Released

I will not be doing any more preventative cancer treatments.

The decision was made today with my oncologist. Initially, he wanted me to consider trying one of the other 2 hormone therapies I have not yet tried, but after we talked more he changed to waiting 6 months to try one of them. With more talk, we finally agreed that the side effects I experience from the hormone therapies were not worth the 10% reduction in risk they would give me.

So no restarting the hormone therapy. No HT side effects, no side effect preventing medications (with their own side effects), no more medications.

My only follow-up from now on are regular 6-month check-ups for the next 3 years until I am outside the 5-year high risk window. My overall risk of recurrence during this time is approximately 15-20%. The risk for a woman my age with no history is 5% (but with breasts and ovaries). My risk will never be that low again, even with treatments.

I feel like I was just officially handed my life back.

For some, any increased risk may seem to high, but for me the side effects took so much of my energy I couldn’t live my life. I am actually more afraid of the effect of the side effects than finding out I have cancer again.

That said, it wasn’t an easy decision. There was a lot to consider, pros, cons, advantages, disadvantages. It was a lot of discussion with my oncologist, but in the end this is the best decision for me.

I can’t live my life in fear of cancer coming back, and I can’t live my life experiencing the side effects I was having.

This may have been an easier decision for me than my oncologist expected. When it comes down to it, the thought of recurrence is not one I dwell on. I have done a lot to reduce my cancer risk, but they are the basic things expected–chemo, radiation, surgery. If I didn’t have side effects from the HT I would still be doing it.

When it comes to cancer, I chose from the beginning not to live in fear.

I don’t have any regrets from my life. I have been very lucky, had lots of ups and down, but I don’t feel like there is anything unfinished. It’s not that I am ready for my life to be over–far from it–but if fate determines that cancer is to be a part of my future I don’t feel I have or could have control over that. I had no (known) risk factors before I was diagnosed, but I still found a lump and began this journey.

I can only live my life as best as I can right now and take the future as it comes. I was not able to do that while undergoing the hormone therapy and that is reason enough to not do more HT.

I don’t know what the future holds, but in the meantime I am ready to continue rebuilding my life. I am ready to embrace the whatever challenges the future holds as I am now and I feel like I have been given final permission to put cancer behind me and move forward.

I feel released from the hold cancer has had on my life.

It’s been almost 3 years coming.

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Refinding my strength

I had an interesting revelation 2 weeks ago.

I was practicing and I noticed something was feeling different. Or rather, I was noticing something I hadn’t realized had been missing.

I could feel strength in my body.

For the first time in almost 3 years I could feel the strength moving through my body from my feet to my head and back down into the floor. It was like my muscles just suddenly woke up and realized they have a job to do.

It’s a hard feeling to describe and since I am a very tactile person it is probably more obvious to me than those who are less so, but in many ways this is where I draw my power from. I use this feeling through my body to push down into the floor and move my entire body.

For me, that is what ‘feeling grounded’ means.

It took me a while to figure out what I was feeling, but it also took a bit of time to realize I have to use it properly and exercise some control.  Some speed came back with it that I didn’t expect, and I have spent the last 2 weeks fighting a tendency to get ahead of the music–especially in cha cha and quickstep–something I don’t think was possible even a month ago. Paying attention to that, I think my movement have also gotten a bit sharper.

I don’t know why this sensation came back all of a sudden, it could be a number of things–the ‘magic’ 2 years post radiation milestone, 2 years post major surgery, adjusting to the hormonal changes from my last surgery, general recovery. Likely it’s a combination of things, but I am not going to dwell on it.

It’s a good time to have it though as I am competing on Friday (this FRIDAY!) and Saturday. I had a good run-through of standard at the rounds practice yesterday and it was easy to see where the work on my endurance is starting to pay off.  I was not tiring and ‘dying’ so soon yesterday and when I was, there were times I was able to recover and finish strong.

We did a latin run-through on Friday which was a little bit disastrous a I kept blanking on routines, and styling, but our second time through was smoother. We will do another latin run-through tonight I hope will be better.

After tonight, I have one more lesson before the competition, so right now it is mainly things that can be fixed short-term, cleaning, and run throughs.  I am excited to get out on the floor again but I can’t say I have much as far as expectations.  I just want to go and enjoy myself and see how it goes. If I can keep myself ‘calm’ and from ‘trying too hard’ there is potential for some good dancing.

As I continue on this journey, it does amaze me as I recover things I didn’t know I had lost. This feeling of strength is one of them and I can’t wait to keep building on it after this competition to prepare for the next one.

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

The Myth of Pro/am closed gold

I have discovered an unexpected aspect of pro/am.

