The Observations and Obsessions of a Superego's Sidekick

dreams

Valse Lente

Music to my mind is a most puissant form of magic, and has the power to invoke such strong memories and emotions, that tune that always reminds you of your first love, or the song that could be your own biography, and all those happy reminders of your past.

When Liz first played Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Valse Lente for me, she did so in the hopes that I’d like it enough to start learning it myself.  I did, I really loved it, instantly, it spoke sweetly and dearly to me.  It spoke to me of  childhood memories; merry-go-rounds, music boxes and the Italian commedia dell’arte and its comedic and tragic characters, the Pierrot doll I had as a young girl, and still have to this day.  And I played it for my son, and to him it spoke of a fantasy computer game he used to play.  Ah, the generations!  Music speaks differently to people.

This beautiful piece however soon became a reminder of great loss, the last piece Liz and I worked on together.  I stopped playing it and listening to it after her sudden death two years ago.  I always knew that when I eventually returned to it, I would have gained at least some acceptance of what is a great loss for me.

I made a promise to you Liz, that I would keep working it, a promise I intended keeping.  I’m back working on it now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to talk to you about it.  See I still forget at times, that you’ve gone, and I cry when I’m on my own, and oh I still see you walking down the street.  However I also think of you often with joy and happy memories and thankfully there’s more of these than tears these days.  And I think happy thoughts of a beautiful Valse Lente again.

For you my dear, dear Liz, for all the wonderful memories I have because of you, of music and books, the love of which we shared, lovely evenings with wine and chats, of laughter and silliness and an eternal friendship that will never fade.  I love you.  I miss you.

Cheers and shine brightly.


The Power Of Words

 

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Have you seen the suggested posts on Facebook, I’m thinking of one in particular; “Are you depressed about the fine lines around your eyes”.  I see red every time I see this.  Why do we throw away words in such a thoughtless or careless manner, mindless of the implications and effects over others.  Whether it’s using such a powerful word to describe a few lines or making promises to friends we can’t or aren’t prepared to keep.

Depression isn’t being upset over a few lines on our faces, it’s being alone with your thoughts and those thoughts are telling you over and over, you’re useless, worthless and unlovable.  It’s pain and not just emotional, it’s physical, and your body aches all over.  It’s finding it damn near impossible to put one foot in front of the other, let alone get out of bed in the morning.  It’s exhaustion, physically and mentally, but not being able to sleep.  You can’t eat and when you force yourself, everything tastes like cardboard.  Every sense in your body is numbed, colours are faded, images dimmed, sounds muffled and then there’s the hypervigilence and every noise makes you jump.  People talking around you is akin to a jackhammer pounding away outside your door for the last eight hours.  You can’t leave the house because crowds make you panicky, shake and sob.  Your dreams die and your passions and loves no longer interest you.

Then comes isolation, as people drift away from you, the few that stay around, well you can hear in voice and see in their eyes, their desire to be a long way from you. And why not, you’re not fun to be around and you sap their energy and they’re busy getting on with life.  And the others, well they can’t be found, later they’ll tell you, “I didn’t know what to say” or “I wouldn’t have been much help anyway”.  Don’t you know I would have given anything to hear you say, I love you and I’m here for you, if you need me.  Why couldn’t you have given me that choice.  You’re trapped inside this aching body and insidious mind and you just want the pain to stop, so you consider what is unthinkable to a healthy person, and the planning of it is as mundane as making a shopping list.  And if things aren’t bad enough, people will tell you, there’s no such thing as depression, why don’t you just pull yourself together.  Everybody has bad days. To my mind depression is a grieving process, and the loss is of one’s self.  That’s the face of depression.  To use this powerful word in any other way denigrates the suffering and desperation of those with mental illness. 

But I was one of the lucky ones, I had a great GP, who kept in contact and who knew when it was time to hand me over to the experts.  I got a proper diagnosis, my medications were changed and adjusted gradually till they worked for me and then months of therapy.  A wonderful space to explore, talk and cry, where I wasn’t judged or hurried away. I learnt ways to process my thoughts and emotions in a more positive and harmonious way.

