NEW BLOG ALERT: The Secret Ingredient of a Great Team
In this post I talk about the unique quality that separates a good doctor from a great doctor and helps to keep you feeling empowered through recovering.
“When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire…” One of my favorite lyrics by Stars’ Your Ex Lover’s Dead. A song so close to my heart because of a dance that I performed my senior year of high school. It was choreographed by one of my best friends, Travis, and performing it was the first time I truly recognized my growth and potential as a dancer. It was the first time I realized I was mature and had a talent and that just mayyybbbeee I could succeed at this. I doubted myself a lot growing up. Always questioning if I was enough. I was so hard on myself and constantly insisted on obtaining the closest version of perfection in everything I did. I’m sure that’s where my work ethic comes from and unfortunately also my innate craving to control and push a result. Dance has always felt like home. Passion has always driven me far over money or fame. I wanted to do everything that involved dance. I loved it all and didn’t know where to start. Or sometimes I would know the way and have trouble stepping off the ledge, into the unknown. Sometimes I have trouble embracing my fear, collecting it and turning the fears into fuel. I still struggle with that. I maybe always will. As long as there’s a struggle I’m happy. It’s the act of succumbing to fear that eventually kills us slowly and spirit first. Throughout the year of performing that piece I felt my artistry growing. Recognizing that was huge for me as I had always been a technician and a perfectionist and would rarely surrender to sharing myself. No matter how hard I would try to let go I was always too afraid of the judgments. I went through so many periods where I just felt like I was stuck both in my training and performance quality and mentally/emotionally. Then occasionally, and usually suddenly, the feeling would go away and something would draw my attention to how much I had improved. It would always astonish me and seem like it came out of nowhere even though I knew it hadn’t. I knew it was because of all the hours, and sweat, and (good) pains, and thirst, and visualizing, and sleepless (usually twitching while marking movements in my bed) nights that had gotten me there. One starry-eyed night in NYC while competing with my studio Denise Wall’s Dance Energy we had been chosen to perform Your Ex Lover’s Dead in the New York City Dance Alliance National Finals Gala competing for the Critics Choice Award. That was also the night I had won the Senior National Title, something that meant a lot to me and still does. That opportunity launched me into almost everything I do today and taught me an unimaginable amount. It was a priceless opportunity that I will never forget and would recommend to any young dancer.
I was overwhelmed and over stimulated by all the excitement that night. I remember having about 2 min to quick-change from my solo costume, which was a white corset and calf length skirt, and into a different corset (with a minimum of 20 bra clasps up the back), 5 pound hand-beaded skirt, and -fingers crossed- a decent looking french twist. AKA a lightning fast and delicate situation with absolutely no time cushion built in. With the help of my soul sister Cami I stripped down so fast I pretty much blacked out and forgot what happened next. But I made it and with some time to spare. I said a prayer to the universe, which I always do before I enter a stage, and as I walked on to perform I felt like I was floating. It was completely ‘out of body’. Just pure happiness. I had rapid thoughts, realizations, gratitude, confidence, and love rush over me in the second the stage lights warmed my skin. I felt like I was going to cry, and laugh, and scream. And although everything was happening in a blissful blur around me while I was dancing I was safe. I felt free and calmer than ever. The stage was my home and I knew my soul belonged there in that moment and for my life. I had learned LOVE > FEAR. That feeling of accomplishment, hope, freedom, or a fire being relit inside of you.… whatever you want to call it…. That’s a break through. They’re available to us when we’re ready for them but we have to persevere through all the bad stuff FIRST: The boredom, the frustration, the feeling of hopelessness or stuck-ness, the cycling thoughts that make you want to post up, camp out and possibly even abort mission…. They’re inevitable and the more obstacles there are the bigger the reward. The rush. The fire. The bigger the breakthrough.
I imagine breakthroughs are called breakthroughs because it feels like you’re banging your skull into a wall for a tortuous amount of time questioning if you look insane to everyone around you, which you probably do, until one day the wall succumbs to the pressure and you break through to see a startling, brand new and breath taking world. One you could never have imagined with only the knowledge you had before.… And you know what? The headache is so worth it.
That’s what the past few months have felt like to me. Like periodically banging my head against the wall. Always feeling slightly insane. Knowing one day I can make a dented wall crumble to pieces and fade away in the shadow of a glorious new level of being. Accepting what I’m experiencing with love and understanding without demanding an explanation from it all…. Then there are times when the knowing only feels like hoping.
Life holds a series of plateaus and breakthroughs.
I ended up not being able to start PT for a month after surgery and when I did start it was very minimal. I’m talking almost no movement at all. Just a lot of soft tissue, scar tissue, ROM (Range Of Motion) and muscle activation work. I wasn’t cleared to do any strengthening for 6 weeks post op. Which is much longer than usual but my team is taking everything extremely cautiously with me and it takes a full 6 weeks for your new ligaments to set completely. Although I understand why and am totally on board with being extra cautious I’d be lying if I said I don’t cry every time I’m told something will take longer than I had expected. It’s happened so many times this year that my surgeon now knows to deliver any unexpected news while slowly backing out of the room. He then immediately sends a woman in, which I appreciate but also think is hilarious.
Get rid of the timeline. Set goals and intentions YES!!! But remain unattached to the timing. It adds too much pressure and rarely ever remains the same. Not to mention the fact that I keep feeling like the universe is laughing at our man-made idea of timelines, right before it crushes them and creates it’s own secret one that we just have to live out to find out. Lucky for us the universe is always right.
Since this injury I’ve been able to recognize so many plateaus and breakthroughs. I felt it big time during the 6 weeks before I could really start moving. While my range of motion was coming back with ease and absolutely no force, which I’m super thankful for, it seemed the more my swelling went away and my ROM improved the more my knee was popping, grinding, and clicking. And honestly, ANY movement or sounds that come from my knee after all it’s been through recently scare the sh*t out of me. So, for a long stretch of anxiety filled time I was scared all of the time. Everyday I left PT feeling confident and stronger until I felt a new sensation or a movement I didn’t recognize and it would launch me into thinking that my knee was “too loose” or something had somehow gone wrong. Which was highly unlikely considering I was doing the closest thing to nothing my body has ever experienced since I was curled in the womb. In fact, my PT Nick would tease me saying “You’re not going to roll over in bed, catch your toe on your blanket and tear your ACL”. He always manages to calm me down and crack me up. We would laugh so hard because of how ridiculous all my worries sounded and I always left comforted but at home I would still periodically convince myself of the worst and I’d often become terrified. I even found myself popping into my surgeons office a couple of times just so he could triple check that my ACL was still tight. I secretly love seeing everyone in the office and I think they love me too, so I may have abused my privileges for multiple reasons but the main one was for peace of mind. My knee was always okay and little by little the trust in it started to come back.
Your thoughts are the most powerful force you have.
Building the trust is the hardest part of rebuilding anything really. Your body, your brain, your heart. Trust is key in all. Your body is so quick to adjust to it’s circumstances it compensates instantly and miraculously for whatever weakness you have. It’s an amazing thing, but breaking the new habits created during a long term injury is incredibly challenging. Almost all of it is mental and most of that mental challenge is in learning to trust again. The biggest thing I’ve devoted myself to during this recovery process that I didn't do the last two times is my mental health. I decided I had to make my happiness, drive, positive energy, and willingness to perceive challenges as beautiful and to flow with change a consistent mindset no matter how difficult it got. This I believe heals the physical body more wholly but also cleanses the heart and mind, allowing for understanding and love towards the experience, and warding off jealousy and bitterness.
I’ve found this commitment is a constant effort. There are so many temptations of discouragement surrounding us environmentally and socially constantly there to remind us that this “isn’t in the plan”, making us feel left out and as though we’re falling behind. The moments of discouragement I face are so numerous I’ve lost count. I started searching for things to focus on to keep me from a negative headspace or to help drag me out of the opaque when I feel myself recoiling. I’ve found that there was one simple thing that consistently changed my day, which changed my weeks, which has then changed my ENTIRE experience:
….and I mean EVERYTHING.
When I was fresh out of surgery I would do it without even thinking. I would genuinely be so happy to take one less pain killer that day than the day before, or to roll over at night without being woken up by sharp sensations springing up my leg. I celebrated the first time my knee could bend enough to sit on the toilette and again when it was strong enough to actually squat over the toilette. Ohhhh, the simple things we take for granted... There was this time I was at Griffith Park observatory with my sister, Cara, who was visiting from Virginia. I was just so excited to be showing her around that I started walking up the stairs on accident and realized I was actually strong enough to walk up a stair and that it didn’t hurt or feel like I would collapse for the first time in 6 months…. DROP THE MIC CELEBRATION! I literally treat myself with a mani/pedi, my favorite treat, maybe a steak dinner and bottle of wine, or sometimes I just cheer myself on out loud… I treat myself to whatever I can access that will make me the happiest in that moment. And then BAM! It’s a double whammy. 1) I’m happy because I did something new or experienced a new “milestone” no matter how big or small it is and 2) I also get a treat?!
