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My Last Tango with Trauma

October 14, 2019

My Last Tango with Trauma

October 14, 2019
Posted in: Lyme Disease | Reading Time: 12 minutes

Trauma. Who hasn't experienced their fair share of trauma by middle age? Hell, the entire country is experiencing at least one traumatic experience per day each time Trump tweets. But like everyone else who's grown numb to Trump's vulgar assault on the nation, we've also grown a bit jaded every time someone conveys their latest traumatic experience. Yet trauma, in fact, a multitude of traumas, is exactly what I faced and worked through in the past two, post-Lyme-treatment years.

Frankly, it's traumatizing in itself that I was left traumatized by Lyme disease. "Say what," you ask? During the five years in treatment, I buckled down and did what I had to do to make it out the other side. I did the hard work. I researched. I experimented. I kept accurate, detailed records for my doctors. I did everything by the book and colored inside the lines. So when I was through with treatment, I expected to reap the rewards of all that hard work and get back to living an active, thriving life. Ha! That's exactly the kind of naivete that sets you up for a long fall down the rabbit hole of Post Traumatic Stress disorder. I didn't see it coming. PTSD doesn't happen to people like me--a post-grad psychologist with her shit together. In my mind, PTSD is reserved for soldiers or victims of violent crimes, not for someone who can rationalize herself out of any labyrinth of self-doubt. But it did, and it was a shock that it could happen to me. So yes, I was traumatized by the fact I was traumatized.

PTSD after Lyme disease is an insult to injury. I was left raw from the physical abuse of illness, the stigma in the medical community, and the assault from random doubting Thomases on social media. While I felt vindicated that a real doctor confirmed the illness, treated me as I needed, and that I made it through the other side, the emotional side of me said, "Finally! Now that you're all done dealing with that physical crap, it's time to deal with all MY shit!" All those years spent putting my emotional needs on hold caught up to me. After the meds had stopped, and the inflammation had cleared, it felt like waking up from a coma. Everything hits me so hard. Sometimes, it was as if I felt all the pain in the world all at once. I knew I had more work to do before I felt normal again and I knew what I had to do.

First, I had to let go of the guilt I had from stepping away from the very community that supported me while I was ill. While the entire Lyme community rages on in activism, those battling PTSD from it are left trying to rebuild themselves, redefine who they are because whether you want it to or not, Lyme changes every aspect of your body and soul.  I knew the complex politics and science of Lyme disease would consume me, keeping me locked into that only label I knew: Lymie.  While nobody shamed me for not continuing to advocate for Lyme disease, I had to let go of that self-inflicted guilt. So I abandoned social media and the news cycle to take care of my mental health.

Next, I reached out to rebuild friendships that were put on hold through my years in treatment. After all, it wasn't their fault that the friendship fell to the sidelines. But each time I did, I was left empty. After years of being a rock-solid friend to turn to for advice on everything from marriage to careers, it seemed nobody was interested in returning the favor. One of my closest friends told me that she didn't want to hang out with me unless our conversations were fun. Thus, more trauma ensued. While it was liberating to tell her to kindly go fuck her self, it was still a shock to discover friends who always leaned on me, wanted nothing to do with me when I was broken and needed them.

So I paid for someone to listen to me. Validation from a professional that what I experienced was true trauma, was just what the doctor ordered. It also helped to hear that feeling traumatized by 45 every day was normal. In fact, it was kind of funny to hear that most psychologists' businesses are booming since Trump took office. You see, the timing of waking up from my Lyme "coma" to Trump's presidency for me was, well, the worst. It's bad enough to have to deal with all the trauma from Lyme, but the daily outrage in the news cycle was the cherry on top of my perpetual panic attacks.  If I wasn't still reeling from being gaslit by the medical community, then I was horrified to witness gaslighting on a national scale and wondered why or how it was allowed to stand. Short answer: because there are a lot of cruel and deplorable people in the world who enjoy hurting others.

It's funny, for someone who holds a master's in psychology and experienced a fair share of trauma before Lyme, you'd think I'd recognize physical symptoms of panic disorder right away. But I didn't. Panic attacks feel ghastly. The shaking, the breathlessness, the constant sweating, massive weight loss and insomnia, all of the physical symptoms suck balls. And if you think your PTSD only stems from your current trauma, think again. Because with every panic attack, that old shit comes right back up again. Old traumas are relived over and over with every attack. Panic attacks can seem to come out of nowhere. Most of the time, they came when I had small illnesses, like the flu. It was as if my body went into shock with every tiny illness, afraid that if not addressed immediately, I'd fall right back down the endless chronic illness hole.  But a lot of the times, they came from the news cycle. Truly, I have been terrified of civil or world war ever since 45 came into office.

