The Blog Has Moved!

Please visit my ongoing blog, now housed on the brand new Voice Body Connection website: http://voicebodyconnection.com/blog/

See you over there!

Elissa

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Healing Has Got To Be The Most Joyous Thing A Human Being Can Experience (aka how I’ve been healing my psoriasis naturally)

Six months ago I was not doing so hot. I was lethargic, uninspired, and unable to move forward with my projects and creative ideas. I have an autoimmune condition called psoriasis, and I knew what was coming… I knew I was about to have a flare. So when I woke up one morning to find that the welt-sized mosquito bites I’d gotten a week earlier were scaling over and turning into a big ‘ole psoriatic rash, I smiled a resigned smile and said out loud: “Welcome back psoriasis!”

I’d had another big episode about a year prior as well. That time, I’d had a really awful experience trying to treat it. I’d gone on methotrexate (a cancer drug) to get the outbreak under control. Except not only did the methotrexate not really work… it weakened my immune system so much that I wound up with a serious staph infection in my ankle. Ultimately, I got that outbreak under control by taking a month of antibiotics. By the time I was “healed,” I was exhausted, depressed, and my gut felt like a ravaged wasteland.

So when I began to get sick again this past August, I made a commitment to myself:

No Western medicine. No dermatologist. I was going rogue, and I was going to heal myself naturally.

Now let me say something before I go on… I don’t think Western medicine is evil. (Thank god for the antibiotics that cleared my staph infection, for example.) I also absolutely get that the decision to pursue holistic healing is not for everyone. However after nearly 30 years – basically my entire lifetime – dealing with this chronic condition, I decided that maybe my body was trying to tell me something. Maybe instead of masking the problem with topical steroids and other drugs, it would be worthwhile to dig deeply to figure out what was off balance inside of me.

As I understand it, the premise behind holistic healing is that our bodies want to be healthy and given the right conditions, they will be. Plus holistic means that we’re taking a comprehensive, whole-body look at things, not just looking at the most obvious manifestation of a problem. So, I see natural healing as a process of removing the blockages in our minds, bodies, and spirits that are preventing us from being healthy. It’s not about manufacturing a fix. Our bodies know the fix. This paradigm also describes how I teach voice. I don’t believe in teaching fixes or tricks to help people have a “good” voice. I believe in teaching techniques and exercises to help people uncover the voice that is fully theirs. If someone perceives that voice as “good,” that’s a by-product of having a healthy and authentic voice. What I’m saying is, it’s all the same thing. Healing is about trusting the inner wisdom of our body, whether we’re dealing with our voice, our skin, our gut, our heart… any part of us.

I’ve felt compelled to write this blog because I want to share how I was able to apply this paradigm to even heal a ‘dis-ease.’ Two other disclaimers before I dive in…

First, this account of my healing is not designed as a guide, nor should it be substituted for advice from a professional. What worked for me is not going to be what works for everyone. Plus I needed a lot of guidance as I embarked on this process, and asked questions of a lot of smart people.

Secondly, I will say natural healing ain’t easy. In my experience, taking drugs every day was easier…it didn’t require as much mindfulness or monitoring. Healing my psoriasis holistically has been and continues to be a crazy amount of work. However it feels like the time I used to spend standing in front of the mirror obsessively staring at my spots has now been replaced with preparing delicious meals. So to me, that’s worth it.

Without further ado, my cocktail for healing (no actual cocktails involved)…

Body work and diet:

The route I decided to take for my holistic healing has been Ayurveda, Indian medicine. I began getting weekly Marma treatments – Marma is Ayurvedic acupressure. Then in a gradual, manageable way, my practitioner and I started to overhaul my diet. Ayurveda works on the principle that our bodies find health by balancing the three elements (doshas): wind (vata), fire (pitta), and earth (kapha). The dietary changes I made were based on the idea that autoimmune conditions are inflammation, which is an expression of too much heat and pitta in the body. So I was eating things to cool myself down. We’re talking mint, fennel, cucumber, aloe, watermelon, coconut… the foods you intuitively want in the summer when you’re overheated. As opposed to chili, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, onions, garlic… foods that warm you up. This may sound simplistic, but oh my goodness it has worked. Especially when I’ve paid attention to the signals my body gives me about what foods it wants to eat, and whether eating them feels good. Since I’ve started eating ayurvedically, I’ll go to the grocery store, stand in front of the produce section, and ask myself, “What do I want to eat right now?” After years of so many psoriasis diets – DO eat this, DON’T eat this, this is on RED list, this is on your GREEN list, NEVER eat broccoli (what?!) – it is so LIBERATING to eat intuitively. Food and cooking have become joyous again. And guess what? That makes me feel better.  

