I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of nine and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome at the age of ten. (EDS is the connective tissue disorder that Paganini is rumored to have had.) Around that time, I started playing the violin. It took a few years, but I eventually fell deeply in love with not only the instrument, but the whole culture of classical music. At the same time, I have been learning to live with chronic pain and fatigue. These two parts of me have always been intertwined, for better and for worse.
It is, at times, very difficult. There are lots of questions. How do you keep a regular practice regimen going, especially over periods of time when you’re ill or in extreme pain? How do you keep cheerful after those long breaks and you realize how much ability you’ve lost? What kinds of adaptive aids do you use, not only in your music, but in your everyday life, to preserve your strength? How do you find doctors and health care providers who understand your seemingly crazy decision to keep plugging away at your musical studies, despite the fact it often makes you hurt? How do you find high-quality music teachers who understand? If the chronic illness takes a financial toll on the family, how do you pursue serious studies on a shoestring budget? (This is a biggie.) How do you handle the periodic - and sometimes intense - anger toward your disobedient body? Those with chronic illnesses, or those who have family or friends with chronic illnesses, know what I'm talking about.
But it’s not all bad. I have become much more aware of my body than I otherwise would be. I have realized how important it is to have a mind-body connection, especially when playing the violin, regardless of whether you have fibro or not. I’ve learned how important it is to go into every practice session knowing exactly what needs to be done. I’d also like to think I’m a little more patient than I otherwise would be (maybe), and I’ve learned to give and take. And I know for a fact that being ill so often as a child enhanced my appreciation for the arts.
So, that being said -
How do string players with chronic pain - whether it be in the form of arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, connective tissue disorders, etc. - balance their illness with their playing? I would love to hear from *anybody* with experience in this area. I have read about very few string players - especially high-level amateurs or professionals - who have chronic pain and/or fatigue syndromes. There have got to be some out there. I would love to hear from you.
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