Health & Body

One Dancer's Journey Through Depression and Anxiety

Sydney Magruder Washington (photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Washington)

Twenty-five-year-old Sydney Magruder Washington had dreams of auditioning for ballet companies and Broadway shows when she moved to NYC four years ago, as a recent graduate of Skidmore College. But after completing an apprenticeship with Connecticut Ballet in 2015, her anxiety and depression became so severe that she could barely leave her apartment—let alone go to a dance class or audition. After working with a therapist and trying out new medications with a psychiatrist, she's finally starting to get her training and career back on track. And she's also realizing she was misdiagnosed for a decade. Here, she tells her story. —Courtney Bowers


I started dancing when I was 3 at C&C Dance Co in Bowie, MD. Like a typical comp kid, I trained in a lot of styles, and took my required ballet classes every week. In high school, I started focusing on musical theater. I always considered myself a technician, but I thought I was bound for Broadway. It wasn't until I went to Skidmore College that I realized I also wanted to focus on ballet.

Washington as a young dancer (courtesy Washington)

I've had depression my whole life. I really don't remember a time before it. I moved schools three times in six years because of bullying when I was younger, and that bullying affected me deeply. By the time I was 11, the things that I'd formerly loved to do didn't bring me joy anymore. I started feeling like my life was pointless. I was undergoing a lot of change at the time; my parents were separating, and we'd moved out of my childhood home. I was miserable all the time.

My mom was the first person who noticed that something was wrong. I had been a straight-A student, and all of a sudden, my grades were dropping. I was diagnosed with ADHD at 11 and immediately put on medication. It helped, but it didn't do the whole job. My anxiety and depression continued to get worse and worse over the next decade. I thought I was broken. Outside everything looked like it was fine, but on the inside, living in my own head and body was torture.

I tried to fill the void in my life with things like dance. In high school, I loved studying dance because I loved learning and mastering a technique. The repetition and routine comforted me and gave me peace. And I always loved to be onstage. Dance was the place where I could work out what I was feeling—it became a method of coping.

Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Washington

In 2015, after I returned from my apprenticeship with Connecticut Ballet, I became paralyzed with fear and anxiety. I couldn't do anything for nine months. I stopped going to class and I stopped dancing. I didn't see any of my friends. It was so exhausting just to be. My wife was the one who finally pushed me out of it. She said, "Enough. You can't do this, you have too much to offer." She basically dragged me to Broadway Dance Center.

After that, I started to look for a therapist and got a psychiatrist. With their help, I realized I wasn't diagnosed fully when I was 11. I learned I'm also on the autism spectrum—I have Asperger's syndrome. This explains the difficulty I always had making friends when I was younger. And I learned that I should've been taking anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication along with my ADHD medicine all these years.

My new combo of ADHD medication, two different anti-anxiety medicines, and an anti-depression medication seems to be working so far, and I'm ecstatic. I feel like I'm finally living now. My anxiety has completely evaporated for the first time ever. I wish I'd had all this help and support a decade ago. But I have to let that go because I don't want to be bitter. This is how I got where I am. The hardship and trials were worth it.

It took me 18 months to get back in shape, but I'm finally taking class and auditioning again. My technique has never been better, and I love the art form more than ever. Dance has returned to being a source of calm, joy, and inspiration for me.

I've found a new purpose in encouraging other dancers to prioritize their mental health in an industry that can be soul-crushing. I want people to know it's possible to come out on the other side. You can get through this.


A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Dancing Through Mental Illness."

Show Comments ()
Dance News
Mahak Naiwal, foreground, in Kathak class (screenshot via YouTube)

Just in case you missed it: To highlight last Thursday's International Day of the Girl, The New York Times has launched a unique photographic and editorial project called #ThisIs18, all with the aim of spotlighting what life is really like for 18-year-old women around the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are Artists AND Athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection, and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Quinn Starner performing a variation from Paquita at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS (photo by Richard Finkelstein, courtesy USA International Ballet Competition)

Quinn Starner is no stranger to competitions. The 16-year-old "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation" alum has been slaying the contemporary circuit for years, winning Best Teen Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2017. But lately she's been more focused on ballet, relocating from Florida to train at the Indiana Ballet Conservatory two years ago. And while she's won awards at ballet competitions like ADC|IBC and Youth America Grand Prix, in June she upped the stakes by going to the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS—an audition-only event that's one of the world's most prestigious comps. We followed Quinn on her Jackson journey.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Fashion
@sab_nyc via Instagram

