The Dancing Bear

There are days I say to myself, “I sure don’t want to die doing this! Please don’t take me now.” The last few days have given me plenty of opportunities to mumble this sentiment. Today will be no different, unless I am able to expel my terror by writing this blog. For today is a big, fat, Dancing Bear kind of day.

The Dancing Bear. What is the Dancing Bear? And what shall explain it to you? (Format of these lines are courtesy of the Qur’an, which I’m studying this semester.) If you have Dancing Bear Syndrome, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but I’ll explain to those of you who don’t. It is something to which I will no doubt refer throughout my blog, as I believe it holds the key to why I got the tumors I did.

Dancing Bears entertain; we try to make people feel better; we are people-pleasers and co-dependents extraordinaire. We can dance around issues. We dance around reality. We smile and dance while the rest of those in our world think, “Wow, is she happy! I wish I could be like that. Not a care in the world.”

Dancing Bears, however, are an endangered species, a dying breed. Here are some little known facts about Dancing Bears, chilling facts that may disturb you (they sure disturb me). First, they tend to talk and think in the third person (ummm…I seem to be doing it herein). Another feature is that they only dance in front of others: alone, they huddle in corners and weep, or stare blankly at the wall, or eat themselves sick. They learn dancing at home, practicing on family first, perfecting their steps, before venturing out to amuse and entertain the general public. Soon they’re dancing at the first sign of discord; with their highly developed senses, they detect whiffs of trouble before others. Deftly, they divert everyone’s attention — so well, in fact, that others in the immediate vicinity will swear there was never anything wrong in the first place. This delights the Dancing Bear, who wants everyone to be happy. Unfortunately, she alters reality for others at the expense of her own. Thus begins the descent into disease, one that cannot be cured until the Bear sees what she’s doing. Depending on at what point the Bear can no longer dance, or muster the strength to do the steps, healing may or may not occur.

I know the Dancing Bear very well, for I am one of the species. Starting with a toy guitar at age two, singing “In a White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” I began the steps of the inexorable Dance. Those who only know the DBJ (Dancing Bear Jen) think I’m outgoing, love parties, and thrive on things like sales, acting, and performing. They think I thrive on it, and well they might believe it, based on my actions. I did stand-up comedy in San Diego, for Heaven’s sake! (I had diarrhea for three days before every performance, though, and even this Bear couldn’t bear that.)

What appears “natural” to most people — the garrulous caretaker of others, the one at ease in front of crowds — is not natural at all, it is habitual. I have learned my steps well, my friend. That does not mean I want to continue that dance. I made steps in the right direction after my diagnosis with ovarian cancer in 2006: I started a master’s program in English. I wrote and published a book last year. My happiest times are when I am buried in a book, or writing (like I am now), or sitting with a small group of my most intimate friends. They know The Real Jen, who is basically shy and nerdy and terrified of visitors to the zoo.

The Real Jen started the PhD (a chance to lock myself away and study, study, study), but DBJ took the grad assist job that has me in terror today. In a few minutes, I begin the dance that will last all day. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, for I know now how much it takes out of me. I’m not willing to have it take that much from me anymore, yet I’m compelled.

Shh! I hear something…ah, the music has started. I must go now.

“Charlie bit me (and that really hurt)”

Despite its unparalleled popularity, I had never seen the “Charlie bit me” YouTube vid until my daughter Leah showed me when she visited recently. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve included the links on the sidebar — I recommend you watch the original first; it makes the auto-tuned version so much funnier. The clip shows a toddler talking about how his infant brother bit him. He thought this quite funny. So funny, in fact, that despite the pain, he puts his finger in his brother’s mouth yet again, and gets (surprise, surprise!) heartily bitten. Not so funny to Charlie the second time, but even more hysterical for those of us watching. The “Charlie bit me” clip has received something like 200 million views, even being mentioned in Fortune magazine. Why?

What makes Charlie so funny, I think, is that he sticks his finger in his brother’s mouth again, despite the pain that was caused the first time. Did he expect a different result? Or was it because he saw his laughing parents, close by and aiming that camera at him, and he wanted to make them laugh again? Even at his tender age, he suspected his actions made his parents smile. What we won’t do to make people smile, or not hurt us… kid stuff, right?

Maybe not. There are a lot of things that hurt: bitten fingers may be the least of them. Labor, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia, Hep C, fibromyalgia, certain kinds of cancer: they may be the greatest of them. Or are they? What about the death of a parent? Your child? What if it was suicide? What if you gave a child up for adoption, to make those parents love you again? What if you come home to find your lover in bed with another? What if that person is someone you thought was a friend? What about when you walk into the boss’ office, thinking you’re getting a raise, and you get fired? Or if you come home one evening to find all your belongings packed and sitting in the garage, and you’re suddenly homeless? If choosing an illness would rectify those situations, bring a loved one back, wouldn’t you do it?

Perhaps, unconsciously, that is exactly what we do, develop an illness to rectify situations that cannot, in fact, be changed. Think about it: if we fall and break something; if we have an operation; if we’re beaten, bruised, or slashed, evidence of those events show on our body. Broken bones show up on x-rays; blood spurts from where we’re cut; we produce bruises where too much pressure has been applied. I believe that emotional damage has its evidence, too — in fact, there is an abundance of scientific proof showing that every single emotion we feel produces a specific chemical. [I highly recommend the movies, What the Bleep Do We Know and The Secret for more on this, in an accessible, non-scientific format.] Our bodies need to rid themselves of the excess toxins caused by emotional trauma, or we get tumors, RA, asthma, and a whole host of other ailments, depending on the source of the emotional pain. It could very well be that tumors are formed around these killer toxins to protect us. A scar forms over a physical trauma; why would our bodies not have a way of dealing with an emotional one?

The treatment I’m getting is based on this theory, and controlled release (through cognitive and other therapies) of the toxins built up over the years is being achieved. It’s not always painless, and it’s not always successful. Apparently I’ve done the emotional equivalent of allowing my finger to be bitten, over and over and over again. I’ve pretended so well and buried my hurts so successfully that I often cannot recall the original events. (Scorpios are great at this.) And I don’t think I’m the only one who has done so: witness the incredible increase of cancers, RA, asthma, and the like. Diabetes: oh my, I’ll have to write a whole ‘nother blog on that one. The things we do to ourselves! Thinking that maybe, just maybe, the ending will change, even though we’re repeating the same actions.

That might be okay for little Charlie — sure, he’s only a toddler. He doesn’t know any better. Chances are he’ll soon learn that, even to get his parents’ approval, it’s not worth sticking his finger in his brother’s mouth. A 30-year-old Charlie in that video would never have received 200 million viewers; one can only watch “stupid” so many times, right?

Right?