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.