Stories of Impact: Gabrielle DeBuse
“I’ve had diagnosed depression since I was 12.”
What made you want to start pole dancing?
I was actually really depressed and looking for something new. I had always wanted to dance, ever since I was little. I begged my mom to do ballet class, but there were four of us kids, so that just wasn’t going to happen because it’s expensive.
I kind of got past the whole taking ballet stage, because real training companies start kids young and they don’t really have adult classes set up the way kids classes are, training-wise.
I didn’t have any issue with the stigma at all, because I had already been modeling a little bit, so I agreed. When I took the class I had a great time and wanted to keep going.
What made you want to keep going?
It was just fun. It was a stress-reliever and it was cool to learn new things. I didn’t know what to expect, especially in my beginner class. I was thinking it would be more dancey stuff, but we learned how to climb right away. I think by the second or third class I was already all the way up the pole.
What was your life like, depression-wise, before you started pole dancing?
I’ve had diagnosed depression since I was 12. That’s when my parents got divorced and [my siblings and i] were court-recommended to go see a therapist. I’m the only one who kept going for a while. I was raised in a Mormon church, and they find divorce really taboo, so finding out my parents were getting divorced, it was like, how do you deal with that?
After a while I stopped going to therapy, because I thought I was just upset over my parents getting divorced. I was in middle school, and kids that age aren’t very introspective.
The next year or two, my sister had her 16th birthday and a lot of her and my friends came over, but I wasn’t having fun. I just wasn’t happy. You kind of just get that choking pain in your stomach where you just can’t have fun and don’t know why. I think that’s when I felt like I needed to see someone again.
Then what happened?
My dad got me in to see a therapist. She helped for a while, but back in seventh grade I had a classmate whose mother was drunk and made him drive when he was 11, and he crashed the car and didn’t make it out. It was a really big thing to happen, and then two years later my two friends got hit by a train. Then it was just like this strange pattern [of death] every two years. That really took a toll on me, because it’s just like, how do you deal with that at such a young age, when people your age are dying? I never got the skills to cope with that, and my therapist wasn’t really helping, so I had to stop seeing her.
I had one close friend who was kind of going through the same thing, and I decided we shouldn’t hang out much anymore because we were feeding off of each other’s depression. I kind of wish that I didn’t decide that because I feel like we both could have helped each other more to get through it. It was just a lot of feeling isolated. A lot of people didn’t really know what was going on, my family didn’t seem to understand. They do now, though, but I openly talk about my depression and see a therapist again, usually twice a month.
What’s your experience with depression like now?
It’s gotten a lot better. There are less lapses or fall backs, but it’s always this underlying tone of having this diagnosis. I’ll still get into my slumps of, “I don’t want to do anything. I’m just a lump. I’m not helpful. I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV.” It can be rough.
Do you feel like pole dancing has helped your experiences at all?
Yes. What I like about dancing is that you have something scheduled to look forward to, because exercise is super helpful for self-care. It also makes me feel accomplished, and I’ve gained so much muscle that I never really realized I could have.
How have you noticed a change within yourself since you started pole dancing?
It took me a long time to look in the mirror and say, “hey, I actually like myself,” like I can now.
I was really gawky in high school and dated a lot of people, but it never really lasted too long and there was always someone prettier or not as socially awkward as me. Plus, I was homeschooled from kindergarten to fourth grade, so I didn’t get a lot of social interaction with other children. My social awkwardness still comes out every once in a while, but I’ve come a long way to counteract the fact that I was not socialized as I child, and I’ve finally been able to hold relationships.
That’s really great. Would you say that pole has been somewhat therapeutic for you?
Yeah, I would say it’s super therapeutic. Not necessarily just the dancing part, but also being around a community that’s so the same and open about everything. It’s also really refreshing that [the community] is a lot of women, because of the stereotype that all women hate each other. I definitely grew up with that social stigma around. It took me a while to train myself out of that and realize it’s not a competition, so just having that environment of support is helpful.
Plus, when I learn a move, it’s one of those things—especially if it’s hard or it hurts—that just feels super good. It’s like, “oh, I don’t feel like a failure, I feel good.” I’m doing something that’s self-fulfilling, even if it’s simple. It’s not like nailing a move is going to change the course of my entire life or anything, but it makes me happy just for a little bit.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about how pole has affected your life?
In a way it’s just made me more confident. My parents don’t like that I do it, and the fact that my parents don’t really like it but I do it anyway has kind of pushed me to the point of finally doing something for me. I’m not doing something for anybody else. I’m doing it for me, and that’s a good feeling.
All images via @gabrielledebuse, used with permission by Gabrielle Debuse.