First, do not assume that I know how to tango. I do not.
I do not do any sort of dancing. I am not a dancer by any stretch of any definition of dancer, to which my dear ex-husband, who spent countless Spanish-expletive-filled hours trying to teach me salsa, cha-cha, merengue, would enthusiastically attest. If he could. He is in Heaven now. But probably still making fun of my dancing from Way Up There.
Carlos (the dear ex) to me, repeatedly: “Stop dancing like a white girl. You look like an f-ing dork. Dance like a Puerto Rican.”
Me, repeatedly: “¡Callate, pendejo!“*
*”Shut up, asshole!”
Nowadays, if there were a fat chance of dance in my life, my choice would be the Argentine Tango. Because it looks graceful, passionate, intense, angry. And because I like the outfits.
Teaching my bully how to tango is what Dr. C, my psychologist, told me in last week’s session to do when panic/anxiety strikes. Well, she didn’t really say that, exactly. I don’t think. I’m not quite sure what she said, exactly. Because I was in the middle of a big fat full-on P/A assault during that session. Which, it occurs to me now, was weird, since you’d think It would be so scared of Dr. C’s safe, comfy, Pottery Barn-ish office with those big Doctor certificates hanging on the walls. It also occurs to me that It must have been fun for Dr. C. You know, sort of like when Sybil turned into Peggy or whoever right in front of Dr. Wilbur. Or whoever.
In any event, I was not able to focus well. I do remember that Dr. C made me stare at her potted fern and describe it in great detail while focusing on where my elbows were. Or something like that.
My take-away from that session: When It is Bad, I need to do something random — change it up. Instead of parking my butt somewhere overthinking about It, I need to get up and do something I would not normally do. Like look at a fern. Or think about my elbows. Or wash the dishes.
When It strikes hard, it feels sort of like a crazy wild jitterbuggy dance that my mind is doing with my body. The initial strike is an intense, out-of-the-blue, inexplicable “Oh, NO!” to which my stomach responds with a sudden, rapid nose-dive down to China or thereabouts. My mind follows with, “Uh-oh, there is something terrible …” My body says, “Ok, here comes some adrenaline so you can fight or run away from the something.” My mind acknowledges ” … but I don’t know what …” Body says, “but just in case it is something even more terrible than you are thinking, here’s some more adrenaline.” Mind: ” Now I know there is something wrong! Heart is racing, head feels like it is going to explode, I’m shaky, weak-kneed, maybe I am getting dizzy? … something is REALLY wrong …” Body: “We need more adrenaline then …” Mind: “It’s getting worse, heart is pounding, I’m going to pass out or worse, … what if I’m having a stroke … or what if I am hallucinating, not where I think I am, what if I am on the freeway right now but I think I am at home (or vice versa)? … ” Body: “Now you’re really scaring me! We need A LOT MORE adrenaline …”
You see how it fuels itself. That’s panic, my jitterbug. But without great swing music.
What my psychologist is teaching me is that my partner in this dance, It — a nameless, faceless bully, cornering me, keeping me trapped in my bottom train — is born of combination of things … my life history, my overpowered and oversensitive neurological wiring, my brain chemistry, how I see myself in relation to other people.
And just like a bully, It feeds on my fear. The more I cower in the face of It, the more pleased with Itself it gets, and the more power I give It. It starts the music, It drags me out to the dance floor, It twirls and whips and be-bops me all over the place.
Dr. C says I can’t avoid It, because It is part of me. I need to stay out on the dance floor and keep dancing with It. But I can change it up. Do something random. Pick different music. Make different moves. Throw some new steps in … slower ones, more deliberate, more graceful. Do the tango.
It will surely keep trying to whip me back up into a jitterbug, at least for awhile. I’m hoping It will eventually get bored and go do something else. Like the dishes.