There is a self-perpetuating cycle where there are almost no closed gold pro/am events. One of the main reasons there are no events is that there is no demand for them; no competitors. The main reasons there are no competitors? Lack of other competitors and events.

And so it seems the circle goes.

I discovered this when I was doing research into some potential competitions. I was very surprised to discover that there were almost no closed gold multi-dance or scholarship events in most of the competitions I was looking at.

Intrigued, I asked one organizer and posed a question to a pro/am forum I participate in.

The organizer said he stopped offering the events because no one was registering for them. The pro/am students said they weren’t competing in them because no one else was and they were rarely offered.

Because of this, most students said they just ‘jumped’ from silver to open.

It was also pointed out that there isn’t really a syllabus for gold in American style. The NDCA only has a list of restrictions (such as no entrances, no separations for more than 4 bars).

The bottom line to this is that I have had to rethink my current competition goals. I was going to focus on closed gold now that I am able to get back to competing consistently, but if there are no events, and no competition, there is really no point.

The competition I was going to do in the spring not only doesn’t have anything except single dances for closed gold, but it also significantly raised the prices for 2018. The combination of the two together, led me to decide to take it off the table as an option.

I discussed the issue with Boss as I want to have an idea of what is next after the competition in 3 weeks, and he had an interesting suggestion which we have combined with one of mine.

My time spent in silver was completely during the time I was sick. I really only did one competition in silver, and my routines were more bronze at that time. It was right before I was diagnosed. When it comes down to it, I basically haven’t done any competing in full silver. If I was an amateur competitor who collected points to determine my competitive level, I would have almost none for silver.

So that was what Boss proposed: that I consider competing in closed silver for syllabus level at the next few competitions and see how I place. We have some closed silver routines, and they could be modified to be more like competitive routines and less test routines. The goal would be to keep them short so they could also be used as drills and practice for the future.

The real focus would be on developing and learning open routines and steps for competing in open competitions and to begin to work at the open level.

It’s an interesting idea. Since I haven’t had an opportunity to really compete in silver, I really have no idea how I would do. I can let the results speak for when to leave silver behind. The gold steps I like can be part of the open routines.

I will still do my gold test when Boss thinks I am ready and it is able to be scheduled. Like the silver test I just did, we can spend some concentrated time working on gold routines to prepare for the test.

The part of this that was combined with my own proposal was a suggestion that we consider doing a competition earlier in the new year that would be cheaper than the one in the US we were looking at. The information for that competition isn’t out yet, but once it is we will look at it closer and decide then. After that comp, would be about 6 months until the next comp I want to do–a nice long time to keep developing the open routines and strengthening my dancing overall.

The small wrench is that I will be away from dance for about 2 weeks at the end of November as I will finally have my surgery to complete my reconstruction. It’s almost all ‘surface work’ and no muscle involvement, but it will still require time to recover. I will talk about that closer to the date.

So this unexpected twist in pro/am competitions has meant rethinking my approach to competing in order to align with what happens in practice versus theory. That said, now that I am clear on the next steps, I have 3 weeks to focus on my next competition which will be with my full gold routines I have been working on.

The future will of course include continuing to focus on building my fitness and endurance, but I feel a bit better about that since taking the step back yesterday. I feel much better and less drained after my lesson yesterday, so I am hoping that will translate into a strong rounds practice tomorrow.

I feel almost like a mythical creature aiming to do full gold routines at my next competition.

Perhaps I will shine like a unicorn 🙂

Disappointing myself

I am not, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am.

It’s been a rough week for me.

My hormones started acting up on the weekend, giving me vivid and disturbing dreams and effecting my sleep. That made me tired overall. Coupled with that, this week has been ‘hot flash’-a-palooza with hot flashing coming 2-3 an hour–something else that has been sapping my energy. The amount I am sweating makes it hard to stay hydrated and that leaves me with a headache that won’t seem to go away.

All of that drain on my system has left me emotional, unfocused, unable to concentrate and unmotivated. Not to mention exhausted. It’s been a bad combination when the last thing I do every day is dance, since work gets first crack at my energy (and it has been using a lot of it).

It’s meant very difficult lessons, especially Wednesday and last night–to the point where I feel they have been pretty much unproductive.

I did start feeling a bit better yesterday and I slept much better Wednesday night, but work on Thursday literally had me running all over the place. It would have been an exhausting day for anyone.

Backing up a little, Monday’s lesson seemed to go ok. We worked on some pieces in foxtrot and waltz that needed cleaning and we did 7 rounds of Viennese Waltz. We actually worked on improving VW as we were doing it, focusing on fixing the sway, amount of travel, rotation and other things. Even though I was tiring, the way I was doing the dance seemed to improve throughout the lesson. I left the lesson feeling things clicking into place–not just in VW but for other standard dances.

