How I Healed my Whole Self from JRAJanuary 19, 2015
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was quite the blow at the time as I was professionally training to become a ballet dancer. After the diagnosis, I had to stop training and was unsure as to when, if ever, I would be back to dancing. As a 13 year old who trained 6 days a week, was on full scholarship, loved ballet more than anything, and had spent all of her life up until that point training physically and mentally for a career in her passion, that diagnosis felt like the end of my existence. After a year, I luckily went into remission. But what followed was not only a struggle with my physical body, but a struggle mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Through a combination of medication, Reiki, vitamins, supplements, and a diet change (as I was blessed enough to have been born into a family of healers and holistic health minded individuals), I entered remission and was able to return to my ballet training; but my body had changed so much during my year long struggle with JRA. So much so that I had a very difficult time falling back into my technique. Not only had I taken a year off of training, but I had returned to ballet with a completely different body: a body that had just gone through a disease and was still recovering from that disease. Not to mention that at 13-14 years old, as a female, my body went through natural changes. So, attempting to come back to the art form in the physical and mental capacity I had approached it before I became sick, was a recipe for disaster. I wasn’t the same person physically, mentally, or emotionally. But at 14 years old, super thankful to be returning to the studio, I was too disciplined and strict with myself to allow for that kind of monkey wrench to be thrown in my technique. All I knew is that to be where I wanted to be as a dancer, I had to keep pushing forward in the only way I knew how.
After a few years of trying to continue that path and incurring multiple injuries, by 17 years old it became clear that my body wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of physically demanding movement and a career as a professional ballet dancer. Looking back, its also clear that my mind and emotions couldn’t handle it either. So, as a very stubborn teenager, I quit. I stopped, completely. I didn’t want to think about perhaps looking at other dance forms such as contemporary ballet, modern dance, etc. I didn’t want anything to do with any of it. If I couldn’t be the best classical ballet dancer that I had set out to be at age 3, then I was done.
It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Years later, and after attempts to completely change my career trajectory by going to college and then grad school for history, I realized that ballet was not the only dance form, and that my body could safely engage in other forms of dance without adding further injury or pain. So, I finished my Masters Degree in American History at UNC Chapel Hill and attended Tisch School of the Arts at NYU to earn an M.F.A. in Dance Performance and Choreography. I immersed myself back into the world of dance, but in a different way, with an open mind for dance forms other than classical ballet. Although I no longer move like I used to, I currently teach and choreograph. It is certainly hard, and my JRA symptoms will sometimes flair up, but I have been so blessed to be able to continue moving, even through my disease.
Aside from entering into remission, what really allowed me to work through the physical setbacks caused by my JRA was the effort to accept and then the eventual acceptance of what was happening mentally and emotionally. Going to college and then eventually grad school for history allowed me to grow as a person, apart from being just a dancer. I was able to find and explore who I was outside of the studio, without pointe shoes, and without the strict discipline I had placed on myself at such a young age. In many ways I realized how much more I was than just a dancer, but in others I realized how much of a dancer I still was. I discovered my own unique artistry- one that encompassed so much more than the medium of the art I studied. I was able to find myself as an artist. Once I could fully come to terms with what I had experienced, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally, I was able to return to dance as the new artist I was, and experience it new from a new perspective with a new body and a new outlook. I was finally able to heal my whole self.
One of the many things that helped me on that journey was my training to become a Reiki practitioner and then eventual Reiki Master. I was able to understand that my energetic mental and emotional body was linked to my physical body, and just as I had gone through physical trauma, I had gone through mental and emotional trauma. The knowledge of that link helped me to heal and move forward. Yoga was also a big part of the journey for me as well, which is why I am now a yoga teacher. On the mat, without the pressure of dance techniques, I was able to explore the new body I had. All of what I had in the past perceived as my flaws and limitations because of my JRA, started to become unique attributes to who I was and the body I had been given. Rather than feeling frustrated or angry about my condition, I was able to cultivate gratitude and compassion towards myself, radically changing not only how my body responded to movement, but how I was able to then mentally and emotionally cope with retuning to the studio, but this time in a much healthier and more mindful way.
With the help of Reiki and yoga, alongside wonderful family support and love, I was able to heal from JRA, in a complete and all encompassing way. Having JRA taught me a lot about my body, about my health, and inspired me to help others with their struggles. I would never have learned to appreciate what I do now had I not been sick, and would not have been able to help others as I now can. Although my JRA was a struggle, and in some ways still is, I am able to accept it into my life and into my path, with a strong faith that it came for a reason, and that it will only help me along my journey in this life.
To learn more about healing, check out how to heal your whole self through these and other books! And if you are ready to begin your own healing process, I would love to be apart of it. Please check out the healing services I offer as well as the Restorative yoga classes I teach to start you on that journey!