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Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 4b. VoicePlay

Thinking about what VoicePlay means to me got me thinking that this might be a good time to highlight why I've chosen to support them on Patreon. If you're not familiar with Patreon, check this out because VoicePlay's got you covered. Actually, every creator does an explanation video, but theirs is the most amusing one I've seen. Watch. After all, you wouldn't want to hurt Earl's p-feelings, would you?


Always good for a giggle. Anyway, I love Patreon. It's a wonderful way for fans to support their creators, especially when you can see a difference. All of VoicePlay's videos are good, but there's been a marked increase in quality since they launched their Patreon campaign. So what made me decide to become one of their Patrons? There's several reasons, but I've narrowed it down to the top three. 

First and foremost, it's because of their content. They won over my ears before anything else. If I hadn't liked what I heard the first time I heard them, we wouldn't be here. Plain and simple. They have yet to put out a song or video that I don't like. Sure, I have my favorites and there's definitely a group of their videos that I watch more than some others. But I genuinely like all of them. 

Going from there, the more I watched and listened to them, the more I liked them and their personalities. Meeting them last year sealed the deal for me. Looking back, it's surprising how much that encounter reminded me of my first encounter with Little Big Town. This is a good thing. See, there's been quite a few artists I've come to love because of how great their music is, but more so from how great they are with their fans. I've gotten to meet some really sweet artists who genuinely care about the people who buy their music. 

There's a group that I'll refer to as the elite: Little Big Town. Jerrod Niemann. Lee Brice. And last but definitely not least: VoicePlay. There's a few others who come very close, but I consider this group to be the best of the best in terms of how they treat their fans. I always knew that VoicePlay appreciated their fans, but didn't realize just how much until they launched their Patreon campaign. They are so wonderful to us. Which brings us to reason #3.

That last reason is what made me want to feature them in my Music Therapy series. Because they can always make me feel better when I'm feeling down. They have a way of making me smile when all I want to do is cry. In their ability to do that, they've become a powerful ally in my fight against rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I recognize that that may sound strange to some, so I want to explain. 

To do so, I first need to you an idea of what it's like to live with this disease. This is one of those things that you can't completely understand unless you have it, but I'm going to do my best. Please note that no two experiences with RA are exactly the same, though of course there's similarities. This is mine. Hopefully by the end, you'll understand why these crazy talented and wonderfully wacky group of guys means so much to me.

My problems with my joints started when I was 12. I was in the 7th grade and just about every morning, my feet would hurt. Often to the point where I'd start to cry because of it. This could last all the way through my first class, but would usually get better as the day went on. By the time I started high school, it didn't seem too bad anymore. The next three years were okay, but then senior year hit. I was 17 and this time the pain was more widespread. Mornings became a nightmare and my hands would get all swollen for seemingly no reason. Except, of course, there was a reason. 

This is where I got lucky, though I didn't think so at the time. The diagnosis came fast and my rheumatologist believed in early aggressive treatment. Unfortunately, my hands and feet were already showing signs of deformity by that point and that's not something medication can fix. What medication/treatment can do is slow down the progression. I got diagnosed in the fall of 2000. Now, we're fast approaching the fall of 2016 and my hands pretty much look the same now as they did then. I still have all of my original joints, which is not typical this many years in. I will, in all likelihood, need to have a hip replaced at some point. But even still, lasting this long without any joint surgeries is pretty miraculous. That said, the RA has taken its toll on me in many other ways.

There's the often crippling fatigue that's so much more than just being tired. When bad, even the simplest things become difficult. Your limbs can get heavy, kind of  like how they'd feel if they were encased in something like concrete. You can't think. Brain fog is a very real problem when the fatigue is bad. You forget things. You have a hard time thinking of words sometimes. Or how to pronounce them. It takes a little longer to process things other people say. Lights and sounds can be weirdly overwhelming. As awful as the pain can be, I think the fatigue is worse. It's easier for me to push through pain most of the time. Others would say the opposite. That said, let's talk about the pain.

Here's the thing: there's a certain amount of pain that never goes away. I don't want to say you get used to it because that makes it seem like you stop noticing it at some point. You don't. You're very much aware of it at all times. If you could get rid of it, you would in a heartbeat. You do, however, learn how to adapt. You learn how to function feeling it. You learn how to live with it because you have no other choice. 

The real trouble is when it flares, i.e., when the pain (and/or any other symptom) spikes. Sometimes you can tell when a flare is coming, so you do whatever you can to try to hold it off. With varying degrees of success. Then, there's the flares that come out of nowhere. You go to bed feeling relatively okay, only to wake up feeling as if you've just come down with a horrible case of the flu. And then got run over by a bus. If it's a really bad one, you may also feel as if you'd been set on fire.

