Get Physical

On My Inability to Move My Body

by Hannah Smith

Ability to move the body is something, I feel, we take for granted on an almost daily basis. If you’re able bodied, having the ability to move freely, without restriction or pain, is something to truly cherish. Of course, I’ve only been able to appreciate this now that it’s been taken away from me on an extremely personal level. Before I dive in, let me clarify: I am in no way living life in a disabled body, nor do I claim to. 

Growing up, I was a ballerina through and through. I truly loved everything about ballet – the mental discipline required, the sheer strength your body exerts, the immense power you feel, the adrenaline of performance, and the intense work you put into your body to name a few. While ballet was my poison of choice, the feelings I have for it can be applied across the board, whether you enjoy soccer, basketball, or cheer – there’s something about finding a physical outlet that allows you to work both your body and mind. In the height of my ballet days, I was taking class six days a week as well as a ballet intensive summer camp – to say I threw myself into it is an understatement. 

It was during this time that I dislocated my knee for the first (of unknowingly many) time. As the injury occurred, I refused to believe I was injured. I sat in a corner rubbing Tiger Balm on my thigh for nearly an hour and half, crying but not allowing anyone to call my mom. When I couldn’t bend or straighten it and it became swollen beyond recognition, the call was made and I was on my way the doctor. The swelling was so bad that they had a hard time determining what actually happened – for a week, they told me I had likely torn my ACL and that it would be so difficult to recover. Once the swelling went down, they were able to determine it was a simple dislocation, and I was told I was “lucky” that it was such a minor injury, and not something as major as an ACL. At the time, I was happy and excited – I did my physical therapy willingly and within three months, I was back at ballet. 

On my first day back, I subluxed my knee (meaning it dislocated halfway). Another trip to the doctor, and I was told I could not participate in any floor activities (which, if you’re unfamiliar with a ballet class, is one of the more enjoyable parts where you can step away from the barre). I was distraught, depressed, and in denial. I tried to maintain my six day a week class schedule regardless, but it quickly became apparent that my knee could not handle it, even though I was sitting out for half of the class. Soon, I had to make a truly heartbreaking decision – I quit ballet. I tried to fill the hole in my heart with musical theater, and my high school even allowed me to choreograph so I could still be more heavily involved in dance. This worked for a while, until I went to college.

Attending college in New York City, I was face to face with dance students in the cafeteria everyday, coming and going from class, and truthfully, it got in my head. Now that I had no outlet whatsoever, the depression started to weigh in that I would not be able to do ballet without injury. My family encouraged other forms of exercise, but between a simply bike ride and yoga, my knee was still dislocating. 

My injury occurred in 2010, so the inability to truly exercise has been present in my life for a full decade. The more I reflect on my injury and the changes that followed, the more I realized how much we take our bodies for granted. I went from being able to do standing splits and being en point to being unable to do a squat without dislocation – a huge reality check for me. While everyone might not be able to relate to my exact journey, I wanted to speak it to let people know they’re not alone. Any form of changes to your physical body like that, obviously have a long term effect on your mental health. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not meant to define your life. 

In time, I’ve found a few workouts I can manage to get through (even though I have to wear a chunky, ugly knee brace), and I’m slowly on the mend. You can be too. 

Feature Image via Daniela Spector

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