When I was well enough to be transferred to Toronto Rehab’s Spinal Cord Program for six months of therapy I was fitted with a wheelchair – and for the first time in two months I was able to sit upright. The very first time I got up in my wheelchair I went outside for some fresh air and saw a man smoking a cigarette. Even though I had been tobacco-free for two months, I craved a smoke so strongly that I went up to this man and asked him if he would give me a cigarette. I was soon smoking almost as much as ever. Soon I became friends with another patient who always had marijuana and quickly resumed that habit as well. Any time I wanted to get high I would just approach him and we would go for a joint.
My life as a patient was very difficult emotionally. Some of the staff tried to talk to me to help me sort out my problems but I refused to talk to anybody about my feelings or the events leading up to my injury. I was living with depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts, thinking I was in hell and being punished for my sins. It was really scary.
I was finally discharged from rehab in October 2002. I spent the winter in a very bad depression. I didn’t want to talk to anybody or go anywhere. I just wanted to stay in my room by myself.
In March 2003 I developed a pressure sore on my tail bone. I don’t know how I got it, whether it was the chair or bed. It just appeared one day and it was really, really bad. I wasn’t allowed to get back into my wheelchair so I had to stay in bed 24/7. All I wanted to do was smoke weed and cigarettes. I ended up staying in bed for two years.
A few days later I was getting ready for bed around 1:30 a.m. Like I always did before going to bed, I smoked a water bong, which would usually put me to sleep right away. However, this time was different. After finishing the bong a strange feeling came over me. The next thing I knew I was I was in my dad’s room shaking his shoulder to wake him up. I said to him, “Let’s go to Israel.” I remember seeing fear in his face so I took my hands off him and left his room. Still dressed only in my underwear, I left our apartment and walked down the hallway, down the staircase and outside the building into the cold winter’s night. I walked across the street to the school yard and kept walking – straight into the school’s brick wall head first. I staggered backwards a couple of feet and then walked again into the wall, head first. A third time, I bowed my head and rammed into the wall. This time all I could do was fall onto the ground, unable to move. I remember lying there on the ground for a couple of minutes looking up into the black sky and thinking to myself, “Am I dead?” and yelling, “Oh God – no, no!” Everything went dark after that as I fell into a coma.
I don’t know how much longer I lay on the ground alone. Shortly after I had left my father’s room, my dad had gone looking for me around our building. He couldn’t find me so he went upstairs to wake my mom and call the police. The police checked around the building for about 45 minutes. They went up to the roof to check there and then headed back sown the stairs when they found I wasn’t up there. On the way down, my dad looked out a window of the stairwell and saw a light shining on the ground across the street, lighting up the top half of my body. Where that light came from was a mystery since there was no streetlight in the area and that part of the schoolyard is usually totally dark at night. The source of that light continues to
be a mystery to me and my family to this day.
I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where they found I had a broken neck, which left me quadriplegic (paralyzed in all four limbs). I came out of my coma three days later, which happened to be my 27th birthday. I couldn’t move a muscle. One of my lungs had collapsed and my other lung was on the verge of collapsing. A team of doctors ordered everyone out of the room. They thought I was going to die and called in a priest to give me my last rights. They hooked me up to a ventilator to keep me breathing. The doctors told my mom I would never again be able to move a muscle below my neck. So I lay in bed motionless with tubes down my throat for a month. One day I started getting twitches in my arms. I kept getting more and more movement until one day I was actually able to touch my nose to scratch it. That was like a dream come true!
They then took the breathing tubes out and gave me a forty-eight hour trial to see if I could keep breathing on my own. They put a hole in my throat – called a tracheotomy – which gives them access to my airways to suction out fluids to prevent me from getting pneumonia again. I passed the breathing test and was able to speak for the first time. When I was able to speak, a psychiatrist came into my room. He asked me what had happened to me. The only answer I could come up with was to say that God had done this to me as punishment for my sins. When he shook his head in disbelief, I felt angry and closed my eyes until he left the room. The psychiatrist diagnosed me as having a bipolar disorder and called my incident an “unexplained psychotic event.”
