Category Archives: mental health

You* Don’t Have To Do Everything

*by which I mean I, though also you

I’ve written before about the experience of being someone who never expected to find the one thing for which I was willing to knock everything else right off the table, and then finding that thing.

I am (as a matter of course) talking about ballet.

When you’re in that position, it’s easy to forget that not everything works that way.

I am (as rather less a matter of course) talking about aerials, but also about Ehlers-Danlos.

Sometimes, Making Decisions Gets Complicated.

Recently, I decided to try training seriously on rope (as opposed to just occasionally hopping on the rope and being like, “This is fun” and then not doing it again for 4 years). I love watching rope, and it’s a great apparatus for strong, bendy people, so of course it seemed like it might be a good thing to add to my toolbox.

I mean…

It took only a few weeks to realize that I was … well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

Because, as it turns out, rope is a great fit for my strength and flexibility and a terrible fit for the connective tissue disorder that is the source of my flexibility.

The form of Ehlers-Danlos I have is mild—perhaps not as mild as it gets, but the Ehlers-Danlos spectrum includes flavors that are much harder to live with than mine. Because of that, I sometimes forget that my entire body, as D recently put it, “…is always just on the edge of blistering.”

I mean. We all remember that time I went to a modern SI and my foot blistered under its callus all the way down through several layers of skin, right?

(If you don’t, there’s a pic of the partly-healed blister here CW: ratchet-a** blister pic. I don’t actually think it’s that gruesome, especially not compared to when it first happened … but since several people I know disagree with me about that, consider yourself warned? ^-^’)

Anyway! So, yeah. EDS makes my body respond weirdly to friction and pressure.

And rope is all about that friction and pressure.

Horrible, Unavoidable Blisters Are A Good Reason Not To Do Something, Right?

It didn’t take long to figure out that rope training gives me weird, super-hard, glass-like calluses on my hands … or that the tissue under those calluses then blisters and sloughs, leaving behind raw, blazingly painful ulcers that take for-freaking-ever to heal.

Or that trying to do anything with giant sloughed-off blisters right over the distal ends of your metacarpals is … difficult.

So THAT happened.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after attempting to get through rope class using a combination of Neosporin Plus, blister bandages, cloth tape, and self-adhesive bandages, I decided to take a couple weeks off of rope, let my hands heal, and think about what to do.

Like, even I am together enough to figure out that I needed to seriously think about whether rope was, in fact, a good fit for me.

Like, yes: it’s cool and I love watching rope performers, but was it worth literally flaying my hands on the regs?

And if I opted out, did that make me, like…

[ G A S P ]

a quitter?

This Is Where You Phone A Friend.

Or, well. If you’re me, you either slide into their DMs or just talk to them in person at the gym, bc actual phone calls??? LMAOOOOOOO. Who even does that? That’s not even what phones are for[1].

  1. Yes, I’m making fun of myself. Kind of. But also, that ISN’T what phones are for, or at least not my phone, as evidenced by the fact that it’s absolutely terrible at voice calls. I’m also absolutely terrible at voice calls, so it works out.

Anyway, long story short, last week I finally got around to asking my friend, mentor[2], and hoop instructor ABM, who has pretty much the same version of EDS[3] that I have, if she does rope, and if so how it plays with her EDS.

  1. Is a combination friend-and-mentor a “frentor?” Or is that more like someone who’s a friend, but also a bull?
  2. EDS is a rare disorder unless you’re a dancer, aerialist, or contortionist, in which case sometimes it feels like half the planet has it.

It turns out that she doesn’t, largely because it doesn’t play well with her EDS.

When she does rope, AEB gets the same weird, glassy calluses that I get. They inevitably blister underneath and slough just like mine do. She also said it makes her body hurt in ways that other apparatus don’t, which is consistent with my experience as well. (In my case, I had assumed that more training would fix that, but maybe it wouldn’t.)

ABM is also a super boss-level badass.

So this, in turn, made me feel more okay with the idea of not continuing to pursue rope.

Practically speaking, I’ve pretty much put the question to bed. I haven’t gone to rope class since my glassy calluses tore off. I’m not planning to go to rope class.

