New York City Ballet Soloist Kathryn Morgan sets the record straight about her illness
You may know that Kathryn Morgan, a very talented and popular Soloist with New York City Ballet, has been off-stage for 18 months. What you may not know is that for all of that time Kathryn has been battling a debilitating illness that has tested her patience and stamina to the limit. And she’s a dancer – she has plenty of both!
After the most disheartening and frustrating year of her life Kathryn wanted to talk to you about why she hasn’t been able to dance.
I asked Kathryn to write in her own words, what happened. This is Kathryn’s story.
“Many people have been wondering where I have been for the past year and a half.
“Is she injured?” “Did she leave?” “What happened?”
Well, to put the stories straight, I have been out with an under-functioning thyroid. This might not sound like a big deal, but it is! As I have found out, your thyroid affects EVERYTHING.
Things began happening in March of 2010 when was doing a guest performance of The Sleeping Beauty. I started putting on weight for no reason, my hair started falling out, I got terrible migraines, and I was also absolutely exhausted all of the time. Except for the weight, everything had an answer – I thought my hair was falling out due to headpieces and hairspray, I’ve always gotten migraines so that wasn’t new, and I thought I was tired because I was working hard. But the weight didn’t make any sense. How could I be putting on weight if I was dancing Sleeping Beauty all day every day?
I didn’t understand.
Spring season started with NYCB and things got worse.
My hair was so thin that I was petrified I was going to lose it all, and I could barely stay awake for class and rehearsals. Worse than all that was the weight, which continued to pile on. I started getting very depressed and didn’t even want to come in to work. We were even rehearsing a new world premiere ballet (Mirage) and I had a lead part.
But I was so unhappy that I didn’t even want to dance. I was panicking because I knew I had to get my weight down for the role. So I barely ate anything. I managed to get a bit off and do the premiere but then afterwards it all came right back on. None of this made any sense to me.
I knew that life shouldn’t be this miserable. I wondered why the thing that was my dream and that I had longed to do my whole life was making me so unhappy.
A few weeks later we were in Saratoga Springs for our annual summer tour. Half way through the first week, I got the migraine of all migraines. It was so debilitating that I couldn’t even get out of bed. I took my migraine medication that I always have with me, but it didn’t work. I was scheduled to do three performances of Divertimento No. 15, which I had always wanted to dance, but I had to pull out.
I was miserable. I literally didn’t even want to see anyone.
However, I ended up having to do a few performances of In the Night with a migraine the following week because I had no understudy. God Bless Tyler Angle. He dragged me around the stage and completely got me through the ballet.
I don’t even remember doing it.
I left Saratoga early to go see the doctor who decided to test me for mono*. All of my symptoms, especially being so tired, all pointed to mono. However, when the tests came back, he told me I had hypothyroidism**, which is an under-functioning thyroid. That explained everything – the weight, hair, tiredness, and in my case, the migraines. I was immediately put on medication to treat it. The problem when you have hypothyroidism is that you can only increase your medication dosage gradually. This means you start at a low number, have to wait 6 weeks (even if it is wrong) and then test again. So the process takes ages! Also, until the dosage is correct, your weight will not come off.
For me, this was the worst part of the whole thing. Through the entire process I had put on 35 pounds. I didn’t even look like the same person.
The reason I have been out so long is that my thyroid was so bad. It has taken a year and a half to reach the right amount of medication. Several times during this period, I thought I was well and tried to get back onstage. But soon found out I wasn’t ready.
It has been the most frustrating and disheartening year of my life.
I am still not back to my dancing weight, but a lot has come off and I am feeling so much better about myself. I have also not gotten a migraine since I started on the medication! I am no longer depressed, I have hair again, and I have more energy than I know what to do with.
I honestly didn’t know how sick I was until now. I have never felt so good. My doctor says this might have been going on for 3 years and I didn’t even know it. Looking back in hindsight, I think he is right. I really have no idea how I did everything that I did in the past few years.
I can’t wait to be back onstage with this new feeling. I am hoping that I will dance better than ever. While I still have a ways to go, I am willing to take the time to get there.
I wouldn’t give up dancing for anything!”
* Mono, as it’s commonly called in North America, is a common viral infection called infectious mononucleosis. It can cause fever, sore throat, fatigue and enlarged lymph nodes. It is most frequently diagnosed in teenagers and young adults between 5-25 years of age, with the highest occurrence rate between 15-25 years of age.
** Hypothyroidism means a reduced level of the thyroid hormone (thyroxine) which causes a slow down in metabolism and body functions. It’s often called an under-active thyroid. Thyroxine, made by the thyroid gland in the neck, is a hormone that is carried around the body via the bloodstream. The most common symptoms are tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, dry skin, lifeless hair and feeling cold. Around 1 in 50 women and 1 in 1000 men develop hypothyroidism at some time in their life. It most commonly develops in adult women, and becomes more common with age. However, it can occur at any age and can affect anyone.
If you are concerned that you have symptoms that could relate to hypothyroidism, your first port of call is to see your GP for a simple blood test. Kathryn was supported by New York City Ballet and especially Peter (Martins, Artistic Director) throughout; she was paid as per her contract for the first year but not for the last 4 months and I know that a potential loss of income due to a lengthy spell out of work can be a worry for some people. It’s still really important to seek treatment because your symptoms are unlikely to disappear on their own.
Kathryn’s eloquent, honest description of her experience has a positive outcome because of her insightful and patient approach, right in the teeth of adversity.
I hope that by sharing with you the good and the (very) bad times, Kathryn will encourage anyone who needs to, to shake off uncertainty and to seek medical advice. You can see the reward for yourself.
There is also a fair bit that you can do for yourself. I recommend this book by Chiropractor Camilla Ellis (I declare : I edited the book but receive no royalties from the author by promoting it). You will find a number of tests that you can do yourself at home to help work out what your symptoms could be. It’s still vital to see a qualified medical practitioner for confirmation but I find that arming yourself with plenty of research is a positive step.
I’m sure you’ll join me in congratulating Kathryn on her bravery in confronting this illness and talking about it publicly.
If you have any questions for Kathryn, please leave them in the comments section below.
Read Cupcakes & Conversation with Kathryn Morgan
Kathryn talks about ballet class