In the years now that I have been blogging, I’ve found that what I say often times depends on how I’m writing. For example, I may have one thought or idea that will come out one way if I blog from my computer and a different way if I blog from my phone. These all come out entirely different ways if I type anything up in advance and transfer it over, which is why I typically don’t do that. It’s common among bloggers, but just isn’t my style.
This is the type of post I feel I would rather write from a computer, but seeing that my phone is the only current option, I’m hopeful I’ll get everything out in a way that makes sense and goes the direction I’m really intending it to. Though, I must be honest, I don’t really know what all I truly want to divulge yet and how I truly want this post to go.
But that’s what this post is about–honesty. It’s about letting you in on the details I don’t know that I’ve really fully spoken on. Maybe sprinkled here or there, or spoken about in private messages or among close friends, but I don’t think I’ve really fully detailed all of this in writing. (Save for my journals, obviously. But, like, no one reads those. So.)
I’ve debated a bit on if I even really wanted to write this post. How deep I wanted to go. Because once something is out there, you can’t get it back. Once it’s said, it can’t be unsaid. How do I know who really reads this? People surprise me all the time. I am the type that tends to feel more comfortable divulging details to a stranger rather than someone I know, simply because strangers have no expectations. They’re here then gone. They get you in the moment they have you, then ways are parted again. Or whatever. You get my point. But to have people I know know this part of my life in such detail, I guess I’m afraid that I just don’t have control over it using this medium. Vulnerability is hard for me. I often feel stupid or make a fool of myself. I’m pretty open, but even in that I’m selective.
But since I’ve made this blog a .com, I have come to find these incredible people. These stranger/friends that I’ve never met but have become a force of strength I’ve really found myself leaning on. They’ve become an inspiration to me. Recently I posted a video of my pirouettes that I knew was terrible, but I posted halfway because of how hilarious it was, but also for the good moments it had. I figured there may be some hate, but I didn’t expect the caliber of hate this particular post received. I ended up removing it, which I’ve never done before. Usually I just block the person and move on, but this time it just hurt a little deeper.
Because I knew my people–my beautiful group of friends I have come to know and love–wouldn’t say those things. They wouldn’t think what these people said when seeing my video. Their comments were nothing but encouragement and finding it relatable (and a shout out to my holey shoes. Hehe) but I knew as I saw the view count rising and the likes staying average that the people seeing it weren’t friends, but people there to laugh at it. I’ve had pirouette videos get far more views with a bit of hate, but this was just a new level of hate. I posted a picture explaining I took it down because of some comments and carried on.
What I didn’t expect was the influx of love and encouragement I received. Probably my post with the most comments. Some from friends I’ve grown to know and follow and love and recognize, and some names that were new to me. Telling me tales of how I have encouraged and inspired them to follow their own dreams even when it’s scary. That if I can do it, so can they. It warmed my heart and even brought a few tears. I don’t even have adequate words to express my gratitude.
But this post is for you–those that encouraged me in a moment I really needed it. I feel I owe it to you to give you the option of knowing my story. Where I came from, what I fight against. Maybe not owe it to you, but you’ve really earned it. So I’ll risk some people perceiving me as weak, or foolish, or fake, or a risk, or just out for attention, or pity, or any other of the many words and phrases fear tries to tells me people think about me. Who gives a crap. This is me. I can’t help it. And, honestly, I like it.
(If you’ve read this far, kudos! That’s just the introduction. 😂 Here begins the real post! And if you’ve gotten this far, that means you’re probably among the bunch I actually feel comfortable telling all this to. Or you’re a creeper. Please don’t be a creeper…)
My name is Emilee. I’m twenty-eight years old. I took a few ballet classes as a kid, but was taught incorrectly, so it really didn’t do me any good. I had always dreamed of dancing en pointe, and when I graduated, I went to a Bible school where I was given the opportunity to join a dance team. Riddled with insecurity, the leader of our team was so patient and kind with me, and this lit a spark in me that hey, maybe I can do this. Maybe I’m not too old or too far gone. Maybe it’s not too late. I was eighteen.
When I was fourteen, I slowly started limiting what I ate. It was a slow fade that formed into full blown anorexia by the time I was eighteen and in that dance group at bible school. But February 7, 2007 I decided that what I was doing was stupid and pointless and would kill me if I didn’t do something, so I began to eat again. (shout out to the people who were so selfless in helping me get to that point. Like. Seriously. There were many people who stuck with me and never gave up. I’d be nothing without them.)
