How Fibromyalgia Tried to Take Away My Greatest Love

I started dancing before I even left the womb. No, really, I started giving my mom contractions at around 18 weeks. I would dance up and down the aisles at the grocery store, jumping and twirling to the music overhead. My parents put me in classes at age 3 and I was hooked for life. I had short stints in soccer and softball but I just wanted more dance classes — ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, lyrical, modern — everything! In middle school, I was up to 12 hours of week dancing, and by high school it was more like 15 — before, during, and after school. Then during the winter months, I was competing almost every weekend. I wasn’t the best dancer, but I had a really strong passion that was sadly ripped away from me due to chronic illness.

When I left for college I had been living with chronic headaches and migraines for six months. I took some dance classes at school as well as joining my school’s hip-hop team. I would have all this adrenaline pumping through my veins, pushing me through class. Once I was coming down from that high, I was slammed back by the pain, leaving me in tears. I soon got to the point where the pain overpowered the adrenaline. By junior year, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and could only handle maybe one class a term. In the few classes I could take, I had to learn to modify most movements so that I wouldn’t injure my already fragile body. Growing up, I was always the kid who knew the counts and remembered choreography. I started having memory problems, making it difficult to remember simple moves from a rehearsal only two days earlier. Not only was my body failing, but now my brain. I ended up staying on my hip-hop team for all four years of school, but towards the end I couldn’t make it through a two-hour rehearsal without taking many sitting breaks or my back would give out.

Living in Los Angeles, I’m surrounded by professional dance studios. During school breaks and once I graduated, I imagined myself taking class from world renowned choreographers at these studios so that I could continue my training, but more importantly, fuel my heart. As my pain increased, it became too difficult to attend even the most beginning level classes. How could something I love so much cause me so much pain?

I always knew I wouldn’t become a professional dancer. I never had the body or skill, but I sure as hell had the heart. Now I watch old friends who I grew up with become professional dancers or studio teachers, while I’m stuck on the sideline, barely able to walk. So I sit at home, watching my old classmates in dance videos on YouTube or teaching around the country.

I once believed that I had the ability to teach. When I listen to a song, I’m constantly choreographing in my head. I always wanted to have the chance to share my love of dance with everyone. A year out of college, I started teaching little kids, teaching princess ballet classes and hip-hop for 3-year-olds. (Yes, it’s even cuter than you can imagine.) As time went on, I could hardly stand for my 45 minute classes. It felt like the last straw. How could I teach classes when I could barely walk around a grocery store? My illness had taken away my last connection to my favorite thing in the entire world.

Dance has always been my way to let out my emotions. I know my mental health would be a lot better if I still had that outlet. I’ve had to accept the fact that my body won’t allow what my heart wants, but hopefully this isn’t absolutely permanent. I still dream up dance movements to songs, still dance in my seat when I’m stuck in LA traffic. Maybe a few years from now, I can get my body to a place that it can handle teaching those itty bitty princess ballerinas. I won’t let my chronic pain take it all from me.

Getty Image by PaulBiryukov

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