As I sit down to write this letter, we are now in our sixth month of the global health crisis. When we first went into lockdown, I had just performed at the Super Bowl and the Grammys, released a new single and had another single coming out a month later with Sam Smith. I felt secure in my career and had been prepared mentally to crush it. When everything came to a halt, I — like I’m sure many others reading this — felt adrift.
Depression and mental illness are part of my history, and because of all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, my anxiety skyrocketed. I was suddenly confronted with all these questions: “When are we going to go back to work?” “Are more people going to have to die?” “How bad is this going to get?” Everything was so suddenly out of my control and not just for me individually, but for us as a global community. It was — and remains — a truly unprecedented time in history.
Forced to stop and think
As a society, we’ve become used to a particular mentality, one where we feel we must get ahead and be the best all of the time. It’s exhausting. Then, all of a sudden, a pandemic hits and everyone is forced to stop and think. I started to ask myself questions: “What’s important to me?” “What’s going to get me through this?” “How can I remain positive?” I knew that I wanted to learn something from this time that could actually better my life, my mental health and my emotional wellbeing in the long term.
Initially I was resistant, but because my fiancé is so positive all the time, I just started picking up on the things he does. I started meditating and doing yoga. I started journaling, painting, taking pictures and being creative, and learning to appreciate nature, after realizing I’d been taking it for granted all this time. At first I was having a hard time falling asleep because my anxiety was so high, so I got into the habit of doing a nighttime ritual. Now I light my candles, put on an affirmation meditation tape, I stretch and I have essential oils. Finally, I’m able to fall asleep easily.
But my experience isn’t an exception. Everybody knows someone with a mental illness of some sort, if they haven’t dealt with it themselves. One positive thing about the pandemic is that it has shone a spotlight on mental health in a way like never before. For so many years, mental illness was seen as shameful. I certainly felt ashamed; I was made to feel ashamed. This comes from ignorance. People just didn’t understand what it was, people were scared of words such as anxiety and depression. The more we’re learning about it now, however, the better we’re able to manage it as a public health crisis. Education and the language we use around mental wellness is crucial.
As I reflect on all that has happened over 2020, it feels like we’re experiencing a moment of change. There has never been a more crucial time to spread awareness about issues that matter. And it’s not just mental health. Having so much downtime during quarantine has given me the space to realise there’s so much more I could be doing to help other people. I’m in the ‘at risk’ category for Covid-19 because of my asthma and other health issues, so I wasn’t able to attend any of the Black Lives Matter protests. But there were things I was able to do from home, just from using my platform.
My relationship with social media before lockdown was very typical. If you scroll down my feed, it was mainly all glamour shots and pictures of me looking cute and fancy. But then there’s this sudden shift around the time Ahmaud Arbery was killed. Now my feed is filled with information about racial injustice and what we can do to help.
I’ve always taken my advocacy work seriously, but now I’m looking at it with renewed focus. In this particular instance, what motivated me was knowing how much of myself comes from Black culture. I grew up listening to Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and other soulful singers, but those two Black women in particular shaped me into the vocalist I am. If you look at my life, everything that I have — money, success, a roof over my head — it’s because of the inspiration those Black women gave me. I continue to be constantly inspired by people of colour today.
So here I am, sitting in a home that I was able to afford with the money that I have from singing, while people of colour are fearing for their lives every day. I realised this was a lightning bolt jolting through my body, where I was reminded of my privilege. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to help spread awareness about this injustice, so I began posting things that I thought would educate people.
Be willing to protect people at all costs
At first, I was self-conscious about speaking out about these issues because I didn’t want anyone to feel like it wasn’t genuine. I also felt like I wanted to call every person of color that I knew and apologize, which I know isn’t the right thing to do either. Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I hated that I shared the same skin color as the people accused of committing heinous crimes against Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many, many other Black lives.
After taking some time to educate myself, what I’ve learned is that to be a good ally, you need to be willing to protect people at all costs. You have to step in if you see something happening that’s not right: a racist act, a racist comment, a racist joke. And it’s not just with Black Lives Matter. It’s also with the Me Too movement. Finally, the world is waking up and it’s beautiful to witness.
When it comes to advocacy work, when it comes to implementing change in society, there’s always room for improvement. I wish I knew all the answers, but I know that I don’t. What I do know is that inclusivity is important. Creating environments where women, people of colour and trans people feel safe is important. Not just safe, but equal to their cis, white, male counterparts. People need to feel like they can enter a space and know they’re not going to be sexually harassed or underpaid. The music industry needs to pay attention. In fact, the entire entertainment industry needs to pay attention.
A year of growth
Nobody’s had a perfect 2020. Far from it. What we all need to realize, though, is that it’s OK for things not to be OK sometimes. Personally, I’ve experienced extreme highs and lows. I met my fiancé in March and I fell in love with him. We’ve had this whirlwind romance and have been able to spend this time together. But I’ve also lost several people this year, which was tough. There was the anniversary of my father’s death, which is a couple of days after Father’s Day — a really hard time of year for me. But this year, something happened. I wrote a gratitude letter to him, thanking him for all the things that I got from him. It was this beautiful release of all the resentments I had towards him. I realized, for the first time, that I wasn’t going to have daddy issues for the rest of my life. In short, 2020 has been a year of growth.
Moving forward, I want to put my energy into my music and my advocacy work. I want to continue to strive to be a better person. I want to inspire people in many different ways to do the same. Above all, I want to leave the world a better place than when I got here. There are a lot of things that need to be done before that, but together I believe we can make it happen. You just need to be a little bit hopeful.