Multiplatinum recording artist Jewel has won many awards and performed at the Super Bowl — but how much do you really know about her? She grew up with no running water, was a homeless teenager in San Diego, and turned all that into music for her album “Pieces of You,” which is one of the bestselling debuts of all time.
In this episode, Jewel discusses her anxiety disorder, her past traumas, and what different song lyrics from her vast catalog of music mean to her.
She also tells us about her work with the Inspiring Children Foundation, a foundation that has spent the past 18 years empowering children who struggle with financial hardship, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
Jewel went from a girl who grew up with no running water on an Alaskan homestead, to a homeless teenager in San Diego, to an award-winning, multiplatinum recording artist who released one of the bestselling debuts of all time. Throughout her career, Jewel has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has earned 26 nominations for awards such as the Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, VMAs, VH1 Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and Country Music Awards, winning eight times. Jewel has been featured on the covers of TIME and Rolling Stone and has performed on “Saturday Night Live,” at the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals, and for the pope and the president of the United States. She is one of the few singer-songwriters to top the chart in every genre she wrote for: folk, pop, club, country, standards, children’s, and holiday music. See more at jeweljk.com.
ABOUT INSPIRING CHILDREN FOUNDATION:
For 18 years, Jewel’s Inspiring Children Foundation and Never Broken program have been empowering children struggling with financial hardship, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation by giving them the ultimate environment to survive and then thrive. With teenage suicide up by 70% and anxiety and depression doubling, they have been at the forefront of solving this epidemic. The program equips at-risk youth with everything they need to be physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy in a fun and inspirational way, online and in person. This ecosystem of excellence includes: emotional intelligence, SEL, mindfulness/meditation, group counseling and mentoring, leadership development, entrepreneur skills, nutrition, yoga, tennis, sleep science, and academics. 80% of the foundation’s operations are run by the children. The children gain know-how, an understanding of themselves, and confidence by earning their way in a real-life “project driven learning” program. The young leaders have been so academically, athletically, and personally developed that 95% have been offered scholarships and admissions into the best colleges in the world, including: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, Penn-Wharton, Brown, Dartmouth, Williams, Columbia, Naval Academy, USC, Vanderbilt and 100 more. Most importantly, these children are being armed with a “psychology for life” that helps them generate their own peace of mind and contentment as self-actualized leaders. To learn more about Jewel’s program, visit www.inspiringchildren.org.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Greetings, everyone. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Jewel. Jewel went from a child who grew up with no running water on an Alaskan homestead to a homeless teenager in San Diego to an award-winning multi platinum recording artist who released one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. She has sold over 30 million albums and she has performed at the Super Bowl. Jewel, welcome to the show.
Jewel: I’m always curious what things interest people when they introduce me. The Super Bowl is one for you. I like that.
Gabe Howard: The Super Bowl. There’s like 100 million people. Like, that’s that’s so much pressure.
Jewel: It’s funny.
Gabe Howard: The you know, I actually it’s a setup. You played into my hand. I’m super excited for this. It’s a setup because of panic disorder. I’m a podcaster and a public speaker, and I have panic and anxiety disorders. And one of the number one questions that I get asked is, hey, how can you do public speaking? Now, my largest group in the history of ever live is, I don’t know, maybe 2000 people. Your largest group ever live is maybe a hundred million people. And you, too, suffer from panic disorders. So do people ask you about this?
Jewel: Yeah. I started having panic attacks when I was about 15. I moved out at 15, so I guess that would make sense. The stress of paying rent and excuse me, living on my own. I didn’t know what they were, though. I’d never even heard the word panic attack. Was that word around in the early nineties? If it was, I didn’t know it.
Gabe Howard: I don’t know. I was the same way. I thought it was hunger.
Jewel: Yeah. I could tell it wasn’t hunger. It was definitely like. But I had them enough that I started being able to experiment while I was having them. I think by the time I was 18, I started to find some really effective ways to ease myself out of them. And then I haven’t had a panic attack and I just had my first one like two months ago. It was my first one in probably 15 years, which was incredible. So I really have been able to get a tremendous amount of change around that for myself. It was never triggered by singing though actually,
Gabe Howard: Never?
Jewel: Or performing though.
Gabe Howard: I do like to explore that because people, they think that panic and anxiety means that you can’t do stereotypical things that would induce anxiety in a stereotypical person. But it sounds like performing and singing doesn’t make you anxious. Therefore, it wouldn’t trigger a panic attack.
Jewel: Yeah. Never made me anxious in that way. For me, I always. I found what I would call pillars. You know, if foundational pillars were shifting in my life, I knew I had to be on a really kind of alert, create this sort of self-care plan. If I was moving, if I was changing schools, if something happened to a family member, things that I felt were really foundational to my life. If one was changing, I definitely need to be aware. But if two were changing, that was a big one. And for me, being around strangers was a real trigger. But for some reason on stage I always felt safe because I was in control.
