My aunt loves her Diet Cokes and always flatters me by calling me beautiful. Instantly, I tell her she is beautiful back. Sadly though, she is also a person who got unimaginably unlucky.
Due to wanting to protect her personal life, my aunt and her brother will remain anonymous.
My 62-year-old aunt suffers from schizophrenia and according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “As many as one person out of 100 may experience schizophrenia.”The National Institute of Mental Health defines it as a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves and may cause them to lose touch with reality.
Schizophrenia is a complex illness to comprehend; however, to empathize or sympathize, there can only be a personal experience or know someone struggling with it. It's not the same feeling as reading the typed definition on a computer screen.
“It’s a curse,” is what my aunt calls it. That’s what her doctor says too.
Since I only know my aunt with her disease, I’ve never had anything to adjust to. One of her brothers did though; he witnessed the arrival of the symptoms.
In terms of her behaviour, she had a lot of anxiety and tended to be obsessive about particulars, such as the paintings hung in their house when they were growing up.
“Some of the paintings were painted with brushes so the texture of the painting was not smooth. When you rub your hand on it, it’s not a piece of glass or mirror. Well, she would pick those things off,” her brother explains.
“It would bother her to the point where she would have to pick it off to try and smooth the painting. I remember that. It was from 1973 to 1974. It was peculiar.”
Growing up, she was always seen as talented and creative. According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, creative people, or people in creative fields, are 90 per cent more likely to have schizophrenia than those working in non-creative fields.
While growing up in Swift Current, her creative field was skating. She loved to skate and was very talented. She practiced and competed from age five to about 17 and taught from the age of 21 to about 25.
“I was lucky I was a figure skater because I think it helped me have more of a chance of healing. Figure skating helped me become a better person,” she said.
However, at 19, she noticed something was wrong while studying in Toronto.
“I just wasn’t as happy. That was a bad idea to go to Toronto. I was too young,” she said.
The National Institute of Mental Health also states that schizophrenia symptoms begin to show between the ages of 16 to 30. They can be positive, negative, or cognitive. Positive refers to the mind losing touch with reality through hallucinations and delusions, negative refers to the emotions and behaviors being affected, and cognitive refers to an impairment in memory and other aspects of thinking.
“When I was about 26 or 27 I found it very difficult to work. I couldn’t cope, I was on welfare. I think that’s what happens when you get sick, it’s more difficult to work.”
She adds, “It’s not something you want, it disrupts your life. That’s the only way I could describe it.”
According to Elsevier, a global information analytics business, a study was done on twins and schizophrenia at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Over 30,000 pairs of twins from the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register and twins listed in the Danish Twin Register as far back as 1870 were studied.
It resulted in the estimate that 79 per cent of schizophrenia risk may be due to genetics. Therefore, 21 per cent of the influence may be due to external factors.
Her brother states, “She couldn’t shake it off. It wasn’t like go see a psychologist, we’ll do some psychology 101 and make you more positive. You could see the organic brain disease setting in after her first year out of high school.”
Adding, “I’m surprised she hasn’t committed suicide yet. I feel like she’s getting tortured, that’s how I look at it.”
Currently, there are treatments for schizophrenia such as antipsychotics and psychotherapy but no cure. However, my aunt finds that hard to believe.
“They say there’s no cure for it but I don’t necessarily go by what they say. There [are] people who have had cancer who have gone into remission, right? So I don’t think there’s necessarily no cure,” she said.
She hopes a cure will be discovered soon, but until then, she believes acknowledging the separation between the person and the illness is what’s important.
“It’s a label they put on something. Everyone's different; you can’t box everyone in."
Canadian Mental Health Association
Phone: (403) 297-1700
Mental Health Helpline
- By Mackenzie Gellner