Words from the Heart

Mental Health had always been a part of the conversation in my youth and, as an adult, has become important in my life through service and communicating my own story and family history through my songs and videos.

Reflections Music Video

I grew up in a family where, from the outside looking in it appeared so normal, almost idyllic – the quintessential Leave it to Beaver family. A stay-at-home mom, a dad who worked and travelled as a salesman and four children – one adopted from a multiracial family. I was the oldest child, then my brother, Christopher, three years younger, and then a big jump of nine years between myself and the other two siblings, Peter and Kari.

My journey with mental health issues started early. When I was growing up there were no phones, internet, or social media, but at school it was still easy to fall prey to mean spirited children, inherently cruel children. I was always a little chubby and never felt that I quite fit in. Even the “nerds” and artistic types I found to be quite unworldly as I came from a European background. I felt their perspectives were quite narrow and I longed for a broader, more colourful life.

At the tender age of thirteen, I started venturing out to sing in a small group around our home base. Then I progressed on to open mic sessions in Toronto, taking the greyhound bus from Dorval in the suburbs of Montreal, to the downtown core where there were exciting “boîte a chanson” and folk clubs. I was extremely nervous and naive but with my hair in a chignon and wearing black cat eyes makeup, I passed for much older. Initially, I started having a couple of beers just to loosen up and ease the anxiety. This eventually became a daily occurrence, and no one at home was the wiser because it was the sixties, and the world was exploding with marijuana and hashish. It could be argued that at least I was just having a few harmless drinks and staying well clear of the demon drug culture. 

Meanwhile, my little brother Christopher, was struggling with day to day living and he did turn to drugs, smoking weed and hashish from a very early age to be able to cope. He was always the “special one,” the golden boy, the one that everyone in the family thought would shoot to the moon and bring us all with him. He had no idea how to concentrate or be disciplined. Looking back there was something not quite right with Chris from an early age. When he travelled to college in British Columbia in his teens, he was ill equipped to deal with life on life’s terms, and setbacks were viewed as insurmountable. He came back without finishing school and sank into a deep clinical depression fueled by drugs and alcohol. At that time a horrible accident took the lives of three of his closest friends while he was away, and I think that this plagued him for his whole life. He would have been in that car with them, had he been home. They were hit by a train, and he had night terrors from that time onward.

Addiction and mental illness took its toll on both Christopher and myself and consequently the whole family suffered. We are not unusual in this regard, and it is to this paradigm that I am focussing my writing and reflections. I am in recovery and have been for almost 40 years. My brother sadly never lived any sort of normal life and he and my parents suffered for decades. Christopher passed away a few years ago.

My mission with my music is to help the families of those with a similar story to mine or Christopher’s who are living with mental health and/or addiction challenges.

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