My endocrinologist recently remarked that it’s ironic that I’m on medication for anxiety while I spend a large portion of my life onstage, as a performing musician. As if, for everyone, a performance automatically induces anxiety. As if it couldn’t do something for me. As if it couldn’t numb me while at the same time ripping me open and letting me out.
I could succumb to diabetes and be a mindless pincushion of needles and fingers dripping blood and the burn of high blood sugars and the fear—fear not of the disease itself but of being only this disease. Being trapped under its soundproof curtain. The true fear for me isn’t death or diabetes complications; it’s being trapped inside the disease.
So here I am with my escape, a viola that I couldn’t be luckier to be able to speak through. It lets me be me without the needles. My anxiety isn’t about performance but about being able to tear off the label of “diabetic” that I’m so often covered by and allowing myself to say anything I want to, to be anyone I want to be.
What scares me is when my blood glucose is high and my fingers don’t grip the strings, and sometimes when I’m low and know the notes but not the rhythm, and my mind flips to pieces trying to find the piece I love and put it back together again, and it can’t. What scares me is when I have something to say through music but I am physically incapable of saying it.
Recently, I played an audition with a low blood sugar. I downed more than one juice box before I went in, but I was still low. My head was blank and I felt like I was thinking thoughtless thoughts. My hands were numb. Before I began playing, I lifted up my viola and stared at my hands and saw them shaking, but I couldn’t feel them shaking; it was like living in the third person. I wasn’t thinking about screwing up the audition. I wasn’t even completely aware that I was in a room with 10 other people watching every single move I made.
I was craving the touch of my bow on the string. I wanted to be free from the shaking and the numbness and the thoughtless thoughts, and the only thing that could ever free me was to make music and I couldn’t. I could see what I wanted to do and I could feel it so close, but nothing in my fingers could make it happen. I played the notes, fingers on the viola, but not feeling anything in my heart except a hunger for more.
The next day, I woke up, brushed my teeth, put my hair in a ponytail, shut off all the lights in my room, and played a Bach suite in the dark. I felt every single second of it. No one heard it and it wasn’t an audition and the notes weren’t all perfect, and maybe it had no significance at all. But that was a whole Bach suite that took me somewhere else and away from being trapped by blood sugars, and it was completely mine. For me, that’s much more than an escape. It’s a cure.
Sloane Wesloh is a high school senior at Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Boston, where she studies viola at the New England Conservatory of Music. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes five years ago.
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