, you have to learn to manage your gorilla—and managing is largely a question of automation.
When I’m doing it right, I manage my ADHD by making it as hard as possible for myself to screw up the basics.
I lay out each day’s clothes the night before, so I never have to fumble around looking for clothes before my brain is working.
My morning and afternoon doses of Adderall are right there in my 7-day pillbox, so I don’t find myself thinking, “Feck, did I take my meds?”
My keys, wallet, sunglasses, and other important small things live on a shelf by the door, so I will always put them there when I walk in and never have to wonder where they are.
My phone lives next to the bed, where it acts as an alarm clock. Once I get out of bed, I either leave it tethered to one of its chargers or keep it nearby. That way, I never have to look for it.
My class and rehearsal schedules get written out on the whiteboard on the refrigerator door. Writing them down helps me remember what’s coming up; it also gives me a hard-copy reference when I’m not sure and lets D know where I am, when.
While I cook, I clean as I go and streamline general dishwashing into those moments when there’s nothing that requires attention.
I run errands before, after, or between classes so I won’t have to take extra trips out of the house. I maintain shopping lists on Google Keep so I don’t have to remember anything, including the shopping list.
I burn a ton of energy, knowing that it’s the only way I’m going to be able to sleep on anything resembling a normal, diurnal schedule. I run Twilight on my phone and f.lux on my PCs to cut out blue rays (this really does make a huge difference, for me). I don’t play video games or peruse social media in bed, because those get my brain ticking over too fast.
I pay really close attention to things like caffeine intake: and if I’m having a rough time sleeping, I avoid any caffeine at all after about 2 PM.
These are all fairly small things, but they add right the heck up.
The problem is, they’re all routine-driven, and once I get out of a routine, it can be really hard getting back in.
This week, I’m struggling really hard with insomnia. After being sick for most of last week (during which all I actually did was sleep), I’m left with a surplus of energy, but not enough on the schedule to burn it off.
Since it only takes one sleepless night to torpedo weeks of careful sleep programming, I’m currently in the midst of a really unpleasant cycle of sleeping two hours one night, then nine the next.
Last night was one of those two hour nights. I missed class today because of it: I finally got to sleep around 8 AM. Turned off the alarm at 9 AM, when I realized it would be foolish to try to do modern on one hour of sleep. Woke up at 10, when I should’ve been starting class, anyway.
I’ve realized I need to get back to negotiating with my gorilla. I’m home for one more week, then off to That Thing In The Desert after all, then back for a week, then off for a medical thing, then possibly starting rehearsals for a thing, depending.
- In addition to the usual Open Barre sessions with mimosas, I’ll be leading some contact improv playshops at our camp this year.
- I’m going to apply my “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silent” clause here. This is a minor medical procedure but a huge freaking deal for me, so I’m trying not to feck it up.
- Here, too. I’m actually okay with waiting and auditioning for the next thing this company does, but it’s sort of up in the air right now whether we can work around my temporary restrictions after The Secret Medical Thing.
None of this makes it easier to figure out where to start rebuilding my Life Management Protocols, so I’m just going to do what I normally do: fumble forward and hope for the best.
In other words, just pick something and start where you are.
In that vein, I’m hoping to get a class in tomorrow to make up for missing today’s (though tomorrow’s class will be ballet, not modern).
I’ve got a doctor’s appointment at 8-o-freaking-clock in the morning for which I have to check in at 7-goshdarn-30, which means getting up at 6-what-even-is-sixthirty-30 because I kind of need D with me for this one and he needs more than 20 minutes to get out the door 😛
As such, I need to actually get my tuchas in bed at a reasonable hour tonight and, if necessary, hit myself with a whacking great dose of doxylamine succinate to make sure I don’t stay awake all night.
Those are some easy start-where-I-am steps that I can actually do (along with getting audition video links to the AD for the Secret Dance Thing and signing some documents for The Secret Medical Thing and emailing them back to the practice in question).
So, there you have it. I think I really wanted this post to be more of a thought-piece about managing ADHD than me scrabbling on about how I’ve managed to hose everything up for myself (though I did plan to mention that), so I suppose I’ll add that to my queueueueueueue of posts to actually write sooner or later as well.
Until then, I’ll be here, negotiating with my gorilla.