And yet my brain still finds it difficult to accept that. I hate being told that I can’t do something, even when I’m the one telling myself that I can’t.

Bargaining Is One Of The Stages[4] Of Grief.

  1. Which are non-linear, and may be visited numerous times. I think of them as trains: you can ride them more than once, and sometimes you’re on a train that at this moment is operating on both the Denial and Anger lines, for example, which might run concurrently in one place but not another. Like trains, they can also take you to places good, bad, and indifferent, and sometimes even to destinations you didn’t expect.

Figuring out that, realistically and practically, you can’t do a thing you’d like to do is a kind of grief.

So is facing down the fact that, no matter what your Russian-born gymnastics coach told you, sometimes there really is such a thing as can’t, or at least such a thing as, I could, but it would be a spectacularly bad idea on levels that I probably shouldn’t ignore.

And so, when I find myself in this position, inevitably I go through this whole mental wrangling process.

Like, I deny that there’s a problem. I give you full permission to laugh at this right now, in this context, because Y’ALL. Me denying that my skin sloughing off is a problem is like:

KC Green’s Gunshow, via St34l1n fr0m t3h g00gs

I get mad: maybe at myself, maybe at the world. I bargain with myself: “Okay, so I can’t do it in its default state, but can I maybe modify it somehow???”

And I do this, I think, partly because I really actually want to Do The Thing, but also partly because I need to know that I haven’t given up prematurely. Only, when it’s something that I want to do, my brain considers giving up at any point to be premature, and reverts to You Just Don’t Want It Enough mode.

Which Is A Problem.

So.

While there might be ways I could work around the blistering thing, it really seems as if there probably isn’t one. At least, nothing short of inventing a modified version of the apparatus (which involves an R&D budget that I don’t have, because I can’t afford to pay an engineer rn).

Normal skin calluses, but doesn’t then blister under the callus[5]. For those of us whose skin does do the thing, most dance contexts[6], allow shoes or dance socks or whatevs, and they prevent the whole problem. Artistic gymnastics and some circus disciplines allow “grips” that covered the parts of the hands that are most prone to EDS callus madness and tears (the rippy kind, not the kind that stream from your eyes as you attempt to pick up your coffee pot with your poor, ulcerated hands).

  1. I mean, assume there are circumstances in which this could happen to normal skin, but for me it’s the norm in some contexts.
  2. There are modern companies wherein it’s barefoot or nothing. I will probably never work for any of them, because I respect that as an artistic decision and just don’t even audition. I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s also a bit on the ableist side, but That’s Another Post.

Rope isn’t dance or gymnastics, though, and it has some unique constraints. I don’t think grips, or anything else I’ve dreamed up, would actually solve the problem. Like, seriously, I’ve been lying in bed and thought, “Maybe I could stick that moleskin stuff on my hands???” but … no. Freals. There are about a million reasons that probably wouldn’t work.

If I had slightly bigger hands, and could wrap them all the way around the rope, that might make a all the difference for me. But I don’t, and the diameter of the rope used in aerials is pretty much standardized.

Being able to wrap your hands all the way around the rope lets you take some of the pressure off of the distal ends of the metacarpals–I can do that on trapeze, silks, hammock, and sling, and while it doesn’t always prevent the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence, it does most of the time.

That’s good enough. I can work with most of the time, especially since when it does happen on trap or things other than rope, it’s typically because I’m doing something wrong.

On rope, though, even when I’m doing things right, I frequently have to grip the rope in a way that transfers a ton of pressure to the distal ends of my metacarpals. Result: the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence (and a couple weeks of wrestling with simple tasks like buckling a seatbelt, driving, or pulling up the covers in bed).

Even if I had bigger hands, though, the surface texture of the apparatus that I’m lazily calling “rope,” which is actually corde lisse, might still be a problem.

Corde lisse translates to “smooth rope,” and it is smooth–in a sense.

You can’t see or feel the twist of the rope fibers. This isn’t the rope you climb in gym class, which is visibly a rope, but something that looks more like the “velvet rope” barriers one encounters at museum exhibits and performance venues.

It’s a kind of long textile sausage. (It is not, however, velvety.)

