My name is Anna Smith Higgs. I am a stroke survivor, a burlesque dancer and an activist for sex for the disabled. I am passionate about strokes and life for the disabled. We are often overlooked, and our voices go unheard. I am here to change that.
At the time of my stroke my son Henry was a month old and the whole family were at my Dad’s. It was going to be special because it was my son Henry’s first Christmas. We were all so excited and looking forward to the day more than any other Christmas that I could remember. We got to my dad’s at 11am and were opening presents with my two sisters and all of our partners and my mum and dad. We’d all had a few glasses of wine with our dinner and it was 5pm. I remember it so well. Harry potter was on the TV.
I started to feel dizzy as if I had drunk too much. I hadn’t drunk the previous 9 months because I was pregnant. I tried to say “I’m 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 a coffee out to me and I went to pick it up with my right hand, but dropped it as my right side went numb. Then I got up and tried to walk, but it was more of a stumble. My mum took us all home. She had to undress me and put me to bed. The family just thought I was drunk.
It wasn’t until the Boxing Day when my sister came around to see me that they realised something was seriously wrong with me. An ambulance came and they knew instantly that I’d had a stroke. My mum and dad didn’t believe them! I then spent the next 5 months in hospital, crying every single day as I couldn’t accept what I had become!
I couldn’t accept that I couldn’t walk, and doctors told me everyday that the changes of me walking again were very slim. I really couldn’t accept that one of my arms wouldn’t move and I used to say over and over again “Move little finger!. Please just move for me!“. Also, I couldn’t accept now being partially sighted in both eyes. I have a tunnel vision and I only see half of the world.
I hated the fact that I had missed 5 months of Henry’s life. My partner Craig brought him to see me every day, but it wasn’t the same as putting him to bed, making his milk, feeding him, etc.
I was right handed before my stroke, but I suddenly had to learn to do everything with my left hand. I had to try strapping my dominate hand up and doing everything with the other hand. It was so hard! When I was released from the hospital I made sure that I walked to the car. It took everything I had to do that, but I wanted to prove the doctors wrong – and I did!
The next task was to change Henry’s nappy. I did it using my left hand and left foot. Henry learnt to turn at the right times to help me. I then spent many, many unhappy years fighting depression and panic attacks. I was always so scared that I would have another stroke. Life was not exciting, I was a broken shell and I hated it. Everything the stroke had taken from me – I wanted back! I was going to fight to the death to get a life any kind of life back and not the one I had.
I wanted a tattoo, so I went out and got one. I went to a boxercise class and although I couldn’t do much of it, I loved being with people. I wanted to experience everything! I met a Rabbi for afternoon tea – why? -because I wanted to learn about it! I tried abseiling but hated it. Then I took a class in burlesque and whip cracking opened a new world to me! I’ve done whip cracking and body burning. I’ve tried pole dancing and nipple-tassled with the best of them! Now this is where my love for burlesque really took off. By chance I meet Sadie Sinner. I don’t know where it came from, but I asked her would she help me put a show together for the hospital that looked after me. She said that she’d help me and that was where my love for performing began!
My stage name is Cinnamon Cheeks. For my very first show I asked my friend Jules if she would help me to do a dance. Her stage name is Flossie Fru Fru. Together we are Flossie Cheeks!
We did a dance at the end of my first show that nobody knew we were going to do. I was in my wheelchair and Flossie was my nurse. The dance was OK, but not one of our best. I loved the feeling I got from being on stage and the confidence I now had in my body. To stand on stage and take all if your clothes off being a fully abled body takes gut, but as plus size disabled girls?! However, when only one arm works my moves are limited so I went down the route of comedy burlesque. I can do that. I can make people laugh.
Eventually I felt the need for another challenge, so I performed my stroke journey, to Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You”. I performed it at “Chari Tease” when it became a yearly event and was asked to perform at the WOW festival at the Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, London. I’d met the wonderful Rubyyy Jones at this stage who teaches my courses that I run for Chari Tease. She inspired me to do this act and helped me so much with her knowledge.
Burlesque has given me back my life, my confidence. I am a disabled performer and I don’t care what anyone thinks! I’m here to make a difference. My stroke happened so I can change the way people think about the disabled. If you were to look at me, you wouldn’t see there is anything wrong straight away. That’s why I needed to do this dance. I needed people to see what was wrong with me and what I have to go through – how I have fought for everything.
The dance left people crying with shock. This was exactly what I wanted. I wanted people to think about what a stroke is and what the stroke did to me.During my last performance in October I challenged myself again, with stand-up comedy and magic. I had never done either before, but It has been great fun trying. If I ever fail I say “so what?”. Life is for living and trying different things. I have used the performances to raise money for charity.
Everybody is entitled to love and everybody deserves a chance to fulfil the need for and to have sex. But, some of the us have difficulties finding love, or knowing what to say to the opposite or same sex, or whomever we find attractive. I have sought help with all aspects of dating. I gave a talk in June. I have event written a chapter called “sex after stroke” in a book! I speak to people daily offering advice on how to have sex after a stroke; positions to use, sex toys to use, what has and hadn’t worked for people. Sex and disability seems to be an underground thing, but disabled people have sex too!
I joined forces with my local radio station and now co present the health and wellbeing show with a presenter on a Monday. We talk about everything to do with the title. We laugh and joke and it’s fun! But, we always get over the importance of what the show is about. Next year I will be putting on night of Burlesque and Variety Performance Arts on any form at a venue that’s is lovely and on the ground floor for accessibility.
I have so many exciting opportunities coming my way and none of them would have happened if I hadn’t had my stroke. I have so much to be thank the stroke for. I thought my life was over, but it’s just its direction that had changed.
You can read Anna’s blogs and find out more here