When Depression Hits the Dancer
For those who have been wondering where I am, what I have been doing, and more importantly why I have not blogged in several months, the title of this new blog post should give you an idea as to what has been going on.
As a dancer, I have always given the impression to the outside world of being quite stoic no matter what is going on around me. My heart may be breaking or my life may feel as if it is spinning out of control, but I will always project an air of grace, poise, and humor. Because my career at this point in my life is focused more on teaching and not on dancing or even choreographing, the outlets to quiet the voices in my head and soul are not there at this point. I watch others I teach, and even my own children, dance and only remember a time when that was me as well. When a bad day and the demons and voices in my head were easily quieted by standing and the barre and concentrating on class.
This is not an outlet for me at the moment. Spending an hour at the barre was my meditation. The ritual of the barre was a meditation to me and was always able to center and refocus me in a way nothing else could or can to this day. Ballet is more than what I do, it is in my soul as who I am.
Ballet dancers tend to have a way of looking at themselves through the lens of imperfection. Because we strive so hard to be perfect in our career and art, we see much of how and where we are lacking. When this is how a dancer sees themselves, what happens when the list we make mentally of our perfections versus imperfections tilts heavily in the negative? What happens when there is nothing more we can do to strive for that perfection we always seek because our bodies no longer allow this to happen? What happens when a dancer becomes old and breaks down? What happens when a choreographer asks us for a little more and there is now no more to give?
This is where I am at this point. After several surgeries and growing age, dancing with the abandon I used to...or the quality I used to...or even being able to spend hours meditating and sweating at the barre is no longer a possibility. Now is when I encourage others as I teach. However, I would be completely lying if I were to say that I do not feel a tinge of sadness as I teach. It is a loss for where I was just, in my view, a short time ago.
I have long since put away my pointe shoes for the last time. My ballet slippers have been traded for teaching shoes and warm socks to help my bones and muscles warm when the studio has a chill and to help my back withstand long hours teaching. My tights and leotards have been traded in for black yoga pants and flowing bohemian shirts to help the students see the line of my body as I teach while hiding the pudge that has decided to take up residence around my midsection and refuses to leave at all.
Moving quickly and deftly between moves as I choreograph and teach has been replaced by a more cautious way of moving and teaching. Many days one or more joints ache as I change positions and I must remember to be gentle and careful with them so that they do not fail me in the middle of a class. Warm up a bit longer, demonstrate smaller, move slowly and teach in a new way.
As much as I mourn the dancer I was, I am starting to see what this has done for my teaching. I am a much better teacher because I must think through exactly what words and imagery I use to get the best results from those I teach. Gone are the days where I would show how to execute a perfect triple pirouette. Now, I explain what happens with each part of the body and mind in order for them to do it.
Depression happens to many of us. I realize that depression is a chemical problem within my brain and that is being taken care of. However, the triggers of depression are as important to see and identify as the medication and therapy. Self-reflection and seeing the world through honest lenses is important. Depression happens to me when I look around and think about where I have been in comparison to where I am now. I see my body, the tool that has served me so well for so long, no longer being able to respond to my commands. I feel the loss as much as I feel the loss of a person who has died. As a matter of fact, I am facing a death of sorts. I am facing the death of my former self. As I slowly come out of this, I shall celebrate the birth of my new self.
But for now, there is a great deal of sorrow about the death of who I was.