Wikipedia describes corde lisse as being made of “soft cotton.” This also is true in a sense.

Une corde lisse has a layer of padding between the steel cable that forms its core and its sausage casing, so in that sense it’s softer than just, say, climbing a naked length of aircraft cable.

Likewise, the heavy-duty canvas duck that forms the sausage casing is made of cotton, in that the cotton itself was presumably soft at some point in its life cycle. But that cotton is then transmogrified into the fabric generally known as “heavy-duty canvas duck” and associated with such words and phrases as “tough,” “stiff,” and “military duffel.”

It is not, in fact, actually sandpaper. It feels soft if you gently stroke it, like you might stroke the belly of a cat sleeping in a sunbeam.

But if you use the boniest bits of the palms of your hands to apply intense pressure to a long sausage cased in heavy canvas duck, “soft” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Like the cat, who was only feigning sleep and did NOT invite you to disturb their recharge sesh, it has bite.

So, basically, for a handful (pun intended) of reasons, rope probably isn’t ever going to actually be my jam, no matter how much I want it to be.

The challenge is feeling like that’s okay.

You Really Don’t Have To Do Everything. Really.

This is where the idea of being fair to myself comes in.

Like, I try to do this thing in which I try to convince myself that it really is okay by playing out a hypothetical situation in which someone else comes to me about a similar problem. It goes like this:

THEM
I really like rope, but I’m not sure I can keep doing it because it does bad things to my body. I feel like I should stop, but I also feel weird about it. Like, in gymnastics, the coaches never let us use the word “can’t,” and *shrug* … you know what I mean?

ME
I totally get it! I think you’re making the right decision, actually. You only get one body, so it’s good to listen to it and take care of it! Besides–you do trapeze, hoop, hammock, acro, and adagio, which is a LOT, and you’re doing the right thing to take care of your body so you can keep doing amazing stuff with it.

I’ve had these conversations in real life. Lots of them. And when I’m talking to someone else, I mean it.

Like, I’ll straight-up tell you if I think you’re being a big weenie[8]. I mean, depending on the context, I’ll probably do it in a less-insulting way, like saying, “I know you can get that plank tighter! You’re strong!” or whatever–but still.

  1. Also, can we all stop for a sec and appreciate the delightful oxymoron implicit in the phrase “big weenie,” since “weenie” is used, in other contexts, as an adjective meaning very small? And also that as a derivative of “weiner,” AKA PENIS, PENIS, PEEEE-NISSSSS, it’s for once not insulting to age groups, non-male genitals, non-male persons, any particular ethnic group, people with disabilities, etc?

Sometimes deciding not to do a thing is how we take care of the beautiful instruments that are our bodies. And taking care of the instruments that are our bodies is essential.

Still.

The only way I can stop being mad at myself about this kind of thing is to be like, “Yo, you need your hands for PARTNERING, which is your basically YOUR ENTIRE JOB, and also girls won’t like it if they’re all covered in hard, stabby stuff[9].”

  1. D, at any rate, doesn’t seem to mind, though maybe he would if I was partnering him in pirouettes on pointe.

WTF, y’all.

And That Isn’t Even The Point.

Look … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there’s great value in the kind of quiet toughness and resilience that training in aerials or gymnastics or ballet, at its best, builds in us.

It’s good to try to overcome obstacles whenever they stand between us and something important or something we really want.

But you know what?

It’s also good to be able to say, without deriding ones’ self as an inadequate little panty-waist[10], “Actually, I don’t really need a world-beating reason to not do this thing.”

  1. Apparently, a “panty-waist” was originally an undergarment generally associated with babies–like a shorty union suit. TBH, that sounds like a pretty useful thing. #TheMoreYouKnow

It is okay to want to do a thing, and to try the thing, and to discover that maybe it just doesn’t jam your jelly or whatever. Or that it would jam your jelly, but instead it jellies your distal metacarpals, and that isn’t going to work.

So maybe you change your mind, and decide that the thing in question isn’t for you, at least not right now. And that’s fine.

Changing your mind doesn’t “make you a quitter.” It gives you room and time and energy to not quit all the things you do keep doing.

