It's funny how you can pine for a publication to mention you, spend your time sending them emails and tweets and prayers, and get nowhere. But when you focus on your work and speak your truth, suddenly that publication writes a lovely, heart-warming post about you without any prompting from yourself. Sometimes things work out. Thank you Mike and thank you Georgia Straight.
Describe yourself in three words
Messy Glitter Bomb
How did you get your start in music?
When I was sixteen, my best friend and I decided it would be fun to start a band. I had been taking piano lessons since I was five and I’d wanted to be a writer since before I knew how to write, so I put my music skills and my writing passion together and wrote a few songs. My best friend played guitar and I played piano, and we became a cute little duo worthy of the Juno soundtrack (the movie, not the Canadian award). We put our songs up on myspace under the name “The Oh Wells,” and soon we had people stopping us in our high school’s hallways to tell us they’d listened to our music and they liked our songs. We were both very shy, and this sudden attention felt unreal and exciting. Eventually we started playing shows, and I found the stage was a comfortable place for me to be real and connect with people. I always say I have off-stage fright, and once I started performing I couldn’t imaging giving it up.
You are a very active mental health advocate. Can you tell us a bit about your mental health journey, and how it affects you and your work today?
I’ve always had anxiety. I’ve never known anything but the feeling of fight or flight, so growing up I never realized my constant anxiety was any different than how other people lived their lives. As I got older, my mental health started to get in the way of my life. In grade 12, I would go days without sleeping, and spend nights crying on the floor. I was a straight A student in high school, but once I reached university my mind became so chaotic that I stopped showing up and instead spent days in bed doing nothing. In my late teens and early twenties my unpredictable moods swings destroyed relationships, broke up my band, and left me constantly leaving jobs and dropping out of schools. I didn’t know who I was anymore.Today I’m in recovery for bipolar disorder type 2 and anxiety/panic disorder, and the structure of my life has completely changed. I now know that I can’t tour for weeks or months on end like most musicians do, that I can’t have a full time job, and that I need to find alternative ways to live my life in order to stay stable. I am on five different medications, I see a counsellor every other week and I attend group therapy every week. I now use music as a way to dismantle stigma and share my experiences. I hope that my work can make other people feel less alone. Life is so difficult with or without a mental illness, and art is one of the only things that makes sense to me anymore.
What would you say to youth who are going through similar struggles?
See a counsellor. If you don’t like them, see another one. Go online and join support groups. Talk to your friends. Don’t keep everything bottled up inside, because that’s how you end up hurting yourself and others. You can’t do this alone, but the good news is you are not alone. There is always someone who will want to help you through this, whether it’s a doctor or a friend or a counsellor or an Instagram account (there are some seriously amazing people online). It will be hard and it will take a long time to notice progress, but you deserve a life that isn’t full of pain and fear, and it’s worth the wait.
Your new album is called “When I Get Better”. What does this mean to you?
A lot of the songs on this record were written in the horrible period between being diagnosed with a mental illness and actually treating the mental illness. You know something is wrong with you but you don’t know how to fix it, and all you can think about is how amazing life is going to be when you “get better.” But of course, there is no moment when you finally arrive at “better”.What I’ve learned over the course of the past few years is that when you have a chronic mental illness, you have to work at it every day. Recovery isn’t a straight line or a destination. Recovery is waking up every day and making the decision to keep trying. When I made this album, I decided to keep trying to be a musician, an artist, and to start being an advocate.
You recently created a zine regarding coping/healing from mental illness. What motivated you to do this?
Now that I don’t have a full time job, I don’t have enough money to print a bunch of CDs, especially when I know that people don’t even have cd drives in their computers anymore. I have no way to play a CD, so I wanted to think of a more creative way of giving out my music. I decided to create the zine because I was inspired by the Riot Grrl movement in the 90’s and the way they used zines to spread important counterculture information. I feel that speaking openly about self care and mental illness is a little bit counterculture, and it’s also incredibly important information that I think everyone should know.
My zine, It’s Okay: a handbook for human beings, is a way for me to spread knowledge about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and radical acceptance, but it’s also a fun way for me to sell my music (there’s a download code on the back).
People might know you from your work work with The Oh Wells. What was the hardest part moving of moving from a band to solo work? How did you deal with roadblocks?
The hardest part of being a solo artist is believing that you can fill the stage by yourself. Learning to be loud and take up space is difficult for most women, and going from a four piece band to one piano and a laptop was really scary. There are no loud drums or harmonies to cover your mistakes. It kind of feels like being naked. Everyone is paying attention to you and only you, so every little decision you make on stage is amplified. I decided to invite friends to come sing harmonies with me, and now my boyfriend Greg Mcleod plays violin and trombone with me, but that’s mostly because being a solo artist can be really lonely between soundcheck and showtime. It’s good to have someone to laugh or cry with before and after the show.
