I would like to start with an apology for such a long gap from chapter 3 to chapter 4. The fact of the matter is, I thought this would be easy, liberating, full of expression and finally a place to have a voice on a subject that has plagued my being for what seems like an eternity.
I wrote chapter 4, six times before getting to this stage with it. Unsure of what I wanted to say, what was important to say or rather held any significance. I changed my angle each time.
I questioned a lot about myself, the medics involved, my peers and how could this have happened in the way that it did. Why did I have to self diagnose, why did people not believe me, why was I just being fobbed off or made to feel that it was my fault. Blah blah blah.
During this writing, all that kept coming out was a barrage of emotions, roller coastering, diverting off onto other tangents and taking me back to that place of looking inside, looking for answers and feeling loss.
Writing about my experience was making me sad and this wasn't the reason I wanted to share my journey and story. I wanted to make a point, but with all that was going on in terms of reflection and how that was making me feel, I lost focus of the points.
I had to take a step back, to be able to just be and get used to realising that somewhere along the line I had died a little inside.
But I am now in new territory and a new place of being. I am ready to let go of the past, but I never give up on a commitment and just because my injury is well on the road to recovery, it's not the same for others who are still experiencing their own. So, I will continue sharing my story.
This may be a longer excerpt which I won't apologise for. If I don't get it out in this way, it just wont happen.
So, I wasn't injured, apparently!
I knew I was, I knew I wasn't making up all the physical difficulties I was experiencing and no, I've never ever been a lazy dancer. Sitting at the side of class destroyed me, watching dance performances was beginning to destroy me.
However, I had a really interesting experience in April of 2013 when I was on the Co-Lab with Jonathan Lunn and a number of fellow dance colleagues. It was the end of our first full on week, experimenting and making works from a variety of interesting ideas thrown at us. Each day saw us working with different choreographers and body challenges, where I had to convince my body to face the challenges, fighting with it and forcing it to do new material.
By the Friday of week one, I was in so much pain, that for the first time in my life I took painkillers which I've always been against doing. I always said to myself that the body signals through pain as a warning and that it should be listened to, so I've never considered popping a pill to mask that signal as an option.
But I was beginning to fail those who had contracted me and the choreographers who required dancers to dive right in without question or fear of any choreographic task. The guilt of believing I could do this and having such trust put in my abilities were leaning heavily on me. Firstly I hate letting others down but letting myself down is another element to contend with.
The painkillers worked but the most surprising element was by then everyone knew I was suffering and so the conversation began about dancers taking painkillers. I discovered that this is a regular and everyday occurrence for some and that some can only get through their dancing days by taking painkillers. I was horrified to be honest. I didn't realise this was the case and although it made me feel, "ok" about taking them, it made me realise that it wasn't a route I wanted to go down. I still needed to get to the bottom of this.
We had worked on till the Saturday and decided to extend our bar meeting that evening, opting to go out dancing, like "proper dancing" - you know, the I'm in a nightclub and I don't give a sh*t what I look like type of dancing - in fact, the more ridiculous, the better sometimes, ha-ha.
It was a fantastic night and we danced our socks off, walking out as if we had been in the shower with clothes on. On the way back to our accommodation a friend made an interesting comment. "Jen, after seeing you jump around and dance like a looney all night, you wouldn't think you were injured at all".
But then no-one has ever known I've been injured unless I've mentioned it. For sure, I've never let it show in performance, it's been a hidden entity unless I've chosen to mention it.
Yes, of course there was alcohol involved but it was true, I didn't at that point feel injured, nor was I specifically considering my injury during the time I was out having fun. How could that be? How could I be in so much pain and restriction in movement, to feeling freedom in movement and such joy from dancing? Why didn't this happen in the studio? This bothered me a lot and for the first time in my injury history time, put doubt in my mind.
So many people had over the years, suggested that this was a case of hypochondria or that I was lazy, needed attention etc, something to stop me from achieving my goals - that I was just self destructive due to being under confident in my dancing abilities - all which I had contested obviously!
But, it was true, I had gone out dancing on a Saturday night, loved every minute and I was fine. So, I considered for the first time that I was perhaps mentally insane or had missed the moment when I had decided to incorporate a phantom injury into my dancing career. Was I playing games with myself and my destiny, subconsciously choosing to destroy my future over a period of 8.5 years? After all, in the previous January, I had been told that the internal camera investigative procedure found no injury.
