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A Good News Story

Mine is a good news story. Good news, because there has been in the past too much pessimism and bad news about the illness of schizophrenia.

Let me first give you a bird's eye view of the severity of my illness for the first six years. After finishing Grade 10, I began to have difficulty concentrating, and went from an A student to a barely passing student. I began to have a relentless buzzing in my ears, day and night, soon to be replaced by voices of angels. I vividly remember my first psychotic episode: the skies opening right above me and Satan sitting beside me laughing at me. Faces of people were all distorted. They appeared like apes. They too were talking about me, without moving their lips, and laughing at me. I was in a state of total terror. Later, a peculiar surge of power came into my body like lightening. I began to feel powerful. I thought I was the Messiah sent to save the world. But I was confused as to how to go about it.

My family found it hard to communicate with me because my talking made no sense. I could not follow a conversation. There was no way of reaching me.

I went through a variety of medications, always in very high doses. Although they reduced the severity of my symptoms, they immobilized me with side effects. I was a walking Zombie. Walking was stiff—I'm told my face was expressionless and I drooled. Wouldn't that scare anyone?

I had ten hospital admissions over five and a half years. Life was empty; there was no enjoyment. I was spending much of the time in bed, unable to take part in any household activities, doing nothing much beyond eating and sleeping.
All the friends I had at school were not to be heard from again. I was afraid of being called crazy or a nut. I didn't know what to tell anyone about my illness, how to explain what was happening to me. I was slipping, and losing all hope, and wanted to end it all-and I made suicide attempts. I'm sure you get the picture!

My recovery didn't begin until I was stabilized on an atypical antipsychotic, clozapine, along with antidepressants. Once stable and free from any positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia, I was developing enough insight to move on with my life.

As my thinking and concentration improved, I could read again, and carry on an intelligent conversation. I began to work hard on improving myself…My first step was to catch up with my formal education because I had lost 6 years of education… I enrolled in the Redirection through Education program at George Brown College. It felt great to be back in the mainstream, I had a student number and I felt part of the student body at the campus. There was no intimidation, there was no stigmatization. Next I had extensive aptitude and skill testing to learn that my interest lay in the Health Care field. I then took a Health Care Aide course. Studying was really hard, I had to spend hours in learning, things didn't come easy… I remember telling my parents when I was preparing for my exams that I was never going to do another course. But passing that course, with honours too, was very rewarding and gave me more confidence in my mental capabilities.

In January last year I was hired to work with the Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT) of as a Peer Support Counsellor. Engagement is the first crucial phase of ACT care and critical to the final outcome. As Peer Support Counsellor, I consider this to be one of my main roles-to facilitate engagement of the client. I have been there, I know what it's like to have schizophrenia. I find that the comfort and trust level of clients is high, and they are more willing to talk to me. What is amazing is that often I may not have even disclosed about my illness yet, but a client knows that I have schizophrenia.

So my recovery and employment are a balancing act. I have to pay attention to my health. I realize that I have to take my meds for the rest of my life to correct that chemical imbalance in my brain. No different than a diabetic needing insulin, who has to take it for the rest of his life. I have to take charge of my illness, and that is what I impart to my clients…I continue to need at least 9 hours of sleep. I can only participate in limited amounts of social activities, and I have learned to say so… The scope of the job is exciting. No two situations, no two clients are alike. That is what is most challenging. There is ongoing learning which is mostly experiential, hence a place for personal growth. I also want to stress the fact that my illness, my recovery from it, and my employment are very much intertwined.