When I think of my childhood it’s like recalling a trip down the side of a rocky hill inside a barrel. There were hard words and hard fists. There were no “I love yous”, and no hugs. There was no kissing it better… but there was music. Music cushioned the blow. Music was how we were a family even through the pain and anger. To this day, we come together with music, with fiddles and guitars.
I was in first or second grade the first time I sat on the back porch with a pen and a paper grocery bag and let the music inside come out. I was 8 years old when I first stood on a stage in front of a crowd with the stage lights in my eyes and a band behind me. I will never forget the feeling rushing through me when they applauded…for me !
Twenty-seven years later Thomas Wade and Wayward was the independent group of the year at the Canadian Country Music Awards. There were 7 CCMA awards in total, and three Juno nominations between 1997 to 1999. I had 12 videos on CMT as a group and as a solo artist, including a number one video. But by 2006 I was diagnosed with Oromandibular Dystonia. Not only could I no longer sing, I had barely been able to speak for two years.
Focal Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily in a certain part of the body. Oromandibular dystonia (OMD) is characterized by forceful contractions of the face, jaw, tongue and/or vocal cords (for more information on Dystonia and Focal Dystonia, go to www.dystonia-foundation.org).
In some people, OMD may cause difficulties eating, speaking or singing. In my case it affected my singing. I went from being a headliner playing concerts across Canada to a guy who was afraid to order a coffee in Starbucks. Over the preceding 7 years my voice had been dying a slow death, till I retired in 2002. None of the vocal coaches, ENT specialists, naturopaths, homoeopaths, therapists, energy healers and faith healers could explain it or stop it. When I was diagnosed, there was some relief in naming my disease, but no cure as far as anyone knew.
In the music business when you stop releasing music you disappear. I felt like someone who had drowned at sea alone. Yet, somehow through it all, the music kept playing. I couldn’t stop it. I kept writing, I began producing other artists, got better at guitar and accompanied other singers. There was always a new dream to keep me moving.
No one who meets me these days has the slightest idea of what I’ve been through. I speak clearly and naturally, and I am starting to sing again, but it wasn’t medicine that healed me. Music, and the love of music did. I really believe that rather than being cruelly struck down in the prime of my career, I was given a gift and I have learned so much that I would never change a thing.
I worked with Sanjay Burman, a hypnotherapist, who helped me through the pain of my childhood in such a visceral way that it felt like putting pieces of myself back together. I read books like The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge, ground-breaking information on neuroplasicity and the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Evolve Your Brain by Dr. Joe Dyspenza has been essential to understanding how I became unwell, and how to use the mind to heal using visualization as a mechanism that operates where the mind, body and spirit connect. Dr. John Chong and the Musician’s Clinic recognized the emotional root of my illness and continue to be an important resource as I regain my voice.
Coming through this has given me a mission to use music and my story to help others find their way to heal. I believe that there is always a way to find meaning in your life in spite of, and sometimes as a result of our struggles. I believe there is never a time to stop dreaming. Eleanor Roosevelt said “ The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” and I live by those words today.
The thing about a trip down the side of a rocky hill in a barrel is that while you may cushion the blow enough to stop from messing you up on the outside, there will be internal injuries. But music gave me a reason to live, always something to move toward. And I continue to follow its sound in the healing journey.