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Some Days, Bipolar Wins*

…Though on other days it starts out feeling like Bipolar is going to win, and then it’s a draw, or then I win. But, you know. That doesn’t invalidate my title, I guess.

Monday was kind of, in many ways, one of those days for me. Yesterday was also kind of one of those days, though it was exacerbated by the fact that I couldn’t sleep on Monday night, took a sleeping pill at 3 AM, and woke up … um, kinda late.

Today started out feeling like a Bipolar Wins kind of day: I woke up at 8 AM, said, “F*** a bunch of life right now,” and went back to sleep, which is uncharacteristic.

Later (at 9:30, when it was too late to leave on time), I woke up again and berated myself about how I could have and should have gone to Wednesday class, and how I am never going to accomplish anything I am trying to accomplish because I’m apparently constitutionally incapable of being consistent, &c.

And then I read for a while (because that’s one of the things I can do even when I’m depressed) and then I got out of bed and took a bath and read in the bath for a while (because that’s another thing I can do even when I’m depressed) and then I decided to shove myself out the door and finish up the yard work that we started working on this weekend.

That felt like a small victory. When you’re really, really depressed, you can’t even shove yourself out the door. Sometimes, you can’t even shove yourself out of bed.

Anyway, while I was out there in the yard, chopping and bundling bits of the trees that Denis cut down because they were growing too close to the house and feeling sorry for or maybe about myself, something occurred to me:

Some days, Bipolar Wins, and that just kind of how it is, and that’s okay.

Right now, my goals feel a billion miles away. I’m not making it to ballet class on the schedule I “should” be. I’m only writing intermittently (but, on the other hand, wow, have I made some progress in the past month). I’m only sort of on top of the housework, which I guess is progress, actually?

A lot of the time, I wake up and think, “What’s the point?”

A lot of the time, I don’t want to go out into the world because my social persona is so, so very far from who I am right now.

A lot of the time, I’m frustrated by my own lack of forward momentum — or, well, of continuous forward momentum. Like, when I have moment, OMG, do I have momentum … but then when it goes away, it’s gone. For a while.

And then I have these moments of clarity and insight, these moments in which I understand that this is who I am, when I remember that trying to fight my own nature isn’t going to really solve the problem.

I can beat myself about the head with a stick all I want, but it isn’t really going to accomplish anything.

So often, resources written by people without Bipolar treat these moments of clarity as if they should, like, magically solve the problem — and I think that’s because, for a lot of non-Bipolar folks, they do.

Like, often, if you can identify and begin to understand a problem you’re experiencing, you can begin to solve it — but Bipolar Affective Disorder kind of doesn’t work that way.

This is where all that psychobabble about acceptance comes in handy (if not easily, because our minds like to resist things like that, and I think BPD affects cognition in ways that only increase that resistance).

I think that, in the past, I’ve seen acceptance as a synonym for “giving in” — that I’ve seen it as the equivalent of telling someone who’s just had an amputation at the knee, “You can forget about running marathons.”

Yeah, well — it turns out that amputees can run marathons if they darned well please, thank you very much.

I am trying to learn to accept that BPD makes me inconsistent; makes me constitutionally unable to really be consistent in the way that I might have been if I didn’t have BPD, or maybe if medication was a more workable option for me — while also remembering that the inconsistency inherent in my existence doesn’t mean I’ll never do the things I’ve set out to do.

What it does mean is that I’m good at getting back up when I fall down (you guys, I have had a ton of practice at getting back up when I fall down).

What it does mean is that it takes me longer to reach my goals, maybe, than it would take someone else. My Original Life Plan was School => High School => College/University => Write some books and who knows what else?**

**I was never one of those kids with any kind of concrete career goal. I was never even the kid who’s like, “I wanna be a fireman!” I was the kid who, in pre-school, would tell grown-ups that I wanted to be a horse or a unicorn or a cheetah or a t-rex when I grew up, and then point out that they didn’t ask me what I could be.

It didn’t actually work out quite that way. It was more like:

School => Mental Breakdown => Psychiatric Hospital => Psychiatric Hospital High School => Non-Residential Psychiatric Hospital High School => Arts Magnet High School => Win A Bunch of Scholarships and Walk Away Anyway Because I Just Couldn’t Even => Wander Around In A Haze For A While => Pick Up A Few Community College Credits => Moar Wandering => Computer Networking Certification => Work At One Job I Loved (Playing With Horses And Getting Paid For It!) => Move Another 79 Times => Work At a Few Jobs I Mostly Either Didn’t Like or Hated => University => Well, Here I am.

I’m actually kind of in a better spot than I’ve ever been, in one regard: I have something more closely resembling a long-term vision of What I Want To Do When (If Ever) I Grow Up. Dance-Movement Therapy! Writing! Baking Bread! Ballet! Choreography! Art! Maybe a PhD in Neuroscience! Definitely Travel!

The thing is, it’s probably going to take me longer to get there (wherever There is) than I want it to … and the road might look a lot different than I think it’s going to look.

The hard thing is knowing that, in the darker places, I won’t remember this.

Maybe I should make it into a poster and stick it on the wall, like one of those affirmation things.

Come to think of it, maybe I should make a bunch of those, because (even though I know they work for a lot of people, and I am total not judging) they make me feel really silly, which makes me laugh, and anything that does that is worth keeping in your anti-depression arsenal.

