letter to a chronically ill artist (from a chronically ill artist)


In the last few years I have been very fortunate to connect online with other young people with chronic illnesses. It’s a really special experience to support and be supported by people going through the same things I am. I recently received a letter from Hayley Beth, a fellow chronic illness babe and amazing singer/songwriter. She asked “when it comes to being a musician/performer, how do you deal with fatigue, pain, depression and general lack of motivation?” I wrote her a lengthy reply and when I was done I felt that other sick artists might get something from it too:

First, I totally totally feel your frustration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself “this is hopeless, why do I bother, I’m useless as a musician, a singer, a songwriter, I’ll never realize my aspirations” and so on and so forth to varying degrees depending on the demands being made of me and how sick I feel. But no matter how shitty I am at practicing, or writing, or even how painful singing becomes, I can’t seem to leave it completely. I always come back to music.

As for how I deal with these feelings… well, reading Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner was a big help. That book taught me that it doesn’t matter if I stop singing tomorrow, the world keeps turning. And that freed me to make music for me instead of worrying about if others like my music, or even if I’m any good.

Also, I took a year+ off from being a musician very recently in order to regroup and learn how to be a sick person who eats well and cleans her apartment and exercises. Only now am I trying to tackle how to be a sick musician, and it’s not been easy. I find myself purchasing new back braces in order to do full gigs, taking many breaths where other singers only take one, and basically doing whatever I need to do be as comfortable as possibly while I make music no matter how unusual or unorthodox.

Second, I love your music. I don’t know why I haven’t told you this but I’ve listened to your records on BandCamp multiple times and I think you’re totally amazing. If you can’t write new songs right now, that’s ok because your old songs are great and I want to listen to them over and over and your fans probably do to. People come to see your shows because they love you and want to support you, not to judge you. New songs are a bonus and it’s really ok if it takes you a lot longer than usual to write new stuff or progress as a musician. You’re amazing, keep it up.

Third: practical stuff. If you want to keep progressing as a musician and writer even when you’re sick, the trick is to find ways to make it part of your every day life effortlessly. For instance 1. listen to music that sounds like how you want to write. Pick one album and listen to it all the time and absorb it’s power. 2. Teach. You can do it from home, students energize you and keep you singing and practicing, and you make money doing it. I’m sure you’re more than qualified. 3. Collaborate. Get together with other artists and work on projects. If you’re too tired to finish something, they can pick up the slack.

Most importantly, go easy on yourself. Being an artist and chronically ill are hard enough separately but they’re even harder together. We’re on a very difficult path and it’s definitely not a linear one. Embrace the moments of inspiration and productivity and nurture yourself during the rest of the time.

My Week In Pictures: Rehab Centre week 4 – the final week!

2013_01_28-03After four weeks, I have officially successfully completed The Rehab Centre’s Chronic Pain Management Program. I completed construction of my wooden box, finished my “fun art project” (which was a song, of course) and took my last few rides on the two-floor elevators. They even gave me a little paper certificate proving I completed it. Now I’m pain-free!


One of the things I learned in the program is that the longer a person lives with chronic pain the lower their chances get of ever recovering. Since I’ve had pain for several years the chances of one day living a pain-free life is somewhere around 10%. Sometimes that gets me down, but then I think about all the things I can do with or without pain. I can write these blog posts, I can talk on the phone with friends and family, and I can lay on the couch and watch old episodes of The Simpsons (which is pretty much my favourite thing in the world to do).

I’ve also made some important changes in my life to help me live better and more meaningfully. I’ve fixed up my office desk so the height is more ergonomic, I pulled up a high chair to my kitchen sink so I can do the dishes while half-standing, and I set timers while I do my computer work so that I remember to get up and stretch every twenty minutes or so. Another important change I’ve made is in my communication. I’ve learned how to identify my needs and make sure the people around me know if I need to sit, or move around. I’ve also gotten in the habit of calling venues in advance to make sure I can park nearby.

It’s a lot of little things, but at the end of the day, they all add up.

Thanks so much for supporting me throughout my time at this program. I couldn’t have done it without all the special people in my life, especially Craig who got up every day to make breakfast, pack my lunch, and drive me to and from the Rehab Centre. He is DEFINITELY a keeper.

