I Am More

 

I am more than a 

NYAuditions04.42.EGunterNumber in an audition,

Number on a scale,

Number of pirouettes I can do,

Number of shoes I go through a week,

Number of calories I eat a day,tired dancer

Number of parts I get,

Number of times I failed,

Number of relationships sacrificed,

website pointe shoe 4Number of hours in the studio.

I am more than a number,

I am me.

 

Written By Amy Waddle October 2012

 

My Testimony At The Suicide Prevention Forum 2015

I gave a Stamp Out Stigma Presentation at the Suicide Prevention Forum in San Luis Obispo, California, hosted by the Suicide Prevention Council of San Luis Obispo County. I felt honored, and honestly, overwhelmed at sharing such a personal experience that spanned almost 20 years; all in 15 minutes! It wasn’t the first time I had shared my eating disorder  testimony, but it was the first time I shared the story of my depression that led to suicidal ideation.

Many of my closest friends and family were unable to attend the event due to time and place, living out-of-state, or work, so I typed it up and am posting it for everyone to read.

Disclaimer: There is no graphic content in this post, no mention of specific doctors, medications or behaviors. I believe this story is right for teens, possibly pre-teen, depending on the situation but I want you to know I take my reader’s safety seriously, and have done my best to respect this sensitive subject while opening myself to others. I pray you find comfort.

Below you will find the complete presentation…..


“My goal for this talk is to open myself ……. so you can see more of you. I hope you’re able to walk out of here tonight not just knowing more about me (because I’m sure that’s why you’re here:)…. but knowing more about yourself, life and recovery.

Let’s begin….

I was born in Baltimore, and raised in the mountains of western Maryland by a mother with dissociative disorder, and a workaholic father. I have two older brothers, we were and are, very close. Due to my father’s perpetual absence, I never felt good enough; I felt invisible.

At the age of 12 I discovered classical ballet and a talent that would end up catapulting me into a pre-professional ballet career. FullSizeRender (20)

At the age of 14 I moved away from home and studied ballet full-time at a performing arts school in Lynchburg Virginia, under Jan Petrus BFullSizeRender (24)osman Principal dancer with the Royal Ballet.

I danced 6 hours a day, 6 days a week and that’s when we weren’t rehearsing for a show. It was stressful, strenuous, and competitive. I found a place to bury my pain, and just be me. By the age of 16 I was auditioning for advanced training programs with Houston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and the School of American Ballet in NYC.

Praised for my body parts: long legs, long arms, long neck, short waist, arched feet, and graceful movement, I was skinny, hard-working, driven and perfectionist. But best of all….I was no longer invisible. My soul breathed when I was on stage, and my Dad was in the front row, with bouquets and proud smiles. As a ballerina….I was enough.FullSizeRender (25)

Unfortunately, it all came to an abrupt halt in the spring of 1994. After a long day of rehearsals and a Swan Lake performance that pushed my body past what it was able to endure I woke the next morning unable to move. I went from a local physician to the best orthopedic doctor in Washington D.C. the diagnosis: degenerative disk disease, three herniated disks in my lumbar spine, arthritis, told I had theFullSizeRender (26) spine of a 40-year-old. I was 17. “You will never dance again.”

Something inside me broke. The large brace that fit from the tip of my ribs to the top curve of my hip I had to wear for at least 6 months, held the pieces of my life together. Heartbroken by being replaced by another dancer, I packed up and went home. My Dad went back to work, and I was invisible again.

That’s when I met Ed. The Voice. It said, “If you can just stay thin, you can hold happiness.” With that voice crept a darkness so thick it let me into a deep, dark depression. I tried to fit in at the local highschool, hide the brace under my clothes. I was different from the other girls because oFullSizeRender (23)f my weight, and maturity. I had already balanced a checkbook, and taken care of an apartment. They worried about boys! I felt separated from everyone around me, and it was the first time I thought of killing myself. Death would be easier than living.

By the time I was 19, the depression– now accompanied by severe mood swings, anxiety, and panic attacks– would no longer stay buried. I checked myself into an inpatient psychiatric hospital, prescribed an antidepressant and began counseling.

