Tuning Out Depression: #BellLetsTalk



Today is the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day which holds a deeply personal significance to me. I attribute the public outpouring of millions of people sharing their stories of dealimg with mental illness a few years ago with helping plant the necessary seeds in my head to finally get the help I desperately needed for depression and anxiety four years ago. Seeing the likes of Clara Hughes and Michael Landsberg open up about battling crippling depression really opened my eyes and made me gradually come to grips with the fact that I might have the dreaded ‘d word.’

In January of 2013, after my second mental breakdown within a couple of months (due to an assortment of pent up factors like money stress, uncertainty with a change in employment, the winter blues, etc), I finally reached a breaking point and went to see my doctor to help start me on the path to healing. Because I kept everything bottled up inside for so long the floodgates opened and I HAD to get help or I might not be here to tell the tale. But I am so happy I had enough wherewithal to take that first step and ask for help. My folks were so amazing during that major period of transition and they’ve been my rock ever since.

Within a week of getting officially diagnosed with depression and starting the journey of returning to normal (well, as normal as I ever was) it happened to be Bell Let’s Talk Day. You have no idea how much it helps someone suffering with a mental illness to hear other people’s stories and how therapeutic it is to share your own. You quickly find out that once you are open about your illness that you are not alone. People who you think are super confident and have it going on are secretly broken inside. Like you they are usually able to put on the mask while they’re in public. In a weird way knowing that there are tons of other awesome people who are just as fucked up as you are is pretty liberating.

When I first went public I had so many family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances give me kind words of support and helpful tips on reading material and medication. And now that I’m used to officially living with depression and anxiety I’ve payed it forward by reaching out to others who are taking that important first step in getting help. It feels incredible to be able help others who are in the same boat.

Now, of course it is easy to be cynical about Bell’s alterior motives behind this massively successful campaign. In fact, CBC just reported a story about a woman who was fired at a Bell radio station for needing some time off work to adjust to her new SSRI medication for depression and anxiety. It’s nerve wracking trying a new medication. I’m currently on my second antidepressant but I was able to plan ahead and take some days off just in case my body didn’t react well to them. Not everyone is so lucky. So if this woman’s story is true then Bell should be ashamed of themselves. If it is strictly an individual station manager making a shitty decision then Bell should rectify the situation and rehire that woman and fire or transfer that station manager. If Bell promotes a wonderful message like ‘Let’s Talk’ then they better damn well practice what they preach.

Regardless of any nefarious reasons behind this corporate giant’s campaign, credit still has to be given due because this campaign has raised millions of dollars towards mental health initiatives, plus the stigma of mental illness is gradually fading away. The number one reason all major corporations engage in philanthropy is to improve their brand and make them seem like there are human beings behind the monolithic corporate machine. But if the end result does some legitimate good and helps thousands of people and changes the public discourse, then it’s worth it. It’s helped me and a I know firsthand that it’s helped lots of other people so you can’t be cynical of that.

Tuning Out Depression: Politics


“People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a ‘common purpose’.”

     – George Carlin

Donald Trump. The two ugliest words in the human language. It’s no secret that the two things that get people riled up the most are politics and religion. Well, this last American election cycle has succeeded in dividing not only our neighbours in the U.S., but right here in Canada, as well as the rest of the world. People throughout the political spectrum have been at each other’s throats and it won’t stop any time soon now that Trump has the keys to the kingdom.

A couple weeks ago I was watching a political discussion on CBC Newsworld and one of the guests said something that gave me a glimmer of hope. The man, whose name I can’t recall for the life of me, said that there are five things that divide us: politics, religion, race, class, and sex/gender. That’s it. But we have over 500(!) things that we have in common. The average person just wants to go to work, pay their bills, have good health, enjoy good food, you name it. If we remove the labels associated with politics, religion, race, class, and sex/gender then the vast majority of people would get along, or at least smile and nod and keep walking.

