Hopes for 2017

The arrival of a new year means new goals or hopes for the new year.

My first goal for 2017 is to finish revising and editing my novel.  I started writing in 2015 and it has taken about a year and half to finish my first draft.  The story is about a schizophrenic graduate student who is trying to get his PhD, but is derailed by two psychotic episodes.  It mirrors my own life in a lot of ways.  So far the revising/editing is going quite slowly.  I also have times when I think the story wouldn’t work or it will get rejected.  Nevertheless, I have to remind myself to think positively and plow through.  I’m hoping to have a revised version for a friend to read to get her input and feedback by the end of the year.

In 2017, I hope to earn some income from my art work.  Currently, I am able to produce one watercolour a week.  I can also generate a few photos a week or every other week.  The most important thing is that I have to find a way to market my work and start selling it.  I know there are websites for selling art work, and that might be the likely way I will go.  I could also build my own website to show and sell my art work, but of course that would mean I need to invest some money.  I’m just anxious that I won’t be able to sell most of my work.  Negativity aside, I guess it’s worth a try.

This year I would also like to learn and master Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.  I will be taking some courses on Lynda.com that teaches these programs.  The only problem is that I currently don’t have them installed on my laptop.  To access them I would have to fork over about $600 a year.  It’s a big investment, but I think it will probably be worth it in the end.  I hope to use these software to enhance my photos and make digital art.

My final hope is to find another close friend in 2017.  I really only have one friend that I socialize with.  Having another good friend would be nice.  Someone to go for coffee, lunch, or visit the gallery with.  I’m not sure how I will meet this friend but I will keep looking.

It’s clear that the main theme of 2017 is art.  I just hope that I will have success with creative writing, painting and photography in the new year.  Here’s to creating!

Looking back at 2016

It’s now 2017.  A new year is upon us.  I thought it would be a fitting time to look back at what happened to me in 2016.  It was a year filled with healthy habits, a new friendship and productivity in the arts.

In 2016, I stuck to a regular schedule of working out and being physically active.  I went to the gym four times a week.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I would get to the gym around 7:15 am, and start my workout with strength training.  Then, I would go swimming for about half an hour.  This was followed by about an hour and a half of recreational badminton.  On Tuesdays and Fridays, I would just do strength training and swimming.   I think this routine has kept me from gaining weight and probably has a variety of other benefits.  One of the other benefits is that it has likely prevented depression from taking a hold on me.

Socially, I met a good friend in 2016.  I was introduced to my new friend through the social worker who was working on the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) team.  She told me that another client, who was also high functioning and had an educated background, wanted to meet other clients similar to herself to befriends with.  So she arranged for us to meet for coffee. It worked out well.  As it turned out we had a lot in common.  We both suffered from psychosis, and were on the same medication.  We got together many times after the first initial meeting.  We went out for coffee, lunch, shopping, music concerts, and art galleries.  If it wasn’t for her, I would not have a social life.  I’m so glad that I met this special friend in 2016.

Last year was also a good year for art making.  In total, I managed to create 44 watercolour paintings.   The majority of them were small, measuring 6 X 9.  I painted many things from  birds, to landscapes to images of mental illness.  Equally productive, I took over 81 photographs in 2016.  Most of the photographs were of flowers and plants, but some were of architecture and infrastructure, and a few of people.  I also experimented with motion photography or blurring effect.  They resulted in pretty interesting images.  Productivity-wise, I think I did pretty well in creating art in 2016.  One thing I will work on for the future is to market and potentially sell my work.

2016 was overall a good year for me.  I will continue to live a healthy and active life, and hope to make new friends and more art in 2017.

“Graduating” from the ACT team

My social worker at the hospital explained to me that after I was discharged from the hospital, following my second episode of psychosis, I would be transferred over to a community mental health organization that would support and help me with my recovery.   He registered me for Assertive Community Treatment (ACT); however, they didn’t have space for me at the time so I was put on a waiting list.  Meanwhile, as I waited,  I was placed in the care of FCMHAS, a local community-based mental health agency.  I met with a case worker every few weeks to discuss how I was doing.  I only saw him a few times before I was discharged.  I waited for a few months before I was finally admitted into an ACT team provided by Providence Care, a local health provider.