Wednesday, we started out with a discussion about future competitions because I had noticed something (will elaborate in my next post) that warranted considering a change in approach after this competition coming up.

After that, we looked at latin, beginning with adding a piece to our cha cha so it is a bit longer. We managed to get the piece worked out, but my mind and my body were not quite communicating. We would work on a step and Boss would show me how to do it, but my body just refused to do it. I just left it for something for me to work on myself. After that, we had to look at another piece where our arm styling didn’t quite match because Boss wanted to do a hold for a bar, but I hadn’t planned for it so we kept missing it.

Then Boss told me he didn’t like the styling I was doing on one of the steps just before that piece and that hit me hard. I had spent more than 30 mins in a practice trying to figure out something to do for that step that wasn’t just me flapping my arms around, and I had been working on that styling for more than a month. Boss showed me some options for what he would prefer and honestly, I hated them all. They were too busy–exactly what I had been trying to avoid–and his main point was he didn’t want me holding my hands in one position. I spent another 30 mins during practice trying to come up with an option somewhere between and still have nothing.

The whole thing really shouldn’t be so difficult to fix, but it made me really upset and now I have no idea what to do.

After that, we worked out a section of paso where our arms weren’t matching and that went ok, except now coming out of that section I keep doing something strange (funny how arms can mess up the feet!). That I should be able to work out.

We ended the lesson working on a step in paso called ‘the twists’. I had thought I was actually doing pretty good on this step, but apparently I am not really. We didn’t get much time to focus on it.

I stayed for practice after, but other than trying to work out the cha cha hands (which I didn’t want to do, and seemed to just be spinning my wheels over), I couldn’t seem to find a single thing I wanted to work on. So, I did a lot of nothing. I worked over the beginning of the cha cha, reviewed the hands for paso and stood around a lot trying to figure out what to do. I just felt frustrated in general with my lack of focus and that upset me more, and I felt like my lesson hadn’t been very productive and then it was followed by an even less productive practice.

Thursday got even worse. As I said, I felt better Thursday morning, but by the end of my work day I could feel I was exhausted. I seriously considered canceling my lesson that night and just going to bed, but with Wednesday’s lesson being so bad, and only so many lessons until the competition, I figured that going and doing something would be better than skipping and doing nothing.

I am pretty sure I was wrong about that.

I could feel my mind being unfocused and scattered before I arrived. We started with a follow-up to our conversation on Wednesday, and that led to Boss telling me that during our VW rounds on Monday, while I started out better, I was tiring much quicker than during the previous week and the rounds practice on Sunday, and that I had to find a way to do better.

I was a little surprised because I had thought that overall the rounds had gone better on Monday and that I had been stronger. I know I was putting everything I had into them. It wasn’t a good way to start a lesson that would include more intervals.

Then the real problems started. we went back to working on the twists in paso and trying to get me to do all the movements I need to do. It was a disaster. Boss would tell me what I needed to do, I would agree, we would do it and nothing would happen. So he kept asking for more. I would try to do more. And nothing would happen. No matter what I tried to do, my body absolutely would not respond to what I was asking. Even simple things like keeping my head out or stepping on a straight leg–nope, wasn’t happening.

I just kept getting more and more upset the more we worked on it and Boss kept getting more frustrated because nothing was happening. Eventually, we just left it.

Then we went to start the VW intervals. Before we even started my mind was screaming it was a terrible idea. But I really wanted to try and do something productive in my lesson.

It was a huge mistake. My body stopped working after about 15 seconds. My mind shut down after 30s. At 45s, there was really no reason to continue, and I truly think that if I had finished the entire 1:30 round I would have collapsed. I literally felt myself shut down.

I was devastated. I had to leave the hall to collect myself because at that point I felt like a complete failure. My main goal for myself before this competition is to increase my endurance so I can get through a 5-dance event. And I can’t even do the exercises needed to begin to address that.

I was honestly ready to just go home, even though there was still 30 mins left to my lesson.

I stayed, and we worked on reviewing the cha cha and working out the new piece a bit better, and a step in jive, spanish arms, I had been struggling with. By the time we finished, the spanish arms seemed to be in a better place, but again I kept being unable to do what Boss was asking me.

Needless to say, I didn’t stay for the group class, and went to bed early last night.

I am hoping that writing out some of my frustrations will help settle me down. I have a lesson again tonight and I want to get through the VW rounds. I want to do something productive in my lesson and be able to work like I usually do.

I just don’t know if my mind and body are going to cooperate for that today.

I don’t work today, so that will help and I slept about 10 hours last night. I seem to be having less hot flashes today, although it is still early. I was going to practice at the hall today, but a big part of me is still saying ‘practice what?’ Even running through all my routines wouldn’t feel very productive right now.