Another really important revelation I’ve had about food and my body is that healthy digestion is as much about how I eat as what I eat. Before making many dietary changes, my Marma practitioner Bud taught me to drink a small cup of hot water before eating and then do a belly massage. Drinking hot water helps stimulate the digestive tract, and the belly massage manually helps move excess gas out of the gut. The belly massage is super simple: I gently but firmly massage in a clockwise circle around my abdomen (the direction in which stuff travels through the colon). I can’t emphasize how much drinking hot water and belly massages have been a game changer… the practice encourages me to slow down and be ready to eat, which then means that I eat more consciously and with less stress. Who wants to eat a big pile of stress with their sweet potatoes? Not me.

My ‘medicine’:

The other major treatment I’ve been doing is taking high potency CBD oil. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a natural product of the cannabis plant. THC is the cannabinoid that gets a person ‘high’, but the oil I’ve been using is derived from hemp (not marijuana) and doesn’t contain THC. CBD oil is touted by advocates as nature’s most powerful supplement, and people use it to address a huge variety of conditions. There’s a lot of research showing that it’s highly effective, which is of course controversial, but this blog post on the Elixiniol website is a good place to start. Now granted I changed a lot of things at once… I started taking the CBD oil at the same time as I was making massive dietary changes and reducing my stress levels. So it’s hard for me to know how much of my healing can be attributed to the CBD oil. But I feel pretty certain that the answer is: A WHOLE LOT.

On my skin:

I had already been switching my hair and body products to natural stuff as much as possible over the years, and believe me I have tried every psoriasis lotion out there. Slowly but surely I’ve been using stuff with less and less ingredients, and here’s how extreme I’ve now gone with the natural thing: I use oil on my skin – specifically coconut oil with a bit of neem and lavender mixed in. And when I wash my hair I use baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Feel free to call me a straight up hippie. (But know that I cheat with Cerave lotion when I’m super itchy. Nobody’s perfect.)

Stress:

Bluntly speaking, I’ve had to chill the f*©k out. For me this has meant leaving the house earlier so that I’m not rushing and running late. It’s meant scaling back on my commitments. It’s meant booking a trip to Miami over Christmas to sit in the sun and relax. It’s meant going to bed earlier, doing more yoga, and reading books that remind me about self care. Plus it’s especially meant committing deeply to my meditation practice. I have been a meditator for over four years now, and put quite simply, nothing I’ve ever done has made a bigger impact on my stress levels, happiness, and health. I make it a point not to shout about this from the rooftops, because something like meditation is every individual’s personal decision. However since I’m writing this blog I’ll come out and say: Meditation has completely changed my life. 

Otherwise, I’m also trying to redesign my life and work choices to have a daily schedule that is more in line with what I believe promotes ongoing, sustained mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Working on it, and the nature of being an overly ambitious entrepreneur probably means I always will be :).

Belief:

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of my healing has been believing that I will heal. When I think back to my last big flare, the thoughts going through my head as I stared in the mirror were “I am afraid this will go on forever.” Our thoughts and beliefs have energy, so this time I decided to commit fully to the belief that I would heal. I said daily affirmations out loud. When I rolled over in bed each morning, I kissed my spotty arms and told my skin I loved it (not exaggerating a bit). I acted as if I believed even when I was doubtful. People told me I needed to see a dermatologist and go on medication, or that the dietary changes I was making didn’t make any sense. I persisted in staying focused and believing. Commitment is a powerful thing.

