Some people have been asking – how is the ballet going lately? I’m aware I haven’t updated about that in a while. I’ve also not taken up where I left off with the job searching! So sorry!
I’ve always saved the best til last – even as a child, I ritualistically ate my green vegies first, then the coloureds, then the starches, then the meats. My rationale was “Save the best til last!”. Even today, I still have to do that!
Ballet is by far the best thing in my entire life (after people and Shalimar) so I will start with the Job search.
I’ve been working with a disability employment service for about 8 months now as a voluntary client – which means I’ve asked to work with them because I want to find a job. (Involuntary client means you are mandated to work with them or you will be cut off from benefits, you have to find a job so you can move off benefits in the end.) The service I’m with works with people who have mental illness, helps them to re-enter the workforce, challenge the obstacles that face them and to keep that employment.
My biggest challenges were:
- I’ve never had a paid job! I’ve done TONNES of volunteer work, up until probably more than 5 years ago – but that doesn’t really count in my mind as being a taxpayer and contributing to my country. It also doesn’t support you or pay the bills!
- Cognitive difficulties – they suck. I miss being able to read my beloved books, being able to concentrate for more than a few minutes, and so on.
- Weakness physically and poor attention span – I can’t go for very long – even doing a part time job at the moment would be more than I could actually do.
- Self confidence/self esteem/self belief = zero!
- Skills – I have none. It’s been years since my volunteer positions and work experience, so I’m very rusty. I have never learnt any of the computer programs I might face in a workplace, and my computer knowledge is vastly outdated now. I also don’t have a clue of how to do any basic workplace task – I am good at taking direction, but I’ve never learnt the ins and outs of the workplace beyond a voluntary one, and that’s vastly different.
All of those are quite easily to deal with if I leave my emotions behind. The agency are there to help me – they will help me reskill, get an up to date resume, refer me to a service that will help me with the interview. They find employers in your chosen field and market you to them – reverse marketing, so you aren’t competing with other potential candidates. When you get the job, they will modify the workplace to suit your disability. They also subsidise your wages for a set period of time so that your employer is more likely to take the risk of employing you in the first place.
The thing that they can’t help me with? FEAR. And boy am I a tangled ball of fear!
Unfortunately, the least amount of work hours clients must take on is 8 hours a week. I know, minimal. But I wasn’t sure that I could do 8 hours a week straight out. Remember, I have been sick, bedridden continuously, for a decade, and seriously sick for much longer than that. So 8 hours a week might be a drop in the bucket for most people, but for me it is seriously a big deal.
One hour a day in appointments, plus getting there and back, leaves me exhausted.
I’m pretty sure that I could do 8 hours a week, but I didn’t know for sure. So the agency said – “you are not well enough to work, so we will have to exit you.”
I was CRUSHED!
But I did ask if they could help me get volunteer work – and a few phone calls were made…. I was suddenly asked “Can you work tomorrow?” Every bit of me screamed “NO!! TOO SOON!” but I said “YES”… and that’s what I did today.
Today I did my first 2.5 hours of voluntary work in years and years – at the very service I would have been referred to had I been deemed employable. [A worldwide mentorship service/boutique organisation] works with women who have been out of employment for a while. They outfit their clients in appropriate corporate wear for the interview, give them a makeover with cosmetics, accessories, shoes. They help them prepare their resume and conduct mock interviews too! If the client gets the job, they come back and are outfitted in a week’s worth of pieces. (I’m aware this isn’t the actual Dress For Success in my area – it’s a very widespread organisation. I didn’t link to my local one for privacy reasons!)
How awesome are these people!?
Today went pretty well. I was terrified of going. Last night I spent the entire night just freaking out! One of the things that I’m most scared of is that nobody will ever want to employ ME, because I’m inferior. I’m an inferior human being. (Please don’t’ feel the need to tell me I’m not, I know, rationally, that I’m not. Emotionally, this is the thought that torments me most.)
I’m terrified because I do struggle to hear, that I won’t understand what I’m meant to do and do it wrong. I’m scared that I’m so ‘weird’ that any customers will be turned off, or that everyone in the workplace will be repulsed at me.
