The hip-hop star, 39, talks health, childhood trauma and new music

She’s largely been out of the spotlight for the past three years, but Missy Elliott hasn’t been slacking off. Between writing and producing for other artists, she was privately battling a health crisis: In 2008 she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. “You live with it for the rest of your life,” says the Grammy winner, the subject of VH1’s Behind the Music: Missy Elliott (premiering June 29).

Her first hint of trouble came when she was driving one day and couldn’t control her legs. “I was trying to put my foot on the brake, but my leg was jumping. I couldn’t keep the brake down and almost crashed.” Soon came more symptoms: dizzy spells, lumps in her throat, mood swings, hair loss, a fast heart rate and bulging eyes. She suffered creatively as well. “I couldn’t write because my nervous system was so bad—I couldn’t even use a pen,” she recalls. Radiation improved her condition, but medication caused weight gain. “Right now,” she says, “I’m 30 lbs. lighter because I’ve been exercising.” Even better? “My thyroid is functioning, so I haven’t had to take medication in about nine months.”

Her health isn’t the only deeply personal topic she has decided to address publicly: As a child, she reveals, she was sexually abused. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she says, but notes that with spirituality and music, “I was able to overcome [it]. I felt that I would be able to help other people.”

Today she’s healthy and happy to be making her own music again. “My imagination is still so crazy!” says Elliott, who’s working with Timbaland. Despite her hiatus, she’s confident she’s still got it: “My ear ain’t going bad yet!”

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