By Manuela Vega
It wasn’t until she entered a state of psychosis that then 19-year-old Alex Douglas was forced to confront the intergenerational trauma she carried.
“In our [West Indian] community, we don’t talk about mental health. I know in my family growing up, we kind of brushed it under the rug.”
Efforts to distance herself from her family weren’t enough for the singer to get the help she needed for her trauma. In fact, she was in denial that she was dealing with anything beyond anxiety and depression.
Under care, Douglas faced violence. She said she was met with racism and sexism at the hospital where she was admitted. Additionally, not having an outlet to work through that trauma put a strain on her mental health.
Now at 22, these tribulations are revealed, embodied and dissected in “Better for Me,” an upcoming visual album created by Douglas and producer Levi Wheeler. The album examines systems of oppression and draws on the identity struggle of first-generation immigrants that oppression can feed into—the idea of “home versus here.”
The project is a culmination of the production and songwriting skills the two Ryerson film students have garnered throughout their time under the name “Garden View.”
Despite the album opening with an aggressive sound, Douglas said it ends with themes of spirituality, hope and unity within her culture.
“The music is a narrative when you listen to it from the first song to the last song,” said Douglas. “The visuals are kind of experimental ways of representing my own journey of psychosis, being hospitalized and coming out of that, and growing and healing out of such a dark, scary place.”
“As a Black woman, I have a very specific view of the world and I wanna make sure I translate my political ideas and my praxis through my art”
The intergenerational trauma Douglas faced is a type of psychological trauma that is passed down in families and communities, according to a 2018 review in the Journal of Clinical Nursing. Family Trauma Institute said the trauma can move from a parent to their children by “spilling over” into their relationships through verbal and non-verbal communication.
Intergenerational trauma also has a link to Indigenous folks whose family members attended residential schools and may develop their relatives’ trauma, or Residential School Syndrome, according to a study in the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Through their close relationship to that individual, they are prone to feeling the same intense fear, anger and distress, despite never attending residential school themselves.
Before Douglas spoke to her family about addressing mental health and eventually finding confidence in her mom, she looked to Black girl friends and role models like Solange, FKA Twigs and Rico Nasty to shift her perspective. Wheeler was also there to support her.
Wheeler and Douglas met three years ago, in Pitman Hall. The two integrated digital film students would put together random songs, but over time honed in on their own sound. They became an electronic duo, borrowing from hip-hop and alternative music to create eccentric synth soundscapes.
While the two are in their fourth year, they split their time between film and music. Garden View brainstorms and produces in their home studio, aiming to push boundaries “musically, sonically, and with the effects in the videos” between the two of them, according to Wheeler.
“[Better for Me] is completely homegrown,” said Wheeler. “[We’re] funded through our Indiegogo, we made everything ourselves, we wrote every music video, filmed it, edited it, did the effects and we’re really just trying to bring something that is 100 per cent uniquely us.”
The visual album also aims to tell a story that sends a message: Alex Douglas doesn’t “give a fuck” if people know about her mental health struggles. In fact, she said she wants to bring those issues to the forefront of the conversation so folks can speak openly, work out their struggles and heal.
“A lot of people in my situation, with my type of background, end up there and they don’t know how to talk about it or they feel embarrassed or it’s like a family secret,” said Douglas. “I kind of want to put myself out there to get rid of that stigma and to help people say ‘You know what? I can talk about this now because I can see somebody else putting that so publicly, so strongly.’”
Although Garden View has spent years experimenting with their sound, they say this project will be the debut of Douglas’ political ideas.
“I’m very anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, I’m like ‘shut it down!’” said Douglas. “As a Black woman, I have a very specific view of the world and I wanna make sure I translate my political ideas and my praxis through my art.”
In April 2020, listeners and viewers will be able to stream “Better for Me” online.
“It’ll be like nine months of our lives all in one 15 minute package,” said Wheeler.