Music: pain management and mental health

Due to being bed ridden I have been listening to more than I normally do, and I normally listened to a lot! But before I get to the science, music and my love of all things Anathema, first an update:

The ongoing chronic pain in my left shoulder and neck resulted in me losing two of my major passions months ago: martial arts and computer gaming. For months my thoughts have been dominated by pain, and any attempts to estimate when I can return to these two hobbies is impossible to compute, further frustrating my current mind-set. Like so many other people facing major injuries/illness, looking forward to things improving is an important part of maintaining morale; not being able to do so is horrid.

I have already experienced having to make a difficult life changing decision due to the development of permanent repetitive strain injuries in my wrists. Years ago I had to stop playing competitive real-time strategy (RTS) or first person shooter (FPS) games due to the intense twitch-based requirement to compete.

It is accepted that general exercise can help regulate mood, and active distractions such as electronic gaming can greatly help in pain management. 1

I am trying to spend as much time in bed as possible doing nothing, to limit aggravating my injury, and so I will heal faster; I’m barely even walking. So in addition to losing two of my hobbies, they are additionally things that would have generally good physical and mental health beneficial effects.

Fortunately I at least have music listen to, and this still provides a distraction from pain2; whether this is due the power of imagination with the music taking the listener on a virtual journey, or due to specialised brain regions triggering dopamine release, it is not understood currently.

It is commonly accepted that music has a powerful impact upon our mood, as well as being a crucial aspect of society. Since music is so personal it is tempting to think that our individual relationship with music, or the musicians, is unique. I appreciate the reality that our own experience is specifically unique, but in general not rare given how many people there are on the planet. I think this is a more grounded way to view things, especially when you hear about people who hijack everything about a song and even argue with a musician about what a particular track actually means, telling the musician they are wrong about their own version!?

I like to consider that I have a broad taste in music, but unsurprisingly I definitely have my preferences. One of my big influences at 16 was Doom Metal bands like Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost; an honourable mention to Black Sabbath for their great tracks in this genre previously. The reason for writing about Doom Metal is that I saw the following post:

Doom research

I love so many bands/musicians, but in particular Anathema. If I had to pick they are my joint favourite since I also adore New Model Army with an intensity I find shocking to myself.

I first saw Anathema after the Serenades album came out at my local rock club in Blackpool called The Tache, I think it was in 1993. Most of my night club mates had diverse taste in music, although they preferred the metal scene, so it was no surprise that several of them could be listening to an acid house track one moment, then listen to pop, punk, death metal, etc. without it being a big deal. At the time Doom had the potential to blow up, with Paradise Lost doing great , given that Metallica was suddenly a global giant and Guns N Roses were in the mainstream it seemed oddly possibly Doom could become massive. Never mind the interesting diverse Industrial bands like Ministry Psalm 69 seemed like it was about to be massive, or the quirky but cool G.G.F.H. was being discussed; I recall discussing the potential of a band merging Doom and Industrial sounds.

Serenades

Quite a few of us were really into the Anathema – Serenades album, in part due to the surprisingly diverse nature of the work. The creeping sounds at the start of “Lovelorn Rhapsody” sets the tone for the album well, and builds in to what could be considered a quintessential Doom Metal track; a slow intense almost frustrating build towards something more layered, then reaching a more head-banging worthy pace for the last third.

The much beloved track Sleepless could be badly described as if The Cure made a Doom Metal track, but then got frustrated at their style change, before deciding to fully commit to the project; I mean that as a compliment, it’s a great track, and hints at what Anathema will evolve in to.

The track “J’ai fait une promesse” has a particularly special place for some of the people that were a year or two older than at The Tache, this is because a regular had died of cancer and this track was played at his funeral. I recall this tracks placement in the album was somewhat debated, some finding it to out of place, others loving the difference and the fact that why shouldn’t it be there.

I have offered to help Selim with his project. Between painkillers, alcohol and reminiscing I’ve not felt so bad tonight. For me there is little like listening to Anathema on repeat to make me feel better, but I will write more on them (via speech system) another day.