That was me two years ago, today I’m so much better, but I have to work at it everyday.  I can never become too complacent, but I’ve learnt to recognize my triggers and I know when I’m beginning to sink again.  What works for me is communication and open dialogue, the power of words, but sometimes it falls on deaf ears, and I’m left reeling from the emotional turmoil.  I am overly sensitive and in this dog eat dog world, I struggle.  Utopia to me is a world filled with compassion and empathy, what a caring and wonderful society we would then have.

I want to embrace life, it’s experiences and challenges, as well as new and renewed relationships, fully, but how do I do that without getting hurt.  Is it at all possible?  That is my challenge, I’m back looking for work, a somewhat disheartening process, but I keep my head up and move on to the next possibility.  So I’ve got the experiences and challenges under control, but relationships are very different.  I always seem to end up getting hurt.  Why do I dive in head first, and get so emotionally involved, when I know it’s going to end in tears.  Why do I keep making the same mistake.  Words again, I get lulled into this sense of security, of believing and trusting, in what others say, but at the same time I’m scared of not believing and not trusting and missing out on something wonderful.  What is the key, I really wish I knew.  All I can really do, is keep positive and strong and in time too, perhaps my relationships will come good.

 


Writing 101-Free The Mind

mooneye4Twenty minutes to write, twenty minutes to free my mind, and capture in writing my stream of consciousness.  Where do I start, there is so much noise inside my head, constant chatter, new ideas being born, dreams, some shattering, some still infinitely optimistic.  I’d love for you all to think that my thoughts are meaningful, inspirational and provoking, but the truth is there is more Homer Simpson than Aristotle going on in there.  Mindlessly and tunelessly humming a song I heard earlier in the day, cravings for something sweet, and crackpot ideas.

So lets focus a little, why do I write, to fulfill a dream, a dream 33 years in the making but along the way, I found me, a way of expressing myself, of capturing my deepest and darkest thoughts and memories and transforming them into words.  I’ve always admired writers who create images with words, those whose ideas and creations come to life inside my mind, and every time I start writing, my goal is to transform everyday words into lyrical and beautiful prose, my aim continues.

This is the first time I’ve taken part in writing 101, my goal is to expand my writing experience, to try something different.  I recently attempted a poem, two lines in and it’s still sitting in my drafts, was it rubbish, not yet, add a few more lines and it might be though, but what stopped me, is that I froze, and I had no idea where to go next.  I’d like to expand my horizons a little, push myself out of my comfort zone.  Who knows perhaps that poem may even get finished.  I need to be nudged, and that’s how I got into writing this blog.  Reveling a secret dream to a friend, who gently pushed and pushed until I jumped.  The time was right and it was fortuitous, being able to write during a severe and lengthy bipolar depression episode was a lifeline and a great way to keep track of my illness.  I’ve been writing now for a little over three years and not at all sure that I’ve progressed and improved as a writer since my early days, but I can look back and see how much I’ve grown as a person.

Hopefully these next four weeks will help me to develop a writing discipline, something I lack greatly, I tend to be all over the place, nothing for weeks and then a blast of inspiration and then barrenness.  I know to do anything well requires much commitment and practice and perhaps that lilting and lyrical prose will come.

Here’s to the next four weeks, day one down!

Wish me luck.


Embracing The Introvert Inside You.

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Introversion and extroversion became part of Carl Jung’s typology, a theory of psychological types defined by three dichotomies in ‘The Collected Works of C. G. Jung’ published in 1921, his works were extrapolated and expanded to include a fourth dichotomy and this became the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric questionnaire for understanding human behaviour.  The purpose of this test is to make Jung’s typology understandable and usable in helping people develop constructive and positive changes in their lives by coming to an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

There are many definitions for introvert and several will have you believe that an introvert is a shy, reticent person, and while some introverts are shy, this is a misconception.  It is important to remember that introversion isn’t a personality flaw but a character trait, and is not the same as social phobia.   The main difference between introverts and extroverts is the source of their energy, extroverts thrive on social interaction and external factors, whereas the introvert thrives on solitude, creative pursuits and introspection.  All humans fall somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale, we all have a propensity to lean one way or the other, however no one will be 100% either way, as Jung put it, “there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert; such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”

However the modern world and society is geared toward the extrovert and yet it is estimated that the worldwide figures for introverts is 1/3 to 1/2 of the population.  We tend to think of extroverts as the movers, shakers and reformers.  But look again, many great achievers are introverts, think Barack Obama, J. K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few.  And while these famous introverts have done great things, it’s in a world skewed toward the extroverts strengths.