I do think that I have a good reason for deciding not to continue with rope training.

But it’s not the only good reason, and it would be good if someday I learned that sometimes you don’t even really need a good reason to say, “I think I’ll skip x thing.” That you–I–don’t really need any reason at all except that’s the decision you–I–have made.

Has writing this post moved that needle for me?

I don’t know. I’ve noticed that sometimes we need other people to help us move needles like that. And time. We need time, too.

So even if this doesn’t help move my needle, maybe it’ll help move someone else’s.

Finding North

Right now, I think it’s fairly safe to say that we’re all a bit lost in the woods; a little at sea.

Like, all of us. The whole planet.

We didn’t really know this thing was coming, and now it’s here.

You can prepare all you like for the possibility of some global … I guess disaster is the word; it’s not the word I want, but it’s the only one that to mind. It’s a slow-moving disaster, I guess.

Anyway, you can prepare all you like, but the reality of living in it—the experience of living in it—can’t be anticipated. You can have all the stuff you need to survive and enough to help your neighbors survive, but even that can’t mitigate the shock of the sudden and utter shift, the change when the thing finally comes.

We are, whether we realize it or not, creatures of habit. When we suddenly find ourselves obliged to upend the entire normal course of our days, we kind of derail a bit.

So that’s where I am: derailing a bit, but trying to learn how to drive my train without its track. Trying to figure out which way is up. Trying to orient towards the sun and get my feet under me.

You would think that as someone whose career is inherently cyclical, with long periods of down-time, I would be more okay with this than I am. 

I certainly thought that. I was like, “Yeah, it sucks that our season is over early, and that we never got to do our closing show, but it’s only a month early, really, and we’re okay financially.”

But, really, I thrive on order and ritual, and apparently the ritual for changing gears into summer mode is the last show.

Likewise, “summer mode” usually means I still go to class. It’s easy for me to forget that the thing that keeps my brain on the level is the daily litany of movement. It’s a startling surprise to remember how easily and how quickly things begin to become unbalanced.

The first week of this, D and I were in the middle of finally replacing the Camry—originally with the Electric Jellybean, but since that didn’t work out (the battery wasn’t up to D’s commute), eventually with VW Jetta TDI. That made planning my days difficult for me, so I didn’t dive feet-first into the array of ballet classes available by streaming.

Between the mental stress of the Emerging New Normal and the lack of sufficient physical exercise, my sleep quality and quantity took a nosedive.

Because the rhythm of my day was just plain gone, I kept forgetting to take my Adderall. That meant my brain was … Less able to adjust, shall we say.

Over the past several days, I slowly realized that I was starting to slip, and that it was time to do something about it. I started taking a sleeping pill early each evening in hope of getting some solid sleep.

Last night, it finally worked. I slept until 9:30 today and woke up feeling … if not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at least, like, eyed and tailed. You know. Basically equipped to more or less function.

I remembered to make myself a cup of coffee: it’s become part of my morning ritual, and one that I enjoy. It helps my brain know that there’s a day happening and we’re going to go do the things. I remembered to take my Adderall.

I’m late getting started, but once I finish this coffee and this post I’m going to go take class … albeit, in my living room, and probably in socks. When I’m done with that, I’ll do my assignment for the company, because I’d like to still have a job when the current storm blows itself out.

I’m not going to sermonize or tell anyone how to handle this crisis. We’re all grieving, and grief is a deeply individual process.

Nor am I going to confidently assert that I’ve got this handled, now: I’ve only got this present moment handled, and if things start to derail again, I’m going to try to give myself in una poca de gracia, as the song[1] says.

  1. The song, of course, is La Bamba, which arguably has nothing to do with any of this … Except doesn’t the line, “To dance the Bamba, it’s necessary to have a little grace,” rather beautifully describe how to cope with a sea-change like this one[2]?
  2. Dancing, after all, is just falling and catching yourself, over and over, until it looks beautiful.

 I’m going to remember the tools I’ve learned to use over the past few years. I’m going to:

  • do two things
  • grant myself grace
  • take my Adderall
  • breathe
  • and last, but not least, take class.

