Real Life Stories Presents Quentin: There is a science behind everything. You grow up learning how to rationalize and reason. Our minds allow us to imagine, create, form connections and solve problems. But what if suddenly your thoughts became irrational? What if you were lost but inside your own head? As a survivor of mental illness I’m living proof that there’s life with schizophrenia. AFTER WINTER My name is Quentin and I’m 23. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was born here but my parents are from France. Benedict: Quentin was you know an amazing baby you know it’s – probably the easiest delivery! He was, you know, a regular baby very happy, healthy. Christophe: Well so he was a very curious child, loves playing with legos and building and drawing… Quentin: I was always playing different sports but I think the, the one sport I stuck with til now is soccer. I was always like an outdoors kid. So that’s me trying to do a back flip. It didn’t end so well. Benedict: He actually presented a couple of science fair projects and then he was selected to go to the national level so he went to Ottawa. Quentin: I was in grade 8 at the time. Yeh I won a bronze medal in science and mathematics and then a, an award in astronomy. I like math because I like to problem solve and I think having a set of conditions and trying to find a solution to those conditions is pretty cool. By grade 11 everything was on track. I had really good grades and I had great friends. My dad decided to take a sabbatical for 7 months so our family was living in Mexico. We were having a great time. I was learning about the culture, the history and the land. I was enrolled in a high school there and learning Spanish. I was also doing courses from Canada. I was in an international baccalaureate program where classes count towards university credits. Benedict: It’s really higher level than just regular high school. So that’s, that actually puts pressure on you know on any kid you know who does, does that program. Quentin: I think what really pushed it over the edge is that I was actually doing two high school programs at the same time one in Mexico, one back in Halifax. Benedict: I could feel a bit of the tension building, building, and and he was kind of stuck you know he had to do it otherwise he had to repeat grade 11. Quentin: I had this big essay that was on my plate and I wasn’t moving along I was really struggling with it. And I think I just cracked and I just couldn’t take the stress anymore and that’s probably where the psychotic episode came from. It was very gradual at first. I noticed very small changes in my environment so for example I would see a red car outside just going down the street. And then um for some reason I would see like a red flower. And I would try and connect the dots. I thought that seeing the colour red twice represented red blood and that meant someone in my family was going to die. Over the course of several weeks it really got worse and symptoms developed such as delusions, paranoia, even auditory hallucinations. A lot of people would describe it as a really bad trip, I haven’t…had a trip through drugs so I can’t compare it with that but it’s probably worse than any trip you can have with drugs. You think that aliens are there. You think that the police is out to get you. All these thoughts are they’re very scary and they don’t make a lot of sense to other people around you. But for me they made sense. My parent’s did the most they could for me, but at the same time they, they had no idea what was going on. Benedict: Quentin was making less and less sense, he was a different person He was completely restless he was up and down up and down he couldn’t stay still on a chair. Christophe: He must have been about 16 or 17 and there you know there is also the possibility that maybe this is just a phase sort of a teenage phase. Quentin: I was completely living inside my own head. I was walking down a beach and um, my father was a, walking, and I thought I had to walk in his footsteps in order to avoid the sun. Cause I thought the sun was going to burn my father so I wanted to walk in his footsteps to protect him. The number one feeling I went through during my psychotic episode was fear. A diving trip was what caused my parents to realize I needed help. My mother was my diving partner. This photo was the last photo taken before I had a complete breakdown. I remember being under water and seeing all these fish. And the way they moved was very hypnotic. I wanted to touch them because I thought you know I’d get some kind of super power from them. This is probably the most vivid part of my my memories is that I went straight to the surface which is something you shouldn’t do when you’re diving. Benedict: All of a sudden he, he he went up. And you don’t do that like you need to tell everybody that there’s something wrong and you want to terminate the dive and go up. Quentin: I got in the ship and I was I wasn’t even talking to anyone I was just in my own world. Benedict: Complete silence on the boat. Didn’t talk to me, I tried to engage him he was looking up looking down, completely no Quentin, I don’t know where Quentin was you know. I kind of started to cry. Christophe: You don’t know if you’ve lost him forever (cries). So when this happened we went back in in town in Lapas and I managed to to get an appointment with a psychiatrist pretty quickly. Quentin: When I saw the psychiatrist he very quickly realized I was having a psychotic episode. He gave me medication immediately. medication immediately they told my