By that summer, I was having trouble. I couldn’t seem to eat without hurting. It wasn’t too bad until that fall, when I found that eating left me feeling sick for up to four hours. By the next summer, I couldn’t eat anything without being curled up in pain until my stomach digested and was growling again to be fed. It was so disheartening because here I finally wanted to eat, and I couldn’t.
The school I went to was only a two year school, so after I graduated, I went back home. I didn’t want to go back home. I was full of dreams and hopes and I didn’t think going back was the way to go forward. But I had a lot of learning and growing to do. They were some hard years. In those years, i seemed to still be getting sick. So much so that I actually saw a doctor about it. She ran me for some tests where the tech would comment on how “you’re so young. You’re just a baby, you shouldn’t have to be here.” But there i was. At nineteen, she told me I had stomach ulcers, so I began to be careful with eating anything acidic. She put me on some medication which helped until it didn’t. The pain was still too much, my doctor was out of ideas. After all, my blood work was perfect.
That doctor moved practices, so I got a new one. Told her the story, which is when I found out colon cancer ran in my family. (My grandma died of it, apparently. She, too, had an eating disorder. And lung cancer. Smoked like a chimney.) This doctor seemed fresh and full of hope, but as I kept trying what she told me and coming back with the same problems, I began to notice her falling into the same rut doctors fall into in this small town. Where they treat the same things so much, it must be what I have.
I was sent to an abdominal specialist, who ran tests and did an upper endoscopy. I have GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease) but my stomach lining looked good. (Which I found impressive from all the acid in my stomach from not eating.) I also had acid reflux, which I’ve known since I was nine. Medications don’t do anything for it, so I just deal.
The upper endoscopy wasn’t a pleasant experience. I remember the procedure, though I was supposed to be asleep, and “woke up” really stressed out. I began to forget the more time went on, which made me stress out even more. The whole thing was a mess.
When I met with my doctor to go over my results, he told me he didn’t know what else to tell me. He couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
I saw my doctor to ask about another specialist since this one literally told me he couldn’t do anything else for me. She sent me to another specialist who perscribed me anxiety medication. He said they give it to diabetics to help rewire their brains to think that what they feel as pain isn’t pain. Like. Okay cool. That doesn’t sound scary at all. It was a sedative and I was working a night shift job. I took the lowest dosage and just went with it to see if it did anything. It helped my anxiety in the sense that it helped me determine the difference between things I struggled to handle because of anxiety they i could learn to ignore and dismiss and things that were actual issues, so that was nice I guess. But I was still in pain. When I asked my doctor about this, they just suggested upping the dosage. Nah, bro. I don’t want to become dependent on something that is essentially a bandage because you don’t know what else to do. I cried when I left his office that day.
At this point, I’m in dance classes. I began taking dance classes after just turning twenty-three. I had moved out of my parents house in the country and gotten an apartment then house then a different house then a different house then another apartment with various friends. I started at a beginner/intermediate class for adults and teens at a studio my friends suggested after I posted on Facebook asking if someone would take a super beginner.
Flashback to when I was nineteen and took three months of dance at a tiny studio a girl from my church went to. They needed more people to make their numbers to keep the class so I joined. That’s where I learned I was taught wrong because my teacher there was the teacher of my teacher I had growing up. She also was the one to correct my alignment, which caused my stomach to react and I almost passed out from it. But it was good. I felt okay for a few months, then got sick again. So badly that I couldn’t eat anything without pain. I remember crying myself to sleep because I didn’t know what to do and doctors werent helping. I am a Christian, and though I don’t really consider myself religious, I am very into my faith. I felt like I could hear God reminding me of the scripture that says “man shall not live by bread alone” as a reminder that He had it all under control and He wouldn’t let me die from this. I just had to keep enduring and keep trusting.
Back to where we were, I’m enduring and I’m dancing. I was super terrible at first, but I wanted to dance more than I was afraid of the embarrassment of how much of a beginner I was compared to everyone else. No one really spoke to me there, and I was very nervous, though the girls were kind. One was even gracious enough to pull me out of the corner when I panicked over something I couldn’t fully grasp and was paralyzed in fear to attempt for fear of failure. She would run over and do it with me so I could get through. I appreciate that more than she will ever know. (Ps. Now I’m friends with the girls from that studio. Just took some time for them to warm up to me.)