You are a performer, mental health advocate and public speaker. What are some of your favourite coping strategies during hectic times?
I always forget to take breaks, but I think it’s the most important thing to do. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning and I realize I haven’t stopped working or thinking about working in days, so I have to actively take my mind off of things. I also exercise every day. I am currently learning to pole dance, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to relieve stress. In a pinch, when I feel overwhelmed by life I do the yoga pose “legs up the wall.” It’s exactly what it sounds like.
Who are your top three musical influences?
I think the answer to this is Sia, Lily Allen, and Regina Spektor, but I want to add that my next album is heavily influenced by Beyonce.
Any words to live by?
You are enough.
"The Wingspan Collaborative is a VPRI Research Excellence Cluster and an intellectual ‘studio’ of interdisciplinary scholars in disability studies, arts, culture and public pedagogy across many disciplines at UBC who collaborate on common projects regarding the rights of people with disabilities and who proactively promote the idea that while individual disabilities pose impairments, they should not be seen as deficits but instead as differences that enrich collective human experience and the arts. We identify variously as disabled, non-disabled or as artists who focus on disability aesthetics and linger in the liminal spaces between and among artist/researcher/teacher in the broadest sense of these terms, hence, we are Dis/A/R/Tographers in an unequal global world." Read more...
I’ve spent a large portion of my twenties in the waiting rooms of Vancouver’s walk-in clinics and emergency rooms. I’ve spent hours sitting in vinyl seats, listening to QMFM, just to tell a medical professional that I was sad. Everything in my life was blurry and slow and heavy and dark, and eventually I started to wish I could go to sleep and never wake up. I would describe this crippling sadness to doctor after doctor, and I always got this question first:
“Are you from here?”
Apparently, depression and suicidal thoughts are normal side effects of moving to Vancouver. The doctors would tell me they see it all the time: someone moves from a city with winter, spring, fall and summer to Vancouver, the city with thick grey skies and rain for ten months of the year, and suddenly they lose the will to live. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated as SAD) and when you live in a city that barely has two seasons, it becomes a big deal. Vancouver is a city full of SAD people for most of the year. According to the medical community, we have a full-blown SAD epidemic.
Obviously, if I had answered yes to that first question, there would be no need for me to visit every waiting room in the city. Unfortunately, I’m from Surrey. I grew up with this constant drizzle. My dad used to say that the rain would follow us if we ever went on a vacation, so part of my little kid brain thought that my family must also be the reason it rained so much in the Lower Mainland. I’d tell the doctor that no, I was not some previously happy East Coast Canadian who made a terrible mistake and moved to the “wet” coast, and we’d move on from that question to the next one. As a native Vancouverite in her early twenties, it was expected that I was used to the constant darkness.
After what felt like a thousand trips to the doctor and a couple trips to the hospital, I was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And, like literally everyone with Bipolar Disorder, I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder. But on my list of problems, SAD ended up at the bottom of the list. I spent years trying to find the right medication that would treat my bipolar disorder without worsening my anxiety disorder, and finally I could get through a month without throwing a plate across the room or sleeping for fifteen hours straight. It was August 2016 when my psychiatrist and I agreed that I was doing well enough that I could go three months between visits instead of the usual two weeks. I finally felt okay. And then October came.
I’ve been stable on meds for a year and a half, and while that doesn’t make me an expert, I’ve learned that from October to May, life is harder. By the time pumpkin spice latte season comes around, my symptoms of depression come creeping back like clockwork. I’ve tried everything my doctor (and the collective hive mind of the internet) has suggested to fight it. I have a little happy lamp which I try to stare into for 30 minutes every morning. I take more vitamin D than the bottle suggests. I try to have fun with the fall and winter holidays. Last year I bought tickets to the Halloween train in Stanley Park, Zombie Syndromethe outdoor interactive zombie play and the “no splash zone” at Evil Dead The Musical. I went to the pumpkin patch, the Christmas market, the other Christmas market, a Christmas-themed musical, saw the lights at VanDusen Garden and if my money hadn’t run out, I would have bought tickets to a Christmas ghost tour of Gastown.
It was ridiculously hard work, and as October came rolling around this year, I didn’t have the energy (or the money) to throw myself into celebrating cozy, fuzzy feelings that only ended up feeling forced and hollow. This year, instead of trying my best to have fun, I’m going to try my best to take care of myself, even if that means allowing myself to feel depressed. Instead of spending my money on overpriced Christmas markets, I’m going to make sure I exercise (I can be found at the local pole fitness studio almost every night), eat food at least three times a day, drink water, and sleep eight hours a night. I’m going to say no to projects I can’t handle, or postpone them until the summer when I have more energy. I’m going to expect less of myself. Bears hibernate. Maybe people with SAD need to hibernate too.