The long and short of that is that accepting the limitations that come with Bipolar disorder means, for me, being willing to countenance the fact that I’m going to have to take different routes than I thought I would; that I’m probably going to have to arrange my work and creative life differently than I expected to (not, to be fair, like I ever had much of a set of expectations about having a traditional work life; that hasn’t really been one of my major goals, to be honest).

The overall output of my creative spark might be smaller in volume than it otherwise would have been. That doesn’t mean it will be less significant (though it feels weird to think of myself as someone whose creative work will harbor any significance at all in the world — but that’s a topic for another time, as I always seem to be saying).

Meanwhile, I need to stop panicking when I fail to make it to class for a week or two. That is the nature of the beast, and it doesn’t mean I’m not eventually going to absorb all the stuff I need to learn. Over the course of ten years, it doesn’t even mean it’s going to take all that much longer (if anything, sometimes I come back from one of these unexpected Mental Health Breaks and discover that something I was struggling with has magically sorted itself in the gap).

I’m not sure how to wind this all up. To some degree, it’s just a reminder to myself; just me thinking out loud, as it were, in this 21st-century-specific way we have of thinking out loud now.

To some degree, there’s something that feels New and Important about these thoughts — not in the sense that they’re New and Important in a universal way, because, like, All of Buddhism has had this down for centuries. It’s just that I feel like I understand this stuff in a way I haven’t really understood it before, which I guess is what Life and Adulting and stuff are all about.

It’s all leaves of the lotus or layers of the onion, depending on whether you prefer boating or cooking, I guess.

So there you have it. Ten years from now, as long as I keep dancing, I will be ten years better at dancing than I am now; ten years from now, as long as I keep existing, I will have ten years’ more experience and wisdom under my belt — and that will be the case even though I am going to take breaks, and fall on my butt, and generally be a screw-up sometimes because that’s how I am; that’s how my Bipolar is.

So there you go.

Some days, bipolar wins — but usually, in short, it’s not the end of the world.

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“In the Beginning, It Is Always Dark”

…And I say this because I want to do a thing, and I’m completely in the dark about how to make it happen.

On numerous occasions, I’m sure, I’ve kvetched about the lack of performance opportunities for adult dance students around here. Likewise, I’ve kvetched about the relative lack of body diversity in dance.

After class on Saturday, I mentioned to B. that I’d like to put together a performance for local adult dance students — and that, ideally, I’d really like to see that performance reflect the diversity of body types and abilities out there.

B. said, “Oh, you know, this could be a great fundraiser!”

I think that’s a great idea — to create not just a chance for adult dance students to perform, but a chance for us to work together to do something for the community at large.

Later, I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to use that performance to raise funds for either for an organization that harnesses the power of dance in a therapeutic way, or for an organization that works to help people with disabilities gain access to dance classes (or maybe even to the arts in general)?

…And thus was the germ of an idea born.

When I asked him if we had any existing organizations that do that kind of thing around here, Denis pointed out that Metro Parks Louisville has an Adapted Leisure program that both offers recreational opportunities (including social dancing) for people with disabilities and that helps make Metro Parks’ other recreation and leisure activities accessible.

That seems like a great place to start.

Beyond that, though, I have absolutely no idea how to proceed.

Hence the quote above: I’m sure it’s a line that’s cropped up in a bazillion places, but I always remember as spoken by The Childlike Empress in the film version of The Neverending Story, which I probably watched 14,000,000 times as a little kid (and, for that matter, as a not-so-little kid: yes, I have totally been guilty of feeling my bike sink into swampy terrain during a gravel race and shouting, “ARRRRRRRRRTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAX!”).

So, basically, yeah. Thinking about this again, today, I realized that everyone begins by having no idea how to do things — and they manage to make it happen anyway.

And, yet, things happen. Wheels get invented (and re-invented); people organize events; history rolls forward.

A year ago, I didn’t know how to do a lot of the stuff I know how to do now. What I did know is that, when something looks difficult, the best thing to do is just try it anyway (hello, promenade en dehors in écarté devant; hello, remembering long combinations; hello temps de fleche — okay, don’t really entirely have that one down yet, because coordination, but it’s coming).

When you attempt something difficult and fail at first, you’re still closer to having it down than you are if you just don’t try.

So, anyway, in recognition of that vision of harnessing the potential of every kind of body, every kind of person, in dance, I’m kicking around the idea of calling this thing EveryBody’s Dance Theater.

The rest I’ll have to figure out as I go along. It seems like probably a good idea to connect with some local people who have experience doing things like this.

So there you have it.

Yup.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, you guys.

Danseur Ignoble: Practical Considerations

Yesterday, I signed up for the GRE, which doesn’t sound like it will be too bad.

It’s also possible that none of the programs for which I’m applying actually require it, but I might as well get it out of the way.

I’m not worried in the least about the writing and language bits; my only concern was that I’d have to do a whooooole lot of math review, but it looks like it should be very doable, provided that I don’t leave it all ’til the last minute because SQUIRREL!

As a matter of perspective, I’m much less worried about the GRE than I was about my audition piece.

Curiously, having done the audition has somehow made me feel much more confident and capable, even though the audition itself was kind of a mess due to the fact that there was absolutely no way I could be really adequately prepared under the circumstances. I don’t know, just getting up and winging it, doing it anyway, was a huge confidence-builder.

