As a young person, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t live and breathe music.
In grade school, I couldn’t wait to get to the multi-purpose room for two reasons: chorus to sing my heart out and band to play my beloved flute. I pestered my mother relentlessly to let me start piano lessons before age seven (a family rule) because I loved the way it sounded and couldn’t wait to make the notes on the page come to life.
Ahhh, then there was my favorite. When Mom brought home the record, “Funny Girl”, I knew that I’d never stop singing. It was pure joy, an extension of myself. Indeed, the best part of Christmas each year was receiving a new Streisand album, a treasure that I cherished to the point of wearing out the grooves.
I grew to be a nonstop, never-gonna-quit singer, dancer and actor. It’s what I lived for, what I was born to do. Nothing was going to stop me – and in the end, nothing really did. While we don’t get to live our dreams with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, we can hold onto our passions in a different way. And for wellness alone, we ought to.
People gasp when they hear that I was unable to speak for five years due to CRPS, because that’s an unthinkable symptom caused by an unimaginable disease. But those same people overlook the fact that CRPS made me unable to sing for 15 years, like that was something disposable. When I couldn’t sing, I didn’t get to be Cynthia. Something fundamental, basic was stripped away from me. And with that went my expression and joy.
Lately I’m hearing lots about the healing powers of Expressive Therapy and how creative pursuits like dancing, painting, writing and acting can unleash “feel-good” chemicals (like endorphins and oxytocin) that lessen pain, depression and anxiety. I’ve also come to understand that the part of the brain that drives creativity distracts from the part that controls pain. That’s certainly been the case with me.
Cooler still, partaking in one expressive therapy can lead to the recovery of another. It was soon after writing my memoir that I could feel my body getting ready to sing again. Regaining my voice was nothing short of a miracle, and, to this day, I don’t really understand how it happened. My best guess is that through the narrative therapy process I purged negative feelings and wounds, opening a healing space. But in the end, does it matter?
Now that I’ve regained my strong vocal chords, I take every opportunity to express this joy. I sing with bands, in choirs, duets with musicians and a cappella harmony trios. I also love to record – and just finished my second CD titled Crazy which I dedicated to “women in pain who know they’re not.”
This album was a real labor of love as I took my time (in fact, seven years!) to record it. The obstacles throughout were many – multiple CRPS flares, a broken elbow that went untreated and undiagnosed for a year, a lupus infusion drug that nearly did me in, and, oh yeah, breast cancer.
For this album, I delighted in choosing songs that took me down memory lane, songs that I loved while growing up and that speak differently to me post-illness. I had to quickly wrap up my last two recordings in December 2019 as the dark chemo clouds loomed. Then after becoming an unlikely survivor, I eagerly designed my cover. I hadn’t been on a beach for 35 years and was bald, but that didn’t stop me from being a mermaid, leaning against my fears while having them bolster me to look toward a bright future.
I want Crazy to bring joy and laughter to those who suffer. I’m hoping this near-and-dear project will inspire us to turn our backs on fear and “impossibles”, reignite our passions and courageously move on. I still hear from women in pain who are stuck in the elusive search for a cure in hopes of recapturing their past. Here’s the thing – we don’t get to go back. Our choice is to stay stuck and miserable – or let the cure delusion go and partake in things that bring us healing and wholeness.
I’m certain that one of the tickets forward is expressive therapy. When we stir our soulful passions, wellness follows. As a former “triple threat”, it’s the expressive arts that continue to inspire me to heal. For you it might be a way different sort of passion. Perhaps, nature, animal welfare or the pursuit of justice is your buzz. Bottom line, we all need to find ways to differently recapture what clicks our heels and makes the hair on the back of our necks stand straight.
Being a long-time member of the Kingdom of the Sick doesn’t exclude us from the pursuit of joy. I know it’s easier said than done when wrangling with the likes of CRPS, migraine or lupus. But it’s essential to living a full, authentic life, one worth seeing the glow of a spectacular sunset.
I don’t think there’s anything crazy about that…