2020 has been a life-changing year for many, LeAnn Rimes included.
Just last month, the singer, 38, put her psoriasis on display like she never had before, penning an essay about her lifelong struggle with the immune-related skin condition and posing nude to showcase a recent flare-up. Since then, she tells PEOPLE that "a significant amount of weight has been lifted" from her shoulders.
"I was diagnosed with psoriasis when I was 2 years old, so this is something I've been hiding my whole life," Rimes says. "Even though I've talked about it, no one's ever really seen it. So it felt very, very liberating. And from the comments from people, I think that it was a liberation for a lot of other people too."
Rimes says the overwhelmingly positive response to her essay and photos was "shocking, actually."
"I didn't expect kindness and love like that from so many people," she says. "There's so many people who struggle with psoriasis, and I think that was really evident from all of the comments. Outside of psoriasis, we have this idea of this ideal human who we're supposed to live up to, and it's just impossible. I think for me, it was such a freedom from that ideal. I hope it was a permission slip for a lot of people, whether you have psoriasis or whatever it may be that you feel like you have to hide, to come out of hiding and to set yourself free."
In addition to being vocal about her struggles with psoriasis, Rimes has also been open in recent years about her mental health journey. As a child star in the '90s (she won two Grammys by the age of 14), Rimes struggled with life in the public eye.
"Growing up in this world is challenging enough, but growing up in the public eye added 100 multiple layers of challenges to the process," she says. "So when I was 30, I checked myself into a mental health facility for anxiety and depression. It's something I've been very vocal about, because I feel like there's so much stigma around it."
Rimes feels like everything she's been through on her journey has "led" her to launch her new iHeartRadio podcast, Wholly Human, out now. The podcast will introduce fans to Rimes' wellness journey and mental health toolkit.
"I honestly would have never been able to create something like this if it wasn't for my journey with starting to get help when I was 30 and then my journey from there," she says. "Life has a funny way of putting us through the wringer in order for us to come out on the other side and help others."
"I think it's now wonderful for me to be able to truly share who I am," she adds. "On this podcast, I want to talk about all of it — the wholeness of who we are, the human and the holy. It's been an interesting journey for me. It's a new journey to be utilizing my voice in this way, and the first episode is all about fear. I talk about exactly how I'm feeling. I wanted this to be a place where my humanity could land and where I could connect with people on a human level. Nothing's left out. It's not super polished, and it's going to be messy."
Rimes says the podcast will be like "the spoken form" of her blog Soul of EverLe, which she started three years ago.
"There was so much in me that was fragmented because I felt like I was having to be so many things to different people," she says. "It really has been about reclaiming those pieces and owning not only my life, but my shadow and coming back into wholeness with myself."
Rimes largely credits meditation, which she was introduced to during her time in the treatment facility, for helping her get to this place.
"I go through anxiety and depression still," she says. "It's still something that I'm challenged with sometimes on the daily, but I feel like I have a toolbox now that I'm able to sit and dig into to help me on the more challenging days, where before I didn't have that toolbox, I would kind of be lost in the sea of anxiety and depression. When I sit down into meditation, the point is really about being with yourself. Chanting is a form of meditation, breathwork can be a form of meditation. It's all about coming home to ourselves and being with what is."
With her new 12-track chant/meditation record, CHANT: The Human & The Holy, which was released Nov. 20, Rimes hopes to help others find healing.
"I think we are all in need of something like this at the moment," she says. "This was really something that dropped in through a meditation about a year and a half ago. It was just this thought of, 'Man, I really would love to create a way for chanting to be more accessible to people.' I utilize chanting for my own spirit in meditations, but they really aren't in English. So I thought, 'I want to be able to teach this, but how do I make this a little bit more accessible?'"
"So I thought, 'I've been writing chants my whole life, technically, because I've been writing choruses which are super repetitive,'" she continues. "So I sat down and started meditating on this idea and allowing things to come through. Whatever sounded good and felt good during the meditation, I would just sing and allow to come out. I'd press record, and then we developed it from there. I knew it was going to be an impactful record, but now with the time that we're in, I think the timing is divine."
Rimes says the tracks were born from "things that I needed in my life in the time" they were created.
"In fact, I just listened to it this morning on my drive, and it was definitely super calming," she says. "I needed it. It's interesting because I don't usually listen to my own music. After I record, I'm usually pretty much done with it and I don't turn it on, but I think this will be one thing that I'll actually be turning on and putting in the background just to relax. With this record, I really wanted to put something out into the world that programs people back into remembrance of who they truly are."
For anyone who is just trying out meditation or chanting for the first time, Rimes says "go slow" and "be super gentle with yourself."
"If it's one minute and that's all you got, that's all you got," she says. "And that's cool. Try to let go of that judgment piece around what it should look like and really tune into what feels good."
Though Rimes used to "practice meditation every single day for an hour to an hour and a half," she has allowed her practice "to flow a little bit more" as of late.
"I have a lot of time on my hands," she says. "Everybody has been at home, and you would think that it's like, 'I'm right back into my meditation practice and my chanting practice and am really on it now that I have the time.' But sometimes meditation can be incredibly confronting. There was a part of me that was dodging myself for a while, and now I've gotten back into it, but I allow it to flow a little bit more. I really ask myself, 'What am I needing today?' Sometimes that's nature. Sometimes that's sitting in meditation. Sometimes that's chanting. Sometimes that's moving my body. I think the main thing that's been so wonderful that's helped me along my journey during this time, has been just being creative."
Rimes says the chant record is a "beautiful precursor" to her new album coming mid-2021.
"There's a lot of world topics that I explore, a lot of heartfelt topics I explore, on this record," she says. "I like to think of it not as Americana, but world-icana. It's a phrase I'm coining. There's a lot of world grooves and different rhythms that I'm exploring on this record. It's been really fun creating this album. I love it. I'm so happy and excited for people to hear it."
Used to constantly being on tour since she was a teen, Rimes says it was a big adjustment when the coronavirus pandemic sent the country into lockdown in March.
"It's so weird because so many people, including myself, our livelihoods are gone at this moment," she says. "It's so strange, especially for me being that I've been on the road since I was 13, to sit at home in one space for this long. The great thing is I've had creativity on my side to be able to create all of these new projects. That's what I've been focusing on the most — and family."
Through it all, Rimes says her husband, actor Eddie Cibrian, 47, has been "such a rock."
"He's been incredibly supportive of my whole journey," she says. "I don't know if I ever felt like anyone existed to be supportive of that journey. I was in a lot of pain, and I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of, 'I'm too much. I take up too much space. My pain is too much for people to handle.' There were other people in my life who actually confirmed that narrative for me. But that narrative changed because of him and a couple other people in my life. I now know that my pain isn't too much. I also know how to take care of my own pain. So I think that part of this whole journey of mine has been learning how to self-source and to be my own form of care and love."
With all of her new projects coming out, Rimes is looking forward to people getting to know her as "LeAnn Rimes, the person."
"I remember when I was really young, I was told, 'Don't have an opinion and don't speak your mind because people might not like your opinion, and then they won't buy your records,'" she says. "I'm setting myself free from things like that. I am LeAnn Rimes and I am a singer and I am a celebrity, but at the same time, the first thing that I am is human."
"I think that sometimes we put celebrities on a pedestal and forget that they're human," she adds. "With showing my humanity more and more, trust me, I feel like I'm being choked half the time because I'm afraid to talk. If I could sing my life, it would be perfect. Talking in this vulnerable way is scary sometimes, and I fully own up to that fear and do it anyway, because I think it's a really powerful thing to show our vulnerability. I feel like I gain power from it every time I do it."
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