“The letter arrived at work in 2006. I opened it and began to read…By the time I’d reached the end, my life had changed forever. In graphic detail, the writer threatened to kill my three children, David, Racquel and Tristan, then aged between six and 15. I had no enemies I knew of and no idea who could have sent it. It was absolutely terrifying.
It was so serious, we were immediately put under police protection, with patrol cars regularly passing by our house. My kids all had to wear personal alarms, and we weren’t allowed to have regular routines as that could put us at greater risk.
My partner was overseas working with the RAAF at the time, so it was just me and the kids. I was so terrified, it was impossible to have any peace of mind. I didn’t think this sort of thing happened in real life. It got so bad that I had to give up working.
I couldn’t handle crowded areas, and even grocery shopping became an ordeal. Someone only had to look at me and I’d break down, dump my trolley and run to the car crying. Eventually I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and put under the care of a psychologist.
For the next year, all I wanted was to stay at home and protect my kids, but then one night I was invited out with my girlfriends – to do a pole-dancing class, of all things.
The studio was small and secure so, as strange as it may seem, I felt safe there. Also, I’d always been very into fitness and at that time my psychologist was trying to guide me into taking up a fitness program as she thought it might help.
Although I’d never done gymnastics or dance before, I lost myself in the music and, from the first spin, I was hooked. It felt like the only place I could switch off but, more importantly, as I improved my strength and achieved moves I’d never thought possible, I felt empowered.
While my newfound love of pole dancing gave me more confidence and reduced the intensity of my symptoms, my PTSD didn’t completely go away. It never has – probably because the police never found out who sent the letter – and I still occasionally need to seek help. But within 12 months of taking up dancing, I felt strong enough to deal with daily life again and return to work.
In 2008, I was still enjoying classes so much – and going up to five times a week – that I decided to train as a teacher, and a new career began to form in my mind. I live in Palmerston, NT, and the studio I went to at the time was in Darwin city centre, 23km away. When a commercial property came up for sale near my home, I decided to buy it and open my own studio.
Despite now being divorced and still working my day job, I opened Champagne Fitness in 2009, where I would teach pole dancing most evenings and on weekends.
We now also offer classes in trapeze, dance fitness and flexibility, plus an outdoor women’s bootcamp.
Since opening my studio I’ve realised that I’m not the only one who has found my feminine strength through pole dancing. We’ve had women get their body confidence back, women who’ve escaped bad relationships and those who just want to come out of their shells.
I’ve seen so many women of all ages get as hooked on pole dancing as I have – from a 13-year-old to a 78-year-old, who came along with her daughter-in-law because they were both bored with only ever catching up for lunch. It’s such a nurturing environment – which was something I really needed in 2010, when my son David died in a quad bike accident, aged just 20.
For five months, I barely left the house but the studio girls did everything to help, from running the business and ensuring I wasn’t bothered by trivial phone calls to bringing me meals.
As I’ve continued to teach over the years, I found it interesting that so many people still dismiss pole dancing as a sexual activity. In our studio we’re all about building mental and physical strength and looking after women’s needs, not men’s.
We’ve raised money for The Heart Foundation’s Go Red For Women, which is working to end heart disease and stroke in women. We’ve made donations for those needing help in order to escape domestic violence. And when a student with cancer wanted to get married, we raised $3000 in a week so she could go on honeymoon.
I’ve spoken at youth forums for mental health, at which I shared my battle with PTSD, and I also shared my experience in interviews when I won the 2016 Telstra NT Micro Business Award.
Now, pole dancing is again working its strengthening magic on me as I return to normal life after a 10-month battle with breast cancer. I teach just one night a week now but still manage the business, so it’s a good balance. My hair is growing back after the chemo and I’m considered ‘cured’, which is worth celebrating.
At 49, I’m confident I’ll get through it. Life’s been tough but thanks to pole fitness, I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be.”
While you’re here, there’s also another incredible real-life story about how one woman was diagnosed with PTSD from her office job. You can also read about how men can also get post-natal depression.
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