1. [“Electronic Gaming as Pain Distraction”]
2. [“Superior Analgesic Effect of an Active Distraction versus Pleasant Unfamiliar Sounds and Music: The Influence of Emotion and Cognitive Style”]

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Invisible Disability (RSI) & Gigs

Current news: I have an MRI scan for my left shoulder on 22nd January 2016. Hopefully the odd crunching and lack of flexibility I have had in the shoulder for years is revealed. Maybe the underlying damage was the reason the shoulder injury got so bad so quickly, and has not gone away.

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to see two of my favourite bands, Walk off the Earth, and then a few weeks later Anathema. Both gigs were amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but due to my RSI I am not able to enjoy concerts like I used to. It is frustrating having to avoid clapping, as even clapping for a few seconds can set the pain signals to high alert, never mind clapping near constantly over several hours. However, there is the additional issue of the social situation, as clapping at gigs is the norm, and not clapping stands out.

Many years ago I went to see W.A.S.P. in concert, along with a friend I went to the front, directly in front of Blackie Lawless. It was at the Manchester Academy, small stage, so I was within arms reach of the man! Blackie was great, but after he seemingly made eye contact with me several times I started to become self-conscious. Not because singers looking at someone is unusual, but I realised I probably looked strange due to keeping my arms hugged across my chest to keep them safe.

Over the next two songs my embarrassment grew as Blackie made eye contact several more times, I felt like he was not only singing to the crowd, but that he was challenging me to join in. Eventually I gave in to the pressure, I unfolded my arms and joined in the arm waving and clapping. Blackie seemed to smile, maybe because he had conquered me, or maybe it was just coincidence. I decided I would worry about the pain later, and since I always had some level of discomfort to outright pain it may as well be on my terms.

Logically to anyone looking at me I would stand out in a crowd, after all I look healthy/normal, but also like somebody who was obviously not enjoying themselves; I generally strive to consider other peoples’ perception. As I realised how odd I likely looked, and also how awkward I felt, I waited till Blackie’s eyes were elsewhere then I withdrew from the front.

invisible disability

Even though I stood at the back for the rest of the concert I still had a good time. However, I still felt like my sensible precaution to avoid a severe RSI pain attack had reduced my potential enjoyment. During the drive home I pondered whether I was being overly sensitive in considering whether members of the band really were taking notice of me, or that I would ruin their experience of the gig. I suppose over time I could be perceived as a being miserable idiot, because of the comparison to everyone else around me, who were clearly having a ton of fun clapping and singing. Maybe it is like the big concert scene in the movie Queen of the Damned, when Lestat is on stage and you can tell who the vampires are due to them standing perfectly still.

The trouble is I’m not a vampire, despite my nickname, I cannot regenerate the damage to my arms and now left shoulder. Besides with so many different versions of vampires, I don’t fancy the identity crisis that I’d gain.

My conclusion at the W.A.S.P. gig was twofold:

  • Going to the front of a gig risks being banged about, and sadly I need to accept that it is a factor for me.
  • That if I am going to place myself in front of somebody then I do need to consider my affect upon them. Not in the sense of a rule that their feelings totally override my own, but in the more mature sense of considering that their feelings matter, and I don’t want to feel like I am causing others issues. If I place myself in a social situation, but then I deviate from the norm, then I am breaking a social contract.

A massive ramification of having an invisible disability is other people. Their perception affects me if only because of their questions, and sometimes disbelieving attitudes or outright dismissive opinions. So even if I wanted to pretend that peoples’ opinions don’t matter, they do, since they directly affect me. Thankfully I have a great bunch of friends, and even support at work has been great.

Thankfully at both Anathema and Walk off the Earth I was able to have a good time, to not feel awkward, to not put myself in the position of breaking a social contract.

For those wanting to read more about invisible disabilities:

http://invisibledisabilities.org/what-is-an-invisible-disability/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_disability worth it for the references 😉