Coping: When Injury Strikes

My Master’s Recital was supposed to be today.  Granted it was only  an elective recital, the important one is next year in my third and final year of graduate studies.  But disappointment still lingers.

I was so excited for the recital program, loaded with musical personality.  The flourished ornamentation of Vivaldi, the romantically charged melody and rich accompaniment of Bowen, the mysteriousness and energy of Dutilleux, and the jazzy flair of Blues for DD by Jeffrey Agrell.

But last month when my shoulder subluxed, the doctor said these discouraging words: “If you don’t get the swelling down, you’ll need surgery.”  Reality struck.  The recital was no longer a possibility.  The required hours of practice and reed making for the performance far exceeded my capabilities.

This experience led me to ponder how to emotionally and mentally cope with injury as an active musician.  Not practicing for a week left me with plenty of time to ruminate.

As I have looked back through my decade-long journey of health discovery, I have found there to be three main components in successful healing:

The Reality Check:

Feeling pain?  Swelling?  Tenderness?  Weakness?
It’s time to ask the hard questions.  They differ for everyone, as we are all unique in our ailments, but here is a starting point:

What exactly is my injury?
What are my symptoms?
Where do they manifest?
What are my pain triggers?
What am I doing to perpetuate the injury?
What is the long term damage if I continue to ignore it?
What are my current mental, emotional and physical stressors?
How are these stressors restricting my healing process?

Finding Help:

Once you have accepted the fact that you are injured, build a network to assist you through the curative process.

Find medical physicians to aid in seeking solutions.  Primary care physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, nutritionists, acupuncture/acupressure specialists, and surgeons (though one would hope not to go that route!) are all good sources.  Do your research and get referrals so you know you are finding doctors who excel in their field and when possible, are experienced in treating musicians.

Make plans.  Once you have isolated your health issue, draft daily steps and long term goals for your healing regimen.  Do your stretches and exercises everyday!

Be proactive in health care decisions.  Do your research and know your options.

When facing an injury, it is important to establish a terra firma, or solid ground, for those days when you may be more vulnerable to discouragement.  Experiencing pain and loss of functionality can be frightening, frustrating, and depressing.  Teachers, fellow musicians, friends, and family are all places to find support.  Build a support system of those you can count on so you are not alone on your journey to health.  If necessary, find a counselor or life coach to help you better mentally and emotionally navigate your set backs.

This fantastic post is written for athletes and coaches but is easily transferable to musicians and teachers, I found it insightful in many ways:

Finding Hope:

When I was coming to the close of my undergraduate studies years ago, I experienced my first bout with tendinitis.  The pain completely derailed me.  All of a sudden I was questioning my major, my future, my dreams…  In hindsight, my thinking was incredibly irrational.  If I had taken the time to seek out answers, I could have worked it out.  But the reality was I let hopelessness win.

So how do you stay hopeful?
How do you keep pushing forward when it feels as if life is pushing you back?

It may sound Pollyanna-ish, but look for the good.

Reset your life plans in a way that won’t require dropping off the path completely but rather rerouting.  Often setbacks in one area of life can create opportunity for the development of other talents.  Find ways to stimulate your mind when your body won’t perform.

Let me introduce Megan Bain-Tidwell, an inspiring BYU gymnast.  Megan tore her achilles tendon in a meet a couple years ago, leaving her unable to compete for the rest of the season.  She was incapable of standard training except on the uneven bars.  Through hard work and stubborn determination, she was able to turn her weakness around and later compete stronger than ever as an all-around gymnast.

What weaknesses can you overcome as you recuperate?  What other ways can you stay positively engaged in life?

My Own Hope:

One gift from my current shoulder injury has been a greater awareness of my posture.  With my shoulder threatening to slip out of socket each time I lean forward, it is crucial that I stay mindful of my body alignment.  I am 90% sure I have grown a couple inches in the last month.  In fact, I was taller than my husband when I sat next to him the other day, which is quite the accomplishment considering the fact that I’m 5’6″ and he’s a full 6 feet!

I have still been working on the recital pieces, just at a less aggressive rate.  Hopefully letting the pieces marinate longer will lead to better mastery and understanding.  Now I will just aim for a summer performance.

Today, in an attempt to find new hope in the face of discouragement, I tied a case full of new blanks.  A symbol of new beginnings.  This is a picture that brings me great joy!

IMG_20160319_215229641Because in the big picture of my musical journey in life, this injury is only a small setback, a mid-movement fermata.  The music will go on.

Health and Healing,

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