To everyone who struggles with their mental health this time of year, I would like to remind you that Christmas doesn’t have to be joyful, New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to be exciting and Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be romantic. You don’t have to pretend that this is the “most wonderful time of the year.” You have to take care of yourselves and make sure you survive until summer, no matter what that means to you. Maybe one day, we can all move to the south of France. But right now, we’re here, and we’re having a hard time. And that’s okay.
Sarah Jickling is a Canadian songstress and mental health advocate. Over the past few years, Jickling’s whimsical indie-pop songs have been featured on radio stations across the country and in independent films. The twenty-six year old uses her music to spread mental health awareness, and has opened up about her experiences with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder on radio, local television, podcasts, blogs and at live speaking events. She now performs her music in high schools across the province with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s Reach Out Psychosis Concert Tour. She can be found in hospital waiting rooms and pole dancing studios around Vancouver.
To speak to a psychiatrist or join a coping skills group, ask your doctor or a walk-in clinic to refer you to the Mood Disorders Association of BC. If you are feeling suicidal and are looking to see a free counsellor immediately, contact SAFER at Vancouver General Hospital. If you are looking for an extremely affordable counsellor and don’t mind being on a waitlist, contact Oak Counselling. To learn skills about mindfulness and other coping tools for free, email the YMCA Youth Mindfulness Program and ask to be put on their waitlist (for people under 30 only). If you need to talk to someone, or to find more resources in your area, please call the Crisis Centre or chat online with the Crisis Centre Chat (for over 24 years old) or YouthinBC.com. If you are in a crisis and you don’t want to go to the ER, there is now a mental health emergency centre called the Access and Assessment Centre. They can send a nurse to you and have counsellors and psychiatrists on site. Some helpful mental health apps include: Wysa, Calm, Headspace, Mindshift, and an app in progress called Aloe.
Where do you live and what makes it home? I live in Surrey right now because I’m lucky enough to live in a little house right next to the Dusty Babes Collective studio. It’s all very temporary (we rent from a developer) but it is such a privilege to walk fifty feet to the studio and have my friends working so close by. I can hardly believe it.
Your neighbourhood haunt? Surrey/White Rock has great thrift stores. There are like five in a row and you can do a sort of pub crawl between them on a Saturday morning. But, you know…sweaters instead of beer.
How did the Dusty Babes Collective come to fruition? I think we were just the people who were in the ceramic studio the most at the end of art school. Ceramics is a really equipment-heavy, space-greedy practice so we wanted to connect to share resources. We were really encouraged by the great faculty and knew we’d need each others’ support after we graduated. Also we’d bonded over ceramic heartbreak.
What is the best thing about sharing a studio space with the Dusty Babes women? Best thing is access to all these smart people who can give great critique and load a kiln for you. Worst is the rats!
You’ve done illustration for everything from pickle jars to zines…If you could create/illustrate the branding for anything/anyone, what or who would it be? I’ve just been reading this amazing book that’s all about death and burial rituals around the world, and it has all these pen-and-ink illustrations of casket handles, the wire structures for floral arrangements, pet tombs and these really sculptural Balinese coffins. I am just consumed with jealousy at the woman who got to draw all that stuff.
If you could create ANYTHING with your own two hands, what would it be? I think clay is the quickest access to “create anything” you could ask for. Right now I’m desperate to make a candelabra, but for birthday candles. Kind of creepy and cheery at the same time. I have it all laid out it in my head but haven’t had the moment to do it.
If you weren’t an artist, what path would you take? Midwife. When I was a kid I would have said travel agent.
Your last unexpected or unusual source of inspiration? I went wedding dress shopping with my soon-to-be sister-in-law and, oh my god, wedding dresses are so cool. They are so elaborate and beautifully crafted. There was not a single one that I looked at that wasn’t glorious. They’re at this bizarre intersection of temporary and forever, youth and maturity. I’ve been thinking about them for weeks.
Guilty pleasure? Cake decorating videos on Instagram.
Favourite cake flavour? I’ve started adding herbs to vanilla or lemon cake, like rosemary or sage or basil. Very nice.
A bad habit that you refuse to quit? Biting my nails. I know it’s disgusting but, what, am I gonna get a manicure? You need that outlet for when the Skytrain shudders and stops moving.
What’s your spirit animal? Labrador retriever.
Favourite dish in Vancouver? V3, salt and pepper crispy tofu at Peaceful Restaurant.
Your three favourite things about Vancouver? Sunrise Market, diversity, Stanley Park.
If you had the power to cast any spell, what would it be? Sha-zam! You can talk to dogs! Sha-zam! The dogs can talk to you!
What is the surefire thing that cheers you up? Coffee. Just black drip coffee. From the gas station, whatever. It’s family and home and hopefulness.
Your biggest pet peeve? Eating sounds.
