Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Power of Music (my thank you to the Northern Pikes)

Years ago I read about the ability for music to heal; whether it be from depression or physical illness, I understood the connection between the two. In my teens, as a young, amateur musician, I felt the importance of that when dealing with my own issues. What I've come to realize in the past ten months is that music can also be a measure of the physical level of healing – from a basic biological healing to a more immeasurable brain/body connection.

Shyly snapped picture

In early August 2012, I learned my favourite band, the Northern Pikes, were set to play a small theatre in a suburb of Edmonton in early 2013. Feeling nostalgic, I immediately bought two great seats and started to flip through their catalogue of music. 

My happy thoughts of nostalgia were soon to be redirected inward as later in the month, I lost most of the use and strength in my right hand and arm due to a degenerative and rheumatic condition in my neck. The pain was extreme and my usual active life was reduced to almost nothing. House bound and in continual pain, my demeanor changed (enter FrankenB!tch), my health deteriorated and I found myself off work and facing another spinal surgery. Depression set in quickly and I was angry and hostile more frequently than I'd like to admit.

By Christmas, I'd began to lose feeling in my feet and the pain and weakness spread to my left hand and arm. Even more dejected and no closer to getting a surgery date, I settled in for a long, painful wait.

The man I'd leave my husband for (haha?)
February rolled around and we nearly forgot about the concert. Thankfully, I received an email reminder and we set about trying to decide if we should even go. The idea of spending a couple hours locked in a chair didn't seem like something I was ready to undertake! In the end, we hired a sitter – had the sitter cancel the morning of and again faced the decision of whether or not we should go. Mid morning, we decided and arranged for our niece to come and off we went!

As show time arrived, I sat in the audience mesmerized by just the instruments on the stage. The lights dimmed and my heard pounded. I grabbed my husband and I felt like a seventeen year old kid transported back in time to February 1991 when I saw the Pikes in concert the first time. When the boys walked out on the stage, I grabbed my husband, again, and professed my undying love for Bryan Potvin. The pain was erased, my body felt new and I was in the happiest head space I'd been in for six months.

Sitting in the little theatre, hearing the band play all the amazing songs they recorded, hearing them banter with one another and the audience changed my outlook and mindset. I knew as the concert drew to a close that I could survive this, I could get better, I could and would get past this health problem. The months of nothingness, depression and the loss of interest in everything had taken their tole but seeing the band I'd loved, admired and fawned over during my teen years spurred me forward in ways I never expected.

I came home energized and renewed. I dug out all my Northern Pikes CD's, ordered one I didn't have, got Bryan's solo work and even downloaded my first Itunes music (It's Good Life is not an easy CD to find – for under $100, that is)! Putting all the music in regular rotation, I started meditating to it, letting my imagination wander during the workouts I did with my physio therapist and letting my imagination again run free during my many sleepless nights.

Bass playing genius
All that beautiful music brought my creativity to life and I started writing again, something I'd not done in nearly twenty years (the obvious exception being my blog writing). In thirty two days, I'd completed my first novel length story (another first, although I'd written many, many stories in my youth, I'd never finished one) and had started on a second story.

It was about then I also decided to pick up my guitar – and this really is what the whole point of this tale is.

I'd played tons of music when I was younger, writing my own songs, playing in small bands – music was my life. As it does, life changed, I changed and my music took a back burner, eventually becoming a non-existent part of my life. In 2008, my husband bought me a new guitar and I started playing again. Due to many reasons, I didn't play much, but after the concert, hearing the music, I knew I needed to pick it up again.

Initially, my sessions were five minutes long, it's all I could manage as the pain was constant. Each day, for five or ten minutes, I played. Strumming the seven chords I could remember. Playing scales, playing bits of songs I remembered learning twenty years before.

The months of pain medications, neural inhibitors coupled with the weakness and loss of use of my arms, left me feeling clumsy and uncoordinated. 

A Google search found me the (sheet) music for Hopes Go Astray and I started playing along (fudging the Bm chord because it's not one of my seven). My playing was marred with missed chord changes, dropped (guitar) picks and muscle spasms that left me two lines behind but I tried and tried and by the week before my surgery date, I could play all the way through, although my strum patterns were often erratic and out of sync and I rarely finished the song with my pick in my hand.

On May 6, 2013, I had an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5 to C7. This surgery was to erase all the problems of the past nine months. It was to get me off the meds that scrambled my brain, it was to restore my life, get me back to work, get me feeling and behaving like me. Two weeks post op and I wasn't feel particularly optimistic about the success of the surgery. The pain remained, the lack of coordination seemed ever present, the headaches hadn't dissipated, the loss of feeling hadn't gone away.

Best Canadian rock band - EVER
Feeling discouraged, I sat down after seeing my husband and son off on a bike ride and stared at my guitar. Did I dare even try? Did I need more proof I wasn't as good as I hoped? What if it hurt really badly? Could I make it worse?

Before I could think more about it, I went and got the guitar, plugged my Ipod into my ears and dug out the music. The song started and I readied myself, wondering what would happen when the first verse started.

Closing my eyes, I let the music transport me; I let the music take control and I found I could play! In fact, I could play well, much better than I had three weeks before! My strum patterns were as close to perfect as I could hope for, I experienced only minor muscle spasms and I did not drop the pick! Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I did it again and I did it even better!

After fishing the pick out of the body of the guitar, I realized that although I've been very wary of whether or not the surgery has corrected what it was supposed to, the Pikes music was a fantastic measure of the level of my healing! I've still got a long road ahead of me but having this tangible reminder of how far I've come has done wonders for pushing me further in my belief that I will get better!

When I reread this, I sound eerily like a crazy stalker lady and in some ways, I am. I've let a group of strangers, people I don't know, into a very personal part of my life and invited them to be an integral part of my healing process. Their music was as instrumental to my health care as my surgeon, physical therapist or my husband. A unwitting fan club cheering me on, letting me know I could get past it, I could get through it, I could get better – and when I didn't know if I could, I could get lost in their music.

So thank you, Don, Bryan, Jay and (former member) Merl for creating the music that made the past few months bearable and helped me measure how far I've come in my recovery. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

PS I've been debating whether or not I should share this post - it's very personal and it does make me sound like a crazy stalker lady. I am, but that't not really the point. I'm just intensely shy when it comes to sharing my feelings and if the best band in the world got wind of crazy old me, I'm sure I'd never be allowed to see them in concert again so don't tell them (unless it's going to get me a marriage proposal from a certain guitarist). ;)

PSS I'm kidding. Really. No, I'm not but now I'm deflecting and don't feel nearly as weird.
PSSS In case you are still reading and care, all pictures property of Barefoot Deliberations, 2013. They aren't great but I took them and am of the generation where snapping photos in a concert used to get you kicked out.

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