For a girl like me who is dancing since 2003, stage performance was as easy as drinking
water. But that day was different, I was over sweating, shivering, and everything in front me started to fade away and I was sure that it was not because of dancing but something else. Depression and Anxiety were a part of my life by then but that was the first time I
experienced a panic attack while dancing. Nothing was same after that. I stopped attending classes and practicing. They say that dance can help with depression, but never talk about depression of a dancer. For an artist, their art is something that helps them to understand if they were fine or alright even if their everything, their heart and their soul hurts. But when life hits the bottom that comes after rock bottom, even art cannot help. That is exactly what happened to me.
Every night I would sit on the roof or somewhere in the dark wishing the clouds would carry me away with it knowing that I will have to visit my class next day only to sit there and watch my mates improve, have fun, talk and laugh without me. Depression is a hushed illness and a silent killer. There is no X-ray or MRI to detect it nor there is blood all over or bruise to prove it, so to others it can look like exhaustion, laziness
or a bad attitude or even pride! “Why are you being lazy? Ah, you are fat is that the reason you stopped dancing? Stop pretending like a sad girl. You know that you are not that expert to take a break from practice, right?” I had to listen to many such comments.
Just when I was on the verge of giving up, I was struck by a thought, “What if I find a place away from this world that makes my life a bit more tough to live?” Strange thought, isn’t it? But that thought was the ray of hope to me. I started searching for a place like that and in the process, it so happened that I opened my “Dance Bag” ( a separate bag almost every dancer carries which has the costume, ornaments, makeup kit and the list goes on), only to find a piece of paper with the names of all the legendary dancers and a small note that said: “You should try your best to be at their level and never give up on dance because your dream is to die on the stage while dancing.” And that turned my life upside down. I decided to dance again.
My journey towards dance with Depression and Anxiety was not easy. I lost my stamina and my tricks. I had to start all over again. But this time, I knew that I had to put my emotional and mental state into order. I have to reconnect and find myself again. But this time, I was aware that the place I was searching for is in me and that little place will never drive me wrong. Anxiety, depression, self-doubt, worthlessness, insecurities were echoing in my mind when I stood up to dance, but then when the music started to play, I couldn’t remember what I was thinking about before. It was not easy to stand up. I self-sabotaged many opportunities that came along. Every time I attempted to practice, I felt exhausted and I would question myself, “Is it really necessary? Was it really me who used to have 6.5 hours of stamina?” All these questions led to an emotional breakdown. But then, gradually the bad days got better when I realized that I have the strongest pillar, my guru Lakshmi Shankar (@nrutyadeekshalaya) to support me.
Being a support system for someone who does not know what is wrong with them or who does not open up easily is a tough job but she managed to do it like a walk in the park. There were days where I was reluctant to dance, but she made me dance again. She had faith in me and never gave up on me. I sincerely believe that dealing with a mental illness is a bit easy if you have someone to support and encourage you. Having suicidal thoughts was a normal occurrence for me. Subconsciously, the thought of not thinking about suicide was almost impossible to have in my mind. It became so ineradicable within my daily life that it used to be something always on my to-do list. When I looked at my life as a third person would, I had two options: – 1. Make a mess by Ending. 2. Fight by Dancing.
The journey towards living becomes tough when an individual knows that there is a very easy option called giving up. Coping and working on self are never ending processes with no manual. With the support of my guru and on-off therapy sessions, I performed again in 2017. Though it was not my best performance, I am still happy that I performed. I do not call myself a professional dancer but yes, I dance and it is not just a hobby to me. I cannot thank my guru Lakshmi Shankar enough for giving me change to perform again.
Now I can proudly say that, I am a person with mental health issues and I am working on it, one step at a time towards better mental health.
This story is written by Sahithi Mannar. She is a dancing psychologist who believes that the best message she can give to the world is her story.