Since those early months in 2005 and 2006, I have regained much of the use of my hands. However I still can’t do some of the things I used to be able to do musically. In college, I spent no less than 6 hours each day working at the piano in addition to time spent practicing horn and I had hands stronger than any member of my family.
Now, I feel strong when I can sit at the piano and play for an hour without feeling like my arms and hands are ready to fall off. There are days where I have trouble stretching my hands wide enough to span an octave on the keyboard and others where I feel strong enough to play through Beethoven sonatas or Chopin polonaises.
During the hours that I am teaching, I have learned to avoid pounding away repetitions with my students just in order to push them forward. I have learned to use my words more effectively, although there is no substitute for a good example performed. If my joints and tissues feel warm, I avoid using my hands too much so that I don’t cause undue stress and pain. But fortunately, that happens less and less as my RA has been under control for the past 3 years.
In adapting to life as a musician who is affected by MS and RA, I have had to adapt to physical circumstances which may change daily. I have had to learn to be patient with myself and not to bemoan the fact that I can no longer perform the pieces I once could. I have accepted that I don’t have the strength I once did and that I need to concentrate on using my body in an efficient and ergonomic manner to protect what physical resources I do have on a given day. No efforts are wasted.
These are mental changes more than they are physical ones. But it is interesting that I continue to mentally separate my musical life from my patient blogger/advocate life. Perhaps I have been reluctant to integrate all aspects of my life back into one whole being. Just as I will forever be a musician inside and out, I will always live with chronic illness. Arts and health will forever be intimately intwined in this one life I have to live.