When I was afflicted with task specific focal dystonia back in 2010, I had no idea what was going on. I was not diagnosed, although I visited several doctors, and I’m grateful for that now. I was left alone to work and experiment on my own, and managed to solve my problem in 4 years. I guess it could have been done in a shorter period of time with professional help, but there was one bright side of recovering my own: I didn’t have more information than needed.
Ever since I learned that my condition was not unique, I joined several groups and read a lot of articles and stories, and found that a type of mystique is often created around the condition. This is understandable in a way: regardless of how MFD manifests itself, it’s frightening and confusing. And once your start collecting information, you may even become more confused.
To botox, or not to botox?
Some say you need botox; some say botox makes things worse; some go through a retraining programme: some go in therapy or visit hypnotherapists. Everyone has a piece of good advice – even those who never regained their playing – but often the advice is contradictory. What should you do? Where should you turn? How can you be productive and get quick results?
Regardless of whether you get a coach, work on your own, go to a therapist or do retraining in a hospital, there are a few points you might want to remember. While I was recovering and was attempting to understand my symptoms, I reached a few simple conclusions, and hung onto them, as they helped me a lot while I was going through focal dystonia. I will try to outline these points in this, and in my upcoming posts.
Theres nothing wrong with my lips
Just a few weeks after MFD struck, I stood in front of the mirror and made faces. And whistled. And talked and played the recorder without a problem.
(I understand that there are some people whose MFD affects everyday tasks as well as playing. However, with Task-Specific Musician’s Focal Dystonia, the symptoms are start when playing the instrument, and then can develop to become Task Non-Specific later.)
I then grabbed the headjoint and put it on my lips, and they immediately started to twitch and tremble, and curl forward. I changed back to whistling, making faces, singing and vibrating my lips, and I still didn’t have any problem there. This brought me to my first conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with my lips.
I most definitely have a problem, but it must be based somewhere else.
Symptoms and icebergs
I think it’s very important to understand that the symptom itself is the tip of an iceberg. You can hate it, focus on it, want it to disappear – but it won’t, because it’s a part of a much bigger system, which includes your posture, breathing and thinking. We can even call it a “symptom”, so we have to ask ourselves the question: symptom of what?
If you have numbness in your left arm, it could be the symptom of a heart attack. Are you going to massage it to solve the problem, or are you going to the emergency room?
We know that a symptomatic treatment doesn’t fix the root cause of the problem. What you have to do is work on the system as a whole. Don’t blame the hand, don’t blame your fingers or embouchure for not working “properly”. Your hand has is not experiencing dysfunction to try to annoy you or ruin your life. It is dystonic for a reason.
Posture and breathing: A good place to start
So work on your posture, on your body, and get in an ideal state for playing the instrument. An Alexander Technique teacher can help you a lot, but doing yoga, or get a massage are also good places to start. For the breathing, the best idea is to watch Jon’s free breathing and MFD webinar – it’s a very well-founded and thorough summary.
For the rest, you have several possibilities: you can get a therapist, a coach, or you can work alone. I suggest to get some help, as this journey is very difficult one to walk through alone.
I didn’t have a coach, but I had my friends and my family who supported me, and with whom I could share my latest experiment on my embouchure. And even though they couldn’t really understand the process, their encouragement was invaluable.
Do you have MFD? Do you need help/advice/support to help you through it? Send me an email at