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The Power of Music as a Distraction From Pain

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I love reading articles — either on The Mighty or elsewhere — about the impact of music on the soul.  I enjoy articles about songs we may not have known were written about chronic illnesses, or songs that lift us out of a dark spot and comfort us when we are hurting — either physically or emotionally.

I have had Lyme disease for 13 years, and it brought along friends – fibromyalgia and CFS. I started taking guitar lessons about two years ago. There are days when I don’t have the energy to lift my guitar and I just need to rest. But on days when pain is nagging me without letup, I have found sitting down to practice or just playing what I already know can bring my pain level down a bit. Why? Perhaps it is simply the distraction taking my thoughts away from the pain that screams for attention. Or perhaps somehow the music is soothing. Maybe it’s a mix of both.

I started my lessons shortly before my amazing Dad was diagnosed (completely unexpectedly) with Stage IV esophageal cancer. On my darkest days over the next several years, I would push myself to sit and play. Distraction — it was a gift. Though music couldn’t push the worst thoughts out of my mind, it did force me to think of something else for a little while.

My guitar teacher, Carla Ulbrich, has been a bright spot in my weekly agenda, not just because she shares her talent with others, but because she too battles chronic illness.  She has lupus and has been through quite a ride with the illness. But her positivity is motivational, along with her ability to use humor to cope. She is also a singer-songwriter and some of my favorite lessons include her playing one of her songs for me!

Almost all of her music includes humor.  She even has one album entitled “Sick Humor.” I love listening to it in the car on the way to a doctor’s visit or when I’m stuck in traffic. Songs like “Sittin’ in the Waiting Room,” “(Happy to Be) Stuck By You” and “Prednisone” – set to familiar melodies most know well – bring a smile and often a laugh and best of all, distraction.

Music is just one hobby that can provide that distraction. Others may like to read, knit or crochet, write, learn a language etc. It’s worth giving a hobby a try when your pain is slowly wrapping around you like a boa constrictor, trying to take your breath away.  Sometimes it is just enough to take the edge off.

Getty image by Nathaphat.

Originally published: October 16, 2019
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