Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Happy October! Can you believe it’s almost Halloween?IMG_6196

I’ve been away from the blog for a few months now, but there’s a very good reason for my disappearance.

I’m in college!!

Columbia Fall 1


The whole experience still feels somewhat miraculous. After a year at home with my family in New Hampshire spent working through my anxiety and figuring out my next step in life, I am back in Manhattan, living with my younger sister on the UWS, dancing, and attending Columbia University’s School of General Studies. In a nutshell, it’s wonderful. When I left the city last year, depressed, panicky, and miserably lonely, I honestly thought I might never be able to live in Manhattan again. Life in the city seemed simultaneously too much and too little– too much going on all around me, too much money spent, too much constant stimulus with too little in the way of support, family, employment, friends. New York is still, well, New York– there’s an overwhelming ‘muchness’ about this city that can be both liberating and terrifying. This time, though, I’m no longer here to assimilate. I no longer feel the need to become the quintessential New Yorker. Who is that, anyway? One of the greatest elements of this city is the sheer diversity of its inhabitants. No, I’m here to make the city work for me.

Do I still have experiences that classify me as having an anxiety disorder? Absolutely. Are there still days when I have to work extra hard to get myself out of the house in the morning? Of course. The difference, I think, is mindfulness. I’m no longer trying so hard to fit into the fictitious, slender bracket of ‘normalcy’ that I had created in my head. I’m learning my needs and sensitivities, and I try to meet them– not so I can become complacent, but so I can continue to push myself in the ways that matter most: self-sufficiency, identity, intellectual and artistic growth. Yes, I need a certain amount of sleep to function well, and I eat a healthy low-carbohydrate diet that doesn’t currently include caffeine. I meditate for at least 20-30 minutes each morning, write often, and dance nearly every day. I’m working to find the balance between my intellectual life at Columbia and my life as a dancer– right now I’m attending school part-time so I can continue to take dance classes and audition. I’ve learned that earning money is necessary to maintain my psychological sense of independence as well as for practical purposes, so I’m working online as an English tutor and mentor for Chinese high school students while I search for dance jobs. Most importantly, perhaps, I’m no longer so concerned with definitions, the constant worries that weighed me down last year– am I “dancer” enough to merit the term? Intelligent enough to be called a scholar? Coherent enough to be a writer? Most importantly, can I be all of these things at once, and more?

Wonderfully, I’m finding out more and more that the answer to all of these questions is absolutely yes. I no longer fear that by doing things outside the world of dance, I will somehow lose my dancer identity– that training, body, mentality etc will be with me as long as I need it to be. For me, now, dance and academia are complementary. I can’t live a purely physical existence– when I’m only dancing, I burn out. My mind needs stimulation outside the narrow scope of classical dance. On the other hand, I don’t want to live a sedentary, purely intellectual existence, but I certainly want to learn a lot, discuss and debate knowledge, and maybe get published someday. Ultimately, these two major elements of my identity are complementary: Dancing allows me to concentrate when I am sitting in the classroom, while writing, learning and discussing new things deepens my artistry, allows me to bring more to the stage, and gives my body a chance to rest and absorb what it’s learned as well. My days are absolutely divided; I go for quality over quantity in dance and in school, and I’ve found that’s a much better approach for me. I manage my time carefully and listen to my mind and body. Most importantly, I strive to be present in the current moment, to experience each of my nows as fully and gratefully as I can.

With all this living going on, the desperate dichotomy of panic v. normal loses relevance. Fear and anxiety are not a barrier to success, or even to going out and accomplishing the small, simple tasks of daily life– they’re merely emotions (at times very strongly and physically expressed, but emotions nonetheless) that color and inform our experiences. Thus we venture bravely forth into the world and do what we need to do anyway, knowing that, like all things, the panic will pass.

So, go forth! Feel the fear and do it all anyway.



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