A ritual of yours? Making pizza and watching X-Files with my friend Angela. Once a week if we’re really living our best lives.
Tell me a joke. What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
What scares the hell out of you? Getting dumber. I feel like I need every neuron I have.
The biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Going to art school.
Something that you’d like to change about Vancouver? More affordable housing for everybody, starting with our lowest-income and homeless neighbours first.
The (mostly) women that you illustrate are very expressive…What’s the story behind these characters? How much thought do you put into what the characters are feeling and thinking when you’re drawing/creating them? It’s getting more common to see women of all sizes and colours represented in our media, but they all seem to be pretty and happy. Like, okay, you can be fat, but you’d better be friggin’ adorable too. Girls have to be allowed to be surly and angry and sneaky and ugly. There’s just so much stuff to be angry about. Anger is important. That’s why I draw them.
What was your favourite picture book as a child? Capyboppy by Bill Peet.
Favourite scary story? I found this thread online of parents talking about things their kids had said about their past lives. Like, “before you were my mum I lived in a grey house and died in a car crash.” There were loads of them and they’re so scary and so interesting.
What’s your relationship with witchcraft? I’m mostly interested in the history, and how the witch figure is depicted in pop culture. Something so interesting happens when women get to be a little creepy. I’ve also adopted this witch character I like to draw – she goes around lighting things on fire. I know there are people who identify as witches and with witchcraft for many many reasons and that’s cool. For me it’s more about this story that was used to both celebrate and control female power.
A lot of your sculptures/ceramics address objects of femininity, often in a morbid, creepy or unsettling way. Can you tell me more about this? I have this mindset that the objects I make are artifacts, like in a museum. And that artifacts tell you what was most important to their user. So I always have this intention to make artifacts that represent the experience of a really particular user – maybe myself or an imagined character. I created objects for the vanity of a lady writer in the Middle Ages (who I made up). I wanted them to be imaginative and creative and weird, for a time when women were likely punished for being imaginative and creative and weird. So those had to be a little unsettling, because I was deliberately trying to unsettle this picture of a tidy little vanity with pretty things on it and your idea of who would use those objects. As for morbidity, sometimes being female-bodied really reminds me that I’m an animal and that reminds me that I’m vulnerable and mortal and that I’ll die one day. So I connect femaleness and femininity to death sometimes.
What is your favourite/least favourite thing about being a woman? Friendships with other women. It’s really fun to hang out with women. Sometimes we even talk about being women. It’s very meta. I hate that so many women in the world are still so disadvantaged because of their gender…feels like in a lot of places, “woman” is this multiplying factor that makes conditions like poverty and violence worse. That sucks.
How did you go from being inspired by Madonna’s speech at the Billboard Awards to creating Come on Vogue?
(For reference you can read the full transcript here: https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2016/12/10/madonna-sexism-misogyny-women/)
Laura Smith (Rococode) :
-In her speech, Madonna discussed the inequality she has faced during her 35 years in the music industry. The part that really hit me was this: “What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. They believe they have to back a man to get the job done. And there are some very good men worth backing, but not because they’re men — because they’re worthy. As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by.” I thought fuck yes. We need this mentality, this is necessary for the future of women in music. Around this time I had noticed more women in my community and otherwise creating positive, supportive encouragement for other women through social media posts, gatherings and the like. It was a growing force that had got under my skin, and the idea hit me to start Come On, Vogue (creative women* in music). I created the Facebook group thinking it would be a good way to connect and support my lady friends in the music community, and also to expand our networks. Shortly after it’s beginning, it was clear Come On, Vogue was something that was filling a major hole in our community, and 9 months later we are 350 members strong! The women in the group inspire me every day, I’m so thankful to everyone that is a part of this community. -Laura Smith (Rococode)
-I got involved with Come On Vogue because being a musician, especially a female musician, can be lonely and frustrating. I see COV as a support group for artists battling their way through a male-dominated industry. To quote Florence Welch and Lady Gaga’s duet song Hey Girl, “(w)e can make it easy if we lift each other.”
-I ended up going to one of the first meetups that Laura had planned, despite the fact that I had felt pretty discouraged to go. I had a lot of touring and experience with a band under my belt, but taking a couple year break was enough to make me feel isolated and unworthy within the music industry. I think women have the mentality instilled into our brains growing up, that if we wanted to be a musician, we’d have to work twice as hard as boys because in my case, it wasn’t “normal” for a girl to pick up an acoustic guitar. There wasn’t room for me, as a girl, so If I really wanted to pursue this passion within me, it would take a lot of personal motivation as there is a thick weight I felt to prove that I could do it which can feel isolating. Come On, Vogue has become a visible rock, a giant “fuck yeah you can do this” to (in my case) the girl with the guitar. It is important for us to support each other within the music industry, but especially important for us to provide a safe space for young women to walk into the music industry and feel like they can be seen, known, and supported in a solid environment. We gotta have each other’s backs, and this group is dynamite when it comes to positive support.
