Jason DeShaw doesn’t experience the highs so much anymore.
The periods of intense energy, where — in his words — it feels like “electricity surges from within.”
But the lows? The depression? That’s a more regular struggle.
And it can be so hard.
“You feel like you lost your soul. The very essence of your existence seems to be gone,” he said. “That is worse than physical pain, because you don’t even feel like you anymore.”
DeShaw is not one to mince words.
That’s part of why the country musician’s songs are so powerful. And why his award-winning program on mental illness, addiction and recovery resonates with so many people.
DeShaw is bringing Serenity in the Storm to Kennewick on Nov. 19. It’s the story of his experience with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, interwoven with music that’s been the soundtrack of his life.
The event is free.
Jason’s message is about de-stigmatization. He breaks down barriers, allowing us to communicate about these issues in a way that’s healing.
John Roach of Pasco
Tri-Cities Community Health, NAMI Tri-Cities, Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance, Lourdes Health and Youth Suicide Prevention Program are sponsors.
DeShaw has always been a talented musician, but “over the past few years and what he’s struggled through, his songwriting has become profound,” said John Roach of Pasco, a friend and community leader who’s coordinating the show.
“Jason’s message is about de-stigmatization,” Roach said. “He breaks down barriers, allowing us to communicate about these issues in a way that’s healing.”
DeShaw, 35, is a Montana native
He grew up in Plentywood, a small town in the state’s northeastern corner, and his childhood was steeped in classic country music.
“Johnny Cash is a big influence. I love Waylon Jennings. They were (playing) in the tractor growing up,” he told the Herald.
After high school, DeShaw went off to Carroll College in Helena, where he began to flex his own musical muscle. He learned guitar, started writing songs and got up on stage.
After college, he hit the road, playing gigs across North America and beyond. “It was a beautiful adventure. I met a lot of great people,” he said.
Then, in 2010, “a freight train came running through my life,” DeShaw said.
He was on tour in Canada and experienced a manic episode, accelerated by a friend’s suicide.
“My body and brain just kept speeding up until everything spun out of control,” he said.
He rode through the night to a psychiatric hospital, but left without a diagnosis.
Dark days followed.
DeShaw spent more time in the hospital, and he turned to alcohol to help him cope.
“Part of what I think happens — when your body and brain are racing out of control, you go to the surest thing you know of to slow that down,” he said. “It only makes it worse, even though it feels like it helps.”
Eventually, DeShaw was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 and alcoholism. “From there out, it was this tug-of-war of acceptance versus struggle,” he said.
DeShaw seems to be in a better place now, though he does still experience depression. He’s sober, he’s found a good mix of medication and he has a routine that helps keep him balanced. It includes seeing a counselor and running five miles each morning.
“I do everything I can and I’m constantly searching for ways to stay healthy and stay happy,” DeShaw said.
He’s also started sharing his story through Serenity in the Storm. He’s performed it everywhere from schools to Montana’s state psychiatric hospital.
His work has earned him accolades, including the Lionel Aldridge Champions Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
DeShaw said he aims to break down stigma and fear built up around mental illness.
“Fear is so prevalent in our society. We fear what he don’t understand — or at least that’s part of it. I try to humanize mental illness and addiction, so that fear can be replaced with love,” he said.
“I’m a person who can put words to what I’ve been through,” DeShaw said. “Together, hopefully we can find a higher ground. Our struggle doesn’t define us. I am not bipolar disorder, any more than I am alcoholism. These struggles have made me stronger and allowed me to tell a story and relate to people who are in need of understanding, people who need a voice.”
DeShaw hopes the Nov. 19 event in Kennewick will draw a crowd. People can expect to hear some good music, and some moving, personal words and stories.
“I think compassion requires understanding, so people can expect to understand more. Also, to laugh and to cry,” he said. “This is an event of solidarity above all else.”
Serenity in the Storm starts at 6:30 p.m. at Southridge High School, 3520 Southridge Blvd.
IF YOU GO
What: Serenity in the Storm, a concert and presentation by Jason DeShaw.
When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19.
Where: Southridge High School, 3250 Southridge Blvd., Kennewick.