Sarah Jickling is the front woman of pop-rock band The Oh Wells and a solo artist (Sarah Jickling and Her Good Bad Luck). Over the past few years, Jickling’s whimsical indie-pop songs have been featured on radio stations across Canada and have earned her top spots in competitions such as Citr's Shindig!, Seattle’s EMP Soundoff,102.7, the PEAK Performance Project and SFU’s Launch Fest.
Sarah is candid about her ongoing struggle with debilitating anxiety and bipolar disorder. Sarah has become a local advocate for mental health awareness, and has opened up about her mental illness on radio, local television, podcasts, blogs and at live speaking events. She also recently won the Anxiety BC multimedia award for her song “When I Get Better.”
Check out sarahsgoodbadluck.com
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.