When you celebrate everything you get to really see how many tiny breakthroughs there are in a time where you feel like there’s nothing.. All those little breakthroughs are what build us up to the BIG breakthroughs. They’re always happening we just sometimes don’t see them or credit ourselves for them. I say “WHY NOT?!” Now that I look for reasons to celebrate I find myself celebrating ALL THE TIME! It’s brought so much positivity into my process even (ESPECIALLY) in the moments of plateauing.
Pretty much all of March and part of April felt like another plateau for me. While I was progressively doing more in PT I wasn’t feeling the strength I had wanted to feel for where I was in my “timeline” and I didn’t trust my new ligaments AT ALL yet. But I kept celebrating all the little things even when I was in moments of doubt. Just recently I was doing a lot of reflecting and realized just how far I had come. I was doing full lunges in all directions along with releve, passé, slow battements, using rotation, biking for an hour everyday, was close to having full ROM back, and even got to start doing a basic ballet barre and light yoga. I had no idea I had come so far because it was happening so slowly. The plateau effect was still there but something about it was so different. I was happy. I was content. And because of that I was powerful and felt totally in control in a situation totally out of my control.
It’s taken me a couple of decades to fully understand why they say "you can’t try to control what’s happening only how you perceive it and react to it". I’d like to take it one step further and mention that nothing is “happening to us”. When we think that way we give the experience all of our power. “I can’t believe this is happening to me” is claiming it as ours and brings with it a lot of weight and sometimes even shame as if we “deserve” it.
It’s not happening to you…. it’s just happening. It’s the experience you happen to be in and you get to decide how IT will EFFECT you and how YOU will AFFECT it! And THAT is SO empowering!!!
Celebrating has made me come to understand how gratitude truly works. I thought I understood it before and I consider myself a grateful person. But I didn’t necessarily live my everyday life being grateful for all things big and small and with the same vigor no matter what the size. I acknowledged my blessings frequently but couldn't always connect with the feeling in the every day stuff. You know the feeling. I LOVE the feeling. For me it’s bubbly, almost butterfly-like, and ocean deep in the pit of my stomach. It plants itself in my sacral chakra and grows up into my chest and out through my limbs in a tingling fashion. I KNOW that’s what the vibration of gratitude feels like and yet I found it so difficult to tap in to that sensation on a daily basis. My thoughts of gratitude sometimes felt shallow and sterile. It’s not enough to think gratefully you have to feel gratefully. “Celebrating” things made me feel a real happiness even if it was only for a second. When I turned my intention to looking for things to celebrate in order to feel that breath of joy I found joy every where and in everything. Those small moments add up like pennies. Then when practiced they nestle deeper and deeper and grow in authenticity. I had started to create a habit of celebrating that was turning into the richest gratitude for the most under appreciated things in my life.
Celebration is gratitude as kinetic energy.
List of things I’ve celebrated (….and these are just the stand out moments):
Every single card, email, text, Instagram, Snap, Tweet, thought that anyone has sent my way.
Every meal someone made or had delivered to me. Forever celebrating you.
Every second a friend has sent me prayer or positive energy.
Every moment a friend has spent with me, keeping me company, or nursing me back to health.
The first time I slept through the night after surgery.
Every time I took one less pain killer.
The first day I didn’t need a painkiller at all.
The first time I rolled over in bed without it waking me up.
The first time I slept on my stomach.
The first night I got a full night’s sleep.
When they took my gauze off and replaced it. That thing was naaasstyyyyy.
When I got my stitches out.
Every time I got good reports on an x-ray.
Every time I had a check-up even if I didn’t necessarily love the news.
Every time I got to see my surgeon. A good doctor nurses your spirit not just your body.
The first time I could bend my knee enough to sit on the toilet.
The first time I could put any weight on my leg.
Every single time I put a little bit more weight on it.
The first time I took a shower sitting on a stool, not a bucket bird bath.
The first day I started to wean myself off crutches.
The first day I was able to walk.
The first day I was able to drive.
The first time I was put on the CPM machine and every time I was able to bend my leg a few degrees more.
The first time I was allowed to use the pedlar.
The first time I was able to ride the stationary bike.
The first time I did a squat.
The first time I could stand long enough to do my dishes.
The first time I could stand long enough to cook.
Or do my own laundry.
Or run my own errands.
The first time I could go “out” to dinner with my friends.
The first time I was able to walk without that heavy, huge, uncomfortable brace.
The first time I realized I could wear anything I wanted because I didn’t have to make sure it fit under/on top of that heavy, huge, uncomfortable brace.
The first time I stretched.
Did a lunge.
Went on releve.
Stood in 1st position.
Did a passé.
Hit down dog.
The first time I did a small jump.
The first time I did a pivot turn without my knee feeling like it would break in half.
The first time I did a slow battement.
The first time I did some gentle yoga.
Every time something feels just a little bit easier.
Pretty much anytime my therapist upgrades my exercise or adds something new. BIG CELEBRATION!
The first time I could put my own sneaker on.
The first time I could stand on one leg to put my pants on.
When I put my pull out couch away in my living room and started sleeping in my bed room again. :)
The first time I could stand up and take a shower.
The first time I could stand on one leg long enough to shave in the shower.
The first time I could get through the day without HAVING to lay down and rest. STAMINA!!!
The first time I was allowed to swim.
The first time I was able to travel/ fly.
The first time I walked up the stairs.
The first time I stood up out of bed in the morning and didn’t worry about my knee.
When I took out my own trash.
The moment I was able to go on a hike.
Every month that I’m able to pay my bills without having to stress about work.
Everyone that has taught me how to support myself and taught me how to prepare for hard times.
Every time I get to be in a dance environment even though I can’t dance. I have seen my value in different work related ways through this as well and it makes me feel loved and safe in my future.
I celebrated the week my ACL is said to have vascularized itself (about 3 months post op) and therefore officially anatomically became "mine".
…Which also happened to be the week of my 28th birthday. So me and my new ligaments are birthday twins. LOTS OF CELEBRATION THERE!!
The moment I realized I didn’t feel “INJURED” anymore was the biggest breakthrough I’ve had so far. I don’t remember when it clicked, but it was very recent. It was the kind of moment that came so fast and out of know where and one day I just noticed that I felt strong. Not as strong as I need to be- I have a long way to go- but stronger than I had felt in the past 8 months. I knew this day would come, but back then I would have never expected to have been so full of a peaceful understanding along the way. I can only say that this is not how I handled it the first two times and I give all the credit to the act of celebration and the power gratitude…
I would love to hear back from all of you with any comments or questions you may have. Curious about something? Want more details? Need someone to share your story with? Feel free to comment below! Or if you'd like to share in private email me at Jaimiegoodwin21@gmail.com.
Looking forward to connecting and sending you all love!
UH OH! Am I becoming numb to this process? Honestly. I can’t tell if being almost completely emotionally unattached to having my 4th knee surgery is a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, I would hate to make this a habit, although it feels like I already have. But, both my surgeon and I agree that this one is my last one….. ;)
“Emotionally unattached” doesn't mean I don’t care, or that I’m not scared as **BEEP**. More so that it feels like a business transaction at this point. With no refresher course needed, I sped through all the pre-op requirements. I organized my finances and prepped the checks for the hospital (health care providers are financial rapists. Sorry. Had to say it.). I picked up my meds, cleaned the house, did the laundry, made a to-do list of everything I wouldn't be able to accomplish during the next few weeks of bed rest and did my best to cross off as much as I could. Which was almost everything. I do my best work under pressure. It’s both a friend and a foe of mine. I also made a point to spend a lot of time with friends and to stay out of my home in anticipation of the unavoidable cabin fever I could foresee. My dear friend, Shayna, is the lady of the month. She’s a champion cook in my eyes, and I think several people from our Friendsgiving dinner would more than agree. She’s also a natural nurturer who went above and beyond to make this experience way less miserable for me. She %100 succeeded. The day before my surgery Shayna went to the grocery store and prepped over a weeks worth of food for me. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks: everything I could need. That same week I received a ton of hearty meals and some yummy treats from my friends in Minnesota, Tara and Tonia Christle. To make it even better, and as a HUGE surprise, my sister, Cara, set up a food delivery calendar (foodtidings.com- it’s genius). She contacted a load of my friends from all over the country and they signed up to send me meals for my 2nd and 3rd week of recovery! I felt incredibly supported, maybe even spoiled, and I didn’t go hungry! I also felt challenged to receive gracefully: something I haven’t been so good at in the past. So, “THANK YOU!” to my beautiful, selfless family and friends who are making that lesson easier for me. With everything in my life strategically placed as best I could, and my army of people behind me, I felt ready to sign off on the deal: A mandatory double ligament refreshment with a side of my second bone graft? Sure! If I must.
Let’s do this…
I walked into the Surgery Center at 8:15am, January 20th. I had just spent the car ride crying tears of joy while watching videos that some of my closest friends sent me wishing me luck on my big day. I felt loved and looked haggard. I wasn’t nervous really, just thirsty as a MoFo and staarrrvinnggg. It felt pretty unbearable for me due to food being my second love, only trumped by dancing. I had been denied anything to eat or drink since midnight the night before (the usual pre-op protocol). Although, if I’m being REALLY honest: I cheated. A couple times. I got so thirsty I start gargling water and spitting it out through the night. Double confession: I also sometimes do the “Chew-And-Spit” with chocolate chip cookies when I’m trying to eat healthy, but realize mid-bite that I have no self control when it comes to baked good… I’m a classy girl…
-Sexy, backless hospital robe: Rocking it.
