Quitting: A Revelation Rather Than A Repression

September 6, 2012
I was young. I was impressionable. I was depressed. I cared so much about trying to fit in, trying to be like everyone else, a typical high-schoolers tragedy. It was my sophomore year. I was on the dance team (as captain), the competition team, taking seven dance classes, teaching three classes, and part of the dance ensemble, and taking another three classes at a separate dance school, where I was performing in the Nutcracker and the Spring Show. Needless to say, dance was my life. I slept, ate, and breathed dance. I was at the studio every day for hours upon hours, but because I was there so much, I really didn’t have friends at school. Then, because I danced at two different studios, the girls from neither studio would talk to me.

Every day, I’d show up for dance. I went to the studio as soon as school released and stayed until my mother dragged me home at ten o’clock. My Saturdays and Sundays consisted of vigorous ten to twelve hour rehearsals as we prepared for half-time shows or that out-of-state dance competition. I’d show up ready to do my best, ignore the girls ignoring me, and keep a smile on my face, but every time I walked out the door to wait on my mother to pick me up, I couldn’t keep my eyes from swimming. While the other girls socialized, I practiced each step, memorized each move, and added my own style. I was actually really good. One of the best at the studio, but still, no one talked me. Every day, when my mother would arrive, she’d ask, “Megan is everything alright?”, and I would just nod my head and press my face against the window until we got home. Once home, I’d jump in the shower, half of the time with my clothes still on, and cry.

This routine occurred for months; I felt like a social pariah. Eventually, my distress became unbearable. After my clothed showers, I found myself reaching for the razor blade in the medicine cabinet, ready to etch my skin with its blade. I hoped someone would notice, somebody would care enough to stop me, that they would realize I was in trouble, but no one did. The first thing I quit was dance team. My teacher begged me to stay. That was the first time she had noticed anything amiss, but I was sick of devoting myself to such a useless endeavor. I quickly proceeded to quit the competition team, my volunteer classes, and a few of my actual classes. I pretended to be sick in the classes I still took so I wouldn’t have to dance, but my teacher caught onto that act pretty quickly. So instead of pretending to be sick in class, I pretended to be sick at home. I had everyone convinced that I had mono, and still, no one seemed to notice. I didn’t go to school to be ignored; I didn’t go to dance class to be ignored, so I just stayed at home and was ignored there.

At home, my family was going through its own little rough patch. My mother’s anger issues were out of hand; my brother’s chauvinism didn’t help matters at all. In fact, a social worker was sent to our house after my mother punched my brother in the nose and we arrived to school with his nose bleeding and me blubbering. With all of this, and additionally, my dad’s PSTD, my small issues of self-mutilation and depression were ignored. I just slept ate, and read all the time, until one day, my dance teacher called me and asked me where I was at? Why wasn’t I attending classes? My heart fluttered. Someone had finally noticed I was gone. The joy I felt was intoxicating. I told her I was recovering from mono and would return to classes next week. I got out of bed for once, showered, and almost felt like my normal self. I was ready to tackle on the world. I went to school and collected my make-up work, smiled at people in the hallway, and quite possibly had a bounce in my step. I was almost happy.

When the day came to return to dance, I went to class ready to resist everyone’s diversion towards me, walked through the studio doors… and immediately began to crumble. Everyone stared at me, contempt burning in their eyes. The conversation died in a heartbeat. Every step towards the front of the studio echoed slowly in the brilliant acoustics of the room. Crossing the room felt like eternity when dozens of hungry eyes watching and waiting for me to fall. Eventually, I reached my dance teacher and one of the dance moms standing beside her.
“Nice of you to show up,” said the dance mom. My mouth just fell open. Some of the girls giggled. I just stood there, wheels in head whirring at full speed, trying to interpret the scene. I wasn’t ready for confrontation. I wanted everything to be okay. I just wanted to stop being so miserable. My eyes began to swim before my teacher even spoke a word. She eyed me for a hot minute, and then proceeded to tell me how disappointed she was in me, how irresponsible I was, how I was wasting everyone’s time by even showing up anymore. She didn’t care that I was ready to come back. All the eagerness I had felt had vanished. She berated right in front of all the snickering girls. I choked back the tears; my throat was on fire. It was a bad idea to come back.

I called my mom immediately after my public humiliation. “Come pick me up. Now. Please.” She must’ve sensed something was off. She didn’t question me and pulled into the parking lot in three minutes. I took a deep breath, walked to the car, and told her she might want to get her refund; I wasn’t going back. She my tear-streaked face, nodded, and drove home as I bawled. I had finally reached a decision, whether for better or worse, I couldn’t tell.

I knew then that quitting dance was going to be a huge factor in my life, but I didn’t realize what a big impact it had until more recently. After I quit, I was able to actually go out and have fun! I didn’t have to say, “Sorry. Can’t. I have dance.” I was free from obligations! I had been carrying this huge burden on my shoulders, and I was suddenly freed, as clique as that sounds! Now, I look back realizing that the studio had manipulated me for years. I no longer had to buy $50 sweatpants because everyone else had a pair. I didn’t have to commit my Saturdays to sweaty, ten-hour rehearsals. I even used my new-found free time on Wednesdays to go to youth group for a good time and ended up finding God. It was like my world was one of those maps you kept in the backseat of your car, only I had thought there was only one tiny block to explore, but when I quit dance, I realized that there were dozens of blocks on a page and hundreds of pages to explore!
After exploring this new world, I realized that I had only been cutting myself for the attention. I guess I had already known that subconsciously, but I no longer had the desire. I didn’t need to do it. I had wanted to make my mental anguish something tangible, something I could deal with and physically see; but now all of that bitter sadness and insecurity was gone. I stopped cutting right after that realization, hiding my scars with bracelets until my raw, jagged pink lines faded into diaphanous white scars. I don’t even have to hide them behind bracelets anymore, so faded and hidden they are now. Not even my parents have realized that those scars exist.

At first, whenever I talked about quitting dance, the feelings were so raw and personal that I would just bubble up with anger; “How could you even think about dancing there? Those girls are mean, pompous materialistic snitches that have no actual talent and…” Over time, that feeling turned into shyness; “Oh, yeah… I used to dance there, but now I just take one ballet class… yeah, at a different studio.” Now, I try to be indifferent, but after reflecting about this rough patch just stirs up all this discomfort and insecurity because I just started dancing at a new studio here in Chattanooga.

I realize now that as much as we try to get over those incidents in our past that hurt us, there’ll always be a little scar on hearts and in our minds. It may not be jagged and pink, but you can still tell it happened. Those events, as painful as they are, shape us today into the person we are, and better us as we try to become the person we want to be. I try to be more aware of the people around me and of myself. I look for the fleeting smiles of those trying to hide their problems. I try to be encouraging and comforting, even when I feel like other’s problems are small and easily solvable. I’m attentive to those quirky behaviors of those who just need someone to talk to. I try to be that person I would’ve loved to have had around me when I was depressed and vulnerable. And every day, I look for those chances to better life for myself and for others.

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