Sunday, 25 August 2013

Mind Over Matter

Well, I’ve been having an eventful time; let me tell you about it.  It’s a bit of a painful story with no neat ending to it so far, but it does involve a healthy portion of fun kinkiness somewhere in it. This will, true to form, probably be rather long, so I’m breaking it down into multiple posts that’ll appear here over the next couple of weeks.  Sorry the first installment is kind of downbeat.

First of all, I have to come out.  Some of you will know me from my mainstream work but for anyone visiting who doesn’t, I’m not a full time professional fetish model - I’m not sure anyone in the UK really is, given the limited number of employers in the genre.  So, when I’m not a fetish model, I work as an ordinary model.  Shocking isn’t it?  Now, anyone who works for long as a model will tend to start finding their career being shaped by the work they’ve already done.  Photographers tend to choose models for their new projects who already have a body of work in a similar style - it makes sense to book models with a proven track record in the genre.  For me, this genre has been dance.

Image Courtesy of the fantastic Orson Carter

I trained as a ballet dancer and gymnast throughout my childhood and teenage years.  An injury finished my hopes of turning professional and after picking up the pieces of my rather shattered hopes, I diversified into acting instead.  Later I became a model, and a photographer who knew I’d once danced bought me a pair of pointe shoes and photographed me dancing again.  It felt wonderful and I liked the images.  Armed with the pointe shoes, I started offering ballet-style modelling as one of my USPs.  It worked well, and gradually over the last decade I’ve been booked more and more frequently for ballet themed pictures.  It’s been great fun and very profitable, although it’s far more taxing on my body than any other style of work I do (including hard bondage).  My original back injury has flared up from time to time, and two years ago I sustained an upper back injury too, which rumbles on, never quite going away.  Then a year ago, after taking up running in an effort to make myself stronger for my dance work, I sustained first a foot and then an ankle injury.  It’s made all my shoots harder, painful and subsequently less fun, which has been sad because I love my job.

Dance modelling is most certainly kinder to your body than being a professional dancer, since you’re rarely required to actually dance continually for more than a few minutes at a time.  On the other hand, photographic studios can be much colder than dance spaces since they’re so often situated in poorly insulated industrial units.  And crucially, they almost always have concrete floors, which makes jumping uncomfortable and ultimately damaging.  That’s probably partially accounted for my failure to heal from my various niggling injuries, and the fairly relentless schedule I’ve set for myself has been a contributing factor too. Poor Hywel has done his best to suggest I take a gentler approach to my work but I’ve been grateful to have a dance-related career snatched back from the jaws of defeat after having come to terms with knowing I’d never be able to realise that particular dream, and it’s been hard to turn stuff down.  And I’ve been proud of being offered so much work; my schedule’s been booked around 6 months ahead for the last couple of years, and it’s allowed me to tour the UK, Europe and beyond.  Not bad when I remember the 18 year old I once was, in an orthopedic surgeon’s office being told I’d never dance again.  I’ve wanted to shout back  to her across the years that it’ll be ok.

And it has been, sort of.  But then in May this year, I felt a sudden twinge in my right knee while I was coming downstairs. 

I ignored it, I was about to shoot a contemporary dance movie for a director I respect very much, and I didn’t see a reason to cancel.  The shoot was painful and frightening, my knee flared warnings at me every time I knelt on it.  But I got through and hopefully delivered a useable performance;  the production stills look cool to me.

Images courtesy of BikeshedTV

The drive back down South was painful, my trip to the Isle of Wight for shoots the following day nearly unbearably so.  My doctor was able to give me some generic knee exercises but they seemed to make things worse if anything.  The following week I asked if The Kantakas would mind postponing a shoot, to allow me to get to a sports physiotherapist.  They kindly consented, but the sports massage didn’t help much, and over the next couple of days I found myself repeatedly apologising to photographers (including Chimera Bondage) that I couldn’t kneel down.  

I literally limped through the next couple of weeks.  A wonderful ballet themed shoot with in an empty mansion house in London produced beautiful images, but I got through the shoot by standing on my left leg whenever possible to spare the sore right one, and by taking the strongest painkillers I could find, which didn’t seem to do much.

Two days later I was booked for a day of bondage and dance work.  I awoke in pain, and driving to the studio helped matters not at all.  This time, painkillers seemed to do nothing and by mid afternoon, getting up from where I’d been seated on the floor sent a bolt of pain through my knee, making me gasp.  By taking a double dose of painkillers I got through the last bit of the shoot in what I now recall as a haze of unreality.  I drove myself the few miles to my hotel for the night and called Hywel. 

In a miserable conversation we agreed I should cancel all my bookings for July; a decision which cost me thousands of pounds in lost earnings and felt like tearing down all the carefully constructed business relationships and friendships I’d spent 10 years building up.  It was ghastly and I don’t know how I’d possibly have got through the last few weeks without Hywel, lucky me to have married a man who doesn’t require me to be a calm and perfect physical specimen at all times.  I am not.

