Welcome to the third post of The Artist Series, where I interview musicians who have overcome injuries to help demystify performance-related pain and inspire musicians to better take care of their health.
Our next guest is Lauren Zetts, a tubist and music educator.
What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Lauren Zetts (she/her/hers)
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I am employed as a music teacher where I teach K-4 General Music, 5-7 Music Technology, and serve as the Assistant Band Director for students in Grades 8-12. My primary instrument is the tuba.
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
I have had multiple injuries that I have faced throughout my career including TMJ, plantar fasciitis, and tendinitis in both wrists. My injury to my wrists included a misdiagnosis with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. These injuries are the result of overuse and misuse of my body.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
One of the biggest challenges of each of my injuries was the consistent physical setbacks that I was facing. When I first experienced TMJ, I felt as if I could barely talk or chew. However, it was mid-semester and I still played for hours daily in various ensembles. My wrist injuries were the most challenging for me to overcome. The tuba valve set is slightly large for my hand size. It was consistently painful to push down any valves. At the worst times, I experienced pain trying to grip objects and had a decreased range of motion in my fingers. Living in cold weather also exacerbated my jaw and wrist pain.
Another challenge that I faced with my injury revolved around my mentality. At one point in time, I was not as comfortable with prioritizing listening to my own mind and body as I am today. I am not sure I knew how to hear my own needs over the expectations to be a high performing student, educator, friend, family member, employee, etc. Every hat that I wore had its own set of consistent demands to fulfill the particular needs of the role. I did not feel like I could take the time to slow down. I had to fully invest myself in each experience that aligned with my trajectory to build my resume, marketability, education, and overall experience. I felt like I was letting everyone around me down when I was not performing and executing at the highest level possible, even if that meant pushing through an injury or sacrificing my own needs.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
The recovery process was very slow and incremental. It took baby steps to build a better foundation for myself; layering in more physical strength, range of motion, nutrition, and mindfulness habits. My recovery process was a struggle of acceptance. It took acceptance of where I was at and internalizing that I could work to overcome or at least better manage my issues. At times, I really struggled as I peeled back the layers of inconsistent and bad habits to build myself up. In the end, the recovery felt great. I noticed a difference in how my mind and body functioned together on a daily basis. I became stronger both physically and mentally, and I felt better equipped to manage what issues/stressors may arise in the future.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
The recovery process is where I truly internalized that progress is not linear. The process for me itself would be a greater struggle before it got easier. I had to overcome and release the mental and physical barriers that I had built. It was not easy. Every day I had to wake up and choose myself, choose to fight for who I want to become and how I want to live my life.
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
One of my biggest surprises was the results that I saw by the end of the program. I felt the best I had ever felt, just by investing an hour in myself each day. I found myself reaping the benefits of better sleep, better nutrition, increased functional mobility, and decreased pain.
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I actively complete a morning and evening mobility session, journal each day, exercise, breathwork, and meditation. From a nutritional standpoint, I am focused on eating healthier and having adequate water intake. In addition, I make time to read or partake in other hobbies and prioritize weekly interactions with friends and family.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
I believe that there comes a point where you have to choose yourself. You have to choose to prioritize your overall well-being. Choosing my professional life to the extent that I did came at the sacrifice of my body. It’s okay to take care of yourself and to prioritize your own needs. I have found that I am a better person, student, and educator from taking the time to make the investment in myself. I feel the strongest I have to be able to show up for myself, my students, and whatever life has in store for me each and every day.
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
This investment was one of the best choices I have made for myself. I am grateful that I was ready to invest in myself, and that I was able to partake in the 1-on-1 Recovery Program. While it felt like a big commitment, I have no regrets in the choice I made.
What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
As a performer, I am currently pursuing my passion by playing in my living room and loving the music that I play. While I do not have any projects that I am currently working on, I am working on actively practicing and participating in ensembles around my local community. I am currently focused on loving music and my passion for sharing that with others.