CW: Suicide. The ER sucks, the psych ward sucks, the medication side effects suck... what now??? This is the final instalment of my short series on talking about suicide and my thoughts on spiritual leader Teal Swan's suicide advice (which I learned about by listening to the fantastic podcast The Gateway = https://tinyurl.com/yc2j9w3e). It might seem like I'm being a little pessimistic when I talk about the state of things in suicide prevention resources, but I don't want to sugar coat anything. It's honestly ridiculous that so little attention goes into something that kills so many people (it's the number one cause of deaths in Australia for youth between the ages of 14-24). We are going to be the ones who change that, by talking about it, and working really freaking hard to stay alive even when it seems nearly impossible. Much love, Sarah.
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At Thompson Rivers University last Thursday Beyond the Blues was held, raising awareness about mental health and wellness.
Monique Goward, a project coordinator with the B.C Schizophrenia Society and, Heather Silvester, a program manager for Crisis and Counselling of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), helped organize Beyond the Blues with other partners from the Mental Health Advisory Committee Both their respective organizations are very supportive of the event for its opportunity to have open discussions about mental health and services available for those who are struggling.
“Beyond the Blues is a CMHA initiative that happens annually, it reaches out to High School Students, talking (to them) about anxiety, depression and risky behaviour,” Goward said.
At Beyond the Blues Silvester said they also offered free mental health and wellness screening for youths and adults. Resource tables from many of the mental health agencies in town were also set up around the TRU gymnasium, providing a one-stop shop for attendees seeking information on services.
“So that was really valuable for the public to be able to pick up information, make connections and just be able to win prizes, we had draws on every table so that was great,” Silvester said. “Lots of good conversations.”
Throughout the day Goward estimates that well over 100 people passed through the event, from TRU students to younger and older members of the community, with a high number of First Nations members in attendance. Goward said that she thinks they reached a lot of different demographics and hopes to reach even more people next year.
“The response was really positive for the people I spoke with. They felt it had great value for our community, as lots of it was taking materials home to share with family members, so I think there was great value (overall),” Silvester said.
Goward agreed with Silvester and added that the feedback she received was praise for bringing the conversation of mental health to the forefront while engaging with the wider public.
Both of them also hope for more involvement from SD 27 for next year’s event throughout the district actively encouraging and facilitating students from all over to attend this important event. Silvester said that Beyond the Blues help students recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness earlier in their friends, family and loved ones and is a unique opportunity to educate young people.
“This year we had ReachOut Psychosis Tour Band, it’s part of the BC Schizophrenia Society, they came up from the Lower Mainland and gave a performance of music and self-disclosure, trying to break down this stigma of mental illness and talk about it,” Goward described.
A big act to bring to Williams Lake, Goward feels that, through their music and sharing of personal stories, they are very in line with the themes and topics they seek to address at beyond the blues. Mental anxiety, illness, and self-medication were all topics the band’s lead singer, Sarah Jickling, covered with a heavy focus on youth, which Goward said was exceptional.
“I think it was a great success this year and I think it planted seeds for the future. This is just going to ripple out (into the community),” Goward said.
For Silvester, the more they advertise and promote this event, the more they break down the stigma that too often surrounds mental health. When that happens she hopes more people will seek out their services and find their way to a healthier, happier, life.
CW: Suicide. We need to talk about suicide a hell of a lot more than we do now. This is part 2 of my short series on talking about suicide and my thoughts on spiritual leader Teal Swan's suicide advice (which I learned about by listening to the fantastic podcast The Gateway = https://tinyurl.com/yc2j9w3e). I do go into some of my suicide attempts and why I am CERTAIN that suicidal thoughts are not your body's way of telling you to move on to the next life. If you are feeling suicidal or hopeless, watch this. If you have recently overcome suicidal thoughts but are still feeling shaky, maybe skip it. I do go into some details about the response that the body has to overdosing. I think it's important for people to know this. I recently learned that 90% of suicide survivors regret their suicide mid attempt. This was my experience as well. If you are living with suicidal thoughts, just know how strong you are for fighting your brain every day. It's so exhausting. Much love, Sarah.
