I have two incurable diseases: one physical and one mental. My physical disease limits my ability to swallow. My mental disease is that I swallow too much, I let myself take on the world with no room for respite. Music has always been the one arena where I thought my mental disease couldn’t touch me. It’s been the golden sheath of strength to carry my stress and anxiety away for the day while I lose myself in creation. I have a project called LIA where I sing, songwrite, produce, play guitar and play ukulele. It’s still the early stages for me but over the past two years I’ve released 14 collaborations, 4 singles and completed my first EP. Having a solo project is like looking at yourself through a microscope: it’s my voice, body, image and state of mind all laced together. It’s personal. Every song I create begins from a place of protection, the vault in my chest, but my body’s fighting back to tell me I’ve swallowed more than I can stomach.
I found out this September that I have a rare incurable neurological disorder of the esophagus (like wtf??) called Achalasia. My brain doesn’t tell the flap between my esophagus and my stomach to open or close at the right moments. Food and liquid pile up until it forces me to regurgitate everything that wouldn’t go all the way in. A year ago I started feeling embarrassed and stressed to eat with other people because I wasn’t able to speak when this was happening or had to run to the nearest toilet or garbage to throw up the bite I just had. I realized something was wrong but I didn’t prioritize my health until the regurgitation became an every meal occurrence. I lost 20 pounds. I woke up in the middle of the night from my dinner’s desperate attempt of escape. I was becoming more and more malnourished as time went on.
Though it’s unknown where my condition comes from, my stomach was trying to signal something greater than a physical ailment – I figured out that my anxiety and stress were taking over my entire body. They say the stomach is like a second brain. Ever heard of having knots before a test or butterflies when you see your crush? Once I received my diagnosis I went down a rabbit hole on the internet. An article I came across in Scientific American was particularly insightful. It talked about how the whole digestive tract actually houses 100 million neurons and 95% of the serotonin (the happiness chemical) in our body is in our bowels not our brain. It postulates that the digestive tract is actually the source of our everyday emotional well-being.
“I had a voice in the back of my head telling me, ‘there are hundreds of thousand of other artists working harder than you,’ so I felt like any time wasted was letting myself down.”
One huge point of anxiety and stress came from my career. I love the colorful world that creation captures me in but I was losing sight of it in the muck of over-disciplining myself to move my project as quickly as possible. I had a voice in the back of my head telling me, “there are hundreds of thousands of other artists working harder than you” so I felt like any time wasted was letting myself down. I came across a piece on Greenroomstories by my friend Naji on this idea of finding a balancing between doing and being. It darted straight to my heart because I was discovering it for myself right at the same moment.
I’ve done shoots, studio sessions, shows and meetings in pain, hunger and insane fatigue without a pause because it’s my love. I didn’t want to accept that I needed to take a break to save myself. I didn’t want to admit that part of the perpetuation of this disease came from that which brings me the most joy. I realized the more stressed I was while eating, the harder it was for food to go down. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know I was having anxiety or stress until I started eating and I’d need to stop after a few bites because my esophagus would indicate how tense I was. It wasn’t until I put everything to an ultimate halt and allowed myself a proper break for a week that my food began to go down with lesser struggle.
“We know about the power of art therapy to help people dealing with physical and mental challenges, but we don’t often talk of the reverse: self-care to nourish your art.”
What I didn’t realize was that I needed to apply the same level of self care to both my physical condition and my mental health because they synergize. Living with Achalasia made me majorly conscious about what I put in my body and how I put it in. I warm up my esophageal muscles with hot tea or broth before I eat just like a runner warms up before a race. I limit inflammatory foods and drinks. I’ve always been a health conscious person but this condition has widened my eyes to the effects of ALL of my consumption habits. I was still pushing my capacities to overdrive. Though I changed my eating habits, I hadn’t changed the rigorous expectations for myself, the negativity I allowed around me, nor the negativity inside of me. This disease put a bright, shiny spotlight over the impacts of mental health on the physical body.
It may sound dramatic to attach “incurable” to both of my diseases but I think there’s power in this. It’s a reminder that both of these conditions induce a practice. There’s no treatment that could rid me of either my physical or mental disease, its something I need to work at every day and that’s a beautiful habit to develop: conscious consumption. Evaluate every dimension of your universe and cut out the rot: bad habits, draining energies, and especially sour perspectives to wrongly color a world. Minimize the garbage you generate and minimize the garbage that’s claiming space in your mind and belly. Additionally, we know about the power of art therapy to help people dealing with physical and mental challenges but we don’t often talk of the reverse: self-care to nourish your art. Maintain your health to maintain your creativity. This vessel of creation, this body of ours, is the only one we’re gifted with so treat it well.