Bill Paterson always knew something wasn’t quite right but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.
He lived a fairly normal life until he hit his 20s. That’s when the symptoms showed up. He began to withdraw from his friends and family. He felt hopeless and lost. But most of all, he felt alone.
“I became depressed,” recalls the 63-year-old. “I couldn’t concentrate, it was like there was a blockage in my psyche. My family thought I was a hazard to myself because I wasn’t aware of my surroundings.”
He was 25 when he was admitted into a psychiatric hospital in North Bay. Within a few days he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“Back then, doctors told me I would always be sick and that I’d never get better. I would live in poverty for my whole life. There was no hope… a bleak outlook.”
Bill was put on medication, which helped ease the symptoms associated with the disease tremendously. But there was a slight problem. He didn’t like the side effects caused by the medication. His reflexes were slow, he drooled and shuffled his feet. He even lost a few jobs as a result of those side effects. For the next 20 years, Bill went on and off his medication and that was detrimental in terms of him being able to function as a person living with the disease.
I learned the hard way it was better to stay on the medication.
Over the course of the two decades that Bill wasn’t regularly taking his medication he moved around a lot. He was “searching for a better life but didn’t know where to find it.” He lived in Sudbury, Sturgeon Falls, North Bay and then went out west for a few years.
He didn’t have much support and that made it difficult to cope. One thing he did find was that people of Christian faith were always accepting of him, and for that he was grateful (and still is). He made some friends along the way, but it was during a stay in the psychiatric hospital in North Bay that he met a young man who had a profound effect on him. The man prayed for Bill and it was like a light suddenly turned on. When Bill turned to religion as guidance for his mental illness, there seemed to be hope for better days to come. “I knew there was a god all along I just didn’t have anything to do with him. I started to pray more often. I pray every day now. I might not pray for long, but it helps my mental health.”
Bill has been regularly medicated for well over a year and has turned his life completely around. He maintains a close relationship with his siblings and stresses how having a support system is paramount to being mentally healthy. He has volunteered his time to speak at a police training school, various high schools and senior groups as well as to hospital staff about his personal experience living with an often misunderstood mental illness.
He is well aware of the stigma attached to people who have schizophrenia — that they don’t contribute to society. But that’s not true, he says. With the right support system in place and by utilizing resources that are available (like the Schizophrenia Society of Canada), almost anyone can be a contributing member of society even if they are battling a mental illness.
When I first went into that psychiatric hospital, I was mistreated. I felt worse when I came out then I did when I went in. There’s been a lot of progress over the last 20 years. Doctors now promote recovery once someone enters into the mental health system. They try to help you get better.
In 2014, taking the advice of a close friend, Bill wrote his first book. Journey of a Schizophrenic: A Witness of Faith is a personal account of what life has been like for Bill living with schizophrenia. It was the discovery of his spirituality that essentially saved Bill’s life. It gave him hope, and he shares his knowledge with his readers. The first 11 pages are an introduction to the disease. He touches on the symptoms that affect a person’s character and the negative traits, which usually occurred when Bill was alone. And then he really lets people into his life with 15 short stories about his adventures.
He’s been through a lot in his lifetime. His journey as a schizophrenic is indeed something to talk about. And the thing is, Bill wants to talk about it. He admits he’s proud of his book and hopes to raise awareness about a disease that he has been determined to fight from the beginning.
“A friend of mine thought I had some pretty amazing stories to tell. The main message I wanted to get out there is that I have schizophrenia. It’s a disability. But because of my faith in god it helped me. I’m not a burden to society.”
(Anyone who is interested in purchasing a copy of Bill’s book can contact him at 705-788-2733).
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