Oh: in other news, I successfully gave a bit of advice to a new guy in class last night, which felt really good.
Leading up to PlayThink this year, I was bulldozed by a swift and nasty bout of your bog-standard “depressolepsy”—that fierce, crushing, exhausting depression that rocks up out of nowhere and smashes everything in its path. Thanks, Rapid Cycling Type I Bipolar, or whatever the hell is going on with my brain.
That’s been the case the past three years running, so I think it has to do with timing: the time of year; the timing of the onset of Summer Intensives and my inability to figure out how much GoGoGo I can take before I need to take my brain out and put it on ice for a couple of days; the timing of the stressful bit of my non-dance job; the timing of always effectively losing my husband to The Great Wave of Planning that precedes his standing summer plans (PlayThink and the Big Burn) just when I most need someone to help me stay afloat.
- This bit isn’t really his fault, btw. It’s more that I have a hard time broaching the divide between myself and other people, including D, when I’m struggling, and it gets even harder when he seems preoccupied. It’s something we both need to work on, together, and we’re doing it, but it takes time.
None of this was improved by my lack of security about our performance piece for the Friday-night “FlowCase,” which we hadn’t rehearsed anywhere near enough.
D offered time and again to cancel, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be better to get out there and do the show than to back out. This is, for all its friendly down-home atmosphere, a professional gig—and the first rule in the performing arts is and always will be: “The Show Must Go On.”
- Corollary: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
- I consistently misspell this word, even though if I stop and think about it for a sec I actually do know how to spell it. Seriously, self: “Corolarry?” Really? Is that, like the cousin of Corojessica, or…? SMH.
Basically, getting out there and screwing up sometimes is part of the business—even Nureyev fell flat on his arse from time to time—but you don’t want to get a reputation for backing out of your commitments.
So I gritted my teeth and accepted that we might totally bomb; that the whole thing might go right off the rails. That life is, after all, pretty much an exercise in walking a tightrope in a maelstrom, for all our delusions of control. That the even inclusion of a twirling beach umbrella and faux 20s-era men’s swimwear might not pull my carefully-crafted little acro-clowning-ballet back from the edge of disaster.
- I had thought of also including fake moustaches, but forgot about them, so even they could not have saved us if things went south.
So we wrestled our way through a couple more hours of rehearsal rendered incredibly awkward by the lack of so much as a single properly-flat spot in which to rehearse, which in turn made the apex of the whole number—the candlestick-to-diver transition that we basically invented for this show—literally impossible.
And then we went on.
And you know that thing that happens when you get on stage and the whole world falls away and suddenly you’re ON and even if you literally put a foot wrong, you can’t put a foot wrong?
So, that happened.
Our performance wasn’t perfect in the literal sense. Because we hadn’t been able to nail the diver transition, we left it out (though we didn’t actually program in something else, just in case it magically came off: I simply sort of rolled out to the side, pulling D up with me).
We had already scuttled the bluebird lift at the end because we need more practice with it before we put it in a show. Right now, its hit rate at home is only about 25%; the rest of the time, I wind up hitting it for about .5 seconds while D struggles to figure out the balance point, then we fall out of it and I yell at him and then apologize for yelling at him.
And, yet, in another way, our performance was a million times better than I could have imagined.
D lit up in a way I’ve never seen him light up on stage (evidently, all you have to do is give him a beach umbrella and let him twirl it).
- I actually rather suspected this would be the case, which is why he got to twirl the beach umbrella (okay, so also it fit his character better than it fit mine). D has a lot of natural clown in him. I formulated this thing to play to that strength, and I think it paid off. Choregraphy Rule Number One: when you’re creating a piece on a group of dancers, create it on the dancers you have.
The piece filled up the music exactly (I was incredibly worried that we’d get ahead, finish early, and have to stand there grinning like eejits for 30 seconds or what have you).
Perhaps most importantly, the audience rippled with genuine laughter at all the right moments. It wasn’t that weird, “Uh … is this supposed to be funny?” laughter that we all secretly dread. All the jokes (physical jokes, not verbal ones) hit the mark.
When it was over, they cheered. Lustily. Thrillingly. Authentically. It was awesome.
Here’s a shot by the talented Jesse Miller, who photographed a lot of the festival.
