MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, MD.(WUSA9) - You've probably seen his new album on iTunes or Apple Music, but for the 23-year-old college student behind it there is special meaning to each song.
In 2013, Erhabor “E.” Emokpae was diagnosed with Diffuse System Scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that hardens skin and in some cases attacks the muscles and organs. It took doctors a while to figure out what was going on with Emokpae, but unfortunately it is not uncommon.
According to the Scleroderma Foundation, the disease is hard to diagnose because symptoms are similar to other autoimmune diseases. However, Emokpae knew something was wrong early on when he started seeing changes in his skin and body. In an open and honest blog post about his tough journey, Emokpae recalled signs of swollen hands, dark blotches under his nail bed and a tingling sensation in his arms. In one year, his weight dropped from 175 pounds to below 125.
"When it was really bad, my face was tight and I couldn't open my mouth that wide," said Emokpae, who started pointing to his hands. "This finger doesn't fully extend, even if I try to bend it into a position.”
"You can see some of the artifacts called digital ulcers," he said.
There is no cure for scleroderma, but there are treatments.
Sitting comfortably in what he calls his happy place, a spare bedroom turned studio in his parents’ house, Emokpae opened up about a past of depression, anxiety and struggle with self-esteem. He said it was music, family and one of his closest friends who helped turn it all around.
"I believe the toughest battles are given to the toughest warriors, so I had to be one," he said.
Emokpae and his best friend collaborated on an album called Realistic Love, which was released on iTunes, Apple Music and other music services in April. You'll find 16 tracks on the album. The topics range from relationships to survival, the will to move on.
The song that speaks loudest to his journey is called " Stay Warm in the Cold," The idea came from his younger brother during a time when it snowed.
"That whole struggle against the cold is something I can relate to," said Emokpae, whose condition causes him to get frostbite easily from the cold. "There's also the theme of loneliness, breaking away from what you're used to, fighting through a journey; a cold, dark journey. That's kind of how the song is."
Emokepae said he hopes listeners will take away this one message: Don’t give up. When life gets hard, keep fighting.
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