But, I still heard Ed’s voice, it was getting louder and more demanding “Just work harder to lose weight! One more pound! One more inch! One more calorie! Just one more!” I became addicted to diet pills, exercise and self-hatred. Ed’s voice would echo off the walls at the gym when I was on the treadmill telling me I couldn’t get of the machine until I burned an X number of calories showed on the display. I tried to live off my pain but it had no sustenance.

Fast forward to the age of 25. I had done the “diet pill, caffeine thing” and collapsed at work. At the ER, hooked up to tubes and sticky patches, I lay there looking up at the ceiling. I whisper, “I’m never gonna be skinny.” I was really saying, “I’m never gonna be happy.”


The doctor guy gave me two choices: “You can keep going like this and risk death, or you can get help and live.” As loud as Ed’s voice and as powerful the depression, there was a little flicker of hope. The will to live. So, I took a chance and made the biggest decision of my life.

I chose recovery.

3 days later, I was on a plane headed to Remuda Ranch, an inpatient eating disorder treatment hospital in Wickenburg, Arizona, diagnosed with bulimia, and bipolar II. Finally, my life made sense!

But, Ed and Darkness (my bipolar) wouldn’t give up without a fight. I spent the following ten years in and out of relapse. Every time I moved forward my steps turned to stumbles, crawling into coping; only coping with life, never fully living, and always between relapses.

I lived during the “in-between” for I cannot say living in relapse is living at all.FullSizeRender (28)

Fast Forward to the spring of 2010.

I went back to physical therapy because cortisone shots weren’t helping the pain. The physical pain hit my biggest trigger, I call The Master Switch. The emotional pain that came with my first injury outweighed the love I was able to feel from my husband and my then 3 ½ year old daughter. I was suicidal and hanging on by a thread. One afternoon, alone in my condo, I knew it was time. It had to end. I was in the kitchen staring at the refrigerator at a suicide hotline magnet. I don’t remember my doctor giving it to me but there it was, so I called. A guy answered and I remember him talking me into not hanging up, not doing something stupid, and somehow promising him when we got off the phone I would go to my Mom’s house so I wouldn’t be alone. Admitted into an inpatient psychiatric hospital 3 days later for suicidal thoughts and attempting harmful behaviors; things began to change. 

I chose life in 2001 when I went to Remuda Ranch, but now I would have to fight for it, and battle with Bipolar II. Ed & Darkness didn’t want to let me go, and I still hated myself so I fought: for my husband–who always believed I was more than my illness–, my daughter w
ho wasn’t old enough to know why mommy kept leaving, my family and friends. i chose recovery

Fortunately, I didn’t do it alone. I found the right therapist, a dietician, and psychiatric doctor. They helped me face my greatest fear–going back to the moment before I met Ed. As that broken dancer, I grieved the loss, accepted myself and for the first time in my adult life said “I am enough. I don’t need you Ed, and I don’t deserve to live with untreated bipolar because I deserve recovery!”

You know that Doctor was wrong. I never stopped dancing, I was just dancing with Ed. I danced with Ed for 18 years and through that journey was born a new dream out of a broken one. Being a professional dancer wasn’t meant for me. Part of my healing was accepting that fact, and what I do. I help them. By starting Dancing With ED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to awareness of eating disorders in the dance community, and writing a blog called Dancing In Recovery.

I am no longer trying to change myself or punish myself for the mistakes I have made. I am more than my illness, and more than the reason I take pills. I am me. I am enough.

Eating Disorders, as severe mental illnesses, are not a choice, about food, or weight and have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. They also have a high rate of suicide. An eating disorder can kill you. You’re sick and look totally normal just as someone can fake a smile and be planning a suicide attempt.

But there are signs of eating disorders and suicide, and if we can get rid of the stigma we can learn what those are.

Thank you for letting me share.

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Special thank you to Transitions Mental Health Association for supporting me, Dancing With ED, Inc. and breaking down barriers of stigma. 