Halloween is almost here and that means its time to get serious about finding the perfect costume. A lot of you dancers need costumes that are both fun and functional so that you can go straight from dance class to the streets, without missing a beat. Here are nine of the most creative, yet versatile ensembles that'll allow you to enjoy Halloween festivities without compromising your dance training.
Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Al Blacksone teaching class at JUMP (courtesy Break the Floor Productions)

Is there anything better than a dance convention? Frankly, we don't think so. Although we love getting a guest teacher to come to our studio for a masterclass every so often, there's just something so exciting about packing up our leotards and dance shoes and heading to a convention for the weekend. Here are 7 reasons why dance conventions are, without a doubt, the greatest things ever.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
(photo by Jim Lafferty)

Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.

And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
via capezio.com

As of today, there are only 13 nights until the spoOoOokiest evening of the year—and just 1 week left, if you're planning to dress up over Halloweekend. Do you have your costume(s) yet?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ashley Ellis in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker (photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet)

Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' dancing is the perfect pairing of ethereal grace and punchy musicality. The Torrance, CA, native began training at South Bay Ballet at age 6, and attended the School of American Ballet summer program in 1998. In 2001, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, and the following year, she joined ABT's corps de ballet. In 2007, she became a founding member of Corella Ballet Castilla y León in Spain, under the direction of Angel Corella. Three years later, she headed back to the States and danced with Sarasota Ballet before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in 2011. In 2013, she was promoted to principal dancer. Catch her performing this season in the company's Nutcracker. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Jim Lafferty

This story originally appeared on dancemagazine.com.

"So why did you quit?"

It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.

"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
via giphy.com

Costumes: We look amazing in them but, boy, sometimes they're the actual worst. Whether they don't fit correctly or they rip right before a performance, here are 10 wardrobe malfunctions all dancers unfortunately suffer through at one point or another.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Giphy

It's the age-old debate: Is dance a sport? The answer is, without a doubt, YES. Of course, dance is much more than just a sport. But when we get down to the logistics of it all, it's impossible not to recognize it as the athletic endeavor it is. Here are 10 reasons why dance absolutely qualifies as a sport.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Hands down the coolest assistant principal we've ever seen. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Let's take a walk down memory lane to this past September, when the #LevelUpChallenge was in full-blown viral mode. Literally thousands of videos of people dancing to Ciara's song "Level Up" flooded the Internet, but only one truly broke it: an amazing clip of the Wilson Central High School Dance Team—and their Assistant Principal, Ranesa Shipman. Never one to miss out on a viral dance challenge, Ellen DeGeneres decided to have Shipman and the team perform on "The Ellen Show"—and the fun didn't stop there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You and your phone have more in common than you might guess, says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "If you charge your phone halfway, it works for a few hours," he explains. "But it's not performing at its full potential, and you have to be careful about how you use that energy."

It'd be nice to just plug into the wall for nine hours until you hit 100 percent battery, but for (human) dancers, it's not that simple. So DS asked Dr. Pelayo and Dr. Argelinda Baroni, co-director of the Child and Adolescent Sleep Program in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, how to maximize your own battery life—ensuring you'll dance better and more safely in the process.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dance BFFs Findlay McConnell (left) and Payton Johnson (courtesy McConnell and Johnson)

Two dancers from different studios on opposite ends of the country meeting at a dance competition may sound like the formula for a cheesy teen-rivalry movie. But it's actually real life for lots of dancers on the comp circuit. Meet four sets of adorable BFFs who found winning friendships at a competition.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Rylee Arnold and Miles Brown were standouts this week. (via YouTube)

We still can't get over the talent on "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors"—like how many YouTube tutorials do we have to watch to become half as good as these mini dancing machines? And just in case you forgot how skilled these prodigies are, this week's theme was sure to remind you: Last night, the ten couples performed to songs that came out the year they were born. (But let's be real, most of these songs aren't really that much of a throwback.)

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Ava and Emma Blaser performing their duet to Coldplay's "Fix You." (via ellentube)

It's safe to say that the bond between dancing siblings is one of the strongest out there. But for sisters Emma, 16, and Ava Blaser, 10, that bond runs deeper than most can even fathom: The pair continued to dance together throughout Ava's treatment for kidney cancer remission, and they say it helped them heal.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
San Francisco Ballet soloist Koto Ishihara stretches in her warm-up boots. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Dance Magazine.

With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways