“caught up in the wave again
the wave of panic…”
For Colorado-based musician Jacy James Anderson, anxiety is a part of life, and a part of his music.
For this issue of the Keep Social Media Social™ magazine, Amanda McLernon sat down with Jacy to talk about mental health, how his own experiences with anxiety impact his music, and how he shares his own authentic - and often vulnerable - stories to build a culture of positivity around mental health.
Read on below for an edited transcript of their conversation, and watch the full interview here!
Amanda: Jacy, I’m so excited! Thank you for being a part of the Keep Social Media Social™ community and network. I would love it if you could introduce yourself.
Jacy: I’m a singer-songwriter based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. I was born here in Fort Collins, but I grew up in Hawaii, and went to Berklee College of Music to study songwriting. I toured the eastern seaboard for a while, and during that time decided I wanted to explore my own artistry for a while, and that I missed the mountains. So that brought me back here to this lovely state. That’s where I got into programming as my day job, and while I was working, started to experience a lot of things around anxiety. And that became the primary influence for my debut record, “Blackout Poetry,” which debuted in 2020.
Amanda: Can I just say, it is a little ironic to me that you released an album in 2020 that was inspired by anxiety.
Jacy: Yeah, you know sometimes I think about that - even though it was written and finished pre-covid, it almost feels like such a covid album. That was potentially the right time for it to come out, even if it was bad in other ways. It’s just so reminiscent of that time, and what people were going through.
Amanda: I know it was poor timing in terms of you being able to play it live and share it live with the world, but what was your experience from an online standpoint? Take us to 2020, the debut. What did you hear from your online community?
Jacy: Having a Kickstarter before the album went live was a great way to connect deeper with people, so when I released the record there was that framework and groundwork that was already done. So people were able to dive deeper into the material and find the songs that to me were the deepest about my experience with anxiety. People really seemed to gravitate towards the songs that, to me, were the biggest expression of what I’d gone through, and the healing I’d gone through. It was very healing for me as well, to think that the world is kinda stormy right now, but we can still come together in the fact that we are experiencing some of these things at the same time. It was cool that people dug into that in the album.
Amanda: I know a lot of us leaned into music and arts and creativity, and not just creating our own, but really celebrating the work of others. I had some of your songs on some of my Spotify playlists. I want to start with your experience with anxiety - can you tell us your story?
Jacy: Yeah absolutely, I was living on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and I just decided I needed to do something drastic. I’ve always been a leap of faith guy, I just like to go for it and dive right in. So I decided to move out to Colorado. And in that time, I was moving, I was changing careers, I was learning how to program, and I was starting to step into the shoes of myself as a solo artist. There was so much pressure at that time, and I was going through life not checking that pressure or checking how I was feeling day to day. And this anxiety just started to build up.
The funny thing about anxiety is that you don’t always know that you’re in it until you’re deep, deep in it. It comes out of nowhere. One day I was hanging out with a friend, watching my favorite movie of all time, and I had an immense panic attack in the middle of it. It was the first one I ever had, and I thought I was dying. Luckily my friend was able to give me some breathing exercises and get me to calm down, but that kinda started this domino effect. Anxiety is cyclical, so it would just lead to more and more panic attacks. And eventually, that was diagnosed as a panic disorder.
Knowing in my mind that if I didn’t do something about it, then I might not be here forever, and I like this life too much so I wanted to do something about it. And that was going to therapy, that was an intense meditation practice, and really just honing in on what was going on and how to treat myself better.
Amanda: Thank you for sharing that. I want to hold space for your experience, and anyone reading with us right now who has had a similar experience. What does your anxiety feel like, and what are some red flags you notice now, within your body?
Jacy: Absolutely, I can speak to how it feels for me, and just note that it might be different for everyone. But for me, I mainly feel a tightness and compression in my chest. Another part of it is negative self-talk, and often being really cruel to myself or cruel to others. Racing thoughts and heart palpitations as well from time to time.