Going forward, I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes. That’s okay. We humans are makers of mistakes, but also makers of magic and music and beauty and art.

We’ll get through this, and we’ll find north again.

And until then, we’ll stay home and remember to wash our hands.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t be me without a little irreverent humor, here:

This Cognitive Dissonance

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know that I don’t write about current events that much. I figure there are enough people out there who are better at that than I am, and thus I mostly stick to writing about ballet.

But today I’ma write about Coronavirus … again.

I’m in a weird place with this thing. On the one hand, I’m healthy AF, young, and on the surface I look a lot like someone who could easily be walking around like, “Eh, I don’t need to worry about this that much.”

 On the other hand, my respiratory system—which at the moment, knock wood, is only mildly annoyed about the horror that is tree pollen—is a gigantic baby that freaks out completely at the least possible provocation.

Like, I’ve had pneumonia five times. 

FIVE. Times.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had bronchitis.

Ordinary ‘flu knocks me flat for 2 weeks, minimum (this is why I get flu shots, y’all … well, that and herd immunity).

And every novel respiratory illness that comes down the pike carries with it the potential for serious career setbacks or worse.

And yet.

I’m not a chronically ill person who *feels* sick most of the time. I’m a chronically ill person person who feels great most of the time, with occasional bouts of shattering illmess, some of which are terrifying.

So right now I’m walking around in the world (or, well, in my house, mostly) with part of my brain not even really thinking about this whole COVID-19 sitch, and another part occasionally going, “F**k, what if someone brings it to D’s work?”

 D, btw, works in healthcare. He’s a physio, but currently works in a nursing and rehab facility, so there’s a real chance that such a thing could happen.

This doesn’t mean that I’m constantly panicking, or indeed panicking at all. Panicking won’t help. But it does mean that I’m using a lot of energy talking to my brain, trying to remind it that we have plans and stuff for things like this. That sometimes bad things happen no matter how well you plan, and that we need to stay rooted in the here and now because panicking now won’t help if something does happen.

And though it’s mostly working, my head is still in a weird place sometimes.

Anyway, life is uncertain, and the only constant is change. I’m not the best at actually practicing Zen, but I do find that even if the tools are a little rusty because you keep forgetting to actually use them, they’re still there in the garden shed when you need them, and rusty tools are better than none.

So, anyway, that helps with the cognitive dissonance a bit, as does giving myself room to feel uncomfortable.

Such is the weirdness of this mental place that it’s very hard to write about.

Also, I’m super tired, so I’m going to close here for now.

Oh: we also bought an electric jellybean—I mean, a Nissan Leaf 😊 It’s actually quite lovely and the interior is very roomy (you could fit about 5 dancers in it and still have room for a large dog behind the rear seat). I quite like it. This one’s a 2013, so the range is pretty decent. D plans to use it as his main commuter, since he works close enough to be well in range and can charge it at work. It’s a cute little car and comfortable to ride in.

A red Nissan Leaf sits on the tarmac in front of a few other cars.

It’s bigger on the inside.

Okay, I Can Do This

I stayed up way too late writing, nodded off at 4 AM, promptly had a really dumb nightmare* and woke right the heck back up.

Since then, I’ve been stupidly lying here in bed trying to go back to sleep and getting more and more stressed out.

So you know what? I’m going to get up, wrap a couple of gifts I actually somehow forgot I even bought, play Sims 4 on D’s computer, and maybe go back to sleep later, and maybe not, and generally not stress about it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you can’t sleep.

Also, happy holidays and all that 🎆

*So about the stupid nightmare: it started out as a kind of fun dream about a party, then I realized it reminded me of a ghost movie** I’d seen and immediately segued into being a nightmare about those ghosts

**a ghost movie that doesn’t exist IRL, btw 😑

A Kind of Evolution

I’ve been thinking about my thinking again.

Also about my feeling.

There’s a deeply superstitious part of me that hesitates to make further prognostications about … well, anything really, but especially my mental health. Likewise, the streak of stubborn pride that so dislikes being wrong doesn’t want to make any blanket statements that I might have to retract.

