Vancouver musician Sarah Jickling tackles mental illness in new album

Singer-songwriter's new album, When I Get Better, is an honest take on what it is like to live with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder.

'The more we talk about it, the more OK it is,' says singer-songwriter who has bipolar disorder

Sarah Jickling confronts living with a mental illness in her album When I Get Better, released July 14. (Nelson Mouellic)

When Vancouver-based musician Sarah Jickling was first told she had a bipolar and anxiety disorder, she refused to believe her diagnosis.

For a while, she tried to treat herself using methods such as healing crystals and non-traditional medicine. But eventually she came to accept that she was living with a mental illness.

She sat down at her piano, and the outcome was the song, This Time, which appears on Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck's debut album When I Get Better, released July 14.

Accepting mental illness

"As someone with mental illness will understand, there are many moments in your life when you think, 'Okay, I'm going to get better, this time — as I put in my song — this time will be different,'" Jickling toldNorth by Northwest host Sheryl Mackay. 

"I had rejected the diagnosis and said, 'Hey, you're wrong, I don't believe you, I don't have bipolar disorder, I'm not crazy.' 

"And then you realize, maybe the fifth or sixth or 20th time that you break down or that you hallucinate or that something happens to you, you realize this isn't going away, so what am I going to do about it?

"And the moment when I decided to write that song was the moment when I decided to say, 'Okay, I need help, there's something wrong.'"

Jickling, the former front woman of the indie alt-pop band, The Oh Wells, went on to get the help she needed.

She channelled her experiences living with bipolar disorder into When I Get Better, which was given an album release party at the Emerald Room in Vancouver on July 13.

Some of the experiences she describes chronicle her struggle with mood swings.

"I would be very different from week to week, and that made it hard to have friends. I had a lot of friends say, 'I can't take care of you, I can't deal deal with this,'" she said.

"It was a lot of suicidal thoughts, self harm, mixed with hypo-manic thoughts like, 'I'm going to write a novel and it's going to be the next Hunger Games' and, 'I'm going to become a dancer,' and then crashing to, 'I can't do anything, I can't even get out of my bed.'"

Breaking down stigma

The singer and songwriter now performs and talks about her mental illness in various high schools.

She sees herself as part of a movement of people who are discussing mental illness more openly.

"The more we talk about it, the more okay it is," she said.

"It helps me too to know there are people out there, they're reading my blog, they're listening to my songs and they are saying, 'Me too,' and that's really important to me."

Listen to the interview with Sarah Jickling on CBC's On the Coast:

With files from North by Northwest and On the Coast