Childhood interrupted (Part 1 of 2)

ballet dancer 1

This is the first part of a two part series describing my first depression and mania of my life. It is a first draft for one of the chapters in my working memoir. For other stories in my memoir, please see my posts in my “Story series” category.

Between my 8th and 15th birthdays my whole life revolved around ballet. By the time I was 14, I was taking about seven classes per week, almost exclusively on point (point shoes). I studied with a former principle ballet dancer from the New York City Ballet, and felt a special pride in that fact. My parents recognized my seriousness for this art, though didn’t hesitate on occasion to complain about the cost of the lessons, shoes, and body wear. They also often complained about having to drive me to and from classes five days per week, usually after work. My classes generally ended at about 9:15 pm each night. I had almost unending energy at the time.

Pretty much all of my friends were ballet friends. Though I had to go to school (public school) each day, I was a bit of an outcast there, partly because some kids thought I was stuck up (because of ballet), and others rejected me for having been friends with some of the less popular kids in the class. This didn’t bother me, though, because I felt I spent more quality time each day at ballet. And I was quite close to my ballet friends. When at ballet I was often elated. I’d even continue my practice in the studio after classes ended. I would dance my own choreography, feeling at one with the music.

At 14 years old, my ballet instructor arranged that a couple of my ballet friends and I audition for the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. That is the ballet preparation school for the New York City Ballet Company, one of the best ballet companies in the United States. You can imagine my excitement! All I dreamed about day and night was becoming a prima ballerina, and this chance would be one step towards achieving that dream.

I remember when I auditioned I went with my ballet instructor (mom didn’t join me). I remember them asking about family income on a form. I had zero idea how much money my parents made, so later realized I grossly underestimated this. The audition itself was a bit more challenging than my usual ballet classes, but I kept up fairly well. I was disappointed in myself a bit, because at this age I didn’t feel that I danced quite as well as the year before. My body was going through changes. I had a major growing spurt. I wasn’t as sure footed as I had been. I did fewer pirouettes and my extension (flexibility) needed some work. A month later I received a rejection letter, and blamed all of these factors. I was devastated, but my ballet instructor encouraged me to train harder for the next year’s audition.

The next year, at 15 years old, I made some progress, but I was still struggling with growing spurts. Some of my ballet friends hadn’t even gone through theirs, another was past hers. I remember knowing that I had not made enough progress to succeed, and I didn’t.

After my second rejection I suggested to my parents that I would audition to a well-known ballet academy in Philadelphia. They flat out rejected the idea. In fact, they told me that even if I had been accepted into the School of American Ballet in NYC, they wouldn’t have let me go. So they just humored me? In addition, they started pressuring me to quit the ballet (or at least reduce it) and apply myself more in school. I became deeply resentful, and for the first time in my life I developed severe anxiety and fell into a depression.  I was grieving the loss of my dream, and shocked by the lack of activity in my life.

When I first developed anxiety I thought I was going to die. Literally! I had racing heart, phantom pains in my chest and arm, and shortness of breath. At the time I didn’t even know what anxiety was about, so thought I was having heart problems. I kept it a secret until the fear grew too much. I told my mother about it so she sent me to my general practitioner. He examined me and simply stated I had anxiety. It was then at 15/16 years old that my first psychotropic medication was prescribed. Buspar (buspirone). I took it for maybe a week or two and the anxiety eased, but depression still remained.

I dropped out of ballet suddenly because of the anxiety and depression, and when I quit, I quit everything about it. It was too devastating to have reminders. I stopped listening to classical music. I fell away from ballet friends, or rather I was out of their sight and mind. I became isolated. The kids at school were not welcoming me with open arms, in fact some were even bullying me more than ever.

teenager depressedI’m not sure of the length, but I believe my depression lasted at least a few months. I recall skipping school without telling my parents. Sixteen days went by without the school contacting my parents. When they did, they threatened that I would flunk the grade unless I didn’t miss another day. My parents were furious at me, rather than concerned. They had planned a trip to Florida to visit my navy man brother, and the trip had to be delayed. So I went back to school with my head down almost the entire time. I recall sitting in the library as much as I could, hiding. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Agitation was added to the depression, as were racing thoughts. I kind of knew something was wrong with me mentally, so I sought an answer. Leafing through books on mental health the only illness that seemed to fit was schizophrenia, though I would later learn that that was not to be my diagnosis.