There’s something about actually doing creative work that is deeply edifying. I may not have had much of the work done in time for the audition, but the part that was done looked like … well, it looked like real dancing, if that makes any sense? And, since then, I’ve been rocking along creating and revising, which feels really exciting.

I’m learning to think of myself as an artist (not just in terms of dance, but also in terms of the visual arts), which is something I’ve always been hesitant to do. It seems somehow hubric to do so — and yet, at the same time, I’ve realized that you have to take your own work seriously, or you don’t give it the time it needs to get done.

…Or, well, that’s how it works for me.

I’ve also started organizing information about application deadlines and stuff for graduate school. Eventually, the most pressing details (application deadlines and materials needed) will go into a table or spreadsheet or something so I can just check them off as I go.

I’m not organizing cost-of-attendance data yet, because every time I look at cost-of-attendance I really rather feel like my eyes are going to explode. I know I’ll figure it out somehow, just like I figure everything else out somehow, so for now, except for looking into scholarship opportunities, I’m more or less ignoring that whole zone.

So now I’m contacting graduate schools, signing up for open-house days for their DMT programs (in this sort of devil-may-care, I’ll-figure-out-how-to-get-there-later kind of way), and so forth.

It’s a weird place to be, somehow. A couple weeks ago, I was all, I don’t know if I’m going to be ready for this; I don’t actually even know if I want to do this. A lot of that stemmed from being persistently sick for a rather longish period, though: eventually, I’ll write about what that does to me emotionally, but I can’t figure out yet how to put it into words.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I woke up, remembered what I want to do and why, and felt ready to get started … so yesterday, I did.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that this happened within a week after getting back to class.

The structure that ballet provides is so essential to my life. While I actually do very much like being a homemaker, I seem to do best when I have a schedule imposed upon me from the outside. It forces me to organize my time in a way that’s really quite difficult for me to do otherwise.

Moreover, going to class is, for me, a signal that things are normal; that life is moving along in its usual rhythm. Not going to class is a signal that Something Is Very Wrong (usually, that either my physical or emotional health has imploded).

That said, I didn’t take Wednesday class yesterday because I don’t quite yet feel like my respiratory system is up to the demands of Brienne’s class. Lingering cough is lingering.

That said, I forgot that Margie now teaches a Wednesday morning class which I could have taken instead. Derp.

I’m hoping to be back up to speed next week, but if I’m not, I’ll do Margie’s class on Wednesday morning (I’m trying to avoid doing evening classes except on rare occasions, since this time of year it means getting home at 10 PM, which is problematic for a number of reasons).

I wrote in yesterday’s post about the relative costs of therapy and ballet as part of my defense of the cost of dancing — not to say that ballet should replace therapy, but it augments therapy rather beautifully. For me, the sense of structure and, I suppose, of belonging are an enormous part of that.

Dancing is part of what makes my life whole. For practical reasons as well as purely impractical ones, it’s terribly nice to be dancing again at last.

Quickie: Plans

On Wednesday, B. and I were chatting during the quick break between barre about how we’d both lost so much ground to injury this year (she with a stress-fractured foot; I with my calf and then my toe). I was like, “Can you believe we were doing brisees last year?”

Anyway, that’s kind of a theme for me, right now. In some ways — mood-wise, ballet-wise — I’m sitting at the bottom of a long climb back to where I want to be.

Fortunately, as a cyclist, the ability and willingness to climb ridiculous hills was and remains one of my strengths, and I feel like maybe I can translate that over to the rest of my life.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to climb this particular set of hills quickly. Just that I know myself well enough to recognize that I’m probably going to make it (even though I’m in that weird place, right now, where you’re rational enough to know that the voice in your head that constantly yammers on like, “You’ve squandered your potential and will never amount to anything now!” is a crazy voice, but not yet in a place where you can make it STFU).

Anyway. So I’m gaining ground more slowly than I would like, but I’m gaining ground.

I guess I can pop in another bike-racing analogy, here: one time, Timothy and I raced Death March while both of us were recovering from various winter illnesses, including some kind of gut thing that was going around. In short, neither of us had been able to eat like a normal person for several days, and we were what a long-ago Arnold Schwartzenegger might have termed “weak little girly-men,” and we did nothing fast, least of all climbing … but climb we did, and (as evidenced by the fact that I am sitting here in my living room, writing this post), we lived to ride another day (in fact, the next year we came back and roundly spanked half the field, although we were in turn roundly spanked by the other half).

Sometimes it sucked, and sometimes we walked our bikes, but at the end of the day, we kept going and eventually made it back to the ranch without having to ride in the Broom Wagon.

So, anyway. I’m not all there yet, but I’m not ready to wait for the broom wagon, either.

As such, here are some plans for upcoming posts, with no particular timeline in mind (though next week would be nice):

  • Two Cooking With ADHD posts:
    • What To Do With 10 Pounds of Chicken Leg Quarters (Because They’re On Sale)
    • How To Make Bread And Influence Impress People
  • One hopes, a string of Ballet Class Notes, as my foot can definitely handle at least 3 classes per week at this point if I don’t jump too much.
  • Maybe a post about writing? I am doing that still.