-Posted up on a sensationally confusing metal stretcher, topped with a cozy heated blanket: On it.
-Now for an appearance from my 6 year old self: I DESPISE NEEDLES.
It’s funny what you fear. I’ve been around the block of excruciating times, both physically and psychologically, in my young life and some of the sharpest things have become dull to me. Yet, I've never gotten used to the sight and feeling of a harmless needle penetrating my skin. I sat there, wincing and whining, like an infant while I was prodded and poked. I was even dramatic enough to continue it with my head turned away from the IV long after the poking was over. Shayna, who was by my side, was nice enough to not point out that I was, no doubt, (over)reacting to the ghost of a needle that was no longer there….She made fun of me later in a less vulnerable time, as good friends do.
One of the only things I love about having surgery is that once the needle is in the lights go out. I fell asleep feeling broken and extremely loopy. I woke up feeling hopeful and still extremely loopy.
Despite the effect of the drugs, the first thing on my mind as I opened my eyes to the fluorescent lights and nurses bustling around me was the outcome of my surgery. I wanted to know what my fate was. I wanted to hear that every underlying fear that I had of being unsalvageable was just that. FEAR: False Information Appearing Real. I turned to Shayna and slurred, “How’d it go?”. “It went perfectly! Everything was perfect! Your doctor couldn’t be happier!” Her words struck me with electricity and made me want to jump, scream, and cry at the same time. You see, in my life I’ve been programmed to feel like the worst is coming. That even in the good times, I still shouldn’t feel THAT happy because happiness is always followed by detriment. I’ve created a lot of unnecessary worry and stress in my life that way. I’ve seen myself squash joyful moments with those negative expectations and the “It’s-too-good-to-be-true”’s. I’ve lived a “life is happening to me” type of life as opposed to a “I create my own life” type of life, and that has manifested these experiences into tragedies instead of learning opportunities. I’ve missed lots of lessons that way. One of my battles over the last three months was silencing the part of me that wanted to prepare myself for the worst case scenario. And instead, to focus on energizing my TRUST in what was happening. It’s a daily battle. So when the news came back to me that my surgery had been successful I felt the warmth of joy rush through every joint in my body and instead of dismissing it, I laid in it. And I continued to lay for 3 weeks of bed rest…
Then suddenly, the calm I felt before the storm, had passed. For the first couple weeks after surgery I was back to the baby steps. I needed help with EVERYTHING. Which, regardless of that being expected, hadn't become any less frustrating for me. The only movement I'd been cleared to do is a crap-ton of bed ridden PT exercises every hour, all day long. GGRRRR! They’re simple, boring, tedious, and painful. Having dedicated myself to being the poster-child patient of the year, I set alarms for everything: PT, CPM, icing, meds, naps, food, repeat. The frustration, pain, fatigue, and the slow ticking of the clock fed the sadness, helplessness, and FOMO. My emotions were rapid. The highs were really high, and the lows were oh-so-low. The rush of heightened daily emotions that boomeranged at me throughout the first few weeks, created a scenario that felt a lot like the first time I hopped on a mechanical bull (not my most attractive moment). Up and down, round and round, over and over, and violent. Me, engaging every muscle in my core to not get dominated and thrown off in 2.2 seconds. Which I accomplished, only to be thrown off at 8.2 seconds…..and that fleeting moment felt like at least 6 minutes to me. A lot like this phase of recovery. Where you feel like it’s been at least 3 days, but it’s really only been like….20 minutes. EEEKKK!
I was exhausted from the healing and even more exhausted from the aggression of my emotions. I slept A LOT. I cried whenever I wanted to, for no reason at all sometimes, A LOT. When I felt left out, or like I couldn’t bare the pain, or like I was about to burst and soak everyone in my life with an “I’m a victim” shower, I practiced an immense amount of self-compassion. And I think, because of that, I always ended up back at JOY even if it took a day or two of fears and tears.
Self-compassion isn’t easy. It’s really, really difficult. I noticed my undeniable need to forgive myself when I saw myself getting just as embarrassed by my joy as I am by my fears. Feeling happiness by enjoying my time in bed, being loved on by my friends, and being so grateful for a 3rd chance to repair my most valuable tool, actually made me feel guilty. I repeat:
I FELT GUILTY FOR ENJOYING MY LIFE.
I felt so bad for feeling good in a time that seemed so......bad.
I can never and will never ignore the reality of this grueling recovery process. It sucks. It hurts. Sometimes it feels like it may never end. There are days, and a lot of them, where I feel so bad I just want to be able to slip away Sleeping Beauty style and ask someone to wake me up when the swelling in my heart goes down. One day in particular my friend, Julie, asked me how I was feeling. “The pain in my body is nothing compared to the pain in my chest. Yesterday I took a narcotic to ease my heart ache. It didn’t work”, I said. We laughed that off for days. But it was true…. I did try it. It doesn’t work.
I think ‘riding the bull’ helps us to find a release in control over how things are "supposed" to be, and how we think we’re "supposed" to feel. Things get rough, really rough sometimes. I used to think, “how am I supposed to feel happy and grateful when terrible things keep happening to me?”. I’d hear people say, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it.” I thought they were nuts because I just didn't get it. Now, I truly understand what it feels like to be genuinely content and grateful in a time of despair. To look around a blurry, chaotic reality and find focus on the blessings. And to appreciate my path simply because it's all mine. I’ve had bad days, absolutely! But over all, I’m happy. It’s taken me 3 new ACLs, 2 bone grafts, 1 new LCL, 1 new ALL, and losing half my medical meniscus to finally learn that while I’m going to encounter challenges that bring negative emotions, it doesn’t have to be so traumatic, and it doesn’t need to turn me into a negative person.
Maybe that comes with experience. Maybe it’s an awakening of sorts. Maybe it’s just me “growing up". Whatever it is, it feels right.
This surgery has been my smoothest yet. A lot of things were different than my last ACL replacements. Me: in general. My rockstar of a surgeon. The PRP (a procedure in which they take your own blood, separate the white and red cells, then flush your surgery site with a tornado of the whites promoting faster healing). Oh, and I had my first drain in my leg! It was full of blood and absolutely repulsive to look at, and to empty (I’m still gagging thinking about it). But, it saved my leg from swelling to the size of a football and from the kind of bruising I had in October (I looked like an offspring of Barney). It could also be the simple relief of knowing it's all over with that made this surgery feel better than my last 3. Again, whatever it is, it feels right.
While I’m not able to walk yet, I’m feeling really strong. I took myself off my pain meds about 4 days after surgery and have had very minimal amounts of pain since, except while exercising. That still sucks. I’m on a CPM machine for 6 hours every day and have a ROM (Range Of Motion) of 0-90 degrees within my first 2 weeks (if you’ve never heard of CPM- look it up- it’s radical for healing). I’m gradually starting to put more and more weight on my leg, and have an appointment with my surgeon tomorrow. I'm hoping to walk out crutchless! I’m excited to have a portion of my freedom back, but of course I’m not rushing. It’s not worth it. Healing, in every aspect, is my full time job right now. I wake up in the morning and focus on doing whatever’s best for me that day. If that means I shut out the world and bawl a river down my pillow case in a single leg fetal position, then that’s what I do. But if it means I lazily kick back and enjoy this time to myself (time I know I'll wish I have once I'm busy and on the road again), then I do that. I read a lot, color, write, watch TV shows I would otherwise consider the guiltiest of pleasures (like this season of The Bachelor…. Hellooooooo Ben Higgins!). I meditate and listen to my own thoughts. They're so informative, shocking at times. I call friends, I take lots of naps, I explore things I’ve always loved but never ‘had the time’ to learn about. I do whatever I want. And through that, I’m learning exactly what I want.
The road I’m on is still long, and I’m guessing it’ll be winding and probably pretty bumpy. But, I think if I can remind myself of what it feels like to be in this headspace of hopefulness and joy, if I can somehow wander back here when I get lost and discouraged, then I won’t just survive it, I’ll thrive because of it.
I started dancing in my dreams again last night. It felt so real, it gave me life. I woke up at 3am sweating and smiling. I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I haven’t felt that keep-you-up-at-night excitement for my life so strongly since I was a kid, sitting at the top of the stairs, shaking because I’m preeeettttyyyyy sure I just heard Santa Clause slip down my chimney. I feel positive he’s bringing me exactly what I want and everything I never knew I needed.