I gradually became utterly distraught, hardly able to live outside my head. Each day I felt tortured by what was going on in my mind. On one particular day I was on the verge of tears, but desperately holding them back. Again, my mind was racing at 100 mph and the thoughts were macabre and included voices yelling nasty things at me. The school bell rang, so it was time to go to my next class. I somehow managed to get up, but walked only a few steps down the hall until I fell to the ground, unconscious. The pain and torture got to me too much. When I came to, it seemed like hundreds of students were looking down at me. My first reaction was to cry out and scream hysterically. What I yelled I would rather not write here, but it was very sad and pathetic. Luckily a teacher finally ordered the students to go to class. He helped me up and to the nurse’s office. My mother was called to pick me up. This event would terrorize me for years to come. Even today, I still feel slightly unwell recounting it.

I returned to school the next day. I had to, but the utter embarrassment and shame I cannot describe. I remained depressed w/mixed features and it was clear to all of my teachers that I was terribly ill. I remember two students coming up to me trying to be nice for a change. They must have felt my pain, but I didn’t like having people feeling sorry for me, so I rejected their outreach.

The guidance counselor at my school suggested I be sent to a child therapist. My parents had no choice. I remember going there and barely saying a thing. Then the therapist invited my parents into the office and instead of expressing concern for me, my father used the time as an opportunity to criticize me and talk about his own woes. Later I told my mom that I didn’t want to go anymore, for obvious reasons. I lied and said I was fine.

Back at school the guidance counselor suggested I participate in music classes as an extracurricular activity, in lieu of ballet. I’ll admit that it did interest me a bit, but I remained moderately depressed. When I checked in with the guidance counselor I remember him scolding me for seeming to have a “bad attitude” and not taking his other suggestions. What in the heck did he know about depression? Or me. I started to despise the man. I asked for another counselor, as a result. They complied. That turned out to be a very advantageous decision.

This story is continued in Childhood interrupted (Part 2 of 2).

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16 thoughts on “Childhood interrupted (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Nel June 6, 2017 / 6:23 pm

    I hate to say this but I have to. You’re parents sucked. At least at this point in your life. Maybe they were better before and maybe after but at this moment in time when being supportive to a child is critical, they let the ball drop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 6, 2017 / 7:35 pm

      Hi Nel. I can understand how this looks based on my story, and I do have regrets and complaints. People don’t always have a clear idea of what is going on with their children, I think either because they are not completely present (even if physically) or because they are in denial.

      My parents were very loving, even if they weren’t always fully in tune with my mental situation. I’d say more, but this is quite complex.

      In part 2 of this story series you’ll see that my parents did do something that made a positive difference in my life. It is actually something that one of my parents could have benefited from themselves, but couldn’t because of THEIR parent’s denial (and other circumstances).

      Later on in my life, a period I describe in my story series “My 1st through 10th painful incarcerations” I had (and still have) deep regret that no one in my family (other than my husband) ever visited me during any of my 10 psychiatric hospitalizations. I’ve mentioned this to a few of my family members. The reactions were either complete non-response, mild regret, or expressions that clearly indicated that visiting me would have been too stressful for them. In the latter case, I’ve grown to just accept. Mental illness runs in my family. People react to it in different ways. Certainly in the long-ago past reactions were not the same as they are, more usually, now.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nel June 6, 2017 / 7:48 pm

        Okay. Maybe I spoke to soon then. The way you wrote it though made my blood boil a little bit. I’ll impatiently await the next part. I still don’t think the criticisms were justified though. I mean you were but a teenager. And I don’t understand why they would encourage you to pursue something you love if all they planned to do was shut it down. I’m not saying you should have had your way but they could definitely have approached that differently. Maybe too it has something to do with the generation gap. I can say all of this but I will never be able to relate to the times in which they were raised.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 6, 2017 / 8:04 pm

        I see, Nel. I thought you were specifically referring just to their lack of awareness of my depression and perhaps the statement I made about the failure of the therapy. Were you also referring to my ballet? If so, I understand that, too.