So, score one for team Dawson/Taylor-Dawson. Not bad at all for a pretty complex bit of physical theater that had a sum total of maybe four or five hours of real rehearsal time and literally no full run-through with music.
Throughout the rest of the festival, we constantly heard how much people had loved the piece.
A few even commented on exactly the thing I’d hoped to bring to the table: the fact that the piece had characters and a storyline, which isn’t something I’ve seen in FlowCase in previous years. Our good friend reported that she was so proud she found herself tearing up. Someone even commented that my ballet (all three-ish steps that actually made it into the final piece!) was beautiful.
Needless to say, the success of the piece and the instantaneous lifting of the pressure of it off of our collective shoulders helped immensely. So did being done, and thus able to go retire to the camper and just read (I did stay for most of the rest of the show, though, until the mosquitoes emerged and began eating me alive).
I also discovered a technique that really helps D and me: right before we went on, we simply talked our way through the piece, back and forth, each of us simply stating the short-hand name for our moves.
- Except for the ballet part: since I do that by myself, and I sometimes find it quicker not to actually attempt to get the language bit of my brain firing, I just visualized and went, “Balletballetballet, maybe some other ballet” there.
We each went on feeling like the other knew not just the skills required, but the sequence in which they needed to be called up, and it let us both relax. Handy!
Anyway, there’s video of the whole FlowCase, but it won’t be ready for a couple of weeks. I’ll watch it, even though I’m not sure I want to (the performance felt really good, but when I watch video, I tend to get hung up in my flaws).
This week, I’m taking two days off to get things back to normal as much as I can before diving back into class and so forth. I am vaguely regretting not signing up for our AD’s master class, because I know a couple of people who are taking it and it sounds cool, but I also recognize that I need a breather.
I need a couple of days to just do day-to-day life stuff. Mentally speaking, I already feel like the summer is more or less over: I’m away for two weeks of July on dance intensives (LexBallet and Pilobolus), then possibly again for much of August and the first week of September (depending on a handful of circumstances) for Burning Man. Because I struggle with time, the idea of those giant pre-planned blocks makes it hard to understand that the rest of the summer, the windows between those bricks, exists.
Inevitably, when I take a couple of days off, there’s a part of my brain that remembers how nice it is to have the whole day to do the things that need doing (or, if possible, to do nothing, or do only things that don’t need doing). Occasionally, a very quiet voice in the back of my head whispers, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this than to pursue your insane visions?”
I remind it, of course, that “it makes more sense” hasn’t really worked out for us in the past—that I’m not actually great at predicting what makes sense; that (perhaps more importantly) the pursuit of impractical dreams, Quixotic though it may appear, keeps the wind in my sails.
Someday, I’m sure, it probably will make sense to ease off the accelerator a bit; to drop out of the big ring. Right now, though, I’m riding to ride the hills; I’m dancing to feel the sensation of soaring at the top of the grand assemblé porté.
And, yet, I think it’s good for me, having a life in which something as powerfully thrilling as Friday night’s performance is followed by something as entirely mundane as getting out in the backyard to chop up the branches that are still waiting there for me.
To misapply Jack Kornfield’s magnificent summary of Zen practice: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
So there we are. Back to class tomorrow, though I am sure I’ll sorely (ha!) regret jumping back in with Killer Class instead of something gentler.
I woke far earlier than I intended and in an increasingly terrible mood. Headed to class once again figuring I’d just do barre.
I wound up staying for the whole thing, including a nice grand allegro. I got to whipout my Pas de Chat Italien for the first time in months. W00t!
In fact, as a whole, class was pretty good—even petit allegro, during which I managed to do acceptable petit assemblés. We also did the glissade-jeté x8, glissade-jeté x4, glissade-jeté, glissade-jeté, changement, changement, reverse, repeat combination that I enjoy because, frankly, it’s the only piece of petit allegro I reliably do well 😜
The fact that I can do it at all is fantastic: my foot held up through everything.
Anyway, I’m home now and much more relaxed, if still operating on a short fuse. Basically, I have no frustration tolerance today.
On the way home it occurred to me that I might get along with myself better if I accepted that my brain chemistry does this sometimes, and that rather than trying to change that, I can do things to keep myself from making life horrible for other people when it happens.
Maybe down the road I’ll mellow out or learn to down-regulate these moods. For now, though, just getting out of the way makes sense .