What am I so afraid of?…..It’s taken me over a month to write this blog. Wait let me clarify….It’s taken me over a month to even convince myself to muster up enough energy to even START this blog. Even now I’m reluctantly typing away. It’s not that I don’t want to do this, I do. I dream about it and wake up smiling. It’s just that this past month I’ve been sinking. Fading away slowly into the heaviest of head spaces. A a slimy place. Slippery. It doesn’t feel good and yet at times it’s all I can bare. When I’m in this place I feel as though I’m watching myself fall, cognitively aware of what’s happening- that I’m losing my drive and entering a low point in my recovery, maybe even somewhat of a depression- and yet I can’t stop the fall. I know what it takes, and yet I don’t have the energy. It’s a vicious cycle once you trip into this type of oblivion. I can still see my dreams, see the time passing by, I understand what I need to do to recover but all I really want to do is sleep. I’m numb, which helps, and hurts more at the same time. I’m hungry and thankful I still have an appetite but I’m not eating enough because I don’t have the energy to get or prepare myself food. When the growling in my stomach becomes too painful, I eat. Which means 1 meal some days. I know. I know……It’s not good….I’m not taking my own advice… and I’m not proud of it. Which I guess is why I found myself avoiding my journal. I avoid what I don’t want to know. Writing, for me, equals knowing my truest inner monologue… my reality. In those moments my fear was my reality and seeing my reality on paper was creating so much fear. So I avoided writing and therefore I avoided most of my world. Stagnant and stuck….
I slept through days at a time. The days added up to weeks. I could feel my muscles weakening more than they already were and the weaker they got the more pain and instability I could feel in my knee. I was scared. I would think of all the fun times I had on the Shaping Sound tour and get happy-and then sad- knowing the next time that will happen will only come after the pain and hard work is endured and 8 more months had passed. Every thought seemed to be a double-edged sword. (Have you ever seen Inside Out? -If not, you must see it!- It felt exactly as they show it- when sadness touches your memories and one by one they turn blue).
I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the moments of light in my future that I was able to see only weeks ago. Christmas was approaching but it didn’t feel like Christmas. It felt so gloomy and lonely (no matter how many friends I was surrounded by). My spirit wasn’t there. No joy. No Christmas music- It just didn’t feel right. I was in a funk and I had no will to find my way out. Weeks went by and I just….. laid in it. I surrendered deeply to the heaviness in my body. I woke up every morning just to roll over and fall back to sleep, and I didn’t care…. about anything really. Except, there was one thing I craved. Connection. I craved talking to my friends. I craved listening. I craved just being in the presence of someone. Because, really, some one else energy was the only thing that made me feel half alive. My physical body was tapped out but I held on to those cravings for connection as best I could because I didn’t want to disappear. I’ve done that before and it didn’t serve me. When I would call my friends I noticed I would put on a “I’m conquering all-and all is well” facade. I would open up a bit, but not fully. About a week before Christmas, I found myself still undecided on whether or not I would go home to VA for Christmas. I was so deep in my sadness it became almost comfortable. I didn’t feel ready to be pulled from it- and so I planned on swimming in it through the holidays. One day while talking to my gal friend Ava (best friend since I was 5, dancer, teacher, life coach, spiritual gangster) I finally admitted to her- and myself I guess- what I had been feeling. I opened up to what a day looked like for me at that point: mostly sleeping, sometimes eating, lots of crying…And as I spoke my truth I started to want to sugar coat it. Saying it out loud made it so real and I felt ashamed of it. Guilty even. (I struggle with guilt a lot). Ava changed my whole perception in an instant when she responded with: “The best thing you can do for yourself right now is “Cry, sleep, and drink lots of water- In that order”. It immediately made me feel validated. It didn’t make me happy or lift the fog. But it made me feel like it was okay for me to be in a crappy place. I try to be so strong and when I can’t live up to my own standards I make myself feel wrong for it- like I’m letting everyone down because I’m not the superhuman I aimed to be. That’s not realistic and causes me so much unnecessary pain. I’m not perfect. I hurt some times. I’m sad. I get discouraged. I have moments of weakness. I get sloppy. I’m angry at my circumstance. I’m vulnerable. I get easily frustrated. I don’t always feel pretty. I don’t always feel valuable. I cry a lot these days. I know I’m loved by many wonderful people but then I don’t always love myself the way I deserve. And I am so scared….. most of the time. I’m working on forgiveness and especially on forgiving myself for making these very natural emotions feel so wrong.
My family and friends lovingly convinced me to come home for the holiday and I’m so glad I did. I was reminded of just how loved I am, and I got to reconnect with friends and family that I had been distant from. I felt the true meaning of Christmas more authentically than I ever have (that home is really where the heart is and that no matter what gets taken from you or destroyed the people- the connection- that’s what heals and gives life). I had a week full of gratitude for everything I’ve learned this year and was even able to clear the way for brand new intentions in 2016. I left VA feeling a lot different. It helped to cleanse me and rejuvenated the energy that I felt had been so greatly depleted in the past month. Things aren’t perfect and I know I’ll experience these funks again. Life is a rise and fall. Emotions rise and fall every day and they are exaggerated 10 fold when we experience traumatic events or go through change. My logical brain understands that- I can even say that I knew this would happen. But that doesn’t cushion the fall. No amount of preparation ever will. In fact, the awareness of it created this almost out of body experience for me. I think that’s where the numbness came in. I felt everything so sharply and nothing all at once. I continue to go in and out of it. Everyday I struggle with juggling the temptation to surrender to the dark feelings I’m experiencing or taking on the experience including all the pain and to keep pushing forward anyway. Sometimes I overcome the dark and I feel stronger that day. Other days I surrender---and that’s okay too.
Thought: I think the pressure to show off a perfect life in our society makes being vulnerable feel like weakness. When really, being vulnerable sometimes makes us so much stronger in our empowering moments. And it creates in us compassion for others. The destruction hurts but the resurrection is a miraculous thing to watch if we can make it through the trenches. Believing in the magic of the journey and trusting that where it’s taking me next is better than where I just was….that’s the only thing that pulls me through sometimes. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually it’s all magic in the end.
I love hearing all your thoughts and receiving all your love and support. I can’t wait to see what happens and to share more with you all in 2016. And more than anything I love hearing your stories. So thank you for sharing with me and inspiring me in return. Sending so much love out there! Pass it on! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I questioned myself a lot in the days leading up to tour. I wondered if it was the healthiest thing for me. I worried about being on a moving bus only 5 days after I started walking and with very little muscle to help support my new baby knee. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with my physical therapy on such a rapid tour schedule. Touring, the way we do, really sucks you in to a completely different world. That world pretty much consists of eating, making the show happen, sleeping on the bus for a few hours, checking into a hotel in the middle of the night for another nap-like sleep, and doing it over again in a new city every day. Any free time we do have seems to happen in a blink. I knew if I was going to do it I needed to be strong minded and diligently cautious. I made a pact with myself to put my safety first, have a ton of fun, and to be forgiving of my heart no matter what it decided to feel. My heart, in fact, was the part of me I was worried about the most. More than anything I knew I needed to find a way to be happy through this recovery process. I believe that a happy heart, gratitude, and positive energy are major determining factors in healing your body. The closer it got to showtime the more anxious and nervous I felt. As a dancer, I have had a few fears. The fear of being injured. The fear of missing out on a dream job. The fear of being replaced. And the fear that whoever steps into my place will do my job better than me. These seem to be common thought processes for athletes/dancers. For me, these fears all derive from a bigger problem....comparing myself to others. Comparison is an unfortunate and severely common habit (it's especially present in such a competitive industry).
As I drove to Santa Monica to meet up with the company before the show I started sweating profusely. I was so scared about how I was going to feel by being there...but not being there in the the way I wanted to be. I knew the state of mind I was in was a vulnerable one when I first walked up to the stage door. The sign on the door read 'Artist Entry'. Without any warning the tears started streaming down my cheeks. It took more than a moment to put myself back together. I regained strength to enter the theater and started to make my rounds to say 'hello'. My face stopped resembling the Niagara Falls after a few tough conversations. At that point I was banking on the possibility that I may have run out of tears completely. That way I could reapply my makeup before the show and be confident it wouldn't wash away again. But I knew that wasn't the case. The hard part, watching the show from the audience, hadn't even happened yet. I started to go from friend to friend taking bets on how many times I would "lose it" that night. I mean hey....you have to learn to have fun with even the messiest feelings in life, right?
Before the show, I was hanging out in the lobby stocking up on some new SHAPING SOUND gear when audience members started to roll in. Several people came to me asking for pictures and autographs. They had seen the show before and recognized me but didn't know I wasn't dancing that night, and honestly I didn't have the heart to tell them. So, I accepted the "break a leg"'s with a smile on my face and a secret giggle because- ironically-I already did that.
I started watching the show from the lighting booth. I was pumped when the curtain rose and my friends were on stage already killing it within the first 3 minutes. Then, the moment I usually enter the stage approached and reality smacked me again (and harder than ever) when I saw the stunning Kathryn McCormick walking on in my place. I looked at the sold out house around me and at where I was in the space. Sitting there, blending into a sea of people, yet knowing that's not where I belonged. I watched as Kathryn performed a scene with Kyle Robinson setting up the story of their relationship and then another scene, with Nick Lazzarini, as she slipped into her dream. These two small scenes are two of my favorite to perform. I could feel everything. Every emotion I ever had on that stage was still rushing through me as if I was her. Every movement she made my body remembered and as I became more aware of myself I caught my muscles contracting and reacting the same as if I was the one performing. It felt so real and yet so wrong.
