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Dancing in the dark

Friday, 02 September 2022 Kelly

Trigger warning: this content discusses suicidal feelings.

Kelly blog about how she lost her will to live in lockdown and regained it with the help of friends and Mind.

For the past 20 years my existence has been based around being a dancer and all the lessons, rehearsals and time investments that come with that. Besides my family, it is my only real love.

So what happens when one day the industry that’s carried you through your life closes and you’re left alone?

No sense of purpose

Like so many others the pandemic left me feeling like I had no purpose,  Prior to the world closing I had just finished my Musical Theatre training in Barcelona, living with my best friends, training in what I loved and creating ridiculous memories. It was full on in the best possible way. I came home and began performing in a variety of shows, whilst also deciding to take up teacher training to ensure longevity in my career and fulfil the passion I’ve always had for choreographing.

I remember getting an alert on my phone announcing everything was shutting down. We were in the middle of a show rehearsal and none of us knew what was going on; we all cried a lot, but I’m not even sure I knew what I was crying for, just something felt real and scary. I didn’t see that group of people in their entirety again until 13 months later.

The first lockdown was a novelty in some ways – Zoom quizzes, clapping and rationing; there was a communal Blitz like spirit that we were all in this together. I was lucky enough to have a job in a supermarket I could transition into full time and keep myself afloat that way. it was also nice to still have some form of socialising as I lived alone and could have gone days without speaking to anyone. When things eased in the summer I visited friends and it felt like there was an end in sight. The second lockdown was similar - I’d adjusted to dance over Zoom and seeing people when I could with the naive assurance that come Christmas and New Year things would be fine again.

I think I knew in my heart that things wouldn’t be ok, and I had just enough in me to make it to December - but that third lockdown hit me hard.

“I don’t remember seeing the sun once or interacting with another human or feeling anything."

Nothing could have prepared me for January. I don’t remember seeing the sun once or interacting with another human or feeling anything. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety from a young age, but it is something I have coping mechanisms for. I can feel when an attack is coming and I know how to handle myself, but this just felt numb. I didn’t even care enough to panic or shake anymore - I was just an empty vessel dragging through endless days.

Drinking to knock myself out

During this time I was living by myself and working 5/6 night shifts a week, getting home trying to sleep and just repeating the pattern. I was drinking to knock myself out and eating to wake myself up. It felt like a never-ending cycle. I’d stopped talking to my best friends and didn’t want to face my family.

I decided my purpose for existing had gone and I was just taking up meaningless space. I planned to end things. I remember this so vividly - my body kicked into fight or flight and I started panicking; I felt something again. I rang up a crisis hotline and then Mind who talked me down, I immediately regretted everything.

A couple of days later I reached out to three friends - they tell you to pick three  people who  wouldn’t judge you and would understand without question. This was the best thing I’d ever been told to do. They were able to give me an outside perspective and just help me find Kelly, not this robot dancer that had just kept pushing.

“Things didn’t feel as scary anymore. I felt like there was an army of people around me willing me on.”

I was put on a fitness programme by one friend. It was similar to dance but didn’t feel like training - it was the hardest thing I’d ever done but I had results almost instantly. I had to send him a picture of my face before and after the workout to prove I’d done it. I finally had wheels turning again. We spoke about diet and every week Mum and I would go and do a food shop together and get dinner as a girly escape. My Dad would come over with our dog and I opened up communication with my little brother who has always been my best friend. Things didn’t feel as scary anymore. I felt like there was an army of people around me willing me on to keep going.

Once the fitness programme had finished we discussed what to do next, I began weightlifting every morning and met a wonderful group of people through this. Throughout all of this I received support from Mind and wanted a way of repaying them for saving my life. The marathon appeared on their website and on a whim I thought I’d apply.

Before I knew it I was thrown into a Facebook group full of likeminded people all with the same goal working together and cheering each other on. It wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way through, but we did it. I did it. That body and brain I saw as broken carried me through a marathon and I’ve never felt stronger in my life.

Over the past three months I’ve received my BA (Hons) Degree in Theatre, become a qualified dance teacher for BTDA and run the Brighton Marathon.

Some days are still very dark, but it does get better.

You don’t need to have a purpose, you are the purpose.

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