By Wendy Powell
Hiding in plain sight while balancing on a tightrope and juggling the many emotions, and nooks and crannies of living day to day life as a dancer, actor, mother, student and all the other hats I wear has been a constant negotiation with reality.
Rising out of my lack of sleep to wake a comatose 12 year old to prepare for middle school; when she only has to pull her Hello Kitty comforter down off her face and sit up long enough for the teacher to take Zoom attendance requires the patience of a saint and the strength of Muhammad Ali. I mean it's not like she even needs to brush her teeth. Who’s going to smell her breathe in Zoom? However, after a huge debate with the 12 year old who thinks she’s debating for a job with the major law firm of Stroock Stroock and Lavan, I have to either fix a smile on my face to teach dance or pull what’s left of my brain cells together to complete my own assignments.
This all happens before 8AM within the confines of our two-bedroom apartment. There are five people and oh yes a cat and guinea pig. So a family of seven. As a full time student in the graduate CCNY Theatre Ed program, a dancer in a disability dance company and an able bodied modern and Haitian dance company, a trainee in an artist teacher training program, Girl Scout leader, and an unpaid social worker for both my aunt and uncle, I find myself in the air without a safety net. Living in a 2 bedroom apartment during the pandemic, performing in my living room with 4 other family members and a cat and guinea pig, gives new meaning to the word artistry.
Writing and reading while others are in meetings, hearing their words echo in between the sentences of content I so need to critically analyze, means I stay up later than the rest of the family. If I am choreographing or writing a paper, I am up till the wee hours of the morning when the sunrise starts to creep in and let me know it’s time to start my day again, or restart because quite honestly it feels like one big continuous day sometimes. The pace is extremely difficult to maintain. Friends and family often wonder how I manage to exist without sleep or why I have so much energy. The answer is found in my beginning statement. I'm “hiding in plain sight,” hoping no one will really see me. I keep myself so busy to try and outrun myself. Reading, writing, studying, creating, helping others keeps the highs and lows from taking over my life. If you haven't guessed by now I’m bipolar.
Entering grad school and being a performer and parent has tested the limits of what it means to be bipolar especially during the pandemic. I am known for being able to do a lot of things at one time in my life. Now it seems that I am in an extended manic time warp. My performing, my work in grad school and my family, all together, are allowing me to utilize my juggling skills. I have somewhere to place my energy and work through my episodes. My family is super supportive of my performing and pursuit of my education. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve kept my mental health a guarded secret that has kept me a prisoner . If I call myself a performer, a teacher, an educator and a mother what message am I passing to others by hiding who I am? What am I telling my 12 year old daughter about being a woman and being her authentic self ? What am I saying to advocates about mental health? What am I saying about being a black woman that has mental health issues? Does it make me inferior? Have I stayed hidden from my family, friends, colleagues and teachers because I have a fear of being thought of as not needed. Will they be afraid of me? Being in graduate school has given me the ability to slowly shed my layers of what I need or want others to see. I’m discovering new things about being a parent and crafting a narrative for my young daughter that will help her to embrace and celebrate who she is. As a black woman, dancer, actor, director, mother, wife, educator of the future present and past, if I can’t look in a mirror and see me, how will I expect anyone else to be able to really see me?