Speaking up:

Finally of course, a huge part of my healing has been speaking my truth. I wrote a blog about it three months ago while I was in the thick of my healing process. I’m writing this one now to continue to share. I do realize that some people are more private, and I absolutely respect that. However if I’ve learned anything about myself over the years, it’s that I am sharer. That’s why I’m a voice teacher, a performer, a director, and a storyteller. Writing this now helps me to heal. I teach people to speak their truth and I feel healthy when I live that.

….

About a month ago I had what felt like an epiphany. I thought to myself: “Holy moly, I am SO happy. I feel so much joy. Healing is SO JOYOUS! In fact, I think healing might be the most joyous experience we can have as humans.”

I then evaluated healing against love, sex, good food, all that. Yes, I’m sticking to my guns.

This was me three months ago, smack dab in the middle of my outbreak, when I published my blog about healing by speaking my truth:
Elissa with spots.jpg

This was me on the beach in Miami two months ago (about 75% better spots-wise and feeling pretty great). December 25 in Miami

And this is me today. My skin is 90% of the way back to where it was before I got sick, but my heart, my guts, and my soul are about 300% better:
February 11 on the couch

I keep improving with my ability to find balance. But of course I might have another flare someday. The good news, though, is that next time I find myself off balance, I think I’ll see it as an opportunity to grow rather than a travesty. After all, I think healing has gotta be the most joyous thing a human being can experience.

The Speak With Your Whole Self blog is part of my Voice Body Connection work, helping performers and professionals to speak their truth and communicate with more confidence and ease. If you’re interested in hearing from me about other blogs and online courses, you can sign up here.

 

Stop Projecting Your Voice

I’m sure at some point someone has told you that you need to be louder. They’ve likely said to you: “You need to project your voice more!” It’s very possible (likely, in fact) that after this was said to you, you pushed to make your voice louder.

Well I want to suggest that there’s a way to get louder without pushing. It just requires a mental reframe. After all, what is a projectile? It’s something that hurtles out into space and doesn’t return. It’s a missile. And let’s be honest, projectiles often miss their target. So the idea of projecting our voice encourages us to push or force it out into the world, not even necessarily clearly focused on where it’s headed. That’s not what we want! We use our voice for communication, and we want that communication to land somewhere. We’re even probably interested in receiving communication and information back!

So here’s the reframe…

Another word for being louder is using more volume. If we think about it in the physics sense of the word, volume is the space inside a container. For instance, the formula for the volume of a cube or 3D rectangle is length x width x height. You know this!:

volume_box

I want to suggest, then, that we start thinking about getting louder as increasing our volume. This means we start with becoming aware of the 3 dimensional space we want to fill, whether it is all the way to the back of a large theatre or just across the table in a board room. Once we’re mentally clear about the space, we then fill this space with our energy and presence. As we start to make sound, our voice will go where our energy is.

Make sense?

This space can be whatever shape it needs to be. A rectangle, a sphere, or even an amorphous blob. Think about it as a bubble that includes who and whatever you want to hear you. If you keep your bubble unconsciously small and leave some of your audience out of it, you’ll have to push to reach them with your voice. That’s projection. However if you let your energetic bubble become as big as the space you all occupy, your voice will easily follow. That’s volume. And it’s so much easier!

Plus thinking in terms of volume will get you energetically more attuned to your audience, which will make you a better, more present performer or communicator. Ask yourself, why do we show up to see Beyonce or Taylor Swift at a live concert in a huge venue when we could just watch videos later (and we’re probably going to watch most of it on the jumbotron anyway)? It’s because they know how to do this. They know how to fill the volume of a huge space with their dynamic, amazing energy.

So be like Bey and T Swift. Stop projecting. Instead, fill the volume of space with your energy, presence, and you voice. It’s so much more powerful and so much easier.

 

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Creation Through Allowing

This past weekend I shot How Your Voice Works, my new online class about the anatomy and function of the human voice. When it was done and we’d wrapped the shoot, I was in shock.