Despite the help from a counselor, the rage that coursed through me had nowhere to go and I had to find a place for it. I found peace in some of the weirdest places, like the NY Times daily crossword puzzle and mindless happy sitcoms. I latched onto anything that would be a distraction from Lyme disease and the clusterfuck this administration has brought to the country. I taught myself Web 2.0 coding, HTML 5 and CSS 3. I learned new graphic design skills and became more involved in the WordPress community. Through it all, I realized I am happiest when I'm learning. Still, my body needed to physically discharge the rage-energy built up over the years in treatment.  Activities such as running, cycling and yoga were no longer an option as they contributed more to my stiff joints and hypermobility issues.  What could I possibly do that would be physically active and make me use my noodle too?  I needed a distraction and I need it yesterday!

Enter ballroom dancing. While ballet may have been my first love (I hold an undergraduate degree in modern and ballet), ballroom dance was "The One."  In my post-graduate years, I studied ballroom dance, but I never completed my goals. At my age, and my condition, I realized it's now or never to complete my studies because this body isn't going to get any better than it is right now. Mr. Wild Dingo was not only happy to support and accommodate my dancing dreams but wanted to participate as well. We set up our individual dance goals and goals we have for our dance partnership. In essence, I returned to my roots, the thing that grounded me the most in my early adult life.

Salsa is just what the doctor ordered for trauma. Salsa with my instructor is fast, furious and fun as f**k! 

Things were going along swimmingly for us as a dance couple. With each social interaction with like-minded people, I started to calm down from PTSD. I still had to deal with being over-stimulated at times, but I learned to balance it with an equal amount of quiet downtime. It's funny how even happy stimulation can drive you over the edge. I used to see that kind of flip in Loki, who'd be happily playing, his energy going up, up, up, until he'd flip and his energy turned from pleasant stimulation to rage. Now that exact thing happens to me. I  busy myself with lots of activity and socializing to the point where I just snap and lose my shit. I can feel Loki empathizing and quietly snickering at me, "I told you so, Mom. Sometimes woo just can't help but have too much fun, then woo go Cujo."

Mr. Wild Dingo and I "pinned on a number." This a common thing to do in competitive sports when you're not ready. You just pin on a number and do it or you never will.

I adjusted to our weekly dance schedule, took quiet time alone when I needed it and life went on. Six months into our lessons, our teacher suggested a solo tango routine for a showcase that was only six weeks away. What better way to tackle social anxiety and Panic disorder than to perform the most vulnerable style of dance in front of an audience of strangers?  I'm a big fan of flooding fears, at least in myself. I don't recommend you do it to others. But that's what doing a tango performance with only six weeks to learn the choreography is. Pair that with partnering with an inexperienced dancer and you have a recipe for true fear. Mr. Wild Dingo is a fantastic dancer. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in rhythm and timing. Performing is a whole other animal. If PTSD didn't end our marriage, then this certainly would.

50 Dances at Age 50. Just do it.

Just do it. Our instructor, R, was incredulous when I confessed the anxiety I had. It's true. I drip confidence. Some would say I am overconfident. When I want to get shit done, I just do it, whether I'm fit for the task or not. Still, I couldn't assuage that nagging feeling that 6 weeks was a tight schedule. R eventually admitted that it typically takes 4-6 months for any singular choreographed routine to be performance-ready. Here we were 4 weeks away with unfinished choreography. Once that tight timing was validated, it went a long way in helping me deal with the stress. It never pays to lie to, or gaslight, a person in fear. Truth and validation go a long way in overcoming fear.

Just do it. This isn't brain surgery. It's just dance. It's just one tango. That kind of thinking and re-reading some of my favorite books on Zen Buddhism kept me grounded. I was reminded again how that philosophy carried me through some of my most fearsome times.

Some might consider this hairdo traumatizing. I just woke up this way. 

Just do it. Nobody is going to die if we miss a step or worse, fall on our faces.  In fact, we did have a few missteps. I don't know if anyone noticed. I just smiled and tangoed on like I always do. The next day we followed it up with a 40-dance showcase where we were judged. Last month we performed 50 dances in a local, non-competitive, but adjudicated showcase. Some I danced with Mr. Wild Dingo, some I danced with my instructor for my personal goals. All the while preparing for the second showcase, I had to deal with chronic joint issues, arthritis in my big toes and a slipped SI injury all on top of PTSD. I've had to add in pilates, physical therapy, ballet, chiropractic and acupuncture to ease the pain levels in a body that is just regaining stamina. It takes a lot to manage my body in a way that allows me to enjoy life again. Sure, I could NOT dance at all, avoid having to do any of this. Sure I can live a life doing crosswords and watching sitcoms. But damn, that is such a waste. So you do what you have to do. Just like you do when you have to advocate for your own healthcare. You just do it.

I'm finally in a place where I'm happy and at times even peaceful. Am I recovered? Yes. Have I returned to my pre-Lyme self? Hell no. I never will. I said goodbye to that person a long time ago and made my peace with it.  But I've returned to being a functioning human being. And that's saying something for the utter trauma I, along with hundreds of thousands endured or continue to endure.

Smiling because it's over? Maybe. But mainly smiling because it happened.

I tangoed my way out of trauma and learned to always put my best foot (and face) forward. Because life is a performance. These are lessons learned in dance. These are lessons learned in Lyme disease.

Ain't Too Proud to Beg

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