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The last word: the road back to health

The last word: the road back to health

[photo of Grant Hall with tulips]

My first experience with schizophrenia took place when I was 27. I had just graduated from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s bar ­admission course and was working for the ­Government of Ontario in Toronto.

My thoughts started racing and I became ­paranoid. I thought the government was “out to get me.” I was becoming psychotic – mentally ill. I stopped going to work. I went to hospital – briefly – but I didn’t like it there, so I walked out. I called my parents in Montreal and my father came and picked me up.

If I had to describe psychosis, I would tell you that it is like a bomb exploding in the middle of your personality. You can experience delusions, paranoia, extreme anxiety and “ideas of reference.” An idea of reference occurs when you think, for ­instance, that the TV is sending you messages or when you attribute a ­personal meaning to a ­particular event. For me, I thought I was going to be responsible for starting a war between Ontario and Quebec.

Hearing voices is another common symptom. At the family ­cottage, I experienced voices telling me to “shoot the mice.”

The tragedy of acute psychosis is that people with it lose the ­insight into what is happening to them because of changes in their brain chemistry. And, assuming that at some point, you do get well again, you may spend the next year or so picking up the pieces of your life. There are no guarantees.

[Psychosis] is like a bomb exploding in the middle of your personality.

It took me a year and the support of my family, plus medication, to regain my health to the point where I could work. I ended up in Brockville, Ont., where I opened up my own law office. After four years, I moved west, to Calgary, where I was offered a position in the Crown Prosecutor’s office. I enjoyed hiking and skiing in the Rockies and, for the most part, I enjoyed the work.

Two things occurred that caused me to leave: my father passed away from cancer, and I started to become “burned out” from all the courtroom ­exposure. I was still single and I had saved some money. So I spent eight months travelling, in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and ­England. It was the trip of a lifetime and I have many fond memories of those travels.

On returning to Canada, however, I suffered another acute episode of schizophrenia. It was all there again: voices, delusions, paranoia, extreme anxiety and ideas of reference. This time I was not going to recover so quickly. The “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia – lack of motivation and affect, loss of executive and organizational functions – were to be with me for a long time. I spent three years on my mother’s couch.

[photo of Doug Rigby]
Doug Rigsby, Arts’69, Law’73

Eventually, at my sister’s suggestion, I paid a visit to the Kingston chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. It marked the beginning of the long road back.

Today, I work part-time at Frontenac ­Community Mental Health and Addiction ­Services in Kingston. I also spend time speaking to students at local high schools, Queen’s and St. Lawrence College. In 2001, I received the Courage to Come Back Award from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for my advocacy work. I am as proud of this award as I am of my law degree and call to the bar.

Today finds me in good health, enjoying life. You could carry on a lengthy conversation with me and never know of my past illness unless I chose to tell you. My siblings and good friends are wonderfully supportive. With their help, I will continue to speak out against the stigma of mental illness.

Doug Rigsby, Arts’69, Law’73, lives in Kingston.

 

[photo of Queen's staff, faculty and students with a sign "Focus on mental health"]