IMG_8530
Thrilled to be on set for How Your Voice Works

See, How Your Voice Works has been a very surprising project for me. It’s without a doubt the biggest thing I’ve ever created. On one hand it reflects over a decade of study and work (which is a fact that didn’t really sink in until Monday night when I was sitting staring at a glass of wine). On the other hand, the project sprung to life in a way that was unplanned and had a life of its own.

Historically when I think about doing a BIG PROJECT, I feel daunted by the work ahead of me. This is probably because my habit through life has always been pushing. Pushing to get things done, pushing to make things work, pushing to be excellent. Now here’s the thing… pushing is a very necessary part of life. In fact we wouldn’t make it through life without pushing sometimes. However if pushing is out of balance, it can get a person into trouble. One significant instance in which I got into trouble was when I lost my voice because of my habit of vocal pushing and overuse. (I talked about this a lot in my 30th Birthday Cabaret show last May.)

So what’s less work than pushing? Allowing. Which ties back, because the thing that has left me in shock about How Your Voice Works is that so much of this project has been created through allowing. No joke, the universe sent me half this project. Here’s the basic story:

Over the summer I was tired and on the brink of a major autoimmune episode. I had started to envision what How Your Voice Works would be, but I didn’t have the energy to start working on it. I wanted it to happen though, and I could have pushed more to start. A previous version of me would have. Instead though, I let myself rest. (Don’t think I didn’t feel guilty and tortured about this, but I did rest.)

Then in September I was in Ireland on a bus headed to my dear friend’s fairytale wedding, and suddenly How Your Voice Works whooshed into my brain like a gust of wind. I flipped open my iPad and it started to pour out of me. POUR. I had a full outline that afternoon.

Within weeks of returning home to New York City, I had a team. Meetings that were for something else entirely turned into: “Oh my goodness, you should work with me on this project!” I was also scheduled to attend a bunch of movement and voice workshops in October and November. I was anxious about giving up every single weekend to these workshops when I wanted to be writing and researching. Well guess what? Every single workshop yielded some piece of information or knowledge that I needed for How Your Voice Works. My research literally came to me.

Then there was the issue of how to fund the project. My mother suggested I should do a Kickstarter and my first response was: “No! I can’t ask for money for this!” Then I realized it was a brilliant idea. And so many of you (likely reading this!) leapt to my support and my Kickstarter was funded with flying colors. I am so very, very grateful!!

At every turn, the universe collaborated with me on this project, at times practically dragging me along. I am recently obsessed with Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic. In it, she talks about exactly what I’m talking about right now. Creation with ease. Letting projects unfold. Getting beyond our pushing and our fear. Well Liz, How Your Voice Works has been BIG MAGIC. Thank you for showing me what to call it.

The best part – I’m not even done? There’s more to do before How Your Voice Works is released to the world at the end of February. Instead of feeling daunted, though, I feel energized and thrilled.

So pardon me while I go make a list of all the things I have to do to finish bringing this class to life. At the top of the list, I’m going to write in big bold letters:

TO ALLOW

15 Awesome Facts About Your Voice

 

I’ve been tweeting and facebooking like crazy in the past three weeks because of the Kickstarter campaign for How Your Voice Works. So it was absolutely lovely when Suzy St. George of TakeLessons.com, a site I’ve been following for awhile, reached out to ask if we might like to share content. She sent me a few links and this one stood out. Why? Because so many of the things on this beautiful infographic are what you’re going to learn in the How Your Voice Works online class! Yay!!

I love good, solid information, and TakeLessons.com has an abundance of it. So I highly suggest you check out their site, follow them on twitter and like them on facebook.

Enjoy the fun facts below… #2 was new info for me!

Awesome-Facts-About-Your-Voice-and-Vocal-Cords
http://takelessons.com/blog/vocal-health-infographic-z02

 

Why You Should Learn How Your Voice Works

Let’s go back to the moment of birth…

Your mother is in labor. You’re slowly making your way down the birth canal. Suddenly your head crowns, you emerge into the world, your skin touches the air, and a huge host of physiological changes get set into motion. Your respiratory system kickstarts and you take the strongest breath of your life: the one that inflates your lungs. A short time later (maybe a moment, maybe a bit longer) you exhale through your windpipe, air passes through your vocal cords, and you let out a cry.

crying-newborn-photo

Congratulations baby, welcome to the world!