But, although I suppose I’ve “known” this for much of my life, in the sense that I could echo the phrase and tell you what it literally means (or, well, what I think it literally means?), I haven’t really known in the past that the only constant is change.

Ask me twenty-five years, fifteen years, ten years, five years, five months from now what that means, and I suspect I’ll give you a different-ish answer than I would give you today. My answer will change because my understanding will change. At least, I hope it will: when our minds cease to change, we are either literally or metaphorically dead.

So, anyway.

I’ve had a longish–for me, anyway–run of relatively smaller troughs and peaks in my mood. I wouldn’t describe my mood-state as “stable,” exactly: the lows just aren’t as frequently bone-scraping, and the highs aren’t quite so knife’s-edge glittery and wrathful.

I mean, nobody’s is enitrely stable (with the possible exception once again of people who are literally dead … but since we can’t ask them, we can’t know). Though maybe that’s a function of this particular phase of my evolution: I think I used to understand the neurotypical mood-space[1] as a lake, rather than a tidal basin[2].

  1. By which I mean the area occupied on a graph between the lowest of my lows and the highest of my highs.
  2. I might be using “tidal basin” incorrectly here. I’ll try to double-check it before I publish this post, but I’m afraid if I try right now I’ll fall down a rabbit hole about tides and forget to finish writing this.

The water levels of lakes are disturbed from time to time by droughts or storms, and are subject to some degree of seasonal rise and fall, but on average their levels remain fairly predictable and fairly constant.

The water level in a tidal basin, on the other hand, varies more frequently. Ebb and flow is the major constant, though its degree varies–a spring tide may bring the waves washing far up the beach; coupled with a storm, it may send the waters flooding into the streets of the nearby towns.

Perhaps most people’s mood-space is like a fairly typical tidal basin, while mine has often more closely resembled the Bay of Fundy.

A pier and a boat on the Bay of Fundy showing the water levels at high and low tides.

The Bay of Fundy at high and low tides. Screenshot from Wikipedia, because I’m lazy.

I think the rate of change from low tide to high is still greater for me than it is for many people, but it’s frequently less than it often was in the past. I am learning to manage my life and to see the imposition of boundaries that protect my mood-space as tools that enable me to do the things I love doing rather than as chains confining my wings.

I suppose it helps that I have something, now, that I love doing, and that I must do just about every day if I’m going to do it well. Ballet is a demanding mistress.

Because life is never a controlled experiment, I can’t say which of variable or combination of variables has been most responsible for this particular phase in my personal evolution. Physical activity has always been central in keeping me on a more even keel, but prioritizing good sleep hygiene is also crucial. A much-stronger social circle, a reasonably happy home life, and work that I enjoy certainly contribute as well. Likewise, it’s difficult to overstate the role that hormones play in all this, and I shouldn’t overlook hormone therapy as a factor.

Being able to identify the sensation of an uptick in mood that’s about to jump the track, and to take steps to either prevent the derailure or at least mitigate some of its harm makes a world of difference. Being willing and able to unburden myself when the dark closes in would, undoubtedly, help to reduce the time I spend in the depths of despair, and would probably lift the floor a bit, so to speak.

I’m still working on that last one.

Everything we do changes us constantly on the most literal and fundamental level: our bodies and our brains adapt. Undoubtedly, my brain has been changing all along. I hope its current configuration is wired for a bit more stability: but it will continue to change, and I think I would be foolish to conclude that my brain is now much better at braining in this stressful modern world and that I don’t need to keep working on it.

In the hardest, darkest moments, that knowledge is almost unbearable. It seems like so much work, so much effort, for so little return.

Right now, though, in this moment of clear, calm light–a kind of pearl-grey springtime light–I realize that what seems, at other times, like so much work and such an exhausting struggle seems, right now, like simply life and living.

This is a change. I’m not going to shout, “Aha! I’ve figured it out!” because I’m quite sure that I haven’t. There was a phase in my life during which I’d reach a kind of equilibrium and feel like I’d reached the end of the novel and now all the struggle and confusion was behindme and it would be clear sailing (feel free to have a chuckle). 

Another phase followed in which I rather violently distrusted the sensation of equilibrium because it felt like a bait-and-switch: I had learned enough to know that it was almost certainly going to end, but not enough to stop resenting and fighting the end of equilibrium.