In other news, I am rocking along in Homemaker Mode and actually rather better at it than I used to be.

This is comforting.

Some of it, of course, is the Miracle of Modern Medicine (go, Adderall!), but some of it is simply a function of the fact that, amazingly, I do appear to be able to learn.

I’m hoping my friend Robert (Hi, Robert!) will be able to come visit before we head out to the desert; maybe when he does I’ll ask him to collaborate on a Cooking With ADHD Video Post, since we have two different flavors of ADHD and we might find different things helpful.

Oh, and I just read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and I highly recommend it (if Regency-era romping bisexual sword-wieldy people sound like your cup of tea).

That’s it for now.

Maybe if I ever manage to get Cooking with ADHD rolling, I’ll expand it into a guide for the ADDle-pated Homemaker. Goodness knows I could use one!

Sorry This Is a Bit Cryptic

Maybe at some point, it’s actually okay to face the world and learn to Adult (even when I was little, I never aspired to grow up; the adults in my life generally seemed to have an ocean of trouble and little time for creative stuff).  
Takes realizing, first, how much you need to learn, and then realizing that again.  And again.   Life is an iterative process; test-driven development writ large.

And then, you have to take those first tentative steps onto the high wire.

Slowly, weirdly, I’m kind of turning into someone I can respect.  

It kind of sneaks up on you, though, doesn’t it?

Honors Convocation

My chemistry prof from a couple of semesters back, Dr.  Wainge, won the Distinguished Professor award.

In his beautiful speech (which, like everything else, was really hard to understand because of echo from the speakers), he recounted how after finishing his BS degree he had to wait four years, teaching science in high school, before he could start his PhD program in Physical Chemistry …  because, at the time, in Cameroon, there was no such program.

I don’t know if that’s what made him such a great Chem teacher (you guys, I got an A+ in his class with no prior chemistry classes and I did not burn down the Physical Sciences building during lab!).  It probably helps, at very least.

Anyway, as he wound to a close he told us, mid-analogy: “… And when you see a detour, be patient and follow it, because it may be the safest way to get where you are going  — or you might even find an even better destination than the one you had in mind.”

So yeah, that.   And everything else he said.

Also, when I got up to collect my honor cord, I got a totally unexpected whoop from someone out there in the audience on the opposite side of the auditorium from my family.   So, pretty cool stuff, and many thanks to whoever that was.   If you’re reading this, please know that it was a giant ego boost!  ^—^

That’s it for now.   Lovely weekend with the family, great roving packs of Dawsons getting along beautifully with Mom and Ray.  Too much awesome food because, well, Louisville.

Commencement tomorrow: the great Reading of All the Names.

And then?

Who knows.   But wherever we go, we’ll go there dancing.

Getcha Geek On … Getcha Geek On

It’s been a long, long time since I did any serious web programming — about four years, in fact.

Basically, when I left the world of banking, I left the world of web development. I had discovered that WordPress did a perfectly reasonable job creating a framework for whatever content I wanted to throw up on the web (which is different than simply wanting to throw up on the web, period, which is what you might want to do if you spend too much time exploring Vincent Flanders’ Web Pages That Suck).

Since then, I’ve frequently thought about the principles of usability and good web design (in fact, I think about them every time I encounter poorly-designed user interfaces and badly-designed websites!) — but I’ve spent basically no time doing actual web design work.

Along the way, I rather forgot how satisfying I find it.

This isn’t to say that it’s quite as satisfying as dancing or riding a bike — but it turns out that solving web-design problems is still pretty fun.

Today I learned how to pop custom CSS classes into WordPress themes in such a way that they’ll actually work. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be hard if you’re already familiar with CSS classes — but it had been a while since I built a CSS framework from scratch, and I had to think about where to put my classes in the main stylesheet for the theme.

A flash of intuition (“DERP! SEE IF THERE’S A ‘BODY’ SECTION, YOU MORON!”) solved that problem for me, and the result was immediately, immensely, deeply satisfying. I may — MAY — have gotten up and done a little dance. It’s possible that I also sang a ridiculous song about being awesome*.

*As a result of my hubris, I will almost certainly fall down the stairs later, or suffer some other equally ridiculous blow to my ego.

Maybe.

Ahem.

So, anyway. I am surprised by how happy I am to be doing web work again.

Maybe not so happy that I want to do it all the time for the rest of my life (too … much … sitting!), but definitely happy enough to think that I’d like to keep cracking away at it so maybe I can do it part-time while I’m working on my graduate degree or something.

In other news, the Tricross’ rear brake has lost most of its stopping power, so the Tricross will probably go to the shop tomorrow (where it will definitely get a tuneup, new rear brake pads, and a new chain, and possibly get a new rear hub or wheel). While I’m there, I might see about finding some kind of ridiculous swept-back bars for the Karakoram, because Dave just built up a gorgeous Bridgestone with lovely swept-back bars and now I’m riddled with envy or something.

Also because I am unlikely to do any serious off-road riding soon, and the Karakoram mostly lives its life as a grocery-getter.

Still practicing balances all the dang time. My balance à la seconde is starting to come together rather nicely. Boy, does that one work the ol’ turnout.

That’s it for now. Back to work!

