My blood sugar dropped while I was practicing last night. Although I don’t have as many severe fluctuations as I used to, it would be irresponsible of me not to acknowledge the stress and betrayal involved in every incident, regardless of severity. I dislike waxing on what my disease means because it is harsh, relentless, and completely alienating to nearly everyone else in my life. Most of my T1 friends are crazy strong individuals who are able to buoy their spirits regularly and thoroughly; sometimes I wonder if I am as giant a turd as I feel, or if maybe music emphasizes all the things T1 tries (often successfully) to take from me on a daily basis. Describing to others what it means to have it often feels like I am ranting, even though I’m only attempting to explain my day. Struggling to paint everything with a glowing and confident coat of happy gloss is no less than catering to an exhausting and unrewarding lie.
Everyone’s diabetes is different, which may be a large part of the issue. I have never had the kind of diabetes that was forgiving of meals, exercise choices, or stress. My diabetes reacts to everything, including things I’m not aware that I am experiencing. And then, sometimes, it decides not to react at all. My diabetes is me, in that way; does its own thing with little to no regard for consequences. Yay, consistency.
I want to write about what a low is, for me, as a musician, and a temperamental person. I want to write about it, because it is horrifying. And real. And not something that I have shared yet. I want to write about it, but I’m pretty sure I’m still not ready since remembering last night makes my chest heave with mortified apologies for my existence. But, you know, here I go, anyways.
I’ve played the violin for a long time. I’ve studied it for less, but still long enough for it to amount to some sort of success when I try hard enough. Music is quirky in that when you are working on something, any frame of reference you may have thought you had goes away because your standards change, and, hopefully, so does your skill. Music is hard; it is damn hard to make something not sound awful, let alone anything worth pause. And even when you get to the point of not sounding awful, it is another puzzle entirely to realize if you’ve reached a goal in music. The idea of your phrase is often so pure and exquisite, there’s rarely a time when you can’t still do more to get it to your mental picture. I think I fell for music for this very reason: the journey is never over, I will never be done, the piece will never end; the music, my soul, will go on forever.
When I practice now, a lot of things are a given: I know what notes to play, I can easily figure out a quasi-decent fingering, I understand dynamics and rhythm and context, and know what recordings I should hear so that I can put it together faster. I can spot areas in a piece that will give me grief before I’ve even tried them, and I am organized about how I attack such areas so that they will not fuck me over later on. *For non-musicians, this paragraph is hopefully informative. For musicians: yeah, sorry. I realize I sound like a dillhole. I wanted to set a baseline for how a practice session goes.
I don’t have a lot of practice time. Audition practice is horrendously time consuming, and it is time I do not have. Last night was a rare night in that I had the entire evening to work on my stuff. I’d imagined it to be a delightfully functional several hours of work. I’d gotten about half way through my stuff when my sugar dropped. I don’t typically have low sugars, and if I am active with other things (practicing, teaching, rehearsing, etc), it’s hard for me to recognize the signs. I start to think my mistakes are because I’m tired, or because I’m doing something wrong technically, and I try to focus harder or readjust my approach to a passage (ie try a different way of getting sound). Last night, I was so stressed for time and efficiency that I couldn’t let go of the problem enough to see that I just couldn’t do it with my sugars in that range. It was a single shift, going from an Eƅ to an F#. In normal practice time, this should have taken me a minute. Maybe two. Instead, I clawed my way into counting ledger lines, getting lost whilst counting the ledger lines and having to start over, playing one note and then all of sudden not hearing whether or not that note was the note it should be and having to start over and check it again, then forgetting why I needed to play that note in the first place, and then back again to counting ledger lines. I went at it for an hour and a half and found myself sobbing over how late it had gotten and how I just couldn’t do it.
So I had some sugar, my blood sugar level went up, and yay everything is fine now.
Except, no. Because, it takes 20 minutes for my sugar to recoup from a low. It takes several hours for a low sugar headache to go away, and longer still for the shaky chill and nausea to dissipate. Even if I had caught the low earlier, there would have been recuperation time involved. Even if I had caught it before it happened, my focus would have suffered and I would have been frustrated. Even if I had not gone low at all, I have to play with the knowledge that at any time, my years of training, my hours and days and months of work, could all be for shit.
I mean, I do what I can. I am careful to eat very little before I play so that there is no active insulin involved during practice time. I try to understand my stress and adrenaline levels and be aware of how they might affect my numbers during play. I work to be solid enough so that even if my blood sugar decides to crawl up my ass, I can still keep it together enough to not require a cup of arsenic for myself afterwards.
I dislike being reminded that my body holds a constant checkmate on my playing. It is discouraging and frustrating. It’s great that there are so many people out there with amazing messages that help others through the tough times. I don’t have any. Because, for me, the tough times just sit. They stay and make you share the couch, and then ask for a little bit of your soul. They disregard your efforts and exhaustion and cast amused and disdainful glances upon you when you retaliate with something akin to moxie. They pretend to have forgotten about you, all the while stalking you with piercing, intimate, eyes, saving the pounce for your most graceful, catastrophic, moment.
I don’t have any sage tidbits. I have my bitterness, my resentment, and my baleful glares. I have my unwillingness to acknowledge the unrelenting aspect of this disease, and the understanding that if I do not acknowledge it, I will never learn to work with it. I have my anger, my grief, my yearning. I have that fucking Mahler excerpt that is 87 kinds of fun to play, despite the yawning chasm of an augmented second mindfuck.
*this isn’t a happy blog entry. I am not suicidal. I’m not even really depressed. But I wanted to talk about blood sugars. And music. I thought it needed to be said. Maybe just for me.