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After I finished my second university degree, I was wracked with indecision. I was living in Montreal yet couldn’t speak French fluently. Employment opportunities suggested that I should move out west where the work was, but my extended family was all in central Canada. I was a single mother with a young child. I needed support. I spent my days alternating between packing my possessions in boxes and unpacking them. In my confusion, I don’t believe I submitted a single resume.

I withdrew my son from daycare, thinking that as a health professional (albeit an unemployed one), I had no right to take a subsidized spot. I lived on my line of credit and credit cards, feeling guilty and thinking that I should not be going on social assistance. I was feeding both of us, maintaining hygiene and a clean, if cluttered, apartment. My turmoil was internal. The situation came to a head in a bizarre series of events.

There were good days: when my son and I finger painted in bright colours while sitting out on the balcony, when we went to the water park, and when we played in the park. On the way home we would often eat Jamaican patties. Yum.

Then there were the other days. Like when I longed to go for a bike ride. I placed my son in my Tough Traveller backpack carrier and mounted my bicycle. Very gingerly, I rode 50 feet up the quiet residential street to where the bicycle path began. The sight of cars passing beside the bike lane sobered me. I dismounted and walked my son and bike home. My judgment, though impaired, was not yet all gone. I kept my eye open for used children’s bicycle seats.

When we went to a local bicycle store to look at children’s seats, a Chinese couple entered looking at bicycle tires. The store clerk attempted to serve them, but the couple spoke minimal English and apparently no French. I listened to them speak what I assumed was Mandarin. To my surprise, I understood them, as easily as if they spoke English. Or at least that was my impression.

At home I felt curiously full of love, but confused at the same time. The confusion dominated my thoughts. I lived down the street from a Salvation Army store. Over the previous year, I had rifled through the store’s pile of donations, taking things as I had needed them. Now, I was overwhelmed with how wrong this had been. Thinking this might be the reason for my muddled head I frantically returned everything I had taken, and more, to the store. It didn’t help. At times I was filled with a flooding feeling of love, but most times I felt disquiet. This disquiet made me yearn to feel like everyone else: neither a great happy love nor a strong nervous energy.

This energy kept me awake at night. By the third night of sleeplessness I imagined sounds coming from the apartment above me. The apocalypse was impending! Feeling dread and my own inadequacies as a parent, I left my son sleeping in our apartment. I raced upstairs to a neighbour looking for solace and a break. I only knew this neighbour from saying hello in passing, and in the mess that was my mind, that was enough. I frantically knocked on the door. He and his wife answered. In a panic, I explained my need for a babysitter. They readily agreed to help me, and invited me in. Inside their hallway was a framed, larger than life, full sized, photograph of their own son at the age of a toddler. They explained: the photo was over 20 years old. To me, in my muddled mind, their “sane” perspective on life seemed even odder than my own, so I elected not to leave my son with them.

I rushed back downstairs. I knocked on another neighbour’s door. This man was an evangelical Christian who had on occasion shared with me his deep spiritual beliefs. I told him I was experiencing internal disquiet. Calmly, he followed me back to my apartment. There he asked for a photo of me. Methodically, he tore it into pieces, uttered a few words to “exorcise bad spirits” and pocketed the photo fragments. Beside myself with anxiety, I ushered him out the door. An exorcism was not an area I wanted to explore.

Around this time I did what I regret most. One day, while trying to decide what to do, I thought my answer lay in Africa, where I had visited three years previously. I quickly packed a small daypack and rushed out the door. As I locked the apartment door I heard my 18 month old son crying at the top of his poor little lungs. I finished turning the lock, thinking to myself, he will do better without me. I walked toward the building exit thinking I was doing the right thing. My son’s cries pierced my clouded thinking. After what have must have seemed like an eternity to my son, I turned around. I returned home to a very distraught child. To this day relaying this story can bring me to tears.

At this stage I was beginning to think that something was seriously wrong. I packed my son in his Tough Traveller and headed out the door, destination Africa. I walked half a block when I had second thoughts and turned around. I had third thoughts and started going again. Fourth thoughts and I turned. Fifth thoughts and I was on my way. A woman on the second floor of a neighbouring building stuck her head out the window shouting, “Is everything alright?” I said that it was and I hurried to the local TD bank. Checking my bank balance I was sobered. I returned home, this time deciding that I needed help.

I packed a diaper bag and some clothes and in a blur headed to the bus station with my son. I have no idea how I got there. On the bus ride my son slept a good part of the time. When he was awake he was content to be in my arms. I had decided to go to my brother’s in Ottawa. I watched outside the window on the other side of the bus. The Quebec and Ontario landscape couldn’t pass by fast enough. Looking outside my window, I saw the familiar landscape of Zimbabwe. I alternately looked out my window and that of my neighbours. The images changed back and forth between Canada and Zimbabwe. I felt as if I was seeing through the eyes of my friend in Zimbabwe though I couldn’t imagine why or how.

As we arrived in Ottawa we disembarked at the Mackenzie King Bridge. Arriving unannounced I told my surprised, but unflappable, brother that I needed to go to the hospital.

That was my first psychotic episode, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. My official diagnosis was yet to come.

About Hazel Green

I am a 50 year old woman who lives in Ottawa with my 15 year old son. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2003. Prior to my diagnosis I completed two Bachelors’ of Science degrees. The second one was in an allied health care profession. I have been on disability since my diagnosis, but have worked part-time with children with disabilities. I am attempting a return to my profession as I feel greatest fulfillment when helping people. Unfortunately, stigma being what it is, and with the general fear that people have of people with a schizophrenic type diagnosis, I am very guarded as to whom I come “out” to. I long for a career where I can help people and not have to worry about people fearing me should they learn of my diagnosis. I am passionate about helping people, my family and taking care of my son. I knit, crochet and strive to think positively. I yearn for a full recovery that would allow me to work overseas in my chosen profession.

  • Marion Gibson

    Thank you for sharing your story Hazel. I can only imagine how scared you must have been at the time of your fist ordeal. Congratulations for sharing your story. I am sure it will help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

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