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.