It was October of 2013 in Las Vegas. I was there on work, but I was double fisting and trying to accomplish all of the “Vegas” shenanigans on my bucket list.
Being a multi-tasker mostly fails me, but I got a lot accomplished on this trip. First I had to tackle the infamous strip club, The Spearmint Rhino- my first ever legitimate strip club experience. I made a surprising discovery that I am NOT good at “strip clubbing.” Perhaps, I prefer to BE the naked person encroaching on your personal space – not the clothed person dodging all the boobs in my face. Leave the offensively delightful behavior to me, please. I gambled for the first time. Which is something I should DEFINITELY never do again because IT’S SO FOR ME. And I went to see my first Cirque Du Soleil show, “The Beatles Love.” Struck both quiet and giddy, I left the theater stupefied. I LIKED CIRQUE. Nay, I loved cirque. Furthermore, I thought I missed my calling as a cirque performer.
Back in Los Angeles, I talked about it for weeks to anyone who was willing to listen. With honest devastation, I’d say, “I’m almost 26. I’m too old to do it now, and I would have been so good at it. I ‘m a lover of adrenaline. Strength and flexibility have always come so naturally to me. My parents are the worst… .” People listened to me because I was a cute young woman so I got away with things that would otherwise be VERY ANNOYING. I racked my brain around how to start my cirque training NOW. I sat and obsessed until a good friend shut me up one day, “ Are we seriously still on this? You know what. You did NOT miss your calling as a cirque performer. You know why? Let me tell you why : because YOU, Jackie, are not for anonymity. Cirque performers are anonymous, and you don’t want to be anonymous. You want to be known. That’s why.” He was right. I had never heard a more accurate description of myself. His point proven: I’ve been acting for 10 years which in itself is a version of exhibitionism, and, now, at my most vulnerable, raw, and least attractive, I’m willing to let it be known. Name attached and nudity involved, here I am, too sick and naked. But before I get all dramatic and sad on you…
A couple of weeks after getting back from Vegas, I figured out how to make cirque fit in my life: go to Santa Monica– take trapeze class, watch all of the tourists watch you and post all of the awesome photos online. I celebrated my 26th birthday with a Trapeze class and an epic night of karaoke where I performed my signature, “You Shook me all Night Long” accompanied by the sexiest dance moves and the most horrific vocals. I have learned that how you get away with any flaw (like being tone-deaf) is to cover it up with SEXY DANCE MOVES. It was the best birthday I had ever had. For the first time, I was free from ALL of the things that had previously held me back: My family, toxic romantic relationships, drugs, and myself. The future looked super fucking bright. IN FACT, the night of my birthday, Mr. Belding – you know, the Saved by the Bell teacher, YES, the real Mr. Belding (I mean, the real Dennis Haskins cause that’s his LIKE “real” name), happened to be at the bar and tell me (in only a moderately creepy way) what a bright future I had ahead of me. SO IT WAS A FACT. Except that you never know what can happen, and it’s probably best not to see the future for anything at all since it’s not real and expectations are like life’s straight jacket. It’s better to not put those on…
Six days later, on the 27th of November, I woke up with an itchy red bump on my thigh. The next day, I awoke with another on my butt. On the 30th, I got one on my elbow, and around the 2nd of December, they were all expanding. There was one on my calf that I called the sergeant, and all the others were his army, slowly invading my skin, my body, and winning faster than my immune system could train for battle. I couldn’t wrap my head around anything new that could be giving me weird rashes. EXCEPT trapeze. Maybe the bars? The chalk? The mats? MAYBE, it was the barely legal trapeze instructor I had just started seeing? Or maybe it was the buckets of coffee I was consuming?
I couldn’t tell what hurt more: my fear around what was happening to my body, or the hit my vanity was taking? I had never in my life WANTED to keep my clothes on. And, now, it was long pants plus hairy legs (because I was too scared to go near rashes with a razor) plus dense, white creams smothered on me that were accomplishing nothing except keeping drug stores in business.
I asked everyone to look at my rashes, and the answer I consistently got after the initial gasp was, “Huh. wow. interesting. weird. I mean, I have no idea what that is, BUT I can PROMISE you this.. it’s not a big deal. Give it two weeks. Rashes go away.”
I spent nights googling like a MOFO. One night I concluded I had psoriasis (which I found most terrifying because vanity) or bed bugs (which seemed like such a hassle that I’d rather it be psoriasis). I stayed up itching, sweating, panicking, and googling. I cried. I cried partially because google is filled with the most horrific images, it’s like a little panic factory on the world wide web. Go in normal, come out with PTSD. I cried because I didn’t know what was happening to me and I felt out of control. I cried because I didn’t like the messiness of life and I just wanted everything figured out. I cried because I couldn’t go to the doctor because I had no insurance, little money, and Obamacare wasn’t in place yet.