***Let me pause for a moment and say that Kathryn McCormick is one of the most beautiful beings I know. I swear she is an angel here on earth. Not only is she stunning, and flawlessly talented, she is also oozing with love. Actually, LOVE is the only thing I've ever seen come from her. She has had numerous challenges in her life just like the rest of us but she always chooses to love. I admire her in every way. I'm now sure that God intends for us to be in each others lives. We have so much in common and though we haven't been exceptionally close in the past He some how manages to put her in my life every time I need love and wisdom...and every single time she goes above and beyond in delivering that. I'm so grateful for her and for everything she's taught me. I'm so grateful that she was able to step in for me so gracefully and that she has been willing to help me and to hold me the few times I ended up in fetal position crying backstage. Every night before the shows I would make sure to tell her good luck, that she is beautiful, and that I appreciate her. She was wonderful at reassuring me that she could feel me on stage with her and that every move she made was in my honor. When you give authentic love and receive authentic love in return there is no room for jealously or animosity. You can only wish the best for one another because that is love. That is the kind of genuine support we should be giving and receiving as humans. Kathryn, I'm thankful to be able to share something so precious and real with you. I love you with my whole heart.***
After the first couple pieces I became too audible emotionally so I left the auditorium and decided to watch for a bit from the monitors in the lobby. It was a little bit of a cop out because it's a lot easier to watch on a screen than in person- it does't feel as real.
(And also there's wine in the lobby)
By the second act I felt stronger and attempted to sit in the audience again. This time-having gotten past the initial shock of it all- I attempted to kick back and enjoy the show and I have to say......IT WAS INCREDIBLE. I'm the first dancer in our company that has ever had the opportunity to step out after being such big part and simply watch the show from an audience perspective. After having experienced that I value being a part of this company more than ever. It is truly a breath taking and visually stunning work of art. There are so many things to watch- and a lot of things I never even knew happened when I was busy dancing and in the mix of it all. I have a brand new appreciation for what we do as artists and for what we're providing for our audience to experiencing. Even now, crying and injured, I could watch it over and over again...
Most importantly, as I watched Kathryn perform my role I found a kind of peace I didn't quite expect in that first night. I noticed that the choices she made for herself in that role were so different than the choices I would have made. Every extension, pirouette, lift, and improv moment was structurally the same and somehow so incredibly different. Even the connection from person to person was different. I could see it and energetically I could feel it too. It was brilliant, just.....different. And what made it so beautiful was that Kathryn made it her own. She was true to herself as she stepped in for me and her performance taught me something I really needed to understand- I am irreplaceable. I can't pinpoint what exactly blanketed me with this comfort because it didn't feel like my own thought process but instead it was something that rushed over me like a gust of wind. I am irreplaceable. Not for any egotistical reasons but because there's only one ME and there's only one Kathryn and there's only one YOU. The same choreography done equally as well is simply DIFFERENT. I don't believe in anyone taking my place anymore, in any life circumstance. And I certainly don't believe in anyone being a better version of me. That just doesn't exist. The culmination of our upbringing, training, beliefs, choices, experiences, and energy all make us who we are. And while we may need someone to step in for us from time to time it's impossible for anyone to match our individuality...Our human unique-ness.
I hope I never lose sight of what I know now. Comparison is a poison that we all drink at one point or another. But in life, and especially in art, comparison can be lethal to your spirit. It can make you feel replaceable and unworthy- and that's a lie. No matter what your talent is or where you find yourself in life there is no one who can be a better version of you. Only you can be a better version of you and trying to be anyone else would mean losing your most valuable asset- your true self. I love who I am as a dancer and I love the woman I'm growing into. Because of this life experience I could watch Kathryn all day everyday in an infinite awe of her.... and still limp home knowing my worth.
P.S. I cried 6 times that night. Less than I thought it would be!!! Haha!
About ten days after my surgery I started to wean myself off my crutches. The first time I put weight on my leg a tingling sensation started at my heel and grew all the way up through my knee and into my hip- as if everything was waking up again. I loved the tingles because it was the first time I had felt anything besides pain in my leg, it was new blood - new life - rushing through my veins. Little by little I put more weight on my right leg, once I started feeling like I could bare enough without a struggle I started to only use only one crutch. Before long, I found myself getting up in the middle of the night, grabbing my single crutch and walking, half asleep, to the bathroom- barely even touching the crutch to the floor. The morning I noticed myself doing that I knew my body was ready to take its first unassisted steps. I decided to trust it. After all....It's signals have never led me astray.
In fact, in all 3 of my knee injuries my body has ALWAYS warned me. It's tried to save me from hurting myself multiple times and honestly, I didn't listen. Even when my mind wouldn't stop repeating the message of caution when my knee wasn't feeling quite right I kept pushing on. Determined to believe I was fine. It's an incredible, yet dangerous, thing about our anatomy. When one thing isn't functioning correctly the rest of your body will compensate to make up for it. It can be exceptionally worrisome in a body so muscularly strong. Your muscles WILL make it happen, and sometimes (in my case) your pain tolerance is so high, those nerve signals get lost, or worse ignored. Some people can't walk on a torn ACL... I was capable of dancing on my tear for almost 6 months at one point. That resulted in my LCL and meniscus tearing as well. After that, I knew the warning signs and promised myself I would stop pushing and listen to my body. And listen I did. This time my ligaments never tore, instead the screws from my last two surgeries were getting looser and looser causing them to carve bigger holes in my bones and gradually stretching my ACL out. It was a different feeling than I had ever had before, but still I knew it wasn't right. I kept calling doctors and Physical Therapists explaining the feeling but since I was still able to dance without limitations or pain, and I tested negative for torn ligaments in my physical exam so I decided to try jumping into PT hoping that re-conditioning my body was the key. I was feeling stronger and stronger but still not quite RIGHT. I laid low on dancing full out, turned down a few performance jobs, and avoided demonstrating any movements in my master classes that felt shaky for me. The night I got home from a week of teaching I dislocated my knee while adjusting my position on the couch....laying down! That confirmed to me that something was very wrong. At first I felt so weak and embarrassed to tell people I dislocated my knee in the most ridiculous way. It sounded so lame and made me feel so fragile. But actually, that was the absolute gentlest way I couldn't have hurt myself. If I hadn't listened this time... if I had been pushing through, dancing full out in a rehearsal, or climbing a giant prop when that dislocation happened I would have undoubtedly ruined my joint and maybe have never danced again. My body knew, and I knew. And as awful as it is that this happened, it happened in the kindest way it could have- because I backed down and LISTENED.
There's no doubt in my mind that the human body always knows what it needs. It's instinct. Instincts rule all. They communicate with us on love, trust, intentions, decision making.....everything. Even down to the cravings you have is a communication between your body and mind. Right after my bone graft I craved milk so badly. I don't usually drink milk so that was unusual for me. The minute the milk hit my lips I chugged it down, and then had a second glass. The next morning when I saw my doctor he casually said on his way out of the door "I hope you're drinking a lot of milk! Your bones need it right now!" I literally laughed out loud knowing that my instincts had already told me that.
It's sometimes small. Sometimes seems silly. Sometimes it even comes as a whisper. But learning to listen to your instincts, especially as an artist and athlete, is the most valuable tool you can develop. The body awareness I have learned has not only taught me what my limits are and how to take care of myself, it's also been the reason I have been able to come back from my injuries stronger than I was before. A lot of people ask me if I will be able to dance again or "the same" after this: I will. But it won't be the same...I will no doubt be better than I was before. Physically and emotionally. For the next 9 months I get to apply all the knowledge I learn about my anatomy to retraining my body. Once I can start dancing then I get to apply all the emotions I've experienced into my performances. My acting coach would always tell me to experience everything you can in life. Then use those experiences to generate authentic emotions and use the knowledge you gain to guide your decision making. I love to pass that message on. I hope everyone that reads this can learn from my mistakes and take the time to discover your own instincts. Educate yourself. Listen to your gut....and trust.
I've been able to find a lot of blessings from this extremely difficult situation I've been given. I've learned an immense amount about myself and my body in a short amount of time and I've quickly realized how many amazing people in my life are here ready to catch me when I fall (sometimes very literally :-P). For the first week after my surgery I was barely ever by myself. I always had a friend there with me. Without asking, they just filtered in and out of my door which I started leaving unlocked for any one who wanted to come visit. I had barely any time to think about feeling bad. Love distracted me, and I swear that's the best distraction. I always had food, water, medicine, and incredible moments of bonding where I had the opportunity to learn more about my friends and be there for them as they are for me. I cherish that first week I was posted up on the couch because I felt so deeply connected to my friends. Especially with all the traveling I do it's sometimes hard to reserve the face-to-face time that I would like to have with the people in my life. That's something I've decided to prioritize- making sure I am as present in my friends lives as they are for me. I owe them big time for the way they have embraced me through this and have kept me from going absolutely insane. The second week of recovery a lot of my closest friends were diving deeper into rehearsals for Shaping Sound and prepping to leave for tour. Even my friends who weren't in rehearsal had a lot going on that week (LA can be nonstop- its a "rise and grind" type of place). All of the sudden there was no one there and nothing going on. Not because they didn't want to be there with me, I believe they would have if they could have. At first it was nice to have the quiet time to reflect. But after half of a day it became a huge struggle. Not only did I stop eating as much as I should have because I had no way of getting food unless I ordered in 3 times a day (which sometimes I did), but my ice machine, that's supposed to consistently pump ice water to my knee through out the day, needed to be refilled with ice every 4-5 hours and there was no way I could physically pull that off. I finally figured out how to maneuver my crutches using just my armpit so I could have one free hand to get myself water. And even that didn't become a priority until my medicine wore off and I was in so much pain I had to find a way to take my pain killers.
