It Took Getting Struck By Lightning For This Woman to Take Her Health Seriously

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.

Kellylee Evansphoto credit: Anne Staveley

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.” Find out how this Canadian Olympian handles the pressure of success.

Giving your best is something Kellylee 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. (Here’s what you should know before starting the ketogenic diet.) 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.

Today, she 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 flare-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 12,000-16,000. 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.

The personal and professional intersect to inform how she fuels her days.

Challenged with dietary sensitivities, and cognizant of foods that negatively affect her voice, she has avoided gluten (Don’t miss the real reason why going gluten-free is not just a trendy diet.) , eggs and dairy for many years. Evans also went meat-free 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 anti-inflammatory diet, what else is going to help? I typed ‘foods that inflame’ 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.

There’s been nothing easy about it, but through her health experiences she 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.”

What we ask all our WOW Women…

What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

That I’d be OK. There are so many things that are just not that big of a deal, and you don’t even know until later. Being sick, I thought my world would end. There were many times when I had so much anxiety about what other people wanted, or what I thought other people wanted, or what might happen if I didn’t do something, and it’s not that big of a deal. In retrospect, everything is fine.

What’s your best advice?

It’s something my mom used to say, which is “if you can’t hear, you’ll feel.” I’ve taken that old Jamaican dictum and moved it into my own life. I see it more as, if you don’t listen to your inner voice, what you’ll feel as a result will be so much bigger, in a bad way, than what you hope for. Listening to your inner voice is super important. Read on for 10 ways to show yourself some self-love.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada