When your health gets in the way of your art

Life is going to throw you some lemons. Do you have ingredients to make lemonade?

Dancing was such a huge part of my identity growing up. I would spend hours creating choreographies and teaching them to my friends at school. I loved getting them to perform on stage with me. I was sure I’d still be performing dance routines well into my forties or fifties. You know, like Shakira and J-Lo. I thought my life would be over if I couldn’t dance anymore. It turns out I was wrong.

At 22, I had an emergency open heart surgery and couldn’t sleep on my side or stomach for years, let alone dance like I used to. But I had no time to feel sorry for myself. I used the downtime to learn drums, write songs, and practice guitar/piano. I didn’t even notice that I couldn’t dance anymore, and I never remembered to miss it.

How could losing something so important to me suddenly seem like no big deal? Easy. I was distracted by something else I enjoyed doing just as much, if not more. I did wonder whether I would be able to cope if I ever had to stop playing music though. Could I imagine a life without playing instruments?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. At 31, I developed arthritis in both of my hands. It makes it really hard to play instruments for any extended periods of time. Some days, I need both hands to hold a small coffee cup. During flare-ups, depressing keys on a piano is too painful to bother. Can’t hold the guitar fret tight enough either. But again, I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world because my creativity isn’t limited to playing instruments. In the last few years, I’ve taken up production and mixing. So when I can’t play, I focus on production, mixing, and singing. Now, I find that I enjoy the production process more than I ever did playing instruments.

My secret to staying optimistic despite health limitations is being a renaissance woman. I am no genius like Mozart and never will be. I’ve always been much more fascinated by polymaths like Da Vinci. In addition to his paintings, he is well-known for his inventions, drawings and notes on topics ranging from anatomy to astronomy, botany, cartography, and paleontology.

Since I cultivate many interests, I can let their importance ebb and flow as life unfolds. I’m not frustrated by my body’s limitations. I don’t ask “why me?”. When I can’t do something, I just press pause. I redirect my energy to some other endeavor until I can come back to it. Sometimes I end up finding something else I’m more passionate about and able to do. I never thought I’d be a music producer, but it has become my favorite part of the music creation process.

Possibilities are endless when we are open to new directions. Our creativity is not limited to one medium, and definitely doesn’t have to be the first one we ever became proficient at.

Recommended reading:

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I’ve recently read “Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world“. If you’re like me and love wearing many hats, this book will not only be a huge morale boost, but will also show you how valuable your unique experience can be in an increasingly computerized world. Enjoy!

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