Stupid Things I’ve Been Told As Someone With Mental Illness

  1. “Have you tried exercising?”This is in itself is not an entirely stupid thing to say to someone struggling with depression. Exercise does help. However, if that person has been struggling with depression for 10 years and also does dance as part of their degree… then yeah, it’s a really fucking stupid thing to say.
  2. “Do you really think you should aim for a first in your degree? Considering your mental health.”Would you say that to someone in a wheelchair? No, didn’t think so. So shut it.
  3. “People with depression need tough love.”I am pretty sure we don’t. I am pretty sure we’ll cry if you give us tough love. What does that even mean anyway? Someone who feels worthless doesn’t need you attacking them too! Tough love doesn’t work with depression.
  4. “You’re quite young to be on anti-depressants!”What exactly do you want me to say to that? Ah yes, doctor, I am quite young, I think it was all a mistake actually, please take me off my medication? Spoiler: I’m not going to say that.
  5. “Staying off university won’t solve anything.”No, you’re right, it won’t solve anything. But when you figure out how to get me to uni, when I can’t even get out of bed, you let me know. And I’ll do it.

If you’ve ever thought or said anything similar to these things, it’s okay! Everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay as long as you learn from them. Peace and love, people.

Depression in Dance

Laziness: A personality trait.
Depression: A mental disorder.

These are separate things.

I often find laziness and depression get mixed up and to be truthful, it’s easily done. This is why we have to act with both kindness and discernment to the people around us. You might think someone is being lazy, but they might actually have a mental illness, which makes them appear that way. If they had a broken bone, they could show it to you and say “This is why I haven’t been in class.” But I can’t show you the chemical imbalance in my brain and say “This is why I haven’t been in class.” There’s no way I can prove to you how I’ve been feeling and that makes it all the more frustrating.

Dance classes can be so hard to go to when feeling depressed. Not only for the obvious reasons: low mood, lack of motivation, sadness. But because of the physical reasons too. I know, mental illnesses have physical symptoms? But yes, it’s true! Some of the physical symptoms of depression are:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling a heavy weight in the body/feeling unable to move
  • Sleeping problems
  • Inability to talk/slow speech/slurred speech
  • Aching body parts
  • Fatigue/exhaustion

These things make it incredibly difficult to dance. It’s hard to get that quick, sharp movement when it feels like I have bricks attached to my limbs. It’s hard to repeat that phrase over and over when I feel like I’m going to collapse with exhaustion. It’s hard to remember choreography, or to learn movement on the left-hand side, when I’m using all of my strength to stay focused on what’s happening in the room and not in my head. It’s hard to get out of bed feeling like this, let alone dance. It’s also stressful, as while dancing I’m aware I’m not fulfilling my full potential and I’m preoccupied with what others’ think of me.

I can understand how what I’ve just described can be misconstrued as laziness, because after all, what is laziness?  Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness.” Sounds similar to the physical symptoms of depression – with just one important difference. Laziness is being unwilling to work or use energy. When I am depressed, I am not “unwilling to work”. I am just depressed. And I have the symptoms to go along with it, that’s it, it’s that simple.

For me, I prefer not to go to dance classes when I feel this depressed. I’ve experienced doing so before, and I know I won’t dance to the best of my ability, I won’t concentrate, I won’t be nice to be around and I’ll end up feeling worse after I’ve been. And yes, there is the stereotypical claim that dance heals and people are freed when they dance and everything is wonderful! My response to that is yes, sometimes, and other times no.

Dancers who suffer with depression don’t miss classes because we can’t be bothered, like lazy people do. We don’t make mistakes because we’re not trying hard enough, like lazy people do. We have an illness.

Laziness is a choice, but depression is not.

For more information on depression visit the NHS website.

Saying Hello To My Eating Disorder

At fourteen-years-old, I found myself in the downstairs toilet of my house, with my fingers in my throat, retching. This undoubtedly seems like an odd situation for a fourteen-year-old to be in. It is. Actually, it’s an odd situation for anyone to be in. I was there because my boyfriend at the time had made a comment about the women in porn and their perfect bodies. And we all know how mainstream female porn stars look, whether we want to admit it or not, and that is: petite, big boobs, flat stomach, slender legs, small waist. I, at fourteen-years-old, didn’t have any of these things (to be honest, I’m twenty-one now and still don’t have any of these things) and was quite distraught that my boyfriend admired these women’s bodies, who looked so different from mine.

So, there are two details here that fourteen-year-old me was too young and inexperienced to realise. These things are:

  1. People are allowed to be attracted to different things. Some people have ‘a type’, but some people don’t. Some people just like whatever they like and that’s okay. For example, a straight man may find a thin girl and a chubby girl equally attractive, despite their obvious differences.
  2. If a boy knows you’re self-conscious about your body (which my boyfriend did) and openly talks about how beautiful other women’s bodies are (especially unattainable bodies such as a porn star’s), he is insensitive and stupid. Dump him.

But Heinz sight is a wonderful thing and I didn’t realise these details at the time. So, my answer to this dilemma was to make myself vomit and get all the food out. All the food I’d eaten that day needed to be flushed down the toilet so I could look more like a porn star. Sounds silly when you put it like that.

I didn’t actually want to look like a porn star. I just wanted to be skinny. I had wanted to be skinny since I was six-years-old, I specifically remember. I remember being on the playground, wrapped up in a sensible winter coat my parents had bought me, happily playing with my friends. Somehow my friends and I had got into an altercation with one of the naughty boys. His name was Reuben and I’ve forgotten his last name because he moved schools not too long after this. He had blonde spikey hair, was always in trouble and used to pinch me (and I think the other girls) when we sat on the carpet during lessons. I don’t remember what the disagreement on the playground was about, but I sure remember what he said. “You’re fat.” And he ran away. He didn’t say this to any of my friends; he said it to me and only me. I don’t recall ever being body conscious before this moment, but after this I was hyper aware of my “fat” body and how “wrong” it was.

In case you’re curious, when I was fourteen and bent over the toilet, I wasn’t actually sick. I tried until my eyes watered, but for whatever reason it wasn’t happening. Soon after this, I realised how silly I was being and how forcing myself to vomit up food wasn’t going to solve anything. I went about my life, with this incident shoved to the back of my head. I still hated my body (this was a given) but hadn’t acted out in this way again – until, a year and a half later.

I tend to think of this incident as my first encounter with my eating disorder. At the eating disorder clinic, we’re advised to almost separate the eating disorder from ourselves, like we’re two different people. So, I explain the ‘fourteen-year-old toilet incident’ as meeting my eating disorder for the first time. It didn’t introduce itself to me in a big, brash, dramatic way. But it said hello, a quick and small encounter, so brief it was almost forgotten – but returned when I was fifteen to grow into something uncontrollable.

If there is a moral to take from this spiel, don’t be a dick about other people’s bodies.