My Son’s Journey Through Schizophrenia

In January 1984 my son Bruce left his home town of Fraser Lake, BC for Toronto. His plan was to find a job and take night school courses in Commercial Art at the University of Ontario. He would room with a part time teacher he’d met while attending high school in Edmonton. He had 9000 dollars earned from working in a sawmill in Fraser Lake for 2 years following graduation.

His newly found friends helped him spend his money on supplies of high grade marijuana. Bruce moved into his own second floor apartment where he planned on carrying out his plans of finding a job and enrolling in art courses.

In September his land lady called me saying she wanted Bruce evicted after he was discharged from the East Toronto General Hospital. He’d had a severe psychotic episode, she told me. When he arrived home he was skin and bones but appeared to be mentally stable. He was on a medication called Haldol.

Over the years he was put on many different medications which seemed to help ground him for a while, but had many side effects and seemed to lose their effectiveness after a time. He spent a numbet of years in Duncan and Nanaimo near where his father and stepmother lived on Vancouver Island. He attempted to attend courses in art and music at Malaspino College but the stress was too much for him and he had to drop out.

Bruce resided in a number of Vancouver Island group home facilities where his medication requirements were monitored. He visited me and other Fraser Lake relatives for a few weeks every summer, travelling back and forth via Greyhound buses.

Bruce’s illness was such that at times he seemed to excell socially, as well as in many aspects of everyday living; but, then suddenly, he could cope no longer cope with whatever he was attempting to do. He was often involved in projects through Mental Health such as writing, illustrating and publishing small magazines and books.

Bruce has never had what could be called a real job after he returned from Toronto in 1993 at the age of 21. It broke his heart at first to be categorized as “unemployable.” This he learned from his doctor after having setbacks because of his schizophrenia. Several years later he left his father’s home on Vancouver Island, boarding a bus for Toronto. He ended up sleeping on the streets for a few months and being harrassed and abused while in a psycotic state of mind. I received a call from a concerned person about his mental health and Bruce returned home to FraserLake.

He refused to take medication and eventually I had to send him back to being under the care of his father and step-mother. I could no longer handle the stress of attempting to coerse him into taking the pills. I did realise that he sufferred both physical and mental side effects from meds such as Haldol, Stellazine, etc. But it was in Nanaimo in 1993, when he was put on a newer medication called Risperidal that his spiraling hallucinations and delusions spun out of control.

Because of a shortage of mental health workers, after he was discharged from hospital where he had been put on this drug, he was moved into a group home where custodians were not knowledgeable about schizophrenia. Bruce had called for help and an ambulance had taken him to the hospital. He told paramedics he was afraid he might hurt himself or others in the horrific state of mind he was in.

The doctor in Emergency did not understand that his patient’s mental health was worsening. There were no secure beds and Bruce was asked if he wanted to go home. The voices were telling him he would be given a lobotomy in a hospital (he could have opted for an ambulance ride to another hospital) so he opted to return to his group home.

At the group home manager’s suggestion that he probably needed to rest, Bruce went downstairs to his room. But the hallucinations he experienced were taunting him. The “voices” warned they would make him harm himself or others.  He attempted to cut his wrists with a dull razor blade, but that did not stop the noises in his head. He proceeded upstairs with a bloody towel wrapped around his wrists.

Walking through a crowd of staff and fellow residents, he discovered a sharp knife in the kitchen. He went back downstairs, approached a resident who was relaxing all by himself on a couch and stabbed him in the chest from behind. The young man later died in hospital. When the police arrived Bruce was lying  prone on the floor, apparently believing he had stabbed himself.

The devastation following this horriic experience resulted in him being charged with second degree murder, from which he was aquitted because of his having a mental disorder, has followed him for the past 25 years of his life.

When Bruce learned what had ocurred he was put on on suicide watch for 3 days, throwing himself again and again against the walls of his jail cell. When I was able to see him a few days later he had self-inflicted cigarette burn marks all over his hands and wrists.

“It was the worst possible thing that could have happened,” he said.

At the Forensic Psychiatric Institute in Port Coquitlam where Bruce was held in custody for 4 and 1/2 years, he was eventually put on a medication called Clozopine which has been a succesful treatment for him. Bruce received a conditional discharge from the facility in 1997 and a full discharge in 1998 when he was moved into a monitored group home in Vancouver. He spends almost all of his free time at the Gallery Gachet on the Downtown Eastside where he works with an artist collective sponsored by Coastal Mental Health. He continues to paint and write poetry and prose as well as other artistic endeavors. In September 2018, his collection of graphic short fiction titled ” I Threw A Brick Through A Window ” was published by Boxer Press.

Note at Bruce’s trial in March 1994 his youngest sister Fern suggested that something good may some day come out of the horrific situation.

“Maybe Bruce will write a book that will help others,” she surmised.

At the time we knew Bruce was in no shape to do that and we didn’t know if he would ever regain any aspect of his previously intelligent, talented, normal self.

I had always been a hoarder of written notes on the calendar, on slips of paper and journals, old phone bills etc. I began stringing together the narrative of my son’s and every family member’s struggle with effects of his illness throughout those terrible years. My book titled “The Ghosts Behind Him” published by Caitlin Press has been read and its contents consulted by researchers, teachers, mental health workers and facilitors across Canada and overseas. It received the Year2000 Book Award from the government of BC. Most rewarding of all were the phone calls and letters from those who were also struggling along with a loved one experiencing the symptoms of  what has been termed ” the most devastating of all diseases” which affects one in every young person  world wide.

2 responses to “My Son’s Journey Through Schizophrenia”

  1. My son also has schizophrenia. It’s so terribly heartbreaking. God bless Bruce. And you ….

  2. Thank you Gigi! Bruce is quite well these days. I am so pleased that he was finally able to receive some counselling – he is learning to deal with the voices with help from his therapist. I am not sure how she is helping him but it seems to be working. And of course he is on medications. How is your son coping with his schizophrenia?

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