So I am going to just do my lesson and see how it goes. If I am going to get anywhere close to being ready for this comp in 3 weeks, I need to get past this training hump and wall. I need to chalk this up to a bad week and move on.

Next week will be a bit disjointed. I am traveling for work, so I will have lessons with Boss only on Monday and Friday. I won’t have rounds practice on the weekend either as I will be away visiting a friend for Thanksgiving. Perhaps the break is what I need.

I think the thing that is disappointing me the most right now is that I was getting back into ‘full training mode’ and feeling really really good about it and this week is a huge set back from that. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. I try to push myself like I used to and instead of responding, my body shuts down. I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s worse because my mind seems to be shutting down with it, leaving me with nothing to even fall back on.

I am also concerned (and pretty much suspect) that Boss will decide it is all too much and start scaling back everything we are doing. I don’t want to do that as I need my body to adjust and get used to doing more.

I think that is one of the biggest issues. It’s been 2 weeks since there was a significant change in my activity levels (both work and dance), and it feels like I am sitting on an edge with a choice–I can retreat (which feels like giving in), or I can keep pushing and force myself to adjust. I think while I was sick, I gave in too much and my body and mind expects that.

As I said in a previous post–usually only the first two weeks suck. Well, this is week 2 and my body has pretty much thrown in every wrench it can think of to get me to back down.

And it is the fact that I am considering doing so that is disappointing me. Because that would be giving up.

And I know I am stronger than that.

The little things

I had my first ’rounds’ practice today in more than a year.

There were some small victories I want to celebrate.

I made it through the entire practice without completely dying and using my frame. I even had a little energy left over.

I missed the final quickstep because I had a blister pop quite badly during the foxtrot just before. That’s what happens when you don’t wear competition shoes for 9 months–you forget where the ‘rub’ spots are.

I made it through 2 Viennese Waltzes in the centre of 5 dances for 1:30 without having to stop, and still being able to move through the dance. Boss even commented on how it was better from Thursday. I thought I wouldn’t even get through the start of the second one as I felt I was exhausted after the waltz and tango, but I surprised myself by being able to muster my energy and dance the entire way through.

I did have some difficulties (aside from 3 blisters). My left side tired much quicker than I expected in standard. I was much more tired for the second round of latin than I expected. Once my body tires out, I lose the muscle memories of my routines and start missing things. My upper body also starts to collapse making it harder for me to follow and respond to Boss’s lead.

The rounds gave me an opportunity to experiment with moving my upper body and using my head in standard. It was inconsistent, especially at the beginning, but I think it started to settle out some by the final rounds. It’s something I will need to continue to work on more, and a big part of it is needing to become more comfortable with what I can do.

Overall, Boss also seemed pleased with how things went, although we will have to discuss some points more tomorrow during my next lesson. At least for me, it seems Quickstep is the weakest dance/routine, followed by tango. A big victory was going through the paso routine at full speed (for the first time), twice. The second time I was even able to add some power to my steps and it seemed there was shaping.

The latin routines went well, although the first round was a little rough. We were able to identify spots in 3 routines where we have to agree better on the hands and hold, and it turns out that the cha cha routine is shorter than we expected (we made it through almost 2 full loops in 1:30).

Hopefully subsequent practices will only build on today’s and things will become stronger and smoother as we get closer to the competition. 4 more weeks to go.

I do want to say that I found something today I didn’t fully realize I had lost. The we did today was strong and intense, but underneath, I was enjoying myself more than I had in a very long time. I had a moment where I felt pure joy.

It’s definitely the little things.

It only ‘sucks’ for two weeks…

Usually…

We started a new aspect of training in my lessons this week–specifically aimed at increasing my conditioning and cardio endurance. It was something we spoke about prior to my surgery, but hadn’t consistently applied it yet.

We have now.

What we have started doing is essentially the ballroom dance version of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). The second half of my lesson is spent doing 1:30 intervals of Viennese Waltz or Jive (depending on the day), with 3 minutes spent working on less intense sections of my routines or ‘rest’.

Yesterday we actually tried alternating jive and samba for the intervals, but today we upped the ante with 7 rounds of VW. We had to cut down the time for the final two rounds to only 1 minute, but I got through them.

Barely.

As mentioned, we had to cut down the interval times for the last two rounds, and I barely made it through them. In the second last, my feet just stopped working and keeping time, I finished the last feeling very light headed and had some minor dry heaves.

I still religiously wear a fitbit, so I made a point of checking my pulse. One thing I noticed–the first 4 rounds, my pulse recovered from over 160 to less than 140 before we started again. With the last 3 rounds, my pulse recovered a lot less, and before the final round, it didn’t recover at all and was reading 158 before we started. It was 170 when we finished.