Now I’m in a phase where I can accept the idea that although this equilibrium is pleasant, it’s also temporary; that something is going to come along and trouble the waters. I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep my composure when that happens: maybe that’s another phase. I hope that if I do lose my grip a bit, I’ll treat myself more compassionately than I have in the past.

Change is going to come. Hell, change is happening right this very moment. I’m not going to make any silly statements about how one must be ready when it comes: frankly, we can’t always be ready.

Besides, the eruptions that change us most profoundly for the good (though not, I am forced to admit, always for the pleasant good) are often those for which we are least prepared. In other words, we learn a lot more from kludging together a solution with paperclips and gum than we do from effectign one with a full tool-kit and a generous array of spare parts. Likewise, we can’t  learn or do much from within an intact eggshell.

The shattering of our worlds, of our illusory senses of permanence and control, is at the same time a powerful force of creation. 

I know this isn’t a new idea. I know people have been telling me this for years.

I know I understand it differently than I did a year ago.

I know that later I will understand more differently still.


Danseur Immobile

First, a billion apologies. I set up a schedule and responded to it exactly how I typically respond to anything that’s more than I can handle: I missed a post, then balked at making the next one because I figured it would have to be really good, then just kept balking because I didn’t want to get myself back into something that was obviously kind of beyond me right now.

So, yeah.

There you go.

I write best when I can be alone, and right now I have almost no alone time and I seem to spend 100% of the alone time I have doing laundry and dishes and otherwise trying to catch up on housework, which directly conflicts with writing since it involves using my hands. I’m not someone who can dictate into a voice recorder: my brain doesn’t work like that. If it did, I would probably be much better at actually talking to people, but maybe not as good at writing, so who knows.

Part of what makes it so difficult to write with other people around is that they don’t seem to understand that writing for me, requires a kind of uninterrupted focus that is literally impossible when someone[1] insists on asking questions like, “What are you working on?”

Even if I don’t answer (which would be rude and would only invite even more questions), it takes my brain a long time[2] to merge back into the stream. Likewise, the knowledge that I’m almost certain to be interrupted in this way makes it hard to establish concentration in the first place.

Today, we got out of rehearsal early, which is great for writing purposes. I also don’t have a rehearsal for The Other Thing I’m Doing (LBS’ Spring Collection), so I might even get some extra alone time tonight while D is at Trapeze and Acro (despite my fondness for combining them, these are two separate classes ^-^) … though I might go with him and do Acro instead. We’ll see.

Anyway. Add to the list of things I’ve leaned about myself this year: I might never feel 100% certain of myself during the rehearsal process, but once the curtain goes up it’s like I don’t know what uncertain means (except for the bit where I’m always vaguely paranoid that I’ll space out and miss my entrance).

Add also: I can enjoy the heck out of being a performer in an interactive game … but I’ll need a solid three days to recover afterwards. I could get through a multi-day run of that kind of thing, I’m sure, but the longer the run, the longer the break I’d need at the end. This past weekend was exactly that: Friday night, my Cirque company played the international spy collective in a spy game. Saturday, Sunday, and (to a lesser extent) Monday, I played, “Maybe if I squeeze my eyes shut hard enough the rest of humanity will disappear.”

I had a sore throat and a vicious headache on Saturday, so I used that as an excuse to spend most of the day in bed, aided and abetted by the fact that Actual Ballet Company wasn’t called for rehearsal and that I’d been exposed to Strep. Honestly, sometimes it feels amazing to do nothing for an entire day.

I came into this week feeling brighter and better rested than I have since … I’m really not sure when. My body hasn’t been running at 100% (as reflected in my worse-than-usual Petit Allegro), so I think I’m probably fighting off a cold or something, but dancing has felt pretty good. Except for Petit Allegro, and my inexplicable inability to do a balloté during a combination when it was just fine a moment before.

Or … well, not entirely inexplicable. I suspect that the balloté failure happened because we were running into it, and I have literally never done balloté from a run before in my life.

