Category Archives: mental health
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 says.
- 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?
- 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
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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 😑
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.
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 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 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.
There was also something that was supposed to be assemblé en tournant but became some kind of rotating pas de chat, 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.
- 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.
- I can’t actually be more specific than that. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes; sometimes it’s hours. It Just Depends.
- Step of the dead spider. You’re welcome.
- 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! ^-^’
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).
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.