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Life is Sweet

February is never an easy month. Whether you suffer from depression or not, the cold days, holiday hangover, lack of sunlight and doubt about the year ahead can be daunting.

I am no stranger to depression and anxiety and the winter months are a struggle.  When I saw my radiant friend Ashley promoting her show Life is Sweet, Even in February along with stories raising awareness about mental illness on her blog it was like a big ray on sunshine poured into the room.

And that's really the only way to describe Ashley.  She radiates.  So much that I had to have her share some of her light on this blog.

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Here is a little insight into what this beautiful young woman is up to. I hope you enjoy her warmth as much as I do.

Q: Tell us more about what inspired you to create "Life is Sweet, Even in February"?

Life is Sweet, Even in February started as a random idea, probably about a year ago. February is always a tough month for me – it’s cold, bleak and my mother’s death anniversary falls on the 24th. She committed suicide when I was 13, and her death has had a profound impact on my life. For the last couple of years I’ve made efforts to give myself something to look forward to around her death anniversary and in the fall I decided that I would have a cabaret to honour her life.

I wanted to do something that would pay tribute to my mom while also bringing attention to the things we don’t talk about enough in our society: mental illness, depression, anxiety, suicide and loss. I also decided that it would be a great opportunity to raise some money for the CAMH Foundation. And then I had this crazy idea that I wanted to spread this message that life is sweet in spite of the challenges we face and get people talking about mental illness in a bigger capacity than the show, so I created Life is Sweet month on my blog.

The blog posts have been incredible, I’ve received great feedback about the content my guest bloggers are sharing and most of all people are talking. I’m like a proud parent with every blog post that goes up. The show is close to selling out (!!!) and I’m thrilled with the set list and the way the show is progressing. One small idea snowballed into something so much bigger, but I couldn’t be happier with everything so far.

Q: What kind of songs can we expect to hear?

The show will consist of a mix of pop and musical theatre tunes. Songs that my mom liked or remind me of growing up with her; songs that tell the story of our time together and also songs that are in line with my message that life truly is sweet (including Life is Sweet by Natalie Merchant, which inspired the title of the show).

Q: How would you like to see the subject mental health approached?

In one word: candidly. I think there’s a lot of negativity and stigma around mental illness that needs to change. So many people are afraid to talk about their feelings and experience for fear of people reacting poorly or not understanding. The more we learn and the more we share openly, I hope that we can eradicate that negative stigma and more effectively help those who are coping with any sort of mental illness.

Q: Do you think there are any attitudes about mental health that need to change?

As I said, I think there’s a lot of negativity, stigma and misconceptions around mental illness that just need to go. It’s 2013 and it affects 1 in 5 Canadians, with the other 4/5 knowing someone with mental illness, so it’s all around us. I also think that some individuals need to realize that depression / mental illness is more than just "having a bad day" and learn how to talk to those dealing with mental illness more sensitively and effectively. As one of my bloggers recently stated, “it’s okay to not be okay” which I truly believe.

Q: What do you recommend to someone who might be struggling with a mental illness?

I would start out by talking to someone – a family member, friend or just someone you trust. There are a multitude of approaches for dealing with mental illness, but asking for help is probably the biggest first step towards working to feel better. Realize that you are not alone in this.

Q: You are such a beautiful, positive, person, how do you manage to be so positive?

You’re so sweet. I’ve always been a rather happy, open, positive person – it was even something that I know my mom recognized (and subsequently wrote about in her journal). While I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my life, I’m really grateful for all the experiences I’ve had and all that I’ve learned along the way. I stand behind my message that life is sweet, despite the obstacles that may come our way. Life is pretty awesome and enjoying every moment helps to keep me smiling.

Q: What are little things someone can do in February to improve their mood, other than see your show of course?

Find something that you can look forward to – that’s what the show was all about for me. Giving me something positive to focus my energy on and be excited about. Even if the weather is gross, take a bit of time to get outside and enjoy any bits of sunshine that you can (especially here in Canada). And nourish your body with good food and love.

Q: Ok, now some food questions, favourite brunch in the city?

Oooooh it’s a toss up between Live Food Bar and Lady Marmalade. Both scrumptious and awesome. I wish I could eat brunch every day.

Q: Favourite coffee shop?

While I don’t drink coffee, I adore The Rooster for its ambiance, sweetest baristas, gorgeous view of the city and honey ginger soy lattes.

Q: Best weeknight in February dinner?

Butler’s Pantry in the Annex in a window booth if going out...

Or if cooking at home, some sort of lentil curry over quinoa or veggie chili with avocado and something chocolatey for dessert.

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Today is Bell's Let's Talk day.  Talking about mental health is the first step. Let's Talk Day is a great initiative to reach out and tell somebody we love them or to ask for help. We're all in this together.  If you're using Bell Canada they will donate 5 cents for every text, long distance call, tweet using #BellLetsTalk and Facebook share of the Bell Let's Talk Image.

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Get your tickets fast Life is Sweet  LIVE AT THE FLYING BEAVER PUBARET on February 22nd!

Ashley Gibson honors her late mother's memory with Life is Sweet, Even in February, her first solo cabaret. Door proceeds to the CAMH FOUNDATION.

Let's be honest, February is never an easy month and when you add a mother's death anniversary into the mix, it can prove to be even more challenging. In "Life is Sweet, Even in February", Ashley will showcase a collection of pop and musical theatre tunes that tell the story of all that she has learned being the daughter of someone with mental illness, a suicide survivor and motherless daughter. In spite of everything that has happened in her life, Ashley has worked to maintain a positive attitude and she truly believes that 'life is sweet' in spite of the challenges we face, and that message will radiate throughout the show.

Ashley will be joined by Musical Director Tara Litvack on piano, Robin Claxton on drums and Jeff Deegan on bass.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd, 930pm LIFE IS SWEET, EVEN IN FEBRUARY STARRING ASHLEY GIBSON

Tix: $15advance/$20 door Available at the Pubaret or online.

Dinner available before, during, and after the show. Dinner patrons get priority seating.