By the time I was 20 years old all my friends had either graduated or dropped out of school. My ability to play hockey was going down the drain so I dropped out too. I got fired from the gas station when they caught me stealing and then found a job at a moving company with one of my friends. But I soon lost that job too for not showing up for work after a night of partying. The times in between jobs were really tough since I didn’t have enough money to feed my cravings for marijuana and cigarettes. I found another job driving a truck. It was a good paying job. But I was spending $50 a week on cigarettes and $180 on marijuana. On Sundays I was also gambling on hockey and football and I was drinking a lot. My whole paycheque was going to feed my addictions. A few years later I lost that job as well because of too much partying.
In 2001 I took a job with a courier company delivering goods to dollar stores. My parents only wanted $50 a week from me for room and board; the rest went to my addictions. One day I got pulled over by the police and got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt. It was only a $100 fine but I never managed to spare the money to pay it. Shortly before Christmas that year I got a notice in the mail telling me my license had been suspended. I lost my job as a result. The first thing I did after collecting my last paycheque was buy a carton of cigarettes. Then I gave my mom $50 and I took another $140 to buy marijuana. All I had left was $80 to buy Christmas gifts for my entire family. It wasn’t enough so I used the money to gamble on football – which of course I lost. That New Year of 2002 I found myself penniless. The feeling inside of me was just one big hunger for marijuana and cigarettes. The cravings were so bad I started selling my things – my computer games, my golf clubs; I even tried selling my hockey skates for a measly $10. I was really skinny, not taking good care of my health or my hygiene – all I cared about was getting high.
I looked in a newspaper and saw an ad for a moving company that offered to pay cash daily. The owner was badly in need of workers, so he called me the next day to offer me a job. My dad bought me a pack of smokes, gave me bus fare and off I went. Late into the shift I was craving so strongly I could barely function, so I faked an injury, collected my pay, and left the poor guy and his customers hanging while I went to my drug dealer to buy some weed and then hustled off home to smoke it.
Mike Parent sustained a spinal cord injury a number of years ago during a psychotic episode.
Mike has presented his story on many occasions to an injury prevention program in Toronto called PARTY; now he wants to share his story with you.
Because Mike has so much to share, his story will be presented in 5 parts. Check back over the next few days to read the rest of Mike's inspirational story.
I grew up in Toronto with two loving parents and pretty much everything a kid could ask for. I attended a Catholic grade school. I had three older brothers and a sister and lots of friends. I loved playing organized sports – hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. I really excelled at hockey and was always at the top of my team in goals and points. At the age of nine, I was breaking scoring records in my hockey league.
But in Grade 7 my troubles started. That is the year I discovered beer and cigarettes. My friends around the neighbourhood were all older than me. We all played hockey together. After one of the games the guys somehow managed to get beer. I tried one and loved the taste and smell of it and instantly became a fan. That’s when I also started smoking cigarettes. Every weekend my friends and I would hang out together smoking cigarettes and drinking.
It wasn’t until Grade 9 that I first tried marijuana. I had known the smell of it for a long time since I shared a room with my older brother, who used it quite regularly. He sometimes would lock me out of the room and stay in there with his friends or my other older brothers. When I was allowed back in the room there would always be a strange smell – like a skunk I thought – and the air would be really cloudy. My friend, who was a year older than me, said that when his brother smokes marijuana it smells the same way. We promised each other that we were going to try it one day. When years later some of the older guys asked me if I wanted to smoke up with them, I was more than eager to try it. I remember taking drags off that first joint and almost coughing my lungs out. But the way it made me feel was amazing – like I was in another world with no problems and a feeling of perfect bliss.
I remember going home that night and telling my brother that I had smoked a joint. He just laughed at me. The next day my mom gave me five dollars for lunch. But I really wanted to get high again, so I took the money and combined it with my friend’s money and we skipped class and smoked up behind the school.