Then add the fears of finding the right place, of the unknown in general, of will I wake up in time in the morning? Will I look okay in whatever I wear, what if I’m dressed wrong? etc, and it gets pretty overwhelming.
Today I proved those fears mostly unfounded. I wasn’t trusted with very much – mostly to just straighten the racks of some very nice clothing. It was only 2.5 hours, but I was exhausted – I was on my feet the whole time, and I wasn’t used to concentrating for so long either, even on something mundane and simple. But I did it, and they seemed happy. They did appear to expect me to be simple, as they knew I was deaf before I turned up, so I hope I’ve proved those expectations wrong. I was a bit overdressed, but at least that’s better than being under-dressed. I felt awkward the entire time, and wanted badly to leave – but they were lovely kind women and I do not think they would be the type to have unkind thoughts at all. So all in all, it was a good experience.
I now believe I CAN do 8 hours a week from the start – and feel that whatever is asked of me, I still give it my everything just I used to give everything and be such a valuable volunteer worker. This was a bit like a ‘working interview’ so I hope that in a month’s time when the next sale is on, they want me back. I guess they do, they all said see you next month when I left! I also put my name down to volunteer if any weekday hours come up. We will see what happens next!
Now to the ballet!!!!
I had so many mixed up feelings about going back to ballet! It was the love of my life, apart from the people I cherish and of course, my cat Shalimar. As a teenager, it was the only reason I kept going. I lived, breathed, ballet. And then, it was taken from me. I did not dance for nearly 15 years, and for much of that time I was if not bedridden, at the least, very weak and debilitated. At several points, I couldn’t even sit up alone let alone stand or walk, or even hold my own head up.
So it terrified me to go back to ballet again. I knew without a doubt that I would not be able to do anything near what I used to. That I’d have to pretty much start from scratch. Just the fact that it took a year’s physio to be strong enough to ‘maybe’ start pilates – and that was rushing it, because I admit I really pushed hard at my physio! – I knew that for sure. And I feared it, because it did used to be such an important thing to me, what I could do, and the standard of dance that I’d reached before the eating disorder turned disastrous. I will admit, I was a snob when it came to ballet. The kind of ballet snob who cannot even go to a children’s ballet concert without picking out the faults in technique, the changes in any choreography that is a traditional repertoire, etc.
Other fears were that it was very likely I would run into people from the dance school I’d been at who had bullied me. I still am deeply affected by their torment of me for those years, and I didn’t think I could cope with actually seeing them. All these years later, I still find that a lot of my shameful feelings come from thoughts of ‘how would those girls see this?’ Because I know they would look down their noses at me, and everything about me, even now. I’ve often found myself a failure, simply because I couldn’t imagine any of them understanding me now or feeling any compassion towards me now, given that they are adults now too. Or even feeling any shame for what they did.
The school I go to now is actually run by quite a number of members from the company that my school was attached to, who have retired and are now teachers in their retirement (we retire young! 30 is considered ‘old’ in ballet!) I’ve been so very lucky, that the company member who started the school, and another who was so kind to me back at the school in my teens, have been the ones I’ve had contact with, the first, coming in to welcome me, gifting me with a school tshirt, bag, and some extra free classes, and the second being my teacher! It’s been just the most kind and welcoming reception, which has been extremely healing for me. It’s also really humbling for me, as they were principals back then, and both were extremely inspiring to me. (Still are!)
(I’m having a giggle at myself – I was the sort of teen who would shrug at rock stars, but get all starry eyed for ballerinas!)
I struggle still with actually going – often it will take several attempts to just get out of my home and to the classes. I will go out, double back, go back out again – such is my anxiety, that it’s almost crippling. But I’ve made it most times, and it’s getting a bit easier to go now that so many of my fears have proved unfounded.
PAIN has been a HUGE issue. On top of the normal Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness the majority of us deal with when we start doing physical activity we are not used to or after a break, the pain I’ve dealt with has been excruciating and just beyond that. I was in so much pain after the first few classes that I could barely walk or get out of bed the next day, and it would also last pretty much the entire week. My doctor has said that it’s most likely because my muscles wasted so severely. At one stage I was convinced that I must have gotten stress fractures again (During the time I was bedridden, due to my severe osteoporosis, both of my femurs thinned to the point of cracking.) because it felt like my feet had shattered underfoot and I was walking on the shards of bone, and I had the same kind of pain in my femurs as I’d been getting back then. Thankfully as it’s now gone, it wasn’t my bones.