I have done HIIT training before, a lot (but never through dance), so I had an idea what to expect, and I have an idea what to expect. Boss told me his intention is to do this during my lessons for the next little while, since we have them regularly 3 times a week. I am perfectly game as I know my stamina and cardio endurance for dance is not likely to improve much otherwise.

From previous experience, it usually takes about 2 weeks for me to start feeling some improvement. I wouldn’t say things get easier, but I should be able to push harder through the full interval without fading so much.

It’s a little scary how much my endurance has suffered while I have been sick. The extra weight I am carrying isn’t going to help much either, but hopefully the intervals will also help it to keep gradually going down. I have been at a plateau for 4 weeks now, and I hope this might help push me through it.

I am trying to approach the intervals with as much drive as I can. Already, the ‘average heart rate’ for my lessons has increased from 115 to 135, which is a good sign. They are meant to be difficult and exhausting, and truly they are going to ‘suck’ for about 2 weeks before I will start feeling stronger. I just keep reminding myself of that.

I actually really hope that we will be able to continue with the intervals through the lessons. I know that beside being hard on me, they are difficult on Boss too (although less so). If we can keep consistent with them, then I hope when it comes to the competition in a month, I will be able to be more confident in my ability to get through a 5-dance scholarship.

After my lesson, I was even able to stay for latin technique class, which really surprised me. I had a little time to rest and really recover, and the class was less intense than my lesson (I think anything will be now!). I was happy to be able to complete it after such a hard lesson.

Boss and I had a quick talk about the group classes, as I have been trying to regularly attend them. Particularly on Mondays, I have a lesson, then usually I do some practice between my lesson and the group class. I asked what he would prefer–I cut back practice some to make the class a priority, or focus on the practice and skip the class if I am too tired. We both agreed that the class should be the priority for now. It gives me a chance to do drills I would do in practice, and it allows Boss to see things that may need to be worked on in my lesson.

Among the stress of the intervals tonight, I also had a revelation about ‘stretching back’ in standard versus ‘leaning back’ (or falling back). The first one involves stretching back from my shoulders and neck, but still keeping my ribs and chest forward. That is what I need to be doing and need to work on doing more. The second one happens when I stretch my hips forward, but let my upper body fall back from them. It brings my entire upper body behind me, hence the feeling of falling.

As we were working on foxtrot between rounds, I was able to work with this newfound knowledge and explore a bit how much stretching I could do before over doing it. There still seems to be more I can do, but doing it free up Boss some and allows us to work together a bit more in standard. I need to allow this to process more so I can apply it to the other dances.

It’s great to see a definite improvement in an area I have been working on for a while, especially when the rest of my lesson was difficult and I was bordering on exhaustion.

It’s the silver lining in many ways of my mind being freed up as my body physically grows tired. I look forward to seeing what other small improvements might be on the horizon, and seeing where the work on the conditioning takes me.

It should only ‘suck’ for 2 weeks.

Searching for the ‘on’ switch

Things seem to be settling down.

On the other hand, there are new challenges to face, but I am ok with that.

Today, something Boss remarked on is that it takes me about 15 minutes into my lesson before I start moving my upper body in standard and rotating like he asks me to do from the beginning. It’s been pretty consistent that it takes at least 1 round of routines, if not two before I seem to switch ‘on’ and start moving the way I am supposed to.

I have a couple theories for this, since it has been drawn to my attention.

First, especially on Wednesday, I don’t really have time before my lesson to switch my mindset from processing things from work to processing dance. I go from work to home, feed my cats, pick up my dance bag, grab something to eat and go to dance. I have more time on other days, but there does need to be a bit of a mind change.

Second, once I get to dance and into my lesson, it really does take at least one round for my mind to gather and start processing and remembering everything I need to do beyond remembering the steps in the routine. It’s like I need the first round to confirm for myself that I know the steps of the routine, then once I know that I can move beyond the steps to other aspects.

It’s something I notice I do during my own practice as well.  The first round is to review the steps, everything else comes after that.

It’s an interesting dilemma, and I am hoping that now I am aware of it I might be able to move past it. Presumably, once I feel more confident that I know the steps of the routine, I will be able to start focusing elsewhere without that review.

The other thing Boss asked me to do is move and rotate my upper body more. To worry less about what my feet are doing and to focus more on what my body should be doing, and doing more of it.

I had to give some thought to this and I came to an interesting conclusion–what I usually do when it comes to sway and CBM is basically follow what Boss is leading–and that’s it. What he is asking is for me to move beyond what he is leading–to see it as a signal only to start changing–and to take my own initiative to follow through the entire movement.

