Hi my name's Katie, I'm 16 years old and a first year student at English National Ballet School. I've been depressed for about 2-3 months now and if I'm honest, I don't feel much improved. I take fluoxetine, an anti-depressant to help raise the levels of serotonin in my brain. These have helped a little. I don't really know how my depression developed or how it got so bad - but the ballet world is harsh and brutal and so it's probably a mixture of reasons. My teacher is very harsh and expects nothing less than 120%, which is hard to give when you're spiralling downwards with depression. She doesn't really understands I don't think and is always frustrated with my work ethic. She knows I am depressed yet still shouts "why do you bother coming in" often. I don't think she really understands and I wish she could see from my point of view. My mother was a ballerina and I do feel a certain amount of pressure to keep dancing even though she just wants me to be happy. I change my mind often about whether I want to stay or leave the school because I do love ballet.

I first started to realise there was something wrong when I started having bullemic behaviour. I would make myself sick in the evenings because I found it gave me a sort of high... as if I knew I would look better in class the next day if I didn't keep my dinner down. I told my closest friend and he helped me stop, but it was so difficult. I felt anxious all the time because I hadn't been sick and had a few panic attacks. I then turned to self harm. I cut my sides and the side of my left hand. I felt so full up of misery I just wanted a release. This was when I went to the doctor.

The last time I self harmed was Monday night, so I guess you could say I haven't recovered yet. I just want help and advice on getting myself to be the happy girl I used to be.

10 Replies

  • Hi, you are very welcome here. Im not a medical expert but sounds like you need to see a counsellor to talk about your feelings. Sounds like you are under a lot of pressure at school. Your mother has put high expectations on you which you need to, sort out.

    I have been under my parents control all my life and their expectation is unbearable.. im nearly 50, married with two teenage boys but I hate my life. I dont work due to my depression so get really fed up. I dont get much pleasure from life.

    We can support each other on here and dont make any judgements.

    Keep in touch.

    David x

  • Hi nice to meet you and welcome to the site. My, you do have a lot on your shoulders at the moment don't you? I agree with David that you need to talk to someone - is there someone at the Ballet company? Or you can ask your doctor to be referred to a counsellor? It is not shameful to have depression you know - it happens to the very best people too! It is an illness like any other.

    I think it's great that you have ambitions and dreams but make sure they are your dreams and not someone elses. Ballet isn't the only form of dancing you know and another type might suit you better. But don't make any major decisions yet until you have had a chance to talk them over with a counsellor. x

  • Hey Katie, I'm 17 and in my last year of school, about to do my final IB exams. So I think I can slightly relate to the pressures you're under, but I'm sure ballet school is even more high pressure! I have found school really difficult to handle with my depression. I can relate when you say its hard to give 100% effort when you're feeling so low, I sometimes get annoyed when I think people are asking way too much of me. With my depression, I lose all motivation to get things done and it's really difficult to cope in high pressure environments. I just try my best in the circumstances and try not to worry about the consequences if its not up to scratch, and my teachers have usually understood. Anyway, I've found talking to a counsellor very helpful, so I'd recommend you see one too. It just helps get things out and release all the stress you've built up. Also, you could ask your counsellor (if you decide to see one) to have quick chat with your ballet teacher so she knows what you're really going through, if your teacher doesn't take you and your situation seriously.

    I can't advise you on ballet but my advice would be to just do what you most enjoy. If ballet isn't doing it for you, there are plenty of dance styles out there to try and I'm sure your mum will be proud whatever you do. But if you do love it as you say, stick with it but if possible, try to make sure your teacher doesn't put you under unnecessary extra pressure. I know this might be difficult but the more she knows the more she can understand and maybe cut you some slack. Hope this helps!

    I'm here if you want to talk about anything,

    Orlando x

  • Hi Katie. You definitely need to have help with this one. Bullimic behaviour and self harming or not really things that you can get a grip on by yourself I don't think. I've done both. Please think about your whole life and not just the ballet part.

    Your GP is your first port of call. Be totally honest and maybe book a double appointment so you will have enough time to tell him/ her everything. Be prepared for a wait for further appointments but make sure you go to them !

    Good luck and keep the site posted as to what happens.

