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How Violin Music Has Guided Me Through the Dark Times of Illness

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I don’t know what time it is, hell, I don’t know what day it is. All I know is that it’s dark, the cold breath of night hanging over my windows. My rib cage is rising and falling, automatic, the bones sharp and bendy. I can’t see much and my body is contorted with pain, pillows roughly scrambled beneath the heaviest joints. I can feel beads of sweat crawling off my skin and the involuntary twitches. The dream is still vivid.

Terror dreams. I’ve been having them for some time now, an escape from one hell into another. The moment my body refused to move, the dreams became ever more real. I would wake up paralyzed with fear, hands locked into fists. It would take hours for the images to drift away, the eyes to soften. But then as fear subsided, the rage resurfaced. It oozed hatred and anger and it wriggled and writhed through my bones. It screamed in my mind. Only the occasional tears would escape the horror show, evaporating on my dull, white face. I was trapped and there was f*** all I could do about it.

Being sick with an undiagnosed illness that binds your body to bed in knee-jerking agony so that you can’t do jack-shit except stare at the ceiling and accept your fate is horrific enough. But witnessing life from its most outer periphery, isolated, robbed from any sense of existing while everyone gets on with their lives is gut-wrenching.

The spell of isolation rips you to your core. There is nothing but you and your mind. Fortunately, the exhaustion numbed it for most of the time, like television static, an enigmatic blank screen, eyes shifting left to right. In this outer world of solitude, you are suddenly naked and exposed. Your very existence questioned. If every day means a world of pain and sleep, and your most exciting outing includes crawling out of bed to get to the loo, then you might start to ask yourself, what’s the point in living? These questions burn through your mind. The answer is hope, and however inconceivable it might be, you cling for dear life to this tiny, illusionary concept of hope. And hope that this f***ed up situation will vanish like those terror dreams.

It didn’t, of course. And so listening to the days fading by became my next favorite hobby. The sound of the gate opening, the crashing waves in the distance, traffic, birds in the garden, a far-away lawn mower. Together they formed the glue to my daily life. Silence turned into sound, and sound became my freedom.

So captivated by these auditory cues, I would track them throughout the day, wait for a particular bird on its morning call or listen to a neighbor returning home. A deep and intrinsic realization dawned on me, and that was the beauty of the unheard. We live our lives so preoccupied, so “busy,” trying to maintain our sense of control in the mad and ever-changing world that we forget to listen.

Sound is the most beautiful currency in our human world. We can simply close our eyes and let the sound waves take us to distant lands. We can be as sick and as exhausted as it is possible to be, yet we can still listen.

And so, headphones strapped to my ears, I thanked technology as I was swept away from reality into another sound dimension – that of classical music. There is no other form of music in which you can listen to a piece over and over again and discover new moments crystallized in time, new feelings, new emotions. The violin was my voice of preference, maybe because of the birds outside. As soon as the instrument took to the stage my mind flew with the sound of autumn leaves and across the sky into distant universes. I was free, drifting in a fantasy land of music and sleep, my anger dissipating like fragmented storm clouds. I had never felt so at peace; I could have died and I would have been happy.

Like a key in a lock, a small and narrow beam of light was let into my life. It took the form of musical notes, but it was something. From then on a slow and gradual battle begun. It took almost a year before I could properly stand for more than five minutes at a time, and from that very moment I picked up a cheap Chinese-built violin. It sounded horrific, competing with the foxes at night. But it was a focus and a guide. The longer I could stand, the longer I could play (much to the disappointment of my family who had to listen to this). And thus the process continued.

Though I would never call myself a violinist, barely even an amateur, picking up the musical instrument has changed my life. Four years later I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in Germany and have since been on treatment. Now I’m working, laughing, still scrambling up and down the path to health, and to this day, I continue to play.

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Originally published: April 21, 2017
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