It was five in the morning when Austin Mardon was jolted awake by someone screaming his name.
"Austin," the voice yelled. It was loud. Right into his ear.
He knew who it was. Immediately recognized the voice.
It was himself. The voice came from inside his head.
Mardon is a 46-year-old married man from Edmonton who has a PhD in geography and a long list of scientific accomplishments to his name. He's given talks to scientist types. Even participated in a NASA expedition to the Antarctic to recover meteorites. And there's an Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour, with his name on it.
He also has schizophrenia.
He was 30 years old when the diagnosis came in 1992.
Schizophrenia is a disease of the brain. It involves the loss of contact with reality, making it difficult for a person to tell what's real and what's not. It alters how people think. How they see the world. How they feel and how they behave.
It also carries with it a strong stigma. Mardon has seen it. Felt it.
But he's determined to beat it.
So, he offers up his personal life, exposes himself in a way that he hopes people will get a more accurate understanding of schizophrenia. He writes stories for newspapers on the disease. Volunteers and advocates tirelessly for mental-health issues.
His presentation is part of Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Tamara Leniew, family and community co-ordinator at the Hamilton/Niagara branch of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, hopes his words are healing.
Healing to the loved ones who need to hear a message of hope, she says. "That there is life beyond the illness."
And eye-opening for those who think that everyone with a mental illness "walks around the streets, screaming."
She wants people to understand that it's scary to have a mental illness.
That many times people who are ill are not aware there's anything wrong. "Their reality is so different," she says. "They feel threatened when people say you need to go to the hospital."
Threatened because in their reality they may think a nurse who's giving them a needle to help them, is trying to poison them, she says.
People who have a mental illness are often victims of violence themselves, she says. By others. And by their own hands.
About 10 per cent die by suicide. About 40 per cent attempt to kill themselves.
Mardon doesn't know what caused his illness. His mother became ill with schizophrenia when
he was five years old.
But it was after Mardon experienced several traumatic life events that symptoms began to show.
In the Antarctic, he lost control of a snowmobile and fell 150 metres down a glacier. Then on a trip to the former Soviet Union he had a run-in with security services. After that, he asked his girlfriend at the time to marry him. She said no.
It began with voices. They were pleasant. Angelic.
"In some ways, they're more dangerous," he says. "You don't want to get out of the delusion."
He became paranoid. Had bizarre thoughts like refusing to eat perogies because he feared the Soviets were trying to poison him.
He suffered from lethargy. Apathy. All he wanted to do was lounge around.
It hit him hard. Fast.
Two months before he became ill, he was presenting on space science at a conference in Washington, D. C.
Afterwards, he could barely form a coherent sentence.
"It can change you for a lifetime," he says.
He credits his recovery to his own perseverance, his wife, Catherine's, support and understanding that he is not his disease, and a determination to work with his doctor and stick with his medication.
And with acceptance, comes peace.
"I accept where I'm at," he says. "When you accept, you can move on." Mardon still hears voices. It's a compromise, a dance of sorts, between living with symptoms of the illness and not being medicated into a "permanent stupor."
"It's a balancing act," he says.
To get rid of them entirely would mean taking doses of drugs he's unwilling to take.
So, he accepts that he must live with a constant nattering inside his head. Like being in a noisy restaurant, he tries to ignore it.
He has come out of it a better, stronger person. More creative. More empathetic. He enjoys helping a group of people who normally aren't the recipients of much help.
"You bring a little joy to someone who's had a tragedy in their lives."
For more information about schizophrenia, call the Hamilton/Niagara branch of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario at 905-523-7413. The branch runs a family support group in St. Catharines, for family of people with schizophrenia, the first Wednesday of every month (except July), at 7:30 p. m. at St. Barnabas Church, 31 Queenston St.
A family crisis counsellor can be reached by calling 1-800-449-6367.
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schizophrenia.on.ca.WHO:Austin Mardon of Alberta will speak about Living and Loving with a Disability. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1992 and won the Order of Canada for his advocacy efforts. The event is in celebration of Mental Illness Awareness Week and is being presented by The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and the Canadian Mental Health Association Niagara.
WHERE:Peninsula Ridge Coach House, 5600 King St. W., Beamsville.
WHEN:Thursday, Oct. 9., 6-8:30 p. m. COST:Free
CALL:Space is limited, so please register by calling 905-523-7413, or CMHA Niagara at 905-641-5222 or e-mailing jdennison@
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Myths of schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into two categories -- positive and negative. Positive symptoms, sometimes called psychotic symptoms, refer to symptoms that appear. Negative symptoms refer to elements that are taken away from a person.
Positive symptoms Delusions. Fixed, false beliefs that are not consistent with the person's culture and have no basis
Hallucinations. People hear, see, taste, smell or feel something that does not actually exist.
Disorganized thought. Unconnected thoughts that make it impossible to communicate clearly with
Disorganized mood. Finding it hard to express feelings; feeling inappropriate or intense bursts of emotion; feeling empty of any emotions.
Disorganized behaviour. Cannot complete everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing appropriately and preparing simple meals.
Changes in sensitivity. More sensitive and aware of other people; or withdrawn and seeming to pay no attention to others.
Negative symptoms Slowing of physical activity levels or, more rarely,
Reduced motivation, for example problems finishing tasks or making long-term plans.
Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Schizophrenia is a disease many people don't understand. People with schizophrenia and their family members have to deal with myths and misunderstandings about the illness. Some of the myths have been around for years and include the following:
People with schizophrenia are violent. People with schizophrenia are lazy or irresponsible.
Schizophrenia is a character flaw or moral weakness.
Poor parenting causes schizophrenia. Treatment won't work. Schizophrenia means split or multiple
Source: Schizophrenia Society of Ontario.