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Schizophrenia Is Not A Four-Letter Word

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Meet Drake. At 15, He felt unsafe around his friends when he was at home. Afraid he might show his "quirks" and they would judge him or maybe say mean things about him. Alone at home a lot, he started to imagine "another me" to keep him company.

No one knew.

At school he was sociable. But the "other me" started talking to him more and more. Distracting him constantly and making him do things. Turn on and off the lights 5 times. Check the locks. Again. Again. Again.

At 16, the voice became meaner. Never stopping. Telling him that people were going to break in every night. The locks didn't make a difference. Less sleep. More coffee. Less sleep. More coffee.

OK. Changing the subject. When I used to play in Jazz clubs (back in the day), there was smoke all around us. I was not a fan of the smoke. What I didn't know was; it was the reason I started getting horrible sinusitis. The pain was unbearable and constant. It went past physical pain, partly because of its non-stop, unceasing duration but also from the lack of sleep. The combination of sleep deprivation and long-term pain does something to a person that is hard to explain without experiencing it.

I remember looking at my bedroom wall and really considering that smashing my head against that wall over and over might be a really good way to minimize the pain. I didn't do it, but it seemed like a true option at the time.

You know, I never realized until this moment, as I am writing this, that doing that might have killed me. This may sound weird but until this moment, I never considered how it would have affected me. That's the thing about being in the middle of pain, we see options... often bad options but we don't see anything beyond trying to stop the pain.

That's what I am told by my clients, who have suffered that pain of mental illness, is what they feel like when they are in the midst of their pains. They may not be hitting their head against a wall; it may be drugs, risky behaviors, avoiding the world or even attempting something that could also end in permanent injury or even death... all they care about, at that moment, is ending the constant pain.

To the people who care about them, once this young person chooses "the other way", all the people around them see is the consequences. "Didn't you know that if you did "X" you would end up "Y"". It is understandable for those around you to feel this because the process of suffering is so often done in the dark. The sufferers try to protect those around them and some feel that by minimizing it, it may go away.

So blame is a dead-end street.

How do we go on from here?

Back to Drake:

At 17, the voice was a constant torment. It would say terrible things about the people around him and make him wonder about what people were thinking about him. His only salvation was knowing that someone on the TV really cared about him (or so he imagined).

Drake was still keeping all this to himself but it was getting harder and harder to do so. The pain kept getting worse until the idea of getting high to run away from all of this sounded like a good idea and it worked! At least for the first few times, then... the damn broke. The weed made it impossible to hide how he was feeling. Ashamed, fed up and unable to bear the voice he decided to jump of a bridge into two feet of water.

Drake woke up in the hospital and spent the next year between medical care and mental health facilities.

When we met, a year after his discharge, he was able to get around in a wheelchair. He was sober and ready to work. One of the first things he said to me was he hoped that he would never walk again, as he seemed to be a better person now. He was on meds that were working. I pointed out to him that what made him different now was that he didn't have to hide from Schizophrenia. He could seek out help and we could work on getting back into finding his personal greatness. It wasn't the "not walking".

It has been two years now that we have working together. Drake is back at university and getting high 80's in the courses he likes. He has stated: "I should be doing things that make me happy not crap that make me feel complacent" and so we work on courses and past-times he loves and not done to please others. He helps so many friends and even people he chances upon in is daily journeys. He does wheelchair basketball, guitar, has chosen his vocation in life and I know he will excel at it. His new girlfriend and him communicate brilliantly and are there for each other.

Sometimes though, he says: "I am overwhelmed by becoming the new me". That's OK too. But none of this was possible until he embraced what he was suffering with and could seek help from others who would not see him as a label but as an amazing person, ready to contribute to our society, in need of guidance.

If you are someone going through this... know that there is help out there.
If you are a parent suffering in seeing your child go through this... know that once things are stabilized, your child can still find greatness in their lives and that their challenge can help them be more of a help to others in life.

If you are someone who wants to Mentor young adults with mental health issues... know that by studying a Mentoring course, specializing in young adults and mental health, you can change lives with one or two years of part-time training.

Let's change the world!

Interested in mentoring millennials? Check out

Know a millennial in need of mentoring? Check out

If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.

Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email

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