        As for my ballet, it was and is frustrating to think that I would not have been able to live in New York City. I know money was an issue to a degree, but definitely they feared me being far away (in a big city) as a 15/16 year old. If money hadn’t been an issue (or they believed in my abilities enough to stretch financially) and weren’t afraid of me being gone, I would have basically been in a boarding situation with adult supervision.

        One of the reasons I quit ballet so suddenly was because at that time I felt that if I didn’t make it into the BEST school, it wasn’t worth it. But boy did I grieve, and it is true that my grieving was not recognized by anyone. It’s hard to have such a grief at that age. My husband fully understands why I became sick as a girl. His sister was a very serious ice skater and when the time came she was deemed not Olympic material my husband’s parents said the same things to her, as my parents said to me. Imagine when you take 7 lessons or more per week for a couple of years (fewer, but still many before that) it is a LIFE. Ending such a lifestyle is traumatic to some, especially for me who had genes for bipolar disorder. That trauma triggered it.

        In both my sister-in-law’s and my case, though, a major change did help eventually, but I swear we’ll both be in our 80s or 90s someday still sad about the dreams lost.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nel June 6, 2017 / 8:09 pm

        I can see where the awareness comes from. I’ve experienced it before with my own sister in a different type of situation. I guess if I look at it differently, maybe they thought the criticisms were a way to hit you with reality but it could have been handled a little more gently. But again, that probably goes back to that generational gap. I do believe kids nowadays are being raised like fragile pieces of glass which only creates a whole other host of problems later in life. Anyway, I hope you don’t think I’m criticizing or anything as dramatic as that. I really enjoy your posts man. You open my eyes and my mind so much. Can’t wait for part 2! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 6, 2017 / 8:17 pm

        I agree that there is a generational gap that was involved. I’m 46 now. My dad is 75. Unfortunately my mother passed away 13 years ago. I’m not a mother, but I see what you mean about how younger parents are now raising kids.

        I sort of implied this, but one of my parents, especially, had regret that they weren’t helped by their parents during periods of mental strife. My paternal grandmother had bipolar disorder and it really affected my dad a lot. I think that effect has molded how he’s dealt with my mental illness. Sometimes you’d think such people would be more supportive of their children with mental health issues, but it turns out to be the opposite. Another issue is sometimes that people with mental illness themselves have trouble supporting other people with mental illness. I can say that as a bipolar woman with a husband with unipolar depression, I sometimes have trouble helping him when I’m hurting myself.

        I’m very grateful to you, Nel, for your comments. I think that perhaps I should incorporate some of the content from my responses in my final version for my working memoir. You inspired good stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nel June 6, 2017 / 8:22 pm

        I’ll have to look up unipolar depression. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that. And that definitely does make a difference which I’m highly anticipating reading about in your part 2.
        I’m glad you’re okay with my comments. Sometimes I say things without really thinking them completely through so after I sent that first comment I was afraid I might have offended you in some way and was coming up with a way to apologize when you responded, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight June 6, 2017 / 8:25 pm

        Oh no! Nel, I love your comments. They really help me.

        Unipolar depression is just major depressive disorder. Depressive disorder as opposed to bipolar disorder, which includes depression AND hypomania and/or mania.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nel June 6, 2017 / 9:25 pm

        😁 I’m glad. And thank you for explaining unipolar depression to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hussein Allam June 7, 2017 / 8:53 pm

    What an interesting story but at the same it is so tragic, being lied on your family that you are ok, but honestly, you are not. And I guess the struggling begin here. God bless updownflight🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dapo OBEMBE - Sir_Phren June 7, 2017 / 9:04 pm

    Am kind of dumbfounded and stuck of words. But, try as much as possible to be open to people. Your story touches me so deep.
    God help you more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight June 7, 2017 / 9:11 pm

      Thank you, Dapo. It was a very difficult time in my youth. I’m glad to see you also read part 2 of the story series. It turned out better. I was mostly happy my last two years of high school, and through much of my university experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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