The ACT team consists of a variety of health professionals who provide treatment,     rehabilitation, support services to those with serious mental illnesses.  They include a psychiatrist, occupational therapist, nurse, dietitian, social worker and a peer support worker.  Each patient in the care of an ACT team has an occupational therapist or social worker assigned to them as their primary contact or “case worker”, and a psychiatrist.

For nearly two years, I was seen by an ACT team.  The first year I was assigned an occupational therapist as my case worker.  I really liked her.  She was friendly, supportive, and a good listener.  I saw her almost every two weeks and we would discuss how everything was going with me.  We would meet up for coffee, or go for a walk.  She even went with me to an art gallery.   She later moved on to a different job.  Consequently, I was then assigned a new case worker; this time a social worker.  My new case worker was also very friendly, supportive, and easy to talk to.  She would often come by, pick me up and drive me to our outings.  She has taken me to conservation parks, two of our art galleries, and to cafes.  The outings gave me a chance to get out of the house and be in the community.

I also saw a psychiatrist on a regular basis, usually every two weeks.  We often talked about my progress, what I was up to, any changes in my life.  I could ask about my medications, my symptoms, and side effects. It was really helpful to be seen and heard by a specialized doctor.

I have found that the ACT team was really there for me in difficult times.  They were with me when I started a new job.  I told both the doctor and my social worker that I was anxious about it.  They said that it was natural that I was worried, but that the more exposure to the job I get, the less anxious I would be.  I also remembered that after my first day at work my social worker called me and asked how everything went.  I told her it was all right and that it was only a “shadow” the experienced worker kind of day.  But just to have her call to check up on me meant a lot to me.

In late October of this year,  I was told that I was doing really well and that I wouldn’t need the support or services of the ACT team anymore.  I was very disappointed and sad to hear this as I really valued the ACT team.  I liked having someone to talk to about my health, and how my life is going.  I also really enjoyed the outings too.  It was a chance to be social.  I don’t have many friends that I interact with so it was nice to have someone take me out and talk to me.  My case worker said that being discharged, or “graduate” as she called it, from the ACT team was a good thing.  It meant that I was better.  But I will miss it, especially the social interaction aspect.

Concerning Side Effects of Meds

img_0347The first drug that I was given for my schizophrenia was risperidone.   It seemed to have worked quite well as I didn’t have any positive symptoms while on it.  There was however a few very concerning side effects associated with this drug.

One of the side effects was weight gain.  While I was on risperidone, I gained about 20 to 30 lbs.  For most of my life, I was rather trimmed.  It was devastating to carry so much weight around my abdomen.  I felt depressed looking in the mirror at my protruding paunch.   I know for sure the meds were responsible for my weight gain.  When I stopped taking it,  I eventually lost all of the weight that I gained.  Although it took a lot of work, dieting and exercise, I was happy to return to my slender self.  After my second episode, I started taking paliperidone, an active metabolite of risperdone.   Sadly, I regained all of the weight that I had lost.  The two drugs seem to stimulate the appetite, which is why so many gain weight, but I feel like it does more.  I suspect it may also affect how the body processes fat, perhaps accumulating it.

The other worrisome side effect of these antipsychotics is increased cholesterol.  My numbers jumped after being on risperidone or paliperidone.   My cholesterol went from around 4 to 7 mmol/L.  My LDL cholesterol went from 3 to almost 5 mmol/L.   Amazingly, my numbers went down after I stopped taking risperdone.   It climbed back up again when I was on paliperidone.

I don’t like these side effects at all. Not only are they cosmetically not very appealing (the weight gain), but they can also put me at risk for heart disease (the weight gain and high cholesterol).  It seems like these drugs may help with one disorder, schizophrenia, but adversely puts me at risk for another disease.  For now, my doctor says as long as I don’t have any other symptoms like high blood sugar, think diabetes, I should be ok.  I hope he is right.

Overcoming depression

img_0126In the first two years after my first episode, I was deeply depressed.  A significant source of my depression came from my recent withdrawal from graduate studies.  I was upset and sad at the same time because I couldn’t finish my degree that I had spent four years of my life working on.   Then, I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life.  And I didn’t have a another career to fall back on.

