Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Over the Edge” – A Song about Schizophrenia

This week’s blog entry is a song by Peer Support Worker, Karen Graham. It encapsulates her experience with schizophrenia. Click on the link below to hear it:

“Over the Edge” by Karen Graham


Mental Illness Hurts the Family More than the Victim

As our last blog entry, we posted the speech Kim Calsaferri gave when she received The Honorable Mention for the City of Vancouver’s Access & Inclusion Award. She received this Honorable Mention for the work she has done to promote service user and family involvement in the mental health system. In response to her speech, Zerom Seyoum sent us the following article – our next post. Zerom is a Peer Support Worker and author of two books: “Not Guilty but not Free” and “Alone in the Crowd.”

Mental Illness Hurts the Family More than the Victim

Zerom Seyoum

My family was back on another continent and didn’t know that their son in Canada was languishing in a mental hospital. Would they have been hurt more if they were to know the predicament of their son than the parents in Canada who visit relentlessly their son or daughter who is also languishing in a mental hospital?

In the psychiatric hospital I was in, not many patients got visitors. The reasons could be that the parents were in another province and didn’t know their son or daughter was in a mental hospital, or they might know, but have no means of getting out for a visit, or they could be deceased.  But for the few patients who were getting visits, the visits were continuous and regular.

I remember one fellow. We’ll call him “Bob”. “Bob” had a visitor ever Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The staff used to come to the day room and tell him, “You have a visitor.” He went to the visiting room and sat next to his visitor who was his mother. No greetings. No talk. His mother tried to talk to him and would continue to talk, but “Bob” would say nothing. “Bob” would be deep in thought, staring at his mother,  but living in another world. Two hours later the staff would mention that the visiting hours were over and his mother would depart.  The same thing took place when she  came back on the following visiting days. She kept visiting him for fifteen years. When she stopped coming, we heard she had died.

Seven years later, “Bob” came to me and said “Zerom, do you know my mother died? She visited me every visiting day when she was alive. She tried to talk to me but I was unable to understand what she was saying and I said nothing. I know she was trying to talk to me.  But I was unable to say anything. Now I miss my mother and I have a lot of things to talk with her about, but she is nowhere to be found.” I told him “Probably you were listening to some deafening voices that blocked everything she was saying.”

Place yourself in this woman’s position and try to understand mental illness: everyday looking for a day when her son would be healed and recover from his illness but dieing before seeing “Bob” in his present condition.

Last year I met “Bob” in downtown Vancouver. I was happy to see him and I offered to buy him coffee. He turned down my offer and said, “I have no time, I am going to register for culinary school at the Vancouver Community College. I am good at cooking and if I finish my training I can work at one of the fast food restaurants.”

In another case, I have seen another woman visiting her son every Sunday for years and years. One day she was crying and weeping while walking from the bus stop to the hospital. We’ll call her “Mrs. Smith”.  I said,””‘Mrs. Smith” don’t cry, your son is doing fine.” She said, “I visited my son for the last twenty years everyday. My husband died ten years ago. I am alone and receive old age pension. It is not enough to make ends meet. I am old and I am drained of all my energy. Just to have enough to eat at this age I work as a cook at a restaurant. At the end of the day I get so exhausted that I can’t even have energy to eat. You see I was always hopping that one day my son would be healed and would get a job and help me in my old age. He doesn’t seem to understand. I don’t understand what he is saying. And he doesn’t understand what I am saying to him. Sometimes I feel he is healed and he will leave the hospital and he will go back to his previous job. Sometimes he does not seem to understand me and I can’t understand him.”

Place yourself as a parent and as this mother. She probably will die before he gets out of the hospital. Even if he gets out of the hospital he probably will go to a boarding home. The mother doesn’t understand the seriousness of his illness and that he will be in the hospital for a long time.

Watching these parents, I felt relieved that my parents were not here and didn’t know I was languishing in a mental hospital.  In my case, I came to Canada for school and ended up in a mental hospital. Years went by and my sisters and my brother started to worry.  They kept asking me when I was going to finish school and when I would come to visit them. I kept lying to them, sometimes saying I was still in school and sometimes saying that I was very busy working.

Eventually my brother was so worried he decided to visit me.  I thought they would not come because they would have no money for transportation.  But somehow they were able to pitch in enough money to send my brother to visit me.  He was shocked when he met me at a mental hospital, but happy that I was ready to be discharged and recovering. But when my sisters heard the news they were  worried and couldn’t  handle the fate I had faced. One of them came and visited. She was happy that I was in a subsidized apartment  and out of the hospital.  She couldn’t believe all the education I had was wasted.  She thought I was dead and alive again.  She kept telling me not to look down when I walk and to try to keep my chin up; and to tuck my shirt in my pants… on and on as if I was a child. Seeing me in the condition I am in now made her, on one hand, cry and, on the other hand, be happy to see me face to face after all these years.

My family would have been crying and weeping all the years if they knew I was in the hospital and not going to school or working. They thought,  as a son and brother, I would save them from the abject poverty they were in. Mental illness hurts the family more than the patient himself.

Kim Calsaferri Receives Honorable Mention for the City of Vancouver’s Access and Inclusion Award

Kim Calsaferri, an Occupational Therapist and Manager with Vancouver Coastal Health, who has worked hard to promote service user and family involvement in the mental health system, was honored for her work recently with an honorable mention for the City of Vancouver’s Access and Inclusion Award. She was nominated by Erin Goodman, Susan Inman and Renea Mohammed.

Kim graciously consented to have her speech appear as a blog entry on this site. In it, she tells the story of “Mary”, a woman, now passed away, who was one of the first Peer Support Workers in the Vancouver Mental Health system and who was well-known for her inspiring, thought-provoking and humourous public speaking.