After two days of emailing apologies to everyone and receiving their unfailingly kind responses to my cancellations, I was left with an empty month in my diary.  For the first time in a decade, I didn’t have anywhere to be.

And with utterly vile timing, Hywel was going to be away from home.  This never happens; I think I’ve spent 2 nights alone in the house during the whole of our cohabitation.  As webmasters reading this will know, running a pay site does tend to tie you to your office.  But Hywel was working as Director of Photography on a mainstream film, and I was very proud of him; without a question, he had to go.  I thought I’d be fine; I could walk, climb upstairs if I was careful, and I could work for Restrained Elegance in his absence.  Various lovely friends and family members offered to stay with me if I got lonely, but I thought I’d be fine - actually I thought it might even be fun once the pain started to lessen; I could bake, sew, book shoots for 2014, revamp my blog, publicise our Clips4Sale store.  I even had grandiose ideas of making self-shot clips on my own and writing an autobiography.

But what I actually did was to have a lot of physiotherapy and sports massage appointments but not feel any improvement.  Kind friends kept checking in, but I kept having to tell them that nothing had changed.  I swam, but it hurt too much to do more than 4 or 5 lengths.  I went to Pilates classes with old ladies who seemed in a better physical state than me.  I limped round supermarkets, picking up the minimum amounts of supplies before the pain got too much and I had to go home and use ice packs on my knee.

I sewed in the meantime; here's a kimono I made for a photographer who commissioned me. 

Let me know if you need anything outlandish made for you by the way, I think it might be my secondary career because I LOVE it :)

Hywel came home at the end of the week to check on me and my lack of progress.  Then he came home on the second Sunday, and things were still no better.  I started to get very scared.

In my third week at home I started feeling rather strange emotionally too.  Still in pain from my knee, but the stress of dealing with a possibly-career-ending injury began making me feel a bit divorced from reality.  Driving began to scare me, I felt as though I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt unhappy around strangers, and I didn’t want visitors either.  When the phone rang, the names of concerned members of my family and friends on my display made me feel anxious.  My best friend re-iterated her offer to come and stay with me, but it was the last thing I wanted although I always love her company.  Then, abruptly, my arms started aching too.  Typing suddenly became untenably painful, as did texting. I felt cut off; holding my phone up to my ear was painful; when Hywel called I’d prop the phone on the sofa, and lie over it to talk.  

Then I had a panic attack; I’d gone swimming, but my knee was too painful for me to achieve much.  I was overwhelmed by feelings of despair - my whole life, all it seemed to amount to was a dingy local authority swimming pool frequented by the elderly and infirm.  I hurried into my clothes and rushed out of the building; I took refuge in my car but still felt panicky - I realised I was crying and that taking in breath was suddenly very hard work.

Although I fervently wanted to get home, I didn’t make it out of the car park. I was crying too hard and I couldn’t see so I pulled over, blindly, to the side of the path. 

After some time, a knock on the window made me snatch in my breath and jump backwards in my seat.  A concerned lady had come out of the sports centre and seen me.  Unfortunately, even when I’d remembered how to wind down my window I found myself unable to speak to explain what was wrong.  She eventually retreated; courtesy is important to me and I felt ashamed not to be able to thank her for her kindness in trying to help me.  I’m hoping to recognise her one day so I’ll be able to explain and say thank you.  But by now a small crowd seemed to have gathered and I felt horribly exposed so I started my engine and drove home.  As I drove down the hill to our house I realised I was screaming, over and over again.  The sound scared me.

Talking to Hywel on the phone helped; he was going to be home again that weekend.  He said that I should probably look at cancelling my bookings through August and September too, and I couldn’t help but agree - I couldn’t imagine being able to stand up for long in heels, walk in hoof boots or kneel in a frogtie, let alone dance en pointe, or jump and land on my injured knee.  So I started burning more bridges (or at least that was how it felt) in a series of mails which were significantly shorter than the first ones I’d sent out - my arms were too painful to type much.

Then a second stupid panic attack came along ; I’d been planning to go to the local supermarket in preparation for Hywel coming home the following day, but somehow, I kept putting off the journey.  Finally, late in the afternoon, I realised that if I didn’t go soon the shop would be shut.  I only needed to grab a sweater and my shoes from upstairs before leaving the house, but that journey felt insurmountable.  I felt panic building in my chest again.  Then I was bent over double in the kitchen, screaming and screaming over again.  I couldn’t stop and I felt as though I’d gone crazy.  

Then I was curled at the bottom of the stairs with the telephone in my hand.  I telephoned the UK’s emergency medical advice line - I thought calling an ambulance was probably overkill since my arms and legs were all still attached to my body and because despite the feeling in my chest, I did appear to be breathing more or less effectively.