** CW: SUICIDE** I recently listened to the podcast The Gateway (listen at : https://tinyurl.com/yc2j9w3e) and learned all about spiritual leader Teal Swan. She has been someone who is very vocal about her opinions on suicide and how it should be treated, and after listening to it my mind was buzzing with thoughts. This is part one of my thoughts on Teal Swan's suicide advice, where I talk about whether or not the crisis line is helpful, and why regression memory therapy isn't the best advice for people who are suicidal. Part two out next week. In BC there is also a crisis chat line if you don't feel like talking to anyone: https://crisiscentrechat.ca/ Remember to be blunt if they are saying things that aren't helpful, or request to talk to someone else.
This video is for people who want to be a songwriter but are worried they aren't good enough or don't know where to start. It's also for anyone who has lost faith in their own songwriting and are questioning whether or not they are good. These are things that helped me when I was going through music school ( I did not finish it by the way).
Hey guys! This is my first video post in a LONG time (as in pre-bipolar recovery), and I'm super scared to post it. I've been wanting to start a video series about mental health and self care and music for a while, especially because all the teenagers I meet on the road are on youtube and I want to continue to communicate with them even if I never see them again. If you guys have something you want me to talk about, sing about, whatever, then please post it in the youtube comments. Also, if you have something you are scared to release, post it in the comments or dm me on instagram @sarah.jickling.
p.s. This is the best way to support me, because spotify only pays $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream even if you pay them $15 a month. Also, remember that all the prices on this site are in Canadian dollars!
If I had to live through going to Earl Marriott Secondary, putting me on the main stage at SeaFest is the least White Rock can do! Seriously though, Seafest is cool and highschool was a nightmare. Come see me and we can do some musical group therapy.
I’m a musician and a mental health advocate who is lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform shows at high schools and spread awareness for psychosis and bipolar disorder. Whenever I get up on stage, I look at the three hundred to one thousand students looking back at me and I try my best to tell them what I needed to hear when I was fourteen. This also has to fit into the span of a couple of minutes, because we have an entire hour of demonstrations and dance competitions that we need to get through (the former so that we can explain the symptoms of psychosis, and the latter so we can make sure the students are awake). I often end up speaking incredibly fast, talking about my own experiences with psychosis brought on by the bipolar disorder in my genetic history, about my bipolar depression and the suicide attempts that followed, and of course about how I now treat my bipolar disorder and have accepted it. I often end up talking through the first bell as the students start getting up and leaving, and still have more to say. When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I had no idea what it was and only heard the word “crazy.” I walked away from the clinic with a bottle of Seroquel and took the whole thing, not wanting to live in a world where my ex-boyfriend was right about my insanity. I do my best to make sure that if there is a fourteen year old Sarah out in the audience, she will recognize the symptoms of bipolar disorder before she loses her best friends and her first love, and she will go to the doctor and get help right away. But I never have time to say what fourteen year old Sarah needed to hear most, and when students come up to me after the show and explain that they related to my story but they “only have anxiety,” I feel like I’ve failed her, and them! I’d never heard of anxiety as a teenager, but if I had, I would have definitely put the word “only” or “just” in front of it.
I’ve “only” lived with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) since the age of four. I don’t know what life is like without it, and that makes it easy to ignore. When bipolar disorder reared its ugly head when I was seventeen and eighteen, I felt like I was losing control of my life, like my brain was a villain who had taken me hostage. It was easy to tell that there was something wrong. But if you’ve had a hard time sleeping, breathing, digesting food, answering the phone, and looking people in the eye your entire life, you think it’s normal. Doesn’t everyone imagine their friends and family dying every time they say goodbye to them? Doesn’t everyone go through life with a racing heart beat and their shoulders up to their ears? I now know they don’t, but it took me a long time to figure it out. Even after I learned that I was more of a scaredy-cat than everyone else, I was still under the impression that I could control it. I’ve been told a thousand times to “calm down,” “chill out,” “stop worrying about it,” or “just think about something else,” as if this is something that I should be able to do. Even though our society uses anxiety as a buzz word these days, it’s still hard for people without an anxiety disorder to grasp the concept. And anxiety disorder is not just invisible to everyone else, but it also tricks you into thinking it’s not a big deal. Anxiety tells you that you are lazy, and a coward, and that if you just tried a little harder you could be like anyone else. Even right now, my anxiety is telling me that I’m being dramatic and I should delete this entire blog post. But I know better than to believe my own thoughts by now, so I just tell my brain, in my most sarcastic voice, “thanks for your help!”