If you would like to read about weeks 1 through 3 of my time at the Rehab Centre’s chronic pain management program, check out the following posts:

So that’s it for this week’s update. Next week’s update will be back to normal (whatever that means!) My next performance is tonight at the Mercury Lounge for Live Jazz Monday! 9pm – 11pm, no cover, see you tonight!

My Week In Pictures: Rehab Centre week 3 + a photoshoot


Week 3 at the Rehab Centre’s chronic pain management program is complete, which means I only have one week left! If you have no idea what I’m talking about check out my updates from week 1 and week 2 where I explain all about why I’m there and what it’s all about then come back here.

Are you caught up now? Good.

This week we had some interesting sessions on acceptance of pain, weekend planning, and communication. The communication session was my favourite because it was so concrete and full of really handy tips with funny names like “fogging,”  “broken record,” and “content-to-process shift.”

It was a good thing we talked about weekend planning this week because I had a full weekend planned. On Saturday I went and had a photoshoot with Muse Mohammed, a local photographer. I can’t wait to share the shots with you because they are so fierce and glamorous AND I got my head shaved in a funky new way!

On Sunday, I spent most of the day preparing blog posts, doing laundry, and tying up loose ends for upcoming events. There’s so many little things on the way! Next Tuesday, February 5th, I’ll be coming down to Toronto to play at Hugh’s Room (details here), I’m also preparing for Wed By Hand on Sunday, February 10th, and Canadian Music Week in March. Yay!

So that’s it for this week’s update. Only one more week of Rehab Centre updates and then it’s back to regularly scheduled programming. My next performance is tonight at the Mercury Lounge for Live Jazz Monday! 9pm – 11pm, no cover, see you tonight!


This part 3 of a 4-part series. Click to read the rest:

My Week In Pictures: Rehab Centre Week 2


This week, although it was my second week at the Rehab Centre, it was my first official week in the Chronic Pain Management program. That means that this week I was there from 8:30am until 2:30 or 3pm every day. At first I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to function before 10am but the first thing we do every morning is an hour in the gym with the physiotherapy team and that woke me up pretty fast.

I and the other participants spent a lot of time together in group sessions ranging from sleep techniques to medication to recreation and everything in between. My favourite session of the week was the occupational therapy session in the Rehab Centre’s wood shop. We’re building a little wooden box over three one hour sessions, and it’s actually really fun.

Between gym class and wood shop it kind of feels like I’m in high school again!

I’m really happy to be in the program and I’m learning lots of helpful hints for living a happier and more full life with pain. My challenge is going to be learning how to properly pace myself. I’m the kind of person who will start a task (usually on the computer) and keep going until it’s done. Now I’m trying to incorporate a 20 minute timer into my computer time to remind me to get up and stretch or go lay down for awhile. Wish me luck with that!

In other news, last week’s Live Jazz Monday was a crazy, raucous party that I hope to imitate this week. We seriously had tons of fun. Local vocalist and trombone player Steve Berndt dropped by for a visit and him and I sang some awesome duets. Maybe he’ll come back this week??

Despite my early mornings I will definitely be continuing Live Jazz Monday through the month of January and beyond so join us tonight! We’re at the Mercury Lounge (middle level) from 9pm until 11pm and there’s noooooo cover ever! Yay!


This part 2 of a 4-part series. Click to read the rest:

My Week In Pictures: Rehab Centre Week 1


So this week I want to get real with you. Not that I haven’t been real all along, I just want to share some personal stuff so that you can know what’s going on with me and why I may be a little slower to answer emails, comments, and other things.

Many many months ago I was referred to the Rehab Centre’s chronic pain management program to help me manage my chronic pain. This is a part of my life that isn’t 100% public although many of you have seen me on stage sporting a cane from time to time. Even though I do look fabulous with a cane, I mostly use it to help get around on bad pain days, or to prevent bad pain days.

This week I went through the education/assessment part of the program to find out if it’s a good fit for me and if I’m ready for the program. The good news is, after all the assessing and talking about my feelings, I got into the program. The bad news is, that mean I’ll be busy for 6 hours every weekday from now until February 1st. I’ve decided to cut down on performance to accommodate this, although I’ll still be doing Live Jazz Monday at Mercury Lounge (tonight!!)

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a chronic pain blog so I’m going to spare you all the details. I just wanted to let you know because I could really use encouragement and support during this program. I hope to learn a lot of really helpful tips for managing pain during my time at the Rehab Centre. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments below.


This part 1 of a 4-part series. Click to read the rest: