All about my wrist

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

My goodness, I do feel guilty for not blogging for a while. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Not only Transpose, but rehearsing for the album, and playing other gigs, and getting to meet Del LaGrace Volcano (eek!), and baking more cakes than I’ve ever baked before. As a result, my wrist is killing me. Ow, and ow again.


Two things, that really struck me – and as usually, they join together. Firstly – the issue of disabilities – seen and unseen – how they’re perceived, and how we struggle on with them. And, secondly – the public/private distinction, and the situation I increasingly find myself in – that I’m meeting people who know so much about me from my work and, yet, miss so many vital pieces of who I actually am.


So, as I like to call it (cue dramatic music)…My Struggle (do read that in a gravelly, distinguished kind of a voice, won’t you?). You know, one of many. But one that I certainly consider one of the most painful twists of my life, though only a few fellow musicians and family members seem to understand that.


I’ve spoken in interviews already about the ‘crystallising’ moment in my life, when I realised that I could be a musician and, simultaneously, that I HAD to be a musician. I was six years old, and had just moved to England. I had never seen an instrument played before, close up, except for basic guitar in kindergarten. But, at my new school, they gave piano lessons, and I walked past one in progress. I had had moments of what I would describe as ‘jouissance’ before when listening to music, and singing it – but I had never realised that I could be allowed to work one of the instruments that made it. I feel odd, even to describe this moment in such a general way – because it’s one of the sweetest and most perfect moments of my life. I knew that the piano was the most wonderful thing I had ever encountered, and that I absolutely had to get my hands on one. Luckily, my family was supportive, and I started working on my dream to become a professional pianist. Lucky, also, that I was very talented (no, I don’t feel the need to feign modesty) – and that I adored playing: improvisation, sight-reading, finger exercises, pieces of all kinds.


Anyway, I seem to have rambled on – but I do want you to understand. So, I fell off a horse when I was eleven, and broke my right wrist really badly. REALLY badly. I had an operation on it at the time. But the pain never went away. Six years later they operated again, to remove bone fragments lodged in the scar tissue. Still not right. More pain. More treatment. Not right. Ligaments and cartilage ripped and torn out of place. Another operation to pin everything back together. I was told I’d never play again. Another year of intensive treatment: physiotherapy, ultrasound, massage, painkillers, acupuncture, hot and cold treatments. And, finally, my surgeon told me that I COULD play the piano – so long as I was willing to live with constant pain. By which time the muscles of my forearm had wasted away, and I’d lost years of training and experience I could never regain. I began training again, but so, so slowly – and focused, instead, on alternative music. I’m not trying to exaggerate when I say that I experienced a profound bereavement.


Which is a long-winded way of saying that (in addition to my various different mental conditions) I do consider myself to be living with a disability. That my ambitions and goals have been turned upside down by a physical condition. That I have to measure what I can and cannot do by the parameters of a physical ailment: if I want to play the piano, at all, I have to stop using my right hand/arm in all other ways. That I’m always on painkillers. That I have a recovery programme.  That I can’t rule out further surgery. And, yet, the way in which the world treats me is not the way it treats my friends with more “obvious” disabilities. I believe that part of that difference is intimately linked to this idea of a limited public persona, particularly the public persona of a musician.


You see, my disability is somehow romantic. It fits into both the trope of the tortured artist and that of the noble, stoic “cripple”. There’s nothing embarrassing about it. It doesn’t threaten a listener’s own sense of health and wellbeing (fellow musicians are different here – they’re the ones who wince.) It isn’t messy, and it doesn’t make life awkward for other people. I don’t get asked if it’s all in my head. I don’t get asked how I have sex – even though, to be totally honest, it really does have an impact on my intimate life. I don’t get treated like a child. And all of this makes me fucking furious.


I’m in a lot of pain right now. My hand is swollen and throbbing – I know that I’m not going to sleep tonight. I was playing classical duets last night – and the difference between the skill I had and what I now possess was an aching and terrible thing. But I’m not discriminated against because of it. I don’t have to wage a constant battle for basic levels of respect and decent treatment. And, because of this, I think it’s too easy for people like myself, with fairly invisible disabilities, to discount the disability rights movement as something for other people – somebody else’s fight. The world ‘disabled’ is for other people – we might have “problems”, or “issues” that need treatment. We play into the idea that there stands a majority of non-disabled people, and a small number of disabled people – cut off from each other, and never a member of one group moving to the other, and/or back again. To isolate the visibly disabled, to cut them off – to work from some of the most basic taboos of purity and infection.


One of the most important things I think we can do at this point in time, when health services are being attacked, when social care is being slashed, is to remind people that the idea of the invulnerable body/mind is a myth. That there is no scapegoat class of lepers to contain the pains that can strike our physical selves. If we are lucky enough to enjoy good health then we have to remember that, in all likelihood, it will only be for a time. And to do this I think it’s important that those of us who “pass” as non-disabled open up about our lives. Which is not to try to co-opt other people’s experiences, or struggles. But to show that we exist on a spectrum – and that not one of us is more worthy of respect and civilised treatment than another, regardless of our corporeal state.


I apologise if this isn’t the most cogent of pieces – codeine’s a fun one. But I felt that it needed to be said.



§ One Response to All about my wrist

  • Thank you for this. It’s a good and useful piece. And I am often on opiates myself, so I understand the difficulty you must have had in writing it; still, I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t said. Your writing passes. 😉

    I find that I encounter some interesting situations vis a vis my disability because it’s both visible and invisible. That is, it’s obvious when people see me, but a huge amount of the work I do is online, so often people get to know me quite well – professionally and/or personally – before they realise. I’ve seen a lot of people do a double-take when they find out. The impression I get is that they’ve encountered an unexpected overlap between sets they thought were mutually exclusive – the set of journalists, say, or of political activists; and the set of disabled people, whom they probably think of as never working, or never leaving the house.

    If it gives you any more confidence about your own situation, I’d like to note that, though there is certainly an overlap between the set of disabled peopleand the set of dicks, plenty of people with severe and obvious disabilities will still sympathise wholeheartedly with a situation like yours and not dismiss it as insignificant. It impacts on your freedom, on your happiness, on your peace of mind, so it matters. And anyway, you matter.

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