Thursday, December 03, 2015

The ostrich effect

I've been finding it really hard to write these days, because actually I've been finding these days really hard. 

When I say days, I actually mean months. Nearly 9 months in fact. 

I kinda lost my fire. There were glimpses, here and there. Hot spots, you might say. 
A show which which reignited the flame.
A night out where the music has flooded everything else out.
A class where I was overwhelmed and inspired by the energy of my students. 
Largely however, that fire has felt more like trying to light a match with a gale-force wind blowing in my face. I've felt I've been fighting things which were out with my control. Fighting and losing.

Pain: Such a little word for something that can change you and your life so much. 

I know my body well. I've been a dancer for 20+ years and I see this as a professional requirement. I know how relaxed or tight each muscle is. I know when I am somewhat out of alignment, and I usually know exactly needs moving to get me back up and running. I know when my stomach needs to avoid food for a while, and I'm not talking about weight issues here. In fact, I know my body so well that I could tell you where to look to find a pimple on my back that I hadn't seen or been told was there! I can 'sense' it. 

This complete body awareness is, I think, what has given me an edge in dance all these years. It is what allows my body to respond to sounds without consciously having to process the information in my brain. It's what allows me to lose myself in the music. It frees me up from the thoughts of 'what to do' so that I can be fully present in my interactions with my audience. 

I have been so lucky. 

The unlikely thing was that I didn't realise nor appreciate it. They say "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". This is not the case here. For these past months I have wished it was gone! The downside of such intense awareness is that, if I can feel a small pimple.. Image what happens when I get an injury! 

All dancers get injuries. You use your body for any job, day in day out, and it will have repercussions. I've had a constantly recurring neck and shoulder pain from a slipped disc my neck, caused by wildly swinging a saidi stick above my head every evening in my show. Then I realised it was actually just too heavy for me and a switched to a lighter one (which had the added benefit of helping me completely change my style of saidi dance and has actually been one of the best things I ever did!). The pain lingers though, despite my belated understanding and change of behaviour. It's amazing how long the body will bear a grudge, or perhaps I should be amazed at how forgiving it has actually been all these years!!!! 

With that particular injury, I've always been able to fix it, or ignore it, or at least dance through it. The adrenaline from dance has always been enough to block the worst of the pain while performing. I saw dance as a miracle drug- able to remove pain for as long as I kept dancing! 

Then, 9 months ago, doing I don't know what, I manage to slip a disk in the very base of my back (L5-C1). I didn't know that's what I had done and I did all my usual fail safes for fixing myself. I threw ibuprofen pills down my neck like they were sweeties. I went for massages. I went to my osteopath. I stretched. I rested. I tried strengthening exercises. I had a few weeks where I didn't dance at all.  I did all the things I 'knew' that the doctor would say, and (wrongly) assumed the pain would just eventually go away. 

When I was on my recent trip to China I went for numerous massages hoping someone would be able to just 'pop' it into place. The thing was that the pain was registering inside my hip joint... And pins and needles and pain all down my leg. So I stupidly (in hindsight) thought it was hip related not back related. I did have one massage that managed to pop something back into place and as I danced to a baladi song in class 20mins later I actually had tears running down my face because of joy for the moment mixed with sadness for all those lost dances. That first pain free dance in 9 months was an incredibly emotional experience!  Sadly the 'fix' didn't last. Within a hour the pain was back. Just as bad as before. I really didn't think there was anything that could be done. After all, I'd been taking drugs and they weren't working. I trusted my own ability to heal myself too much. 

I learned to struggle on and live with it when I didn't have to. Trying all the things that usually work, getting more and more depressed when they didn't . In fact, I got so down this year that I actually decided to quit dance. What was the point, when the joy was gone? What would I have left as a dancer if all I had left was the theory and the mechanics (even they were limited) and no passion? I was distraught. 

When I came back I knew that I had to see a doctor and go for an MRI scan just to rule that out. It was that or accept the end of my dance career. 

In Cairo I went to a dr friend of mine. He prescribed me some heavy duty pain killers, and sent me off for a scan. This is only the 2nd MRI I have had in my life, and this time, as it had the first time, a power cut happened MIDSCAN. How unlucky am I?! Stuck in a freezing cold room in this machine until the generator kicked in and we had to restart the scan! 
however, by the next day.... Yes, I was able to get my result that quickly, a huge plus side to getting these things checked out in Cairo rather than in UK!, I knew what was wrong.  Not only that , but to my intense surprise, the new painkillers were actually doing their job! They worked where other antiinflammatories and painkillers hadn't. I've got physio exercises too. 

That weekend, I was able to dance relatively pain free. I couldn't believe it. These pills worked where all the brufen in the world hadn't! I felt so relieved and so stupid all at the same time. 

Why did it take me so long when it involved maybe even losing the thing I loved most?!!! Why hadn't I gone to the doctor sooner? I will tell you why- I was so scared I would be told I had to quit dance altogether. That's why. The pain got me down and the thought of what I might 'have' to do, or stop doing, got me down even more. I was ostriching, not wanting to face the fear and making myself worse in the process. 

Now, my head is out the sand and the pain is gone. I am able to get back into the music and things are looking brighter again. I am realizing that my body has been compensating for such a long time that I am having to retrain certain muscles and movements. Not surprising I'm sure, but weird for me. These are moves which have been 'natural' to me for so long that having to teach myself again is very peculiar. Wonderful, because now I can do them without pain. And I am so much more appreciative of what my body can do, now that I am fully aware of all the things it couldn't for so long. 

It's great to feel free again! 

The moral of the story: I'm a dancer. Not a doctor. 

So in future I plan to try and respond  quicker to aches and pains by getting them checked out properly by someone who is actually trained to do that! 

I hope this hasn't come across as too whinging of a post. I have not been feeling like myself for the majority of this year, and wanted to explain why! Thanks for getting through to the end of this! 

If you are also a dancer and in pain.... I hope you seek, and get the professional help getting through it that you need because nothing is worse that losing that exquisite joy of dance! 

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