Those students who come up to me and tell my they “only” have anxiety have things a little twisted, and if I had more time during my presentations, I would tell them this: Anxiety is an emotion that we all have. It’s normal to feel anxious before tests, or on stage, or before a dentist appointment. We all need to feel fear, it’s the reason why we don’t run towards black bears and try to give them a hug. But we shouldn’t feel fear all the time. Having high levels of anxiety all the time regardless of the situation, which is what we call generalized anxiety disorder, is not good for us. I won’t go into how it can wreck havoc on your body because honestly, I’m anxious enough as it is and it doesn’t help to think about it. But the good news is that there are things we can do to treat anxiety disorders. It’s not quite the same as treating bipolar disorder, which requires following a routine of heavy medication and blood tests, but it’s just as difficult and possibly more confusing. It takes time, it takes opening up and accepting help from others, and it requires a lot of homework. One of the most important things about any mental illness is to know that it’s okay to not be okay. Living with anxiety means that it’s okay if you can’t get out of bed because you are too scared. We would never tell some one with a broken leg that they are not allowed to be in pain, or that they should go jogging with everyone else. But we would also never tell someone with a broken leg that they don't need to see a doctor or get a cast. Anxiety disorder is a big deal, but unfortunately we don't get to put casts on our heads, which means that we have to remind ourselves every day that it’s not “just” anxiety disorder.
After years of treatment, my bipolar disorder is in check. I’ve found the right combination of medications and I haven’t had a suicide attempt or a hypo-manic episode in years. But my anxiety disorder is a beast I know I will struggle with every day for the rest of my life. As I type this, I can feel it in my shoulders and on my chest. One of the most important things I’ve learned on my mental health journey is that I can’t wait for my anxiety disorder to go away to live my life. I’m going to live my life right now, use my skills to withstand the pain, and keep doing the things I believe in. On the rare occasion that I do have time to have a real conversation with students struggling with anxiety disorder, I point them in the direction of learning how to cope with anxiety, rather than trying to ignore it, avoid it, or minimize it. Intense physical exercise (don’t think yoga, think rock climbing or running marathons) has been my saving grace. I dance for at least an hour every day, and it helps me regulate both my anxiety and depression. I also use evidence-based therapies like mindfulness, DBT (Dialiectical Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to challenge my brain on a regular basis. These skills can be learned with the help of apps like Mindshift, Headspace, Wysa, Calm, and more great apps are being created every day. I also encourage anyone dealing with a mental illness to join a therapy group. We live in a world where we think that everyone has everything figured out except for us, and there is nothing more powerful than meeting other people who think the way you do and have similar struggles. My first therapy group was the mindfulness group at the Vancouver YMCA, but since I have taken part in over ten different groups. When I was in high school, I was certain that I was broken, lazy, and even cursed. It’s “only” taken me ten years to get to where I am now, functioning but still struggling to keep anxiety at bay, and I know I have a long journey ahead of me. Thriving with this stubborn mental illness will be my life long work. There is no such thing as “just” anxiety.
I had a really beautiful conversation with Non Wels from sunny California. I shared some things I've never talked about on the air before, so let me know what you think! Except if you are in my immediate family... in that case please text me before listening to this episode. I'm serious!