It was only week two and I felt an incredibly deep sense of loneliness. It was quiet. There was nothing. The nothingness lasted for days at a time. I would sleep, cry, think too much, and sleep some more. The clock ticked by so utterly slowly. I tried to give myself credit for already having endured the first week then jumped to imagining the 39 more weeks I had to go. The TV wasn't an adequate distraction, my mind would just talk over it. It told me a lot of ridiculous things that made me feel helpless and ashamed of my situation. I had a ton of friends I could call but that- to me- meant updating them and talking about it all over again. I had become so sad so quickly I couldn't bare to hear the silence anymore and I also couldn't bare to talk. I was slipping fast and deep into a headspace where I knew I didn't want to go.
I had been in that space of darkness before during my last two surgeries. For those procedures, I went back to my hometown of Virginia Beach. At first because I wanted to be near family. Now, I see that wasn't my only reason. Deep down I felt ashamed of my situation. I didn't know any dancers that had gone through an injury that took them out like this and it made me feel inadequate, and worthless. I saw myself as a tool that didn't work- broken and unreliable. Like being a pianist without having a piano to play on-My art and passion felt trapped inside of me. I felt that there was no one that would understand me. So, I escaped as fast as I could back to a place where no one -except my immediate family and childhood friends- would be able to see me in my most vulnerable state. I was so embarrassed and rapidly became depressed. I decided to disappear and come back when I was "camera ready".
That decision to shut down and try to piece myself together in private didn't benefit me and it didn't help for my story to benefit anyone else around me. This time I decided to allow myself to be broken by this and for whatever it is inside of me to be exposed. It doesn't make it any less painful but it gives me purpose. And that purpose gives me a sense of self worth. Even just the decision to not run away gives me confidence in myself that I'm not the same scared young girl I was 4 years ago. I'm a woman who rises and falls. Still scared sometimes- but I'm trying to enjoy the fall as much as I do the rise.
Back to the now- I was kidding myself if I thought I was going to get away with everything being so much "easier" this time around. The sadness I was feeling was so strong. I honestly don't think it's avoidable in something like this. I also don't know how to make it go away. It feels a lot like swimming against a strong current and just wondering if and when it will get easier. It does get easier. Sometimes it lasts for months and months (it has for me before). Sometimes it comes in moments or out of no where for a day. This time, I attempted to kick the feeling by reading a book my best friend Travis gave to everyone in Shaping Sound. It's called The Energy Bus. It's a wonderful book and an easy read (I highly recommend it). I dove in and finished the book in a little over a day. It really helped me to turn my negative energy towards myself and the absence I was feeling from my friends that week into something more positive. I felt inspired by it for a bit then out of no where, and for no apparent reason, I would crash again. I see it now as waves. In a situation like this, no matter how strong you are, you're bound to have these intense emotions wash over you. You're going to experience sadness, loneliness, feeling left out/abandoned, worthlessness...etc. but you don't have to let the current pull you out to sea. Learning to swim upstream is the only way.
I'm sure that what works for me to keep my head above water may not be the same for everyone. But I have started to understand that making the effort to find the things that do work, whatever they might be for you, is a great way to prepare yourself for personal tragedy. Reading a book passes the time for me better than tv or a movie. Journaling helps me get it out from inside me, and then reading it back to myself helps me process the emotions. In fact, I learned something from a seminar called Landmark a few years back that I've found incredibly useful. I learned that all of us have "blind spots", the things we can't (or choose not to) see about ourselves. Imagine walking through the woods in the pitch black. Frightened and unsure of how to move forward. Once you face your thoughts, emotions, and actions for what they are you shine a flash light on your blind spots. Even if the flashlight only exposes a few feet in front of you it creates a safe space, a clearing for you to take a step forward and with every step you take your flashlight will expose more and more of what lies ahead and give you a sense of validity in yourself. For me, feeling like my feelings are valid instantly takes the edge off. And in times like this any relief is exhilarating. I tend to bottle so much up that I need to cry it all out but being so prideful makes me so tired and numb I can't even cry and that is a huge issue for me. However, as soon as I hear my thoughts out loud it makes me realize they are real and they are OKAY. It almost feels like giving myself permission to just BE even if it means my light isn't as bright in that moment....Or maybe it means my light is becoming even brighter in that moment because I'm not trying to hide it from the world when its not the color I'm most proud of.
For those of you who know someone who has been going through their own hardship: If you want to support them know that you don't need to "do" a lot or say the "right" things. The smallest gestures have been the most powerful for me. It's the text that says "thinking of you<3" from a friend who can't be there that takes the loneliness away. It's the friend that isn't just there for you when the wound is fresh, but remembers that the wound is slow healing and continues to be there for you consistently no matter how long it takes that makes you feel the safest. And sometimes it's just BEING there. Sitting with someone is the most powerful thing. Talking about everything or nothing at all and being okay knowing your presence alone is enough to take their pain away. The one thing I noticed about human behavior in these situations is that it's very natural to be deeply and genuinely concerned about someone but then to become distracted by our crazy lives and to forget that the other person is needing you. If you want to be a great support system for someone stay present. A text, a card, a phone call, a visit, a meal. Whatever it is you can do to let that person know you haven't forgotten about them. Being thought about, even for a single moment, could be the only thing someone needs to feel to help them paddle against the flow.
Thank you to all of my friends and family for everything you have been doing for me. Thank you to everyone who has fed me and brought me ice (and wine, haha), and for every single text and phone call. Thank you to those of you I only know through the social media world for supporting me and sending me love. It is felt so strongly. And most of all thank you to every single person for your prayers. I couldn't do this without you.
P.S. I kept hearing my girlfriend Nikole filling people in on my "injury". I have developed such a negative feeling around that word that I finally asked her if we could call it something else....
.....she perfectly responded with something a long the lines of "We can call you Bambi- because you always have a broken leg... as in 'She's just Bambi right now'"
I love my new nickname because it perfectly describes me but is also still pretty sexy at the same time...
Enjoy the journey....
I had an early morning appointment with my surgeon the day after my procedure (October 6th, 2015) My dear friend Victoria took me. She's the closest thing to perfect that I've ever been near. She's a great person to be around during a time like this because she knows how to flip any situation into something beautiful and she's overflowing with an abundance of knowledge and experience. I'm so lucky she's come into my life (Thank you Teddy Forance for finding and marrying her. I think you may be the luckiest man in the world).
I was really looking forward to this check-up because, as I mentioned in my last post, I don't remember anything I was told in the recovery room and I was very excited and curious to get the dish on what happened inside my knee.
The first thing that happens in my post surgical check-ups is that they take X-rays of my knee. Pretty normal procedure, but what I saw on my X-ray was not at all what I was used to seeing. For the past 4 years every time I had an X-ray done it would show all the screws criss-crossing through my bones. That become my "normal".........after I got over being creeped out the first couple times. But this time what I saw I really didn't expect. For the first time in a long time there was no hardware holding my knee together. It was as if nothing had ever happened to me. It looked like a "brand-new-knee". My eyes started to swell just a bit thinking of all the "what-ifs" and wishing it could stay so perfect and whole forever. Of course, it can't. I have no ACL at all right now and while someone who isn't an athlete can live and function without their ACL....that just won't work for me. I won't give up what I love the most to avoid the pain. Because in the end the feeling of settling for the "easier" road isn't so easy at all......It's much more painful. So I took a mental snapshot and enjoyed seeing my knee so solid and as untouched as it could look at this point. Come January it will see the screws again.
A few minutes later the doctors assistant, Ford, came in the room to cut off my bandages. That's the part that used to really freak me out.......and honestly it took me a long time to get used to seeing my poor knee in this condition. Cut up, bruised and swollen to the size of a small cantaloupe. Before all my surgeries I had a pretty weak stomach and didn't like to see anything like this, especially not on my own body. Now... I find it absolutely fascinating. I find peace in knowing the process and that the swelling WILL go down. The multiple incisions held together by stitching WILL go away. My leg WON'T always be black and blue... with patience and time it will heal and I'll only have the scars both inside and out to remind me of these experiences. So I embrace these moments with my whole heart and try to etch this feeling into myself whether good or bad, hoping I will never -ever have to be here again. Ford, took the rather intimidating scissors and started to cut away revealing the trauma I had endured the day before. It was hideous and so stunning. It made me feel like a freaking warrior to see it and to know how strong I really must be to understand and love it all the same. (You know.... it's okay to love yourself and to recognize your own strength... in fact, call me crazy, but I'm starting to believe that's all the universe put us here to do. To believe in ourselves and learn to love ourselves and most importantly to let that love spill over uncontrollably to others. It's not a perfect practice for me but I'm learning it more everyday). Ford said my knee was looking good and that the Doctor would be in soon to talk to me. This is when the fun part really starts. ;)
The first doctor who came in to see me brought my surgical pictures. These are the photos they take inside of you while you're having the procedure done. They show the healthy parts of my knee and, in contrast, all the damage. It's helpful for the surgeon to have and really educational for me too. It's teaches me a lot about whatever the heck is going on in there at the time. And, as most dancers are, I'm a very visual learner. She talked over the pictures with me, Some pretty gory looking, pointing out what a healthy ligament should look like and what my ACL looks like instead. It had stretched out so far it looked like guitar strings instead of a tight rope. It's also very clear when you see a healthy ligament as opposed to one that looks like loose cotton or puffy clouds (sounds delightful- but its not! haha). That 'puffiness' is all the damage that's been done around the joint. She also showed me where they located the screws and how deep they were. They had to do A LOT of digging to get to them. I'm including the photos for those of you as fascinated by it as I am.