In other words? It's not pleasant. You do get better at handling flares over time. At least, you think you do until you get hit by a real doozy of one. That's what the flare that hit on August 2nd was. A real doozy. Not only were my pain levels through the roof, my hands and wrists were nice and swollen. At which point the childproof cap becomes public enemy #1. All I wanted was to take an allergy pill because Nashville was basically drowning in pollen. But that wasn't happening because it hurt too much and I couldn't get my hands to cooperate. Add in the fact that this wasn't just a physical flare, but an emotional one too. 

Yeah, those exist. It gets to be too much sometimes. You may handle it well most of the time, but there's times where the thought of spending one more day with this illness is more than you can bear. Shoot, sometimes getting through the hour seems overwhelming. So you get depressed. Sad. Angry. Frustrated. There's days when you want to cry or scream or both. That was one of those days. Not being able to get that cap off that bottle was the last straw. I just sat down and cried for a little while. 

For any of my fellow RA fighters reading this, let's be clear: it's okay to feel that way sometimes. It's okay to cry, if you need to. Suppressing those emotions isn't going to help. Nor is it going to work. You're not a failure for feeling that way or for breaking down. What you are is human. That said, you have to be careful with moods like that. It can be a slippery slope. You can end up in some really bad places. Some really dark places. Dangerous places. That's where that day was going. But then something happened. I got the mail.

Yes, that's right. I got the mail. What's the big deal about that? Well, at the end of last month, VoicePlay released a new video in their Partwork series. The song was "The Death of a Bachelor", sung by Earl(s) and Geoff(s). It's a terrific cover that you can watch here. At the end of the video, they announced that all of their Patrons would be receiving a lanyard. Can you guess what arrived that day? That's right. A lanyard. My lanyard. Come to find out, this is no ordinary lanyard. It's the Patreon VoicePlay Lanyard of Magnificence. It came with a letter declaring that fact. A letter that was so totally and wonderfully VoicePlay. A letter than did what what seemed like the impossible on that day: it made me laugh.

This is not the first time they've managed to do that. In fact, they do it regularly and without even realizing it. It's crazy the way it happens. They released their "Miley Cyrus" musical on what happened to be a bad flare day. There's been others. I'll be having a bad day and randomly see a tweet of theirs that'll make me smile. Sometimes it'll be a response. It can be something as seemingly small as a "like" - one thing this illness has taught me is to appreciate the little, seemingly insignificant things. The things that make you smile. It's the songs and the video. The arrangements and the antics. The harmonies and the performances.

It's Eli giving you his complete attention when he's talking to you. Cheese water. The very end of "Love Yourself". It's Earl wearing those ridiculous glasses in their ACA-Top 10 Rap video - honestly, that video is a treasure trove all the way around. Doing one accent or another. Hay grinding. It's Layne singing in general. Making "Red Solo Cup" somehow not suck or beatboxing on Earl after he (Earl) aims his megaphone right at his (Layne's) ear. It's Tony doing anything Phantom related. The ?@?$! moment in "Stuck in Traffic". It's Geoff's random tweets that just kind of make you go "...what?". Consistently asking for feedback so they can make things better. Those are just a few examples. There's so much more. 

It's the Patreon VoicePlay Lanyard of Magnificence. Oh, it's not about the lanyard itself - although it is indeed magnificent. It's about what it symbolizes. It's not about the letter than came with it. No, it's about the thought and feeling behind it. It's about what it means. When you live with a chronic illness (or several), you sometimes feel like you're stuck under your own little storm cloud. Like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh (as it happens, he's always been my favorite). Everything can be fine, as far as it goes, and then the dark clouds come rolling in. 

So what do you do when that happens? You find the things that make you happy. You find whatever can beat those clouds back, if only for a moment. The things that are like that first ray of sunshine after a hellacious storm. You find these things - as many as you can - and you treasure them. You love them. You hold onto them because sometimes they are the only things that will hold you together. At the risk of sounding incredibly hokey, that's what these guys have become to me. A ray of a cappella filled sunshine.

At the beginning of every month, Patreon sends you an email thanking you for supporting your creators. But considering what these guys have come to mean to me, how could I not support them? How could I not want to tell everyone about them? You know, I uploaded my first blog on January 6th, 2012. I didn't find out about VoicePlay until the end of 2014 and you know what? I've written about them more than I've written about any other artist. I think that's saying something. Namely, that I love these guys. I love what they're doing. I believe in these guys. I support these guys. Their links are just below. Check them out, if you haven't already. Who knows? Maybe they'll become a ray of sunshine for you too. Give them a chance. I've said this before about them: they're worth it. I promise that they're worth it.

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