Amanda: Thank you for sharing that, I think it’s really important that we recognize what anxiety feels like in the body. Sometimes it takes the recognition of what’s going on in the body, and depending on where you’re at with your relationship with it and the tools you have, you can address it the way that you need to.
Can you tell us about your journey with therapy and meditation? Did you have any hesitation about going to therapy at first?
Jacy: I think one of the things that’s so difficult is our health care system isn’t necessarily open to giving people what they need quickly. The first thing I went to was my phone, because it was accessible. I’d be Googling these things I’m experiencing, why am I feeling like this. Headspace is where I ended up first. It was really digestible, like 3 minutes of meditation to start. This thing is accessible everywhere you need it. That app got my foot in the door with meditation, and recognize and note thoughts and feelings. The next step from there was going to therapy. Somebody told me about sliding scale counseling, and found a pay-what-you-can practice in Denver. That was such a gift to be able to have access to something like that, when I didn’t have the means otherwise.
The stigma is so huge - I think there’s a lot of stigma toward mental health, especially for men. We’re told often to be tough and be strong and “don’t express your feelings,” and it’s such a negative thing. So for me, I felt like I had a problem, and that I was broken in some way by accepting that I had to go to therapy. But what I’ve realized now is actually, being able to go and talk about these things is strength, and it’s vulnerability, and it’s courage.
I work at a mental health company, and we refer to this moment of going to get therapy as a “moment of courage.” Because it takes so much courage to go and bear your true self to someone, and say “hey, I need help.” But realistically, we all need somebody to talk to from time to time.
Amanda: I completely agree. That moment of courage is so daunting, and I really appreciate what you said about overcoming those thoughts of “I’m broken” or “I have a problem.” Did you ever worry that your therapist was going to judge you?
Jacy: I think there’s always that fear, because you go through so much of your life feeling these things, and they become private. There’s a lot of shame there, often. So when you go in and you have to open that box of shame for someone you don’t really know, you think “oh, they’re just going to think I’m the worst person ever.” But if you have dark thoughts or negative thoughts, or anxiety, or any of these things, every human is wired to experience similar things. We all have thoughts that are amazing, and not so great. And that’s just natural. And I think being able to speak to them in therapy is almost exposure, like this is what humans are. Having someone be there to accept those, and know that it’s safe in that space, it’s just so powerful.
There was a time when I was very scared of how someone would react, and now by talking about them, I have those feelings and thoughts less, and also I can more wave at them as they pass by.
Amanda: That’s incredible. I like that noting. I want to come back to how that impacted your album. Let’s talk specifically about one of my favorite songs of yours, “The Wave of Panic.” Can you give us the story about this song?
Jacy: I remember the night I got the idea for the song - I was having a panic attack, and I was alone in my room, in a basement garden level, so just kinda dank and not really a great place for me on the time. I was sitting there having this panic attack, probably triggered by something really small that felt large to me at the time. And I just felt really alone, and I remember reaching for YouTube, and typing in “panic attack help.” And what came up was a video of someone explaining the concept of writing out a notecard to yourself, to have in your back pocket. So I wrote that out, but then I realized, well, I’m a songwriter. My notecard is a song. And it’s actually helpful because as a performer, I get nervous onstage still, and it’s important to remember those things as well. So that was the start of the song. I wrote the bridge first, “you’re not alone, you’re not your thoughts, your thoughts aren’t you,” and that’s really what got it started. And that just started me thinking, what is this experience like? And as I got to the end of the video, they mentioned, “you just have to ride the wave of panic.” You have to know that it’s coming, and accept that you’re on this ride, but that it will be done. It will end. And to try to be aware of when you feel better, and when it dissipates. And use the tools you’ve got to ride it out.
Amanda: That’s incredible. Do you still have the notecard?
Jacy: I don’t know! I think I probably do have it somewhere, but for me it’s the song at this point. My partner made me a bracelet with “you are not your thoughts and your thoughts aren’t you” on the inside of it.