You’re based in Vancouver, how is the local music scene in terms of female inclusion, inclusion, community, and representation?
There’s an amazing amount of talented women* in the Vancouver music scene, in all genres, and roles of the music community including the industry and tech sides of things. When I moved to Vancouver 12 years ago it was very male-dominated, but things are slowly shifting to a more balanced place. It’s an exciting time where women* are beginning to feel included and safe to do what they do. There are definitely some situations in the scene that clearly cater more towards men, and that’s a bias that needs to change. These are things we discuss within COV and are, where we can, actively trying to create positive change through awareness and constructive conversations. On the other hand, there are some companies who are conscious of this issue and making positive and inclusive changes to the way they do business. As for community, our community is stronger than ever as we are stronger together. There’s a lot of support between the women* in our community.
I personally feel like an outsider in this music scene, and from what I understand, others feel this way as well. Vancouver is known to be cliquey and the scenes are very insular. I think all of the individual Vancouver music scenes are dominated by what I call “chill dudes.” Their vibe is something to the effect of I’m not even trying and I don’t really care. To be a woman, especially a woman who is passionate about something, is to stick out like a sore thumb. I have tried to book all female bills at local venues and have been met with resistance. Bookers still feel like an all-female line up is alienating and won’t sell tickets, even if I’ve proven them wrong in the past! There isn’t much space for girls who give a damn. At least, not yet.
Lindsay: I think Laura and Sarah both hit the nail on the head. As for representation, this week alone I have been to 5 shows in a row, and they were 75% female based bands. I see a lot more diversity within bands and a lot more women rocking the drums, bass, and shredding the guitars. There is a lot more visible support, so there are a lot more women* jumping into the scene, and that encourages other women to do the same. It has definitely encouraged me.
In the late 90s the Lilith Fair was an all-female music festival designed to give women a larger stage and national tour placement. What do you think changed in the mainstream music industry where we aren’t seeing many women collaborating together as in the past?
Actually, from my point of view, more women are collaborating now than ever before. It might not always be on as large a scale as Lilith Fair, but on the ground level I see engineers, producers, songwriters, sound techs, film makers, photographers, journalists, promoters, managers, etc. all collaborating on multitudes of project and it is SO inspiring. I see mentorship and a lot of sharing of knowledge, skills, and people who are no longer afraid to ask one another for help. Also on the larger world stage there are more and more successful women dominating the music industry. It’s an exciting time, and it’s only going to get better.
If an all female festival was to run today, they would have to go up against Coachella, etc . Labels and promoters aren’t willing to take risks anymore, especially with independent acts. They want money, and their advertisers don’t want to turn off their male demographics. Women will listen to male and female artists, where as many men won’t listen to female musicians. I can’t imagine an all female festival at this time, because they are more corporate and always thinking about the bottom line. The female collaborations happening at this time are generally female acts open for female acts. Carly Rae is opening for Katy Perry, Alessia Cara opened for Lorde… I think this is where we are going to keep seeing women supporting women.
Who are some of your all time favorite female musicians?
Growing up I was a huge Tegan & Sara fan. I was listening to alternative rock radio a lot when their first single “Monday, Monday, Monday” came out and it was so exciting and inspiring to hear women singing on a radio format that was completely dominated by men. They have inspired me in a business sense too, I know a lot of their team and they do not take any shit from anybody, they are strong in their vision and they demand respect at all levels. I admire that they are highly creative, and have gone from a indie duo to very successful pop stars, and have created a career for themselves with longevity. Other female musicians who are inspiring on several levels are; Yukimi Nagano (of Little Dragon), St. Vincent, Grimes, Emily Haines, MIA.
Beyonce, Lorde, Sia, Hannah Georgas, Taylor Swift. I love pop music and I will never apologize for it!
I am SO inspired by a lot of local bands and uprising pop-rock female -lead bands. I just saw the band Winter, with three girls shredding guitars all standing in a row, which is a look that is becoming a lot more popular and I’m so into it. The all-girl band L.A. Witch just came through Vancouver as well and it was a rock grunge fest on stage, they killed it. The all-girl band Frankie, and my love, St. Vincent, Feist, Lights, Sales, Crumb, Big Thief, Alvvays, Peach Pyramid… I could go on…I’m tellin ya… girls shred.
What are your future goals and projects that you have in mind for Come On Vogue?