Quickie: Spring Break II, Treading Water But Feeling OkayD

It’s Spring Break week for Ballet this week, so I have no class (I’m trying to avoid the obvious jokes here, since I’m sure I’ve used them all before). This is handy, because I’m in the middle of writing my final paper for my Buddhism class, preparing for the final exam in my Entomology class, and finishing the PorchLight Express website.

Yesterday, I met with my boss for my performance review, and it was great. That was a huge relief, as it’s actually kind of hard to figure out how well you’re doing your job when you’re in your first term as an SI leader. At one point, Ryan said, “When are you graduating, in May? That’s too bad. I mean — not for you! But it would’ve been nice to have you around longer.”

That felt really good!

I feel like I’m learning and growing a lot this semester — not just as a student, but as a person. The whole past year has been an exercise in figuring out who I am and where I fit and where I want to go … and also in learning how to be happy even though I’m not there yet.

By analogy, I came to a realization not long ago that has been bizarrely helpful (though, to be fair, if you’d told me the same thing maybe a year ago, I would’ve said you were full of crap). I was reflecting on why I liked making bread, but didn’t like putting the dishes away. Both are basically repetitive activities that you do in one place, and yet I find one of them enjoyable (even when it makes my wrists hurt) and the other tedious.

I came to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no good reason that I didn’t like putting dishes away. It was a mental thing. If I could like making bread, I could like putting the clean dishes back in the cupboards. The main difference is that putting clean dishes away involves working with a lot of small elements, much like de-cluttering does (this explains why I enjoy housework but hate de-cluttering; it took me the longest time to figure out that that was my biggest problem as a homemaker).

The working-with-lots-of-small elements part is difficult for me as someone with my particular flavor of ADHD. I think this is also why I enjoy bike maintenance, but not so much repairs — maintenance mostly involves fiddling with a whole bike; repairs often involve lots of fiddly parts that can escape and roll away and basically stress me out until they’re back on the bike.

That doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ways to find either process enjoyable, though — so I’m working in learning to like putting the dishes away, or at least not hate it. As for bike repairs — meh. Some of them I’ll definitely do (changing tires and sometimes repairing tires; fixing broken chains; stuff like that), but some I don’t mind paying someone else to do. Besides, that helps good bike wrenches stay in business, which I really appreciate when something major that I don’t know how to fix happens to one of my bikes.

On the “learning to like putting away dishes” front, I’m not going to say I’m entirely there yet. Nor am I going to say that this is something everyone can or should do — there’s lots of things that lots of people would say I “should” be able to learn to do or to like, but I either can’t or won’t, and I think that’s basically okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.

I feel like other people deserve the same consideration. People live in different ways and prioritize different things, and it’s totally okay to feel like putting dishes away is anathema to your soul. It’s okay to pay someone else do it, or bribe your spouse to do it, or just plain not do it. I personally know a couple people who have dishwashers solely so they don’t have to put the dishes away — they just put the dishes in, wash them, and then that’s where the dishes live until they’re all used, and then the cycle begins again. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

So that’s a thing I think I’ll probably write about some more at some point.

In other news, I finally took the last dose of my tendon-exploding antibiotic this morning, so I rather expect to stop feeling exhausted and bedraggled in the next few days. I was so tired last night that I conked out before Denis got home from his night out with Kelly, and I didn’t even wake up when he got home and came to bed.

I’m looking forward to having my usual energy level back, but also glad that the break in ballet classes allows me to get more done while I’m still feeling the fatigue. The main part of my PLX job is just about done, too, so when ballet class resumes next week, I should be able to enjoy it without having to dash around quite so frenetically.

Frenetic dashing just isn’t really my style.

Life: Stepping Onto The Stage

A little more than a year ago, I returned to the ballet studio after a long break from all forms of theatrical dance (note that I didn’t say all forms of dance, period: historically, every time an opportunity to own the floor has arisen, I’ve grabbed it by the horns and spun it like a top).

I didn’t see that as the Beginning of Something, because of course we almost never* spot the Beginnings in the ongoing string of serial novels that comprise our lifetimes, but that’s what it was: a Beginning.

*I think we most reliably notice them when they coincide with a life-milestone recognized by our culture — a birth, a death, a matriculation, a graduation, coming out, a wedding, a divorce… Those ones are easier to spot.

It was a beginning that had been much-rehearsed and much-prepared-for, in a way.

I’d made a lot of changes in the three years prior: met the love of my life; figured out I was unhappy not just with my job, but with my entire career path; left a stable job with decent pay and fair opportunities for advancement; left the field in which I’d accrued all of my meaningful professional experience; returned to school; got married (another Beginning); finally started to get my head around the fact that bipolar disorder was a thing in my life whether I admitted it or not, so I’d better just admit it; etc.

I had been doing a lot of foundational work on myself. Returning to ballet was the outgrowth of that foundational work.

What I didn’t expect was the transformative effect of that return to the studio.

If you’d asked me before I returned to ballet what kind of dancer I expected to grow into, I probably would have pointed to the most fluid, most gender-bending member of the Ballets Trockaderos and said, “I’m going to be him.” If you’d asked whether and how I expected ballet to transform the rest of my life, I might have said, “I dunno, I’ll be more fit, I guess?”

Instead it turns out that, as a dancer, my style is traditionally masculine in the balletic sense (I’m trying to figure out how describe what I mean, here), and that ballet has sent its tentacles into every nook and cranny of my life. Surprise**?

