The day I would dance at an open-air concert in Times Square, I woke before the alarm, as is my custom, and slid out of bed into the quiet dark. Instantly, I knew something was wrong: The room was spinning. Or was I? Putting out my hand to steady myself, I couldn’t find anything to touch. I didn’t know if I was sitting, standing, or if I had fallen to the ground.
I woke my husband. “Do we still go to New York?” I asked him. “I’m so dizzy. Is this a bad idea?”
Instantly, I knew something was wrong: The room was spinning. Or was I?
“Probably,” he said. “And you’re probably going to do it anyway.”
He was right. As a longtime member of a Christian dance troupe, I dance regularly in church—but the chance to perform in Times Square was a first.
I have lived with anxiety for at least as long as I have memories, probably longer. I’m also a trauma survivor, which, as I like to say, means having anxiety with data in its arsenal. I’ve grown accustomed to the many and varied ways anxiety manifests itself in my life—but feeling as if I’m literally spinning out of control? That was a new one. And a significant one, for a dancer, on the day of a performance.
As I pulled on my leotard and tights in a hotel conference-room-turned-dressing-room a few hours later, the world again started slipping. The floor tilted away from me until I was unable to see. I excused myself to the ladies’ room, where I rested my head against a stall door and cried.
“Why, God?” I asked. “Why are You doing this to me? I’ve been looking forward to this concert for months. Why today? Why not tomorrow? Why can’t You just heal me?”
Parker Palmer once wrote, “[Wholeness] means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” And I think I’ve learned to embrace my brokenness on some level—anxiety and various physical injuries that threatened at certain points to put an end to my dancing. But sometimes I think it would just be so much better if God would take it all away.
And sometimes, I think it wouldn’t.
I see the ways anxiety holds me back, but I also see the ways it spurs me on. I challenge myself to try things solely because I’m afraid to do so, and I don’t want to let anxiety win the day. Living with anxiety also makes me more sensitive—sometimes to the point that I can’t bear to watch the news, but also in ways that make me a more compassionate person. Sometimes I feel that life with anxiety is life with the saturation turned up: a way of existing in the world, which has shaped who I understand myself to be.
If I was “healed,” would that all go away? Who, then, would I be? Life without anxiety looks drab and dull by comparison. I don’t want to lose all the colors I see for what might feel like muted shades of gray. If God healed me, would He find a way to keep the beauty, intensity, and compassion, while removing the fear? I can’t fathom how that would be possible—it feels like trying to picture a one-sided coin. But I know that what I can imagine pales in comparison to what God can do.
Standing in a holding pen behind the stage, still dizzy, I watched as countless other dancers shifted from foot to foot, pointed and flexed their feet, jumped, stretched, and otherwise released nervous energy. I wondered for how many these jitters were merely pre-performance, and how many dancers live with these kinds of jitters all the time.
Living with anxiety makes me more sensitive—sometimes to the point that I can’t bear to watch the news, but also in ways that make me a more compassionate person.
The last time I danced in church, the Scripture reading was from 1 Peter 4:10-11: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God ... Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
One of the gifts I have received is the ability to dance. And if I am to dance, I can do so only “by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified.”
I walked up the steps to the stage.
Performing in Times Square was an experience like no other. Amid the complete sensory overload of lights and sounds and colors and thousands of bustling people, our troupe took the stage and began to dance as speakers the size of refrigerators blared out a song that proclaimed, “Praise the name of the Lord!” I wasn’t dizzy. As I felt the bass notes thumping through the floor and into my bare feet, I thought of my favorite line from Chariots of Fire: “And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Anxiety does not hold me back from feeling God’s pleasure. And until such a time as God might choose to heal me, I choose to use that anxiety as an impetus to engage my gifts for His glory.