We start using our voice mere moments after we’re born. But here’s the thing… no one sits us down and hands us an instruction manual. There’s no explanation about how we should make sound, we just do it! A couple years from now we’ll start learning speech and language, and all that will include much more explanation. However it’s likely going to be years before we start any sort of vocal or singing lessons which will draw our attention to the quality of our sound (if ever, of course!). By that time we’ll have some pretty well engrained patterns and habits.

So here’s the problem with never having learned how our voice works: When something goes wrong with it, we don’t know how to fix it. If no one taught us how we produce sound in the first place, it’s very difficult to troubleshoot when we’re not able to make the sounds we want. We’ve got to understand what’s going on.

We think of our voice as something intangible. In fact we often use the word “voice” metaphorically. That way of thinking is lovely, but our voice is also something very concrete. It comes out of our body, and there are significant muscles and cartilage and bones and organs that contribute to our ability to make sound. It’s valuable to know what all of these are.

Think about it this way: if you’re a real car person, you’ve gotta learn what’s under the hood. It would be silly to grab a wrench and start messing around if you’ve done no research about how the car is put together…you might mess something up! By a similar token, we all know it’s foolish to start IKEA furniture together without following the (inscrutable) instructions. It’s useful to spend the time understanding how things work. After all, how we understand a thing informs how we use it.

Let’s repeat that, because it’s the big thesis:

How we understand a thing informs how we use it.

And this is why you should learn how your voice works.
—-

Want to learn more about how your voice works?

Great news!

I am launching an online course in 2016 called How Your Voice Works, and you’re invited! In fact, you can pre-purchase the course or support its production at any level by pledging to the How Your Voice Works Kickstarter project here.

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There’s no such thing as a bad habit

I’m gonna make a controversial statement here:

I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “bad” habit.

Before you holler, hear me out.

Let’s start by defining a habit. I often say a habit is something that you repeat. According to dictionary.com, habit (n.) is “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

So here’s the thing… as human beings, we won’t repeat an action unless it serves us. Repetition is born from usefulness. If a behavior isn’t useful, we simply won’t do it over and over. This is the basis of evolution and it’s the basis of how we work.

Let’s go over some examples of people’s “bad” habits and how they might possibly be serving a purpose:

The habit

How it might serve you

Biting your nails

It calms you down.

Tensing your shoulders up towards your ears

It makes you feel in control.

Slouching

It feels easier than sitting up straight.

Fidgeting when you’re nervous

It helps diffuse nervous energy.

Holding your breath

It allows you to process a situation for a moment rather than being fully present in it.

Smiling all the time, even when you’re not happy

It provides a mask to whatever emotion you’re feeling that may be uncomfortable.

Forward head placement (craning your neck)

It makes you feel more expressive. Or perhaps like you can get somewhere sooner. Or maybe it just feels easier.

Using upspeak or vocal fry (here’s an interesting article on both)

Perhaps you’ve been surrounded by these habits and linguistically they help you fit in. (There’s a big debate over the reasons for both!)

Having read through this table, take a moment to ask yourself:

“What are a few of my ‘bad’ habits? If I dig down, can I find a way that they might be useful to me?”

Coming up with some ideas? Perhaps you’re starting to agree with the big argument:

There’s no such thing as a bad habit. What we can ask ourselves instead is what has this habit been good for, and by contrast what might this habit be not so good for?

I’m a voice and movement teacher, which means I’m in the business of helping people recognize the patterns that aren’t serving them and encouraging them to learn more useful patterns. I’ve watched time and time again as students and clients beat themselves up about their ‘bad’ habits. It’s time to put a stop to beating ourselves up. I offer this mindset shift because it allows us to be much more compassionate about changing our patterns.

