THE SHOCK­ING TRUTH

It took a light­ning bolt — lit­er­ally — for Juno Award-win­ning singer and song­writer Kel­lylee Evans to learn that tak­ing care of her­self was a ne­ces­sity, not a lux­ury

Best Health - - CONTENTS - by INGRIE WIL­LIAMS | pho­tog­ra­phy by ANNE STAVELEY

Jazz singer Kel­lylee Evan’s dra­matic path to self-care

AS AN OT­TAWA-BASED JAZZ AND SOUL SINGER and song­writer, Kel­lylee Evans has toured the globe, opened for the likes of John Leg­end and been rec­og­nized with a Juno Award for her in­cred­i­ble ta­lents. Blessed with a voice that will give you goose bumps, the sin­gle mother of three finds her­self cur­rently moved most by those out­side the mu­si­cal sphere.

“I'm in­spired by a friend of mine who has bat­tled back from a deep de­pres­sion. I'm in­spired by my kids who keep grow­ing and chang­ing ev­ery day, and are faced with chal­lenges but stay pos­i­tive,” she says. “And I'm in­spired by our Cana­dian ath­letes, who I've been fol­low­ing through the re­cent Olympic Games and in play­off cy­cles, who rise to such a high level. I love watch­ing peo­ple give their best to a goal.”

Giv­ing your best is some­thing Evans knows first­hand, and some of the most ex­traor­di­nary events in her life have oc­curred off stage. In the spring of 2013 she was struck by light­ning, then two years later she suf­fered a con­cus­sion. “What I have learned from this whole ex­pe­ri­ence is how lit­tle I cared about my­self. When I was hit by light­ning in my house I didn’t take a break, I didn’t even go to the hos­pi­tal to get checked out. If it had hap­pened to one of my kids, or to some­one visit­ing my home, I would have taken them right away.”

Feel­ing a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to her fam­ily, band­mates, man­age­ment team and con­cert at­ten­dees, Evans car­ried on with “a big sum­mer” of gig com­mit­ments. “To me all those peo­ple were more im­por­tant than my health,” she says. So, she went right back on the road and per­se­vered through in­tense phys­i­cal chal­lenges. “Peo­ple pushed me in a wheel­chair, I would hob­ble out on to the stage, and sit down on a chair. I couldn’t hold my mi­cro­phone, couldn’t sign au­to­graphs, couldn’t cut my own food.”

Through dif­fi­culty with mo­tor skills, pro­cess­ing

in­for­ma­tion and mem­ory loss, Evans was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the af­ter­ef­fects of her elec­tri­cal in­jury that can be akin to a brain in­jury for some. De­spite be­ing slowed down, she re­fused to come to a full stop. “I didn’t see any pos­si­bil­ity that things could work if I wasn’t out there work­ing ev­ery day. I didn’t take time to heal. And I had to have an­other ac­ci­dent, which [stemmed] from the first one, for me to learn all those skills.”

In 2015, and in an ef­fort to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion in the hopes of im­prov­ing her brain-body con­nec­tion, Evans was in the early days of ex­per­i­ment­ing with a ke­to­genic diet when she fainted and hit her head. That didn’t give her much cause for pause ei­ther. The ac­ci­dent was less than per­fectly timed, she had heavy pro­mo­tion lined up for her re­cently re­leased al­bum, Come On, and she needed to travel to at­tend her brother’s wed­ding. When she fi­nally gave in and made the emer­gency room visit di­rectly from the air­port, a doc­tor or­dered her to take six months off.

“My body was done. And it made me have to to­tally re­assess ev­ery­thing. In the be­gin­ning I felt re­ally low about it all. The first part of con­cus­sion pro­to­col is very chal­leng­ing for any­body. You’re at home, in dark­ness, you can’t use any elec­tron­ics,” she says. Evans found her way back by mak­ing a sim­ple list of daily self-care ob­jec­tives, such as drink­ing water, tak­ing a shower or hav­ing a nap. “I had that list, and ev­ery day I’d go through it and check things off. That’s my re­cov­ery in a nut­shell: putting self-care first.”

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, she learned to put other peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions on the back burner. “They re­placed my gigs with other peo­ple, my mu­si­cians got other gigs, my man­ager worked with some­body else, and I was still at home. That was the big­gest les­son. At the end of the day, it’s still just you and things will work out for ev­ery­body around you, whether you’re run­ning around like crazy or not.” As Evans dis­cov­ered, the show re­ally does go on.

