Ruins in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Photo by Roosevelt Skerrit, Courtesy

Post-Hurricane PTSD Is Affecting My Dancing

I haven't been able to sleep, eat or dance as usual since Hurricane Maria destroyed my home in Puerto Rico while I was visiting from school. My family was able to fly back to stay with my mother's relatives in Florida, although the BFA program I attend is unfortunately in another state. I can't stop crying or thinking about our house collapsing around us. I also feel badly that I can't help my friends. Why am I so weak?

—Carla, New York, NY


Your inability to function "as usual" has nothing to do with being weak. You've experienced a terrifying event where you lost your family home and could have lost your life. Even stoic dancers often have reactions to trauma, including shock, fear, nervousness, anger and guilt. These feelings usually go away within a month of the event that triggered them. However, if you are still experiencing severe anxiety and find it difficult to function, you may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of PTSD may include reliving the ordeal through flashbacks or nightmares; avoiding feelings or situations that remind you of the event; increasing irritability or being easily startled; and having negative thoughts and feelings. You can get support by using your school's counseling services, which are likely included with your tuition. You might also consider taking a leave of absence to be with your family. Treatment for PTSD typically involves therapy, medication or both to improve daily functioning by helping you cope with the event. Once you feel better, you should be able to immerse yourself in dance again.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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