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Ballet and the blues

This journey with ballet definitely helped temper my symptoms, understand how to be proactive about my health, and get professional help for my mental health issues.

Anonymous

I think it began when I was in college—but it wasn’t until I moved to Bangalore afterwards that the symptoms started to manifest. I was away from home and the people I associated it with. I had to start afresh amidst a new crowd—among those who hadn’t grown up with me and who didn’t know me.

I’ve always been naturally skinny, and it’s something I’ve received disconcerting levels of flak for. This was something that proved to be a hurdle for me when I tried adjusting to a new environment. There were other factors—my profession can be extremely demanding and through habits I carried over from college I began being seen as a workaholic; a label I had trouble identifying with. It didn’t always feel right spending the prime of my life sitting in front of a computer but I had a relentless need to do my absolute best, prove how good I am, and be completely independent. At some point, these different pressures added up. It wasn’t something I realized for years together up until I started to notice how I wanted to sleep all the time, even if I wasn’t feeling tired. I had also begun to be reclusive—this was odd seeing as I had always been a people person. 

I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I was dissatisfied with my career and life choices, in a state of constant exhaustion because of the demands of my career and my inability to maintain a healthy sleep-work cycle. 

Even though I felt comfortable in my own skin, what others said to me about my body made me feel socially insecure and added to the issues I was already dealing with. People constantly commented on my physique—even the most well-meaning comments hinted that there’s something wrong with me. Despite my confidence in myself every time I was meeting someone new I was wary of what they might say.     

Isolating myself from social interaction was easy—I always knew how to keep myself busy. Eventually I stopped going to concerts, writing, learning music or doing anything recreational that I took pleasure in doing. I had daily bouts of crying and would stay in bed whenever I had some free time. My confidence, focus, and memory took a hit. I felt like I had made a wrong turn somewhere and moved away from my original self and let myself down.

In 2013 I started ballet lessons. I have always been a very physical person, one who was forced to sit down and pay attention to academics. The intense physicality ballet demands made me feel right at home. It reminded me of all my natural instincts, things that I naturally chose to indulge in as a child— music, dance, athletics, drama, and the stage. It resonated with me on a very visceral level and I knew then that I could never stop doing this. 

With ballet you have to be the strongest you can ever be, it led me to start treating my body better. I was already healthy and strong because of good genetics, not by conscious effort. I had to begin paying attention to better nutrition if I wanted to build on my strength.

I stopped eating a lot of harmful sugar and junk that I would consume just to gain weight; trying  to look more ‘normal’ by increasing my weight stopped being a goal. Instead in order to gain strength, discipline, and focus—I started eating better, and stopped smoking and drinking as a social habit.

Inside the studio I felt the least awkward than I did anywhere else. In the ballet community I found representation of a healthy, long, lanky, and skinny body type—for a change I wasn’t being told that I looked wrong.

Ballet demands a lot mentally, a razor sharp focus to think fast on your feet so as to combine quick movements, with the correct posture and technique. It took me a while to build that focus and discipline. I feel like I am the best version of myself when I am dancing. Even when it’s excruciatingly painful I don’t get negative about it. I started wanting my ballerina personality and temperament to be what defines me more than the stressed and frustrated version of myself that I am when dealing with the rest of my adult life.

I always felt that becoming as reclusive as I did was my biggest undoing. While I appeared confident, efficient, and successfully independent the pressure to be completely self-sufficient made it very difficult for me to ask for help without feeling like a burden.

People close to me didn’t realize that I wasn’t okay because I never exhibited symptoms that people associate with depression, like thoughts of suicide or self-harm. All those years it seemed like I was doing a good job of handling my difficult life; in reality I was drowning in isolation.

In my ballet class I started being more social, talking to students and teachers a lot more than I normally would. I began to realize just how much my teacher liked me and cared about me. A lot of my fellow dancers were very encouraging and showed me a lot of support and love. I actually started feeling warm about people again and it felt good. 

This journey with ballet definitely helped temper my symptoms, understand how to be proactive about my health, and get professional help for my mental health issues. The crying has reduced by about 80%, and the depressive episodes are no longer an everyday affair. I feel much healthier in every aspect, I dance for a minimum of five days a week and just last year I got my big break on stage. For the first time I was able to start the new year with optimism. It feels good that I’ve been able to come full circle and make up for the wrong decisions I thought I had made.

The writer, who wishes to stay anonymous, is a 31-year-old design professional from Bangalore.