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Unstoppable Women: Anna Smith Higgs

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Unstoppable Women: Anna Smith Higgs

22 Aug 2022

Anna is an unstoppable woman who learned how to perform burlesque after a stroke left her partially paralyzed. You can find her performing on the West End of London on Fridays. (5min read)

Anna Smith Higgs: a white, red-headed woman in a pink satin robe holding up her partially paralyzed arm during a burlesque routine

Nicole
I'm a bit familiar with you and your journey but would you be able to give me a little bit more of a background on you for the people that don't know?

Anna
I had my stroke on Christmas Day, exactly a month to the day that my son was born. Because it was Christmas Day and it was my first Christmas with my son, I hadn't drunk [alcohol] in nine months.

My family thought that I was drunk because I came across like I was really drunk. My words were slurring. I was laughing. And my mum took me home and put me to bed. It wasn't until the next morning that they realized that there was something wrong.

My sister came around to see me the next day, because I'd left all of my presents at my dad's. She came round and she was like, “No, there's something wrong.”

She found my mum, and mum phoned the ambulance. The [paramedics] came round and said that it was a stroke. My family was like, “No, it can't be, she's far too young to have that,” and [my family] didn't believe them.

I then spent the next six months in the hospital learning to walk, talk, and write again. The stroke was right sided, and I was right-handed.

Nicole
That must have been challenging. How did that change your life?

Anna
It changed my life in an instant. I couldn't be a mum to my son. I was breastfeeding at the time, but because I was on super strength blood thinners and loads and loads of medication, I couldn't breastfeed. So, I lost that.

I couldn't change his bum. I couldn't get him dressed. I couldn't do anything that I was used to doing. I mean, I couldn't brush my hair or wipe my own ass. I couldn't do any of that for myself. My independence went within an instant.

My mum was there. She used to have to wash me. I mean, even cleaning my teeth was a challenge because I wasn't used to doing it with the left hand. I found everything hard. And the stroke took out most of my eyesight as well, so I'm partially sighted in both of my eyes.

I went from quite outgoing to being a scared little child is how I like to describe it. Very, very scared, very frightened, very unsure of what was going to happen to me next, what the next challenge was going to be.

Nicole
How did you end up discovering burlesque?

Anna
Well, this took quite a while. My stroke was 17 years ago, and I've only gotten into burlesque in the last five years.

I learned to change Henry's bum with my hand and my foot. I learned to write, how to tie my hair up, and how to put a bra on – it not being as easy as your product makes it.

I just learned little things every day.

Then I found a burlesque class online and I just went to it. My family said, “you're not going to be able to do that.” And I went and I did it. I was like “oh this is fun.”

But I couldn't do what the other girls were doing. I couldn't put the compression stockings on and then take them off. I couldn't do anything like that. I decided to seek out one to one private tutoring, and I saw professional dancers who worked on what I could do rather than what I couldn't do.

The Act has just evolved from that.

Anna Smith Higgs, a white, red-headed woman wearing a corset and leaning against a wall made of pink flowers


Nicole
That's amazing. What do you love about burlesque?

Anna
Oh, the freedom. The freedom.

Nicole
Are there other things like it that bring you joy in life?

Anna
Oh, everything brings me joy in life. Life itself brings me joy. Everything brings me joy: shopping, my family, my son, my dog, everything brings me joy.

Nicole
I remember you sharing an article about intimacy after stroke. Is this something you wish were talked more about?

Anna
Yes! Because when you're in the hospital, sex is never ever discussed. You never sit down with a doctor who explains what it's going to be like. You don’t realize that your partner is going to be scared that they're going to hurt you. You're scared that you could bring on another stroke just by having sex.

There's lots of different things that need to be taken into account, but you're not going to have another stroke just by having sex. That's not going to happen. But at the time, that's a real fear. And I lost my sex life for a long, long, long time. Far too many years than I care to mention, because I was frightened, and my partner was frightened as well.

Nicole
What helped you or both of you overcome that?

Anna
I think that that was more me learning to accept what had happened to me. Accept that I'd had a stroke and being fine with that and being completely content that this is my life now. I needed to make changes to live a happy life. I needed to start living, because I wasn't living.

Nicole
What has helped you create more intimacy in your relationship?

Anna
I've been with my partner for 24 years, so we've been together a very long time. Most relationships do go for a hiatus – you get comfortable with each other – but I think it's just trying to keep the excitement alive. Trying to still find time to show each other that you love each other and that you still fancy each other.

Nicole
That's a great lesson for everybody. Are there things that you've learned that have helped improve your pleasure after your stroke?

Anna
Yes, toys. Toys are fantastic.

“You never take no for an answer. If you want to do something, you need to find that fire within you and just go ahead and just do it. No matter what.”


Nicole
What tips or advice do you have for women who may be newly diagnosed or maybe struggling after a stroke?

Anna
Don't take no for an answer. Don't ever settle. I mean, I got told that I'd never walk again. And look at me now. I'm on a West End stage in London. You know you never take no for an answer. If you want to do something, you need to find that fire within you and just go ahead and just do it. No matter what.

Nicole
And my last question, are there any people or women that you admire?

Anna
Katrina Louise is a lady at the burlesque club and she's a new mom. She's breastfeeding and she's just takes everything in stride. She's a working mum, the main breadwinner, and she's still bringing up this tiny little human into such a fantastic little boy. And she spins from her hair. She's just incredibly talented.

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