Monthly Archives: May 2012

To Give a Life Back

From Guest Blogger, Erin Hawkes, neuroscientist and author of the new book, When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia.

To Give a Life Back

 Erin L. Hawkes

            Medication after medication was failing me. Either I couldn’t tolerate the side effects, or I required massive doses that kept me in a somnolent state. Besides that, I had very poor insight: I did not believe that I had schizophrenia and therefore did not think I needed these medications. Time and time again, I ended up in hospital thanks to “decompensation due to medication noncompliance.” I was sick, and part of my sickness was that I didn’t even realize I was ill.

I had tastes of quiet recovery, but these, in my mind, were not due to medication. So I’d stop the pill-taking. Then, slowly or quickly, I would slip, sliding into psychosis yet again. For me, a prominent symptom of my schizophrenia was poor insight and judgment; I could not hold onto reality and evaluate my mental state and experiences.

By my 12th hospitalization, I finally began to understand that my mental illness could be treated without the constant relapsing. Moreover, I began to believe that recovery was possible. It had one prerequisite: I had to, had to, take my medication. I was also in therapy, but this could only proceed when I was stable: when I was medicated. (By itself, psychotherapy does little for those with schizophrenia.)

But was it me, or my medications, that now lived my life? Was I less “me” because I was taking pills that altered my very brain and its chemistry?  I am a neuroscientist by training, and I knew what was happening when those drugs washed into my brain… but I was also a patient, looking for relief.

I can now say, without a doubt, that I am more “me” on medication. How could a life of terror – fear that the hallucinatory Voices would convince me to kill myself, delusional fear that the man tracking my every move intended to murder me, and fear that rats were eating my brain – be more “me” than the medicated Erin who could function vocationally, socially, and emotionally?

I therefore take the emphatic stance that I – that anyone suffering from a severe yet treatable illness such as schizophrenia – can have hope that medication, more often than not, is potent enough to give a life back. I desperately want others to know this, and I hope that my memoir, When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey With Schizophrenia, can help in that capacity. Recovery is possible, but its requirements are twofold: there is the sometimes difficult quest for the “right” medication (“right” can be different for each person, so it is a relief that there are many anti-psychotics available, with varying neurochemical profiles), and, secondly, you must be convinced that those pills are to be religiously taken. With this, there can be tremendous recovery. It can truly give a life back.



Images of Recovery: A Visual Blog

“Finding Color” Recovery and wellness are about finding the color in life.

Hi all, this blog post contains a few of my thoughts about recovery – illustrated visually.

I also just started a new Flickr group called Recovery Images. To see it click on: Link to Recovery Images Flickr Group.

The Flickr Group is meant to be a place where folks can post images that illustrate the concepts of recovery or wellness. You are most welcome to post images or just take a peek.  You’ll need a Flickr account to post.

When you have a look, click on the image to see the description of how the photo illustrates recovery or wellness.

I’d also love to hear your insights about wellness and recovery. Please post your thoughts in the “comments” section of this blog.

“Reaching Up” Recovery is about reaching up and continually growing.

“A Journey Forward”: Recovery is not about arriving at a destination and stopping. It is an ongoing journey as we travel along the path of life. Its also about moving forward, not back. Everyone is changed by their life experiences. No one can go back to being exactly the same person they were, say, five years ago or even one year ago. Our experiences transform us. We are continually growing like the trees in the image.

“Making Peace” Recovery is about making peace with the shadows in our life.

“Rising” Recovery is about rising upward, again and again.

So, what are your thoughts about recovery?


Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Strategic Report and Peer Support

Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada was released on May 8,  2012 and is Canada’s first national mental health strategy. Until now, Canada was the only G8 country without a mental health strategy.  The Commission writes: “We believe that there now exists an historic opportunity to make a difference. It will not be easy, but the winds of change have been swirling about the mental health system for many years,” (p.3). The Commission notes that the strategy is informed by testimony from people living with mental health problems and illnesses, from family members and from service providers. It says:  “People living with mental health problems and illnesses and their family members are “experts by experience” (p.31). Yay!

Given its roots in the lived experience of thousands of people who shared their  insights,  it should not be surprising that the value of peer support is clearly recognized in the strategy. Peer Support is described as  “an essential component of mental health services” (p.51).  and the following recommendations are made:

  • 3.4.1 Increase appropriately resourced peer support initiatives in both independent peer-run agencies and mainstream settings.
  • 3.4.2 Increase peer support opportunities for families.
  • 3.4.3 Develop nationally recognized guidelines for peer support, in collaboration with peer support organizations. (p. 52)

The work of the Mental Health Commission could very well represent an historic leap forward for peer support in Canada: more peer support for people living with mental health issues and their families plus national guidelines that could well raise the profile of peer support and enhance the recognition of its credibility. That is, if the Mental Health Commission’s recommendations come into practice.

If you want to compare Canada’s Mental Health Strategy to those of some other English speaking countries check out the following sites:

Hello world!

I coordinate a mental health peer support program in Vancouver, British Columbia and edit On Our Way: Recovery News. I’m new to wordpress and am in the process of learning my way around, but plan to use the site to explore issues related to peer support, mental health and recovery. I’ll also feature selected articles from On Our Way: Recovery News.

I hope you like the site. If you have suggestions for me they are most welcome!

Also, check out the peer-run  Spotlight on Mental Health Website for news, resources and opportunities of interest to folks receiving mental health services and their supporters –  particularly for those who live in the Vancouver area.