Amy Sky, shares her story of music, self-care, and the power of gratitude
By Frances Du
I speak with Amy Sky on a Friday afternoon. As a Rosedale resident since 1993, Toronto is a nice change of pace for Sky after being stationed in Los Angeles early on in her music career.
“There’s street life in Toronto,” she says over the phone. “You can walk places, visit neighbourhoods, cafés. L.A. is based around the car.” There’s static on the other end and a sense of tentativeness, but her voice will come through stronger later on. Married to singer and songwriter Marc Jordan, they decided to move back here from L.A. to raise their kids, Ezra and Zoe.
Sky launched her songwriting career in 1983, penning songs for some of the greatest crooners of our time: Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Reba McEntire, Olivia Newton John (the list goes on and on), and later became a very successful musician herself. Possessed with an innate songwriting ability and a rich soulful voice that has the rare ability to comfort and inspire listeners, she’s been nominated for three consecutive Juno Awards, won multiple SOCAN awards, Canadian Independent Music, and American Songwriting Awards.
In the past seven years she’s become a mental health advocate, receiving the CAMH Courage to Come Back Award in 2006 and the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario Hero Inspiration Award in 2009 after revealing how she had battled post-partum depression and continues to deal with an ongoing mood disorder.
Her recent partnership with Sunnybrook Hospital to create an Alive and Awake newsletter helps educate people on the concept of self-care and improve their overall mental well-being.
Although Sky is now a public face for mental health awareness, early on in her career it was difficult to admit that she was even suffering from post-partum depression and a mood disorder. Everything changed in 2006. After accepting an invitation to sing at a Mood Disorder Association of Ontario event and witnessing how the organization recognized researchers and led open discussions about mental health, she recognized that there were others who were hurting and it was okay to talk about it. “[Before that night] I did not realize you could talk about this stuff out loud. To me it was the most shameful secret.” She went home that night and realized she had to speak up because people shouldn’t have to feel ashamed and embarrassed.
Luckily she had a good support system on hand. Her husband, Marc Jordan, was instrumental in the healing process. “He didn’t judge me and say that horrible thing most family members do, which is, “snap out of it.” People tend to think depression is a choice and we’re just being indulgent, but it’s not a choice.”
She pauses for a minute.
“And my mother,” she adds. “She was a psychologist and very supportive. Funnily enough, she didn’t realize she had post-partum depression way before I did, until she saw me go through it. We definitely bonded over the experience. “
Why We Stay Silent
Why do we stay silent? Part of it is denial, but there’s also the stigma of having a mental disorder and not being strong enough to battle through it.
“Some people think talking about mental illness makes it contagious, but it’s really just about people not being informed,” says Sky.
However, people are becoming more aware of mental health related issues and this year Bell’s 3rd annual Let’s Talk Day has raised over 4.8 million dollars for mental health programs by getting people to talk openly, tracking calls, texts, tweets, and Facebook shares – a 23% increase from just a year ago. But changing the language could be the first step in changing how we perceive mental illnesses. “I feel like the language that’s used to describe mental health like depression, bipolar and anxiety are loaded words. I like to think of depression as a “mood concussion” and just like a normal concussion it can take months or years to recover, but, like a brain injury, with the proper treatment you can recover,” says Sky.
“Although Sky is now a public face for mental health awareness, early on in her career it was difficult to admit that she was even suffering from post-partum depression and a mood disorder.”
Self-care is a new word being used in the medical community. Also known as mood hygiene, self-care is about the empowering steps we can take on a daily basis to improve our mental health and create greater mental resilience. The Alive and Awake newsletter and website alivenadawake.ca crafted by Sky and a team of wellness bloggers, seeks to increase public awareness of self-care and offer tips and tools on how to improve mental well-being.
Their partnership with Sunnybrook Hospital will also allow Sunnybrook’s mental health specialists to offer their perspective on combating mental health related issues. Mixing blog articles with multimedia resources, subscribers can download song samples as well as watch Five Minute Fitness videos on their website or on YouTube, which combines Sky’s music with dance routines by ballet fitness expert, Jennifer Nichols, strengthening the mind and body, taking more of a holistic and active approach to battling mental illness. She hopes the newsletter will raise mental health awareness and encourage people to educate themselves about self-care.
The Power of Sharing Stories
The newsletter, this urgency to speak up, stemmed from the incident in 2006 when she was invited by MDAO to sing, but also when she read Brooke Shields memoir, Down Came The Rain.
“[Shield’s book about post-partum depression] made me feel better about myself and showed me how sharing a story about survival and hope could help people get the treatment they needed. And get them to do so without feeling ashamed.”
But Sky has always been a storyteller, offering sage advice and words of comfort through her lyrics. The power of music is undeniable. It can be a healer, even a friend to those who have felt abandoned by loved ones.
“Yes, music is a powerful drug. It can change your mood, support and comfort you, and people love to come to my shows and share emotions with a group. The song “I Will Take Care of You” is about losing a mother and sometimes people come just to cry!” laughs Sky.
Sky’s excited for the release of her new CD Alive and Awake, the first album in a 12-year span, which features all-new original music. A bonus track, “Faith and Reason,” will also be available for download on iTunes.
But this is part of a much bigger project she has in store. She’s also traveling across Canada, doing speaking engagements in high schools to talk about the healing power of music.
And there is a strong sense that Sky is in a good place now and has dealt – and will deal – with life’s complications head on and with an open heart, sharing her story and her music with the world.
“I’m grateful for my health. After losing my mother a year and a half ago to cancer…” she stops, before starting again. “When you go through an experience like that with a loved one, you definitely no longer take health for granted.”
We share a contemplative moment for a beat or two and then her tone lightens. “Oh, and I’m grateful for summer coming back!”