What’s Real, Bellydancing Panic

Panic Attack

The glass of wine had no effect on me at all.  I lowered myself into he hot tub.  My body ached and I couldn’t get warm.

I knew I was scared, but I didn’t know I was having a panic attack until Jon told me.  That’s how it works with panic attacks, when I’m in the middle of one, I’m blind to reality.

For the previous couple of weeks I listened to my Bellydancing playlists and chose  a fast and slow song that I thought I could dance to.

In a few weeks my Bellydancing class will  have our annual Hafla.

A Hafla is a celebration with dancing and food.  Last year when I attended, it was all so new to me.  Everyone in the class brought something to eat, then us new students got to watch everyone else dance.    Towards the end of the evening, we all danced together.

This year, I’ll be dancing with our teachers Julz and Kathleen.  There will be a few more people attending the Hafla.  Members of our families  and an ATS Bellydancing group from  Half-moon NY, will be joining us too.

I hadn’t really thought about it much.  I knew we were going to be practicing, but I didn’t know exactly what that entailed.

Last night, at the end of class, Kathleen took me to one side of the room, while Julz queued the music.  “This is where we’ll be dancing,” Kathleen told me.  She motioned to the empty space in front of us, “and that is where the audience will be”.

I assumed, as often happens in class when I’m learning something one on one with Julz or Kathleen, that the rest of the class would be doing their own dancing.  But as I found my place in our trio, I looked up and saw the rest of the class watching us.

Suddenly, they were not longer, Emily, Callie, Trish and Kat, women I’ve been learning to dance with for over a year,  they became “The Audience“.

There was no time for me to think about it.  The music started and for the next five or six minutes I may as well have actually been dancing on a real stage with a real audience.

It was only when I was alone in my car, driving home, that the voices started.

Old voices telling me how bad I had danced.  I started to imagine  everyone in class making fun of me.  Talking behind my back, saying I’d never be able to dance.

Then I tried to talk myself out of it.

I asked myself what I would tell someone else who was experiencing what I had. I told myself I never really considered dancing in front of an audience and that I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s what practice is for. It was natural to be nervous.  That was part of learning.  I did fine.

My self soothing didn’t work any better than the glass of wine I downed when I got home. It was only this morning, when I began to see it clearly.

The fear of people ridiculing me goes all the way back to childhood.  In many ways, the home I grew up in was a scary place for me. Being the youngest, getting me to cry, to feel bad about myself, was almost a sport for my brother.   I learned not to speak,  to hide who I really was to protect myself from the ridicule of him and my father.

The only safe place was one I created inside of myself.

It was a big Victorian house at the end of a dirt road, with a garden, and endless rooms, including a library, the books reaching higher than I could see,  and a single stuffed chair and lamp.  It always welcoming, always warm, always safe.

Jon is quick to say that panic attacks happen when we’re lying to ourselves.

This morning I could see the lie.

My fear came from the lie that the “audience” had seen the truth about me.  That I had done something wrong.  That I was  such a bad dancer that I’ll never be able to learn.  I had exposed myself for everyone to ridicule me,  and in my panicky mind, of course they would.

The truth is that I danced fine last night.  No better or worse than ever before. And of course, no one is ridiculing me, except myself.

This morning I got an email from Kat, “I’m sure it was a little scary doing the first run-through with Julz and Kathleen.  Don’t worry, that’s why rehearsals start a few weeks early and it will be a very warm, intimate, affirming audience.”

That’s what’s real.  Not the voices in my head.  Not the panic in my body.

I am safe now.

I haven’t been to that big old Victorian house at the end of the dirt road for years. I’ve surrounded myself with people like Kat, who are kind and encouraging.  And I’m seeing, for myself, and showing more of who I really am, all the time.


18 thoughts on “What’s Real, Bellydancing Panic

  1. Bravo Maria,
    I check my computer several times a day to see if you, or Jon, (or Susan Popper’s) because I need a great deal of courage to live my own life. I feel as though you three are very special companions on my particular path.
    Thank you.

  2. The wine will never help you deal with this. It anesthetizes the feelings, but they will return, over and over again until you deal with them, head on. As someone who suffers from occasional panic attacks, I understand the fear, and the voices. There are ways to deal with them…journaling, meditation, etc., but there are also supplements that can be helpful as well. For my anxiety, I take CBD. It works, and very well. It is non-habit forming and there is no buzz. I am sorry that you had to experience this.

    1. I have my ways of dealing with them too Christina. Mostly it’s talking that helps me. Like you say, the wine and even the bath and sleep are a way for me to anesthetize myself. And when I do get to the bottom of it, I aways learn something else about myself.

  3. Hi Maria, I was touched by this morning’s blog. I too was brought up in a family much like yours and have struggled with putting myself out there… never truly comfortable in my inadequacy… But I preserve…
    This also brought to mind the time my young son playing in a piano recital lost his place and without missing a beat – emprovised- with gusto. Some folks who knew the music knew what he did, and others never noticed the mistake. He got a standing “O” and I got a good lesson in just carry on with a smile and good attitude and you will be fine.
    Another thought that helps me through being in front of people – “angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”.
    I admire your risk taking and how much you have grown over the few years…

    1. How wonderful it must be to watch you son do something that you may not have been able to do Judy. And what a good Mom you are for noticing and acknowledging it. Lovely saying about Angels. Something to remember…

  4. Wow…panic attacks happen when we’re lying to ourselves. That is powerful. I hope I can remember that.
    I’m glad you are safe and loved now.

  5. It’s hard to be different, but that’s what makes you so special. I’d rather be different and special then just plain ordinary. Ordinary is boring.❤️

  6. Thanks for sharing, Maria. For far too many years shame has prohibited many of us from sharing experinces such as you had last night. It was too easy to medicate us than to teach us how to handle a panic attack, ask for help and then share our experience with others who can not only learn from our experience, but can often teach us healthy ways to deal with the fears that often precipitate such episodes. I am many years older than you; however, I am very proud to have watched you grow into a much stronger woman as I’ve followed your journey through your blog.

  7. What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing. It made my eyes leak. Funny thing is that yesterday was a day of triggers and fears for me too. It must have been in the stars. My friend believes that we write our own story for our spiritual progression before we are born. Then the stars open samkaras at appropriate times for us to learn . Yesterday must have been such a day for the opening of triggers and fears. May the Great Mother bless you both abundantly.

    1. That’s a beautiful and comforting idea Margaret, I’ve never heard it before. I hope you received what you needed from your day of triggers and fears.

  8. Wow, Maria, such a gut honest post. Panic happens when we lie to ourselves, I would have never figured that out on my own. Thank God you have Jon with you, on this journey – someone who wants to help you navigate the feelings in a healthy way. I get it, too, that the stuff we carry with us from childhood can be so powerful today. That has always amazed me, and p’d me off as well, go AWAY already!! My counselor gently reminds me to love that little, scared, alone girl that I was with the strong, caring, capable woman that I am today. When I can do that, it surely makes a difference. Thank you for sharing, and bringing us along on your journey. It means so much.

    1. It does help to have the support of someone who understands. Jon and I have helped each other in this way since we’ve known each other. It has made a difference. My friend Susan Popper just wrote a post about her “little girl” and helping her in the same way. here’s a link to it if you’d like to read it. Best to you and “your little girl” Karla.

  9. I can relate to this so much. Thank you for sharing your process. I have been experiencing the shame lately because I started blogging. Now, I see it’s the same that has literally destroyed my writing over and over. What a revelation. You are a gift Maria.

    1. A friend told me that many of the dancers she knows are triggered when they perform. Blogging is the same as performing, it’s putting ourselves out there.

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