Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: Episode 21

Bianca Pierre

Welcome to season 2!!

For years, I have had this dream of finding a way to bring together all of my students from over the years into one space so they could share the lovely, inspired memories from the studio. We could eat tacos and Mr. Tirro cookies and everyone would get to know each other through their common experience, even if they never walked the halls together. Of course, life doesn’t permit those dreams to occur. Maybe that’s another reason why this podcast is so exciting to me: I can put all of these amazing people in the same space to talk about those experiences and see where it took them. It may not be eating tacos and cookies, but to me, it’s the next best thing. At the very least, I have a permanent record of who these people are and what we meant to each other, so that when the dementia sets in, there’s proof of these wonderful relationships. But I digress…

My guest for episode 21 has become a dear friend of mine. As a teacher, there are students who you know are are “your kind of person.”

Back in high school, Bianca Pierre was a bright, personable young woman with a smile as wide as Texas, full of positivity and light. She immersed herself in the performing arts community in our school, taking my dance classes in the studio and joining Thespians in her sophomore year. The plays and musicals became her required activities from that point on; FAME with Kristin Santos (Episode 7), Pippin with Alex Domini (Episode 20), and The Drowsy Chaperone with Tendrina Alexandre (Episode TEN). She became a leader, serving on the Thespian board, and was one of those kids who I knew I would do my best to keep track of in the future.

Happily, what I knew came true and we have kept in touch over the years, enjoying an occasional brunch or dinner date or even a random catch-up text, acting like no time had actually passed. After graduating from Spring Valley in 2011, she went to SUNY Albany to get her degree in Psychology and Sociology. After college, she worked in a doctor’s office and realized she had aspirations to go back to school for nursing.

Of course, life never follows a linear course; not in the way we expect that it should. Life always finds a way to make things…interesting. After living in New York’s capital region for about ten years, she moved back home to Rockland in 2020. Now, she is in nursing school pursuing her passion to be a healer, and pays the bills working at Sephora and at a pole dance studio, where she also satisfies her creative spirit and need to move.

Changing direction has been a pretty major part of her adult life. The pandemic informed her move back home to Rockland County. She had to do a hard reset on her plans at that point, acknowledging that in order to do what she ultimately wants to do, she had to take a few steps back and re-orient herself.

Adolescent Bianca

Bianca, far front left, a year after she graduated, returning to see a show as an alumni.

Bianca describes her adolescent self as the type of kid who wanted everyone to be as smiley and as happy as I was. Acknowledging that the exuberance may have been annoying to some, she really wanted to share the natural joy that she felt, because it helped her to get through a great deal of deep sadness from her childhood experience that was behind the giant smile. She was energetic with an infectious laugh, gregarious and good-natured, and affectionate with friends. All of these personality characteristics were how Bianca learned to manage the very tumultuous feelings with which she was constantly bombarded.

That tumult has an almost Jekyll-and-Hyde effect on a person’s psyche. While she could genuinely experience her happiness, she did so with the pain of years of unresolved trauma behind it. When asked what it was about the Thespian and dance experience that helped her to manage and regulate her emotional life, she said,

Being in Thespians as a whole, being in the studio, on the stage…it gave me a space to channel a lot of those emotions that I was feeling. I could go into the studio and maybe that day we were working on a scene that was a little bit sadder, and I could let myself pour it into that. Or, if we were moving…finding myself through movement was huge. Before high school, I had never really danced in front of others. So having that space to find myself in movement and to figure out how to release myself and a lot of that excess energy that I had, it was an epiphany that still, to this day, I need to move. [Dancing is] the best way that I’ve found to express myself and get rid of that jittery anxiety.

Like so many others before and after her, Bianca appreciated the safe haven of the studio space. In episode 19, Rob Lee talked about the community that Thespians provided that was a salve for his emotional turmoil. Through the dance and Thespian experience, Bianca learned the values of being open and honest, being able to rely on the people around her and share responsibility in a collaborative group dynamic, instead of feeling as though she needed to take care of everything in the moments when she didn’t feel her strongest. She has carried those values into her professional life, working in hospitals with patients and in retail. That environment taught her that she can trust others as well as herself.

How has Bianca changed since high school?