Unfortunately, these five things seem to be all that people focus on nowadays. The world has become a case of Us vs Them throughout all walks of life. With the rise of social media, ‘The Left vs. The Right’ has always been a case of lowest-common-denominator in the comments sections, where lame terms like CONservatives, LIEberals, and the always classy libtards get tossed around. However, things have escalated these last couple of years. There has been a scary trend of xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism brewing in North America and Europe. Thankfully in Canada we elected a Liberal government that campaigned on compassion and inclusiveness and we didn’t fall for fear mongering tactics presented by the Conservatives, but our American neighbours were hellbent on fucking shit up that they went with the only candidate remaining who was considered an outsider to the system. People wanted to feel the Bern, instead they get to see the world burn.

Now, with someone as divisive as Trump in the White House, you would think that ‘the Left’ would do everything in their power to unite against a common enemy. You’d think. Instead, a gradual splintering of ‘the Left’ has only intensified. With the Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and Million Woman March protests this past year, it’s clear that the marginalized sections of our society are pissed off, and rightfully so. With Trump in power, if you’re not a white, rich, straight guy in the U.S., you’re fucked. The shitty thing is that as a white, straight, male liberal, I run the risk of being labelled a misogynist while showing support for women’s rights. White female liberals run the risk of being called racist for showing support for Black Lives Matter. If we show support and solidarity for those who aren’t our race, sex, or gender, we get told by some liberals to keep our mouths shut. The message sent is that if we observe some shitty things in the world we’re not supposed to comment on it unless we’ve experienced it ourselves. But turning a blind eye doesn’t help the situation. So instead, we bicker at each other.

Everyone seems so angry and bitter, so what are we left with? Now it’s no longer just ‘the Left’ vs ‘the Right’ or conservatives vs liberals. It’s liberals vs liberals, conservatives vs conservatives, Black Lives Matter vs LGBTQ, women vs women, working class vs elites, blue collar workers vs hipsters, Generation X vs Millennials, Catholics vs Muslims, Catholics vs Atheists, etc etc etc. It’s maddening. And every time I turn on Facebook these days I get sickened by the racist, xenophobic comments of those on ‘the Right,’ and get fed up with those on ‘the Left’ who tell people who are on their side to shut up while they are on their soap box.

So when it comes to politics, I’m done. At least for now. I’ve realized that being politically engaged is bad for my mental health. I can get annoyed with people every now and then but when I dive into politics I get angry with some people. And for what? George Carlin was a hero of mine and he had no political attachments. He was skeptical and critical of every political party. Instead of engaging in the political process he sat back, grabbed the popcorn, and watched the shitshow.

“Sooner or later, the people of this country are going to find out the government doesn’t give a fuck about you. All they are interested in is keeping and expanding their own power.”

     -George Carlin

The above Carlin quote became evident today when Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, Rachel Notley, and Brad Wall were all on the same page in going forward with the Keystone XL pipeline. Any supposed concerns for the environment by the left leaning Liberal and NDP governments fell by the wayside because Big Oil has all these politicians bought and paid for. So all this bickering with our friends, family, and internet strangers over politics just isn’t worth it. I’m going to just grab the popcorn and watch the world burn.

Not stressing about the things I can’t control is one tool I’ve tried to implement in my battle with depression and it’s been extremely helpful, but it’s easier said than done. With politics it’s obvious I can’t control what our elected officials do so I am going to try my best to disengage and say fuck it. I will try to focus less on labels like ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ Instead, I will attempt to see people more as individuals who are separate from their self-imposed tribe because people have waaaaaay more in common than differences.

“Every person you look at, you can see the universe in their eyes, if you’re really looking.”

     – George Carlin

Tuning Out Depression: Bruce Springsteen



I’m just around the corner to the light of day.”

     –  Bruce Springsteen, “Light of Day”


The music of Bruce Springsteen has been one of the few constants in my life since I was an only child glued to the TV watching MuchMusic in the mid-‘80s. Like 99% of the planet I was first exposed to The Boss with his 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. I can’t even count how many times I saw the videos for “I’m on Fire,” “Born in the U.S.A,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Glory Days,” and “My Hometown.” The album was a juggernaut, selling an unbelievable 20 million albums to date. Along with Prince’s Purple Rain and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Born in the U.S.A. ruled the world for a couple of years. Add in classic deeper album cuts like “Working on the Highway” and “I’m Goin’ Down” and you have an album that is absolute perfection from start to finish.

