I have been playing musical instruments for as long as I can remember – over 35 years of learning notes, training my fingers to do exactly what I want them to do. Sometimes it has been surprisingly easy, other times frustratingly hard, but for most of that time I’ve had the luxury of being able to trust my body, of knowing that as long as I put the effort in, I would be rewarded. Improvement was guaranteed.
That all changed in 2010 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. All too quickly, the fingers that had run up and down keyboards, trilled flutes and plucked guitar strings started to lose sensation. My voice wasn’t affected, but I didn’t feel much like singing.
I was studying flute, enhancing the techniques I had learned as a teenager to further my teaching career. At first it was my legs that were the problem; I had always played standing up and I was finding it too tiring. After sharing the news of my diagnosis with my teacher I arrived at her studio to see a chair helpfully placed in the middle of the room. It may as well have been a wheelchair for the effect it had on me.
I found solace in my guitar, but then my fingers started going numb and I was unable to play the subtle finger-picking style that I loved. To be honest some people might not have noticed the difference, but to me it felt like I was playing the guitar with mittens on.
Thankfully, amid the musical sadness, I discovered a healing program that offered great hope for recovery. I changed my diet to a plant-based whole food one with seafood, raised my vitamin D levels, started to exercise when I could, and learned to meditate.
I regained sensation in my fingers while on holiday in the north of Scotland visiting family. I had borrowed a guitar from a friend and was travelling with it, just in case. Each day I would play, then put it away in frustration when my fingers struggled to find the right strings. One morning I picked it up to play and it worked, just like it always had. I sung to the family that night, and cried with relief.
As I regained health, my inner journey inspired many new songs. I started performing again, trusting my body as I abandoned the chair and stood up on stage to share my musical message with the world. I also started two music groups, and watched my students grow in numbers and flourish. I recorded a new CD featuring both the guitar and flute.
People say that I am very patient, and perhaps that has always been one of my strengths, but as a music teacher I have learned a lot from the challenges of the last five years. In particular, I have learned to appreciate every small improvement in my students’ playing, particularly the ones who have to work hard at the finger techniques needed to be a musician.
And as a performer I am grateful every time I step onto a stage. Grateful for the opportunity to share my music with the world, to do the thing that I love to do. And sometimes, if I’m honest, I’m grateful to have a chair to sit down on at the end of it too.