I sat and obsessed, and when I was about to leave town for a three-day shoot in Lake Arrowhead, I gave in, and let a good friend take me to his herbalist. My face was stained with tears, I was called in, and walked towards him, hoping for an answer- any answer would do. I took my pants off, AGAIN, and he took out HIS FLASHLIGHT ( Really? That seemed unnecessary in the already bright room-I looked away shamefully as I had no intention of seeing the unpleasant view UNDER A FLASHLIGHT) and then he said, “HM. No new detergents or foods? I don’t know, but these pills will help. They help with ALL skin irritations. In two days, you should be seeing a difference. It’s just a rash. I mean, or maybe its syphilis.”
I took the pills as prescribed. I put tea tree oil on my rashes. I ate healthy. I slept. I went to shoot this film and tried to stay present. That barely legal trapeze instructor I was seeing wanted to “be there for me,” and kept checking in and singing me songs and stuff, and I was like, “you’re too young for all this, you KNOW WHAT THIS IS, RIGHT!? It’s just a fling.” It wasn’t even really a fling because my legs were too hairy and rashy for any action. Sweet guy…he was like, “No, I’m ready for marriage and children and I wanna do that with you.” I laughed out loud because we had known each other for two weeks and C’MON. I ended things abruptly, and he immediately joined the circus. My point exactly.
I emailed the herbalist three times, “The pills aren’t working what do I do?” That was when I got my first good piece of advice. He wrote back, “Jackie, you need to see a Doctor. Those herbs should be working.”
I arrived at Urgent Care the next day. It was December 10, 2013.
I felt relief just being there. I was called in quickly, and my doctor seemed perfectly competent and caring. At that time, I didn’t realize what an anomaly he was. I showed him the rashes, “It’s been two full weeks,” I said, “Nothing is working. I’ve tried 5 different kinds of creams, and tea tree oil, and herbs. I’ve had people inspect for bed bugs. I don’t know what to do? Do you think it’s psoriasis?” He looked at me from his swivel stool, “no, it’s not psoriasis or bed bugs. Have you been feeling tired or having headaches lately?” I thought about it and, it was funny, because I had been tired and I had headaches, “Yes,” I responded, “a bit of both.”
“Hm. Have you been in the woods at all?”
HOLY SHIT. That was it! Why hadn’t I put it together? On November 17th, I was in the woods. LITERALLY… IN the woods, I was half-naked ROLLING around in dirt and brush and leaves for a photo shoot. I knew then that he was going to suggest Lyme Disease. In fact, I left the shoot that day thinking, “I should check for ticks,” immediately followed by the much believed thought, “there are no ticks in California. That’s only a Northeast thing.” NOPE.
“Yes. yes. Like 3 weeks ago, I was rolling around in leaves. I hadn’t thought of that because the rash came like 10 days later,” I said. “OK, we are going to give you a steroid shot. IF what you have is an allergy then it will go away within hours of getting this shot, but if it doesn’t go away, that’s a good clue that it’s not an allergic reaction. The shot will probably make you wired for a few hours, and I’m going to test you for LYME disease.”
I left and called my mother who had been getting daily updates with images, “It’s Lyme Disease! Most likely, unless this shot helps. But that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? I’m so relieved to have a diagnosis. Now, I just want this to be over so I can get back to trapeze.” She said, “Oh Lyme disease, shit, I wouldn’t have thought of that. OK good. You have some clarity. Now rest.” I drove home, feeling a sense of freedom. The panic I had been enduring, the uncertainty, was released, and I could breathe. It seemed like the beginning of the end of this TWO WEEK LONG nightmare. The steroid did nothing. I wasn’t wired. In fact, I fell asleep. I fell asleep partially because I was so relieved this was almost over, and I fell asleep because Lyme disease. I was so relieved that I didn’t have psoriasis or bed bugs. I was GRATEFUL that I had Lyme disease and with just a couple of antibiotics I’d get back to my “normal life.” I’d get back to TRAPEZE. I was horribly misinformed..
It’s been two and a half years, I have yet to go back to trapeze, and THAT became the least of my problems. My life has altered completely, slowly molding to a “new normal.” Lyme disease was the beginning of me becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be, actually. I guess I wasn’t supposed to be a Cirque Du Soleil performer after all. It IS too anonymous, anyway. I’m gonna do this instead…