album: The Only Thing - Thelma
words: Erika Delgado Aceves
I had to take a break from writing. I had to take a break from one of the only things that’s ever given me a purpose because it was too painful to write. Not only emotionally, but physically, my body had to make me listen. Had to make me stop. One of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism is joint pain, but that was it at first, then the carpal tunnel, and then fibromyalgia. The pain became unbearable, and I had to learn to live with this new reality. It’s been two years, but in the past couple of months, I have felt my purpose haunt me. I had to find a reason to write, and then Thelma’s latest album The Only Thing popped up on my Twitter feed. An album that explores the reality of living with chronic illness and pain.
Natasha Jacobs, the brain and voice behind Brooklyn’s Thelma, lives with EDS, another chronic and (obviously, this is what chronic means) incurable illness that causes unbearable pain, pain the requires you to relearn how to exist in a new reality. A reality with limitations that may have not been so obvious before.
According to WebMD “Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a disease that weakens the connective tissues of your body. These are things like tendons and ligaments that hold parts of your body together. EDS can make your joints loose and your skin thin and easily bruised. It also can weaken blood vessels and organs.” But nothing is as simple as how WebMD phrases it, the reality of living with a chronic illness is traumatizing. A huge part of the reality is mourning not only your past self but the person you imagined you could be.
Thelma’s The Only Thing feels like an ode to that mourning and to the rebirth that follows. It’s an album I’ve been sharing nonstop with my disabled community, and now I am here to share it all with you. It’s not depressing. It’s not sad. Yes, it’s a difficulty, but being disabled isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a different way of living. A lot of people feel like talking about illness, about pain, depression is being a fucking bummer, but that is a toxic belief system. Talking about your reality can be beautiful, kind, heartwarming, and fun. Making jokes or art about how much you cry or are in pain is a coping mechanism. It’s how we heal, it’s why so much art revolves around the metamorphosis around coming out of trauma. It’s how we learn to understand ourselves and the new reality of being disabled in a world that sees us in pity.
The Only Thing brings out the beautiful and painful metamorphosis of being chronically ill. Every song is a new discovery, a new reality, something to relearn and adjust to. In “No Dancing Allowed” and “Sway” Natasha sings about how she used to dance but now dancing brings pain, so she slips away, and instead takes herself and just sways. She relearns how to live in her new reality. The slipping away could also have to do with how when you have EDS your joints actually slip out of their sockets. This album is something nourishing, it makes me feel as though I can really learn to live with this pain but it never stops changing and we never can stop relearning.
Listen to it, sway to the album, be nicer to your disabled friends, and never call them a burden or a bummer, stop judging them for how they continue to exist and start seeing the beauty. Make space for them, and they will share their knowledge with you, let it be in a rant, an album review, or an unbelievably beautiful album.