A man playing guitar and watching large music notes float behind him.

How Music Helps Me Cope

Music is incredibly important in my life.

I began playing from a young age courtesy of a lovingly heavy influence from my incredibly talented grandmother. I started formally taking piano lessons at five years old, played trumpet for a short stint, but truly I love singing.

It is therapeutic and, particularly since my diagnosis of nr-AxSpA, is one of my most important self-care mechanisms. For me it’s important in two facets: playing and listening.

Jammin'

My musical ability is one of the lesser-known facts about me. This summer I’ve been playing about a gig per week, which is a far cry from a year ago when – post-diagnosis – I could barely touch my guitar.

I don’t know a better way to release pent-up emotions. Whether elation or frustration, channeling excess emotions into a song or a set really helps me regulate my mental well-being.

I play a trio of songs that have really become symbolic for me in dealing with AxSpA and all the ramifications which come with it.

Firstly, Crazy by the Barenaked Ladies has helped me to cope with the symptoms of depression that coincide with the AxSpA symptoms I experience.

The repeating lyrics in the chorus, “because I’m crazy, just like you,” resonate with me because it normalizes my challenges. Everyone has their struggles and it’s okay for me to feel the way I do.

Secondly, I Don’t Know by The Sheepdogs really helped me navigate all the uncertainties of my diagnosis.

The lyrics in the chorus “I don’t know, help me” surround a fun guitar riff. I’m someone who always likes to be in the know, so I found it very difficult to manage all the trial and error type advice of learning to live with AxSpA. That’s why I latched onto this song in those moments, some days I would be in tears quietly singing the lyrics to myself as I navigated through painfully confusing days.

The third song I constantly play is one I wrote entitled I’m In Pain which I wrote as a letter to my AxSpA. It is unequivocally the best way to release an uptick in negative emotions related to dealing with this disease as it feels like I can melodically scream at the pain or other symptoms I’m experiencing.

Adapting for AxSpA

I have also had to adapt how I play due to AxSpA.

I now play sitting down. When I try and play standing up, it causes my back to seize up and I can’t play very long. I’m not sure if it’s the weight of the guitar, the awkward position I have to stand or some combination of it all, but playing sitting down is now a requirement.

I also bought myself a new tool while playing sets: a looper pedal. I’m not very adept with it yet, but I’ve already noticed with only a couple songs in my repertoire, the ability to put down my guitar and give my body a quick rest is hugely helpful to extend my playing stamina (and it’s really fun too).

Listening to cope

Listening to music can set my mood for the day. I often have a rotation of five to ten songs I can queue up before driving that I know will put me in a good mood for the day.

Right now, my rotation is fixated by Fine Apple by Nic D, Good Day by Nappy Roots and Beggin’ by Maneskin.

Music comes in very handy during my lowest moments as well.

Feeling Good by the Sheepdogs to try and convince myself the lyrics are true. I particularly fixate on this line: “yeah I’m feeling good, just like I know I should.” Sometimes I’ll listen to it on repeat until I believe the lyrics to be true.

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