So next time you’re lucky enough to discover a habit you weren’t aware of, notice whether the “Oh no, I suck I suck I suck” response comes up. If it does, shift your attention instead to the question of how this habit has served you. Once you’ve acknowledged the usefulness of the habit, you’re free to realize that it may no longer serve you and to make the decision to learn something new. Next, you can begin to practice your new habit. Try to practice without getting attached to being perfect right away. If you allow your process to go from awareness to making a new decision to practicing, it’s possible to completely skip the self judgment part. It’s possible to completely skip labeling ourselves as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that mindset shift sound worth it?

bieber craning neck
See, even Bieber cranes his neck! 😛

So I highly encourage you… let go of thinking about your habits as bad. Instead, focus on awareness of what they are, how they serve you, and whether you might like to change them. That’s the efficient, valuable work you can do. The self-judgment thing is an unproductive extra.

As I always say, it’s all about all about doing the work with less effort.

Being Versus Doing

My junior year of college I studied abroad in London at the British American Drama Academy. It was awesome and I had this amazing dame of a teacher Sheila for Shakespeare class. One day after I’d been working on my monologue in front of the class, Sheila said to me “Elissa, go find the book Being Not Doing and read it. That’s what you need.” I nodded vigorously, but the truth was I had no idea what she meant. All the same for some reason the moment stuck in my brain. Three months later when I was back at the University of Southern California I remember thinking to myself: “Sheila wanted me to read a book. Was it called Being versus Doing? Doing and Being? Am I supposed to do or be?? I’m confused!!”

It took me years to finally understand what she’d been saying to me. I must have been up in front of the class reciting Desdemona with manufactured emotion, a pushed voice, and forced gestures. Sheila wanted me to be more and do less.

Sheila and I. London, 2005.
Sheila and I. London, 2005.

In the voice and movement classes that I teach now, I talk a lot about the definition of what I believe vocal and physical training is for:

Voice and movement training is about exploring the paradox of how much we have to DO and how much we can just BE.

Here are two other ways of saying that:

Voice and movement training is about figuring out what we have to do, and letting the rest of it be easy.

-or-

Voice and movement training is about economy of effort.

I led an exercise with my class the other day called “I Want You To Look At Me” that brings this paradox forward really clearly. In the exercise, one person at a time stands up in front of the class. Their only task is to say to individuals or the group “I want you to look at me” or “Please look away.” Other than that, their job is to stand there, make eye contact and be. Turns out, it’s one of the hardest things in the world. A bunch of junk comes up in this exercise. If you’re a fidgeter, you’ll likely start to fidget. If you have a tendency to lock your knees and lean back, neutral alignment tends to go out the door. A really common one is the nervous smile. This one happens to have been a personal habit of mine, and it was coming up very strongly for one student – she couldn’t stop smiling. So I offered:

“Notice that you’re smiling and see if it’s possible to let that go.”

She proceeded to start moving her lips all around, working hard to try not to smile. I waited for a bit to see if that would release, but when it didn’t I offered next:

“Maybe instead of trying not to smile, just let the smile go.”

It worked. Doing is trying not to smile. Being is letting the smile go.

Here’s the thing:

We don’t call ourselves human doings. We call ourselves human beings.

There is so much happening in our body, and subsequently in our voice, that we don’t need to monitor. It’s when we start trying to do so much and control our experience that it starts to feel strange or come across as inauthentic. Ironically, that’s when we think we have to do even more to ‘fix’ it. When the actual solution is to do less!

Yes, there are absolutely things we need to do when we’re onstage. If there’s a script, we have to say our lines. If there’s a piece of music, we have to hit certain notes at a certain time. If there are physical tasks we’re supposed to do, we need to do them. But if we do our tasks with habitual tension or excess effort, we’re overshooting the mark. We want to do what we have to do with the greatest ease and economy of effort. More being, less doing. Just like Sheila said.

Sheila passed away four years ago. If I could talk to her right now here’s what I’d like to say:

“Sheila, thank you for the book recommendation. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly which book you wanted me to read, but I get completely what you were saying. I am thinking of you and sending you love. Rest in peace. (And send me an Amazon link when you get a chance.)

