Stories of Impact: Mae Ahern

Stories of Impact: Mae Ahern

“I never really figured that depression/anxiety wasn’t normal until high school.”

Stage Name: Misha Lee
Age: 23
Location: Brooklyn, NY, USA
Aerial training since: Circus, June 2015; Lyra, August 2016
Training Facility: Trapeze School New York (TSNY)

Instagram: @SoundInADarkRoom

(The following interview was conducted via email.)

How often do you train in the aerial arts?

I train in classes once a week and on my own a few other times per week. I work as an ambient aerialist and will be starting to teach a beginner hoop class.

You mentioned you have depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Can you share a bit of your experiences with these disorders?  

I have dealt with depression and anxiety since elementary school, but was left untreated and undiagnosed until college. Due to a lack of mental health education, I never really figured that depression/anxiety wasn’t normal until high school, but at that point there was so much of a stigma against it that I still never brought it up as a problem.

In my freshman year of college, I started dating a guy who ended up being a major predator and was extremely abusive toward me, which resulted in a more severe depression and anxiety issue as well as a new diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I started seeing a therapist, which was very helpful, but also took up flying trapeze as a distraction during the week. I found it to be very freeing since it allowed me to conquer my own mental boundaries in a safe and supportive environment.

How have the aerial arts impacted your emotional/psychological state?

I have found that I’m far more balanced mentally and emotionally when I have a physical outlet via lyra. With depression and anxiety, it often feels like I have no control over anything, but when doing lyra and other aerial arts I place myself in control of that specific situation.

What makes your experience with lyra different than other physical outlets?

I grew up in horse country, so having horses was a “normal” thing. With equestrian sports, I was able to feel more balanced because of the bond with the animals. With lyra, it’s a feeling of control.

Are some days more difficult than others when it comes to practicing? If so, how do you push through it?

Obviously certain tricks and transitions on lyra are scary and can trigger anxiety. Fortunately, my lyra teacher, Travis, is incredibly supportive and understands anxiety, so he knows when to push me through it and when to back off and try again later.

How have the aerial arts changed your life?

Aerial arts have really become a part of my identity. I never felt that I had any special or unique traits about me that could help me stand out from everyone else. I felt invisible, but with aerial arts I have become more confident and feel like a better, unique person.

Do you want to share anything else regarding your experience with lyra/aerial arts in relation to mental health? 

I struggled with eating disorders for several years, but once I started doing aerials it helped me realize that what my body could do was more important than what it looked like, and that when performing, the audience doesn’t care if I have a stomach roll or a muffin top, because they are in awe of my physical strength and aesthetic.

All images are from @SoundInADarkRoom, used with permission from Mae Ahern.