This weekÂ Behind the MicÂ features part five ofÂ Chronically Creative; a series aboutÂ making art while living with chronic illness. Today we meetÂ Christine Reed of Bliss ChickÂ — yogi, dancer, and among many other things, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder survivor.Â Christine, as always, shares from her depths. Christine, step right up.Â Â
I want to preface this piece by thanking Rachelle for two things: First, for her patience, because it’s taken me a long time to get to these, which leads to Second, for asking me to do this, because it opened something up inside of me and has led to new levels of understanding of myself, my life, and my writing.Â
When I got the questions and had a fuller understanding of what Rachelle was doing with these interviews, I felt really challenged and called to become more open and honest about myself than I have ever been. I realized that I wanted and needed to start exposing my life in new ways so that people could see that the struggle that comes with mental conditions is difficult but worth it. I also want to help remove the stigma of these labels (even though I am a bit anti-label and don’t care to use them — they can still be helpful as a lens and to show us that we aren’t alone).
My label is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and you can read more about it here. If this seems to be you or someone you love, I highly recommend the work of Judith Herman, MD, and Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, both of whom are true trailblazers. And now…on with the questions!
Q: How has dancing helped you break free from mental and emotional conditions that have hindered you?
One of the really difficult aspects of Complex-PTSD is emotional flashbacks. Our brains in these moments cannot differentiate between past and present. We are simply IN the past. Â We are feeling it all again as if for the first time.
Dancing (or any challenging physical work) does not allow for anything but the present. When you are fully in your body, you are fully in your life and in the now. Period. So dancing can act as an anchor for me and as a reminder of who I really am — that I am not my injury (the preferred term for Complex PTSD).
Dancing also gets out the “goo,” as Marcy and I call it. It releases toxins and emotional residue from the physical body. The better I feel physically, the more I am able to deal with the mental stuff. When I am not dancing for a couple of days, I start to feel unreal and disconnected.
Q: When you aren’t feeling well, how do you approach dancing?
I do it anyway. Or I don’t and then I pay the price. So mostly, I do it anyway. And each time, if I am feeling especially bad, it feels like this brand new miracle, because that’s another symptom of Complex PTSD — an amnesia about people and things in our lives that are good and trustworthy. We can literally forget what is good for us. (There are physiological/neurological reasons for this that are too complicated for me to explain, but the brain is damaged by the chronic fear-inducing trauma — under-grown here, over-grown there.)
If I am having an extra hard time, I tell Marcy or even twitter (ha!) that I am going to dance so that I have outside accountability. It can be so bad that reaching to turn on the music feels like the most impossible task ever given to any single human being on this planet. Really. I know it sounds dramatic, but this is life with trauma.
I have danced enough now to know that no matter what I think in the moment, this is going to work. I have my “witness mind” evolved enough that I can at least see that. So I turn on the music and I stand there, slumped, thinking, “No F-ing way can I even lift my arm much less feel the joy that dance brings…” Â I stand and I breathe and within moments I am flying and smiling and I am well into the healing process.
Q: As someone who returned to dance “late in the game” how do you talk to yourself about your body and you abilities? What do you do when the “compare game” raises it’s ugly head?
Though I still have a fair distance to go in my own mind when it comes to my body and my abilities, I am the most fit I have ever been in my life and that is just a fact that my perfectionist internal-nazi cannot avoid. In terms of the physical aspects of my dance, I am a creature of confidence. Which is strange (or not) because I do not have real confidence about anything else about myself BUT dance.
The place I get into trouble, though, is thinking about what could have been, so I just snap myself out of it by reminding myself that I believe very strongly that everything happens for a reason. SO there is a REASON that I left dance when I did and a reason that I came back to it when I did. I’m not completely clear on the reasons but I know they exist and this is one of those places where I try very hard to have a little faith and just keep moving forward.
That’s really super hard for me, though, don’t think otherwise.
Bonus Q: What are you up to these days and how do we find you?Â
MarcyÂ and I are going to spend more time writing about how we deal with this as a couple. There is not a lot out there for the partner’s of people with Complex-PTSD, specifically, and there is very little about how the couple can create mutual coping mechanisms. So we’ll try to stay really transparent about our process. That doesn’t mean Blisschick is turning into a Complex-PTSD site, per say, but it will be deeply embedded in my writing because that is how I work toward my bliss — by working through all of this.
There is lots and lots of great resource material available for free download on the Trauma Center’s siteÂ (this Center is where Bessel Van Der Kolk is located).
I am currently reading Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror,Â and I recommend that along with Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to PsychotherapyÂ by Pat Ogden, an amazing work.
Finally, just a little personal note, I think that Kundalini Yoga, in particular out of all yoga (many, many forms of which I have studied for 15 years) is a truly powerful tool for working with Complex PTSD. I recommend any DVD done by Ana Brett and Ravi Singh (and to start, their older DVD, Kundalini Yoga – A Journey through the Chakras, is a great overview).
To read all the posts in this series click here. Stay tuned next week for another addition of Chronically Creative. Thanks for being here.