It’s actually similar to what I had to learn in the steps–especially going forward. In forward steps, I need to do some driving of the movement, so once we start moving forward I need to put some drive into the steps to keep us moving and traveling. It’s especially important in promenade when my path is fairly clear and not blocked by Boss.

It’s a completely different mindset from what I have done previously in standard to more or less embrace and use rotation to move. When I first started dancing standard, one of the things I worked on was not moving my upper body to help build stability in my frame. Now I have to get beyond that.

It’s going to take some time and work, but the seeds have been planted, and I have finally figured out what is being asked of me. Now, the challenge is almost to reach a point where I am rotating too much.

Finally, there was one other major point to tonight’s lesson, and that is to give my mind a physical ‘anchor’ to focus on when I need to close my left side back towards Boss after being open. It seems to be effective in achieving what he needs me to do and my guess is that it’s simply using the dominantly tactile focus of my brain. Give me something I can physically feel to focus on, and generally it works.

The interesting thing to come out of tonight’s lesson is that I can already feel my muscles reacting to being used in a different way. Since that was the goal, I take it as a good sign. My body is tired and achy in general, but not in the exhausted, I don’t want to move way. It’s the general tired and achyness you experience after doing a good workout.

It’s actually the balance I have been wanting to find. I am getting better at not only reading my body through this recovery, but also responding and knowing when to push it and when not to.

For example, after my lesson I stayed to practice today. I had hoped to do a full hour, but after 35 minutes my balance was consistently wavering and my focus was disappearing. My knees were also starting to ache. So, I stopped for tonight. It was the right choice to make and instead of feeling exhausted, I feel appropriately tired.

This thought actually brought to my attention how important my post-dance routine is to the entire process. Since returning after my recovery, I have been developing a bit of a routine.

Before I head home, I take time to process what I did. Usually I do this through driving, which I find very relaxing and head clearing. Some times I drive for over an hour before heading home–but that seems to be when I am able to examine the questions and points brought up in the lesson and consciously work through them.

Once I get home, I have about a 30 min soak in a tub with 3 cups of epsom salts while listening to music and reading my kobo. After that I shower and wash my hair. After the shower is knee pampering (voltaren and tiger balm), brushing my teeth, drying my hair, and if needed, icing my knees. Depending on the time and how I feel, I sometimes go straight to bed to read more, or watch something on netflix to clear my head (or write for you guys!).

It’s almost strange to think that all of these things post-dance contribute to dance, but the time and ritual seems to give my brain the time it needs to catch up and process what it needs to.

It’s interesting what you discover, when you give your mind an opportunity to slow down and discover it.

Hopefully, I will discover the ‘on’ button and get it switched sooner in my lessons next.

Rebuilding Confidence

This seems to be the centre of my issues in Standard.

On a side note, I was right about the infection and with some antibiotics, I am feeling much better and my energy has returned.

Back to standard, I had a brief discussion with Boss last night to try and sort through why I have so much anxiety about standard in general. It was a good discussion and helped me to start to work through some of the clutter in my brain.

It really does come down to confidence. I have no confidence in my stamina for standard. This is leading to a lot of fear and doubts and that is something I am not used to clouding how I dance.

We are doing a lot in standard, but I still can’t seem to get through 1 full dance without collapsing. I haven’t been able to notice any sort of increase in stamina (although I admit it’s been hard to track), and I am really concerned that I will have to dance 5 (will definitely happen), but even 10 or 15 dances in a row at the competition in October.

We will do standard rounds practice in a bigger hall this weekend, and the anxiety I am feeling approaching that is pretty high. I think among other things, what I fear the most is that the practice will confirm my fears, and I will be done for the entire practice after putting marginal effort into the first few dances.

All of that aside, during my lesson yesterday we were working on waltz and it gave me some time to process through some thoughts in context. One thing I realized is aside from stamina concerns, I also am not sure that I know my routines (which actually for the most part I do), and I am relying too much on what is being led instead of taking a little more initiative myself.  This almost puts me behind, but it also doesn’t let me take initiative in putting some effort and power into what I am doing.

The other thing I discovered is that my anxiety is also paralyzing me. I am not going ‘all out’ like I could because I am afraid of making mistakes and in general trying to control things too much. The general theme of comments from Boss tends to be that while I am doing some movements (such as swag, swing and using my head), I am not really embracing the movements fully and there is almost a point I reach where I physically stop the movement instead of following it through.

I think recognition of this is more than half the battle.

We did have some moments yesterday while working through specific parts of the routine that as I realized I do know the steps and stopped focusing on them so much I was able to start adding other elements to what I was doing–like leading with my head, using power on forward steps–and I think that began some baby steps to start to return my trust in my abilities.