The world is a noisy place, and society today, embraces gregarious, chatty personalities, the brainstormers, the quick problem solvers, and overconfidence.    Introverts are often seen as socially awkward, ruminating and dull, whereas the extrovert is sociable, friendly and outgoing, so right from the get go, the extrovert sounds more appealing.   But would it surprise you to know that there are many extroverts that are shy and many introverts who love to socialize.  While the gifts of extroverts seem to be obvious, introverts are excellent at the details, learning through observation, creative and solitary pursuits, and are considered to be thoughtful, self aware and empathetic.

Many of our writers, musicians, scientists, therapists, actors, computer/IT designers, and according to Buzzfeed professional Netflix binge watchers tend to be introverts.  However introverts can be found in every profession, in boardrooms, offices, courtrooms, in fact anywhere, where minds meet and ideas are exchanged, introverts have much to give.  With the extroverts confidence, enthusiasm and momentum, and the introverts attention to detail and creative thinking, just imagine what could be achieved.

The secret to my own personal contentment is self awareness and today I am a self confessed introvert, but for many years I forced myself to be other than what I truly was, in the belief that there was something wrong with me.  I tried to be Superwoman, to be all things to all people, the ‘yes’ woman, committee member, volunteer extraordinaire and the life and soul of the party, in my efforts to fulfill my desire to be wanted and needed, but in the end I was left mentally exhausted, unhappy and unwell.  When I stopped resenting and ignoring my introvertive nature, I found a wonderful inner peace.  Today I still belong to committees, but they’re the groups where my gifts, talents and knowledge are recognized, valued and appreciated.  I still attend parties and social events but carefully selected ones, and I love going out for dinner and movies and spending time with those I love, and some of those are incredibly wonderful inspiring extroverts.  But when I feel the need to retreat, I now embrace it, enjoy it and nurture it, it energizes me and then I’m ready for my next great adventure.

 

 

 


Cystic Fibrosis – A Parent’s Journey

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Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic condition that affects approx. 1 in 25,000 newborns.  Although technically a rare disease, cystic fibrosis is ranked as one of the most widespread life-threatening genetic diseases.  Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a chronic illness that affects the digestive and respiratory tracts resulting in generalized malnutrition and chronic respiratory infections, there is currently no cure for CF however early diagnosis, better treatments and significant research has improved both the quality of life and the life expectancy.

However 18 years ago I knew none of this and was blissfully awaiting the birth of my fourth child.  At the beginning of February, my beautiful little boy made a speedy and timely entrance into the world.  Like all parents’ I spent the days following his birth, gazing at my wonderful little boy, falling in love with him and imagining a long, healthy and happy life filled with wonderful adventures and experiences.  Although he was a little small, I breast fed him as I had done with other children and he thrived, and at his six month check up he had gained 10 pounds.

He was my perfect blonde, blue eyed boy, he slept well, ate well, rarely cried and when he was awake, he smiled and cooed at everyone, but at 7 months old, all that changed.  He was hungry all the time, so I introduced solids, which seemed to help for a little while, but he became fretful and unwell, my GP was a great support to me at this time and we agreed it was probably an allergy, so I tried other foods which again only worked for a short time.  I did some reading at this time, and what kept cropping up was allergies, coeliac disease and cystic fibrosis.  But I pushed cystic fibrosis to the back of my mind.  That couldn’t happen to my family, it just couldn’t.  I delayed returning to my GP because I was by this time terrified and I was also very unwell myself, with repeated attacks of painful mastitis, as a result of his sporadic feeding.  I kept hoping that something would click into place and everything would be well again.  Eventually though I had no choice, he was losing weight and something had to be done.

