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Handling Health-Related Despair

Handling Health-Related Despair published on

Injuries are unfortunately common among musicians. As I have been facing some of these issues lately, numerous stories have emerged from my fellow musicians. Far more people than I’ve known about have at some point busted themselves up a little. Yesterday a colleague of mine remarked that “pretty much all bass players are pain”. That’s sad, but it tells us there’s an underlying problem of too many musicians ignoring their health.

I’ve had to get creative about dealing with the angst of feeling that my true love and career are on the line. This is my strategy for keeping my chin up. I’m sure it is just one of many ways to get through the problem. You can adopt it, modify it, and make it your own.

  1. Any efforts to get through mental anguish will be futile and Sisyphean if we do not first address the physical situation. Doctors and specialists exist for a reason. Let professionals do their job and don’t just soldier through things. This is a big one for me. It’s easy to see some glamour in pain but there is none. Being in discomfort at the end of a practice session is NOT a good practice session. It doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything! So first, form a plan to attend to your body and then you will be prepared for the mental half of the equation. This book is a good resource outlining both traditional and alternative steps that can be taken. It’s one of the best I’ve read on the topic.
  2. It’s easy to stop there after taking the common sense physical steps to recovery, but there is farther to go in order to reinforce after our mental health as well. Identify the source of the suffering. The source is not pain itself but the perceived implications of pain. I’ll give you an example: exercise often causes a certain amount of pain and muscle soreness, yet we leave the gym with feelings of triumph, endorphins, and vibrancy. Knowing that despite the pain you are building your body up creates a sense of empowerment and strength, compared to fear and uncertainty about your condition driving you deeper into the dark night of the soul. So it is catastrophic thinking that is at the root of the despair.
  3. Reinterpret the feelings of physical pain that you encounter with a new set of thoughts. Divert your mind from thinking of worst-case scenarios by adopting some of the following:
    • My body is reminding me to pay attention to it. Take a break, stretch, and see that step one is underway.
    •  This is an opportunity to cultivate self-care and resilience. It may sound funny to you but it works for me.
    • This is a moment to reinvent my strategy for what I want to achieve. For me this means looking at a more holistic picture of the musician I am evolving into and devoting more attention to other aspects that put less strain on my body  like studying harmonic concepts and refining my aural skills.

There can be upsides to everything. It’s up to us to create them. It can be done. Have courage and have strategy!

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