Amanda: I want to unpack this in a few ways. First, you went to social media, to use social media for good.
Jacy: And for connection.
Amanda: And to find a solution for something that you were immediately experiencing. I also want to recognize that idea of a notecard, and you writing a letter to yourself, you really took those emotions and you brought them out on paper. I think you know, I’m a huge notebook fan, and that’s something I do as well. I love that because you are a songwriter, you used your gift, your creativity, to turn that into what I believe is one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard about anxiety, and about mental health and panic attacks. I want to thank you for using your experience and your talent in that way, because this is what is helping remove the stigma. So really, thank you.
I do want to go a little bit into social media. How do you use social media now, for your current art form? What do you find really works to connect with your audience?
Jacy: Yeah, I think you kind of hit the nail on the head when we were talking about YouTube, that it’s really about connection. What I love about the name of your company as “Keep Social Media Social™” is, I think if we can use social media as a conduit to see people as who they are, and to potentially facilitate that interaction in person if that is the next step. So for me, I’m looking to see who is performing tonight? Who can I go support? Talking about upcoming shows, things you’re excited about. I think it’s important to be really honest, and I think that’s one of the things I learned when we had our consultation. You were talking about trying to be yourself as much as possible, and having that almost be a raw thing that is put out there, to make sure it’s real and true. If I’m talking about a show, I want to talk about why that show is important to me, or why the area or the song is important to me. There’s always something you can be real with. Talk about how it makes you feel, and be honest about it. That’s the best way for connection, and people can tell when something doesn’t feel right and doesn’t connect. It’s about that connection, keeping relationships with people, being honest, and trying to keep as much of your physical real self present in your social media.
Amanda: I love that. I want to call out one of the things you led with - you look to see who you can support. Leading with that, having that be your mindset, not just showing up. How many people do we know on social media, and it is all about themselves? Either their drama, or their record, and them them them all the time. It’s a completely one-sided use of a platform that is meant to connect us and be social. But how could you ever truly be using social media to the fullest extent if you’re not using it to support the success of others?
Jacy: Yeah, it’s important to build the environment you want on social media. That includes who you follow - if you want a more positive outlook, if you want less negative things going on in your brain, follow more positive accounts. Let the other stuff go that isn’t serving you. Make sure that you’re putting that positive energy and support out to people you care about. Show them you’re there, and show them you’re with them. And then show up in person.
Amanda: Yep, show up in real life. I love that.
This magazine is all about this new season. Things are blooming, a lot of people are growing, and I’m really excited because I see you as just, absolutely ready to explode with growth.
There’s this tree that, for a very long time, that for a very long time, grows not much at all, and then overnight, it grows a TON. And I feel like that is what is going to happen with you and your music. And we want to be a part of supporting you in that! Tell us as the Keep Social Media Social™ community, how can we support you on social, and in real life?
Jacy: Yeah absolutely, I think they’re super connected. First thing, listen to the music and let me know what you think! I want to hear from you, and if there’s a song that connects with you, please let me know. My album “Blackout Poetry” is on anywhere you stream your music (Spotify, iTunes, Napster, Limewire probably, maybe not, just kidding). And then connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! And if you can come to a show, I’d love to meet you.
Amanda: We can come to a show - how do we also collaborate with you? How do we book you?
Jacy: Instagram is a great place to reach out, I’m always checking my DMs there! You can check out my official website, jacyjamesanderson.com, and you can reach out to me there. I really want to play house shows and more intimate venues, because I like to get to really know the people that I’m seeing in the audience. To me it’s a two way street of energy, and to talk about these things I talk about on my record and really just dive into the human experience together. But I’m also totally open for coffee shops, restaurants, things like that. I just love playing music! And if it’s not a fit for me, I guarantee I can find somebody it is a fit for.
Amanda: Anything else you want to share with us before we wrap up today?
Jacy: Thank you so much for your time, Keeping Social Media Social™ and for all of your help and making that Kickstarter possible for me. Thanks to everyone who supported my record.