On the grill
Who are you
I’m a singer/songwriter and a mental health advocate. I was the lead singer of the indie-pop band The Oh Wells, and I now perform solo under the name Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck. I know that name’s a mouthful, but it’s my bad luck (aka my bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and OCD) that got me to the good place I’m at now. I recently released my first solo album, When I Get Better, which documents my bipolar recovery journey, and I use my music to spread mental health awareness. I get to sing and educate high school students all over B.C. on behalf of the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society, and I also perform with UBC’s Wingspan Dis/ability Arts, Culture, & Public Pedagogy (wingspan.educ.ubc.ca) in the hopes of creating a more accessible music industry for artists with disabilities. You can find me around Vancouver in hospital waiting rooms and pole-dancing studios.
I think my mother took me to a Charlotte Diamond (of “Four Hugs a Day” fame) when I was four years old, but that was the extent of the live music I saw with my parents. My first real concert, the first time I felt the bass shake my entire body and the first time I screamed at the lead singer, was in 2007 in my high school cafeteria. A band full of very cute boys called There Their were playing a set at lunch time, and I was totally swept away by the experience. I practically swooned, and my best friend told me to tone it down because I was embarrassing her. Ten years later, the lead singer of the band, Harley Small, produced my most recent album. He still makes me swoon.
In 2012, I went to see Kate Nash at the Commodore Ballroom. The entire audience was full of girls, who sang along to every single song in a fake British accent. Kate had covered her piano in lights and flowers and was unabashedly feminine. That is the concert where I realized it’s okay to make “chick music.” It’s okay if the majority of your fans are women. In fact, it's awesome! It does not make you any less of a musician.
Top three records
Regina Spektor Soviet Kitsch I was a classical pianist as a kid, and I never considered myself a singer at all. When I first heard Soviet Kitsch, Regina’s classical-piano-influenced songs blew my mind. I downloaded the sheet music and taught myself how to sing and play the whole thing. This was how I learned to play piano and sing at the same time. This album taught me how to be a singer/songwriter… and yes, that’s why I sing like Regina Spektor. She was my teacher.
Lily Allen Alright, Still As a high school student, I listened to this album over and over, and I started to write in Lily Allen’s style: very wordy with a dark sense of humour and a bubblegum-pop exterior. Sometimes I still curse Lily Allen for making me fall in love with her writing style… I write so many lyrics I barely have time to breathe when I’m performing. Thanks a lot, Lily.
Beyoncé Lemonade For so long I thought that my bipolar disorder was the reason I could write songs, as if it were some kind of gift or super-power. Once I decided to stabilize myself with medication, I was worried I’d never write another song again. I went without writing for almost three years because I had learned to rely on my manic states to write songs for me. I would black out and wake up with a song, but once I was medicated I would just sit at the piano and nothing would happen, exactly as I’d fear. This album broke my three-year-long writer's block. I was so moved and inspired by it that I pushed through my fears and wrote a song. All hail Queen Bey!
All-time favourite video
Beyoncé "Hold Up" Beyonce’s magnificent visual accompaniment to her song “Hold Up” recently usurped Coldplay’s “The Scientist” video as my all-time favourite. Chris Martin was my high school crush, and I could watch him walk backwards in slow motion for hours (and I spent most of grade 10 doing exactly that). But Beyoncé smashing car windows in slow motion? I don’t think it gets better than that. “I’d rather be crazy,” she sings. Beyoncé, welcome to the crazy club. We are so excited to have you.
What’s in your fridge
Four Soda Stream" brand bottles of chilled water. My boyfriend bought me a sparkling water machine for Christmas to help me kick my Coca-Cola addiction. All you have to do is screw the top of these water bottles into the soda stream machine (which looks like the girl robot from WALL-E) and in a few seconds you have a bottle of a delicious carbonated beverage. While I love sparkling water, I am still hopelessly addicted to Coca-Cola and sugar in general. I’ve now asked my boyfriend to keep anything remotely sweet that makes its way into our apartment in a locked box because I can’t be trusted around sugary things. I once ate an entire jar of icing in a matter of minutes with just my fingers. This sugar addiction is probably a job for more than just sparkling water. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.
