Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Our bodies, our selves

My cousin-in-law talked me into buying a guitar. I was learning to play a little bit several years ago (I play horns but I wanted to be able to play more than one note at a time, basically), then I loaned my strat to my brother and never saw it again. So what the heck, I need a new hobby. I bought a beautiful Gibson Les Paul guitar and a Fender mustang amp.

So I'm relearning what little I could do and hoping to go beyond. But, unlike the previous episode, I now have arthritis in my left hand and I'm not sure I'll really be able to achieve the level I hope for. Fortunately this is not a major issue for me, except maybe for blowing $1,200, since being a guitar God has not been among my ambitions. But it did make me think about professional musicians or dedicated amateurs who run into physical problems -- including a friend of mine who will probably read this, who had to give up his career as a trumpet player.

A physical disability that directly aborts your profession or avocation is obviously a huge challenge to identity. But in fact any chronic disease -- even one that is so far asymptomatic, and exists only as a label -- forces a person to remake the sense of self. It means taking on new obligations for self-care, perhaps abandoning some cherished goals, being forced to present yourself to others differently, maybe even planning for a shorter life.

Many people wonder why people don't take their pills, or keep their medical appointments, or make other changes they need to improve their health. This is called the problem of "non-adherence." Much of the time, it's pretty simple: if I take these pills every day, that will mean that I have this disease. I don't want to have it. Therefore I won't take the pills.

My arthritis is obvious to me, denial is impossible. But I don't like to tell people about it. I hesitated about fessing up here, in fact. Why? Because it means I'm telling people I'm getting older and the machinery isn't working as well as it used to. And I don't want people to think of me that way. I still want to be in my 20s. Well, I'm not. Now you know.


robin andrea said...

Wow, a Gibson Les Paul guitar! That's a very nice instrument. Ah yes, though, the aging body has nowhere else to go but downhill. My arthritic neck causes me so much pain, it keeps me from hiking and playing as much I would like to.

Don Quixote said...

"The personal becomes the universal." A poignantly honest blog; I hear the frustration as well as the penetrating analysis. Now, go tackle that beast. I admire your determination. How appropriate that it is a Les Paul model!