Tuesday, March 20

farewell to the system

Once upon a time, there existed a simpler way of life. 
If a little boy wanted to become a musician, his parents would seek out the very best musician they could find, and he would study his instrument under that tutor’s guidance and wisdom, until he himself was a master. There weren’t exams, there weren’t bachelors and diplomas, but there was a thirst to learn and grow and master. Knowledge and arts weren’t passed down en masse in lecture theaters, but in the intimate setting of one musician sharing his findings with a younger, aspiring musician.
The Music Lesson - by Gustav Wentzel

And was this antiquated technique successful? I think of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven...I’d say it certainly was.

Back to the 21st century...When I first became ill as an 18 year old, I was firmly grounded in today’s mindset. I had achieved decent grades in school, and the next logical step was to embark on my Bachelor of Music. There were two main reasons: I wanted to continue studying the flute – as lessons cost around $100 per hour, I really couldn’t afford to learn unless I was at university where this fee is included in the degree. The second reason was that while I dreamt of performing, the reality of needing to pay for food and clothes meant that I’d probably have to teach the flute. And to teach, one needs to have a qualification.

blah. blah. blah. You know the next bit. My body wasn’t impressed by the long hours at university...the early mornings, late nights, stressful exams and performances. It got progressively more fed up with me, so I took a year off to let it settle down.
2012. I felt ready to experiment with a return. I was delighted to be studying the flute with an older lady who is a wonderfully experienced flautist, and whose spirit of music is so huge that it fills up the whole room. She is so very animated and rich in musicality; I feel I’ll explode with excitement over what she is passing down to me. I wouldn’t be bored if my lessons lasted for 12 hours at a time. 

As my doctor aptly put it, “You probably did a little too much, too soon. But at least you tried and found out where you’re up to.” 
The experiment was positive: I got a result. The result was that I’m still not well enough for the pressures of university. But there was one problem: I needed to withdraw from university because I was so ill, but I was having a love affair with the flute, and I couldn’t bear the thought of stopping lessons. How could we afford for me to continue? We looked at our budget...and squished... and squeezed... and maneuvered ...and decided that we could make it work. We would find a way.
Here’s a fascinating piece of information: I haven’t shed a tear over withdrawing from university. Three years ago I probably would have sobbed into my pillow for a month straight at the thought of ‘giving up my dream’. It's a big change of mindset yes, but I am excited: I get to focus on exercise and rest, which is what my illness requires of me. I get to be a wife and look after my favourite man, I get to invest in people...and I get to study the flute with a master, just like musicians did in an age gone by – passing down knowledge and skills from one to another. My education continues, without that hoop and hurdle jumping so crucial to 'the system'.
To quote my teacher:
"But I must say, I think that a Uni course of any sort can actually be an obstacle to true progress. The reason? Your life is mapped out for you, and you are not necessarily following the most constructive path. It's the difference between a river flowing freely and naturally, and a man-made canal."

There are so many things I’d like to do! I might join an orchestra, or a choir. I’ve done my AmusA diploma; I might do my LmusA too. I might teach the flute. I might try and work a few hours a week in an organic shop which I love. I might learn to cook...or sew. 
I'm striving to learn and grow and love to the best of my ability.

Sunday, March 11


When should I let go of something I’d set my heart on? When is it too costly to be worth the sacrifice? What will I do with my talents with so little energy? What does tomorrow look like?
My husband is in his final year of his degree. We often talk about next year when he will be an intern in a hospital, and the following year when he will be a fully qualified Radiographer. I get clucky  thinking about his graduation and how proud I will be of him in his black gown....we marvel at how it will feel to have an income at last...how we’ll save for a car, and a home loan, and a holiday...

