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October 6, 2019

Rise & Thrive: a story of Chronic Illness, Dance & Finding our own Way.

Sometimes, a chronic diagnosis can feel like a death sentence.

Whether it’s an injury, illness, skin, or mental health condition, it can feel as if the walls are closing in on us.

There’s no escape and no way back to the life we once lived. This is how I felt when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, heavy metal poisoning, mold toxicity, and a variety of parasites. I was 32, with a three-year-old son, assorted jobs, and a life, which did not accommodate a chronic disease with an unknown treatment and unknown cure.

I was devastated.

I shook with fear, with disbelief, with denial.

Now, I refer to myself as the luckiest Lyme patient alive. And I mean it.

The background story is that my father and sister had also suffered from Lyme for the past 20 years, and I watched our family fall apart. I witnessed manic-depressive psychosis, insomnia, crippling anxiety, and pain. My parents divorced, and my whole life turn upside down.

Was I about to lose my own life? The answer was yes.

It hasn’t been an easy journey. My family has had some major ups and downs, and there have been some truly unbelievably awesome disasters, like finding out that our condo and everything in it was contaminated with black mold and so was my body. Some were handled with a modicum of grace, some not so much. I spent six months face down on the floor, with no energy or will to live, and the last 10 years in various states of health and debilitating symptoms.  

Some days, I barely know I’m sick. Some days, that’s all I know.

With a chronic illness, my mantra is: “Don’t believe your thoughts.”

Anxiety, depression, and fear are all symptoms of Lyme and mold. So when everything in my brain is shouting, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m always going to be sick, I don’t want this,” I must rely on more than the thinking part of my mind. I rely on my practices: dance, community, tree hugging, and sky gazing. They are more than practices—now, they are a way of life.

The dance floor is where I have learned to let my body’s wisdom and expression do the work. It’s where I have let my sense of self come from the inside out, not the outside in. I ignore or cover the mirrors, I close my eyes, I listen, and I follow. And, no joke, I have danced my way through this disease and all its accompanying symptoms and manifestations. Sometimes, I’m on my knees sobbing, sometimes I’m blissfully expansive, and everything in between.

I created my own company, Awaken The Dance, because I needed a dance class where I could show up as I am, as I’m feeling, no matter what. And where all bodies are welcome, no matter their dance experience, shape, size, color. And where we can all follow the wisdom of our bodies in a community of humor, acceptance, relaxation, and warmth.

Other healing practices: I lean against trees. I humbly ask them to support me and I swear, every stinking time, they do. Or, I lay on my back on my bedroom floor or the earth, and I watch the way the clouds form and dissolve, play, let go. I call on my peeps, and sometimes I cancel hiking or coffee dates, and instead, ask friends to come cuddle me in bed. I snuggle with my husband and son.

I actually let myself receive love from my family and friends, and trust that when I’m feeling well, I will have more to give, but now it’s time to receive. 

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I feel like I’m living proof that doing what we love is absolutely crucial to living a thriving life, no matter what our diagnosis. There’s a certain magic in saying to to whatever is causing your suffering: “I am not you!”

I am not Lyme is something that has arisen from my belly and spoken itself through my heart until the words have poured out of my mouth a hundred times. They’ve poured through my movements onto the dance floor. The wisdom of my body is so much louder than the wisdom of my thoughts, praise Buddha. 

And what I learned along the way is that these practices are shockingly miraculous for all humans! Because we are all living with impermanence. We are all existing in a world way beyond our control, and to come in contact with ourselves in these organic, supportive ways makes the journey one of discovery and play, sweetness and tears, rather than isolation and misery. No matter the state of our health at any given moment, we need support along the way. I coach many people, not just with chronic illness, and we work together to create embodied, nature driven practices that literally change everything about the way we relate to our selves, our relationships, and the life itself.

Now I teach what I know (don’t we all) through my dance classes, groups and coaching business because all off us suffering from chronic challenges can be so much more than our diagnosis. We can thrive and be in love with our lives. So rise and thrive. 

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author: Hannah Kinderlehrer

Image: Author's Own

Editor: Catherine Monkman