In Wayne’s World 2, Mike Myer’s titular character Wayne Campbell is flabbergasted that his girlfriend Cassandra has never heard Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive. His response is classic: “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” It’s safe to say that Wayne Campbell would react the same way if Cassandra instead said Born in the U.S.A. Bruce Springsteen’s album was, and still is, that iconic. If you collected every copy of Born in the U.S.A. it would need its own zip code.

The Boss was still a big part of my musical DNA for the remainder of the ‘80s, but then I hit high school. In 1991 grunge and alternative music exploded, so the music of an earnest, man-of-the-people troubadour from New Jersey wasn’t as hip or cool as R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or Smashing Pumpkins. I started taking The Boss for granted for a few years. I was still aware of the music he was releasing but it didn’t resonate with me as much as it did when I was a wee lad. However, that would change with his 2002 album The Rising. After a few years of working without his E Street Band and releasing more introspective music and movie soundtrack singles, Springsteen reunited his longtime backing band for this “comeback” album. The time seemed right to give The Boss another chance. With songs like “Nothing Man,” “The Rising,” “Empty Sky,” and “Lonesome Day,” I had flashbacks to hearing The Boss as a kid. For the second time I was hooked. From that moment forward I made it a point to buy every subsequent Springsteen album and dive more into his stunning back catalogue. Very few artists or bands have released music on par with Nebraska, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River.

An added bonus to being a Springsteen fan is that one of my favourite songs, and a song that has meant so much to me since treating my depression, was a Springsteen song without me originally knowing it. In 1987, Joan Jett co-starred with Michael J. Fox in Light of Day, a drama that didn’t exactly break any box office records or impress the critics. However, the title track and video from the film got lots of airplay on MuchMusic. How could you not love Joan Jett and Marty McFly rocking out? Well, it turns out that Springsteen wrote the song for Jett, and he would eventually release a version of himself performing it live for his MTV Plugged special. I loved this song as a kid, but the simple message that things may be dark right now, but the light of day is right around the corner has especially resonated with me these last few years and has been a rallying cry for me when I’m feeling off:

     Well, I’m a little down under, but I’m keeling OK

     Got a little lost along the way

     I’m just around the corner to the light of day

     Well, I’m just around the corner to the light of day.

           – Bruce Springsteen, “Light of Day” from MTV Plugged

As I write this I am reading Springsteen’s autobiography, not surprisingly titled Born to Run. In the book and interviews promoting it, The Boss goes into detail about how he has been battling depression over the years. In particular, he reveals that he was in a really bad head space when he was writing his phenomenal 2012 album Wrecking Ball. In retrospect, I should have clued in that he might have the black dog when one of the songs on the album was titled “This Depression.” The lyrics are an open admission that he is in a low point and needs comfort and help:

Baby I’ve been down, but never this down

     I’ve been lost, but never this lost

     This is my confession

     I need your heart

     In this depression

     I need your heart

           – Bruce Springsteen, “This Depression” from Wrecking Ball

When someone called The Boss has to battle the black cloud and is open about it, it gives so many people like myself assurance and hope that things will get better. And most importantly, WE’RE NOT ALONE. I still have my good days and bad days with depression and anxiety, but I keep reminding myself that I’m just around the corner to the light of day. Thank you, Boss. He really is like the rest of us.




JJ’s Top 50 Albums of 2016


***UPDATE:  I originally wrote this on December 1st. Since then I’ve had a chance to listen to some albums that passed my radar earlier in the year so I have modified my original list just a wee bit. I can’t believe I never listened to Regina punk pioneers The Extroverts’ new album until this week! It is crazy good. After seeing Maren Morris kill it on Saturday Night Live I had to check out her album, and it is pretty darn fantastic. And then The Rolling Stones released an off-the-cuff album of blues covers. Plus, senility must be kicking in because I just flat out forgot about some albums until the last few days. Better late than never. At any rate, here is my new and improved list of my 50 favourite albums of 2016. It’s non-GMO, gluten-free, and pairs well with a pint of Rebellion Lentil Cream.***

David Bowie. Leonard Cohen. Prince. Lemmy. Merle Haggard. Glenn Frey. Leon Russell. Sharon Jones. Phife Dawg. All… RIP. And when you add in Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer and John Mann’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease? Well, it was pretty heartbreaking being a music fan in 2016, to say the least. When music is such a vital part of your life it can feel like losing a friend or family member when one of your music idols dies because over the years their music becomes a part of the very fabric of your being, conjuring countless memories and feelings. There’s a reason why music is said to be the soundtrack to your life.

