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Thread: Breakdown and recovery.

  1. Breakdown and recovery.

    This is a story of persistence actually paying off after a trip to rock bottom. After seeing a few people on here saying similar things to myself I hope this might serve as a source of encouragement and to not give up.

    18 months ago my embouchure collapsed.
    Looking back it started with one note not sounding E on the bottom line of the stave. It began a mouthpiece safari, temporarily stopping the issue, or moving it to another note, Then Embarrassingly in the middle of a rehearsal the whole Embouchure disappeared I couldnít produce a single note, I left in a hurry and cried in my car.
    At home I could see that the left side of my face stopped responding correctly and was ďsemiĒ paralysed.
    Initially, I thought I had pulled a muscle, so rested up and tried to resume after a month of rest. This had zero impact so rested another month again, no progress.

    It wasnít Bellís palsy as there was no facial droop. When buzzing my lips you could visibly see one side move twice as fast as the other.
    I researched and found a tutor who was very knowledgeable having experienced it himself after a very serious injury and developed a device designed to restore Embouchure (Stratos). These sessions made some extremely limited progress, maybe 5 or 6 notes, from non at all which felt like it was the right method. 6 months later no further progress, despite a couple hours a day just blowing simple exercises with the device, the tutor told me I had to practice everyday, because it wonít work unless I doÖ now I was doing exactly as prescribed and clearly not making progress to the level he would have expected at that stage. So I parted ways with him.

    I got rid of the device (it hurt my jaw) and keep doing long tones, playing very simple tunes, like an initial learner, the idea of beginning a complete new embouchure seems to slowly amble towards progress.

    Over these last 6 months I had tried and failed to obtain doctors appointments NHS secretary making it an impossible task. I swapped doctors and got an appointment straight away.
    I described every last thing I had experienced, the musical dystonia, the occasional vertigo, the back pain, the head pain and the doctor initially thought it was stress and migraines, I disagreed as the pain never went away, but regardless he put me on some anti migraine tablets and some strong painkillers if I did experience a ďmigraineĒ.

    Now the miraculous recovery happens, all of a sudden massive progress, it was like walking through a door and just picking up my Embouchure of the floor. It wasnít without limitations, basically conjunct and legato music was all of a sudden accessible. I started attending rehearsals again, explaining the limitations and reservations about what I would be able to do.

    Then a huge setback, splitting headache and the whole left hand side of my body was numb. This lasted about 24 hours. Because I underplayed it I didnít go to the hospital, I didnít want to sit 8 hours in ER to told it was just stress and then have to go to work.
    I should have gone in, there is a chance it was a mini stroke (TIA) as the effects only lasted 24hrs. My Embouchure returned again after a couple of days.

    The doctors appointment where I explained this new development meant he began upping my medication, as I was seeing improvement with each increase, he also referred me to get an MRI, moving away from his initial diagnosis, which now became really scary potentially life threatening.

    Luckily the MRI found something, but thankfully not in my brain, but instead my sinuses. It turns out my deviated septum (which I have always had) and perforated eardrum (after childhood gromits to solve deafness) were causing overlapping loops of inflammation, which affected balance via the middle ear resulting in back pain from a long term changed walking position, breathing and inflammation of nerves, which also affect pain response. All of which can trigger Migraines. If I indeed had a TIA stroke the damage from it was repaired and no longer visible.
    Covid and the vaccinations can also cause inflammation, so that canít be completely ruled out as a catalyst eitherÖ

    The embouchure was reacting to playing as if I was in pain, despite me never experiencing the pain.
    The medication given calms the nerve responses so explaining the restoration of embouchure. I am on the highest dosage now. Additional medication for my sinuses calming the inflammation itself. And my walking and energy levels have returned to normal. Health app confirms and gives me measurements on walking length (now doubled stride length) and balance (near perfect now) so measurable improvements.

    The other parts of technique and breathing have improved significantly, I will be performing a solo in band at the next concert and I have been successfully depping in other bands over the summer.

    I have had to make some concessions with my equipment, I am better on a smaller mouthpiece, previously I was on a 3 (26.4mm) now I have more success with a 5 (25.7mm).

    I still consider myself on the recovery path, I sometimes blip, but this is reducing the more practice I do. So I suspect that the blips are a practiced response from the hours of practicing with the imbalance issues, evidenced by the reduction over time.

    Staccato notes and disjunct music lines still caused issues, but these have also diminished significantly with increases in medication and practice.

    I canít play without medication, I hope to one day, and perhaps an operation can fix the underlying issues, but I am still waiting on a specialist ENT appointment to see whatís possible.

    I urge anyone thinking that they need to give up to reconsider, go to the doctors, seek professional advice from tutors and colleagues. Your problems might be a secondary symptom and not the primary issue, but please exhaust every other possibility and donít be impatient with yourself.

    12 months of fear was bad, but at the 18 month mark I am glad I persisted.

    If anyone has any questions or thinks they might also be having issues please feel free to contact me. Even if itís just for some encouragement.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Valley City, North Dakota, USA
    THANK YOU for this write up. Incredibly inspiring!

    It saddens me when folks give up music…especially when they believe the decision has been made for them (out of their control).
    Valley City Community Band
    Valley City State University Concert Band
    Valley City State University Jazz Ensemble

    Larry Herzog Jr.

    All things EUPHONIUM! Guilded server

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