parents that it would take time to start Benedict: We had to keep an eye on him, we had to keep the window closed. Because we were living on the third or fourth floor and the doctor said be careful don’t let him approach any window. Christophe: In this state, he might just walk out and, and jump. Because, and not necessarily because he would want to commit suicide or anything but because maybe he think that he can fly. Quentin: Very disoriented very paranoid very delusional. And I… I could’ve done something really bad, yeh. I was on medication in Mexico but I received my diagnosis of schizophrenia in Canada. Dr. Tibbo: Quentin is a, is a patient of the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program. Early intervention in psychosis and schizophrenia is very important. Not only just to get control of the symptoms but really trying to maximize those long-term outcomes and so that you can allow that person to go through that very significant developmental time period with as minimal disruption as possible. It’s unknown if schizophrenia is something that you’re born with or something that it happens later. No one knows. Schizophrenia was constantly on my mind I was in a real state of instability I didn’t really know if the symptoms would come back. I think a, understanding that schizophrenia was now with me for the rest of my life was a, difficult to process. When I went back to school in grade 12, I had a relapse. I was on pills and I had to take them every day. So I actually had missed my medication dose for four or five days, because I didn’t get my refill on time. And I was like ‘Oh no, the symptoms are returning’. I just couldn’t control it, it was just, it restarted. I was walking down the hallway, I was very afraid, I was shivering all over. I knew I needed to get out of there – just kind of be by myself. After the relapse the brief relapse I, that’s when the depression started. I just wanted to lie in my bed get under my covers and just shut off the world, I thought sleeping was the best thing ever. Just, nothing else appealed to me. Three things that were crucial in my recovery were, medication, family and friend support and having a good medical team. Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program Quentin: How are you? Dr. Alexiadis: I’m good how are you? Quentin: Ok Dr. Alexiadis: The goal when you treat people with schizophrenia is one for recovery and two to prevent relapse. And in that first year things can happen. Especially when you’re a young person who’s had such an interruption to their life. So how’re you doing overall with with the medication. Quentin: Pretty good, apart from a little fatigue I’ve been feeling but it’s been really good. Dr. Alexiadis: Ok. I think taking a medication orally every day does- does give you that reminder that you have an illness that you’re taking medication for. So Quentin since he’s been switched to the injection has been doing really well. As a physician I don’t have to worry about that compliance issue because I know that person who’s taking the infrequent injection is going to be covered for that whole period of time. It gives me a sense of safety for that person because there’s probably less chance of
relapse. Benedict: This one I’m going to take to Quentin: So can I plant one right here? Benedict: Two! Two there. Quentin: Ok Benedict: One here and one over there. Quentin: My parents never gave up on me. They continued to support me and encourage me. I kept taking my medication. Over time coming to accept what I had gone through and learning to live with the condition was – the acceptance was quite key. I graduated with honours and went to prom. It was a lot of hard work but I was determined not to let schizophrenia hold me back. I applied to university and got into Dalhousie. University has opened so many doors for me. I’m currently doing a concurrent degree at Dalhousie University in science and engineering. This is a research internship that I’m doing over the summer. It’s a great experience to work in a lab and like get a leg up in the research process. I want to make a difference in the world through helping the planet. Renewable energy and sustainable living has always has always been very important for my family. And I want to work in the green building industry making buildings more energy efficient. Benedict: He’s getting more confident about himself and what he wants to do in life. Quentin: Most of my close friends know. And they knew me before and after and um, they’ve seen the transformation. Six years ago I would probably be still at home in my bed. It feels really good to be out playing soccer with my friends like getting exercise, exercise is probably pretty important in recovery as well. It’s always been a goal in my life to keep active. I’m very fortunate to have the friends I have and for them to be able to see beyond my schizophrenia and see me as a person not as a person with mental illness everyone should have friends like that. Quentin: Are the beans ready? We could feed an entire tribe with this! Wow so much food “ive me some of the big seafood” (in french) Some people experience schizophrenia and they never get over it but I was able to get over it with a lot of help and I’m very thankful for that. Christophe: Seeing Quentin go through it was really hard. But seeing him coming out of it, the way he is, that’s powerful. Quentin: No I’m not afraid of schizophrenia anymore. I’ve been able to live through it and it can get better. I’m living proof there’s life with schizophrenia.