I am not Schizophrenic – I was diagnosed with schizophrenia but that is only a small part of who I am.
Mental illness does not discriminate. It crosses all borders, races, religions, lifestyles and genders. Anyone can develop a mental illness. I am one of those people.
Here is my story:
You might look at me and think I look like a "normal" person (besides the piercings and tattoos). But what you DON'T see, are the voices that I hear every day. I have Schizophrenia. Let me tell you my story.
I have been through some pretty difficult times, but I have an amazing family that has stood by me through it all. I have two older brothers, Matthew and Christopher and an older sister, Wendie. I also have two beautiful nieces, Kiersten and Hannah. I have really been blessed with support from my dad. He is the cornerstone of my life. I even have a grandmother in England who I am very close with and she is a major inspiration and encouragement to me. I lost my mom at age 14 but I believe that my family bonded together to support me when I got sick. They are some pretty special people.
I was a big tomboy growing up. My brother Matthew and I would spend hours playing roller hockey and riding our bikes on the trails. I wasn't your typical girl, I was into guns and war history and never played with dolls. My biggest hobby growing up was playing hockey. I started playing street hockey when I was very young, and I loved it and was hooked. When I was 12, my mom got me registered to play ice hockey, which I completely loved. I was a poor skater but I still had tons of fun. My mom had poor vision from suffering with Multiple Sclerosis, but she still faithfully went to my games. Once I hit high school I started playing guitar and became obsessed with music (I would say 1,500 + CDs is obsessed) and stopped playing hockey. I formed a punk/metal band with some friends and I really enjoyed playing shows with them. I still play guitar to this day, in fact I teach other people with mental illnesses how to play.
When my dad married my mom, he was advised by her friends that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, my mom did not share any information with my dad about her mental health. My dad loved her anyway and brushed off any concern. My brothers and I didn't know she was mentally ill. My mom was very discrete with her mental health. I remember there would be times where my dad would come home from work and she would be in a rage, throwing pots and pans at him. Shortly after, she would be calm and remorseful and back to her sweet self. My dad was terrified for anyone else outside of our family to know this dark secret. My dad didn't know how to handle my mom's mental illness because he didn't know anything about it and there was (and still is) a huge stigma around mental illness.
My mom was quite sick as I was growing up. At some point while my dad was married to her, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This terrible, debilitating disease slowly ravaged her body. I remember the countless times visiting her in the hospital. I remember the countless surgeries she had to endure. I remember the agonizing times where I couldn't sit and talk with her because she was so physically ill. My dad recalls times where, while being in the hospital, my mom had gone code blue. She suffered many close calls with death as I grew up. She passed away when I was 14 and that's when I noticed things starting to change for me. Not only was I extremely depressed, but in the months after her death, I started hearing voices. These were voices that were blaming me for my mom's death, telling me I was worthless and that I should kill myself.
I knew something was definitely wrong with me when I first started hearing voices. I would be sitting and it would sound like people talking over my shoulder into my ear. I was scared and confused. I thought that I was going to be locked up in a padded room for the rest of my life if I told anyone about the voices. I held these voices inside until I turned 16. Try and imagine having headphones on and having people screaming into your ears, telling you to kill yourself that you're worthless, that you are a burden to everyone around you. I would be sitting in class at school, trying to copy notes off the board that the teacher was instructing and having these voices screaming at me. Sometimes it got so bad that I had to walk out of class. I felt so alone. I didn't want to be locked in a padded room for the rest of my life. I didn't have any clue about mental illness or the statistic that one in 100 people have schizophrenia. That's one percent of the population. Eventually, I ended up having a psychotic break. I literally shut down. This was the breaking point because I had finally given up and that day I had planned to commit suicide. I confided in my teacher about what was going on. At that time, all I could hear was the voices screaming at me. My teacher and some of the other staff members were around me, but I couldn't hear them. I couldn't move. couldn't talk, and still, people had no clue what was going on inside my head. The school staff had no idea how to help me. They called my dad at work and he came and took me to the emergency room. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I sat and stared blankly at the floor as the on-call psychiatrist was evaluating me. I still couldn't talk. He decided that I was a danger to myself and that I needed to be hospitalized immediately. I was evaluated by a few different psychiatric doctors and was admitted to the psychiatric ward. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. The professionals told me that it is a chemical imbalance in my brain and that I'm not "crazy" like I thought I was. I spent years of silence, hearing these voices and not telling anyone. That was a very hard time for me.
Finally, when I was diagnosed, it was actually good to know that I was getting help. It was hard to hear that I have a mental illness, especially when I knew nothing about it. However, as time has gone by, I have realized that is not a death sentence and that there is hope for anyone with a mental illness.
