As we enter another year of physical distancing and health protocols while waiting on vaccinations, the isolation of it all has increased an already significant mental health crisis. But for Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder, confronting inner struggles is very familiar. Now Ryder is using her own experiences to help others through art and community.
In her past, the 38-year-old Toronto native said she often had trouble releasing her emotions in a healthy manner when approached by uncomfortable situations, leading her to turn to drinking or cigarettes as a coping mechanism.
“I was struggling with intense depression and anxiety and things like that,” Ryder said. “I felt really alone. The biggest part of the healing is feeling like you have a community, and speaking out about these things.”
The six-time Juno Award-winner has been a mental health and wellness advocate for years, collaborating with initiatives including Bell Let’s Talk, WE Day and Unison Benevolent Fund, and even winning the Margaret Trudeau Mental Health Advocacy Award in 2018.
“It makes me feel like I’m in the right place doing the right thing right now, which is really amazing,” Ryder said. “But it’s such a long path and a long way to go for a lot of people.”
When the pandemic first prompted lockdowns, Ryder was compelled to play an even bigger role. Through her label, Art Haus Music, she and her manager launched a mental wellness initiative, The Art of Wellness. The initiative is a series designed for artists and creatives, and provides a variety of four-week programs for different communities to gain more of a positive and focused energy in their lives. With these programs, they can “have a space to feel safe with a counselor, and talk through different ways of finding mental wellness and having different tools,” Ryder said.
The name stems from Ryder’s upcoming ninth album, The Art of Falling Apart, which paints a picture of her own journey to achieving mental wellness.
She said that after releasing her previous album, she needed to take a break from touring, but also wanted to create an album just for her own self-interest. She went to Nashville to meet and write with one of her best friends, Simon Wilcox (a Canadian songwriter who’s worked with artists like Camila Cabello, Demi Lovato and Blink-182.
“I went there with this idea of making a beautiful, soulful album, and writing for myself, instead of thinking about writing for a big label and getting hits on the radio,” Ryder said.
Ryder wrote and recorded all 10 songs that make up The Art of Falling Apart in just 10 days. It was inspired by a keynote speech that she toured nationwide during her advocacy work. Each song represents each step in her journey of gaining a stronger sense of mental wellness.
“The first track is Day 1 (‘Candy’). That song is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Track 2 is ‘Waterfall,’ which is about the medicine that happens when you allow yourself to cry,” Ryder said. “Track 3 is ‘Thinking About You’ and it’s about how you can create after you release, like have a big cry. It goes like that, and each song is another step in my journey in that way.”
Her latest single “Better Now,” isn’t necessarily about being completely healed, but it’s a symbol of being more present and centered in emotions, a task that she familiarized herself more with in the past two and a half years of sobriety.
“This song is about how I’m choosing not to do that anymore and learning about how to live in the uncomfortable moments when they come,” Ryder said. “Being able to treat myself better allows me to treat the people in my life better.”
Ryder compared her mental health journey to the life of a crab growing in its shell; needing to eventually leave it to find a bigger one.
“It’s very vulnerable to sharks and other animals,” Ryder said. “I feel like, as humans, we’re very much like that. We’re constantly changing and we’re constantly growing. And we can find that growth and that transformation through being uncomfortable.”
That takeaway became the main theme of the album.
“The more I was corking my feelings, the more I was pushing them down, the bigger they got,” Ryder said. “You can’t cork a volcano. Eventually it’s going to explode and your life is going to fall apart in a different way. So for me The Art of Falling Apart really means being able to allow those uncomfortable moments and the tears to come when they need to come, in the moment that they come, instead of holding it together and trying to keep your shit together. It’s never a good thing if you hold it in too long.”
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.