Those of you who know me well will know that for 14 years of my life, I learnt the incredibly disciplined, graceful and passionate art of dance.
Starting at age 4, I spent my childhood learning a craft which I hoped would become a lifelong career. While it certainly became a lifelong love, my body prevented it from being a lifelong activity.
Forced to give up in my late teens, I was devastated when my body decided it would no longer carry me in my point shoes. I had to find new ways to express myself, other than dance.
I recently attended an open day at the WA Ballet Company and sat through a typical ballet class of these incredible athletes. What struck me was that the structure of their lesson was exactly the same as the lessons I used to attend six times per week over 30 years ago.
It pulled on my heartstrings to watch my mind totally in sinc with their movements, feeling their positions during every barre exercise and travelling the room with their every leap. I could anticipate their movements and felt my own body joining in, if only in my mind.
I felt a deep sadness as I knew that while my head knew (almost) every movement they performed, my body could not do what my head demanded anymore. My body had changed so much in the years since I took a ballet class - this was no longer an active part of my life.
I walked away inspired yet feeling like I had been taken back to a life I once knew, a form of movement my body once knew so well, yet was no longer attainable.
What would my life have been if I had been able to follow this path?
It is easy to look backwards and feel sorry for ourselves, grieving the activities our bodies used to be able to do pre-illness, pre-disability, pre-limitations. While the grieving process may be important, it is not useful to stay there as that requires us to focus on what we can no longer do, rather than what our bodies can do now.
So, I chose to spend some time thinking about what I HAVE achieved since giving up dance and what giving up dance opened my heart and mind to. My answer was - a great deal! The life I have led since leaving dance behind has been fulfilling, adventurous, exciting, meaningful and worthwhile.
I started my life learning an art form that required me to be totally in touch with my body and the way in moves. For the last 14 years since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I have had to live my life in a very different way but still with that precise self awareness of my body, but for very different reasons.
One of the keys to living a meaningful life with a chronic illness is being able to focus on what you CAN DO, rather than on what you can't do. I can still enjoy going to the ballet and admire the dancers bodies and abilities, but know that my life has taken a different, yet still valuable, path.
What activities can you no longer do, yet still enjoy with a healthy admiration?