Next, my surgeon came in and greeted me with a huge hug. Not only have I been told by pretty much everyone I've met that he's the "best knee surgeon in the world" but he is also so gentle and kind. He makes me feel like he really cares about me in every way. Which I believe is a really important aspect when choosing any type of doctor. He told me about the problems he ran into with the old screws leaving too big of holes in my bones and why he made the decision to give me a bone graft and wait on the ACL replacement. I reassured him that I was happy with his decision and (though my heart sinks thinking about it) that the extra 3 months of recovery time is absolutely worth it to me. I proceeded to ask the Doc a list of questions- What kind of graft would he be using for my ligament replacements? (Cadaver graft for both- achilles tendon for my ALL and patellar tendon for my ACL -being that I already used part of my hamstring the for the first replacement I can't do that again) Should I be bending and straightening my knee right now? (Yes!) How long until I can start trying to walk again? (10 days then slowly I can gradually start putting weight on it) Where did you take the bone from for my bone graft? (It conveniently came with my prepared ACL graft- which is pretty normal apparently) Is my meniscus damaged at all? ( NO! Which is the best news ever because I already had part of my medial meniscus removed and there is no replacement option for meniscus at this time. Meaning, if mine were damaged and needed to be removed I would develop arthritis in the very near future- This news alone is a HUGE blessing to me) When can I schedule my next surgery for? (Early January-I'm aiming for the 2nd. haha) Should I be wearing a stability brace? (No! This answer surprised me but I'm happier without it.) Should I be doing PT? (No, not yet) and of course.... Can I be cleared to go on tour with Shaping Sound in 2 weeks? (YESS!!!! He cleared me to go as long as I was traveling by bus!) I got all the answers I was looking for and felt extremely satisfied with my visit. Once the Dr. was done talking to me Ford came back to put on fresh bandages and a new wrap. After I was taken care of I hurried to get out of that sterile room. I still don't love being at a doctors office, even after all this time. Why don't they ever pick a nice paint color for these places? A lollipop? A sticker? A treat of any kind just for showing up? Or maybe a Doterra diffuser (thanks to Chelsea and Mary Kay Thedinga for teaching me your ways) to warm up the room and take the edge off? I mean really.......People are going through it here. The white walls and skeleton photos aren't helping. haha
Regardless of the lackluster environment, I left with good news and in great spirits that day. I was even surprised at myself and how I managed to not experience any anxiety when he confirmed the tacked on 3 extra months to my recovery process.
....but thats just the thing. When I look around at whats happening in my life and try to see the purpose in it I see so many ways I have already grown just in these first few days of being injured, let alone this year (which has thrown me around and torn me to pieces. Ha, that's a whole other story). It has forced me to accept the things I can not change. And that there's no good in fighting it. I now choose to put all the energy I used to put into being angry at life's punches into observing and healing my life. It's shown me the capability I have in controlling my happiness despite what my circumstance is. It's taught me that my self worth is NOT based upon what I'm doing, what I look like, or who chooses to love me. Each of these 3 surgeries continues to teach me new and different things about my anatomy far beyond anything you can learn from a book. The knowledge I have is directly connected to experience and to the flow of emotions and psychological states I've entered while enduring all this. I truly believe that our emotions and psyche are a BIG part of the way our bodies respond to us. We must learn to take care of them equally if not even more than our physical form. Not everyones expereince will be the same but everyone will ride a wild ride regardless of our different tracks. The key, for me, is to find peace when peace itself is buried under reaction, anxiety, and fear. It is there. It's always there waiting for us to find it. And in the moments when I find my most authentic sense of peace I also find myself. Not the 'me' that is recognized by my flesh (that is ever changing and finite) but the 'me' that will never change or die. The purest version of our selves. The one full of only love and divinity. Our souls. They are waiting for us to recognize ourselves and all the glorious energy we are. We were not put here to suffer. We are here to find our beautiful selves in the midst of all the chaos. That is the ultimate challenge. The journey is truly the destination....
FOLLOW MY JOURNEY.....
I want to encourage everyone that reads this to take whatever it is that's challenging you and to send that obstacle love and gratitude. I promise that whatever it is you are strong enough to take it on. And you will only get stronger because of your courage to face it. You- your soul- is a powerful electricity in this world and without you there would be darkness in places where God wanted light.
Warning: The following photos are graphic! My apologies to anyone with a sensitive stomach!
Okay.....Let me start off by saying I was in the most amazing mood heading to the hospital the day of my surgery. It was so good I would say it was 'bizarre'. It was the morning of October 5th, 2015 and Nikole (my best lady friend, and Shaping Sounds incredible producer) picked me up to take me to the hospital. She had cleared her whole day for me to make sure I was taken care of. I owe this girl a whole lot (and I will always, always be there for her <3 #buddies). Nikole really knows how to love and nurture you while still being completely real and upfront. A rare hybrid of a woman and so so special.
We loaded up the car with my brand new post surgical--10 lb-- knee brace and a glistening pair of silver crutches. I was set. We put the address of the Santa Monica Surgical Center into Wayz and with no questions asked Siri reassured us that we were on our way. About 45 min later, around 9:22 (8 minutes before my appointment). We noticed we did not look like we were anywhere close to the beautiful city of Santa Monica. In fact, we couldn't really read where we were. We were surrounded by symbols. Then....I recognized the korean bbq restaurants and knew we were in Korea Town....ALL the way across LA on the opposite side from Santa Monica. When we re-searched it we found that we were 45 min away. We rushed over and used side roads to dodge traffic. We ended up making it there by 10 am-- Only 30 min late, no thanks to Wayz--
We kept a positive vibe despite all the gps confusion. I had so many friends and family members reaching out to send me prayers and love that I couldn't even think about having stress, nerves, or fear. The vibration between myself and my friends is so powerful. It feels like an army carrying me through, and I know they would never let me fall.
When we strolled into the Surgical Center I immediately got hit with paper work and all sorts of consent forms. I don't know what they said because all I could think about were these huge jugs of water stacked right across from my chair. I stopped eating and drinking (even water) at midnight the night before and I. Was. Parched. I can't think when I'm thirsty. Anyway, that trance I was in probably helped me get through the whole prep process for surgery. I don't love needles and surgery involves a lot of those. I put on my gorgeous hospital gown and even got a hot new pair of panties to go with it. I was feeling so sexy. (I waited until I got my post surgery meds to pose for some risqué photos.) My nurse's name was Carol and she took great care of me. I got to talk to my surgeon before I went under too. I feel really confident in him. He specializes in multiple reconstructions and he works on the US Olympic Soccer Team, he seems trusted in this type of thing. :P He drew a happy face on my leg with a lot of letters that were code for what he was about to do to my knee. If I didn't know better I would have thought they already gave me the drugs to go 'night night'. Speaking of, I also got to talk to my anesthesiologist who was super cool. Apparently he recognized me from SYTYCD and talked all about the show to me. Nikole had to remind me of that when I woke up later....She had to remind me of a lot of things. From the point that I met him on I remember nothing. Until I woke up in the recovery room....
The first thing I remember is telling -anyone who would listen- that I was still craving pizza. I couldn't wait to eat pizza, until the nurse told me I couldn't eat pizza... Too greasy. Boooo! But okay, I accept that. The next thing I remember is trying to bend my knee. I could bend me knee!!! I thought it was a miracle because my last two ACL reconstructions I had little to no movement in it for at least a week or so.
Then the bad news came... When my Doctor went in to take out my screws he removed three screws from my previous two surgeries. One of the screws was biodegradable and so it had dissolved over time but the hole was still present in my bone. The other three screws left very large holes in my bones. They were way too big and didn't leave any solid space to attach my new ligaments. Even if he had tried to do it- it would have caused me a ton of problems with my new ligaments and my bones in the near future. He had no other choice but to give me a bone graft. He used the cadaver bone that came with my ACL/ALL graft. He crushed up the bone and he filled the holes in my knee joint- imagine filling nail holes on your wall with putty and allowing it time to dry and harden. Thats my knee right now. Filled with new bone thats soft and my body is working to harden the bone graft and build new bone within to strengthen it. I now have to wait 3 months in order to give my body time to heal from this. Then, in January, I'll venture in to pt. 2 of my surgery and have my ACL and ALL reconstructed. This 7 month rehabilitation turned into 10. But after this procedure it will be as if I have a brand new knee. The bones won't be brittle, they will be strong and solid. My ACL, ALL, and LCL will all be tight and ready for action. It's worth the extra few months to have the possibility of not going through this, or something worse, ever again. I dream of longevity for my career. Therefore, I don't want a bandaid. I want the source of the problem to be fixed. I really believe that now that I am solidifying not just my ACL but everything around it I have a much greater chance of keeping my body healthy in the future.