Along with confidence, it seems I also have to relearn to trust my body.

I stayed and practiced after my lesson for almost an hour and took the time to run through all my routines except foxtrot which I will focus on more on Friday as I want to pick apart the timing some and hopefully will have more room. Just doing that, I started to realize that I do know about 95% of the steps in my routines, and a lot of them are fairly automatic, instead of taking a lot of thought. I think that went a long way to helping me rebuild the trust and confidence I need.

I think one of the main things is that right now in standard I am experiencing a lot of ‘trial and error’ in how we work. In order to figure out exactly what works, it’s necessary to try them and see how they go.

It means letting go and accepting that I might lose my balance, I might make an error and I could end up being completely wrong. I have a hard time with that.

But hopefully, more trial will mean less error and the more I force myself outside the comfort zone the more confident I will become in my ability to work there.

I think the knowing part of the battle is starting to materialize and now I feel ready to move onto the doing.

It’s time to step forward with confidence. I’ve earned it.

Standard Thoughts

I had an interesting night.

One of the things that became obvious was a possible explanation to how I have been feeling that is NOT a return of depression. From last night and into today, I developed clear signs of an infection–which may have started earlier in the week and was dismissed. I am going to head to a walk-in clinic today to get it sorted and have my fingers crossed some antibiotics will lead to improvements.

Beyond that potential explanation, I was able to work through and organize some thoughts about what is bothering me about standard.

At the top of the list is general anxiety about my stamina level and lack of confidence and how my stamina failing could affect the partnership and potentially lead to injury of myself or Boss.  I am also afraid if I do too much, then I will fail through the rest of the dancing.

I am really not sure how to attack this problem. I have gotten used to being ‘cautious’ and the solution seems to be beyond just ‘throwing caution to the wind’. Consciously, I may want to do this, but subconsciously there is a block and I am not really sure how to do it.

Beyond this, I have frustrations in specific dances.

Top of the list is tango. I can’t seem to settle into the right position. If I start out ok, as soon as I change to promenade position (which is its own problem), when I turn back to closed position its not the same position I came from.  I keep slipping outside of Boss and too bar to the left. We went over it a lot yesterday, but my mind still feels scattered and unsure. Even the footwork in tango seems to be working against me. I feel like I need to be able to twist my feet in directions they don’t want to go. I also can’t seem to get consistency in sharpness, or consistency in general in tango. It just seems like this dance is all over the place and not wanting to come together.

Quickstep is next. We have gone over steps I am having difficulties with multiple times and it just doesn’t seem to want to stick. I think of all the dances, quickstep is the one where I keep defaulting to be cautious and I have the least confidence. It is also the dance where any failure on my part is most likely to lead to trips, falls and injuries.

Foxtrot is a matter of timing. I keep finding myself rushing through the slow steps. It’s frustrating for me because timing (being a musician) is usually a strong suit for me (almost too much as I have a hard time working outside of timing), but whenever we do foxtrot, I feel like I have no timing or rhythm. I haven’t quite worked out a way to work on foxtrot timing slowly with music–although I know I used to be able to and focused on it.

There are a number of things I am working on remembering and recapturing in standard and it seems like every day the list grows. I also feel far too tense and afraid to relax.

I am really not sure how to work through everything that goes through my head in standard. I need it to all come together, and it seems like it is doing so much much slower than it used to–and that is frustrating in itself. I am used to picking up things and putting them together and incorporating them faster.

I am going to have to give more thought to standard and how to resolve some of these issues. Almost all of them are things I need to work out myself that Boss can’t really help with. They are personal blocks and challenges I need to overcome, although if I can figure out a way to do that, there may be a way Boss can help.

I feel like the answer is sitting on the tip of brain.

I hope it comes forward soon.

Bad week

Bad weeks happen, right?

I am actually very worried and scared that I am becoming depressed again, after only 3 weeks off the anti-depressants.

This seems to have come out of no where.  Tuesday, I was absolutely fine. In fact, I was told by one of my doctors that my recovery was ‘above average’ and that he was extremely happy with my progress and only saw things getting better.

Then Wednesday afternoon I experienced an overwhelming sense of intense nausea just after eating. It passed after 10 minutes and I felt fine the rest of the day…until my lesson.

We were working on standard drills in my lesson and about 10 minutes into it I started to feel nauseous again and it built to the point where I had to stop and sit down for about 10 minutes.  I was very close to being sick, but it lessened (although it didn’t completely go away) and I continued back in the lesson, although I was fighting it the rest of the time. By the time I got home, I felt like all my energy had been drained and came close to being sick again.  I fought my way through a shower and went straight to bed.  My working theory is that I may have actually had a bit of food poisoning, because the next morning my stomach felt better again.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with the lack of productivity in my lesson and that I couldn’t stay to practice as I planned.