The Downtown Eastside, where “Mary” lived for over 30 years is the poorest part of Vancouver.

From left to right: Sharon Marmion, Renea Mohammed, Mayor Gregor Robertson, Kim Calsaferri, Kary Otterstein, Regina Casey

Kim Calsaferri’s Speech

Your Honor, City Council Members & guests,

Thank-you very much for this recognition today; I am honored. I would like to give a special thank you to my colleagues, Erin & Renea and to Susan, a family member who has a loved one with mental illness who put my name forward for this award.

Access and inclusion for people with disabilities is close to my heart and paramount if all individuals are to lead full lives and be true citizens in our communities.

Today, I think about a colleague & friend I’ll call Mary, who passed away 20 years earlier than what is average in our society.  Mary had schizophrenia and moved into her own apartment for the first time at age 57, after living in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) for over 30 years.

She contributed a great deal to the mental health system giving back to others as a peer support worker and often joined me and others to educate mental health staff and the public about mental illness.  At the new staff orientation we would ask people; “What’s important in your life?” Ponder this for a moment.

What always surfaced was health, family and friends, intimate relationships, fun, relaxation, a home to call your own, work that gives purpose, and full access and participation to our communities.  Mary would say this is what we all want.

In the earlier years of Mary’s life before she became ill at age 28 and for the last 10 years of her life, after she had her own apartment on Commercial Drive, Mary had all these elements in her life.  Prior, she was a working mom of two, had her own apartment in Kitsilano, and very much enjoyed friends and her interest in politics.  After, she reconnected with her children, worked as a support worker and contributed much to the MH system.  Imagine the outcome for Mary if access to housing, family support and inclusion in work and her community had happened 30 years earlier.

The City and its partners have been working very hard to develop and expand housing opportunities for people who are homeless and live with mental illness and addictions. I congratulate you on this work.

However, we all know there is so much more to do, to create a civil and just society and full participation for all citizens. Breaking through the red tape and barriers to access to supports, addressing stigma and discrimination and supporting people with decent affordable housing, creates a city where full participation is possible.

I accept this honor on behalf of all the Marys in our city today, in the hope that we will continue to strive to break down the barriers to access and inclusion for all members of our society.

– Kim Calsaferri

My 360 Degree Story

As we continue to explore the theme of wellness in anticipation of the next issue of On Our Way: Recovery News, please find here a story by Peer Support Worker, Garry Brown. It is a story of turning his life around and moving forward in his recovery. It originally came to my colleague and I as an email message. Garry graciously agreed to have his story appear on the blog site.

My 360 Degree Story

Garry Brown 

I want to story share my story with you…. I am so thankful to get my life back to where I was nine years ago.  I lost everything except for…Toni [my dog]. Boy she is a loyal friend.  I was almost homeless.  I was fifty-five then when the doctor at Three Bridges Clinic diagnosed me as being Bi-Polar.  It was my pretty scary stuff for me, coming from a upper-middle class family, [to wind up] living in a roach infested [single]… room in the Downtown East side.  I was so lost, not knowing what I could ever do to get life back again.  So alone, I had just my dog.

It was my doctor who helped me first to get social assistance. There were about three or four months, where I lived on $81/month after my rent was paid. He also started the process for me to get BC Disability.  When I got my disability [benefits] I got a bus pass.  Boy was that valuable to me: “wheels” instead of walking.

Through Triumph I got volunteer work and part-time work.  I took Peer Support Training…about six years ago, and then took a course from Vancouver Career College to Teach English Second Language.  I also got some wonderful housing from St. James Church, got a two bedroom apartment, with all the fixings: stove, oven, washer, dyer, dish washer and a balcony.  This really started to transform me.

I have been doing Peer Work for almost six years now, and this has helped [me] so much to grow, develop and become me again.  I met Teho and we were married three years ago. Doing a lot of work with Peer Support and my disability I qualified for a mortgage, 2.99% fixed for five years.

Yes, we bought a nice Condo, Townhouse in Maple Ridge. It is one block off Lougheed Highway, sits on a hill with a clear view of the Fraser River.  It is 24 years old, 870 sq. ft, with a 300 sq. ft balcony to view the river.  It has been a dream to have a garden.  Well having a large deck, facing south I will finally have a terrace garden.  I want to raise my own vegetables.  Why this feels so awesome to me is, the mortgage was based solely on what I make, not Teho.  Teho is going to  rent out his condo in Surrey.

For me to do all this, my dream has gone true.  I have my life back.

I have my health, my partner, my work and our new home…My success story is not because of a mental health team. Basically I did this on my own.

My mother who has been dead for twenty years, her voice would be in my thinking. A stubborn woman, highly determined — her voice rang strong: “Come hell or high water”,  I will get this done. Another [saying of hers came to mind], “whatever it takes”.

This is not the first time my determination and inner strength drove me on.  I decided when I was fifteen to become a Lutheran minister.  I have learning disabilities.  So, I studied way more than anyone I knew.

Dam, I am going to succeed and I did.  It was my mother and father who believed in me, gave me the chance.  My high school counsellor told my parents I was not college material.  Well, I then got my master’s in Theology and Pastoral Care.

I did it forty years ago and now at sixty-three, I did it again.  What support did I get?  First it was the face of Jesus and His words spoke about life  and hope. It was also you, Debbie and Renea who I had my training with [in] Peer Support, through Vancouver Health. Wow, what wonderful, supportive co-workers.  Then my four-legged friend, Toni, who I have been with, since she was born twelve years ago [helped also].

Thank you, Renea and Debbie for sharing, giving and supporting.  Love you gals.