While I was dancing there, my doctor tried me on medications for a few different things, including pancreatitis. Which helped, but wasn’t the full issue. The cost of my medication became unaffordable so I went back to my doctor since it clearly wasn’t the full solution. During this time, I also found myself getting hurt for no reason. My feet would bruise up (this was before i was en pointe) and my ankles would swell to various degrees. I found myself sitting out quite often. It was so frustrating. Then, just as I was starting to take more classes and really get rolling, I found that any time I engaged my core, I became useless. The pain was too much. One of the teachers even noticed it and commented “you were doing so well, keeping up, then all of a sudden you were down.” This was a more contemporary class. Two months later they took out my gallbladder. (Which is when I quit taking the anxiety mess. Figured I’d let my body adjust to it all at once.)
After that happened, I was substantially better. That pain was gone, though I did still have random sharp pains on my right side. They didn’t have any real rhyme or reason, but sometimes I would feel it. Still, it was nothing in comparison. When you have your gallbladder out, your liver is supposed to take over it’s function. Usually, patients will have to alter their diet for a bit until they reintroduce foods and are fine and back to normal. I was told my surgery was textbook, so I was hopeful.
It’s been three years now, and I still can’t eat anything high in natural fat. I couldn’t eat salads for a year and still can’t eat spinach, avocado, nuts, pork, etc etc. I two years after the surgery I found I also can’t eat most fruits or vegetables without some sort of weird reaction. This makes things rather complex, especially as a dancer.
My dance studio closed down the year after my gallbladder came out, and I moved to a new studio that does two shows a year, as well as recital. This season marked my third Nutcracker and will be my third spring show with them. First was Wizard of Oz, second was Swan Lake, and now we are working on Snow White.
I got my pointe shoes my last year at my old studio, right before my twenty-fifth birthday. I struggled to find shoes that fit, and finally found something that worked after I came to the new studio. Even still, I didn’t find the perfect shoe until this past summer, which I just killed and actually softened the box. Usually I break the shank, so this was quite the accomplishment for me and also showed me that I was in a better shoe and breaking it in correctly.
I have since also found a new doctor. My first Nutcracker, I tried to do an elimination diet to see if it was something I was eating causing a flare up. This nearly sent me to the er on opening weekend, but thankfully I was able to regain enough strength and get my stomach to cooperate to get through show weekends. My new doctor is wonderful and actually listens to and believes me. This is now my fourteenth year being sick (including the anorexic years) making it half of my life.
We ran bloodwork last year which came back so perfect that my doctor joked about framing it as an example in the hallway. This surprised me. I had never had perfect bloodwork. She also informed me that I had been treated for things I never had before and didn’t need to be treated for. (H. Pylori) I brought in my drawer full of previous medications I had taken, and half of them didn’t even make sense to her on why I would have been given them, and the other half just didn’t do anything for me. She tried me on some medication for irritable bowel syndrome, which everyone has told me I have, which worked but didn’t. When I came back after that round of blood work, the only thing she could find was that there were elevated levels of protein in my urine. So she gave me antibiotics. We also discovered the source for the random sharp pains is due to a cyst on my right ovary. Not big enough to remove, but big enough to keep a watchful eye on.
I wasn’t able to go back to her until this fall, when I asked her what she thought about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. She flat out told me she didn’t think I had it but asked me to tell her what made me think I did. I had a list of symptoms that seemed to coincide, and she looked at them then a lightbulb seemed to click. She told me she definitely thinks it’s autoimmune.
I sat on the table and she looked at my wrists. She asked which was my dominant hand and asked if I had noticed the swelling. I told her I had not. She asked if I had any joint pain and I told her how I was told at twenty-four that I had arthritis in my right knee and found out last year that my hips are uneven, making my left leg shorter and I have two slight curves in my back as well as inverted vertebrae. She felt my ankles and knees and spine and sent me with blood work orders. I did the blood work and prayed something would be on it. I got my results in the mail, which had every single test coming back as normal–except one.
The initial Lupus test.
