Nine Musicians Discuss Chronic Illnesses

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These nine musicians who were open enough to talk to Paste about their experiences with chronic illness prove that the musical life isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. Listen to their stories about the realities of playing music while struggling with chronic illnesses ranging from kidney failure to multiple sclerosis.

Rosie Thomas

Chronic Illness:

How long have you had Hyperthyroidism?
I was diagnosed with being Hyperthyroid in the spring of ‘07—I woke up one morning with severe anxiety, and was sure I was having a mental breakdown, without any explanation. Eventually, I explained to my doctor how I was feeling, thinking “well, this is it, I’m officially crazy, you can go ahead and commit me now.” Instead she asked if I had ever had my thyroid tested. I had not and it was clearly not functioning properly. While I wasn’t excited to have a problem with it, there was great relief that there was finally some explanation.

It took almost two whole years—no jokey—to feel like myself again. Having a broken thryoid almost became a part-time job: lots of frequent bloodwork, checking my TSH (for those of you interested, TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) level to get it back to normal. Basically a broken thyroid will make your hormones have a party, and my hormones were throwing a “rager!” (and by party, I mean the kind you want to get out of as soon as possible… like some sketchy rave in Eastern Europe).

What’s tricky about a whacked out thyroid, is that the issue is physical [and] biological, but the symptoms are so psychological—it made me feel like a mental patient!

It was very humbling, and I could no longer do anything to full capacity and I could no longer prove to everybody or mostly to myself, that i was superwoman—my cape came undone, my zest went out the window along with all my strength and I felt powerless. I felt like the new girl in sixth grade that was just starting to fit, until she gets pantsed on the playground—the dream is over, the jig is up. I felt like an outcast… to myself.

I could not cope with the simplest tasks, let alone big things. I had to cancel shows for the first time. I lost almost 15 pounds in less than a month. It broke my pride, it broke my heart, I became a shell of my former self. I wasn’t funny. I wasn’t cute. I wasn’t a singer. I wasn’t a hero at all, I was just a girl who was afraid, and I felt embarrassed and ashamed and insignificant. I cried a lot.

In the midst of all this, somebody loved me at my worst and asked me to marry him. That’s one heck of a testimony of true love I tell ya!

How does it affect your professional life?
As long as I remember to have it checked often enough to make sure my levels are good, it shouldn’t. But a touring life is a busy life, and it’s difficult to maintain a routine—so I just have to remember to stay on top of it. When my levels are off, it’s hard to want to do anything—even things I enjoy. It can be pretty crippling.

How does it impact your personal life?
This experience has only made me more empathetic towards others, which is great. I now fully understand what anxiety feels like, and it’s a terrible deal—no question. I know more of what it is to suffer and to forget what it feels like to be you and to wonder if that person is still in there.

I learned that even at my worst, I was still lovable—though not by myself.

I also learned that having good friends in your life is vital to getting better. I must have asked my brother daily, “Will I be alright?” and he’d say without hesitating, “No doubt!” His belief alone helped me believe it. My husband wrote notes, and left them all over the house for me to read for encouragement—one simply said, “You’ll be okay, promise.”

I don’t take my health for granted now. It’s pretty vital to carrying on and being capable of having the right perspective… when you’ve got your wits about ya.

It also really made me appreciate the simple things that I overlooked plenty and had taken for granted far too long. In my opinion, all the good we experience is just bonus—it’s not a guarantee; it’s not a given; it’s all bonus. Knowing this makes the hard days not as surprising when they come, and it makes the good days shine all the more brightly.

I asked the doctor how long it would take for me to feel better. He said, “One day, just like that, you will wake up feeling like yourself again.” He was right. I literally woke up one morning and it was gone. I went for a walk that day, I think I even skipped down the street. I stopped and smelled the roses, literally, and had the best cup of coffee that I had ever tasted.

Outside of your professional and personal dealings with Hyperthyroidism, what else would you like others to know about it?
It really showed me that this life of ours is temporal and should be enjoyed.

We shouldn’t live in fear of that truth mind you. On the contrary, we should be desperate to take in the joy all around us as much as possible and not sweat the small stuff—the simple things. We have more to be thankful for than we know, I know that now and like I said before—it makes the good days even greater!

I am therefore grateful for how it changed me. Oh! and ladies, have your thyroids checked okay?

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