Dancing to Recovery
Today's post is from Jenn Converse, the founder of our new Nassau County chapter in Long Island, NY! I am so excited about this because I am also from Nassau! Jenn is a dancer for a professional company in NYC called Community Dance Project. She also enjoys creative writing, hoop dancing, and photography. She is excited about being able to spread awareness about eating disorders.
My name is Jenn. I am a professional dancer in NYC, who happens to be personally affected by Anorexia Nervosa, depression, and self-harm. I was a completely happy, outgoing kid with a supportive family who was always looking to meet new friends. In about 5th and 6th grade I started getting teased and made fun of about my appearance, which to me, didn’t look any different than my peers. The bullying continued and only got worse throughout middle school and all the way up into high school. I was treated like somebody who didn’t have feelings. I was pushed in the halls, given nasty looks, and it was worse when I got home on the computer via instant messaging and social media.
It started with anonymous messages filled with cruelty and hate. It then transitioned to comments on my photos on Facebook for everyone to see. My self-esteem was diminishing, I was beginning to talk to myself negatively, and I hated every inch of myself. I just wanted to fit in like everybody else. During senior year of high school I began self-harming.
I was always lucky to have dance in my life. It filled the gaps in myemotional health and was always there for me when people weren’t. Aftergraduating high school, I had one of the best summers of my life. Dancing a ton, all of the bullying had stopped, and I was happier. What more could I ask for? In September, I was on my way to dorm in New York City and dance in the Joffrey Ballet School’s Jazz and Contemporary Professional Training Program. Unfortunately, two and a half months into the program I severely injured my back and was put on bed rest immediately. During this time, the depression I dealt with in school washed over me like a thick cloud, except this time… it was worse. Anorexia had welcomed itself into my life without invitation. About a month and a half after being put on bed rest, my physical therapist said I could try one class to see how my back felt. But, with having lost 28% of my body weight so quickly, that class, was miserable. It was like a smack in the face. My strength used to be jumping, but now... I could hardly jump a few inches off the ground. I felt weak, dizzy, fatigued, and even more upset with myself. I went back to my dorm crying. “What have I done to myself?!” I was in denial about how bad it had actually gotten, but deep down my gut knew there was something very wrong.
I went home for Christmas break trying as hard as I could to hide the symptoms from my family. I visited my high school teachers and got nothing but people staring at me asking what happened. I was told I looked scary and that I should really eat a cheeseburger and put some meat on my bones.
In January, I went back to my dorm to continue seeing my physical therapist and I wanted nothing more than to dance again. I tried taking more dance classes but that just became something my body physically couldn’t handle, not because of my back injury anymore, but because of my eating disorder. Anorexia literally took the one thing I had and threw it in the garbage. That’s what this illness does. It doesn’t care about you, it knows you won’t be pretty when you’re starving, it knows you’ll lose all your friends, and all your hobbies. It will consume you and lie to you. It will tell you everything will be better when it has its arms around you. Well you know what? That’s a lie too. Nothing is better with an eating disorder.
I began doing research about what to do. I physically felt horrible, I was blacking out, my hair was falling out, I constantly lost feeling in my legs if I sat for too long, and my eyes looked glazed over with dullness. I reached out to the therapist I saw in middle and high school. She didn’t have any experience with eating disorders so she couldn’t help me; but, she helped me tell my parents and guide me to resources which could help. A few weeks later I visited home for the weekend and told my parents I would see the family doctor. I got nothing from the doctor except “just eat more and you’ll be fine.” A few weeks later we found a medical doctor that specializesin eating disorders and it was there that I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.
I saw the doctor weekly for a month. She recommended I see a nutritionist and gave me a list of names. I didn’t take these nutrition appointments seriously at all. I was dropping weight faster and faster. Finally, my doctor said if I didn’t go into treatment, she would put me in the hospital. I really didn’t want to, but I guess day treatment was better than being stuck living in a hospital bed. After one month of treatment, I was discharged. This program in particular told me from the get-go that I was never going to dance again. According to them, dance was too much of a triggering environment for someone with an eating disorder. They had brain washed me into thinking that was the right choice, to not dance again and, and that I would be happy doing something else. They loaded me upwith sugar and fat and sent me on my way with hardly a lasting treatment plan in place. A few weeks after beginning out-patient care again (back to seeing my doctor, nutritionist, and a new therapist) I began slipping back into a deep depression. This time, I became suicidal. I just couldn’t bear being the weight I was after gaining some back in treatment, and I couldn’t stand not dancing anymore. I attempted suicide 3 times, and was put in two different psych wards and a partial hospitalization program. My second psych unit stay involved me falling back into my eating disorder and losing all the weight I had gained over spring and summer.
Luckily, this psych unit really cared about me. They made sure I was put in the hands of a true eating disorder specialized care team. I ended up in a place called ED180, and I can guarantee, if it weren’t for these outstanding people, I wouldn’t be alive and well today to tell this story. I tried outpatient for a little while with my new therapist, who I still see, and absolutely love, and a nutritionist.Out-patient wasn’t enough for me at the rate I was slipping, so I joined ED180’s IOP program in the spring. This is where I began my true journey to recovery. By June I was finally dancing 2 classes a week in the city, and teaching at the dance studio I grew up in on Long Island. This made me realize that I CAN dance again… that with the right support, anything is possible. By December, the dance studio asked me to star as Sugar Plum Fairy in their Nutcracker Performance. This gave me purpose, knowing I was finally achieving something worth living for. Also in December, I was hired to choreograph a production of Aladdin Jr. for a middle school, and got into a professional dance company in New York City. Never in all this time did I think I was going to be able to get back on my feet andaccomplish anything. But being set up with a true treatment team who gave me hope, I was able to take it and run with it.
Now, two and a half yearsinto my full recovery, I’m dancing full time in the City with am amazing professional company. This journey has made me realize I want nothing more than to help people who went through what I did and to let them know that recovery is truly possible. Eating disorders take over your life; but, you have the power to come out stronger than ever before. It’s like starting your life all over again. Never give up because you are important. You are you, and that is enough. You are enough.
The Project HEAL blog intends to provide some help, acceptance and inspiration to those suffering or who have suffered from eating disorders. We realize that every experience is unique and some readers may find things that others find helpful or inspirational, to be triggering. Please keep this in mind when reading our blog, and be sure to visit our website for information on how to help others who are affected, to find acceptance.