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Colvin finds balance in battle with depression

Fri., Aug. 13, 2004

Shawn Colvin was never a pill-popper. She was more into booze as a way to numb the depression that was secretly paralyzing her.

“It was hard for me to believe you could take something that would reverse the way you look at the world and at yourself,” Colvin said during a telephone interview. “I would rather just go for the bottle.”

But when her depression took control of her, and drinking made things worse, she hit a brick wall and finally sought medical help.

It’s been a 20-year struggle to regain and maintain her balance and, for the first time, the three-time Grammy Award-winning folk singer/songwriter is talking about her depression publicly along her tour route as part of a national campaign to raise awareness about depression.

“I hope people can benefit from knowing I conquered my depression,” Colvin, 47, said.

Colvin appears tonight at 7 p.m. at the Big Easy Concert House.

About the age of 19, Colvin started having obsessions and anxieties about impending doom that were so arresting she couldn’t handle simple tasks. Eventually, taking care of basic needs such as eating and sleeping became insurmountable.

By the time Colvin received the Grammy for best contemporary folk recording for her first hit record, 1989’s “Steady On,” she was in the full grip of her depression.

“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. At that point there was no fooling anyone. I could not function,” Colvin said. “I remember promoting the album at Christmastime in Australia and crying everyday.”

Through the 1990s, Colvin was a commercial and critical success with Grammy nominations for her sophomore effort, the more pop-oriented “Fat City” as well as a nomination for her cover album “Cover Girl.” But during that time, she was toiling with her medications’ side effects, such as blurred vision and drowsiness.

“We fall into the myth that money or fame can make you happy, but depression is not reserved for people who are stressed about paying the light bill,” Colvin said.

For Colvin, there was no specific event that triggered her depression but more an increasing withdrawal from life.

It wasn’t the sort of adversity she could use as inspiration for songwriting. There were times when she couldn’t meet the demands of her career, from finishing an album to promoting it, much less her responsibilities as a mother and a wife.

“In order to write a song, you have to have enough distance from what’s causing you pain to tap into the poetry of it. I was just a useless hump with ridiculous ideas, and the pen weighed a hundred pounds,” said Colvin, who has been through two divorces.

Another hard lesson from the stigma of depression is the alienation from friends and family, she said.

“It makes people uncomfortable. There are some who get it, and others who get frustrated because they want to fix you but they can’t. It freaks them out,” she said.

By the release of Colvin’s biggest hit “Sunny Came Home,” from “A Few Small Repairs” (1998), Colvin was steady on medication.

With her current tour and new album under construction, Colvin is in control.

She is not living in bliss, but she can see clearly enough to recognize when to ask for help.

“Yeah, sometimes the medication made me feel wacky, but I was not in hell anymore,” Colvin said. “Life hasn’t been a bed of roses, but I’m no longer contemplating suicide.”

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