P.S. Here’s a song that I really like to help you remember to balance your doing with your being. Have a dance party today and enjoy 🙂

I’ve Been Sick, and I’m Healing Myself By Speaking My Truth

Hi my name is Elissa. (This blog is brand new, so I feel like I should introduce myself!) I’m a voice and movement teacher working with performers and professionals to help them communicate with presence, power, and ease. I got into being a voice teacher after I lost my voice at age 21. I won’t go into the whole story here, but suffice it to say it was a major event in my life and a turning point. Looking back, I now see it as a blessing since it led me to where I am today and taught me the value of framing big challenges in a positive way. (If you want to learn more about the story of when I lost my voice, I wrote about it here on the Vibrant Voice Technique blog).

Well, lately my ability to do the positive reframe has been put to the test. For the past couple of years I’ve been going through another big challenging thing with my health, and I’m writing this blog because I’m ready to come out and talk about it.

I have an autoimmune condition called psoriasis, which means I get red, scaly, itchy spots on my skin because my skin cells are replicating too fast. I’ve had the condition since I was very young, but growing up in California it was never a huge deal… just 5 or 10 spots on my body at any given time that would linger and eventually go away. However over the last two years I have had two massive flares of psoriasis. We’re talking my skin is covered in spots. My joke is that I look like a leopard. Though until recently I’ve had a very hard time finding the lightness of the situation.

Elissa with spots
Me and my spots

The first time my skin started to majorly act up was in March 2014 when I was living in Edmonton, Alberta completing the final semester of my graduate degree. I was under a lot of stress, it was freaking freezing outside, and I was away from almost all of the people who form my primary support structure. Since I was spending most of my time in a classroom with students, I didn’t want to distract or disturb them by talking about my condition. So I wore long sleeves, kept the issue to myself, and sunk into some pretty real obsession and depression over it all.

I don’t want to take too much time to detail the drama of the following months, but they went something like this:

  • I spent one month trying to do just acupuncture and herbs, but I was really uncomfortable and I wasn’t seeing results.
  • I went on a drug called methotrexate (for the record, a cancer drug – *eesh*)
  • The spots didn’t get much better on the medicine. However when summer began I got a bunch of bug bites on my ankle and scratched them. Because my immune system was now so weak (thanks methotrexate), they turned into a staph infection.
  • I spent the rest of the summer at home at my parents house in Northern California taking three rounds of antibiotics to heal.

In the fall I returned to Edmonton, where I watched my spots slowly fade away and my energy slowly return. In January 2015 (yes, this year!) I was finally feeling well enough to make my planned move to New York City. For the first stretch of months in New York I was on top of the world, especially since I was preparing my autobiographical 30th birthday cabaret show about reclaiming my voice (it was the first time I’d sung in public in 8 years!). In the show I shared lots of stories, including the story of getting sick with the psoriasis, recovering, and the lessons I’d learned. It was so easy to put a pretty bow on the whole thing: “I got sick but I took some drugs and now I’m okay. Woohoo! “ (By the way, if you’re interested in hearing the stories and my singing you can watch my 30th birthday cabaret show here.)

The thing is though, autoimmune conditions are ongoing issues… they don’t necessarily just go away. Shortly after my birthday, I felt my energy drop. In fact I spent the whole summer feeling pretty darn lethargic. I was in denial but I had a strong sense of what was coming. Sure enough, in August I got a cold and then a bunch of bug bites (both psoriasis triggers), and a week later my spots were back.

So here I was, covered head to toe in spots for a second time. In fact, this time it was worse.

It was time to ask myself, “Elissa: what the heck is going on here?”

It’s no mistake that two weeks before this most recent break out, I’d started reading a book called The Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss. Myss is a medical intuitive who helps sick people heal by uncovering the emotional and energetic patterns that have led to the ‘dis-ease’. I sat down and started to think about the emotional and energetic patterns that might be leading my body to express itself in fiery red spots all over my skin. In the middle of my writing, I blurted this onto the page:

This whole thing is skin and bug bites and fatigue and weakness.

It’s things piercing through my boundaries and sucking the life out of me.

Holy shit.

