Why P.E.I. musician Alicia Toner is sharing her personal mental-health struggles
'This feels to me like it's the most authentic way to present some new content'
P.E.I. musician Alicia Toner is sharing her deeply personal mental-health struggles online in advance of the release next Friday of her latest single, called Dangerous Home.
Toner, a seasoned actor who spent seven seasons on stage at the Confederation Centre, made the leap last year into a successful music career, winning two Music P.E.I. Awards including songwriter of the year for her debut album I Learned the Hard Way.
"I didn't want to put out just another picture of me all dressed up with a lot of makeup on — it felt a bit fake for me and where I am in my life right now," said Toner of when she was brainstorming promotional ideas for her new music.
"The idea came to me to just be honest. There's a lot of talk right now about mental health and a lot of people being really brave and talking about their own experiences, and it's encouraged me to be brave around the same thing."
Expectation versus reality
Toner enlisted Toronto photographer Sam Gaetz to shoot the images for the project, which is about expectation versus reality. The photos are accompanied by Toner's short essays.
The "expectation" photos are in colour and show Toner looking glamorous and confident, while the "reality" black-and-white photos reveal how she might really be feeling in the situation.
"I don't always feel that it's good for people just to be representing their best selves all of the time — I feel like it promotes depression and anxiety in other people when all ... you see is everybody's wonderful life scrolling in front of you all of the time," Toner said.
It was very scary to put the first one out there — I think I was shaking most of the day. — Alicia Toner
"I feel like contributing to the ongoing conversation of mental health."
So far she has released two of five posts — the first describes her ongoing struggle with social anxiety.
"One moment I'm conversing, truly enjoying myself and the person I've managed to latch onto in a corner, the next moment it feels like someone has tied two boulders to my ankles and it is now imperative that I escape or I will sink. This is with people I know and feel somewhat comfortable with. It goes double if I'm at an event and know no one," she writes on her website.
'It's very personal'
Toner's second post is about her past struggle with body image and weight.
"I got caught in a cycle of trying to get skinny. It went like this; starve yourself until you can't take it anymore, overeat, mostly sugar. Repeat. Obviously this is not a sustainable cycle," Toner writes in her essay.
Sharing her trauma publicly was nerve-racking, she said.
"It was very scary to put the first one out there — I think I was shaking most of the day. Because it's very personal," Toner said.
Response has been overwhelmingly positive, she said — people have written to her to share their own struggles.
"Honestly that's the best thing that I could hope for, that's exactly why I'm doing this — that people took the time to read what I wrote and took the time to respond and reflect on their own life," she said.
Toner will release her new song Dangerous Home on Friday online on iTunes and Spotify and as part of a concert onstage at The Mack in Charlottetown headlined by Aaron Hastelow.
"The idea behind it [the song] is being stuck in a situation, relationship that you can't get out of or you don't know how to get out of," she said. She wrote the song last spring as part of Music P.E.I.'s Songwriter Challenge with Newfoundland musician Sean Panting.
"Dangerous Home has its personal meaning for me but it also can mean the dangerous home that you live in inside your head, inside your body," she said. "But it can also be very literal — the dangerous home that you physically live in."
She hopes the project will get people interested in listening to her new song — but she's OK if it doesn't.
"Really, this project was just something that was important to me," she said. "This feels to me like it's the most authentic way to present some new content into the world."
Not an expert
Toner said she is not an expert on any of the topics she is posting about and is not giving advice, just sharing her reality in hopes that others will find it helpful and feel less alone.
She even warns followers they may be triggered by her posts if they've gone through similar struggles, and said she understands if they unfollow her and even offers to answer messages about the posts.
If you need emotional support, crisis intervention or help with problem-solving, you can call the 24-hour toll-free Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885.
Toner was raised in Fredericton and lived for 10 years in Toronto, and now calls P.E.I. home.
Dangerous Home was produced by P.E.I.'s Tim Chaisson and Toronto's Stuart Cameron, a member of the band The Heartbroken.