 

10 Things I've Learned About Bipolar

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We all have bad days. Recently, I have had too many back to back. I’m sure you can relate if you have a mental illness: depression, PTSD, bipolar I, bipolar II, schizophrenia, bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, …

You can relate to the unpredictable and sometimes debilitating thoughts that spiral through your mind when all you want to do is find the off switch. Or the roller coaster of moods can bring you from, “I’m going to have a great day, look at my to do list. Yummy, I love chocolate creamers…This takes too much energy, maybe I will just spend some time with my cat. Maybe have a sleeping contest. I’m tired, overwhelmed. I give up.” 

I read an article by Natasha Tracy a few days ago, (who is my blogger hero) on “high functioning” bipolarism. She shared of the struggle to give anything to your life after you have spent it trying to be normal. Holding down a normal schedule, keeping the look of “stable” for someone with bipolar is a gigantic task. It is exhausting ,and I agree with her 100%. And this is all with medication. Could you imagine it without? What?!

Definitely not alone in this but it’s hard to find someone to talk to you who really, really understands; I’m told by my family while having a conversation around the dinner table, “Amy, you are not supposed to say that out loud.” Whatever I had said I had thought, and it came out of my mouth. They love me, and are gentle and kind but sometimes laugh when my bipolar thoughts make an appearance at the wrong time. But when is the right time to share bipolar thoughts? Like an unwelcome guest, I must turn off the front porch light and pretend I’m  not home.

However, those days teach me about myself, what I can and cannot handle, and how important it is to give myself permission to have flaws, to be human, and to have bad days. ( No! my inner critic says, you’re not allowed to be weak)

Here are 10 things I’ve learned from my bipolar:

1  Medication doesn’t fix everything, just some things. The rest I’m going to have to work out in therapy; learning proper self-care, and using my support system.

2  Not everything I struggle with is from my illness. (but most of it is)

3  I can live a healthy life, but not a normal one. (define normal = a life without mental illness)

4  My bipolar and bulimia make me special. (I don’t want to be special)

5  I am braver than I ever thought possible, but did not set out to be. I just wanted to    survive.

6  People will not always accept me for who I am, and I am okay with that.

7  I start over everyday. Like on a board game, landing on “go back to home”.  I am  starting from scratch each day, building new experiences and strength. I used up all my strength and mindfulness yesterday.

8  I will never know everything about myself. That’s okay.

9 I am more than my illness.

10 I appreciate when I can smile, even a little.

3 Reasons Why Ed Has No Business On the Dance Floor

We’ll jump right on in with this one……

Ed is a selfish partner. 

A partner is someone you can rely on, be free with, dance as one. Your eating disorder does not want you to look good, or feel good. Regardless of what it tells you. When you jump, it will not catch you. When you turn, it won’t keep you on center. It’s goal is to throw you off, to trip you up and confuse you in hopes that you won’t stop needing it.

It doesn’t want you to succeed. 

The progress you want to make in your technique, artistry, and other aspects of life, may be near impossible with Ed whispering in your ear but leaving Ed off the dance floor ( or out of life) is easier said than done. Much of what’s holding you back may be in your thinking. What I call Ed thoughts. Critical, and insensitive. All in hopes you will not succeed. And in some cases, in hopes you will not survive.  Dance is tough, always will be no matter what level you climb so we could all use people around us that want us to succeed.

In those moments say to yourself, I will get this, maybe not today, but someday. I’m still awesome, regardless of how I did in class today. I’m learning, like everybody else. I’m going for excellence, not perfection. I am enough. 

sneaks and pointe

 

It will only weigh you down. 

I tell my dancers to dance UP, not DOWN. You will seem to float across the floor when you lift in your center and pull up. Ballet requires this lift but when you’re carrying Ed, it’s impossible. There is only down with Ed. That is where it will put you, and drag you, if you let it. But you’re stronger than you know.

Now, maybe you’re thinking “How can I NOT bring it into class?! This seems impossible. Ed is stronger than me, and always wins.” I say, that is what recovery is for. Recovery makes things possible, one step at a time. You may have lost many battles, but you will not lose the war. Nothing is impossible when you are willing to face your fear. Ed does not always win because you are reading this and there is a part of you that wants to believe and apply it to your dancing. That is your recovery voice and it WILL grow stronger with time.