I’m suspicious that I probably sounded quite mad in the ensuing conversation.  The health professional I spoke to was very kind and helpful and suggested I take a taxi to the hospital.  I agreed, but once I’d disconnected the call I knew I wasn’t going to; the Emergency Room would be crowded with people and I couldn’t cope with that idea.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to get back into the car.

I waited for Hywel to come home and it was a great relief when he came back, all calm and resourceful and rational. Then when Monday came I made an appointment with my doctor.  She took blood tests to rule out any systemic condition that could be causing all the various symptoms I’d been having (I'm waiting for the results), and gave me anti-anxiety medication to hopefully arrest any further panic attacks in the short term.

And it was with this dreadful month only just behind me that I embarked upon my trip to the USA, to appear as a Guest of Honour at the fetish industry’s biggest annual event - Fetishcon in Tampa, Florida. 

Which I’ll blog about next time, and it’ll be cheerier.  Thanks for reading; I wondered whether this was appropriate to post really but hopefully it might help someone somehow one day, and I do like being honest about bad stuff as well as good stuff.

Thanks as always,



Abel1234 said...

So brave to post such an open and honest account of tough times. Sorry to hear you've been facing such challenges; hope things have turned the corner. Hugs.

Gustofur said...

I felt sad when I read your blog. Hope you are on the mend both physically and emotionally. I am looking forward to your next post. Take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Through your blogs, interviews, clips your personality is projected so well thaW I am sure many of feel we know you personally.( We should be so lucky). For that reason iis distressing reading about what you are going through. Be well and take care.

Wayne from the States.

Wayne said...

Through your blog and body of work, you project your personality so well I am sure that many of us feel we know you personally ( we should be so lucky). It is for that reason that it is distressing to read about your recent difficulties.

Wayne said...

You project your personality through this little screen so well that many of us, I'm sure, feel we know you personally (we should be so lucky). For that reason it is distressing to read what you have been enduring.

Wayne said...

You project your personality through this little screen so well that many of us, I'm sure, feel we know you personally (we should be so lucky). For that reason it is distressing to read what you have been enduring.

Anonymous said...

Naturally, as a man, I think of life as a problem to be solved, so I have to question the effectiveness of the medical advice you've been getting. You British pay high taxes so you can have universal access to health care, yes? So where the hell is your doctor all this time, out playing golf? Someone should have been doing something, and if it didn't work, doing something else, and if they didn't know what to do, referring you to a specialist. I'd like to shake your entire health care team till their teeth rattle.

With that said, I am SO sorry you have had such a dreadful time. You're one of the nicest people it's been my privilege to meet, and I can think of few people who deserve such an ordeal less.

On the other hand, if you were well enough, I'd suggest Hywel spank you for driving when you obviously weren't in good enough shape to control a car. It's lucky you didn't kill yourself and several other people.

Please, PLEASE take care of yourself, don't be hard on yourself, pamper yourself, and we will all wish for whatever is wrong to get better.

Good luck. You deserve it, and based on how things have been going, you have some good luck coming to you.

Michael (from Texas)

Andre The Toon Man said...

Dear Ariel, I've been battling depression off and on for over 20 years. You're very brave to come out on this topic. There are so many who just don't understand what it's like. The panic attacks in particular. I was having a few of them just up until Fetish Con (by the way, very glad to have met you and Hywell there). Best of luck with your treatment. Therapy by and large has helped me tremendously.
-Andre The Toon Man

Pandora said...

Oh Ariel. My heart goes out to you. I'm so sorry you've been going through such hard times - I knew your knee had been playing up but honestly had no idea how bad things have been. I admire and respect your courage in being so open about it, and hope you can get the help and healing you need. Sending you much love and sympathy. xx

Simurgh said...

As a long-time fan of your work, I was saddened to hear of your recent troubles. Nobody should have to go through the experiences you describe.

While I would not presume to diagnose your condition from a blog post, what you talk about does sound an awful lot like depression (which can include mysterious pains, a sense of helplessness, panic attacks and so forth, and frequently comes on when someone puts themselves under great strain).

One of the worst things about depression is that it can make very nice and very competent people feel unpleasant or unworthy. It can sometimes seem like an evil little voice, reinterpreting everything in the worst possible light. But the truth is that the people it afflicts have generally been among the nicest and most capable people I know, and I strongly suspect that if one were to ask your friends, they would say that about you as well.

It is very brave of you to speak so openly about it. I hope that you can find something that will help you to come back from this dark place and that you will start to feel better soon.

On the off-chance that it might help, and in the unlikely event that nobody else has mentioned it, I would recommend a book by Dr. David Burns called FEELING GOOD, which is not at all as cheesy as it sounds, but is actually really quite down-to-earth. Of course, if it turns out that you are suffering something else, and this is irrelevant, my apologies.

Anonymous said...

If a butterfly can flap its wings and seed a hurricane, perhaps a hug from a stranger will help :-)