We have a great team of volunteers working on all things COV right now, and we have a lot of ideas for the future. For the immediate future we will continue to host monthly meetups to connect people in the community. We also have a workshop series in planning, we just held our first workshop on grant writing in August. We’re collaborating with #womencrush out of Portland to do a bi-monthly artist showcase, our first was in August and it was a great success. We just built a COV website and are creating a database of the artists within the COV community so touring bands, promoters, music supervisors and other industry so they can find the COV members and hook them up with gigs, etc. Our Instagram feed (comeon_vogue) is an ongoing mouthpiece for what our members are up to, and we’re starting an event calendar to shout out to all the COV events on our website. There’s a mental health meet up coming up soon, as mental health is a big issue within the music industry. And of course we have our COV Spotify playlist so you can tune in and hear what we have going on. All these are works in progress, and we do not have a full representative of all the COV artists up on the site or the playlist at this time, but we will keep building, growing and creating a sustainable support network. I should also mention a Vancouver to Nashville transplant Jodi Marinilli just started a second COV community based in Nashville which is very exciting too. I’d love to see COV Facebook groups spread regionally so they can host their own locally based events!
I would love to have more songwriting circles and Laura suggested hosting a songwriting camp, which would be a dream come true for me.
Honestly, the support that came from Come On Vogue was such a huge push for me to get back into music and it has made me so happy this year. My hope is that the community continues to grow, and that women* from all over would feel the inclusive and non-judgemental wall of support, and that it would encourage them to look at themselves and say “Hellll ya, I can do this and I’m gonna fucking rock it”
I had an amazing time talking to Darian Slater about our shared experiences with Bipolar Disorder. Sometimes all you need is to talk to someone who knows exactly what you've gone through. Also, I apologize for being Canadian and learn about American health care horror stories! Listen to our conversation here!
"I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown-ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just part of the course.
I’ve also wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, even though I was told many times as a child that “poet” isn’t a real job. When I was sixteen, I started writing songs and posting them online. I went from being the girl who never said anything to anyone to be the girl with wacky clothes and a ukulele… the poor man’s Zooey Deschanel. My songs were cute, my outfits were cute, and my lyrics were about boys and kittens and Harry Potter. People really liked it and for the first time, I felt good about myself.
But during my late teens and early twenties, my life started spiralling out of control. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at 19, 21, and at 23, but I refused to accept I was “crazy.” I had gone from being a good student and a seemingly happy-go-lucky singer-songwriter to a university drop-out with suicidal thoughts and uncontrollable mood swings. I felt so ashamed of what was happening to me. I finally accepted treatment when found myself in the hospital on boxing day in 2013.
This is when I started writing honest songs about my mental illness as a way to cope with what I could barely understand. I released these songs online and got an entirely different reaction than what I was used to. People thanked me. They said they could see the light at the end of the tunnel after hearing my words. This gave me a reason to keep going.
Today, I have just released my first full-length album called “When I Get Better” all about my experiences with Bipolar Disorder and treatment, along with a zine called “It’s Okay… a handbook for human beings” inspired by radical acceptance. I now perform with Reach Out Psychosis, a travelling music show that educates high school students across British Colombia on psychosis and early intervention.
I have learned to cope with my disorders by a) taking psychiatric medication, b) writing songs and helping others understand mental illness, and c) fun exercise like pole dancing, aerial arts, tap dancing and more. I also have found a therapist who really understands me, and I am starting a year-long DBT program this fall. This journey was not easy, but I am so happy that I’m now able to make my living playing music and helping young people get help before it’s too late. My blog/music/zine can be found here, and my music is anywhere you can stream or download songs. Twitter , Facebook , Instagram "
Haters to the left.
Anxiety Erica is an amazing mental health blogger from San Diego. People often brush off anxiety disorder, especially those who suffer from it, but it is often the most debilitating disorder I deal with on a day to day basis. Erica asked me some really unique and thoughtful questions, and I think this interview is really worth reading.
This is the epilogue to the album “When I Get Better,” which was written a few years ago during my bipolar recovery, treatment, journey, or whatever you want to call it. The last words on the album are “if I get better,” and some people have taken that as a cliff hanger ending. Did I get better, or am I going to keep writing songs about how depressed I am for the rest of my life? The answer is complicated, just like everything to do with mental illness. But for those of you looking for the light at the end of the mood disorder tunnel, the short answer is yes. I got better and I keep getting better. That’s the reason you can listen to my album, because I got “better” enough to get to a recording studio, record the album, organize the release, and do all the boring but necessary things that come along with releasing a record. If I was still as sick as I was when I wrote the song “When I Get Better,” none of this would have been possible. Of course, I had help from some amazing people and I could not have done it without them. But when I wrote most of the songs on this album, I could barely make it out of the house. I was still getting used to Seroquel and I slept fifteen hours a day. At the very least, you have to be awake to make an album. Unless you are a really famous person with an alcohol addiction, and maybe even then.