**Anyone who saw me performing either gymnastic floor exercise or ballet as a kid probably wouldn’t be surprised at all, come to think of it. Why am I always the last one to get the memo, even when the memo concerns myself? Likewise, anyone who has been Into Ballet for a while is probably enjoying a knowing snicker at the naivete of my initial thoughts about how ballet would impact my life.

I suppose I can’t be entirely surprised that ballet just kind of took over. That’s how I roll. I don’t do hobbies; I do consuming passions.

That said, I was quite surprised when ballet almost immediately eclipsed cycling. Somehow, I expected them to coexist. Instead, cycling has been recast in a subservient role — still wildly fun, still great for keeping up the cardio and getting from here to there, but let’s not overdo it, because it’s bad for the turnout. Casual centuries are still A Thing from time to time, but racing? Not so much.

Perhaps more genuinely surprising is the fact that I — perhaps not the most incendiary of flamers, but still sufficiently alight to say of my husband, “His steadiness allows me to be the airy-fairy faggot I was built to be” — feel so at home and “right” and comfortable as a danseur.

Historically, I’ve found it kind of awkward to be who and what I am: this boy who is not “straight acting” and has no desire to be, but who nonetheless doesn’t fit neatly into the “total flamer” box either.

I recognize that this is mainly because the limits we’ve drawn around that box are, well, silly — and, actually, quite sexist, in a “flamers are like girls and girls aren’t bold and athletic” kind of way. I’d like to see someone tell Misty Copeland or cycling great Marianne Vos that girls aren’t bold and athletic!

I can’t help but toss an eyeroll at the over-compensating “straight acting” types — not the ones who are just being themselves, but the ones who are trying too hard; the ones who make “masculinity” into some kind of cult object and wear its trappings like ill-fitting trousers while cloaking their own feminine or androgynous sides in shame. The problem is, I also don’t quite fit the mold at the opposite end of the spectrum … and, curiously, queer culture seems to leave precious little room for the recognition of anything else (okay, except bears, wolves, and otters — but I’m not any of those).

I am someone who by his nature likes categories and wants to belong to at least one, but I am also someone who appears to have been created specifically to defy categorization. I am eternally consigned to some kind of purple area, when all I want much of the time is to know whether I’m red or blue. Yea verily, this hath vexed me: I have really, really always wanted to fit somewhere. It never occurred to me that maybe part of what I missed about ballet was that I fit.

Ballet embraces a kind of bouyant masculine grace (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be constrained to male dancers; more on that in another post; G-d help me, I am backlogging myself with “…in another post” posts lately!) that is at once strictly counter-cultural in our modern age of male buffoonery and strictly classical in the sense that gentlemen were expected, Once Upon A Time, to know how to cut a caper or a rug and how to recognize a well-cut suit.

So I am learning to live into this kind of weird masculine grace that’s apparently a native part of my being — I say “weird” because I have, of course, thought of myself as male, but not particularly as an exemplar of any flavor of masculinity; that has, simply put, never been one of my aspirations. And, in so doing, I am learning to live into the whole of my being more thoroughly.

In short, I am feeling at once more whole and more real and developing a burgeoning sense of agency that threatens to topple my lifelong assumption that I would live out my days as a sort of domestic, dependent figure.

Scary stuff.

I say all this by way of a discovery: earlier today, I read a really cool article on Serious Eats called Friday Night Meatballs, immediately Had A Sad because it reflected something I’ve always wanted to do but felt I couldn’t because The House and Where Will People Park and Nobody Wants To Visit Our Neighborhood and Nobody Ever Comes To Our House, etc…

Then, immediately, I thought, “Well, why don’t I do something about that?”

Like, point the fourth, there? Of course nobody ever comes to our house. We never invite people to our house. Maybe if we invited people over on a regular basis, people would come to our house. Maybe that’s how all this works!

You guys, what the heck is happening to me?

It used to be that I would get to, “…but the house” or whatever and stop.

This isn’t to say that our current house is ever going to be ideal for entertaining. It’s not: but that’s life. I can’t practice big jumps in my basement, either, even though it’s the largest clear-span space in the house (our living room, meanwhile, is roughly one tour-jete across, if I keep it small). I make do: turns in the kitchen (because that, as we have established, is what kitchens are for), the occasional big jump in the living room, adagio in the basement. Balances everywhere, on every possible surface.

So packing ten people in for a sit-down meal in our dining room probably isn’t going to happen, at least not unless we get rid of the china cabinet and buy a different table. So what? Who cares? That’s why the human race invented this little thing called “the buffet.” It worked a treat for our family holiday shindig, and I’d like to do more of that: china and food on the dining room table, however many people arrayed on sofas and loveseats and chairs and giant ottomans in the living room. It works, and it actually feels rather nice and friendly.

I’m going to give this a spin, though first I’ll have to get off my butt and finish the Great Spring Break Cleaning.

I’m feeling this way about my life in general. You figure out what you’ve got and you go from there; there’s no point in worrying about what you don’t have right now. I don’t know if coming from a background in which I pretty much had everything made this harder or easier to learn — like, seriously, it seems like it should be easy to learn how to live on a much smaller income. You just spend less, right? But, in fact, it’s actually not all that intuitive when you’ve grown up never really having to worry about the expense of anything.

