Pure Joy 


“Count it all pure joy.”
But how do I do that? I’ve been beaten down emotionally and physically time and time again. I’m tired. So so so tired. I started to feel myself giving up after the new year. I sunk deeper into a dark and scary depression. 

My psychology, psychiatry and PTSD group therapies increased. It was all good. Super intense but all good. 

I can already feel my thoughts drifting off track… there’s so much I need to get out but I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve felt a strong desire to write again lately. It’s a form of therapy that my psychologist is 100% on board with. It’s just… Sometimes the words and the thoughts get jumbled. I’ll try. 

September 6, 2016 — Willow Performing Arts Academy was born. We had our first day of dance classes. A little under 100 kids were in and out of the studio that first week. 

Do I really OWN a dance studio? This can’t be real. 

Everything is backwards. It’s all supposed to be different. I’m supposed to be teaching the majority of the classes. I’m supposed to be able to manage and execute everything administrative. 

Willow is not your average dance studio. We operate out of my husband and I’s basement. I don’t drive. I cannot drive. I’m not allowed to drive. A brick and mortar location is next to impossible for me because of all of that. Add on the massive amount of medical debt and it’s a an impossible goal. Maybe we will be able to find a location that caters to what our family needs someday. A house connected to a commercial building. Maybe someday. #mydream

Sprung floor. Check. Barres. Check. Mirrors. Check. Acro equipment. Check. Waiting area. Check. A full teaching staff. Check. Office staff. Check. 

You own a dance studio. You must be doing great! Fine even! Fully recovered! *insert eye roll and a big huge sigh*

Where do I fit in? Can I fit in? Are my deficits too strong. Am I really doing this? Is this really happening?

Self doubt. Constant self doubt. 

I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. People don’t always understand the complexities of my conditions. Frustration all around. 

But I’m supposed to count it all pure joy. 

I turn on the energy when I need it most. I let the adrenaline get me through each day we are open. I push myself too far. I go too hard. Another setback. Repeat. Repeat. Some people see the pain and struggling. Most see the upbeat super duper excited Miss Theresa. 

My self confidence becomes worse. What is my life? What am I doing? Children now depend on me. Staff members now depend on me. I can’t even depend on myself. I DONT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. 

It’s now spring and our big end-of-year Showcase is upon us. I’m so proud. Everything looks beautiful. Not bad for a basement. You would never know. I’m happy but it is not pure joy yet. 

My husband was diagnosed with Stage I testicular cancer 3 weeks before our big show. My depression deepens. I put on a smile. Fake it until you make it, Theresa. Snap back to reality. 

Surrounded by negativity. People that don’t believe in the dream you are creating. The vision. The love. The passion. Self doubt is still there. Stronger than ever. Fueled by a toxic environment. Lingering because of my own doubts. 

Our dancers were beautiful. More importantly, they were PURE JOY on stage. I want to be like them. I am on cloud nine. Swollen with pride. Look at what we have done in the 1st season at Willow. 


Can I keep it going? Do enough people believe in this dream anymore? Do I believe in myself? I don’t know if I can give these kids what they deserve. I do my best. 


The show is over. It’s now June. I slip deeper and deeper into the depression. It has consumed me. I get through each day… but barely. I tell myself it wasn’t enough. It will never be enough. Why in the world is someone with a TBI, Major Depressive Disorder, sequencing and sensory disorders, major physical limitations pretending to be the owner of a dance studio. 

And that’s what it felt like. It was all a surreal. 

I’m given advice… “Let it go and focus on your recovery.” “Wait a few years and then try again.”

This IS a part of my recovery. Who am I without dance?! My whole life I have been a dancer. I am not going to give up. I must power through. I’m baffled and blown away that those words would even be handed to me. Do they not know me? Do they not know how important it is to continue having dance and these kids in my life?! If I don’t have dance to push me… to show me my goals… to bring a bright light in my dark world… I don’t think I would have survived if dance wasn’t in my life. I would not be here today if I did not have dance. 

I can. I must. I will. 

I’m NOT going to give up on Willow and our kids just because it is hard. It PUSHES me. It fuels my dedication to my recovery and therapies. 


Through Willow, I can see myself dancing again someday. I can see that girl above that I used to be. I’m not giving that dream up. 

I was reunited with some of my dance kids for the first time in a month yesterday. We spent the day together at a community event promoting Willow and celebrating dance. 

And for the first time in years I actually FELT the pure joy. The real ness was overwhelming but so amazing. 


I felt hope again. Those kids make the world a wonderful place. I cannot give up. I can’t succumb to the naysayers. We are Willow. And it’s PURE JOY. It is NOT “just a basement.”

I may depend on a full staff to keep the studio open and running. I may need more days off to rest and recover than I would prefer. I may need to delegate things I would normally love to do. I may not be able to be the ultimate and optimal dance studio owner… But I am passionate about creating a safe a nurturing environment for these kids. I may not be running the business how I always dreamed. And I may not be perfect.  

Perfect isn’t real. I don’t strive for it. But JOY… I will not stop striving for that. My dance kids deserve it and so do I. 

I can. I must. I will. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

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