Dancers suffer for their craft. Body aches and pains are an expected hazard of the job, and we learn to push through it. My persistence and positive attitude have served me well in life, but earlier this year I could no longer tolerate the immense pain spreading throughout my body. I scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist in hopes that I had bursitis, or something stretches and rest could cure. Instead, he uttered two words that shook me to my core: Hip Dysplasia.
I had been diagnosed and treated as an infant, and thought the condition was behind me. After a whirlwind of appointments, I was sent to a specialist in Nashville who recommended hip reconstructive surgery and arthroscopy to repair a torn labrum. She asked me if I had a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which I had heard of but knew nothing about, so I looked it up—my jaw dropped when I read the diagnostic checklist. Many seemingly unrelated symptoms I had experienced throughout my life were stacked in one neat column, alongside the words no cure. The glimmer of hope I held to continue dancing at the level I’ve worked hard to reach began to fade. Instead, I could see a future of recurring joint dislocations, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and hernias as my body basically falls apart piece by piece. This is a terrifying thought.
Amid dealing with this blow to my physical health, I am less than a year into recovery from an eating disorder and still trying to take care of myself in my new reality. Gone is the idea of self-care being optional – it is now a necessity. I’ve changed my thoughts and beliefs on self-care in a number of ways. At one time, I pictured it as pedicures, massages, mini-vacations…an indulgence that is earned, but never really deserved. I continue to battle the demons of unworthiness, but I’m giving power to those voices from people who love me and tell me that I am strong, that I am more than a dancer, that I have more in life to give. I hope to eventually find consistency and physical stability in my life. It’s both beautiful and ironic that at this time last year, I so strongly refused to listen to my body’s desperate cries for food, rest, and safety. Now, my existence revolves around caring for and nurturing my body so that I can enjoy the peaceful moments when my pain lifts, or my son’s joyous laughter chases it away from my bones. My journey of learning to live with a chronic illness is just beginning, and as scary as my future seems, I also feel strangely well-equipped. These trials have awakened a newfound strength in me, and even though sometimes I struggle to simply make it through the day, my history of doing just that has been pretty good so far.