I went to see In The Heights earlier this week, at Kings Cross Theatre. It was a great afternoon — I didn’t really know the show at all beforehand, so it was all new to me, and I particularly loved the dancing. It was the kind of dancing I’ve never been capable of doing, which is to say, the dancers appear to be throwing themselves across the stage in a relaxed, random fashion, but actually it’s totally under control and they know exactly where they’ll land. I’m … not a relaxed dancer. Even if I wasn’t afraid of dislocating something, I’ve just never really mastered not looking stiff and awkward. Too many years of ballet and Irish dance — while I eventually figured out I had hips a few years ago, I’m still not sure I’m using them to their full potential.
Although the show is actually a lot happier than most musicals I like (most of the characters are still alive at the end), in some ways it made me sad. Not just because I came home to the news about Carrie Fisher having died. But because… well, I miss the day when I thought maybe I could do that.
I’ve always been a little bit too ambitious, I think, and it used to be that whenever I went to see a show, I’d convince myself that that was what I wanted to do. Or when I took up a new hobby, I’d go for it completely. So what if I started Irish dancing at the age of thirteen when most people began when they were kids: that didn’t mean I couldn’t make it to the world championships within a couple of years, did it? So what if I was fifteen when I resumed ballet: I could totally get into the Royal Ballet School for sixth form, right?
Not only were most of these dreams unrealistic and impossible, but I also usually changed my mind within a couple of years anyway, having moved on to a new hobby. I was always easy to inspire. All I had to do was go and see a musical and suddenly I wanted to be on stage. Or I’d watch the finals of BBC Young Musician of the Year and start imagining myself reaching that level, despite knowing damn well that I would never be motivated enough to practise the way those kids did, because I had ten years of violin lessons to prove that fact.
Writing’s pretty much the only dream that’s been consistent since childhood, actually, which is maybe because I had a neverending stream of inspiration. Whereas going to see a show is an occasional treat, reading books is something I do every day, and so the number of good books I’ve read is infinitely higher than the number of live performances I’ve attended.
The difference is that now I’m more focused on my limitations than on my dreams.
I’ve already alluded to it in this post: watching those dancers, I was aware that not only do I lack experience with that style of dance, but it’s also probably physically impossible for me because I would be injured too easily in a looser style of dance. I’ve been warned against tennis and other activities that require sudden arm movements because of the effect they might have on my shoulders; hip hop or street dance wouldn’t be much better.
And maybe it’s because I’ve had to say goodbye to too many hobbies because of injury and health problems. Yes, I left Irish dancing for ballet because I had to choose between them and I felt more comfortable in my ballet school — but also because Irish dancing was giving me shin splints and knee issues. Yes, I had planned to move towards doing less music because it was no longer my priority, but I was instead forced, abruptly, to quit completely because of my wrist injury in 2013. Yes, I realised that a career in dance probably wasn’t for me, but that was largely because it hurt.
Now I find myself thinking twice about everything I ever want to do, weighing up how much it’s going to hurt and whether it’s worth that. I don’t even remember what it’s like to aspire to stuff without having to take all that into account. I tried, the other day, to think what I would do with my time if I didn’t suffer from chronic pain, fatigue, etc — and I couldn’t. Because when I tried to imagine taking dance classes regularly or playing music, my brain kept sending up warning messages about how that was too much, that would hurt, that would wear me out.
I’ve had to be so aware of my body over the last few years. I have to listen to it. I have to know when something is going to be too much. And yet it’s reached a point where I am physically incapable of turning those messages off, even for a hypothetical scenario. It’s a reflex, an instinct, and something I can’t avoid.
I don’t know what it’s like to be able to have dreams because my body and brain just keep reminding me of my limitations.
One of the things I’ve been struggling with recently, and which has been contributing to my anxiety and depression, is that I honestly can’t picture my future. I can’t picture graduating university and having a job. I can’t picture being independent and moving out. I can’t picture that, because all I know is that I’m not physically capable of it, not at the moment. I can’t have a full time job, which means unless my health drastically improves, I’m not going to be able to move out for several years at this rate.
I would like to think about my dream scenario, figure out what I’d like to do (and then maybe figure out a reasonable alternative that might actually be possible), but instead I’ve just got this void of uncertainty because I don’t think I believe myself capable anymore. I’m so used to being unable to do things, so fed up of my hopes being dashed, so prepared for disappointment, that I’ve convinced myself there’s no point trying.
And maybe there isn’t. Maybe I can’t do it. Maybe I’m not capable. How would I know? It’s not like I’m in a position to try and prove otherwise. I’m too fricking tired for that.
I’ve lost a lot over the last three and a half years, which is when I think of my health problems having got particularly bad (that’s how long it is since I hurt my wrists). I’ve lost strength. I’ve lost friendship groups, mostly those that revolved around orchestras. I’ve lost confidence. I’ve lost hope and I’ve given up on dreams.
But it’s something I want to work on in 2017. I’m not going to pretend that my health problems don’t define me or limit me, because they do, and anyone who says they don’t have to has never lived in a body that will not physically cooperate and has never had to give up something they love because of pain. But I’m going to work on figuring out what I am capable of. What I can do. And I’m going to try and focus a little less on the things that seem impossible, so that I can remember how to have dreams.
That’s the plan, anyway.