Woman Called “Faker” Because of Invisible Illness
'I Suffered From An Invisible Disease While I Was Winning Grammys With TLC'
In her new book , Tionne Watkins, a.k.a. (you know, the group that gave us classics like “No Scrubs” and “Waterfalls”) writes about more than just her experiences performing around the world—she also talks about living with sickle cell anemia.
She writes: “So to say I’ve had a sick life is twofold: I’ve been in and out of the hospitals, but my life has also been awesome. I have these two stories converging into one, where sometimes I’m Tionne and sometimes I’m T-Boz.”
Throughout her book, she goes into detail about the times her disease affected her on and off the stage, from flare-ups at performances, to public rumors about her condition, and the shocking pregnancy she thought her disease had made impossible. “TLC has been an essential aspect of my life, but it’s only one part of it,” she writes in her book. “Behind the scenes I’ve experienced so much. I’ve dealt with a lifelong illness, sickle cell disease, and I’ve had dozens of health scares over the years.”
Check out some of the craziest experiences she’s had, as described in her book, balancing her well-being with her career in the public eye.
While Working On TLC's First Album
"We were so hyped to be making our first album. But despite all the excitement and the seemingly fairy tale direction my life was headed in, I was constantly sick from my disease. I got sick every 3 months, at least. If I overdid it at Jellybeans or if it was too cold outside that night, I’d be in pain that night or the next morning. If I rehearsed too hard, my limbs would ache. I always pushed through it, ignoring the pain and forcing myself to be the performer I wanted to be despite my illness—or, at least, until my body just collapsed and couldn’t take it anymore. I refused to believe that anything could stop me from becoming T-Boz.
"But soon after we went into the studio, I had a major flare up of my disease. I was in pain all over my body and I couldn’t leave my bed. Lisa and Chilli called me from the studio after they’d laid down the tracks for our first single, 'Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,' which Lisa wrote with Dallas.
"'T,' Lisa said over the phone. 'Listen to this shit. It’s so dope.'
"They played the song for me through the phone lines. I was so excited about it—it was a great song—but it was hard being trapped in bed by this disease. I was so sick. I couldn’t be there in the studio and there was nothing I could do but wait to get better."
Watch a hot doc explain what to do about an iron deficiency:
During TLC’s First Tour
"Unfortunately my body had other plans. Before one of our shows, I miscalculated my pain medicine and took too many pills. They had to do my makeup as I lay on the floor. I got dressed on the floor. I was carried to the edge of the stage for our performance, and our security stood around us to catch me in case I fell. After the show, I passed out and just lay there. People actually stepped over me. I felt done. I was so nauseated and messed up. My cousin Tae Tae, who danced for TLC, called my mom on the pay phone from the venue.
“'You need to get here,' she said. 'She’s not doing good.' I ended up in the hospital after that show. My mom was there the next day."
At The Center of AIDS Rumors
"I was in and out of hospitals a lot—although most people didn’t know why—and every time I went in, aching from the pain of my sickle cell disease, I’d hear people muttering to each other. They’d ask, 'Does she have any symptoms?' They meant, 'Does she have AIDS?'
"At one of our shows, I collapsed on the side of the stage after we finished performing, and I left the venue in an ambulance. The press and our fans got wind that something was going on, and everyone made it into this big dramatic thing. Rumors started to spread. I’d met Eazy-E, but we’d never really hung out. We’d just acknowledged each other in passing. Still, there was speculation that I’d gotten AIDS from him before he died. It was the craziest thing, but everybody believed it. They wanted to believe it.
"I could feel people whispering about me, assuming they knew what was going on with my body. This was before social media and rumors felt more substantial. It was harder for them to spread, so any that did had real force behind them."
Finding Out That She Was Pregnant After The Grammys
"J-Lo, her dress, and David Duchovny announced our win for Best R&B Album, which set the evening off right… But in all of the photos of us on the red carpet, in the video of us performing, what I didn’t realize was that I had a passenger along for the ride.
"I felt really weird. I was dizzy and my boobie cakes, now gigantic (for me, anyway), ached. In my trailer, I lay down and rubbed my chest. I was used to my body acting up—you go to work, maybe you feel like shit, and then you do the work anyway—but this wasn’t right. And the weirdest thing wasn’t the pain or the wooziness...
"Nechole took me into the hospital and called D’mon to meet us there. I assumed this was just another flare-up of sickle cell. Maybe I was overworked.
"A little while later the ER doctor returned, armed with some papers. 'So,' he said. 'Do you want everyone to stay in the room while I give you your results?' I nodded. No one moved. 'Well,' he said. 'You are pregnant.'
"'Nope,' I replied. Was this guy serious? I’d been told my whole life that babies were impossible. Was this a joke? I thought I was being punked and Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out any second. The doctor had to be wrong."
When She Was Diagnosed With A Brain Tumor
"Then, in the fall of 2007, I started getting excruciating headaches. Yet another thing wrong with my body. I thought it was stress. I went to get massages and acupuncture, trying to help ease my pain. But the headaches became too severe. I became too dizzy to even stand. I knew something was wrong. I kept thinking, 'Oh my God, what else?' Finally, after weeks of pain, my mama said, 'Go to the doctor. Get it looked at.'
"They gave me an MRI, but it takes several days to get those results back. So I waited. I was used to waiting for tests to come back. I was in a boutique owned by Bow Wow’s mom Teresa, shopping with my friend Gail, when Dr. Braunstein, the doctor who usually helped me with my sickle cell, called. I pressed the talk button...
"'Tell me what you have to tell me now,' I said. I figured it was something serious or he wouldn’t want me to go home first, but I wanted to hear it now. I blurted, 'Do I have a brain tumor or something?'
"He went quiet. There was a moment of stillness. I dropped the shirt sleeve. Panic crept in, slowly. I had said it not really knowing if I meant what I said. Finally he replied, 'You do have a brain tumor.'
"The news punched me in the face. I felt the tears start falling down my cheeks. I couldn’t focus on anything else my doctor said to me. He kept talking, but it was gibberish, background noise. Was this real? What was happening? After everything, now this?"
After Gaining Weight Post Surgery
"I gained a lot of weight from the steroids I had to take post surgery. They had me on the highest amount of steroids possible, and I puffed up. I was taking over 30 pills a day. I went into the hospital as a size 4 and came out as a 2X, which seemed crazy. You go through a lot—mentally, physically, and emotionally—when your looks are affected. I felt like the swan who had become the ugly duckling. The press began talking about me. I saw myself in magazines and online with headlines that read, 'T-Boz Gains 200 Pounds.' It wasn’t newsworthy, but everyone acted like it was. I could afford to lose weight, but I couldn’t afford to lose my life—and I was sick, not fat. The world is so superficial and shallow to the point of carelessness.
"Despite all that was against her, she also reflects in her book about how she made it through everything: 'Life is tough. You lose people and you fall ill and bad things can happen. But it’s also really miraculous. You can have babies you were told you’d never have. You can bring joy to millions of people with your music. You can feel love and happiness and faith. You can decide that you’re stronger than any obstacle and you can empower yourself to survive. I know things can get really dark, but you’ll always feel better if you hold on.
Video: The Hell of Chronic Illness | Sita Gaia | TEDxStanleyPark
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