My name is Richard B. I am 47 years old. At age 33 I was diagnosed with late onset paranoid schizophrenia. I am doing well these days. I am currently on A.I.S.H. and work two part time jobs. I also make art. I am an artist. My landlord for the past 10 years has been the Canadian Mental Health Association. My rent is subsidized. Everyone in my apartment building has a mental illness. I enjoy the company of a few close friends and the love and support of my family. I have a psychiatrist I trust. For medication I take an anti-psychotic, and anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety. I have 14 years clean without drugs and 3 ½ years clean without alcohol. I am trying to quit smoking and loose weight with a sensible Canada Food Guide diet.
My first major psychotic break was in Winnipeg when I was 30. The police took me to the hospital. I was at risk for suicide. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital under a Governor General’s Warrant. I was not diagnosed with schizophrenia at that time because my psychosis came on so quickly and I had been smoking a great deal of marijuana. I was stabilized and released without follow up care after a two week admission. It is important to note that drug use does not cause schizophrenia but drugs can be a major stressor that brings the schizophrenia to the surface. Two other major stressors in my life at that time were a high stress job and a highly stressful personal matter.
I bounced back from this first psychotic break quite quickly. After a while working again I moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver. I moved for two reasons; a better employment opportunity and a certain amount of shame as to what happened to me in Winnipeg. I wanted a new start in a new city.
Life in Vancouver was going well for about a year. Then the schizophrenia came back, this time much stronger and for a much longer duration. I was unable to work and I was evicted from my apartment for non-payment of rent and unstable behavior. I ended up living in various homeless shelters for about a week or two. I was then able to calm down enough to get through a welfare interview and find lodging in one of the rooming house hotels in the East Hastings neighborhood. I was not seeking mental health support and I was drinking my money away. The psychosis I was going through was of such a nature that I felt threatened in Vancouver so I made my way to Calgary.
When I arrived in Calgary I had enough money for one month’s rent in a rooming house. I was quickly evicted from the rooming house for aggressive behavior. I ended up living at the old Calgary Drop In Centre for about two weeks. I was able to find a labor job and with my first paycheck I rented a room at the Salvation Army. My job did not last long as my behavior was quite unstable. I then moved to Regina, again under the psychotic understanding that I was under threat.
I was able to get on welfare immediately in Regina and find accommodation in a rooming house. Any money I received went to drinking. My mother finally convinced me I to admit myself to the hospital. This time I received a diagnosis of schizophrenia. When I was released from the hospital I was moved into a mental health group home that had 24 hour supervision. I lived there for a year and started to make good progress on the early stages of mental health recovery. When my time was up at the group home I moved to Edmonton to be closer to my mother. I also knew I would feel at home in Edmonton as I grew up in Alberta. My mother found a mental health group home for me in Edmonton where I lived for seven months. Then I moved into my current C.M.H.A. apartment. This whole journey from Winnipeg to living on my own again in stable housing with mental health support took about 5 years.
While I was in the Edmonton group home I attended a mental health day program. I then took a life skills course through Alberta Mental Health. The course was 5 days a week for 16 weeks. I was very proud of my self when I finished the life skills course as I then knew I could handle a certain amount of consistent dedication to a routine. This success gave me the courage to start volunteering here and there. Eventually one of my volunteer jobs turned into a paid job that was art related. I have held that part time job for 10 years. I was very proud when I was able to maintain a paid job in my chosen field again. Eventually I mustered the courage to go back to school with the goal of finding another part time job that was also art related. That gamble of going back to school paid off. I am happily employed with two part time art jobs that I can handle and I have an active art studio in my apartment.
I had the pleasure of visiting Calgary recently. The visit occurred because I had an art exhibition in town. During my visit I was asked to put on a watercolor workshop at the new Calgary Drop In Centre as a visiting artist. This visit had the side effect of helping me put to rest some of the pain of my past. I enjoyed the workshop a great deal and I suspect the people who attended the workshop enjoyed their art making. I met a number of artists who work in the D.I. Centre Wild Rose Studio. I was quite impressed. It was empowering to return to the new D.I. Centre mentally stable so many years since my experience of living in the old drop in centre while I was mentally ill.
My Aunt Margaret told me once that what does not kill you makes you stronger. My psychiatrist has told me that the reason I am doing so well these days is that I have been persistent in working on my recovery and I set manageable goals. I will always have to take medication and be under the care of a psychiatrist and other mental health support people. I accept that. I may never be able to work more than part time. I will, however, always find time to make art.
Written by: Richard B.