To make balloté work, you have to really brush the leading leg out as if you were going to do grand jeté, then snap it in through passé so it meets up with the back leg just as the back leg is at maximum height.

I kept running myself over, much as I used to do when running into Bournonville jetés. The result was more of a mutant pas de chat than a balloté, which was doubly annoying because balloté is a jump that I can usually do quite well.

Anyway, a mutant pas de chat is what happens when you try to balloté without brushing the leading leg straight out and jumping before you snap it back in. Or maybe more like a pas de araigneé morte[3].

There was also something that was supposed to be assemblé en tournant but became some kind of rotating pas de chat[4], so maybe I was just having a Pas De Chats Only kind of day. Except my actual petit allegro pas de chats were … erm. Not Good.

So that’s ballet for you. You never stop making mistakes, you just make fancier mistakes. You never stop having bad days, so you have to remind yourself that the bad day you’re having today would’ve been a fantastic day two or three years ago and a decent day last year.

  1. Like my lovely husband … to whom, it occurs to me now, I should explain all this, since he has this weird (but kinda sweet) policy of mostly not reading my blog because he wants it to be my thing.
  2. I can’t actually be more specific than that. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes; sometimes it’s hours. It Just Depends.
  3. Step of the dead spider. You’re welcome.
  4. I understand what happened there, at any rate. My thinking brain got ahead of my body, and I was thinking about the plié that was supposed to land the darned thing, and apparently attempted to plié in mid-air … because THAT makes sense! ^-^’

Stuck(ish)

You know that thing where you’re facing what’s probably going to be a pretty big change in your routines and you know you should probably get a bunch of stuff done before said Pretty Big Change hits but you keep looking at all the things that need to be done and going ACK NO HOW?

That’s where I am right now, even though I know that I know better.

…By which I mean, the whole Do Two Things thing would really help right now, but it seems like I keep Doing the same Two Things (cooking, dishes) over and over again and not really being up for much more (possibly because things have been stressful and I’m not sleeping well).

To clarify: the Pretty Big Change should be a good thing. I don’t want to talk about it much because I don’t want to tempt fate (and also because I don’t want to have to be like, “Yeah, you know the Big Thing I announced? Well, um, that fell through.”).

lt will also hurl a wrecking ball through the comfortable schedule that has slowly evolved over the past few years and force me to try to be a little better at adulting (or possibly just accept a lower standard, ugh).

So I’m feeling a little up-in-the-air; a little stressed out; a little stuck.

None of which prevents me from being sort of electrically alive with hope that the Big New Thing will actually come to pass; that it won’t turn out that I show up on Day One and get sent home immediately.

Of course, I am terrified of hope, and being electrically alive with anything feels a lot like anxiety, so … yeah.

If the Big New Thing works out, it will be like when you’re playing a puzzle game and you’ve had this one row jamming up the works and you finally get the piece that lets you clear it and then you can put everything else in place. (Edit: I mean in terms of being able to plan. Right now, I feel like I can’t schedule ANYTHING, which is wrecking my head a little now that it’s within my Golden Retriever Time Zone of two weeks.)

If it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll be a little bit devastated, but the worst thing that will come out of it is more time to work on Antiphon projects and the assurance that I’ll be able to continue with what I’m doing now, including the lovely classses with L’Ancien that now take place twice each week, for the foreseeable future.

Historically, the week before any major change is always kind of a giant kettle of stress, and I know that about myself: I dislike imminent changes; I’d rather just get things over with. So I’m trying also to give myself a little bit of grace and not be such a jerk to myself right now. But, of course, being stressed out makes both those goals a little harder to achieve, so … yeah.

Just breathe; just be here now. I’ll be better once I’m in class tonight and the only thing I can think about is dancing (especially since it’s Musical Theater tonight and that requires ALL OF MY MENTAL RESOURCES, you guys).

Unstrung

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.

Pas De Probleme

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 Danceou 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[1]), 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.

  1. …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.

Do Two Things

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:

  1. …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
  2. …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.
  3. …both.

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.

 

 

not-how-this-works

Via teh Pinterest-Googs Nexus

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.

come-at-me

Even if it taunts me from my own ottoman, I will try to not to fight the alligator.

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).

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