But at least everything else in the world went swimmingly in 2016, right? Right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


Right… Donald Trump will be the next American President. A Simpsons joke is now becoming a reality. Most of the world is still scratching their heads and trying to process this. In Canada, lefties weren’t thrilled with Harper and now righties aren’t fans of Trudeau, but collectively us Canadians are counting are lucky stars we don’t live south of the border. However, the U.S. election just highlighted the fact that so many people are pissed off and fed up with the establishment. Americans were so disenfranchised with the system that they gave a free pass for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny by voting for any kind of change to shake things up.

Since Bernie Sanders was no longer in the running, Trump was the remaining option for people wanting radical change. And now the rest of the world has to deal with it. Add in ISIS, mass shooting after mass shooting, the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements, and Standing Rock, and it’s clear that the world is becoming even more volatile and turbulent. Oh… and don’t forget Harambe.

The one positive thing about the world going down the shitter is that artists have more material to work with and can rage against the machine. If the world was a utopia then Slayer might wind up recording an album of Air Supply covers. I’ve noticed the zeitgeist shifting this year, because 2016 has been the best year in music in recent memory, hands down. It just seems that lots of veteran artists regained their hunger and put out albums that can rub shoulders with their classic material. Local music guru Taron Cochrane and I recently had a discussion about how a swarm of punk bands will have some extra piss and vinegar when recording their next albums.

Anyhoo, enough death and politics. Let’s get to the music. 2016 was one hell of a year for tunes. The year was so stacked with amazing albums that any one of the ones that cracked my top 20 would have likely wound up in my top 10 last year.

When I heard that Iggy Pop was working with Josh Homme I figured it would be worth a couple of listens and then I’d set it aside and go back to listening to Raw Power and The Idiot. I certainly wasn’t expecting the resulting Post Pop Depression to rank up there with Iggy’s Stooges and David Bowie albums. To cement the fact, Iggy released a concert film and album from the tour and songs like “Sunday” and “Paraguay” fit in perfectly with “Lust For Life” and “The Passenger.” At 70 years old, Iggy has cemented his place in history.

Tegan and Sara followed up their commercial breakthrough Heartthrob by going into even more ‘80s pop mode with Love You to Death. They may have lost some older fans who miss their folkier, rockier material, but these twin sisters kept their trademark quirky melodies intact and produced a perfect pop album.

Leonard Cohen was not in good health when recording what will now be his final album, and it’s clear that mortality was on his mind when writing these songs. After a stunning late career renaissance, You Want It Darker gives fans one last reminder of the genius of one of the world’s songwriters and poets.

The Pack A.D. are a force of nature. This tenacious twosome rock hard and loud, and with Positive Thinking they have added some extra textures and dabbled in some psychedelia to produce their most well-rounded, and best, album to date. “Yes, I Know” is hands down my favourite song of the year.

Drive-By Truckers may have put out the most important album of 2016 with American Band. These veteran country rockers from Athens, GA haven’t sounded this urgent in years, with a batch of politically charged stompers. Album highlight “What It Means” contains the biting lyrics “If you say it wasn’t racial / when they shot him in his tracks / Well I guess that means that you ain’t black / It means you ain’t black.”

Brian Fallon put out his best batch of songs since The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound. July Talk’s formula of Tom Waits meets Grease meets modern rock works even better than ever. The Pixies found a permanent replacement for Kim Deal in Paz Lenchantin and now the Pixies 2.0 sound loose and recharged. Against Me! likely hit a career high with 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but Shape Shift With Me is still pretty close to perfect. Forever a critic’s darling, but under-appreciated by the masses, Alejandro Escovedo channeled T-Rex, the New York Dolls, and Neil Young with his stunning Burn Something Beautiful.