I love suggestions on recovery topics, let me know how Dancing With ED can help you improve your dance and recovery experience 🙂

Keep Dancing In Recovery!!

5 Tips For Better Body Image

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Positive Body Image, Healthy is the New Skinny, Proud2Bme, the Body Image Movement, Dove commercials and celebrity spokesperson Demi Lovato, are pointing us in a new direction. Popular online communities are advocating for healthy lifestyles and positive change. Pink, and Kelly Clarkson are just two of many celebrities talking about healthy body weight and self acceptance. Lane Bryant is promoting #imnoangel to create diversity in lingerie advertising by having plus size models, instead of extremely skinny models like Victoria Secret. (By the way, there is nothing wrong with being naturally skinny, there is no hate either way. ) It sounds like things are turning around but we still have a long way to go. My question is….

How is this impacting dancers?

Could this be rubbing off on our ballet culture? Are we no longer putting as much value on body type and more on passion, artistry and dedication? Yes! From what I have read in dance magazines this past year, there are more articles on body type diversity. Especially in ballet! In the Ask Amy questions and advice column for Pointe Magazine, Dr Nadine Kaslow gives excellent feedback to a young dancer struggling with her changing body due to puberty. The dancer’s encouraged to challenge her perspective on ballet body type, her self-talk, and environment.  Dr Kaslow states, “Your doors aren’t completely shut because you have hips”.  Well, that’s good to know. 🙂

So, how can a dancer, whose body is art and income have a healthy body image, and see themselves more than a reflection in the studio mirror?

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Try not to live in the mirror. You know what I mean. Staring at yourself, non stop, picking apart every little thing so much, that you can’t even feel the rush of air across your face as you grande jette. You miss the feeling of flying during grande allegro because you’re so busy staring at the lines your arms and legs are creating.  I tell my dancers when I teach, Get out of the mirror! If you can’t dance without your reflection, there is a problem. If you live in the studio mirror, that is all you will see.

Your Braver2. Believe you are more than your body. You are more than the legs and arms, neck and stomach that you are constantly obsessing over. I couldn’t even begin to feel good about myself until I could look at myself in the eyeballs, without my focus shifting to other parts of my anatomy for critique. As soon as I stepped on the dance floor at age 12 I heard ” OMG, you have the perfect ballet body!” and it was mostly said with jealousy. I never thought about my shape before, or other girls for that matter. But dance introduced me to my body in a whole new way. It took me years to take “myself ” back out of my body size, and to just  be me. ( and be okay with it )

3. Give your body permission to be human. This is a big one, you MUST understand. Your body is a body. It works to sustain life, and it will do what it needs to do to live. Your body is not a picture in a frame. It is real, feeling and imperfect. Everyone is, regardless of how much you disagree. That is the truth. Believe me, you don’t want to join the “perfection” club. It will rob you of your joy so fast, suck all the life right out of you and your dancing and you will want to quit before you even begin. You and your body have a lot to do in this life, and you won’t be able to do any of it, if you don’t give yourself permission to be a human.

4. Try to surround yourself with positivity. I know it’s difficult to find, but it exists. If you want to start feeling better about your body, you may want to start by being around those who feel the same way. These are examples of people you don’t want to be around: The Counters, and The Haters. The Counters talk about the numbers of everything!!  From what they eat and drink to how many foute’s they did on pointe or the size of their skinny jeans. Numbers are always the focus. The Haters are those who talk about themselves and others negatively. The talk is of what they did wrong ( in any part of their life ) and what others have done wrong. They are flat-out mean to themselves and proud of it. Stay as far away from that as humanly possible. It’s hard if you are a part of a small studio, so just do the best you can. And if it ends up being a toxic environment, then you may want to consider another studio. You are very important.

5. Start a healthy body image journey, and I call it a journey because….it is. You can’t get anywhere unless you start. So grab your dance bag, get into the studio. Challenge the old stuff, bring on the new stuff.

You are human. You are not a mirror.  You are not a bunch of body parts. You are important. 

You can do this. 

I believe I have given you enough to digest for one day. Please share these tips with your friends, and just maybe, you can start the healthy body image focus at your studio/school.

I welcome comments! Talk to me 🙂