Can you feel me doing this?
Quite apart from my mental health, I've also had to come to terms with deteriorating physical health since the birth of my son.
As a violinist, I was blessed to be able to count on keen dexterity, safe in the knowledge that my brain had successfully mapped larger parts of itself to the control of my fingers, but lately what had started about fifteen years ago as a pretty unbearable pain in my shoulder, has become a tendency for my hands to become useless lumps of meat, dangling on the end of flame-grilled arms. I'm now having intensive physio involving the insertion of large hollow needles into muscles and then electrifying them in order to break apart the spasms.
If there's one thing that can never add a positive slant to one's sense of well being, it's pain. From the dull aching the day after particularly intensive gym session, to the lightning bolts cracking down through a nerve, pain can take the shine off even the most beautiful experience. Mine has built up to now unbearable levels - and despite my love of most self-inflicted pain in the past (voluntarily getting tattooed for 7 hours straight, cutting and childbirth), I'm now going to extremes to find relief - I didn't choose this pain, therefore it serves no purpose other than as an enabler - I am someone who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism - pain just gives me more of an excuse. I will write about this later.
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that spending hours gripping a violin under one side of my chin with my left arm held up, during every period of physical growth from when I was 7, has caused a level of spasm in my neck and shoulder that now aggravates the nerves there. I have a hypermobile spine anyway - although I only found this out recently - I'd thought that being able to look behind you without moving your body was normal. I thought that 'You look like an owl with a really long neck' was a fairly typical remark that everyone got, plus I do have a very small head (my mum called me 'pea head' before laughing hysterically on more than one occasion).
I rely on medication in order to get through the day. Even then, if I try to go beyond my 6 hours to the next dose, my muscles tell me in no uncertain terms. I'm sure some would say I subconsciously make it so, in order to facilitate my reliance. Maybe that's true, but pain is pain, whether you experience it through physical or mental ailment. It's a shame that the only drug that helps my pain has also been implicated in one of my past battles.
When I said 'quite apart from my mental health', I lied. Actually, my mental health is hugely affected by my pain levels. Music had always been my distraction, but I find that when I'm well mentally, I don't really have the desire to make music. The two are inextricably linked, in some sort of embittered relationship, as is documented in reference to many a 'tortured artiste'. I've written my best songs during the times in my life where I've been the most unstable. Right now I can't play my violin because it kicks off my pain, and this makes me both frustrated and liberated, in equal measure. I realise how that sounds. I know that music is a beautiful, universal, nuanced and emotive medium, but after so much effort over the years for so little success it's become like a slightly annoying friend to me - someone you gravitated towards when you had less ability to judge character.
The other issue is that if I try to write music when I'm not in the midst of some chaotic mess, the result is terrible. I flip between desperately wanting to be well, and being reluctant to cut off my main source of inspiration. I can't win either way. The last time I wrote something good, my house had been burned down by an angry mob of rioters. As you can tell, this is not a level of chaos that can be kept up if one is to live any length of time. I can only ride one wave of chaos so far before real life kicks in again.
I'm willing to bet that the majority of the public think that physical pain trumps mental pain. I can categorically say that they're pretty much the same. After all, the brain is an organ - it's made of flesh. If you were to extract it from inside your skull, it would just be a lump of weird jelly stuff. I'm still perplexed by it frankly.