STEP IT UP

To­day, Evans is on an up­swing with her re­cov­ery. Along with work­ing with an elec­tri­cal in­jury spe­cial­ist, she’s iden­ti­fied how her pre­vi­ous life­style set her up for a vi­cious crash and burn cy­cle. “I’d be re­ally in­ac­tive at home, then have in­tense en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture while trav­el­ling and per­form­ing,” she says. What fol­lowed were f lare-ups in the form of nau­sea, dizzi­ness, and ex­ac­er­bated weak­ness on her left side. “My hands would some­times twist in,” Evans says. Us­ing a step-counter de­vice, she re­al­ized an av­er­age at-home day net­ted 2,000 steps, whereas a travel day de­manded 12,00016,000. Hence, the highs and lows. To close the gap, Evans de­cided to raise the bar and fo­cus on strength­en­ing her daily en­durance. Her new rou­tine in­cludes hit­ting the gym daily for a com­bi­na­tion of light-im­pact car­dio on the treadmill, time on a row­ing ma­chine, and a strength-train­ing ses­sion fol­lowed by yin yoga-style stretch­ing. “It’s changed my life,” says Evans, who now av­er­ages 9,000-12,000 steps a day.

FOOD INC.

The per­sonal and pro­fes­sional in­ter­sect to in­form how Evans fu­els her days. Challenged with di­etary sen­si­tiv­i­ties, and cog­nizant of foods that neg­a­tively af­fect her voice, she has avoided gluten, eggs and dairy for many years. Evans also went meat­free for the first time more than two decades ago when her mother was di­ag­nosed with a rare form of cancer. “From a health per­spec­tive, I thought I’m go­ing to stop eat­ing meat, and I didn’t [eat it] for about two years,” she says, “Then I got preg­nant with my first child and had so many crav­ings. I went back to eat­ing meat again, think­ing I could swap over when my daugh­ter was born, but I didn’t.”

Since 2016, in­spired by her fa­ther’s health strug­gles, Evans has also been liv­ing sugar-free. “It’s the best diet de­ci­sion I’ve ever made. I used to think it was nor­mal to feel low, get some food and then feel bet­ter,” she says. She doesn’t sug­ar­coat the elim­i­na­tion process. “It’s the worst 10 days ever. You’re

just hor­ri­ble as a hu­man be­ing. If you could do it in iso­la­tion it would prob­a­bly be the best idea.” But from the re­sults she’s ex­pe­ri­enced, she car­ries zero re­grets. “Once I got through it I was at an even keel, and my mood swings were gone,” she says.

Even while prac­tic­ing all of those ed­i­ble ed­its, Evans was still a ma­jor car­ni­vore — but that all changed late last spring. “I still had all these health prob­lems, and I thought I’m al­ready on this an­ti­inf lam­ma­tory diet, what else is go­ing to help? I typed ‘foods that inf lame’ into Google and the top thing was red meat. I ate meat three times a day! I needed steak!” she says, “But when you’re at the last straw with your health you’re will­ing to make changes to see [what hap­pens].”

To­day, the fam­ily of four en­joys ve­gan meals at home, with Evans and her 15-year-old daugh­ter re­main­ing meat-free 24/7.

IN THE NOW

There’s been noth­ing easy about it, but through her health ex­pe­ri­ences Evans has learned to live in the mo­ment. “I have some up­com­ing shows I’m ex­cited about, but I hon­estly don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen to­mor­row, so I have more of a day-by-day at­ti­tude about life,” she says. And where some may see set­backs, Evans’ POV is packed with sil­ver lin­ings. “I spend more time with my kids now, I ac­tu­ally know what they have due at school. I ac­tu­ally get to go to my friends’ birth­day par­ties. I’m do­ing some gigs, but not ev­ery gig, so I get to wake up in my bed, with my fam­ily, but I still get to travel. Things don’t look ex­actly how I thought they would, but things are bet­ter now. And I couldn’t have called that.” Em­brac­ing the ques­tion marks of the fu­ture is cen­tral to Evans’ survival strat­egy. “It’ll prob­a­bly work out — that’s the an­swer.”

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