  • Hi

    You have done really well to get into English National Ballet - but if you are not entirely certain whether it is what you really want that must make it doubly hard to take the harsh attitude of your teacher. I do know they can be very harsh, some people respond well to that as it pushes them, but it sounds as though you are not one of them.

    You say your mother was a ballerina and I am wondering whether you actually chose to become one yourself or perhaps are over-identified with your mother? It will have been difficult for you to separate fully when you are following in your mother's footsteps. I wonder whether there is a counsellor within ENB, if not it would certainly be worth asking your GP to refer you for counselling. Medication can be helpful for depression for some people but it sounds as though your depression is far more about uncertainty about what you want in life, whether you want to be a ballerina enough to allow yourself to be pushed around.

    There are also services specifically aimed at people with eating disorders - your GP could refer you to the local one or you could google and may be able to find a voluntary agency in the locality (London?) - they will offer you the most specific help and are likely to offer longer term help than other routes.

    It is positive that you say you do recall being happy previously, not everyone with depression is able to do that, it suggests you had some very good times in your past and have those to go back to within your inner world.


  • I would talk to a Councillor and talk about why you are depressed and what goals you can put in place to make you happy. I would also talk to your ballet teacher with your mum and explain the situation. Your teacher should be praising you, not having a go. Whatever you do, don't leave it for a long time, i've dealt with anxiety and depression for 5 years now, (im 19) and it's ruined my life, make sure you get to the source early and be confident in what you do.

  • hi Katie

    let me speak to your teacher, i will sort it for you. its hard to see the light but there is one, if im anything to go by it will take a long time, my be it will never go away, but you will learn to live with it. instead of cutting, put a elastic band around your wrist and when you feel like cutting, pull the band and let it go, it will sting, but will stop you from cutting.

    as for doing a 120%, i worked as a chef and always tried to please everyone but me, i worked 100 hours a week, at 150%, i was never happy with what i was doing, and it alway seamed that all my managers were not happy, even though i was making huge profit, alway beat budget, won chef of the year world wide. still nothing was right, my bosses always wanted more.

    about five years ago my body started to give up as i was so ill, i told my bosses and i was forced out of work after 12 years with the same company. it was good for me i have not missed it and i have survived. yes its hard, no money, always struggling but im fitter, and getting better.

    may be you need to do something different, you are the most important, you have to be happy, life is to short, there is always something better out there. try talking to someone, i know that is hard as i still cant do it unless it is someone like myself, so i still bottle it up. you can always talk to me, by email or a coffee in london what ever, my email is,

    as for your teacher, she does not know or under stand your illness, i have always said it would be better if i had cancer as people can see it, see the effects, but with mental health no one can see it. sit with her away from the school, explain your illness in detail, if she is still the same after that she needs to be reported. i am just about to go to tribunal, i taking my daughters school to tribunal for discrimination against illness. we hope to win then there will be a test case, so schools will have to change, your teacher will have to change, if not she will be sacked. i will let you know how it goes.

    please please talk, email me any time i will answer.

    good luck, you can and will get through this.


  • Hi Kate, please do seek medical advise and see a counsellor. You have a very good friend in the person who stopped you from bulimia, talk to him as he understands and can see what you are going through 1st hand. Do you have a 'Matron' there if so go to her, she will be very understanding.

    As for your teacher they do expect 120% as it is a very harsh world and discipline is foremost. Ask to speak with her when she has time and not running to another class. It is unforgivable to embarrass a young student with those types of remarks. Dance in general is a joy and it in itself releases endorphins so by feeling the way you do, your teacher is repressing this.

    I remember at a cocktail party I was introduced to military figure who upon hearing that I was with the Royal Ballet said he would take ballet dancers on any day over and above the macho guys who apply to the army because of our dedication and discipline. Our discipline gets us through arduous performances like Swan Lake and also when not up to par.

    To me it does not seem that your mother is unsupportive, if she felt it detrimental to your health I'm sure she whisk you away if not getting the right answers from having a meeting with whomever deals with this at ENB. Speak to her please. Do you live at home or are you in lodgings as it is best to speak face to face. The ballet world has moved on since she danced and is more demanding so she can only understand her experiences unless educated to the changes.

