I’m about to disclose a lot of personal information so if you don’t have much compassion in your heart and don’t give a hoot about my personal life (I won’t be offended) please go elsewhere.
If you’re still here, you’re probably a friend so thank you. Here goes.
It’s probably no secret to most of you that I’ve had a huge struggle with health for most of my teenage/ adult life. It probably started with my diagnosis of diabetes at 15 and getting used to being told ‘you’re so skinny!’ ‘you should just go straight to SAB’ and frankly, getting used to feeling sick all of the time. I have always been a needy, needy person in terms of attention but I never really failed in getting positive attention and reinforcement as a performer and dancer. At least, not before I started getting sick. Somewhere between depression and personal traumas that are too private even for this blog and a plummet in self-esteem I think I lost the fight and belief in myself that I could have the attention that I crave as a dancer and maybe it was just easier to keep myself sick in an attempt to make people notice me. Most of the time, I would skip the necessary insulin shots that I needed to open my cells up to nourishment because it allowed me to stay in a state of denial about having diabetes, having to change my life, and hey, then you don’t absorb any calories. it’s a condition called ‘diabulimia’ because it’s like a weird mix of anorexia (you don’t absorb any nutrients without insulin) and bulimia because you can eat a ton and then it’s basically purged from your system by having to go #1 a lot. Sounds great doesn’t it? It’s not. It feels awful. It leads to blindness and kidney disease and being kicked out of your dream school (Interlochen) two years in a row. But I didn’t ever care enough about my health or my dreams or my life to change, even in the face of serious consequences. Because a little weight gain is way more terrifying than say, eye surgery, blood poisoning, hospitalization, and giving up on lifelong passion like dancing because you just aren’t healthy enough for it. Trust me, I know. I’ve done all of those because I just wanted someone to see me and tell me how skinny I am.
Somewhere along the line, I equated skinny to strong, as if a skinny person verging on sickly has the best control of their life and choices.
When I started coming back to dance last year and realized that I love IT regardless of how I look when doing it was the start of my change. Turns out it takes a lot of courage to face yourself and to say, ‘you are the thing getting in the way at this point’ and even more bravery to say ‘it all could be yours’. It’s easier to give up on yourself and wait for someone else to come around and tell us how deserving, how skinny, how great we are. It was taking Mariko’s advanced modern class at COCA that allowed me to remember I like to dance, dance is hard, people who dance are fun to be around,and I’m occasionally pretty good at this. It was being allowed to take company class with Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company that taught me that dance can exist in a professional, top-notch quality without the tinge of sickly desire for attention, competition, and judgement that dance is almost always associated with. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have found my way somehow back to dance without Jen and Mariko, without Kristen and Mary, but I do know that it would have been a lot harder.
A few weeks ago, Jen (the artistic director of Common Thread) sat me down after rehearsal and asked me basically, what the heck has been wrong with me for the past month or so. She said that I always looked tired, weak, and even asked me ‘are you eating?’ Two years ago, I probably would have sold my soul to be asked this question as if it were some kind of compliment. This time, I just felt disappointed in myself, worried, and stressed. I almost lost my place with the company because of my health…sounds like the sad broken record of my life. But this time, I felt like I was really trying to be strong, to get enough sleep and food, and I didn’t know why I was truly tired and sick all of the time.
I went to the Doctor. Turns out that I have celiac disease (which is a gluten-intolerance) It’s very common in type one diabetics, especially those that have had poor control. it’s another autoimmune system disease where the intestines can’t break down the proteins of gluten properly. In all likelihood, I did this to myself from years of poor care. A very common side effect from celiac disease is weight loss. Yippe for me, right, isn’t this just what I always wanted?
I’ve been on the gluten-free diet for a week and a half now and I’m already starting to see and feel improvement. For the past two months, I’ve just had barely enough energy to get through dance and teaching, and nothing left over for other projects, this site included. I didn’t put up my review for new York City Ballet and didn’t give a review for the recent great show from MADCO. I have skipped a lot of friends’ parties and didn’t even spend time with a good friend that came in town for the NYCB show (sorry kaitlyn). Note to self, being sick means that you miss out.
The gluten-free diet is really not that hard and is definitely worth the extra cost or hassle or enforced knowledge if it means that I get to keep dancing, can better fulfill my obligations as a teacher, have the energy for writing and drawing and my friends, and can feel better. I was warned that I’m likely to gain some weight during this change over but I don’t really mind the thought too much. I am more likely to be fired from my job as a dancer and teacher by being sick and plain not there than I am from going up a size in pants. This may not be the way it is in all companies, but thank heavens, I’m not in one of those kind of organizations.
My company, Common Thread, is such an integral part of why I came back to dancing and what keeps me fighting for it no matter what life throws my way. It is a huge part of why I feel that I have been able to overcome an eating disorder and change my ability to have good relationships, self-esteem, and to prioritize true strength and health over attention. Of course, it still helps….:) (please tell me Im pretty)
My friends at Common Thread have been so supportive of me through my entire journey back to dancing and through this diagnosis. This life is worth any kind of dietary change to me. To dance, to be strong and feel good and share my passion is what I wish for, and I will do it at whatever size makes me the most able to do just that.
If you’d like to support me or the fellow people who have been bulking up my self-value then please consider coming to our Spring Concert at dance Project on April 19, 20, 21rst. You can also help by checking out our Indiegogo campaign here to make a tax-deductable donation of any size. You hear, that? I accept ANY SIZE! (actually in this case, the fatter the better!) Or you can always buy me some gluten-free flour and I will bake you a cake. I would post pictures of the gluten-free vegan cupcakes that Steph, Hannah, Mary, Carolyn, Mariko and I had last Friday but I left my camera at Hannah’s. Take my word for it, they were delicious!
You can have your cake and eat it too- just no flour, know the carb count, take your medicine, not too much of it, and probably share it with a loved one. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
I can’t wait to share this concert with you. That’s all for now, I’ve probably done enough sharing for today. Thanks for the support friends. with love- your favorite gluten-free diabetic ballerina jokester- jess