 We have plans and dreams in the bucket loads. Mainly because we assume that he will be alive and capable of all those things. We used to have the same kinds of plans for my life...I was going to finish my Bachelor of Music, do my Honours, possibly go overseas and then work for several years before trying to have a baby or two.
But when we make plans, we really don’t know for sure if they will come to be. The future is so unknown, so utterly out of our hands.
I honestly don’t know what I will be doing in 6 months time. In the past few months, I made huge progress with my health and it looked right for me to go back to university and re-sit my 1st Year flute recital. I was keen to get out of the house after a year of being homebound, keen to have flute lessons and square away the first year of my degree. Infact, I am keen! My whole heart yearns to do this but I don’t know if my body is feeling the same. I wish it could talk to me.
*Croaky voice, “ Deee-ee, I’m not ready. It’s too much...”
 I’m only two weeks into this experiment, but so far I’m rather befuddled. I hope my next post will be announcing that I am feeling great and loving being back, because right now I feel that my body has regressed – maybe I’m having a relapse?
Since returning, I have been feeling really unwell. I’ve had migraines every evening, afternoon sleeps, insomnia, nausea, weakness...a whole list of yuckies. To be perfectly honest, I’m ok with feeling like that – if I can stay home on the couch with a blankie and a cup of tea. It’s hard, but it’s tolerable. What I don’t like is lying in bed knowing that ideally I would be at class, or practicing. That’s stressful.
It could be the antidepressants I recently went on, but now it feels like POTS/CFS. And it could be that my recent virus has given my body a bit of a shake. But I don’t know, and only time will tell me. If it turns out that going back to uni has retriggered my illness, maybe I won’t try to finish the remaining two years of my degree. I never thought I’d write that. I thought I would just get better, 100% better, and carry on where I left off, with a few lessons in patience and hardship under my belt. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe this journey will be longer, with more peaks and troughs than I expected.
It’s a quality of life issue. I could potentially limp through my degree at a painstakingly slow pace, and hobble up to claim my certificate five years later....before crawling back into bed for the next few. But I don’t think I want that. I think I’d rather go, “Alright, things haven’t panned out according to my dreams and plans. I can accept that, and I’m going to pursue a life I can cope with.”
And then I wonder, what could I do with my limited energy? Could I make cards and sell them at markets? Could I write? Could I invest at home more? Could I still have flute lessons and practice?
Could I learn contentment?

"It is a big mistake to boast about what you will do tomorrow because there is really no way of knowing for sure what will happen."
Proverbs 27 : 1 

Friday, March 2

me and my brain

I’m in a dream- like state today. Last night I was still awake at 3 am, pleading with my mind to quiet itself and let me doze off. The night before I was begging my migraine to respond to the ibuprofen and paracetamol I had given it. The hours passed by so very slowly, and I grew tired of the music that played over and over in my head while my fingers played the tune on my imaginary keyboard. “Stop. Okay, imagine a beautiful field with yellow and mauve flowers covering it...you’re lying there, feel the sun on your body and let your muscles release”......Part way through this relaxation exercise, there it was again: that piece of music I had listened to over a hundred times already since hopping into bed. Please! I’m just asking for a vacant mind, why is this not possible? My fingers are busy playing the tune again without me realising, and I feel myself become frustrated. I stop them, and enjoy a second’s peace. Barely a thought hangs in my mind, and then in the blurry background I hear the strains of the music....and a conversation I’m weary of re-visiting. I’m infuriated. How many hours do I have to play this game of stopping the ceaseless noise inside me, to have it automatically restart seconds later? I wish I had some kind of control over my mind so that I could stop losing this battle. Sprinkled among these thoughts are fears for the following day – how will I manage on so little sleep? I tell myself that rest is good for me and yet I barely believe the words I have just pronounced. 

I could go some help right now...

This mental battle is one of the reasons I decided to go on anti-depressants...alongside panic attacks, depression and generally feeling overwhelmed. It was only in the past 6 months that I started to open myself up to the possibility of going on medication. Before, I thought I could manage the mental side of life with counseling alone, learning strategies to deal with myself – my post illness self. I feel that I was fresh and optimistic about how much I could improve without needing drugs. I didn’t want drugs. I didn’t want to be dependent on a medication to alter the chemicals in my brain for me to be OK. I saw that as a cop out.
Something changed, gradually. I became wearied by my mind and the toll it was having on me. I desire relief, even just a small reprieve from the fears and obsessive thoughts. Some peace, to simplify my life, to give me a chance at coping. Before I thought that learning a deep breathing technique for when I started hyperventilating was help enough, but now I am dreaming of not hyperventilating in the first place...not crying so often....even having a still mind from time to time. I know the meds won’t eliminate these things, but just a reduction in intensity would be good enough for me, especially as I work out the core issues with my psych.
I have started a new drug because the last one had side effects I wasn’t so keen on. The following warning was on the information sheet:
Persons taking this medication may be more likely to think about killing themselves or actually trying to do so, especially when first started or the dose is changed.
Admittedly it was not what I expected to see on an anti-depressant. Surely it was supposed to do the opposite?! But fear not, I haven’t experienced any such thoughts. I’m just listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto’s and drinking English breakfast tea – and I find it hard to believe I could feel suicidal while so pleasantly occupied. The fact that even that warning and all the possible side effects didn’t put me off show me that I really am quite desperate for some help. And so now I must just wait and pray that this one is a good match for me. I hope we’ll do very well together!