When I initially got sick, I spent about 3 weeks in the hospital on the psych ward, then came home for a week. Really, I wasn't ready to be discharged from the hospital. I did the one thing that I will always regret. Fueled by the voices, I slit my wrist in front of my very best friend.
I remember going to the hospital and just bawling to my dad, trying to explain to him that it was the voices that were telling me to slit my wrist. Surprisingly, the doctors sent me home. The next day it was the same thing from the voices, telling me to slit my wrist, so I called my dad and was voluntarily admitted back into the psychiatric ward for three more weeks. It was the scariest thing I've been through. I had to find a way to cope. My one coping skill while in the hospital was to make a friend. I was on the Adolescent Psychiatric Ward at Surrey Memorial Hospital, so I was around kids my age. I made a good friendship with one of the girls there and I believe we both helped each other through the long days. I also had some music with me that really gave me inspiration and hope. The music took me away from those long, depressing days in the hospital. The hospital is definitely not a place I want to go back to and fortunately I have made so much progress so I don't think I'll have to worry about that for a long time.
There's no way that you are going to rise above a mental illness without having a few coping mechanisms. Personally, I am an avid video game player,
especially online. I have a group of people that I play and converse with. Having these people in my life has proven to be very helpful when am feeling anxious about something. These people are always there to help when I'm feeling down or the voices are particularly hard to handle. My other huge coping mechanism that I have is my love for music. I have been playing guitar since just before my mom passed away and teach it to others at the Whale House. (A psycho-social rehabilitation clubhouse) My favourite thing to do is collect CDs. I get a feeling of joy and excitement when buying cds, opening the packages and listening to them for the first time. Music is an escape for me. If I'm feeling particularly anxious or the voices are hard to handle, I can put in my favourite band and my worries just float away. That is probably my most effective coping mechanism because I can take my music with me and have it available if or when I need it. These coping mechanisms help take away the voices and negative thinking.
When I was diagnosed, I lost a lot, if not all my friends. I could tell that they were literally scared of me and my illness and didn't know how to interact with me. That was hard. My dad was extremely supportive and he has dedicated his life to me and learning about my illness and mental illness in general. My brother Christopher has been really amazing as well. There would be times late at night when the voices would be particularly bad and I would go to him. He would sit with me and watch a movie or we would go on long walks around the neighbourhood. So for the most part, my family was and is very supportive. Also, as time has passed, I have gained new friendships with some great people.
I want to talk a bit about my dad and his role in all of the turmoil and events that have occurred up to now. My dad is the strongest person you could ever meet. He unconditionally and lovingly took care of my mom, even through the devastating road of multiple sclerosis. He never gave up. He worked his ass off for my family. When my mom passed away, he became a mother and a father. He had to raise a moody pubescent teenage girl (me) and two teenage boys (my brothers). But you know what? My dad NEVER complained once. Sure, he didn't understand why he had to endure the events that had passed or why they were happening to our family, but he didn't care because he had unconditional love. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, my dad decided that he wasn't going to be silent about it this time. He was determined to get out there and learn everything he possibly could about mental illness and the unfortunate stigma around it. He learned everything he could in order to help me and be there for me. Amazingly, he started educating people that were going through the similar things that my family was going through when I became ill. He started a parent support group and facilitated it faithfully each week after work. My dad has never stopped learning, educating and giving. He has literally dedicated his life to being there for not only me, but helping erase the stigma of mental illness. You may think that it is a brave, inspirational thing that l am doing by telling my story but my dad is the true hero.
The hardest times for me now are just thinking about the really good friends that I had, that are now gone. I had a lot of good memories with them and it’s a shame that they decided to not be a part of my life. The happiest and best times for me now are when I get to spend time with all the new friends that I have made. I also really enjoy spending time with my dad, Christopher and Michelle. I also really enjoy listening to music and collecting CDs.
I have found the most amazing friends at a clubhouse for people with mental illness called the Whale House in White Rock. I started attending daily in 2009 (?) and continue to attend several times a week. I have found some of the most genuine, caring people that I have ever met - people that really care. People struggling with their own illness, but helping each other in their walk in life. I had no friends when I started going to the Whale House. Now, with my group of friends, we help each other with whatever struggles we are experiencing and we hang out often at the clubhouse.
The hardest part about being in the Mental Health System is the stigma around the whole thing. I experienced times where I've been looked down upon because I have an illness and that I'm in the Mental Health System. It has also been frustrating not having a worker anymore because they have closed my file due to how well l am now doing. When they did this, it kinda felt like they were pushing me aside and closing the door on me. It's been a difficult thing for me to deal with. I think I would feel much more comfortable if my file was left open.