He was admitted to hospital immediately, and tests were done as an emergency, including a sweat test, and I awaited the results.  As the time passed by, I became a little more reassured, surely if it were something serious I would have heard by now.  Shortly before 5pm though, a group of people started collecting outside our door, and  my body went cold, I started shaking and this voice inside me was screaming ‘go away’ over and over.  My little man had cystic fibrosis.  My first thoughts were you’ve made a mistake, you must repeat the test, and that I was going to outlive my child.  But they were in no doubt, the sweat test had showed a significant level of chloride.  Everyone was very kind and supportive, but I was in shock and had started grieving for the life my child should have had.  I was raised a Catholic but hadn’t practiced or prayed in a long time, but that night after Fin had fallen asleep I went to the hospital chapel and cried.

What I remember most though about that time, was the young couple across the hall from us.  Their 2 year old son had been brought in to hospital to die.  I’d never before or since seen that much pain, terror or desperation etched into someones face, or sheer physical exhaustion in their bodies.   Shortly after the doctors and nurses had left our room, there was a gentle knock on the door and she came in and sat down and said in a very quiet voice, “I’m not going to pry, but I know you’ve just had bad news and I thought you might need company”.  In the final hours of their sons life, she was there to support me, and that to me was humanity at it’s finest.  In the days and months that followed, when I started feeling sorry for myself, I thought of her and it gave me great strength.  Their little boy passed away that night and they slipped quietly out the hospital and I never saw her again, but I have often thought of her and her kindness and gentle strength.

Over the following days, we started meeting the CF team, Phsyio’s, Dietitians, Cathy the CF nurse and Dr. Brendan Watson our consultant, more tests were done, medication started and relevant information was given, to enable us to have better understanding of  what was happening.  Cathy was amazing, with her wonderful and kind nature and she reminded us that it was important to always keep hope alive and to keep a sense of humour.  Dr. Watson, who sadly passed away 6 months ago, was equally inspiring, and always referred to the parents as his Mummy’s and Daddy’s.  A wonderful pioneer in the treatment of CF in children and kind and compassionate man.

My son responded rapidly and well to treatment and we’ve been blessed that he hasn’t had many chest infections, in fact his first serious infection which required long term IV antibiotics only occurred when he was 14, he’s had a few since then, but the treatment is excellent and he has had no permanent damage to his lungs.  He is a very healthy 17 year old with cystic fibrosis.  We’re a long way from the death sentence I imagined all those years ago.  Treatment for CF has improved greatly over the last 20-30 years and CF patients are living longer and healthier lives as a result.  Granted our days revolve around his medication and physiotherapy, but that is a small price to pay.  Fin’s understanding of his condition isn’t great, he also has Aspergers, which can complicate matters, and we’ve had to gradually give him more information as he has been ready to comprehend and understand it, but as time as passed, he has started taking more responsibility for his treatment and physiotherapy.  We are very hopeful for his future.

We moved to adult department at the beginning of last year, a change that was more of a struggle for me, than for him.  Foe me, it was like the final stage and despite everything going well, it was the slippery slope, but we’ve been reunited with Cathy, who moved to the adult department a number of years ago and that was great.  Our very first visit, I explained to Cathy how I was feeling.  She understood and reassured me with facts,  they have people in their 60’s and 70’s in the clinic and with the advancement of treatment, they are for the first time having to treat people with cystic fibrosis for age related disease.

While Fin’s health has been great and we are one of the lucky ones, and there are many more like us, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.  I’ve gone through great emotional turmoil, as a parent, I’ve played the blame game, I’ve sobbed and screamed and I’ve grieved for all those hopes and dreams, especially in the early days, but it does get better and all those feelings lessen and you just get on with it.  It may not be the life you dreamed of for him, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a great life.  And we’ve had some wonderful experiences and met some wonderful people along the journey.  And we’ve also had experiences which we can laugh at now, such as the time we arrived at the clinic at 8 in the morning, to utter the immortal phrase “The cat pulled the iv out”, I’m quite sure they’d never heard that one before or since.  You don’t think that’s funny, well maybe you had to be there.  All in all, I’m a better person for my experience, I’ve learnt what’s important, of how strong I can be and of how important and precious every minute of every day is.