Gabe Howard: It’s your element.
Jewel: But it made meet and greets hard. Like, getting famous was hard. Singing on stage wasn’t hard. Getting famous was like, very triggering.
Gabe Howard: It’s you know, I’ve heard this a lot. I get to talk to a lot of really, really cool people and they’re like, Look. Singing, performing, being on television, that’s no problem. Meeting a single person? That is when the depression, the anxiety, that is when the problem occurs. Is it the same for you?
Jewel: Yeah. Because I was raised in an abusive household. I moved out at 15. My safety mechanism was definitely being alone. Being around strangers made me uncomfortable. And then having all those strangers stare at me and focus on me being incredibly uncomfortable, which is, yeah, every meet and greet, you have to do it. Being famous, walking on the street, people would want to touch me or grab me. And that was obviously really upsetting to me. It didn’t work well.
Gabe Howard: I can see how that would be upsetting to anyone. I can just imagine that being incredibly upsetting.
Jewel: Yeah. That ain’t okay.
Gabe Howard: Right.
Jewel: Yeah. I don’t think people always realize, you know, like personal boundaries, space boundaries, issues. Respect people’s personal space.
Gabe Howard: It really, really matters. I love the lyrics of your song, they meant something to me. And one of your latest songs, Gratitude. You’re singing over a bluesy guitar that there’s no politician, no sky too dark, no one can take the love from my heart. And I’m just curious. And you can tell me that it’s meaningless and that I’m completely wrong. But is this in response to the political climate in America right now? Because it’s it’s really wrecking a lot of people’s mental health.
Jewel: Yeah. I think that we all have to come to terms with the fact that is our happiness our own? Or are we going to give that power away to other people and things outside of us? Is our self-worth our own? Or are we going to give that power and place it in things outside of us that can be taken away like a job title or album sales or anything? And so for me, a lot of my work and my life has been learning how to intrinsically develop self-worth where it isn’t contingent on a performative behavior. Same with happiness. I plan to give nobody the power over my happiness. It doesn’t matter if somebody is red or blue in the office. They don’t legislate my happiness. There’s things that I can find irritating or bothersome, but if you’re going to let that ruin your actual happiness, that’s you giving them that power. And that’s a choice.
Gabe Howard: I think it’s a very powerful message. My family, we used to fight over politics a lot. And finally we realized that we’re losing our time with each other. You know, my grandparents aren’t getting any younger. My parents aren’t getting any younger. And every moment we spend discussing our differences, are moments that were not connecting on and we have so much in common. I know it’s a weird question, Jewel, but is that the message that you’re trying to get out in the world like, look, stop fighting, right? Just have Thanksgiving dinner.
Jewel: Yeah. I think that an opinion without heart is a weapon. And I think we’ve become accustomed to opinions as activism. And that isn’t activism. It’s just bludgeoning one another with opinions. And if we are really trying to think of what is the end goal, I think our end goal should be to understand how to come together. And I think that if you have a value, I think it’s really great for people to write down what are your values? I have seven core values. My son has his seven core values. We have seven core values of the family. And one of mine is tolerance. And that doesn’t mean tolerated. It doesn’t mean I’m expecting to be tolerated. It means tolerance. It’s only tolerance if you’re around people who don’t agree with you. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be on my list. And it’s not just tolerance, it’s something deeper. It’s coming into harmony with other people, other viewpoints, and not trying to sway them to my worldview, but trying to understand them, understand where they’re coming from, understand the things they care about. Hearing somebody else’s opinion, it doesn’t hurt me. It doesn’t erode me or my character, and I think it adds to it.
Gabe Howard: I love that message. And I really like the phrase bludgeoning people with opinions is not activism. Jewel, let’s go back to 1995, and I want to disclose that I’m 45 years old. So when your album came out, I was I was a senior in high school and it, it really meant a lot to me. And and I think about that powerful lyric, Who will save your soul? What were you feeling when you when you wrote that song? What was going on in your life? What made you ask that question?
