A professor from one of London’s top music colleges contacted me the other day. This person had been considerably affected by Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and was wondering how to get in touch with other musicians similarly affected. I often receive emails from musicians with RSI as I wrote a dissertation on the subject. What this person was experiencing was such an atmosphere of secrecy that she felt isolated. And this really resonated with me.
In February 1997, when I was suddenly ‘struck down’ with RSI, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t even want to believe it was happening. I was only too aware that I would probably lose work and that it might affect my reputation in the long term. I was working primarily as an ensemble pianist and coach and I thought that no-one would want to work with someone who could not be relied upon. As least that’s what I believed then.
I was abruptly obliged to cancel my engagements for the next two weeks, and then, as the weeks wore on with no signs of improvement, let go of more and more work. I eventually had to accept that I couldn’t take on any performing work for the foreseeable future… and that was eight and a half years ago.
Yet, when I heard from this fellow professional last week, I realized just how far I have come. At the outset, I was extremely ashamed about my condition. Now I talk to anyone and everyone about it. I thought my creative life was at an end. Now I’m composing, improvising (when my condition permits) and coaching others with challenges- extremely fulfilling! Before, I was resisting what my body was telling me and fighting it tooth and nail. Now I have learned to be flexible and to listen to what my body needs- with positive results.
I’m not experiencing an atmosphere of secrecy these days. I wonder whether I was part of creating that, back then. What would have happened if I had been more open, sooner? I would certainly have let go of the shame quicker. I might have got expert help sooner. I would have been happier and less stressed, which might have helped me physically too.
I’m not saying that the secrecy, the prejudice, the shame don’t exist. I just want to be part of the solution these days, not part of the problem.
To this end, I am developing a new side to my business called “Life Coaching for Musicians” in order to assist musicians with a variety of issues- from performance anxiety, through negative self-talk, physical /mental /emotional tension or stress, injury or frequent pain, lack of confidence, cynicism, disillusionment or numbness, lack of connection to the music or lack of career direction. I am only too aware of how these issues can severely impact a performing career, and they are often not tackled directly by teachers for a variety of reasons.
I’m looking forward to combining my musical skills and experience with the coaching and counseling skills I now possess and will be getting launched when I return from Australia and New Zealand on September 9th.