So why am I writing this, my son is shortly turning 18, a wonderful milestone and I wanted to explore my own personal journey.  But more importantly, I’d wished that I’d had someone who understood what was happening for me, someone to talk too.  The team were brilliant and answered any questions or concerns I had but it wasn’t the same.  I wished that there was someone there to tell me, things will get better, that everything you’re feeling is normal, and that I know what you’re going through.  Another parent.  It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to grieve, it’s normal to blame yourself, but ultimately in the end, it’s not your fault.  I still cry, I’m crying today but that’s okay too, because sometimes waves of grief and sadness just come out of the blue and you just have to go with it.   Keep hoping, laughing and smiling, it will take you far.

 


A Ghost Story……Sort Of.

 

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So have you ever experienced something you can’t explain.  Oh I know, a lot of you will probably be thinking, oh no, she’s finally lost it.  Granted I’ve never tried to make sense of my experiences, but they are my experiences and they are very real to me.

So how did I come to think of all this again, well one thing led to another, as it does, and here we are.  I’ve been laid up in bed the last three days with the dreaded lurgy, alright probably a virus, but should be right as rain for tomorrow, Monday, typical. I got to watching documentaries on Tudor history and one ‘Tudor from Above’ transported me back to the late 1980’s and the wonderful village of Lavenham in Suffolk England.  Lavenham is noted for it’s wonderful 15th century church and medieval and tudor cottages.  To stand in the High Street and gaze at the houses snuggled neatly together but tilting in all different directions, backwards, forwards and sideways as they have settled over time, was a wonder to behold.  The cars whizzing by, an anachronism to a backdrop of times gone by.  I fell in love with that village and it’s history and wonderful character filled buildings.

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This of course then led me to recall Elm Hill in Norwich, a cobbled street lined with more medieval and tudor houses, nearby the great Norwich Cathedral.  By the way cobbles look wonderful but they’re murder on the feet and in high heels deadly,and after many months of walking on them, they no longer hold any romance for me….

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And on to the first house I lived in when I returned to this part of the world.

Elm Hill

I shared this house with my aunt, three cousins and my sister.  My aunt owned a gift shop which was on the ground floor, and this was my first job on arrival.  The house had been a tavern in it’s early days, and was a wonderful house with lots of nooks and crannies, crooked walls, tilted floors and narrow stairways everywhere.  Five storeys including the cellar and attic and it was haunted, purportedly like a number of other houses on Elm Hill, but my story doesn’t begin here.

My aunt is unique, it would be safe to say, a witch, dreamy and flighty, and quite frankly a little nuts, but I wouldn’t say that to her face, who knows she might actually be able to turn me into a frog, but she could also be very kind and affectionate.  One of the first things she said to me after all the hugs and kisses was, “Do you remember the grey lady”.  I didn’t, but I’d grown up hearing the story.

I was born in London and lived there until the age of 5 when I moved to Australia.  When I was 2 we moved into police flats in Grove Park, my father having just joined the London Police Force.  The flats were relatively modern having been built on the site of an old house that had been torn down.  We grew up listening to many of my fathers stories of his time as a London Bobby.  His regular and friendly meetings with Harry Secombe of The Goons, who nicknamed him Blue, a name that stayed with him during his time as a policeman, and of whom he was a great fan and the actor John Mills, as well as encounters with the infamous Kray twins and a very young and lets just say, under the weather Mick Jagger.  It was at this time that my father received the Queen’s commendation for bravery, he’d attempted to save two men from an overturned burning newspaper van by going in several times to pull them from the vehicle, but was sadly unsuccessful.  However it left him with severe burns to his hands and face and damage to the eyes which left him severely shortsighted for the rest of his life.  He was rightly proud of his silver laurel leaves, but to my young mind, leaves should not be silver and I attempted to rectify this with the aid of a green felt tip pen.  While my parents were able to remove the green from the laurel leaves, there is still evidence of my mischief on the velvet lining of the box they are kept in.