The difference is that when money really is no object, you can usually make things happen the way you envision them by just laying out some cash. When money is an object, you have to be a little more flexible and a little more creative. You have to learn how to work with what you’ve got.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You take what you’ve got and you make the most of it, and while you’re doing that you figure out how to make the next step towards realizing the whole of your vision. Except in the most dire of circumstances, you cancel out the negative side of the equation (our dining room is definitely too small!) by recognizing a positive (but our living room is a really fun place for a group of people to hang out!). Then you figure out how to use that positive to meet your goal.

That’s the secret, apparently. That’s what keeps the here and now from seeming like nothing but a grinding wait ’til you get to where you want to be (now, if I can just figure out how to apply this kind of thinking to our bathroom, which I despise with the fire of a thousand suns, and to the fact that our kitchen feels like the most isolated room in our house…).

It’s like the principle of keeping Shabbos: from every Friday at sunset to every Saturday at sunset, the perfected kingdom of G-d is already present; sacred time descends upon and perfects our imperfect world. We invite the Perfect Someday to be here with us, now, and for a little while even our imperfect world is lifted up and perfected. Things still get spilled and little kids still burst into tears for mysterious reasons, but those things happen in the context of the Perfect Someday, and they too are sacred events.

In a way, Sarah Grey’s Friday Night Meatballs, with its recognition that the house is going to be messy and that you might be asked to read picture books, is its own Shabbos***. The world doesn’t stop being imperfect and chaotic (this isn’t to say that having to read picture books, by the way, is imperfect: it just probably isn’t what people think of when they think “Friday evening dinner party”), but for a little while, a different kind of perfection — a transcendent perfection — is invited in.

***Oddly enough, I hadn’t finished reading the article when I wrote this post — but author Sarah Grey calls out the same association!

I’d like to live my life a little more like that. I realize that’s what I’ve been hunting, in my endless journey for a spiritual practice that answers the calling of my soul: something that lifts up the Holy Sparks in all things. I just didn’t realize that it’s been sitting right here in front of me all along. (Voila! Isn’t that always where it is, though?)

It really helps to have an Organizing Principle, of course: Zen, or Yiddishkeit, or Catholic mysticism, or Quaker discernment, or secular humanist discernment, or bike racing, or ballet. Some organizing force that helps you untangle the threads and gather them together and weave them into a tapestry (and to know with ease that there will be imperfections in the tapestry). For whatever reason, Bike Racing didn’t really work for me — perhaps because it wasn’t my Vocation, in the old-school sense of the word.

Ballet has become exactly that in my life. Ballet is, at the moment, a kind of functional Kashruth. It is the thing that helps me decide, and at the same time it’s a sacred aspiration. This is, I think, the heart of the ballet aphorism, “I can’t; I have class.” What we are saying when we say, “I can’t, I have class,” is that we serve a higher calling, and that calling comes before so many of life’s distractions****.

****Of course, it’s possible to misuse this calling; to hide behind it in unhealthy ways — but the same can be said of any calling. To use a calling as an excuse to hide is wrong.

I am not living the kashruth of ballet perfectly, of course, because I am human and because I am just learning: but still it is working in my life, opening roads for wholeness that weren’t there before. It’s like pruning a tree, in a way: you prune away the suckers and the weak branches, and you are left with a strong and graceful tree that bears good fruit.

Ballet is the thing for which I am willing to shove everything else to the side, to make sacrifices that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought possible (Give up bike racing? Take any old job just so I can afford my training? Do :::shudder::: upper-body work?!).

I don’t think I would actually have bothered seeking out medication for my ADHD if it weren’t for ballet — but I realized that I need to get better at handling the other stuff in my life so I can keep dancing and so I can achieve my long-term goal of becoming a Dance-Movement Therapist, and I realized after a while that I wasn’t going to be able to do it without help.

I don’t know if, without ballet, I would have ever been as comfortable being who and what I am. I would have continued to feel weird, out of place, even in the outsider community that is the queer universe. I would have continued to hem and haw about having surgery for my gynecomastia, forever suspended between “living with this body limits me and makes me uncomfortable” and “the whole idea of surgery both makes Denis uncomfortable and reinforces the idea that there is only one right kind of male body.” I would have gone on not deciding until the accumulation of years rendered a decision for me. Ballet makes that decision easy: this is the thing I need to do to be able to move with freedom and strength. I can’t imagine regretting it, but I can absolutely imagine regretting not doing it.

Then again, that was the first bit of wisdom I learned from Denis: in the long run, you rarely regret what you do — instead, you regret what you don’t do.

So, yeah. I think I’m going to finish cleaning the house and try my own Friday Night Meatballs experiment, though maybe I’ll do something other than meatballs (but maybe not). We’ll figure out where to put people and where to put people’s cars and so forth (and if my friends come, they’ll probably come on bikes anyway).

I also think I’m going to keep working on moving forward, on stepping out onto this stage. Because, bizarrely, that’s what this all feels like: so much of my life, up until this point, has been rehearsal.

Now we step onto the stage. Now we take our place before the eyes of the world.

Now we begin to dance.

Getting Stuff Done

Last night, I streamed Fauré’s Requiem and scrubbed the ceiling fan in the kitchen.