Over time, the pain has lessened. This last week was the first time I actually woke up the next day with very little pain. It was also the first time I was able to dance for the full length of time, and the first time I felt that I was able to ‘dance’ a little bit more than fall over, just a little bit more coordinated. I started with the pilates/ballet barre class – and it’s a gentle class. The exercises are the kind of things I used to do to warm up before a day of dancing – and I found them very hard, I still do. A few weeks ago, they added a new class after my pilates class, another introductory ballet class. So now, I do both classes! The ballet class is very easy – simply barre and centre, and the exercises are probably pre-elementary level. But now it’s the hardest class I’ve ever done!
I still have the basic ability – thankfully, that never has been lost. I’m fairly flexible – I was very tight at first, and I cannot do the splits any more. But I’m getting there again, faster than I believed I would. My turn out is actually better than it used to be. But I don’t have the strength or power to do what I used to do. So that’s what I need to work on! My legs are like jelly, and my balance very precarious. This last class was awesome because my balance had improved enough that I could really almost dance the adagio – it was a really lovely one, too. I was able to dance it more lyrically rather than be trying to grab hold of the air in order not to topple over!
I do find it frustrating that what my mind remembers and what my body remembers are very different things. I will try to do something, remember all the muscles to use, remember the technique, and my actual muscles will not obey. I might try to do some quick little steps and fall over because my mind is far ahead of my legs, they just will not move. Or do some petit allegro and although I do everything to jump, I won’t even get off the floor! It feels like one of those dreams where you are desperately running from something, but the faster you try to run, the slower you get!
I’ve still been struggling with eating – and the most surprising thing for me is that I’ve been able to increase my breakfast and keep it down, soley to be able to dance. Breakfast is THE hardest meal of the day for me. I find it hardest to start eating, to put anything in my mouth, food or drink. Even water makes me queasy in the morning. But I didn’t have the energy to do what I wanted to do badly, and that meant I needed to fuel my body more. And I did. I noticed the improvement directly from eating more – I’m hoping so much I can keep improving on this. Ballet might actually be what saves me from the ED – nothing else has been more powerful than it to this degree. If I can get back to how I was pre-ED – when what my body could DO was far more important than weight, appearance, size, or food – then I really could see myself as finally being able to eat and keep that food down and not do battle with the ED for the rest of a shortened life until it killed me.
I also feared what I would look like. I can’t really tell if the other people have found me too skinny (I do feel and see myself as fat, but I know I am not, and I know that others will see it. I remember the horror and disgust many of us used to have towards other dancers who we thought had ED’s, back when I was at the school in my teens. ) I can actually see in the mirror that I’m too thin, but thankfully I don’t see it as gross, disgusting too thin. It shocks me to see myself looking like that – and to think, this is me a few years ago plus 15+ more KILOS! What must I have been like? It’s a hugely sobering realisation of how sick I actually was.
I also was okay with them seeing my arms – I have now bared my arms two weeks running with no problems – nobody even seems to see them. They are covered in self harm scars – pretty bad and noticeable ones – so it’s a relief that it’s okay. It’s not even quite Spring yet but it’s already very hot, and to be the object of disgust would have ruined everything for me. If anyone has noticed, they have been very tactful and I’m so grateful for that.
I can feel that I’m making good progress, and that’s the main thing. This isn’t my career now, this is for enjoyment, and it’s been utterly wonderful. For two hours a week, I can escape to a little world that none of ‘this’ (being the ED and the PTSD) has been able to touch. I hope it stays that way – it’s been a welcome refuge.
So, I guess I should be giving myself a pat on the back for these triumphs. I’m still nowhere near what many people take for granted as everyday activities, but I’ve come such a long way and it’s wonderful to finally be seeing the real, tangible rewards rather than having to remind myself that although things might not be visible, it doesn’t make them any less important.
Thank you for reading this hugely long post! I hope you are not now snoring. Snoring is where I need to be – past my bed time! I have a lot of comments to answer – I’ll get to them tomorrow if possible. Hope everyone is well!
(Featured image found on Facebook!)