    To make you smile; I looked on the ENB site to see what student support they offer, my, my nothing but to my great surprise Beryl Grey is the Patron!!!!!! She was artistic director at Arts Educational Trust and made a royal 'c**** up' of that. Anyway look on you tube , put in her name and see her performance at the Bolshoi. The arm positioning is awful the only thing she had going for her was her fouettes. It will make you see how wonderful you are. Look up Asaf Messerer, again on you tube, he was my ballet master at the Bolshoi, watch him take a class and see love he has for his students so when your teacher is negative try turning it into a positive and reply, yes you are right I was under par today, it will make her respect you as it will be totally unexpected.

    I stopped my daughter from applying to the Royal even though she begged me, she didn't have that extra special ingredient beyond talent which you and I know is required. So you obviously are very talented to be accepted in the ENB but that is not the only training ground and even if you are not full fee paying there are bursaries, grants available at other establishments. So you have options and maybe ENB is not the company for you.

    Good luck my love, please keep in touch, much love and happiness Dens xxxx

  • Oh dear! First- are you seeing a good cognitive therapist psychologist weekly? If not, please organise this/have a parent or friendly relative. Your fluoxetine wont work on its own as you dont know what to DO to make it work; a psychologist will help you put some direction in your recovery.

    I think you have proven yourself enough for classical ballet by qualifying for the National school and if you truly dream of a career as a top ballerina you are in for more of what you have experienced already. Your strict teacher is totally focused on getting superior performance from your body and isnt interested nor trained to do anything for your head- sorry; and shell never change her style. Thats her problem- imagine what a miserable time she has.

    You sound as though you are strong internally and Im sure youll get through these difficult years with some interpersonal help. Hang around with non-ballet friends when you have the time, start to enjoy social activities and allow other aspects of yourself to shine. Surely you are quite academically bright in other areas too and start to turn more attention to those interests?!

    If you feel like doing unwise things with food, phone someone and talk it through. Have plans for when you feel down or ineffective. Write them down, Tell someone you trust. Bingeing for comfort is very common- most people do it sometimes! Just dont do anything drastic to undo it- a single binge will NOT affect your body weight long term. Vomiting or taking other measures WILL damage you and it will make eating an unnatural activity, which is ridiculous because we all need fuel!

    Out here in the real world there are MILLIONS of women and girls cheering you on to have a happy life that doesnt necessarily have BALLERINA written all over it.

    Get yourself some partners in recovery, search the internet for free online therapy- there are several versions in Australia and Im sure there are some accessible in Europe. I spent 20 years doing research with people suffering anorexia and bulimia, mostly young people under 25. Believe me, now is the time to start recovery and talking to friendly people is a large part of it.

    Re fluoxetine: if you are not on 3 or 4 tablets per day, you haven't been given a high enough dose yet; if the highest dose you can tolerate doesnt work in 3 months, get your doctor to change to another. Go through the dose increases until that works or doesnt. Dont be persuaded to go on and off anything swiftly- all these medicines take time to have a good effect and they take time to wind down. Always listen to the experts- just as you do with your ballet teacher.

    Lots of hugs from Australia. You are a wonderful young person.

  • If you are depressed because of your situation, medication won't fix it for you. It sounds as though your teacher is emotionally abusive. Talk to your mom about what your teacher is saying to you. Did she have the same experiences? If so, how did she handle it? Do the two of you feel your teacher's behavior is acceptable?

    If a teacher is being abusive, you NEED to get other adults involved. (I'm a parent and have been a teacher - trust me in this!) An abusive teacher is NOT something a student is expected to handle. 99% of the time, it is beyond your ability to solve, and it's not fair to you if you expect to solve it yourself. This type of situation is why you have parents, so use them!

    Sometimes when you're depressed, it becomes really hard to think things through and see other solutions. You get into this mindset that you have to stay where you are and just work harder. (I have SOOO been there.) Find one or more people you trust, and brainstorm ideas for solutions with them. Do you have to be at THIS school, or are there other ways you can become a ballerina? Can a counselor intervene? Can your parents intervene? If you are the best ballerina from the best school, but you're miserable, is that what you want out of your life?

    Good luck to you, and I'll be sending good wishes your way.


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