Jewel: You know, so sixteen, right? I had just moved out maybe a little bit earlier. I was on my own. I was in Michigan at a school I got to go to. Was hitchhiking around the country for spring break because I couldn’t afford to get back to Alaska. And it was really seeing American pop culture for the first time. I’m from America, I’m from Alaska. It’s very different up there and starting to see like the beginning of, I don’t know, hero worship in a way that I wasn’t used to seeing it. I didn’t grow up with a television. And so those lines like people living their lives for you on TV, they think they’re better than you. And you agree. That was pre reality TV, but you could sort of see the writing on the wall that famous people were the new royalty, I guess, and that we kept looking to other people to be responsible for us. And that was something I was thinking a lot about, because I was thinking about nature versus nurture and how do I rewire myself and how do I learn a new emotional language? And what if it’s up to me? What if you can’t ask somebody else to save you and then act poorly? What if I actually have to act well, because that’s what I’m expecting of myself? And can I save myself? Were just all questions that were very, very prevalent in my mind.
Gabe Howard: Do you find that people ask you about that song a lot in response to themselves versus in response to you?
Jewel: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t talk to a lot of people about the song. I was sent a lot of Bibles, I remember, when the song was on the radio. I thought that was funny.
Gabe Howard: That is awesome. It, pardon me for not knowing this, but is that your biggest hit? Is that your most famous song?
Jewel: No, probably not. I think You Were Meant For Me broke a lot of, it was the longest playing song in history, believe it or not.
Gabe Howard: Also an incredible song. What is your favorite song? Because obviously an artist’s favorite song isn’t determined by how many albums they sell. But what is most personal to you? And if I may ask, why?
Jewel: It’s usually whatever I’m writing that’s new. You mentioned a song called Grateful. That’s a brand new song that people can check out. Really proud of it. Proud of what it stands for. Proud of it lyrically, it’s a new style for me. Melodically to show my voice, to sing in a new way. I guess that one right now. Who Will Save Your Soul will always be really, I guess, nostalgic for me. It’s the first song I ever wrote so, it’s close to my heart for that reason.
Gabe Howard: Let’s go to 2006. In 2006, you have a song called Good Day and the lyric that I most related to in the whole song. But as it is, I might watch TV because it’s nice to see that people can be more messed up than me. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that because that’s what I did. I was looking around for anybody who I could gather hope from, and I, in my depressed state, the people who I could gather hope from, sadly, were doing worse than I was. Now, that’s that’s not the best way for Gabe to get better. I understand that. But it it really spoke to me. Were you describing something from your real life or is it just a song lyric and you’re glad I liked it?
Jewel: I think by this time, reality TV was obviously a big thing, a huge part of culture. And I do think there’s a certain kind of gladiator gore fascination. I think it’s healthy in some ways because it shows people like, Oh, God, thank God, not everybody’s perfect. You know, you don’t feel like a freak when you feel bad or dramatic or having fights with your family. So I think it’s good to naturalize and normalize that. And there’s also another aspect of it, of this gladiator spectacle or hockey, you know, where you like to see a crash, you like to see carnage.
Gabe Howard: Well, everybody watches NASCAR for the crashes. Right? And the NHL hockey for for the fighting. And it’s the mistakes that tend to get the most airtime, generally speaking, in our society.
Jewel: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really funny. It’s, it’s like if there could have been a graph built while we were trying to show the truth of the human drama, the reality TV sort of allowed us to do not just the shiny veneer. At the same time, we became less and less tolerant of mistakes to the point where we’re now with a culture that doesn’t allow any mistakes. If you stub your toe, you know, you can become there could be a lot of outrage around it.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with multi-platinum recording artist Jewel. I wanted to ask you about your very, very early days because you sort of famously now, you lived in a van while trying to make it and because you did make it, you performed in front of the Super Bowl. People are telling this story sort of as a folk story of overcoming adversity. And but but all I could think about was you were you were like sixteen years old, 15 years old, living in a van that had to be. That had to be terrifying.
Jewel: I didn’t live in a car when I was I lived in a cabin when I was 15. I think it was like $400 or $500 a month. Then I went away to school when I was 16, graduated school finally amazingly, and then was living in San Diego to take care of my mom who was sick. And I was working in a computer warehouse and my boss propositioned me. And when I wouldn’t have sex with him, he wouldn’t give me my paycheck. And so I couldn’t pay my rent. And my mom and I got kicked out and I started living in my car. It was a little Datsun hatchback and then my car got stolen. And so I was on the street for quite a while and it was very scary. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, kidney infections. Almost died in the parking lot of an emergency room because they wouldn’t see me because I didn’t have insurance and started stealing a lot and realized one day that I didn’t beat the odds. Right? That goal I had at 15 to not become a statistic. I was a kid in a dressing room, stealing the dress, shoving it down my pants, and I was like, Okay, I didn’t do a good job here. I am a statistic, and I’m going to end up in jail or dead if I don’t do something about it.
