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Kristin Chenoweth Shares Her Journey With Chronic Pain

By Jeryl Brunner

“You have two choices,” writes author Paulo Coelho. “To control your mind or to let your mind control you.” Eight years ago Kristin Chenoweth was put to that test in a truly significant way. 

The actress and singer was shooting an outside scene for The Good Wife when a sudden gust of wind caused an enormous piece of lighting equipment, suspended 30 feet in the air, to fall on her. The apparatus was attached to metal rods. Suddenly the 4-foot-11 Chenoweth was slammed into the ground and knocked unconscious. She sustained a skull fracture, tore ligaments, cracked her nose, and suffered injuries to her ribs, head and neck.

Despite all that she had to endure, Chenoweth’s response was to hide her feelings and chronic pain. “I pushed it down emotionally and dealt with it privately because I was scared,” says the Tony and Emmy-winning superstar. I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t do my job.” 

Chenoweth worried that speaking about her trauma and pain could make her unhireable, especially for TV work. “So out of fear I made a decision to only share how much pain I was in with my very closest friends and family,” she says. 

Now, Chenoweth finds herself in a different place. She doesn’t want to hide what she suffered through. As a role model, she knew how important it was not to hide her struggles, especially when there is often a stigma around chronic pain. It was time for her to impart that life isn’t always what she calls “unicorn sparkly, glowing rainbows.”

Chenoweth shared more. 

What would you like to say to people who deal with chronic pain? 

“I like to tell others, especially young artists, ‘If you have an injury and chronic pain, you can still achieve your dreams. Know that chronic pain can take up mental space and cause anxiety, even depression.’ I know that’s not a sexy thing to say. You have to figure out how to manage your pain with your provider and find what is best for you. Also, know that you are not alone. Listen to the doctor who you find helps you with your pain. Everyone’s pain is different. It’s like a recipe. My Aunt Ginger’s chicken dumplings are totally different from a mom’s.

What has helped you get through it?  

“One thing that helps is performing. Or when I’m making art or creating. When I’m singing a song or in a role, that has given me relief. I let myself go there. And of course after the show I’m at the physical therapist.”

“Age and experience has taught me that it’s OK to talk about things that are troubling. After my accident my dad said, ‘You are going to have problems from this for a long time.’ I didn’t believe him and ignored it. There I was at the six-month mark thinking, I still can’t really move very well. It’s been interesting to understand what chronic pain disease is. Chronic means it repeats. It’s a sniper from the side, I’ll be doing great. And all of a sudden, I lay down and my neck is out. I’m still getting the courage to talk about it. I want people to know, especially my young fans, that they should be aware of their bodies. We have to listen and pay attention to them.”

What advice would you offer younger people who want to pursue a career in the arts?

“So many things. I have noticed with our younger generation, they think ‘I’ll give myself a year.’ I say, ‘Then you don’t love it enough.’ They want to know how to become famous. I say, ‘do a reality show.’ If you love it more than anything else in this world and see yourself doing nothing else the way I did. I didn’t even consider doing anything else with my life. It wasn’t even a choice. Well, I should never do math. But I knew I would be doing something in the arts. And if that meant being a teacher, I would do that. I want young artists to know that things don’t happen overnight. I know that Instagram and the influencers are so cool. Even I get makeup tips from watching them. I learn so much. But if you want to be an artist, you need to study. You need to move to New York, Chicago, L.A. or Atlanta and work at it. And if you put yourself on a time limit, then maybe you shouldn’t do it.

So what guidance would you offer your younger self?

“To my little self I would say don’t sweat the small stuff. There are so many bigger things in life to be concerned about than getting your panties in a wad over small things that don’t count.”

Your latest studio album “For The Girls” pays tribute to the women who inspire you. How did it come about?

“My music producer, Steve Tyrell, and I started working on it two years ago. I didn’t set out to do a female empowerment record. It worked out to be kinda hip completely by accident. I wanted to honor the women who came before me and what I grew up listening to. At first, it scared me. I had the anxiety of, ‘are you sure you want to do The Way We Were?’ It took my evolution and understanding that I wanted to put my stamp on things and yet tip my hat to these women. I thought, I’m going to sing the song differently than Barbra Streisand, Carole King and Judy Garland. But I’m going to pay homage to them.”

“It was amazingly healing. I got to sing with people who I look up to so much like Dolly [Parton] and Reba [McEntire]. And then there are my youngin’s, Ariana [Grande] and Jennifer [Hudson]. I can’t believe they said ‘yes.’ I keep playing my album and think, ‘Oh yeah, they said yes.’ Just checking.”

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw? Did you come to New York from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma where you grew up?

“We couldn’t afford to come to New York and see shows because it’s expensive to get a hotel for a family of four. My parents were awesome and took me to everything they could in Tulsa. I remember the first thing I really wanted to see was A Chorus Line. I was so young. I remember my mom holding her hands over my ears during certain parts.”

“When I first came to New York I was on a school trip while at Oklahoma City University. I wanted to see the musical Gypsy with Tyne Daly. I couldn’t afford a seat, but I could afford to stand in the back. I bought a ticket, but could barely see over the railing in the back. I thought, dang it! I stood on my tippy toes for two and a half hours. I said, ‘I am going to live here. And one day, I’m going to be up there.’ Not only did I speak it, but I saw it. There is a lot to be said for manifesting things in the universe. But I also worked my butt off.”

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