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A Second Chance

Former Colts Cheerleader Battles Mental Illness, Pursues Lifelong Dream

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing

It was 1999 and Denae Ball slipped into her sleek, sparkly Colts cheerleader uniform and marched onto the football field to dance, cheer and wave to the roaring crowd. From the sidelines and in the spotlight, she was the picture of health. Pom-poms in hand, she hit her mark and fit the bill as a bubbly cheerleader. Inside the crevices of her mind, however, something wasn’t right.

“I put on a smile and sugarcoated my feelings when I was out in public,” says Ball, who cheered for the Colts from 1999-2000. “But when I came home, things got really dark. Deep down I felt completely inadequate.”

Curled into a ball on the couch, Ball shook, sobbed and questioned her very existence.

“I was in turmoil,” says Ball, now 41. And she hadn’t a clue about how to turn things around. It seemed simpler to sweep her emotions under the rug and forge ahead, both on the field and off. Though her low moments were intensely low, she also experienced times of utter elation. But even those euphoric highs got to be too much.

“I felt out of my mind,” Ball says. “I was talking so fast that people around me couldn’t keep up with my thoughts.”

It turns out, Ball was manic-depressive (or bipolar), though she wouldn’t receive that diagnosis for some time.

Instead of seeking medical advice or therapy, Ball turned to drugs to escape the darkness.

“When you have mental illness, you want instant relief from the twists and turns of your mind,” says Ball, who spent two and a half years on hard drugs, including marijuana, opiates, crack, cocaine and heroin. The lifestyle took its toll on every relationship in her life, including those with her children, Mylon and Amari, both teenagers at the time.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Ball was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Through the years, Ball tried every medication under the sun—from herbal supplements and vitamins to mood-stabilizing medications such as Prozac. Some worked, some didn’t.

One day when she was feeling completely flattened by depression, she tried something radical. She expressed gratitude.

“When you’re thankful for what you have, the hourglass turns around the other way so that instead of feeling depleted, you feel filled,” Ball says.

She thought about all the people in her life who never left her corner, including her family, friends, ministers and God.

“So often we tend to operate out of a place of lack rather than out of a place of abundance,” Ball says. “We wallow in self-pity, and usually that’s because we spend so much time comparing ourselves with others.”

Mark Twain said that comparison is the death of joy. It creates feelings of envy, low self-esteem and depression. Ball spent years convinced that she was not good enough — until she experienced clarity. That’s when she began to actively pursue her lifelong goal of becoming a massage therapist — a dream that took shape as a young child.

“As a little girl, I visited my Aunt Cynthia, and she had me massage and scratch her scalp,” Ball says. “She just loved it, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to do this as a career.”

Ball lived in Atlanta for a time where she took a course in massage while simultaneously working as an apprentice under a friend of hers who owned a massage studio. When Ball moved to Indianapolis in the fall of 1998, she began working in various spas and chiropractic offices. When her addiction overtook her, however, her life ambitions took a backseat, as did everything else.

“My life basically slid to the back burner as my illness took over,” Ball says. Once she re-engaged with her passion, healing followed.

“When I massage people, I fall into almost a meditative state where I find calmness, reflection and gratitude,” says Ball, who began offering free massages for women at the Julian Center, an organization that supports victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other life crises.

Ball’s greatest ally throughout her mental health struggle has been God. Though she was raised in the church, it wasn’t until 2005 that she had an awakening of sorts.

“I was smoking weed, and I attended one of those ‘come as you are’ churches,” Ball says. Even as she abused drugs, she prayed for the strength to break her addiction. She also prayed for protection, power and peace. She received all three.

“Even though I turned my back on God, He never forsake me,” Ball says. Neither did her husband, Kevin, her mother, Cindy, or her pastors at Living Water Fellowship Church, Kim and Steve Outlaw.

Ball is grateful that God has helped her battle her demons and conquer her depressive thoughts. She no longer is considered bipolar and is now the owner of Angel Touch Therapy & Consulting in Avon. She’s currently enrolled at the Indiana Therapeutic Massage School to obtain her massage licensing and certification, which she expects to get by the end of the year.

After having suffered with bipolar and paranoia for more than 22 years, Ball has learned to put her trust in God and is now healthy, happy and full of hope.

“My struggles have made me into the strong woman I am today,” Ball says. “I have much more growth to obtain, but I am currently fearless in my walk and path.”

She’s passionate about voicing authenticity and boldly sharing her story of how God led her to realize that there is hope beyond the hurt and pain of dealing with mental illness.

“The moment you start acting like life is a blessing, it starts feeling like one,” Ball says.

For more information about Angel Touch Therapy & Consulting, visit angeltouchtlc.com.

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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