THE BLOG

Burlesque Has Given Back To Me The Life My Stroke Took Away

17/10/2017 17:55 BST | Updated 18/10/2017 17:13 BST
Anna Higgs

life less ordinary banner

It was Christmas Day in 2004 when the stroke hit me. I was 24-years-old and before that date I was an average kinda girl. Nothing stood out about me, I blended in, and my family and I knew nothing about strokes.

My son, Henry, was a month old at the time. The whole family were at my dad's. This Christmas was to be special. This was Henry's first Christmas. We were all so excited and looking forward to the day more than any other Christmas that I could remember.

anna higgs

It was 5pm - I remember it so well, Harry Potter was on the TV - when I started to feel dizzy as if I had drunk too much. We all had had a few glasses of wine with our dinner and, as I hadn't drunk anything for the previous nine months, I put it down to feeling tipsy. I told my family that I was going to sit in the garden to get some air but it didn't come out as that. It came out like another language. My brother-in-law brought me a coffee and I went to pick it up with my right hand and immediately dropped it as my right side went numb. Then I got up and tried to walk. It was more of a stumble. The family thought I was drunk. My mum took myself, Henry and my partner Craig home. She had to undress me and put me to bed. It wasn't until the boxing day when my sister came round to see me that they realised something was seriously wrong.

The ambulance came and they knew instantly that I had had a stroke. My mum and dad didn't believe them. I was taken away and spent the next five months in hospital, crying every single day. I couldn't accept what I had become. I couldn't accept that I couldn't walk and that the chances of me ever walking again were very slim. I couldn't accept that my right arm just wouldn't move - I used to say over and over again "move little finger. Please just move for me".

I also couldn't accept that I was now partially sighted in both eyes. I have tunnel vision. I only see half of the world. I hated the fact that I had missed five months of Henry's life. Craig brought him to see me everyday but it wasn't the same as putting him to bed, making his milk, feeding him. I was right-handed before the stroke, so I had to learn to do everything with my left hand now. You try strapping your dominate hand up and doing everything with the other hand. It's so hard.

anna higgs

When I was released from hospital I made sure that I walked to the car. It took everything I had to do it, but I wanted to prove the doctors wrong, and I did. The next task was to change Henry's nappy. I did it with my left hand and left foot. Henry learnt to turn at the right times to help me.

The years that followed were unhappy ones, I spent many of them fighting depression and panic attacks. I was always so scared that I would have another stroke. I lost all my friends except one old school friend and not only was I living a life that wasn't exciting I also worried about the life I was giving my son. I was a broken shell and I hated it.

Everything the stroke took from me I wanted back so I went to my doctor who recommended a course of anti-depressants and counselling. After months of therapy I finally excepted what had happened to me and finally said goodbye to my old life. I was going to fight till the death to get a life.

I wanted a tattoo, so I went out and got one. I went to a boxercise class. I couldn't do it but I loved being with people. I wanted to experience everything. I met a Rabbi for afternoon tea. Why? Because I wanted to learn about the faith. I tried abseiling. I hated it. I took a class in burlesque. I tried pole dancing... I nipple-tassled with the best of them.

Now this is where my love for burlesque really took off. By chance I met my friend Sadie Sinner. I don't know where it came from but I asked her if she would help me put a show together for the hospital that looked after me. She said yes and that was where my love for performing began.

My stage name is Cinnamon Cheeks. The feeling I get from being on stage and the confidence I now have in my body is incredible. I am a plus-size disabled girl. To stand on stage and take all if your clothes off being a fully-abled body takes guts, so imagine how I feel doing it when only one arm works and my moves are limited.

I initially went down the route of comedy burlesque. I could make people laugh, but I felt the need for another challenge. So I performed my stroke journey. To Lady Gaga's Till it happens to you.

I initially performed it at 'Chari-tease' - a now yearly event - and afterwards was asked to perform it at the WOW festival at the Southbank Royal Festival Hall in London.

Burlesque has given me back my life, my confidence. I am a disabled performer and I don't care what you think, I'm here to make a difference. My stroke happened to me so I can change the way people think of disabled people. If you were to look at me you wouldn't think there is anything wrong. That's why I needed to do this dance. I needed people to see what was wrong with me, what I have to go through and how I have fought for everything.

The dance left people crying with shock. Which was exactly what I wanted. I wanted people to think about what a stroke is and what the stroke did to me.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you've got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.