But the story that fired my imagination was of the grey lady.  There was a glass wall divide between the hall and the sitting room, of the flat, where I would go and sit, head raised and smiling and babbling away toward the corner of the hall, for long stretches of time.  When asked what I was doing, my only reply over and over was “the grey lady is smiling”.  My parents were of course unnerved, but it became such a regular occurrence, and they never felt overly frightened by it, that it just became Gill’s friend, her grey lady.  While my parents took it in their stride, my uncle was so frightened and upset by experience and witnessing my babbling conversations, that he ended his one and only stay early and abruptly and refused to ever visit the flat again.  When I saw him again twenty years later and asked him about it, he refused point blank to discuss it with me. So it went down in infamy as one of  my extended families collective stories and events.

I don’t myself remember this episode, but I have experienced similarly unexplainable events since that time.  As I go through life, I realize there is so much mystery out there, an infinite expanse of mind, energy and universe and sometimes you don’t need an explanation or a reason why, it just is.

When I was working in the gift shop in Elm Hill, during a quiet afternoon, with my friend and colleague Denise, I experienced something, that although time softens and blurs the memory, still sits strongly with me.  I took a step back and bumped into someone, that is all I can describe it as, the clumsy meeting of two bodies, I apologized as I turned around to be met with no one.  I have no idea what happened, but I will swear till the day I die that it happened.  Of course Denise was overjoyed as was my aunt on hearing the news, but then she always seemed to have an affinity for things spooky.  Most of our day trips were to very old and eerie places including Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the reputed birth place of Anne Boleyn and is said to be badly haunted.  There is a picture emerging here, I think my aunt looked on me as her own personal ghost hunter.  Yes, no, maybe.  But more upsetting was a feeling of great unease in the attic bedroom I shared with my sister, which I felt in no other room of that wonderful house.

To my own home, which I would like to state is a very happy and warm house, and yet I’ve experienced many things over the years.  Running footsteps in the back garden at night, mirrors that shake on the wall, a kitchen door that frequently opens on its own to a glass on my bedroom dresser that started shaking then fell to the floor and smashed. But there is a place in the house that don’t hang around near and have felt myself being watched more than once.  But the closest I came to being frightened was the little blond boy who appeared in the back sitting room as I was bedding down the fire late one night.  Although the child was smiling and in many ways reminded me of my youngest, and who out of the corner of my eye, it first appeared to be, it was gone in the blink of an eye, and this experience chilled me to the bone. Of course I checked all the kids rooms and all were sound asleep, fortunately, I’ve only experienced that once.  Several members of my family have experienced some of these events, so I’m certain I’m not imagining all of this.

I don’t know what happens after death, but I do believe our energy, spirit or soul, call it what you like, continues long after our corporeal existence ceases, so it is within the bounds of possibility that we can still communicate on some level with those that have passed.  I have two very strong reasons for believing this to be that case.  Some 25 years ago, shortly after I’d moved into my home, I was alone one night and woke to very powerful and vivid thoughts of my grandmother.  I lay awake thinking of her for some time and vowed to write the letter I’d promised her the next day.  I woke several times more that night and again those same vivid thoughts.  I woke the next morning to the news that she had passed away during the night.  I believe with every fibre of my being that she was with me that night.  And to my father, shortly after he’d passed away in 2000, I was outside talking to him, when suddenly I heard his laugh.  He had a wonderful infectious laugh, and it was like he was sitting next to me.  I know some would say it was a memory of his laugh but the timing was perfect, I’d just been telling him a funny story of something that had happened that day, then this wonderful laugh.  Call it what you like, but for me it was the first time since he’d died, that I felt he hadn’t gone from me forever.

Perhaps this is all down to a fantastic imagination, and perhaps even believing, allows us to make sense of our loved ones passing, it gives us a sense of acceptance.  But I do wonder why some experience these things, while others do not.  Like I said, I’ve never really tried to make sense of it, it just is, and that’s good enough for me.


It’s Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument.