Thursday, for the most part, I felt better, but I could still tell something was off.  It wasn’t anything physical though, my mood just seemed to be jumping up and down. By the afternoon, I was finding myself getting upset and overwhelmed by things that weren’t really a big deal, and the level of emotional reaction I was having didn’t make a lot of sense.

Since I was feeling ok physically, I went to the studio early to get some practice in before my lesson that night. I couldn’t seem to focus on anything I was trying to do, felt scattered and disorganized and that just led to frustration. I stopped after 30 minutes because I was so upset with everything (not just dance). I actually felt my mood plummet.

Despite that, my lesson went pretty well.  We were running through the latin routines and in between rounds working out some of the details that weren’t quite coming together. We were able to go through all 5 routines in a row without my stamina completely failing or major disasters. We also did all of them at full speed, except paso. By the end of the lesson I actually felt much better, energized and motivated again.

Later on that night, I learned something that concerned me, and I could feel myself get upset about it, but at the same time, I also felt myself not even try to express my concerns. I just felt defeated without trying and that is unusual for me. Usually, even if I know something that concerns me isn’t going to change, I at least make a point of airing my concerns.

That defeated attitude seems to have persisted. I felt better when I woke up this morning, and fairly positive when I finished work as it had been a very productive week work-wise.

I decided to head to the studio early to take advantage of some practice time without a busy floor to work on standard, but shortly after I got there things started going downhill again.

Everything I was doing felt unfocused and scattered and all I really did was frustrate myself. I wanted to review the routines as I knew in my lesson we would be running them, but I kept running into things I couldn’t figure out. I just couldn’t seem to pull anything together.

My lesson, unfortunately, wasn’t much better. I had a break of more than an hour to clear my head, but pretty much from the beginning of my lesson things went downhill.

As I mentioned, I knew we would be running rounds of the standard routines (and only 4 of the 5 dances), and working on details between rounds. From the very start of the lesson I felt like jelly and defeated.

It’s a weird feeling to explain. Consciously, I wanted to push and work through the routines. Subconsciously, or at least as far as my body would respond, there was nothing there. No drive, no energy, no frame, no real dancing. I was walking through the steps.

I could actually feel the block but I couldn’t find a way to get past it. The minute I knew that we would be doing rounds without stopping, I could feel myself start to get small and cautious, and working to conserve energy. It was like somehow I had already decided that I no matter what I wouldn’t have the stamina, so I had better do less to make it through.

That seems to be an attitude to standard I can’t seem to get past. I can’t seem to make my body work as hard as I want it to, or at least in the way I used to. It’s like part of me is refusing to risk running out of energy, losing balance, making a mistake, and therefore it won’t respond with the effort I want to put into it.

Words cannot express how disappointed I am in myself because of this block.

I could also see, hear, and feel Boss’s frustration because I just couldn’t seem to respond to anything, and that just made things worse.

It’s a complete turn-around from how I felt and was able to dance two or even 1 week ago.

I feel completely overwhelmed and defeated by standard right now. It’s like I have all the tools to do it right, but all I can do is stand over them without being able to figure out how to pick them all up and use them.

I don’t feel this way in latin (at least not anywhere near this extent or noticeable–although there may be a small element somewhere).

This week, I suddenly feel weak and tired. It could be an accumulation of the work and return to activity from the last 3 weeks, but it doesn’t feel like that. I’ve kept things to a minimum and even did much less this week and last than I did the week before, or the first week I returned to dance.

I don’t like feeling this way, and I especially don’t like how quickly this seems to have manifested. One of the things I could say is that despite everything I have been through, I have never felt defeated.

But I am feeling defeated now, and I am scared it’s not going to go away. The idea of having to return to the anti-depressants is also overwhelming because it seems like a step back–something left over from Cancer that means it will never be over and I will never be able to move forward.

I think that is what scares me the most. At the beginning of the week, I was sure the worst was behind me and I was finally at a place where I could finally completely get my life back on track and moving forward.

Now it seems like I am only taking steps back.

And somehow that feels like failure.

I see my doctor on Monday, and I know, especially if things don’t improve over the weekend, that these feelings of depression will be on the table. Again. Especially if I continue to feel almost non-functional, as I did tonight. I am just not looking forward to that discussion.

Part of me really wants to hope that this is just my body adjusting to the new activity levels and I am just tired which is depressing my system. But considering all I have been through and my previous experiences, the realist in me really doesn’t believe that’s the case.

I guess the weekend will tell if this is a real problem, or just a bad week.

Damn.