Swing Dancing as Exposure Therapy

Thank God I don’t have PTSD. If I did, I’d probably give up swing dancing for life. And what’s life without some dancing? Surely not one I’d want to live. I’m not kidding.

To be clear, I do have some symptoms of PTSD. The good news is that my symptoms aren’t bad enough for a diagnosis, according to my therapist. I also don’t exhibit the “avoidance” symptom very much. Really, I think that’s just because I’m stubborn. I don’t want my past to fuck up my future if I can help it. And there’s no way I’m letting those jerks take swing dance away from me.

My main trigger is getting touched on the side of the ribs. I get triggered regularly when dancing. Once in a while a lead’s hand will need to be on my waist. If a lead isn’t paying enough attention (such as during a fast song) or if they’re very tall, their hand has a higher chance of creeping up toward my chest. Only once has someone accidentally gotten to second base, but people still get too close for comfort all the time. Luckily, it’s not enough to make me consider, even for a second, giving this hobby up.

When I go out dancing, I just make the assumption that I’m going to get triggered at least half a dozen times. I think being mentally prepared kinda softens the blow. Another thing that probably helps is that swing dancing takes a lot of concentration. Distraction has sometimes been helpful in recovering after a trigger. Whatever the reason, my triggers just don’t affect me as badly when I’m dancing. I used to at least flinch, but nowadays I just feel uncomfortable for a moment before moving on with my life.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Of course sometimes an especially bad trigger will throw me off for a few minutes and I’ll have to talk myself down. There also was a night when I got triggered much more often than usual, which really wore me down by the end of the night. (But no, I did not stop dancing. Dedication, bro).

I’d never thought of swing dancing as exposure therapy until someone in my lesson mentioned how it’s helped him. He had a tough time being close to people physically and dance helps with that. He can control how much he does and it’s a positive situation to be close to people. I think the same thing can apply when it comes to my triggers. They affect me less when I’m in a good mood and it’s a situation where I can stop whenever I need to (not that I ever have). Of course, this isn’t why I dance in the first place. Still, it’s nice to know that something I already love can help my brain learn that I don’t have to freak out every time the side of my ribs is touched.

Thank you for reading this article. You can find my backstory here.

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