She has referred me to a rheumatologist, which I am still waiting to hear back about, but feel so hopeful to have some sort of lead and a smudge of understanding. A reason why I get so tired all the time. Why I seem to have good days and bad days. Why my joints seem to be in so much pain and why I bruise like a peach even though I’m not anemic. Why sometimes it hurts to breathe. Why I have had this weird butterfly rash on my face for as long as I can remember that comes and goes and why my stomach gets so nauseated all. The. Flipping. Time. It’s also why I can get hit with such immense waves of depression. So many answers lay on this one potential diagnosis.
I don’t know how long it will take me to get in, but just knowing that something finally showed up, that this isn’t all in my head. That I’m not just making this up or being dramatic. That there is a reason for all these things happening to me and that there may be something that can help me. That is everything to me.
This year has been one of the worst. Usually I can push through pretty well, but I haven’t seemed to have been able to catch up like I usually do since Swan Lake. I even felt it during Nutcracker. This made me so mad, since I know I can do better than I was able to. So many emotions still come up when I think of that. And now we have begun rehearsals for our spring show. I work at an accounting office, putting this right at the peak of our season. Trying to get through tax season alone is exhausting, but adding on rehearsals every weekend (so far Saturday and Sunday) as well as teaching three baby classes and doing their recital pieces–it’s a lot to take on. I’ve had people suggest that maybe I should cut back, which is what has been on my plate recently.
It’s what’s been in the back of my head. How am I gonna manage? Why does it have to be this hard now? It shouldn’t be. But I love shows and performing and dancing on stage. I was hoping to be able to do this in some facet until if I get married one day or like, just get too old to handle it. That shouldn’t be now. But even if it was, I at least wanted this spring show. I was just fine this summer. Relatively normal. I didn’t see this coming and all and feel a little blindsided.
So what do I do? Do I stop dancing? Do I quit the show? Do I still take classes? Is teaching too much? I don’t know that I have all the answers to those questions now. But I’m gonna stick out this year and go from there.
I won’t quit dancing as it is the one thing that is keeping me as healthy as I am. But the reality that my shows and even days en pointe may be numbered is a sad thing to think about. I try not to too much.
And really, this fuels another fire in me. To make sure I don’t take any moment for granted, but instead soak up every moment I am able to. Not just in dance, but in life as a whole. I don’t fight for front parking at the grocery store because I’m still able to walk in, and some people aren’t well enough to do that. I take the stairs because I’m still well enough to. I’m thankful that I’m still able to work and take dance and teach the babies. I’m thankful that I can do things we forget are even things we get to do unless they’re taken away. I do my best to be grateful for what I have, even if I can’t grand plie or do most petit allegro. At least I can come to class. My hip may hurt in regular plies, but at least I can do them. I’m still able. And I don’t want to waste that.
I’ve been blogging my ballet story since 2012, so much of what I spoke about is somewhere on here or at least referenced somewhere. Feel free to dig as much as your heart desires. This is a long post, but before you can really judge someone, it helps to get to know them–see where they’ve come from and what they’re up against. Sometimes I forget that what I’m up against is actually quite a bit since it’s my reality.
I thank y’all for taking the time to get to know a glimpse of the back story to all of this. I know people have it worse, but I also know that mine is the “worse” to somebody else. I can’t deny that it’s rough but it doesn’t have to make me just give up. Maybe I’m just stubborn.
I’ll have an update on rehearsals after tomorrow, that way I have both roles to write about. I promise it won’t be as long as this. 😂 but I am quite excited for this show. Stay tuned on that.
For those of you who actually got this far, HOLY CRAP YOURE INCREDIBLE. for those of you who commented such kindness on my Instagram these past few days, I can’t thank you enough. My world is better because you are in it, and honestly part of why I keep pushing myself to keep dancing isn’t only because it’s so engrained in my heart and good for my health, but also because losing dance would mean not having blog posts to write about dance and therefore not having all of you. That would make my heart saddest of all.
Keep fighting. Keep chasing your dreams. Keep doing hard things. Cherish the things you do have even if someone has more than you. That’s okay. Do what you can with what you have and play the cards you’re dealt. In doing so, you will live a successful life.
I’m just a nobody from a tiny town no one has heard of. I am honestly nobody special. I live alone with my dog in my parents backyard. I don’t really have any special talents. And if my life can be one that people look at and say, “you inspire me.” Than yours can be, too. Stay true to yourself, and people will follow. It’s as simple as that. Set the example, make it a good one. You only get this one life. Please, please don’t waste it.
I love you.