Updated: Feb 9, 2022
10 YEARS OLD
The onset of schizophrenia came early for me, nine years old. This photo was taken shortly after I had descended into the world of schizophrenia. I was hallucinating often, always seeing people who weren't there. I watched people on TV turn into jackals within seconds. I was terrified of people and spent a great deal of time on my own. (I am wearing my favorite housecoat.) I failed every grade in elementary school and had great difficulty with language, as my intellectual growth was stunted at nine years old. The sound of my voice even scared me. I was prosecuted by voices in my head daily. Throughout the day, I would check doors to see if they were locked. I always thought someone was out to get me. I would also hide in the attic of our family home or under my bed. At school, I would stick my hands in the heavy steel doors and crush my fingers, just to remind myself that I was still alive. My saving grace was the ravine near our house where I would spend hours, collecting salamanders and playing in the river nearby. I even built myself a tree fort, stripped down to nothing and scratched my name in the tree to mark off my territory. Even though I had lost touch with reality, I found comfort in nature. As for the voices, I ignored them, but sometimes they would startle me. Most times, I kept busy looking for potential enemies, and always looking over my shoulders.
SITTING ON THE FRONT-STEPS OF GROUP HOME
17-year-old me: This photo was taken on the front steps of the last group home I lived in. I was moved around a lot, from foster home to group home in different areas of Ontario, Canada. I was well taken care of by the social workers. I had new clothes, and a hairdresser used to come in and cut and style my hair. I felt safe there. However, I wasn’t provided any therapy, nor was I ever on any psychotropic drugs. Even though I had full-blown psychosis (Paranoid schizophrenia), I carried myself well. I learned early on how to appear normal, like everyone else. I certainly knew how to fit in back then. I was attending vocational high school and reading at a grade three level. I failed every grade. I had speech problems, couldn’t pronounce words probably or couldn’t even get words out of my mouth. But I had an outstanding memory and used that to my advantage. The director of the group home would teach me how to say tough words and then, when the man who was to oversee the group home came by, she would get me to say them out loud to him. It was more about the Director trying to impress her boss than about me. I know she was showing off her skills.
In high school, I’d hide in the washroom. It took tremendous courage to walk to my class. I didn’t like open spaces. I was bullied in high school for my weirdness. Throughout the day, I’d be lost in fantasy, mostly thinking about religion and the meaning of life. I was obsessed with God and the devil. It wouldn’t be unusual to find me holding onto a Bible.
Soon, I got the news that I had to leave the group home because the government only paid for my stay up to eighteen years old. The Director of the group home created a resume for me and later I landed a job at a factory which paid $4.25 an hour. Then she found a room for me to rent and then off I went. Terrified and all alone.
Eventually, I lost the job because I couldn’t hold it down, so I ended up on living on the streets. Sometimes I would find a homeless shelter to stay in, but other than I lived outdoors, sleeping under a bush in some park come night time. And it was cold. I had no blankets. I used to think to myself why nobody was helping me. I’d watch people walk past me, not even taking a second glance. My mental health deteriorated. My schizophrenia got worse. Now, I had no connection to the real world. And I was scared to death. I should’ve not been released from the group home because I didn’t know how to take care of myself. Yet there I was, trying to survive.
NO I AM NOT ON DRUGS OR ANYTHING
I am 19 & 20 years old in these photos. My mental health had deteriorated to where schizophrenia had taken total control over my life. I was concerned about my survival every minute of the day. I used to hold on to a stuffed animal when people were around because I was terrified of them. The stuffed animal gave me a false sense of safety. I didn't like crowds either. It always felt like I had a thousand eyes on me, like my every movement was being monitored or tracked.
One time, someone insulted my hair, so I got a pair of scissors and chopped it all off. (Top left corner photo) I cut my hair because I couldn't go to the hairdressers because back then it was a humongous goal to just get on a bus or walk down the street or get out of bed. I could barely look at myself in a mirror. It wasn't unusual to find me wandering the street, going nowhere—singing or talking to myself. My anxiety was through the roof, always sweating profusely, afraid someone would try to talk to me. The voices in my head were loud by then. My paranoia was bizarrely out of control. I thought people were whispering about me. I'd check everywhere for cameras. I thought the Devil was trying to take my soul. When I was walking down the street, I'd see imaginary people following me. I had to hang onto to objects to ground myself in reality. Then I was plagued by suicide thoughts constantly. Yet, nobody helped me. I should have never been left like that. I should have been in a rehabilitation centre or getting some kind of help. However, I wasn't aware I had gone mad. I had no insight into my condition. It was such a horrible time for me. It would be awhile before I broke through my psychosis. Until then, I was left to my own defenses. I was alone in the world. Broken.
SANITY RESTORED - no more schizophrenia, 100% healed without the aid of psychotropic drugs.
Me Today - Weller than Well
I have a great life. I have been homeless and have endured many hardships in life, but I had the mindset that one day I would accomplish every goal I set my mind to, I never gave up! I fought long and hard to get where I am today. If I can do it, then so can others. There is nothing special about my case, just did the hard work that needed to be done.
©Tracey Higgins 2022