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This is probably the first photo that I ever took of a mountain. I never
imagined mountains would play such 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. In fact, schizophrenia is sometimes likened to taking LSD. It even explained why my artwork had changed. She brought it up as she herself 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)