In light of Bell Let’s Talk and a growing conversation on mental illness, Canadian author and songwriter Colleen Songs offers her perspective as the caregiver and loved one to a partner who was mentally ill.
She shares with readers her escape from a significant other with a narcissistic personality disorder and mental illness, in her memoir INHALE.
Through this book and her signing career, she aspires to ignite the voice of the caregiver – who suffers a great deal of abuse and heartbreak as the person they’ve grown to love disappears so suddenly.
“They can transition in a heartbeat,” says Songs. “The quickest thing could shut him off, and I could see it on his face,” she adds.
But, it’s equally important to the author to use her creative gifts of writing and music, to inspire those who are mentally ill to tap into their talents and passions.
“Witnessing the mentally ill exercise their gifts and talents confirmed their happiness and awakening desire to live,” explains Songs. “They can cope better.”
While this has been an extremely cathartic exercise for Songs, writing, and then publishing and promoting this book has brought forth a plethora of emotions, doubts, fears and hesitations about how the telling of her story will affect her loved ones.
Songs says she’s been especially concerned about her children, and how publishing her story will affect them.
“I was afraid of hurting them to the point of almost not publishing. But inside I kept having this feeling that it would release them too. And sure enough, it did!”
Songs says her son, who was 12 when she left home to care for her late ex-husband, felt the book gave him clarity and filled in the gaps he never understood about the relationship that took such a toll on their family.
Her daughter, who was in her late teens at the time, felt the book relieved her of the guilt she’d been carrying, having seen things in the relationship that at the time she didn’t know what to do about.
Beyond the opportunity to reflect and gain clarity, Songs needed to write to gain closure from the past, and talk about how her family got to where they are today.
“With every word I felt such a release of pressure off of my chest, heart, mind and conscience! I carried so much guilt, so much survival-fear for so long that I wasn’t even really trusting nor enjoying my current state of healthy-love and life,” she says.
And finally, she’s starting to let go. “I thought there was enough closure when I finally left. I thought there was enough closure when I heard he’d died. But I only gained a sense of closure through writing,” says Songs.
She started writing in the winter of 2013 while recovering from emergency neck surgery following a car accident. The surgery compromised her vocals and Songs worried she’d lose her voice completely.
“I was restless and I thought that the tool I used to purge my inner emotions from my past was not available to me anymore. But instead of moping around, I kicked myself in the butt and told myself that maybe I couldn’t sing anymore but I could still write!”
She began with a blog, and after receiving more than 4000 reads, she knew it was the right time. She now has a solid support system, and knew she was ready to set her story free. Since releasing the completed memoir, she has been overwhelmed with the support not only from friends and family, but others who she least expected to have an impact on. Songs describes it as opening a really good Pandora’s Box.
“I didn’t know until my Calgary launch when a teacher who has led a well established, solid life told me how I opened his eyes to see the inner story of those who are suffering or carrying heavy loads of family responsibility. It rid him of the scepticism,” says Songs.
Others have praised her work saying “you opened up our minds” and “thank you for opening up this conversation.” Through events and signings, Songs has even had the opportunity to connect with some who have been personally affected by mental illness – many of whom have said she’s instilled bravery in them to open up and share their stories too.
The momentum and enthusiasm has lit up the beginnings of the author’s book ‘singing’ tour. Having started in Calgary at Owl’s Nest Books, Songs will continue travelling the province with upcoming stops in Canmore on March 2, and Edmonton on April 21st. She also plans to reach her hometown of Kelowna, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island.
Songs aspires to bring awareness to the caregivers and loved ones of mental illness across Canada. She also plans to keep writing. “There’s a book two coming,” she says.
“Talking about how we got to where we are today is the greatest way I can pay it forward,” she concludes.