An expired bottle of bee pollen: I don't even know what bee pollen is supposed to do to your body, and I’ve been meaning to throw it out but it was really expensive. I bought this during my "I don't need psychiatric medication" phase, where I tried to cure my bipolar and anxiety disorders with smoothies. I basically bought everything Whole Foods had to offer, stuffed it in a blender and hoped for the best. It says on the bottom that it expired in 2014. In any case, the smoothies didn't work.
Five different bottles of pro-biotics (also mostly expired). If you or someone you know is mentally ill, you've probably heard the whole "the gut is the new brain" thing. If not, that probably sounds insane. The idea is that you can treat mental illnesses by being nice to the bacteria in the stomach. My mom read this book called The Gut Balance REVOLUTION and now she thinks probiotics can cure everything. I'm on the fence.
Sarah Jickling plays the Cultch (along with Christa Couture and Kristina Shelden) on Thursday (March 8) as part of an International Women's Day showcase titled Luminescence. You can stream When I Get Better by Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck here.
LUMINESCENCE: Chanteuse to the Power of Three features Jickling alongside Christa Couture and Kristina Shelden in an event produced by UBC’s Wingspan Dis/Ability Arts, Culture and Public Pedagogy. Each of the three brings her own story of triumph over physical and mental adversity. Couture is a cancer survivor and amputee; Shelden suffered a spinal cord injury.
And Jickling? Jickling is a self-described “neurotic songstress” who has become an advocate for mental health awareness, using her music to chronicle her personal journey with anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Armed with a ukulele, a piano and partner Greg McLeod on violin and trombone, Jickling will use the stage to share her music and her story about the complicated journey that began, for her, some 20 years ago.
AN ALIEN CHILD
“I can’t remember life without it.”
“It,” for Jickling, is anxiety. She was about six when she first started experiencing panic attacks. She didn’t have the words for them then; she only knew that sometimes, the world wasn’t the way it should be. Sometimes it was like she was experiencing the world in slow motion. She told people she must have a brain tumour.
“I didn’t really have the vocabulary to explain panic attacks, and of course my parents didn’t know,” the now-26-year-old recalls. “I would also dissociate. I would think that I was an alien and everyone else on the planet was a different species than I was.”
"I would think that I was an alien and everyone else on the planet was a different species than I was.”
When she tried to explain those ideas, the adults around her would simply think she was an imaginative child.
Which, in itself, was true. Even then, she was a poet. Before she could spell enough words to write them down for herself, she would dictate poems for her mother to record.
Those two parts of her – the anxiety, and the creativity – would become inextricably entwined as she grew up.
FROM HERE TO 'CRAZY'
She was, she figures, more “together” to outsiders than she was to herself. She was in a band with her friend in high school, finding unexpected attention for what she remembers as “cute” songs (“my lyrics were about boys and kittens and Harry Potter,” is how she described them in a post on her website).
“It was a strange way for me to connect with people, because I was very shy,” she says. “I always say I have off-stage fright.”
She kept writing and making music. People didn’t know other things about her. Things like the fact that she didn’t sleep for days at a time – not sleeping was a problem that had plagued her since childhood – and that she’d cry on the floor at night. She had periods of depression, even suicidal thoughts. But she didn’t talk to counsellors, or anyone else really.
“I thought it was maybe how everybody felt, or it wasn’t really that bad,” she remembers.
It wasn’t till she started university that the anxiety grew beyond her control. She dropped out very shortly after starting and was living with major mood swings, alternating from hypomanic highs to depressive lows.
By her late teens and early 20s, her life was spiralling out of control. One friend told her to get to a doctor, saying she couldn’t be friends with Sarah the way she was and that Sarah needed professional help.
“I heard a lot that I was crazy, but that doesn’t have a lot of meaning behind it,” Jickling says.
Eventually, she did seek help, and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“I said nope, that’s not me, that doctor is wrong,” Jickling recalls.
Jickling notes that one of the big challenges with bipolar disorder is the long waitlists for care – by the time you get through the six-month waitlist for help, you’ve cycled out of depression and into hypomania and you’re convinced the world is yours for the taking.
Jickling had to be diagnosed three times with bipolar disorder – at 19, at 21 and at 23 - before she finally started on her road to recovery.