Jewel: And that’s when I really started to develop a lot of the exercises that I use to this day that I teach other people. One of them was sort of what I called the trilogy of addiction. There was a before, during and an after. Now you would use words like a stimulus, a response and a reward. My stimulus was anxiety from becoming homeless. My response was stealing. And my reward is I felt in control. And so I couldn’t change the stimulus right away. The poverty cycle when you’re homeless is incredibly hard. Start looking homeless. You can’t get a job. You don’t have any physical address for job applications, like it was just a shit show to try and crawl out from under. So I started replacing stealing with writing, and I was a really prolific thief. So I became a prolific writer in time, and I started singing in a coffee shop. Not to get famous, not to get signed, literally just to start getting enough money to save up for rent. First and last month’s rent, right? A deposit on an apartment. But I started to learn how to get happy. That’s when I started figuring out what to do with my panic attacks. That’s when I started to heal my own agoraphobia. I started to figure things out, and I was writing things that I loved, right? I was writing Who Will Save Your Soul and a lot of these first songs on that first album.
Jewel: And then I got discovered and I almost didn’t sign the record deal because I knew somebody with my emotional baggage, God forbid, I ever become famous. That’s a whole other set of statistics waiting to happen, and I ultimately decided to sign it if I made myself a promise. My number one promise to myself was that my number one job was to learn how to be a happy whole human and not a human full of holes. And my number two job would be to be a musician. And I’m very proud to say I’m 47 and I have never let that promise down. It has been a messy journey, but the reason I took years off in my career, like right after Hands, was a huge hit, I quit for two years because I couldn’t adjust psychologically when my mom all my money was gone. In 2003, I didn’t tour and I took years off so that I could heal psychologically. So I’ve always chosen my mental health over money and over fame, and I’m really proud to report. I’m really happy and I love what I do. I love working on mental health. I love helping other people with it. And I’ve had an amazing music career. Like, it’s been wonderful.
Gabe Howard: Eighteen years ago, you helped start the Inspiring Children Foundation and Never Broken Program, which, and I’m reading directly from the literature here, has been empowering children struggling with financial hardship, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation ever since by giving them the ultimate environment to survive and then thrive at the highest levels. Can you tell our listeners more about what the ultimate environment is?
Jewel: Mm-hmm, yeah. You know, when I moved out when I was 15, it was very plain to me that I should become a statistic. And I realized that as much as I had a genetic inheritance that gave me a predisposition toward certain physical ailments, let’s say diabetes. There was also an emotional inheritance that had been passed on generationally, and it led to abuse and addiction. It led to rage. And so I knew that statistically, I should end up repeating the cycles that I was raised by. And I didn’t want to be a statistic. But it was daunting because I knew I had already learned this emotional language and it was a billion probably unidentifiable touch points. Just like a language is so large and pervasive. And you could go to school to learn Spanish or French, but unless you went to school to learn those languages, you would speak English. Same with an emotional language. I knew I would speak the emotional language I was taught if I didn’t learn another one. You can’t just abstain, right?
Jewel: And so it set me off on this really lifelong journey that is culminated now in the work that I do. But it basically is learning how to rewire yourself neurologically and develop practices that help you starve old behaviors and build new behaviors. And it really worked for me and I wanted to see if it could work for other kids in similar situations where, you know, I didn’t have a therapist, I didn’t have a support group, I didn’t even have a family. So where kids like me, just that’s it. You’re done. There’s no help. You’re never going to get happier than you are now. That’s unacceptable. It’s just an unacceptable thing. And so I started to develop this curriculum and pedagogy that worked for me and help other kids. And so we work with at risk youth with suicidal ideation, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, self-harming, real wide variety.
Jewel: And so we work with these kids. We’ve never lost a kid in 20 years. 99% of our kids end up earning their own college scholarships, 74% of them end up being Ivy League. We’re the number two tennis academy. We have four kids number one ranked in America right now in their age bracket. And so we’ve just figured out how over the last 20 years to create a really high performing environment. You know, and for anybody that’s practiced meditation and mindfulness and are really good at it, you realize it’s kind of like cheating. The most perceptive person wins. And if you’re dealing with a lot of people that are distracted, the person who’s the most present and the most observant in the room has the edge. And so these kids just start learning to convert pain, convert dysfunction into a rocket fuel that helps them not only be high performing and find their own inner gifts because everybody has them, they also get to heal. And it’s really, really the most fun doing this type of work.
Gabe Howard: Jewel, thank you so much for taking time with us today. We really, really appreciate it.
Jewel: Thank you. I hope people enjoy the new music. It’s been seven years. Speaking of mental health. It took seven years to be a mom and have my son and my family. So it’s been really fun to put music out again.
Jewel: Well, thanks.
Gabe Howard: And a big thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon or you can get a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and hey, do me a favor. Recommend the show to your friends, family members or colleagues. Recommend the show, it’s how we grow. I’ll see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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