Robby Then and Now

“I will be very brief when it comes to my childhood.  My mom was amazing and removed myself and my sister from an abusive situation involving our alcoholic father when I was 5.  After that life was pretty good.  I would say I was a little withdrawn and very shy growing up until I hit high school.  I was always very creative and got the chance to go to a high school where there was a large focus on the performing arts.  It was there where I was truly accepted.  I was always “a little different” and for lack of a better phrase, “goofy looking.”  In junior high there was quite a bit of teasing from the other kids but in high school I was accepted and even became the valedictorian.  My future was very bright.  I had been accepted into a top university in Toronto where I would be studying broadcasting.  I had never really been outside of BC so I was excited to move to a big city.  The first two years there were a big adjustment but I was doing well in school and even met a nice girl from Ontario in second year.  I returned home for the summer after second year and that is when…shall we say…It all hit the fan.

I got a summer job working with children in a day camp program where I excelled as a camp leader.  Throughout the summer I was losing more and more sleep, forgetting to eat and moving in fast forward.  Like the energizer bunny, I kept going and going.  At the end of the summer it was time to return to Toronto for third year university.  My roommates at the time thought it would be fun to drive across the states in a van.  The morning I left Victoria for Toronto I had not slept in almost 72 hours (later determined) and we started driving towards the states.  We drove all night while everyone took turns driving and sleeping; everyone except for me.  I was wide awake all night and became quite delusional by morning.  After stopping for breakfast I remember trying to walk back to Canada with no shoes and no shirt. It was then when one of my roommates decided to take me to the closest hospital in Mazula Montana.  Mazula, a very small and random little town, and a place I had never heard of before, and the place I would never forget.

I was treated as an emergency in the ER and I attracted a lot of attention. I was admitted in what felt like seconds.  I was given a muscular needle of valium to calm me down.  Muscular needles are quite painful but boy did it calm me down.  I was told I was being certified and admitted to the “psychiatric intensive care unit.”  The only things in my room were a bed and a video camera.  I called my mom in Victoria who was going to hop the next plane down.  I should probably point out it was Labour Day week-end and it would also take three plane rides to get my mom there.  I slept for what felt like a week and woke up with a doctor sitting by my bed.  He asked me if I knew where I was and I responded “of course I do, I’m in Vancouver.”  He asked me what day it was and what year it was and I totally had those things wrong too.  Later that day I was placed into a room with another newly admitted patient and we watched a video on manic depression and schizophrenia.  After that a male nurse told us that “group was starting” and he walked us both down to a common room where roughly six other patients were waiting.  The nurse went around the table to each person to share how they were feeling.  I still remember a large man stating that he wanted to take his guns with him and move to the “bush”.  When it was my turn I remember saying I was Canadian and very confused and didn’t know why I was there. For the next few minutes I fielded questions about Canada.  Later that day my mom was there and my first words to her were “get me out of here.”  She met with the doctor and quickly reminded him I was a minor in the states (I was 20) to which he responded: “Yes, I can release him to you but he may turn violent.  I strongly recommend he stays another three weeks.”  This might be a good time to point out that hospital care there was costing several thousands of dollars due to it being a private U.S hospital.   My mom had very close friends of ours drive down to Mazula with a RV to meet us and their mission was to get me back to BC as fast as possible.  As to being “violent” the only person I have ever hurt is myself. We made it! My family doctor saw me the next day and was not fully convinced on the diagnosis as he felt you cannot diagnose someone completely in a couple of days.  He continued the medication I was on and asked me what I wanted to do.  I stated I wanted to return to school in Toronto as it was a three year degree program and I was missing my last year of university and my girlfriend.  My mom supported this decision.

Upon returning to university it was then that I realized I was very sick.  I sank into a major depression and experienced a lot of suicidal ideation and was also demonstrating some very unusual behaviour.  I remember calling my mom in tears stating that I needed to come home.  My mom and I still feel I did the right thing by attempting to return to school as I would have later regretted not trying to finish.  My girlfriend at the time was extremely confused by the entire thing and just couldn’t understand what was happening.  I mean, I didn’t understand what was happening so how could I expect her to.

Upon returning to Victoria, I was referred to an excellent psychiatrist who took several appointments to properly diagnose me.  I was hospitalized again soon after.  Actually during the first few years after diagnoses I was in and out of the hospital more than half a dozen times.  And then over the years I was hospitalized several more times.  I began to refer to them as “oil changes.”  Oil changes consisted of stabilization, medication changes, and kind of a “time out” from my life.  I have celebrated 2 birthdays on the ward.  My first birthday in hospital consisted of a couple of the nurses bringing me a cupcake with a candle in it (not lit due to fire regulations) and getting the other patients to sing happy birthday.  I don’t know if you have ever heard a dozen psyche patients sing happy birthday but  let’s just say it was (to quote Randy Jackson from American Idol) “a little pitchy.” My second birthday in hospital consisted of me in a wheel chair as I was given a heavy dose of nozinan to sedate me the day before and I had temporarily lost control of my legs.( temporary muscular side effects from the medication and not harmful)

I have taken several different medications over the years and some have worked better than others.  Many years ago I lived in a supported housing community and when I changed a med I would save the old pill container and put it in a shoebox marked “pill graveyard.”  When I moved out of that apartment, my mom and I went through the box and I remember saying stuff like “why hello Haldol, I remember you, rest in peace my friend.”

Over the past 18 years there has been some failures but there has also been a ton of success.  Over the years I have developed some pretty cool coping skills and gained a strong sense of personal awareness.  To quote GI Joe, knowing is half the battle.  I have much longer periods of wellness now than in the first few years.  The high point of all of this is the extraordinary people I have met in hospital and in the community who live with a mental illness.  The lowest point would have to be the serious suicide attempt which ended with me on life support for 3 days.   

People have asked me how I cope with a mental illness. I reply: “a wicked sense of humour.” I am lucky to have had some great support from my family and closest friends. They have been amazing.  Together we keep each other laughing. 

I now live in a small town in BC with my fiancé who is a RN at the local hospital.  No I did not meet her on the ward. I am a published cartoonist and really enjoy the peacefulness of living in the country.  My goal for the future is to advocate and start an on-line resource and support service for friends and family of mental health survivors.  I think what Bi-polar babe is doing is outstanding and if I can help in any way, just name it.  Anyways, that’s my story.”

Thanks for reading!