With this in mind, I paid particular attention to how my body felt on the Monday, on the way to morning class pre creative day. About half way through my 10 minute walk, my right leg starts to get tired, I could feel the common sensation of my stomach muscles and groin beginning to ache. By the time I got to the venue, walking up the stairs was back to a creeping searing pain that I had grown accustomed to.
That's it, I was going mad. Each step I took to ballet class, my body yelled a little louder at me. I managed half the ballet class and felt like a complete fraud.
Anyhoo, dancing life continued, the pain continued and I just got back to getting on with it, gave up on finding an answer again. It wasn't until my last massage course that I challenged my teacher with the problem. After a series of Q&A and me insisting I had looked at everything and the only possible answer I could come up with was a hernia, which had been denied under investigation. He suggested I looked into what is typically a sports injury, named Gilmores Groin - a sports hernia. This I did and this I discovered to have every single god damn symptom.
My GP was as excited as me and we organised the CT Scan. When the result came back "negative", we were gutted again. Seriously, this was getting beyond a joke but hell, I couldn't give up - I just couldn't let it go - there had to be a reason! That's when I phoned a certain hospital and asked to see a surgeon who was accustomed to sports hernias and I wanted the best. I had come to the end of my tether.
When I met this man, I blubbered my way through uncontrollable tears, explaining that basically he was my last hope. I practically begged him for advice and to be listened to, which he did both of with such intent I felt like heaven had just opened the golden gates for me. Get this... the test for a sports hernia (which by the way is a typical, "man's" injury - should've known huh?) is to stick a finger up into the scrotum. Erm.... ok.
I was told that in my case, there was no way of knowing really, but that he did believe me and it did sound like a sports hernia. Firstly he wanted to rule out some other factors. Get this second bit - he sent me for a common x-ray, something that I'd not had during all this time, suddenly wondering why not. I returned from Radiology and he sat there, with a little glint in his eye.
He began to tell me that in fact what I had was a "complex multifactoral muskelo-skeletal injury", involving:
- Avulsion fracture of the anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS) which is the front of the pelvis. Basically my rectus femoris quad muscle tendon had snapped off from one of its origin points (one of 2, where it joins the bone), taking the bone with it;
- Probable rupture within the inguinal ligament (the ligament which joins the abdominals to the pelvis, aka, the sports hernia);
- Probable tear to the insertion point of Psoas, which is the biggest and only muscle joining the top and lower parts of the body, through the pelvis.
WOAH!! S**T, I've been dancing on that?
Weirdly enough, I felt a sudden sense of pride and then a bit of glee that I hadn't been making it up! I wasn't insane!
Then anger at all the trained people who had missed this, or those who had suggested that I'd been seeking attention, making it up and more so that I had had to wait 8.5 years for validation of my instincts.
Yikes..., it was sinking in what I had actually put my body through and what I was going to ask it to do again as I explained to him I couldn't have surgery straight away due a contract I had be committed to for 2 years with our final performance in the following month.
My surgeon said, "quite frankly, I don't how you can walk, let alone dance, without pain".
My response was simple. "I don't."
I fulfilled my contract and planned for the surgery.
As we know, I had surgery in January to repair the rupture to the inguinal ligament and it was successful. I remain with the avulsion fracture in the pelvis and possible tear to Psoas.
However, it was so successful, I am already moving on, learning how to live without pain, yet coming back to writing about it and re-living it all over again through reflection.
Reasons that made this excerpt so difficult to face writing with some sense of clarity were things like...
I only just realised in April that I could do basic activities again such as cycling and actually feel it to be a joy, rather than a fear and a deep burn. This for me was revolutionary, as much as was walking up stairs and well, just walking.
I began to realise how much energy my injury had consumed and drained from me over the years and how easy my body now felt. I have been through a grieving process of what I have lost and then becoming aware of what I have gained. I am beginning to actually feel something other than pain. I needed to feel that, to live that and to know that there is something to celebrate there.
I am now taking classes and progressing unbelievably well in my rehabilitation. I can't express how different everything is. We (me and my body) are both learning again, to understand what moving without pain is, to take a few risks and realise that limits have been widened, boundaries removed and "body connections", are actually connected. I feel connected, I feel strong and with each class the fear subsides!
Every day brings a new reflection and a new realisation. For me it's so far so good. However, it doesn't mean that the issue of dance and injury goes away, nor will this blog.
So, you've got the background, now let's move on.
I plan to use my experience and the insight it has given me to assist others in the dance world to go forward through exploring topics and aspects relating to the theme of dancers injuries, treatments' and the resolution of pain.
Thank you for reading so far and for following.