THE ARTIST AND THE ILLNESS
Treatment, for Jickling, has meant a multi-pronged approach: medication, therapy and a variety of creative pursuits, including dance and – of course - music. As she faced her illness head-on, Jickling found herself drawn to write songs about the journey.
“It’s kind of like your mental illness gets turned up with a volume knob and it’s all you can hear,” she says. “It becomes the subject of your songs.”
Through a number of years, she says, she connected her mental illness and her music; she had an image of the stereotypical “crazy artist” in her head and feared that if she got rid of the illness, she might also lose the music.
“I connected this sort of chaotic life and chaotic brain with the ability to write songs,” she said. “My recovery has been knowing that I am an artist, with or without mental illness.”
The recovery journey became the album she released independently in the summer of 2017, When I Get Better.
LIFE AS AN ADVOCATE
For an album that began from an intensely personal place, When I Get Better has propelled Jickling into an intensely public life.
She released the album with a zine illustrated by a high school friend, Amelia Butcher (a friend whom Jickling credits as being “the person who stuck by me” – the one who brought Jickling food when she wasn’t eating; the one who called the police when she thought Jickling had overdosed). The zine, called It’s OK – a handbook for human beings, is a tongue-in-cheek look at acceptance and coping.
After its release, Jickling was invited to speak on CBC and other platforms, and she found herself becoming an advocate for people with mental illness and for mental health awareness in general.
Jickling now performs with ReachOut Psychosis, a touring show presented by HereToHelp and the B.C. Schizophrenia Society that travels to B.C. high schools to help educate students and teachers about psychosis.
“The biggest thing that music has given me is a voice and a platform to connect with people,” Jickling says.
She uses her platform to share the things that she needed to hear, knowing that her experiences will reach someone else who needs them.
“The idea I was struggling with is, ‘Is there a better?’ It was coming to terms with, this life’s up and down, just like everybody’s life. There’s no moment when you arrive at ‘better.’”
“Often I’m writing something that I need to tell myself, things that have taken me a long time to understand,” she says. Like, for instance, the title track to When I Get Better. “The idea I was struggling with is, ‘Is there a better?’ It was coming to terms with, this life’s up and down, just like everybody’s life. There’s no moment when you arrive at ‘better.’”
It isn’t easy. Jickling points out the music industry is difficult already, being fraught with competition and rejection, never mind throwing mental illness into the mix.
“Success has been something that I’ve had to struggle with,” she admits. “I’ve decided that success for me means I’m touching other people’s lives and making a difference in other people’s lives.”
Every time she gets feedback from someone who thanks her, who relates to her experiences and tells her that message is what they needed to hear – that’s what keeps Jickling persevering. On days when nothing is working, when Jickling wants to go back to old habits – to self-harming, or to allowing panic attacks to keep her inside the house for days on end – those are the days she keeps on going because of her music and her advocacy work.
“Every day I tell people that I am there for them, so I cannot not be there for myself,” she says. ‘I’m going to listen to my own advice and take care of myself. I’m going to share my stories instead of pretending everything’s great.”
HOPE IN THE DARKNESS
Even when Jickling’s subject matter is dark, her music remains light-hearted and whimsical.
“That’s the stuff I like to listen to, stuff that makes me feel upbeat and happy,” she says. “I really want to lift people up with my music.”
What’s surprised her the most in this whole journey is, perhaps, the fact that she loves performing as much as she does.
“I suppose it’s rather surprising that I enjoy being on stage so much. I’m a quiet person, I’ve always been very shy,” she muses. “I feel so comfortable in situations where I’m able to tell my story and perform, in a way, but perform my truth.”
That, in a nutshell, is Jickling’s mission for her March 8 performance at the Cultch.
“I’m just going to be playing from my heart and telling my stories,” she says simply.
That, she knows, is what she’s here to do.
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: LUMINESCENCE: Chanteuse to the Power of Three, a show featuring Christa Couture, Sarah Jickling and Kristina Shelden.
WHEN: Thursday, March 8. Doors open 7 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Cultch, 1895 Venables St., Vancouver
TICKETS: $10 to $30, buy through thecultch.com/tickets or call 604-251-1363.
