Dancing Away Depression
by C. Christine Miller
I love to couch dance.
Uh-oh: did your mind go to one of those dark, smoky bars where women take off their clothes for money? No. Not today; but I would be remiss if I did not tell you I spent my late teens and early twenties dancing naked in front of strangers for money.
Those days are long gone, but they left scars of their own. “I Met a Man” could be the title of a book or a memoir of the period of my life—three weeks—when that man took me into captivity and only allowed me out to work. The damage that time in my life did to me is irrevocable. I lived in fear every minute of every day, and with good reason. I will refrain from further explanation of said capture, but the terror lives on. I am undergoing intense psychotherapy at present.
Childhood trauma has wrangled with me my entire life. When I was a teen, when I was not at school or the mandatory cashier job I started at age 14, my step-monster locked me in my room almost every day. I felt stifled, my voice unheard, and like I was losing my mind. As it turns out, I did not lose mine, but I gained others. I developed personalities who could endure the pain and emotional turmoil that I could not bear alone.
Clarity felt far away in those moments of despair. I wished for a friend. I wished for someone who would understand me, who would not judge me when I fell short of perfection. I wished for someone who would call me by my name, not label me worthless, or worse. I did not know, in those tender teenage years, that there were people who were capable of kindness and compassion.
If I chose a cartoon character with whom to identify, it would have to be Wile E. Coyote. I tried, but no matter what I did, I just could not catch what I wanted. The things I desired— usually nothing more than happiness, peace and love— eluded me. I lived my days mostly landing at the bottom of the cliff with the big ole rock landing on top of my head.
As I got into my mid-twenties, I was married and had a beautiful baby. It seemed the proverbial rock had been lifted … but for a moment.
My son thrived in his first two years, and I enjoyed every minute of teaching him everything. He learned things quickly. Toward the end of that time, I could feel myself becoming disconnected. I was finding it difficult to sustain a smile, or feel any joy. I went to the doctor and came away with a host of meds and a diagnosis of post-partum, bipolar depression.
My husband gave up on me. He was anti-big Pharma, and when he saw all the medication bottles and the depressed state I was in, he kicked me (quite literally) to the curb. We lived in married student housing and, since he was getting his bachelor’s degree, I was forced out without choice. My childhood dream was shattered. I was shattered. I did not understand what was happening to me, and now I had to go through it alone.
For the next year, I drank heavily, and I did it while on my medications. I do not recommend that to anyone, but it’s what I did. I made many careless, horrible choices that I wish I could take back. On the suggestion of family members, I moved to where I could easily get into church, AA meetings, work, and a group to help me reinstate my driving privileges.
After five years, my life was in order. I was sober, I was levelheaded, and I was maintaining an apartment. My now ex-husband wanted me to move to where he was living to help with our child. I was doing the happy dance in a chair even then.
8 Tips for Telling Your Own Story
Do you have a story to tell? Chances are, you do. This free guide will walk you through our Editor in Chief's top suggestions.
A New Day
My purpose is still unbeknownst to me. I feel as if I have trudged through life blindly, burdened with emotional and physical pain. My neurologist said there have been several clinical studies that show childhood trauma is the root cause of many physical illnesses in adulthood.
Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
When one is gifted in an area, they are supposed to share it. Right? One of my gifts is dancing. Since my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, and a catastrophic car accident when I was twenty-two, it has been a very long time since I have been out dancing. I am much too depressed and the pain is overwhelming; however, there came a meeting of my many minds and the solution was couch dancing. LOL, you say? I would be willing to bet you have never tried it!
Whenever the upstairs neighbors start doing their Godzilla thing, making the whole building shake, and my nerves are shot and I cannot escape because I am doubled down with pain and the depression is too much to handle with all the noise … I turn up my little clock radio and I couch dance. Music is the key to open windows to the moonlight and allow the stars to jump right into my soul. My spirit bursts into 80’s fanatic head bobbing and hip jiggling. It is automatic. I cannot help myself.
The music is my light, and the light is my passion. My passion moves me. It inspires me. It creates in me a desire to, in Taylor’s words, “shake it off.” To survive mental illness, one must learn to shake off many things. Shame, blame, guilt, condemnation, feeling faulty or broken … I could go on and on with these negative emotions. I have had to do this myself, for me, and no one else.
I did not get to the point of free-form couch dancing by feeling like a failure, and I did not get here by thinking I was “less than.” You may think that sounds funny, but compare it to lying in bed hoping to die, or trying to decide which of the eight different bottles of pills is full enough to achieve those results. I do not think that way any longer.
Couch dancing may not be for everyone, but it works for me. There need not be another person present. I only need a hairbrush mic, a radio, a couch, and myself. The music gets into my bones and no longer do I feel sad, angry or upset. I then return the cushions to their previous state of tidiness. My state of despair is lost, whisked away like a dead leaf in the autumn wind.