This procedure is much different than my last few. The pain is different. For anyone that has had a procedure done to your bones, you know the pain. It is just too-- strange-- to describe. It's intense. It radiates. It's sharp but hollow and very deep. He cleaned up my ACL, meaning I have nothing there now, and so my joint is extremely unstable. He tightened my LCL as well. So my IT band is reacting to that and completely crying for help. I want to be nice and roll it out with my foam roller but my legs are so bruised and tender I can't even bare it just yet. On the bright side my Dr. said I would be walking in 10 days and I got permission to go on tour with Shaping Sound even though I'm not dancing! I'm honestly overwhelmed by the amount of people that want me there-just to be there...I have a feeling I'm going to get really good at taking show notes and drinking wine.......
I was so relieved when I got home and I wasn't as groggy as I was the last two procedures. I had life in me. I wasn't sick and throwing up like I had expected. And I didn't lose my appetite. I've been so much happier with this go around and a lot of that is due to the way I prepared myself and support I have from my friends. I haven't been left alone since my surgery. I feel so loved and cared for...Not to mention this 5 inch feather topper that I like to call "Heaven" and the sheets I splurged on are also contributing to the good vibes. After getting used to my pill regime, getting food in my belly, and processing everything that had change that day it started to sink in....this complication just added 3 more months to my recovery time. My brain started racing with logistics and my my body froze into a partial state of anxiety and shock. I had to talk my self down from the upset and remind myself what the bigger picture is. That helped a lot and yet regardless of how much we understand that it'll "make sense later" or "be better in the long run" Sometimes it just doesn't take the pain away RIGHT NOW. And the RIGHT NOW is what hurts. Not the past and not the future. Thats also the beautiful part.... RIGHT NOW doesn't last forever. It's a moment in time and it's already gone as we speak...
That night a few things came to my mind in my hazy state and I reached to my journal to jot them down...
"My patience is being tested.... remain at peace: My body needs TLC....Love on it: My mind and soul need a breather to step back and clearly envision my new path: I'm comfortable: I'm happy: I'm grateful for this experience: And I'm incredibly blessed to have an army of support behind me and a shower of love constantly renewing me"
Just a few things Nikole reported back:
-Woke up from a nap- had a conversation I don't remember then said to the nurses and doctors "I love you all!!!! Good bye." and ---BAM-- back to sleep.
-Proceded to tell all the nurses and doctors about how I was going to work on improving my Port De Bras (arms) for the next 7 months. (Enjoy video below)
-Insisted on taking photos in my granny panties.
-Had a 20 min conversation with my surgeon and another with my anesthesiologist both of which I remember nothing about and hope I kept appropriate... We were on hugging terms on Tuesday so I still I have faith in myself.
P.s. After she told me some of the things I said and did I remembered doing them, but my time line was all off. I could have sworn everything happened before my surgery. I argued it so hard that Nikole had to point out that my knee was wrapped up in bandages in all of the media she had taken. Dang it, she got me again.
Feel free to leave questions or comments below....
I just went in to the office to sign my consent forms for my surgery. Stephanie (the Dr.s Assistant and one of the sweetest women you'll ever meet) has been in charge of setting me up and guiding me through the process. At first it was easy, almost routine... Then as she started walking me through the "what to expects" during and after surgery I started to well up. All the emotions washed over me so suddenly. I remembered the mental and emotional struggle, the depression, the "FOMO", and the excruciating pain....Everything came rushing back to me within a single moment. I lost control for a second. The tears showered down my face and as I started to apologize to Stephanie for the flood I realized that I don't need to be ashamed of it at all. Due to my last two reconstructive knee surgeries I know this process very well. In some ways that makes it easier. And in other ways it makes it way more difficult.... --To be completely aware of what lies ahead for me and to walk myself into it knowingly is-- ugh--'tough' to say the least. Since my last operation 4 years ago, getting hurt again has been my absolute worst fear.... *deep breath* ...I guess it's time to face my fears.
I swapped my mindset in an instant. I stopped feeling bad for myself, and I decided to be proud of what I'm going through. I'm proud of myself for having the strength and the courage to go through yet another reconstruction and rehabilitation...Because at the core my love and passion for dancing, and the desire to feel and share again on stage, motivates me not to accept this from my body. And from that I've learned to nurture my body, love it, heal it, and to never give up on it. I'm proud of my body and of what it's capable of. I'm proud of this process and how shitty and beautiful it is at the same time. I'm proud of what I've gone through up until now and proud what I'm about to go through over the next 10 months. I'm proud to say with confidence that I WILL be dancing again and stronger than ever, and I won't accept anything less of myself.
The desire to move is already bubbling up inside me. For the next few months I'll let it fill up and boil- I'll allow it to motivate me to be patient with myself. And when the time comes to start dancing again I'll keep that gratitude for my movement simmering. I'll never forget what it feels like to not be able walk or even so much as bend my knee. I won't ever take that kind of freedom for granted. I don't wish this experience on any human in the world. But the reality is, it happens. It's the nature of our beast. And the least I can do for others, and for myself, is to share what I've learned and whatever it is the universe wants me to see from it this time. There's always a purpose. There always has been. So many signs have been coming to me that, even though I don't want it to be true, there's no way I can deny that this is a subtle hand from the universe sitting me down and asking me to look at me life from a distance.
So.... I signed the papers, picked up my crutches, brace, and ice machine, and set a date for my surgery (October 5th, 2015). I spent my last few days before my operation trying to grasp my reality and prepare for my entire life to change....at least for the next 10 months.
I'm curious and dare I say -excited- to ride this ride. I can't wait to share what I see.
Follow My Journey...
P.S. my friends now call me "Bambi".... Can you guess why?(Story to come :-P)
5 years ago, in 2010, on a sticky wooden dance floor my foot got caught while turning and my knee twisted almost all the way around shredding my ACL and Meniscus to pieces. That was my first injury ever. That injury has changed my life. It's changed the way I move and take care of my body, and my general awareness of my tool as a dancer. The same injury has sat me down a couple of times since then, and by the end of 2011 I had had 2 reconstructive knee surgeries (the 2nd one was caused by someone tripping and falling into me, go figure.... :-/) My ACL had been replaced twice. My LCL once. And my poor medial meniscus had been ripped apart-repaired-ripped again- then partially removed. Despite all that I felt stronger than ever when I got back to dancing after 2 years of surgeries and rehabilitation. The road to get there was bumpy and scary at times...and yet so worth it. Every time I go through this I learn more and more about myself and about a dancers' anatomy (which is incredibly interesting because we use our bodies so differently than what is natural for a human being). That, coupled with the passionate, overflowing drive I have to be moving and sharing my energy with others inspired me to keep pushing forward, and to make the difficult decisions to undergo these surgeries, even when I wanted to 'tap out'.
In the past 4 years I was feeling amazingly strong and I had gained a lot of trust back for my body. Then in July of this year I started noticing weakness in my right leg (my "bad" leg) while filming an episode of SYTYCD. It wasn't painful and it also wasn't anything I had felt before. I assumed my body was simply exhausted, and it was...unfortunately my knee was past exhaustion and taking a lot of stress because of the fatigue...My glutes and my quads just weren't firing up like they should have been. Muscularly I was a lot weaker on my right side. So, naturally I started to compensate with my left side to make up for the right and the imbalance got worse and worse. My ribs, back and hips were consistently slipping out of place and I was needing adjustments way to frequently (we're talking every night after performing). Over the course of 3 months I started to realize the weakness I was feeling wasn't normal for me, but, I didn't have the symptoms of a torn ACL.....yet. I had hopes that with some rest and physical therapy it would dissapear. Dancing in that sub-par condition gradually led to my ACL graft stretching out and becoming way to lax to support my knee joint. One night after a long week of teaching and traveling I laid on my cozy couch feeling grateful, super accomplished, and happy. I put my feet up on the couch and pushed to adjust myself and--POP--there it went. My knee had shifted dramatically and was visibly dislocated. I knew right away my ACL wasn't functioning properly. I swear my heart stopped. That feeling...I had felt so many times before....and it was all too familiar.
Which leads me here, 2 weeks before the Shaping Sound tour, and instead of prepping in rehearsal I'm facing my 3rd ACL reconstruction. It's hard to believe that this could happen again and, in all honestly, at times I still can't wrap my head around it. Nonetheless, it's happening. And I have to deal with it with a graceful acceptance and an understanding that this is something I need to do if I ever want to dance again....So, after several appointments and an MRI I made the choice to trek through this rough terrain once again knowing I'm about to grow so much and come out of this a stronger dancer and woman. This time, the choice was easy. I want more than anything to be back on stage performing and I use that as motivation to jump head first into this process of recovery. The surgery, the pain, the rehab, the emotional struggle. I expect all of these things to be difficult, but not as difficult as losing my ability to dance and share. So, after a deep breath I decided to move forward with the surgery as quickly and as safely as possible... and so it begins... again... But this time I can reflect on my past and used what I've learned to reach my fullest potential......Again.......and for good.
#followmyjourney #rebrandinginjury #youcancallme #Bambi #shapingsoundco #dance #injury