So proud to share the stage with these women!! Here's a little more about them:
Christa Couture is an award-winning performing and recording artist, a non-fiction writer, a cyborg and “half-breed” of Cree descent. Her fourth album “Long Time Leaving” was released in 2016 on Black Hen Music; her writing has been published in Room Magazine, Shameless, CBC 2017 and the anthology “The M Word.” As a speaker and storyteller, she has addressed audiences for CBC’s
DNTO, Moses Znaimer’s conference, Ideacity, and Imaginate in Port Hope, Ontario. Winner of the 2008 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Folk Acoustic Album, Christa Couture has built a reputation for transforming tragedy into musical triumph, capturing tiny snapshots of grief and elevating each to a unique work of art sometimes desolate but more often uplifting in its encapsulation of a single treasured memory or moment of hope.
For fifteen years, Christa’s work has explored intimate spaces with sharp-shooting wit, effortless
grace, and heart-on- sleeve intensity. With her latest album, she dove into what she calls “ordinary
heartache.” Meaning, for most musicians, the break-up album is the quintessential songwriter cliché – bringing with it the burden to eek out originality from an oversubscribed muse.
But for Christa — whose first three albums reflected on her teenage battle with cancer, the loss of her left leg to the disease, and the deaths of both of her young children under separate circumstances — the opportunity to write songs about such “normal” heartache seemed like a welcome reprieve.
Kristina Shelden has a voice that smolders in jazzy, soulful, and indie folk genres.
Kristina started performing at an early age in choirs, musicals, and jazz bands. After putting herself through a year of basic musicianship in college, however, she suffered a c4/c5 spinal cord injury that left her with debilitating nerve damage, threatening to end her advancing musical ambitions. Through hard work and determination, and despite her limitations, she is now performing, working on the board of directors for the Vancouver Adapted Music Society, and finally laying down the tracks for her first album.
Either listen to the whole inspiring hour of interviews, or skip to minute 40 to hear me share my story on Bell Let's Talk day while on the road with Reach Out Psychosis. This entire interview happened while I was standing outside a high school, letting my other band members haul our heavy gear into the gym (thanks guys). I'm so grateful that my Discorder article got into the right hands so that I could share my experiences on the air. I hope to be writing more soon... stay tuned! Or whatever!
A lot of people come to me when they aren't sure where to turn, or when they don't know how to help their friend/family member, and I'm grateful that I can be of help because I've got all this information in my brain and no degree or qualification to use it in a job (being a three time university drop out is sooo fun). As far as free programs in the greater Vancouver area, I can't stress enough how helpful I found the YMCA Youth Mindfullness program. I always tell people who are experiencing anxiety to put their names on this waitlist. It takes a little while to get into the program, but it is so worth it. This is for people who can get to the Robert Lee YMCA or the Surrey YMCA once a week, ages either 13-17 or 18-30. If your brain goes straight to zen yoga masters when you hear the word mindfulness, and that totally turns you off it, then this course is for you. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT is all about using mindfulness to accept unpleasant emotions and continue to follow your values while experiencing anxiety, depression, or whatever else is on your plate. I feel a little like I'm in an infomercial right now, but trust me on this one. Click here to apply to the youth mindfulness program, or google "teen mindfulness program ymca" to find resources for ages 13-17. If you are over 30 or don't live in Vancouver, read the book The Happiness Trap with a friend and do the homework. That's a great way to learn ACT if this course isn't available to you. The Happiness Trap also comes in comic book form for those who are too depressed or anxious to focus on reading a book, like I was when I went through this program. Look up any ACT or DBT programs in your area as well... there will most likely be a big waitlist so just put your name on there! You can always say no later. I actually didn't show up to the info session the first time my name was called because I was just too depressed. But they called me again for the next intake, and it changed my life. Okay, I'm done with my infomercial. I hope it helped. If you ever need any help finding resources, just email me or reach out through instagram.
P.S. My cartoon hair is so awesome, thank you to Minh Ngo for drawing this journey.
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.