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I took up playing the piano at the age of 42, however my desire to learn piano goes back to my teens.  My siblings and I were allowed one extra-curricular activity and my first choice was ballet.  But I had a friend that I visited regularly and she played, so I got to have a little experience.  Nothing major, a few chords, chopsticks, you know the easy stuff.  But that desire remained and when we purchased a keyboard for the kids, I was probably the most enthusiastic beyond the initial novelty.  However keyboards are very different to pianos in that the dynamics of the piece are difficult to create with a keyboard, but it didn’t stop me and about a year later I started lessons and a year after that I got my own piano.

A big investment, but by that time I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and my passion for learning was strong.  That I suppose is a major advantage to learning anything new as an adult.  Often that dream extends all the way back to our childhood and it has become ingrained in our imagination.  And when the raising of our children becomes a little less hectic and we suddenly have more time for ourselves, these dreams come flooding back.  I’ve learnt to read music, simply because it’s an integral part of piano and of classical music study and performance and for the better part of the last eight years I’ve played classical music.  I have recently however started expanding my repertoire to pieces this side of the 1950’s.  And I’m currently learning The Cave by Mumford and Sons.  Who knows, one day I might get a chance to jam with a six-fingered banjo player.  Whether your instrument requires you to read music or not, I really think it is very helpful in getting a basic understanding at least, to help with the shaping of a piece.

But this does raise the question for me, can it be too late to start learning, especially with regard to developing any great proficiency.  My daughter started her piano lessons around the same time as me.  It always seemed to be much easier for her, than for me, despite the fact that I practiced ten times more than she.  Her fingers were so much more agile than mine.  I’m in no doubt that children and adults learn in totally different ways and perhaps that explains her ability to grasp what was in front of her faster.  Children almost intuitively learn and they’re not afraid to make mistakes.  Speaking for myself, I always beat myself up if I did something wrong, complete with headbanging the piano.  I’d over think the piece, apply reasoning and thinking strategies and the music became very wooden.

My friend and piano teacher passed away June 2013, and at that time I decided to no longer take lessons, to go it alone basically.  Sadly, I stopped playing for quite some time, it reminded me too much of Liz and didn’t help with everything else that was going on for me.  I’m back playing  again now, but still find myself thinking, I must talk to Liz about shaping this piece.  I still can’t believe she’s gone.

My daughter no longer plays, she simply lost interest and didn’t bothering practicing and finally stopped going to lessons altogether.  I guess making the decision later in life to learn is a big plus.  I still struggle with playing and learning new pieces, but I love playing.  And despite the fact that my fingers are not exactly long (I can barely span an octave), I muddle through, and I also take great delight in the fact that my favourite piano maestro Daniel Barenboim plays so beautifully with equally tiny hands.

Apart from the childhood dream fulfilled, there are many other benefits to taking up an instrument post childhood. It helps to reduce stress, and strengthens the brain, and yes there has actually been studies done in the area of brain power/learning music which show that the longer a person plays the stronger their non-verbal and visuospatial memory, as well as their ability to adapt to new information.  The reason for this and what appears to be unique to playing an instrument, is that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, in both right and left hemispheres of the brain.  Add to that playing and listening to music is one the greatest and simplest pleasures imaginable.

I think that the two most important decisions to make, are that you are prepared to practice consistently and that you choose the right instrument for you.  Not everyone can play anything, I have first hand knowledge of that.  I once considered the flute, but after trying one, I decided that I’d give it a miss.  If I was making any sounds from it, they were only ones dogs could hear.  Not forgetting my eldest son, who definitely has many other wonderful abilities, but persisted in torturing me throughout his primary education with the most appalling tin whistle playing ever,  which he eventually gave up to play the violin.  Oh dear god it was terrible, even worse than the tin whistle, think cats being tortured.  He now plays the guitar, much better, but he won’t be winning any awards any time soon.  When you think of a mothers’ love, it’s never stronger nor put to the test more than when they’re playing an instrument.  Make sure to try a few out, get the right one, it is after all a big investment and a lifetime commitment.  So if your tossing up whether to start, go for it, you won’t regret it.