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Jewel Opens Up About Mental Health and Learning to Put Herself First (EXCLUSIVE)

The singer-songwriter just turned 50 and she's happier than ever!

Those who only know Jewel as the talented singer-songwriter responsible for such ’90s hits as “You Were Meant for Me,” “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “Foolish Games” are missing the rest of her intriguing story — including prioritizing her happiness over her career and becoming a powerful mental health advocate.

In 1998 Jewel took time off after Spirit, her second album. “I got so famous, I hated it. It was so bad for me,” she tells FIRST for Women in an exclusive cover interview. “I was about to have a mental health breakdown and I wasn’t willing to be more famous than I was happy. So I walked away from everything for two years until I could figure out how to handle it and go about my job in a different way. For me that meant taking a big break” — which included turning down movie roles and tours.

Jewel on the cover of FIRST for Women
FIRST for Women

When it comes to stepping away from the public eye, “It looks like you are losing in the short run,” Jewel says. “I would take years between albums and I would kill my own momentum to make me less famous, so that I could walk around and go to restaurants and go grocery shopping between albums without needing security. It just made me a lot happier.”

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Jewel, 1996 jewel mental health
Jewel performing in 1996Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Jewel readily admits that the people trying to manage her career at the time were frustrated and fans didn’t understand her decision. As she puts it, “When I quit for two years for my mental health, nobody was like, ‘You go girl!’”

Instead, “It was like, ‘She’s a washed up has-been. She can’t handle it.’ And it was the same with taking a seven-year break to raise my son. I knew that was the right decision and certainly it cost me my career, but it didn’t cost me my son. That wouldn’t be the right choice for everybody, but that was the right choice for me.”

Jewel, 2003
Jewel onstage in 2003Bryan Linden/WireImage/Getty

Jewel continues, “You have to stay true to those things if you know that that’s your truth, and then in the long run, it pans out. I’m much happier and much more capable and actually a better singer and songwriter now. I sell less tickets, but that’s okay. That was an okay price to pay for me.”

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Jewel learned the ropes at a young age

Jewel, who is the mom of a 12-year-old son, Kase Townes Murray, with her ex-husband, rodeo champion Ty Murray, says she became aware of the importance of taking care of her mental health at an early age.

“I decided that I didn’t enjoy how I was feeling and that I didn’t want to kill myself, so that meant I had to do something different tomorrow than I did today and see if it helped,” Jewel says of her early mental health struggles. “It’s very simple, but it’s also very hard. I just poured all of my stubbornness into this idea that nothing else matters more than mental health and when I got discovered I had just started learning how to be happy.”

Jewel and her son Kase jewel mental health
Jewel and her son Kase@jewel/Instagram

Jewel overcame countless obstacles growing up, but managed to get some valuable perspective, saying, “Even though I was homeless, I started getting a grip on my panic attacks, my shoplifting and my agoraphobia. I knew when I got discovered that it was dangerous.”

“Nobody makes it through fame unscathed,” she says. “Almost every person becomes a drug addict or an attention addict, and it doesn’t go well. I knew I had a very high probability for that happening to me and I didn’t want to be a statistic.”

Jewel put a lot of time and effort into her quest for happiness. “I promised myself that my number one job would be to learn how to be happy. I had a practical plan. I had to be able to audit myself and say, ‘Is it working? Am I happier this month than last month? What isn’t working? What is working? What would I change?’ So I was just as practical about my happiness as I was about my number two job, which was to be a musician,” she says. “My whole career, I just stayed very loyal to that.”

Jewel’s tools to caring for her mental health

For Jewel, maintaining good mental health means being proactive. “I have so many tools,” she says. “Life is always challenging, so we’re always picking up new tools. There are little practical ones, like don’t look at yourself first thing in the morning. Give yourself a minute. Take a minute to meditate or to pray or read something that sets you in a good mood and helps you touch base.”

Jewel also wants people to know anxiety is not the enemy. “Another really good tool is realizing that anxiety doesn’t mean something is wrong with you,” she says. “It usually means that something is right with you. It means your body is doing its job in letting you know that something you’ve consumed doesn’t agree with you.”

Ever the writer, Jewel has found that a consistent journalling practice helps her understand and manage her anxious feelings. “You start to see a pattern,” she says. “Once you see that pattern, you can start to change it.”

The singer in 2015 jewel mental health
Jewel in 2015Michael Loccisano/Getty

More than just a musician

In addition to her musical career, Jewel is a tireless advocate for mental health, and has launched major initiatives to help others.

Not only did Jewel start the Inspiring Children Foundation 20 years ago, she also recently launched Innerworld, a 24/7 virtual community aimed at making mental health resources accessible and giving people a safe space to anonymously work through issues like anxiety and depression.

She’s also a gifted visual artist who recently launched The Portal: An Art Experience By Jewel at Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges Museum, and she’s releasing a new EP, The Portal: A Meditative Journey, as a musical extension of her immersive art experience.

The new single, “The Portal,” is a 10-minute meditative track buoyed by Jewel’s distinct pop sensibilities, and serves as the soundtrack to her 200-piece choreographed drone show at Crystal Bridges Museum. The single artwork features an original painting by Jewel and the EP will be available July 12.  

“I’ve always studied visual art and of course I’ve worked on music my whole life, as well as behavioral health, so this really does tie all of them together,” she says of The Portal: An Art Experience By Jewel, which will be on view at the museum through July 28.

Jewel’s art installation features a hologram piece of video art, an oil painting, a sculpture and a drone show.

“It’s all based around this idea that we have three planes of existence that we each travel through every day without realizing it,” she says. “There’s our inner life, which is our thoughts and our feelings; our physical life; our seen realm which is our jobs, families, finances and anything physical; and then there is the unseen realm that man has been trying to define since the dawn of man.”

Ultimately, “The idea is that wellness is when the three realms are in alignment. Conflict comes when the three realms are not in alignment,” she says.

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Jewel at art exhibit jewel mental health
Jewel at her art exhibit 2024Jewel

Jewel set out to make the Portal an interactive experience. “People will come and be greeted by the hologram,” she says. “I’ll tell them about the idea of the three spheres and then they’ll go through the contemporary wing with three pieces of artwork that typify each sphere. Then they’ll have a journal and next to each painting is a question that you answer to help you get to know what you think about your three realms.”

Jewel chose to show the Portal at Crystal Bridges Museum because she “felt in alignment with their ethos.” The Museum isn’t in an art world capital like New York or LA, and it was founded with the goal of democratizing the arts. “Everything I do is about creating access and that’s really the purpose of this museum,” she says. “Crystal Bridges Museum was my first choice for the Portal, but I’d love to bring it around to other museums after this.”

What’s next for Jewel?

Jewel just turned 50 and is happy, healthy and living her life on her own terms. In addition to her upcoming EP, she’s embarking on a co-headlining tour with Melissa Etheridge.

The 19-city tour kicks off July 11 in Bonner MT. “I like Melissa a lot. She actually gave me one of my first TV breaks,” Jewel says. “She put all these women on the same TV show which was before Lilith Fair or anything like that, and she’s always been really supportive of women and helping other women’s voices shine. I’m excited to tour with her.”

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