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This is probably the first photo that I ever took of a mountain. I never imagined mountains would play a big part later in my life. Taken on my drive to Vancouver. (1974)

Seeking Help

When autumn arrived, I had become more listless. I bore little resemblance to the focused, enthusiastic student that I was when I entered university five years ago. I worried about my downward spiral and wondered if a change of scenery might shake off my lethargy and apathy. So I quit my job and moved to Vancouver.

I stayed at a hotel intending to find work and rent an apartment, but in fact I lacked the gumption to do much of anything. Since I was collecting Unemployment Insurance or UI (now called Employment Insurance), I wasn't pressed to get a job. I had only enough incentive to take an art course, attending one class a week. Vancouver didn't breathe new life into me as I had hoped.

While battling fatigue and a lack of motivation, a new menace arose: confusion, confusion with time and space. For instance, one day while driving in Vancouver I suddenly thought I was in Toronto. I mean I was absolutely convinced I was in that city. As I drove, I strained to find familiar streets and landmarks that I expected to see in Toronto, and when I failed to recognize any features, I became puzzled. After driving a couple blocks, I realized I wasn't in Toronto but in Vancouver. How could I make such a mistake? It was as if I had forgotten that I had moved to Vancouver months ago. (Another time, actually later when I moved to Calgary, I was again driving when it suddenly struck me that I had to find a job and a place to live immediately. I began to fret until it registered that I had been living and working in Calgary for months.)

This confusion, along with my lack of ambition, worried me, so I went to see a family physician. I didn't mention the strange night sky or my bizarre experiences; I didn't view them as problems and besides, I didn't think they were connected. Instead, I described my current confusion and lethargy. The doctor concluded it was anxiety and gave me a prescription for a sedative.

I filled the prescription but after taking a couple of pills, I threw away the bottle. I was sure anxiety wasn't the problem and that drugs weren't the cure. Perhaps spending a dismal winter on the West Coast where it seemed to rain every day had brought me down. I decided another change was in order. After finishing my art course in the spring of '75, I moved to Calgary.

By the time I moved to Calgary my UI had run out, so I took a job at Woolco as a manager's assistant. In a new city with a new job, I expected to bounce back to my former, enthusiastic self, but instead I became worse. Not only did my fatigue, lack of motivation and confusion persist, but I also began having difficulty coping with some of my surroundings. In malls, the colours, noise and constant flow of shoppers overwhelmed me, as if I couldn't block or sort out the information. I couldn't seem to assimilate it all; my senses became so overwhelmed that I could barely think or move. I began avoiding crowds and malls.

There was no getting around it: I needed professional help. But I didn't want to see just any doctor, and I didn't want to take drugs. Fat chance, I figured, of finding a doctor who wouldn't automatically label me anxious or depressed, slap a prescription for sedatives in my hand, and hasten me out the door. I needed a referral. I had been seeing a chiropractor for a back problem and after several visits, I felt comfortable asking his opinion. He gave me the name of a biofeedback clinic. It was an odd reference but I was at my wits' end.

I dropped in at the biofeedback clinic and talked to the girl at the front desk. The girl, a psychologist, explained that with biofeedback I could learn to control my brainwaves and thus control my body's response to stress and anxiety. It sounded impressive, but I was sure my brainwaves were fine. Nor did I think biofeedback would explain my problems, and at fifty bucks an hour I didn't want to try. But it occurred to me that this psychologist would know what was wrong with me. As we talked, an idea took hold. She was nice looking, only a few years older than me, and she wasn't wearing a ring. Why not ask her out? I had nothing to lose. I'm not shy and nothing was more important than getting to the bottom of my problems. Then and there, I made a date with the psychologist.

As it turns out, the psychologist and I hit it off and we dated for a few weeks, but she recognized my symptoms the first time we got together. Not only did I get the opportunity to describe my problems, I had an episode while I was with her. Somehow we ended up in her apartment (it's not what you think). She had a fibre optic light display, a miniature light show of changing colours. As I watched it, I hallucinated – the colours swirled and I felt a pleasant rush. I described it to the psychologist. She told me I had schizophrenia.

I was relieved to hear that my condition had a name. If it had a name it must have a treatment. But I knew little about schizophrenia other than it was a mental illness that did not involve a split personality. The psychologist filled me in and it all made sense. The illness accounted for all my difficulties: my fatigue, lack of motivation, time-space confusion, hallucinations, even my ecstatic rushes. Indeed, schizophrenia is sometimes likened to taking LSD. It even explained why my artwork had changed. She brought it up as she had a special interest in schizophrenic art. I had little talent but I enjoyed drawing, yet my art was becoming increasingly bizarre. And I learned that I wasn't alone with this illness. Schizophrenia affects about one percent of humanity.

Not only did the psychologist diagnose my illness, but just as important, she recommended a doctor, and not just any doctor. Dr. Stajen Warness achieved his doctorate through conventional education – he attended medical school – but he didn't practice conventional medicine; he practiced alternative medicine.

Climbing a totem pole in Stanley Park, Vancouver (1974)