Getting better when you have multiple mental illnesses is a horribly slow and painful process. I personally believe that you should treat bipolar disorder with medication. I am not going to spend time right now debunking the myth that psychiatric medication is a conspiracy by big pharma to keep people sick. I’ll save that for my next blog post. The truth is it took me two years of constantly changing medication to find the right concoction of pills to keep me sane, but now that I feel stable, I am so glad I stuck with it. Over those two years, I tried to keep making music (actually I tried to go to music school) but changing medication every two to three weeks can make a girl tired, hungry, dizzy, nauseated, and/or unexplainably angry, so most of what I tried to do during that time didn’t go anywhere. I did manage to pull off some successful music tribute/charity nights at a venue across the street from my house. Now that I look back, the fact that I did anything during that time shocks me. My weeks were filled with doctors appointments and visits to the suicide prevention centre. Each mood stabilizer that didn’t work was another blow to my vision of “getting better.” The more meds I tried, the less I believed they would work. But I knew that I had spent the past five years trying the alternative methods, and they didn’t work either. Name a medication and I’ve probably tried it. I was being treated for both bipolar disorder AND anxiety disorder, and funnily enough anxiety medication can make bipolar worse and vice versa. Or maybe that’s not funny at all. It felt like torture, but I do not regret any of it. I am sitting here today without scabs on my arms and legs, my medication is on the kitchen counter and yet I haven’t overdosed on it, and I have so far eaten breakfast AND lunch. I have now been on the same five meds for a year, and I feel okay. This is progress. This is what “getting better” looks like.
It’s not just a few pills that helped me find a better place in my life. I perform with a traveling show called Reach Out Psychosis that educates high schools students about mental health, and I always tell them that three things worked for me: medication, finding a great therapist and learning to dance. During my one of my first ever performances with the group, a student asked what kind of dance I learned during our Q&A period at the end of the show. I was so tired that I couldn’t think of a lie, and I told a gym full of teenagers that I pole dance. The reaction from the teenage boys was…I can’t even think about it! But it’s the truth. Exercising until you feel like dying and making a fool of yourself while you do it absolutely changed my life. I started with Zumba. The first day I showed up at the Trout Lake Community Centre I had blood running down my arms, but I wore a tank top anyways because I thought I’d never come back so why both hiding my illness. But of course I came back, again and again and again. And then I tried pole dancing, and then erotic dancing in those giant heels (I’m already five eleven) and then hanging upside down and free falling in aerial arts (like Cirque du Soleil, only I’m terrible at it). I have never left a dance class feeling worse that when I got there. Not once.
A friend once said I was so lucky that all of the things I wished for in the lyrics of “When I Get Better” came true. She’s right: the boy that I love came back. But we don’t go “dancing all the time,” mainly because it’s expensive and I have to take my pills at eleven pm. I sometimes forget to “take my pills” AND “pay my bills,” because I’m still a musician living with a mental illness. In the song, I wish that I could be the one taking care of him, that he would never have to worry again about me or my crazy brain. But at this point, he is taking care of me, and he probably worries about me all the time. As for being lucky, I am now learning to say that it’s not just luck that I’m getting well again. It’s hard fucking work and I am still working on it every day. I’m giving myself a gold star for surviving all this, because it wasn’t easy. And the fact that you are reading this means you are surviving too, so gold stars all around. There is no easy was to survive mental illness. There is no simple answer to the question “Did you get better?”
How challenging/scary is it to bring your own life and struggles so vividly into your own music?
It is not challenging or scary to bring my struggles into my music, so much as it is helpful and meaningful. The challenging and scary part is living through the bipolar, the anxiety, and the depression. One of my biggest inspirations, the late Carrie Fisher, summed this up in a much more clever way than I ever could. She said, “There’s a part of me that gets surprised when people think I’m brave to talk about what I’ve gone through. I was brave to last through it.”
Can you talk a bit about “When I Sing” – in particular, how has music empowered you to articulate things that maybe are hard to say?
The song “When I Sing” was written, like all my songs, as a way of processing something. This particular song was written in a time when people were leaving me because my bipolar disorder was “too much” for them. At that point, I had been struggling with anxiety disorder for my entire life and with bipolar disorder for around five years. I felt like giving up. I am not a religious person at all, but I think we all reach a point where we wish we could pull a Carrie Underwood and say “Jesus (or insert your personal favourite god) take the wheel.” It was then that I realized that although I was never going to have the comfort of believing in a religion, I could find comfort in writing songs and sharing them with people. If religion is something that provides people with a purpose and a community, then music is my religion. Writing songs about my struggles connects me with other people who have had similar challenges, and these people give me purpose. There have been days where I have decided to keep going only because I can’t be the girl who tells other people there is a light at the end of the tunnel and then gives in to her own darkness.
“I’m Not Broken” reminds me so much of conversations I’ve had over the years with friends who claimed they were fine when they clearly were not. It doesn’t seem to me, though, that we have a culture that accepts anything less than perfection, especially when it comes to mental health. What can we do to make it safer for people to admit when they perhaps aren’t so fine?
