The different directions my life is going into mean that I find myself in the fortunate – or, sometimes, unfortunate – position of performing very often. Although I’m very grateful for my dancing, work and presenting commitments, as someone suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD I often find myself struggling with the idea of being on a stage. Here are my views on dancing (or speaking, lecturing and performing) with depression.
Lots of performances, different occasions
Performing is something I have been doing a lot this Autumn, in a variety of different occasions and roles. I’ve performed twice as a pole dancer in the past two months alone – once at PD Filthy Friday’s showcase in Manchester and once at the Warehouse Dance Studios in Croydon (see below).
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Well, if this isn’t a happy #sundaybumday I don’t know what is. I had such an amazing time performing at the @thewarehousedancestudios showcase! Thank you so much for having me, for the love and for bearing with this sloppy routine I put together in one week. I love you all! Special thanks to my pole wife @distractedbydancing for filming this 🙂 🍑🎉💕
As a visiting lecturer I have to deliver my speeches for five consecutive hours each week. And then there’s conference speeches – again, I’ve presented twice this Autumn already, once in Washington DC and once in Dublin for the Undergraduate Awards (more of that in the next post).
In short, I often find myself on a stage, somehow performing, whether that’s for a loud community of encouraging pole dancers or for a crowd of not bothered twenty-somethings, or for academics who think I’m fucking nuts.
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I’ve only been in Dublin for a few hours but I feel so inspired to hear about research undergrads from across the world are coming up with. I‘m so happy that people resonated with this crazy bitch in bright red pants showing her butt-naked pole videos and talking about empowerment, academia and the truth about bad boys. Thanks for having me @undergradawards – apparently, according to you and the crowd, I’m an activist! And I’m funny! Now I need a Guinness!
The adrenaline rush performing gives me is something I have never felt before, and actually public speaking and pole dancing for a crowd give me a similar feeling: I become so excited that when I’m on stage my brain goes numb, and my capacity to entertain relies on over-preparation rather than lucidity. As soon as I’m off stage, I forget what I’ve said or done – and I have to watch videos to remember.
Mental Illness on Stage
I am extremely grateful to be able to perform both in an academic/public speaking setting and in a pole dance setting. The adrenaline rush makes it worth my while. But when you often struggle to find meaning in life and all the shit it throws at you, or when you’re struggling to get out of bed to perform daily tasks, the thought of entertaining an audience is an additional worry, something you know you’re meant to do but that you struggle to find the strength for.
I went through my first big pole a rut over the summer. My anxiety had become quite bad – a group of teenage boys following me home and fears for my economic stability (which I always have, no matter which position I’m in, because I’m anxious) had brought a wave of low mood that I couldn’t shake off.
I was meant to be relaxing back home in Italy while also choreographing a routine for three performances, but I was not inspired. I couldn’t freestyle, I couldn’t dance and didn’t feel comfortable in my moves. The weather was so hot both in London and in Sardinia that I felt unsafe while trying more advanced tricks – I was too sweaty! I felt I was losing my strength, not training enough. I couldn’t settle for a song, and what I feared the most had started to happen: pole, the thing that saved me and gave the most joy, was becoming painful, too.
Similarly, having had a traumatic first jump into teaching at university last year, and having found out it was not going to be as easy as I thought, I was not looking forward to the start of the term. I was meant to start preparing my lectures, and I was meant to be writing speeches and papers for two conferences, but I kept postponing everything because of lack of inspiration and drive.
Dancing With Depression
I can’t say I’ve come out of depression and anxiety fully – I do believe they will probably stay with me forever. Next week, I will finally start a 12-week chunk of talking therapy after months of waiting, and I’m still on a waiting list for cognitive behavioural therapy. This makes me incredibly happy, because finally I am being taken seriously by the NHS but, most importantly, I’ve been able to express myself coherently while asking for help, letting go of the fear of being locked up or of losing everything because of my condition that took over me when I first felt like this in 2014. Yet, I’ve been able to come out of the dancing and writing rut. This is how I did it.
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I gave up on one of the three performances I had to do because I did not have time to choreograph for all of them without worrying I’d do a bad job. Secondly, I stopped trying to dance to music that felt forced on my body. I love heavy metal and death metal and they are generally my jam, but I could not make my moves work to them in such a difficult time. I needed something upbeat, something that made me want to dance. So I went for Lady GaGa instead, the only artist I seemed to connect with at the time. And my choreos weren’t perfect, but they worked. I was happy with them, and most importantly I was enjoying myself.
I have now submitted an edited choreography to Pole Theatre UK amateur, knowing I won’t get in because I’m not at the top of my game, but happy to have pushed myself. I hate pulling out of commitments, but sometimes your mental health has to take centre stage.
Public Speaking With Depression
Working with depression isn’t the easiest thing, especially if your job includes socialising and selling. I used to struggle massively when I worked in PR. Luckily my socialising is now limited to the days in which I teach or speak, and I can then hybernate and choose whether to meet people or not on other days.
There are still days in which I don’t want to see anyone, but have to teach. I have always known there is no way I could take a mental health day off teaching because I need my salary in full, and I get paid by the hour. Knowing that teaching doesn’t come easy to me helps me view it as a challenge, and push myself harder to deliver. I don’t want to bow down to this thing that tells me that nothing is worth the effort, because when the few students who show up to class start thinking of an issue in a different way, or start engaging like they never did before, I feel I’ve somehow made an impact. It might not be easy, I might not always love it, but for now, I know I want to go on.
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So this is completely unrelated to this pic but today I taught 5 seminars and I am so happy with the outcome. After my peer review I’ve been feeling so much more relaxed about teaching, about prompting students to talk and sitting there in silence up until they get nervous and have to chat – which sounds mean but it works. I feel a lot less self-conscious and I feel like it shows in my teaching style. Today we discussed the impact of gentrification on crime and communities, street art, the criminology of risk and fear and the #MeToo movement – I used the Jackson Katz technique of asking my students what they did to protect themselves when they went out to show the difference between men and women and their perception of safety. All of them (those that do show up) had so much to say and I had to kick them out of the class when our hour was up, which never happened before! So here’s a pic of me – Butt-naked and happy, with a cupcake and a cherry on top 😛📸: @zzeroid
The same goes with public speaking: my speaking engagements will hopefully help me go further with my career, so like it or not I’ve got to deliver. Which is why, out of all my commitments, I know that unfortunately dancing and going out will lose out to academic stuff if needed. This is why I flake, people! I’m sorry! My friendly juices are burnt out and I need a good dose of Buffy and pizza on my sofa all by my onesies.
“But You Look So Confident!”
This might not work for everybody, but what I’ve learnt is that there is no point in forcing yourself to do something that feels meaningless, whether that’s dancing to a song or doing a job you are struggling with. Everything I do has meaning and adds something to my life, and I don’t want to give it up. Therapy has taught me to avoid thinking: “I’ve got to do this because otherwise I’m a failure” and to think: “I’m doing this because it makes me feel good right now,” and I’ve been trying to think like that ever since. Dancing with depression, performing with it, speaking and teaching with it, might not always be easy, but it makes me feel good – it’s when it doesn’t that I have to start working on myself and questioning myself again.
Some people have told me I don’t look depressed, or have asked me how I managed to do all I do while I feel like I feel. There is no easy answer, and sometimes even I don’t know why. What I do know is that I have spent a good amount of time trying to figure myself out, both alone and through therapy, and that I’m at a stage where I absolutely love everything I do. It’s this love that drives me out of bed when my brain doesn’t want me to slip out of my rut.