As for the rest of my list? It varies from metal to punk rock to singer/songwriter to country to pop to hip-hop and includes super talented YQR acts BELLE PLAINE, The Extroverts, Government Town, Nick Faye & The Deputies, The Dead South, The Dustin Ritter Band, and Newera. 

If you want a sample of each album check out my Spotify playlist.


JJ’s Top 50 Albums of 2016

1. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

2. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death

3. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

4. The Pack A.D. – Positive Thinking

5. Drive-By Truckers – American Band

6. Brian Fallon – Painkillers

7. July Talk – Touch

8. Pixies – Head Carrier

9. Against Me! – Shape Shift with Me

10. Alejandro Escovedo – Burn Something Beautiful

11. Green Day – Revolution Radio

12. The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab

13. Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck

14. Butch Walker – Stay Gold

15. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate

16. Ladyhawke – Wild Things

17. Savages – Adore Life

18. Lydia Loveless – Real

19. David Bowie – Blackstar

20. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

21. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle

22. The Strumbellas – Hope

23. Hannah Georgas – For Evelyn

25. The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem

25. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

26. D Generation – Nothing is Anywhere

27. Eleanor Friedberger – New View

28. Blue Rodeo – 1000 Arms

29. BELLE PLAINE – The Unrequited Love

30. Basia Bulat – Good Advice

31. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

32. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

33. Gord Downie – Secret Path

34. Nick Faye & The Deputies – Lambswool – EP

35. Garbage – Strange Little Birds

36. The Wind and The Wave – Happiness is Not a Place

37. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

38. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

39. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

40. Lera Lynn – Resistor

41. The Extroverts – Supple

42. The Dead South – Illusion & Doubt

43. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

44. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

45. Maren Morris – HERO

46. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

47. Government Town – III

48. The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome

49. The Dustin Ritter Band – Can’t Turn Back

50. Newera – Inner Demons

Tuning Out Depression: The Tragically Hip

Gord Downie_.jpeg

As I write this, The Tragically Hip will hit the stage for the final time tonight in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Like most of Canada, I will be watching the CBC broadcast of the concert at a viewing party in what will undoubtedly be a transcendent, yet devastating night. Like most Canadians, the music of Gord Downie and company has been the soundtrack to my life, becoming a huge part of the fabric of my existence. And their music has helped me get through many rough times when depression’s dark cloud has creeped up on me and taken the wind out of me.

Along with R.E.M. and Spirit of the West, The Hip were one of the first bands that got me on the right path to listening to real music. Having gone from listening to hair metal to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice in Grade 9 my turning point came when I purchased R.E.M.’s Out of Time and Spirit of the West’s Go Figure. After immersing myself in these two albums and diving into these two bands’ back catalogues I next turned to The Tragically Hip. Up to Here and Road Apples were incredible albums from start to finish and still sound as spine-tingling today as they did in 1991. No matter how many times I hear “New Orleans is Sinking” or “Little Bones” I always turn the radio up. When I used to host karaoke I used to sing “New Orleans is Sinking” quite often, and every time I would introduce it as “Canada’s unofficial national anthem.” No one ever argued with me. Everyone always just sang along.

The Tragically Hip, along with the likes of Spirit of the West and Blue Rodeo, shattered any notions that Canadian music paled in comparison to artists from The U.S and the U.K. “Hoser” rock was no longer just Doug and the Slugs and Trooper. Canadian music actually mattered. In 1992, R.E.M. released their most acclaimed album, Automatic for the People, while The Hip released their finest album, Fully, Completely. These two albums and bands will forever be linked to me, partly because I still have the image of the front page of the Columbia House monthly pamphlet with both bands on the front. R.E.M. and The Hip are similar in the fact that the musicians in each band come across as pretty regular guys you’d see at the local pub, but they’re fronted by two singers, Michael Stipe and Gord Downie, who are charismatic, quirky, enigmatic, and eccentric. This dichotomy is likely part of the reason both bands were able to become so popular.