I could, realistically, have spent the time sitting on the couch and chillaxing, but cleaning the ceiling fan sounded more interesting. I had already spent nearly four hours sitting down to watch an opera, after all.

The Great Polishing of the Fan took an hour. The thing was filthy, coated with who knows how many years of aerosolized cooking grease (probably not that many, though, because Denis doesn’t cook — before I showed up, he ate out a lot). I worked steadily, singing. The cat supervised, as cats are wont.

While I was cleaning I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to conceive of starting a project like that, let alone of getting through it without feeling like I was going to explode — like, seriously, since before the summer term when I scheduled two intense classes for one six-week session and completely cracked afterwards. Even back then, I did a lot of starting things and then getting overwhelmed.

It feels weird to be able to simply finish things. This is not something that has ever been all that possible for me. It’s weird to just come up with a project and bang away at it ’til it’s done. It’s equally weird to be able to walk away from a project, come back, and pick up where I left off without first spending half an hour remembering where, precisely, that was in the first place.

It’s a good kind of weird. Slightly jarring, in the way the first year or so of my relationship with Denis was: this sense of always waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for it all to go off the rails. So far, things seem to be under control.

~~~

Working on catching up all the leftover projects has made me realize exactly how tough last year was for me. It’s strange, because there have certainly been years that I would have described as, perhaps, experientially harder — but last year, I was clearly not functioning so well in a lot of ways. A lot of stuff took a back seat.

In the long run, that’s probably a good thing. I’ve spent most of my life driving myself pretty hard (and, sadly, often to insufficient effect), and while perhaps screwing up your finances and horribly neglecting vast swathes of domestic responsibility aren’t the best way to do it, sometimes a rest is needed.

This is one of the major problems with American culture: we seem to think that if work is productive, even more work will always be more productive — which is not, in fact, at all the case. Our culture and our economy are structured in such a way that restorative rest is rarely possible, and yet they’re actually essential to being happy, healthy, and productive. This is doubly true for those of us who live with mental illnesses.

I’ve heard it said that mules are smarter than horses, because a horse will let you work it to death (caveat: not so sure about some of the horses I’ve known!), while a mule will simply up and stop when she’s good and done, and no amount of haranguing will convince her to do otherwise.

Part of me wishes I’d bitten the bullet and hopped back on the ADHD meds sooner. Part of me recognizes that, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have addressed some stuff that needed addressing. I guess I needed to kind of fall apart to realize that I couldn’t just hold the universe together by force of will alone, and that, in fact, it’s okay not to be able to do that.

Zen focuses a great deal on the idea of no control — that, really, control is an illusion; that efforts to grasp it are futile. Last year was one hell of a good example. Not to say that it was entirely a wash — I had some great experiences last year; ones that are now driving the forward-going direction of my life. But I definitely took a lesson in how illusory control really is.

~~~

I’m still having trouble initiating tasks that involve sitting down and using my brain instead of standing up (or, as I did this morning, crouching on the floor) and using my body — writing excepted. In theory, increasing the dose of my medication might help with that, but honestly I don’t really want to do that.

I’d rather see, first, if I can build that skill through experience. Right now, it’s hard for me to start those tasks in part because I associate them powerfully with frustration and failure. This is why I can muscle through the “sitting down” part when I need to do homework, but not always when I need to work on the filing or the finances.

The thing is, I’ve managed to undertake quite a few onerous sit-down-and-brain tasks in the past couple of weeks. While starting is still quite hard, I’ve found that I’m much better at finishing them now — and generally without gaining a splitting headache for my efforts! Cracking out two months’ of financial catch-up in the course of maybe four to six hours was huge. Huge. In the past, that would’ve taken a solid two days — and it would’ve been a thousand times more miserable.

Denis has apparently been pretty impressed with how things have been going for me as well. On Wednesday, I went and got my hair cut by myself. This was the particular thing that felt like a real signifier to him: the thing that he focused on when we were talking to my therapist this week. He mentioned a couple other things, but he kept coming back to that point — in part, I suppose, because it involved making a plan to do a thing I don’t usually do by myself, then executing that plan successfully. This, from the Boy Who Doesn’t Plan.

Getting a haircut by myself really is kind of a big deal in my world, since getting my hair cut is something I have historically found highly stressful for reasons I don’t quite understand. I also figured out how to communicate what I was looking for to the stylist, who in turn did a fantastic job implementing it — so there’s another reinforcing experience.

So, in short, as I build positive associations with sit-down-and-brain tasks (and others that I find stressful, like getting haircuts), I think I’ll find it easier to initiate them. Meanwhile, I’m finding that I tolerate Adderall quite well at the current dose, and being that I’m very prone to developing side-effects (though far less so with stimulant meds than with those that involve depressant mechanisms), I think I’d rather not tinker with it right now.

~~~

At the end of March, I have another appointment with Dr. B to check in about the meds. Unless she feels very strongly that my dose should be increased, I think I’m going to request that we keep it right where it is.

I don’t think medication is a magic bullet for me (it might actually work that well for some people, and that’s great). It does, however, work rather better than I’d hoped — and I find that I don’t really want a magic bullet, anyway. I want to be functional enough. That’s it. And I think I’m getting there.

So that’s it for now. Back to preparing all the paperwork and so forth for our meeting with our accountant.

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