Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart. – Pablo Casals
I’ve had the auto-immune illness rheumatoid arthritis since I was seven years old. After I got used to the fact that I had to give up ballet classes, it was mostly just an annoyance, and sometimes even a great excuse to get out of gym class.
Then I graduated college and the annoyance worsened into a life-changing pain in my knees.
I had no idea how many activities relied on knees: sitting, standing, walking, cooking, climbing stairs, getting out of bed, and even using the toilet. When I lived in New York City, I had to allow myself an extra hour just to cope with subway stairs.
I used a cane that I had painted with colored daisies to keep myself cheerful about having to use a cane at all. A couple of surgeries and a miracle medication called Enbrel helped me get my life mostly back in check, but a flare can set me back all over again.
In times of pain and illness, music is my lifesaver.
Music’s Amazing Power
Music won’t actually cure chronic illness, but it is amazingly powerful in helping a person feel better. There are many ways that I use music to help keep me sane and able to cope with chronic illness and pain. Here are some of them:
- Listen to illness-alleviating musical genres.
Different music resonates with different emotions. Sometimes I need to feel my hurt and anger more deeply. Other times I need to move away from the negative feelings.
Here are some ideas for music genres help you indulge or transform your frustration, hurt, and anger. Try selecting these genres on Pandora or your favorite online music provider:
To indulge or express anger, listen to: rock (White Stripes, Rolling Stones), hip-hop/ rap (Tribe Called Quest).
To indulge or express hurt and sadness, listen to: fado (Portuguese blues, try Amália Rodrigues) or singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith, Aimee Mann, Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastian, Will Oldham, Leonard Cohen.
To indulge and make light of your blues, listen to good old American Delta blues. Some favorites: Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Susan Tedeschi, Big Mama Thornton.
To transform the bad feelings into happier ones, try: Swing music (Cherry Poppin Daddies), Big Band music (Duke Ellington), Afro-beat (Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra), Accordion Music (Café Accordion), Latin Dance (Xavier Cugat).
- Listen to Illness-averting songs.
I have a playlist of silly, upbeat, happiness-oriented songs I play to get me happy when I’m feeling blue. It includes:
– “Hakuna Matata” from Lion King soundtrack
– “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python
– “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
– “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
– “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story
– “Brain Rats” by Barbara McAfee
- Rock out.
Whether you sing your own songs or someone else’s, there’s nothing like belting to get your anger and pain out.
There’s something about singing that makes a person feel better physically—maybe it’s the sound vibrations through body, maybe it’s the fact that singing forces you to take deeper breaths.
If you’re worried about singing out of tune, just wait till everyone else has gone out. And if you are looking for some great acoustics, there’s nothing like singing in a tiled shower to amplify your sound.
But in any case, try it. Sing.
- Write and sing your OWN song.
There is absolutely NOTHING like wailing a song that you yourself wrote to express your own situation. If you’re not planning on performing it live, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s “good” or “well-written.”
All that matters is that you feel like it expresses your truth.
It doesn’t even have to have words. Just start singing syllables like “la, la, la” and get some music out of your body. The song will likely write itself. Maybe it will have words, maybe it won’t, but it will make you feel better just for having expressed your feelings.
How do you use music when chronic illness gets you down? What music do you recommend for times of pain? Let me know at www.elisakorenne.com/blog.