At that time, writing was my only employable skill that I could use to make money.  I started writing for an online writing company based in the US.  We were paid for the views we got of our articles.  However, the money was very little, in fact pennies for each view.  I never made any money from my writing.  Later, I was accepted by an online content company in the US.  They sent out titles for writers to write short articles on.  I was able to make about $30 per article.  But I quickly found out that I was taking too long, a week, to produce one article.  So in the end it wasn’t worth it.

One of my friends I knew from school got a job as a data analyst.  She suggested that I  follow her footsteps.  She advised me to learn SAS, a statistical software, so that I was more attractive as an analyst.  So I started learning SAS and also statistics.  It was about this same time that Coursera and EdX came into the scene.  Coursera offered  a course on Data Analysis and I was very excited to take as it was highly relevant.  It turned out to be quite good and useful.  I managed to be become certified in SAS and completed the Data Analysis course in 2013.  And at the end of that year, I found a volunteer Data Analyst position at a health clinic run by Queen’s.

It was also that year that I started getting into the arts.  I would visit the Agnes Art Gallery on Queen’s Campus, and the Modern Fuel Gallery in downtown Kingston.  I love them so much that I became a member of both galleries.  In addition to visiting the galleries, I also posted well known works of Art Masters on social media.  I even started doing some of my own art work using pastels.

These developments filled my life with accomplishment, joy and a new purpose in life.   I now had a “job,” and meaningful interests and hobbies.  I was no longer depressed.  It took several years but I came out of my deep depression.



In Denial

img_0059I didn’t accept my diagnosis of schizophrenia at first.  When the psychiatrist told me that my diagnosis was schizophrenia, I didn’t believe him.  I didn’t think it could affect me. How could I suffer from one of the most severe and serious mental illnesses?

I thought my ideas of a conspiracy against me, that the government was watching me, that people were trying to frame for a crime, that they weren’t a symptom of illness.  But that other healthy people could also imagine these things happening to themselves.  For instance, some people believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy and they wouldn’t be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

During my first episode,  I did have one hallucination.  I saw a grey wolf snarling at me in the hallway of my house at one point.  At the time when I saw it,  I was absolutely terrified.  But that one hallucination, I completely block out of my memory.  I adamantly believed that I never had any hallucinations of any kind.  I thought I was healthy, not schizophrenic.

I finally accepted that I had schizophrenia after my second episode.  That was when I had multiple hallucinations and believed that my family was collaborating with the government to experiment on me.  Today, I see myself as a person living with schizophrenia, for better or for worse.

My first episode

I have been in school for a quite a long time.  I did my undergrad at Queen’s University in Life Science.  I later tried to complete a graduate degree in Montreal but I wasn’t successful.  This was partly because I became mental ill.

I did not have much luck in graduate school.  I was in the program for nearly four years.  And in those four years, I didn’t produce a lot of results.  Almost all of my research projects failed.  No results, no papers.  This caused me a lot of stress.   I think that the stress was the trigger for my psychosis.

I started believing that my lab coworkers were trying to frame me for a crime.  I was so sure that they were checking my website viewing history, and were watching my every move.  I also thought other people, like security guards at the supermarket, were closely watching me.  I even believed that the security cameras were following me around.  At one point, I thought the other students in the lab were undercover police officers.  All these beliefs made me extremely anxious, and fearful even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.

It was close to Remembrance Day when I took the train back to Kingston, my hometown.  I went home as I thought my mother was suicidal and I wanted to be there for her.  There was a moment on train when I thought they were going to kill me.  I think it was after I had gone to the washroom, and I saw one of the male staff close to the door of train car.  He seemed like he was beckoning me to follow him.  I made a few steps forward and could hear the loud sound of the train wheels moving along the rail.  The door to the train must have been opened.    I was terrified that if I had come any closer he would have pushed me off the train.

I was finally hospitalized in Kingston a few days after coming home.  I spent two weeks in the hospital and I was put on Risperdone, Olanzapine, Clonazepam, and  Wellbutrin.  After my release, I withdrew from my graduate studies.

I suffered from anxiety and depression for months after my discharge.  I was placed into an Early Psychosis Intervention Program, where I was seen by a psychiatrist and a social worker.  This was when I was given the proper diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.