In the case of The Hip, their music has spoken to people of all walks of life. Politics, class, religion, and race divides so many people, but for 32 years The Hip have managed to build a tower of song that transcends labels and speaks to everyone. At any Hip show you’ll find construction workers, oil field technicians, university professors, artists, poets, musicians, jocks, nerds, right wingers, left wingers, Christians, atheists, you name it. A Hip concert is one of the few places where a CEO of an oil company can sit comfortable next to an environmentalist. This is because The Hip don’t just speak to us, they are us. Through their gift of music, Gord Downie and his bandmates have become our friends, family, and ourselves through musical osmosis. And because of Gord’s battle with terminal brain cancer, tonight will be the last time we get to see this band in action. Cancer may be taking Gord down but he’s going out s(w)inging.

In 2011 I was crushed when R.E.M. decided to amicably call it quits. Earlier this year it was rewarding, but ultimately heartbreaking to see Spirit of the West during their final tour and watch John Mann admirably raise the middle finger to dementia. And tonight, myself and the rest of Canada will go through the whole spectrum of emotions as we watch The Tragically Hip’s final encore.

Gord Downie, thank you for three decades of integrity, poetry, emotion, eccentricity, and grace, too.

– JJ Elliott


YQRocks: The Dustin Ritter Band “Can’t Turn Back”


The Dustin Ritter Band has been a staple of the Regina live music scene for the past few years, but they’ve been quiet on the recording front since releasing their impressive second album Drunk and Drowning in 2012. On May 27th, that will change when Dustin Ritter and his band officially release their new album Can’t Turn Back with a CD release party at O’Hanlon’s.

Can’t Turn Back is the result of a year in the studio with producer and DRB guitarist Thomas St. Onge (formerly of Regina funk rockers Fur Eel) and the extra time and effort  put in is noticeable. The production is crisp and polished, without sounding overproduced, allowing the band members’ performances ample room to breathe. From the herky jerky rocker “Overthinking” (which has shades of The Strokes) to the breezy folk pop of “Oh My My” to the crunching blues stomper “I’m Not Surprised,” Can’t Turn Back is the sound of a band coming into its own.

Singer/songwriter Dustin Ritter gives his melodic, hook-filled tunes a soulful delivery, the rhythm section of bassist Jon Fearnside and drummer Cyprian Henry hold down the back end with a force, and guitarist Thomas St, Onge is an absolute dynamo, giving each song depth and texture, while ripping out blistering solos when needed. On album number three, the third time is definitely the charm because the band has never sounded better. But as good as these songs sound on CD, they’re ripe for the band to sink their teeth into onstage at Ohanlon’s on May 27th.

Tuning Out Depression: Foo Fighters


It’s times like these you learn to live again.” 

     – Foo Fighters, “Times Like These” from One by One

Of all the months of the year, January is the runt of the litter. Following the whirlwind of get-togethers with friends and family, staff parties, as well as the requisite gluttony that comes with the Christmas/holiday season, January is usually filled with a whole lot of blah, with a side of meh. It’s a time of new year’s resolutions where people have good intentions of attempting to better themselves, but realistically only end up purchasing gym memberships that don’t get used past February.

For me, January has taken on a special significance since it was January of 2013 when I was (finally) diagnosed with clinical depression. After years of either not wanting to admit that I had depression, or thinking I could just handle it by myself, it took a couple of mental breakdowns triggered by stress to finally wave the white flag and admit that I needed to get help. For the rest of my life I will always take the time every January to reflect and gauge how far I’ve come and what I still need to work on.

As I write this, it’s been just over three years to the day since I was diagnosed with depression and began what will be a lifelong healing process. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my life will be a continual state of “two steps forward, one step back.” A combination of running, working out, writing, reading, listening to great tunes, proper sleep, learning to better cope with stress, comedy, and anti-depressants will ensure I have good days. However, I will always have set-backs because the chemical imbalance in my brain will decide be an asshole from time to time. It’s my new reality so I have to do my best to take care of myself each day and deal with the cards I’ve been dealt. Every step I’ve taken these last three years are huge, but they will never compare to that crucial first step I took when I saw my family doctor because if I never got that help and got the ball rolling, well… there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to share my story.

One band that I will always link with my healing process is the Foo Fighters. While I wouldn’t rank them on my desert island list of greatest bands, Dave Grohl and company have had a knack for consistently writing uplifting rock anthems for two decades and counting. The music of the Foos will never epitomize the zeitgeist or be seen as “important” as Grohl’s prior band, but it’s safe to say that Grohl has (ever)long since escaped the daunting shadow of being the drummer in Nirvana.