It’s funny because the song “I’m Not Broken” was written maybe four years before all the others, and it somehow made it’s way onto this record. I wrote the song thinking that I didn’t need help, and less than a year later I found myself crying myself to sleep everything night, muttering “I’m broken, I’m broken.”
I think the key is to remember that we all need help. We all hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We think it’s embarrassing to be anything other than self-sufficient and happy, but that’s not how human beings work. None of us are really broken, and no one should be treated like a broken object that is useless until it’s fixed. It’s that “useless” feeling that inspired me to write this song when I was nineteen. Still, the idea that needing help implies weakness has got to go. I think that every single person on earth should see a counsellor at least once a year. If we could think of our mental health like our dental health and visit mental health professionals like we do dentists, the world would be a much better place!
Your mental health zine, “It’s Okay,” offers a lot of great tips for accepting ourselves as we are. In listening to “This Time” in tandem with reading the zine, I’m wondering: at what point does someone perhaps have to say, “I might not be so okay, I might need help with this…”?
The zine is inspired by Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, which is an amazing therapy for people with overwhelming emotions or Borderline Personality Disorder. The concept behind most of the zine is called radical acceptance. The goal of radical acceptance is to illuminate secondary suffering. Most of the time when we feel depressed, anxious, or any other negative emotion, we reject those feelings immediately. We want to feel happy and confident, like we think everyone else does. So then we get secondary suffering, which is feeling depressed about feeling depressed, or feeling angry about feeling angry. These are emotional traps that anyone can get stuck in.
My advice is: if anxiety, depression, substance abuse or whatever else is getting in the way of you having a job, a relationship, or place to live, go see a psychiatrist. Know that you probably have some chemical imbalance in your brain that is making your life harder than it has to be, and that there are ways to treat it. But beyond that, hating yourself for your actions or your emotions only makes things worse. Accepting things as they are doesn’t mean that whatever’s going on is good. It just means it’s happening, like it or not. It’s often the first step to getting help.
The song that ends the album, “When I Get Better,” explores hopes and dreams in the context of a relationship. You wrote a piece for The Mighty that unpacks not only how difficult mental illness is for the person who has it, but also the people around it. As you have indeed “gotten better,” how has that impacted the relationships in your life, and the role those relationships play in your recovery?
Other people (friends, psychiatrists, understanding employers) have been invaluable in my recovery. I always like to think of the saying there’s an I in illness and a We in wellness. It’s a cheesy but memorable way to say that no one can do it on their own. The people who left me during my darkest times have not come back now that I’m healthier, and the people who stayed have become closer friends. I don’t blame anyone for backing out of a friendship or relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, because it’s very difficult, especially if that person hasn’t been diagnosed or isn’t getting help. But the people who stuck with me through the whole thing are now my closest friends. It takes a certain kind of person to call 911 because you think your friend is in danger, watch them scream as they are taken away in an ambulance, and then sit by their side in the ER.
The subject of the song “When I Get Better,” a boyfriend and former guitarist of my previous band, ended up leaving me for a year, only to come back and be my biggest support. When he came back, he had decided he was going to stay no matter what. He now reminds me to take my pills, to drink water, to eat three times a day. He is a big part of why I am feeling much more stable. I completely understand why he left. Dating a rapid cycling, suicidal, bipolar musician is not everyone’s cup of tea. But he came back, and that’s what matters.
Your journey so far has brought you to a place where you’re not only a musician but an advocate. How do you see your journey evolving from here?
I love working with Reach Out Psychosis and teaching high school students about psychosis here in B.C. I get to play music and talk about mental health, and it feels like the job was made for me. I hope to do more work with young adults who are just starting university (I’m a three time university drop-out), as well as educate teachers how to look for signs and deal with students who are struggling. Of course, my big dream would be to get to a point where I am well enough to tour as Sarah Jickling and Her Good Bad Luck. I love performing. For now, I’m playing a few shows here and there where I can. We will see what happens!
Musician/professional crazy lady Sarah Jickling and superwoman visual artist Amelia Butcher have paired up to create a tongue-in-cheek self help zine that playfully explains radical acceptance and healthy coping! The zine comes with a download code on the back page for Sarah's new album, "When I Get Better."
My friend Madeline Taylor created an amazing podcast episode about judging people's intelligence by the way they speak. She interviewed a bunch of amazing humans and even included a little bit of a conversation she had with me. Do you get judged for the way you speak/sing/present yourself? Let me know on insta or twitter. Thank you Madeline for your hard work and f all the boyfriends who tell their girlfriends to stop saying like and that their voice in too high pitched or that they just "don't like female vocalists because of the way their voices sound!" (That last one was my first boyfriend. Gross.)