The hyperactivity of adolescence she once experienced has now been tamed, particularly as her mental well-being is concerned. At the end of high school, her anxiety and panic episodes escalated, which always took her by surprise. As an adult, she has learned (through years of therapy) how to create a toolbox filled with anxiety-busting strategies. She expresses herself more effectively because of that training. Back then, I could talk a mile a minute and it would be literally about nothing. Now, she can talk in depth about things that are important to her, and she can express them in a healthy, constructive way.

Using that beautifully developed adult brain, Bianca had some thoughts to pass back to her mentally-chaotic younger self:

You’re not stuck. You feel stuck, you feel like this is how you’re going to feel for the rest of time. But it’s not. Time does heal. Nothing lasts forever – not the good, not the bad. This will pass. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to take a lot of work, but you’re going to do it, and you’re going to be better for it.

That great advice comes with the knowledge that nothing is linear, especially the healing process, a concept she grapples with today. The good vibes still intermingle with the bad thoughts regularly and often unexpectedly, resulting in a mixed bag of emotional outcroppings. Her mental flexibility has improved, something that was tested in a similar way as Alex Domini: circumstances changed all of her plans, blew up her long-term relationship, and necessitated a move back home to her family to regroup. But, she now has the understanding that this too shall pass, eventually. In the meantime, snuggling with the cat and grabbing a bowl of ice cream helps to ease the tough moments.

One thing that has not changed is Bianca’s resilience. Perhaps you can attribute that to her happy nature, or at least her desire to remain happy despite her difficult personal history, but even through her worst days, she’s always managed to pick herself up and make a new plan. In the end, I believe she is meant to be okay. She attributes that to the influence of her mother who, according to Bianca, never let herself wallow in anything bad.

Bianca, like so many grownups, misses the fearless nature of her younger self. The nature of adolescent “trying things on to see what fits” enables young people to do, say and wear some crazy things. Bianca’s life experience, particularly living through the pandemic, made her much more reserved, particularly in new social situations and when forging new relationships. I made friends so much easier because I wasn’t afraid of talking to people in the same way that I am now. Post-COVID, I lost some of that fearlessness.

Despite that, when I asked her what has gotten better now that she’s an adult, she replied pretty much most everything else. She is autonomous now, and having come from a more restrictive Haitian culture growing up, she appreciates her ability to make her own choices and live life according to her terms.

I care more about pleasing myself and appearing in the world as I see myself, compared to what the person on the street going to think. I’ve learned to express myself as I choose to.

Of course, like most Haitian parents, her mom wanted her to go right into nursing school right out of high school, but Bianca chose her own, perhaps more circuitous route. Though Bianca thinks her mom struggled with that decision, she also feels that over time, her mom now understands that Bianca is who she is now because of the path she took. More important, she likes who I am. The best part of her journey so far, is that she has no regrets.

Sage advice

All that life experience that molded her has yielded some great advice for this next generation of young people. Here are a few gems that she offered:

  • Be you as loudly and proudly as you can. I am loving that they are going out there and making mistakes and failing because out of your failures are going to come your successes. That is where you find yourself.
  • This is not an end-all, be-all. This is not the generation where we’re going to be in a career for forty years, toiling, putting your head down. No. You can do something, try it out, if it works, fantastic. If it doesn’t, move. You can pivot.
  • You can make plans. The idea of having to be stuck in a space ‘just because’ it’s what everyone else wants for you…you can be “I hate this job now so I’m going to continue to look for a job and leave when I have the chance to.” Coming out of high school, this is your time to do that.
  • You don’t have to buy everything. You’re going to want to, the temptation is there, the instant gratification of PayPal and pay by Four and layaway, it makes it so tempting – you don’t have to do it.

Bianca’s self-care regimen

  • When I need to move, I move.
  • I’m a very creative person. I like to learn new things: I’ve learned how to bend wire, crochet, make bracelets; I constantly pick up new hobbies. It gives my brain work and focuses my attention to things. One of my biggest ones is my makeup and hair. I love to change my hair as often as I can, playing around with colorful makeup, different looks; I’m not an artist sitting down drawing on paper, but I can sit and paint my face a variety of colors for hours on end and it brings me great joy.
  • My favorite self-care thing is being out in nature as much as I possibly can.

Tune in to the full episode on YouTube! Click the video below!

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