The first Foo Fighters album (which was basically a Grohl solo album) and The Colour and the Shape are unquestioned classics, but their following albums tended to include killer rock radio singles with their share of filler. For me, this all changed with 2011’s Wasting Light. Reunited with Nevermind producer Butch Vig and featuring appearances from Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould, Grohl and company seemed reinvigorated and showed that they mean business. Song for song, the Foos brought the goods.

The one song that instantly grabbed me from Wasting Light was “Walk.” Now, no one will be bold enough to rate Dave Grohl with the likes of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan as a lyricist, but Grohl has an uncanny ability to write songs with universal themes that most people can relate to, without delving into the dreck and pandering of the Nickelbacks of the world. Shortly after this album came out I was in the midst of a rough stretch mentally, to put it mildly. My stress was compiling, my anxiety was becoming unbearable, and I was having more and more depressive episodes which would lead to two mental breakdowns within a couple months. I wasn’t quite ready to get help yet but I was determined to try to get through this rough patch primarily through running and music.

It was during this time that “Walk” really resonated with me, and the chorus has been somewhat of a mantra for me ever since.

“I’m learning to walk again

I believe I’ve waited long enough

Where do I begin?

I’m learning to talk again

Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough?

Where do I begin?”

     – Foo Fighters, Walk” from Wasting Light

For the last three years, it really has felt like I’m learning to walk again. After two mental breakdowns and going on antidepressants it felt like I was starting a brand new life. Whatever I saw as normal would be thrown out the window. I was broken and every day since then has been a slow process of building myself back up again. It would have been nice to just take my meds and then life would be all peachy keen again, but when you have depression and anxiety you quickly learn that medication is one small piece of the puzzle, and that every “happy pill” out there has its share of side effects and that it affects everyone differently. I was on a low dosage of antidepressants, but I found I had almost no energy most of the time, it was harder to concentrate, plus I would have more “brain farts” than usual. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a conversation with people and losing your train of thought mid-sentence and forgetting the simplest words you want to convey. But, despite the side effects, they really helped stabilize my nerves which was absolutely necessary.

A few months ago I decided to test out going without meds since I’ve made it a habit to read self-help books from the likes of Chris Grosso, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Eckhart Tolle. These authors have been a tremendous help in shifting my perspective to focus more on the present moment and not dwell on the past or worry about the future while seeing the world in a more positive light. Through reading, writing, exercise, music, etc I have a solid day-to-day routine to better handle my depression and anxiety, but there are some things that I still can’t shake and likely never will. I’ve been able to keep my depressive episodes down to a minimum and my social anxiety has drastically improved, but I still don’t have the energy I would like to have, I still have difficulty concentrating sometimes, it’s hard to feel super happy (or conversely, sad) about things, and I find myself becoming more irritable at situations that should just be minor nuisances. So I plan on talking to my doctor and trying a low dosage of a different antidepressant to help work these kinks out.

Treating depression and anxiety is a series of trial and error and I’ve accepted that this will be my reality for the rest of my life. But after looking back at where I was three years ago I’m in a much better state these days. It’s been a million small steps in the right direction with a thousand slight steps back, but I’m starting to become more of the JJ I feel can be. I’ve gone on a couple of vacations, emceed some cool events, seen some kickass concerts, and am gradually starting to get more of my mojo back. I have more and more moments where I feel like Dave Grohl screaming towards the end of “Walk.”

“You keep alive a moment at a time

But still inside a whisper to a riot

To sacrifice but knowing to survive

The first decline another state of mind

I’m on my knees, I’m praying for a sign

Forever, whenever

I never wanna die

I never wanna die

I never wanna die

I’m on my knees

I never wanna die

I’m dancing on my grave

I’m running through the fire

Forever, whatever

I never wanna die

I never wanna leave

I’ll never say goodbye

Forever, whatever

Forever, whatever”

     – Foo Fighters, Walk” from Wasting Light

Depression sucks, but when you simplify things and focus on living one moment at a time it makes life much more manageable. And right now I never wanna die. Three years ago I could not have made that claim so I’ve come a long way.