There is such a huge stigma around mental illness. People just simply don't know much about the different illnesses that are associated with what we call mental illness. I've had times where I've told someone that I have schizophrenia and them then thinking that I have multiple personalities, when really, schizophrenia has nothing to do with that. People are scared of the unknown There just simply isn't enough awareness about mental illness and how it is treatable. One thing I tell people is that having a mental illness is not a death sentence. That, in reality, you are not going to be locked in a padded room for the rest of your life. There are doctors and medications available to treat mental illnesses and there is recovery and the ability to live a happy, productive life, regardless of how bad things may seem at first. Like I said before, one percent of the population has schizophrenia. That's huge. Especially the fact that there is so little that the public know about schizophrenia.
If I could give you some advice, this would be it: When you are interacting with a person that has a mental illness, treat them as if they had nothing "wrong" with them. The one thing that I personally don't like is being talked down to as if I'm not on the same level as the other person. Be on the same level. Just because someone has a mental illness doesn't mean they are automatically socially delayed or not as mentally developed as yourself. Be interested in the person's interests. Talk about what helps them with their illness. Suggest things that you yourself do when feeling anxious or stressed out. Think of things that would help the other person in coping with their illness. Things like that. The Whale House staff have done an amazing job in doing these things. So, I wrote them a letter as part of my gratitude for everything they've done for me over the years.
Not everyone's illness affects them the same as everyone else. For me, my illness started off with a very difficult time with the voices. Some time went by and my illness developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder component. The big thing there for me was washing my hands. I would wash my hands so much that they would start bleeding. Eventually I was able to conquer that part of my illness. Things shifted into a strong anxiety component. I suffer daily with some pretty extreme anxiety. My biggest fear is getting sick, so I am terribly afraid of germs. I don't shake hands, use public washrooms, touch door handles, push elevator buttons with my hands, etc. I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere I go. This is where my coping strategies play a large role. Also, I have some amazing and supportive friends and family that understand that I have these anxieties and do their best to work around them with me. With my anxiety, the hardest thing is that I don't wear a flashing sign that says “I HAVE ANXIETY” so people either don't understand, or think I am being rude when I ask them to wash their hands before they prepare my coffee. On the contrary the last thing I would want to do is be rude or cause a problem for someone.
A quote: Depression is not selfish. Anxiety is not rude. Schizophrenia is not wrong. Mental illness isn't self-centered, any more than a broken leg or the flu is self-centered. If your mental illness makes you feel guilty, review the definition of "illness" and try to treat yourself with the same respect and concern you would show to a cancer patient or a person with pneumonia.
My dream is to speak to people and share my story to anyone and everyone that will listen. I want to be a beacon of hope to people that are struggling. Whether they're depressed, suicidal, alone and scared, confused, doesn't matter - I want to be there for them and let them know that they have options and there is hope beyond what they are experiencing. I spent 2 long, tumultuous years being scared and alone, hearing voices and not telling anyone. That is the LAST thing I want anyone to experience because quite frankly, it was hell. If I can share my story and help just one person, then the whole thing is worth it. I want to help erase the stigma of mental illness. I want to change the world and the views that people have about Schizophrenia and mental illness in general.
A funny note... Sometimes the voices can be humorous. Every once in a while, something will pop up in my head and they will make a comment on it. I've had times where I've been sitting on the bus and bursting out in laughter while everyone stares at me. It doesn't embarrass me, though. I think it's funny. I think I'm special because I have a very powerful story to tell and I know that I can change lives. That is my goal in life. I want to be a role model and someone that others can look up to.
Even though my mom suffered with illness as well, she gave everything she had to the people around her. I want to do the same. I want to change the world, even if it’s just helping people with their struggles. There is life beyond mental illness.
Yes, I live with schizophrenia, but I do not allow that to make me a VICTIM. I face these voices head on each day and I battle for my life. I am STRONG and I FIGHT.
There is hope. Don't be scared. I spent two years being terrified of myself. but the truth is that there is a future for you, as there is a future for ME.
If I can be strong for others, then my goal is met. I want to be that light at the end of the tunnel for you. Why? Because I am a Survivor. I FIGHT to not become a victim.
Life goes on. Yes, we struggle, but that doesn't have to define who we are. So BE STRONG. FIGHT. Together, we can beat this. We are not locked in a cage. Let's break free of the stigma and show the world that WE can make a difference. That I can make a DIFFERENCE. Let's change this world. Fight with me.