As soon as I’d written the words, I knew they were true. Skin is our boundary. It’s the biggest organ in our body. While it’s designed to be permeable, we can’t let everything in – we have to protect ourselves. Immediately I thought of multiple situations in my life where I was getting depleted by not fully drawing the boundaries that I wanted to. They cascaded through my brain like dominoes. I knew that if I wanted to heal I’d have to take a hard look at the areas of my life where I was allowing myself to be depleted and make some difficult changes. I’d have to speak my truth. Which made me laugh because Aghhh!!! I’m a VOICE teacher! DUH!! (They say we teach what we need, and boy is it ever true.)

At this point I needed medical help too. I was very eager to approach my healing holistically and not rely on medication to mask my symptoms. I was lucky enough to be referred to an Ayurvedic Marma practitioner. (If you’re not familiar with Ayurveda it is traditional Indian medicine, and I like to describe Marma as the Indian equivalent of Chinese acupressure). Together my practitioner Bud and I started working to help me make dietary, physical, and energetic changes. Bud began by explaining to me that from an ayurvedic perspective my body was over-heating (my pitta was overactive), and we needed to take steps to cool my inflammation down. The changes Bud has asked me to implement are major lifestyle things and huge shifts, but when you’ve got itchy spots all over your body you make the change. (Side note: for those in the psoriasis community, I plan to write up a more detailed outline of the changes I’ve made that are helping. Ayurveda is magical and Bud is a miracle worker… you can learn more about what he does here).

Especially in the last month I’ve gotten down to serious work. I’ve shifted my diet radically. I’ve implemented daily practices to help me stay cool and grounded. I’ve been thinking and talking and working through my shit. I’m being much more open with my students and even strangers about what’s going on. And very importantly, I’ve had the tough conversations I was avoiding, and I’ve spoken my truth. Here’s what’s happened this time:

  • During the tough conversations, the people in my life have said: “Elissa, it’s totally fine that you feel that way” or “Elissa, I feel the same way too!”
  • My students have been so kind, supportive, and even grateful that I’m sharing my experience with them. I don’t have to pull down my sleeves, and every week they ask me how I’m doing.
  • My energy and enthusiasm have returned and I feel better than I have in months.
  • Exactly two weeks ago when I woke up, rolled over, and looked at the spots on my arm, they were fading. I shouted out loud and cried. Every day since then I have been getting better not worse.

I AM HEALING.

Last time when I got sick I felt like I couldn’t talk about it. This time I’ve realized it’s part of my healing to speak my truth.

I live in my skin every day. There’s no way to crawl out of it. If I want to be comfortable in my skin I need to foster conditions that allow me to be, on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. I cannot sacrifice my truth – it dampens my light and it shows up on my skin. After all, I believe that we are meant to enjoy our lives. I believe that our bodies want and know how to be healthy, and when we remove the barriers to health our bodies will heal. I see all these principles in action in my own body right now.

I have no idea if my psoriasis will stay away forever once it’s gone. Probably if I go off balance again, it will show back up to remind me of all of these things. At times when I’ve had less insight and felt less empowered about this situation, I’ve felt sorry for myself and lamented: “Why me? Why do I have to have such a sensitive system? Couldn’t I at least have had a condition that people can’t see?” 

Ultimately though, I am deeply grateful to have a sensitive system. It lets me know when I am off balance, and it shows me the absolute importance of listening to my gut and honoring my intuition.

Psoriasis, I am grateful for you. Thank you for demanding that I speak and live my truth.

P.S. In general, I will use this blog to share thoughts about voice and movement for performers and professionals. If you’re interested in hearing from me, please opt in here 🙂

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Welcome to Speak With Your Whole Self, the Voice Body Connection blog!

Let’s be honest, sometimes communicating is neither easy nor confidence-boosting. After all, our voice is a mysterious thing. It’s a metaphor that reflects our identity, and at the same time it’s made up of the muscles, bones and organs of our body. Even if you’re a seasoned performer or public speaker, your voice may sometimes betray you just when you’re relying on it most, like in the middle of an audition or a presentation.

The good news is that there are countless strategies to help you communicate with more confidence and ease. Voice Body Connection is here to help.