In Grade 11 I joined the senior hockey team. Because I was a really good player all the Grade 13’s took a liking to me and invited me to their parties, which were all about beer and girls. I had my own close group of friends though and we all liked marijuana the best, but I was developing an alcohol problem as well. I started to get cravings for weed and alcohol every day.
I took a job at a gas station after school. It didn’t pay enough to pay for my bad habits so I started stealing from customers. If the customer wanted $20 worth of gas I would pump $15 worth and put the remaining five in my own pocket. I would keep doing this until I had $20, which was the minimum my dealer would sell me.
Upon arriving in Ottawa, I connected with my political colleagues, made new friends and began to establish myself in a place I then called home. I loved Ottawa but suddenly things changed.
The story of ‘what happened to Andrea’ is long and personal but I have begun writing it in a book and sharing my story on my blog because it is so captivating and unreal. At times it is difficult to decipher what was ‘real’ and what was simply caused by my now diagnosed bipolar disorder. In Ottawa, things began to change and transform in such a way that I cannot even explain to this day. I plunged into a ‘psychosis’ and my reality became my own but still lapsed with this world. I saw things, heard things and the entire time believing that all that was happening around me was truly taking place. I started to have delusions and believe things that were not true and my mood was erratic ranging from hyper, talkative and extremely happy to pouring out with tears and fear. I willingly attended the psychiatric ward still not thinking anything was ‘wrong’, but my peaceful demeanour accepted my friends’ concern as genuine. I was admitted to the hospital and spent nearly one month, and as I complied with my medication regime I began to return to reality.
My story has heartbreak, fear, hope and even a point where I even gave up on life. I only truly had myself to rely on at that time in Ottawa, and with great survival skills and perseverance I crawled out of the gutter. To this day, I understand why a lot of people with a mental illness end up on the streets, and it can happen to anyone one of us.
I never felt completely ‘normal’ since that time. It was almost as if something had broken in me. I left to Korea for two years and returned to Canada, hopeful with two suitcases by my side. I left Canada angry and resentful, feeling everyone had turned their back on me. It was not until I decided to have a healthy lifestyle and seize responsibility for my health that I really began to feel at my best. In late 2007, I decided it was time to really live.
People are often shocked that I have a mental illness, like it is possible to pick us out in a crowd. I used to feel shameful and devastated, but with creating BIPOLAR BABE I have learned that there may be negative attitudes in the world, but the only one that I can control is my own. I share my personal story openly and freely to inspire the broken ones who feel there is nothing left for them after being hospitalized. I also want to share with the curious ones and create a world of acceptance and freedom where we can all just be ourselves.
In sharing my story I shed the stigma within myself and that will then translate into the rest of the world. I am blessed. I have my health, an excellent job, a funded education, amazing relationships with friends and family, a blossoming relationship and so much more…but after all of it I just have a story to tell. I am no different than anybody else for we all have a contribution. This is why I have created a BLOG , to keep the conversation going as I am interested in what you have to say and so is the rest of the world.
Much Love, Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe
"Hello, my name is Andrea. I am originally from a place called Sudbury, Ontario. Like all teenagers I was faced with some tough decisions-school, parents, alcohol and drugs, friends, and my future. My father did his very best but I was rebellious; however, I took it upon myself to call my mother and ask for a plane ticket to live with her in British Columbia. She graciously embraced me and my new life began to unfold in a small town called Campbell River. That is where I found my first love, then my second, made many amazing friends and enjoyed spending a lot of time on Quadra Island. I graduated from CARIHI Secondary in 1996, but unfortunately, my mother could not be there on that day as she was quite sick suffering from bipolar disorder. My whole life I did not understand my mother’s disorder. I only knew that under great times of stress she would often have to be hospitalized, which led to me leaving our home in grade 11 and I soon was on my own.
I went on to the University of Victoria and graduated in 2002. I loved living in Victoria and began my career in the government, and in my early twenties I began to truly grow and figure out what I wanted in life. I often felt restless, taking on challenge after challenge, never feeling completely satisfied. I involved myself in several things, my favourite being politics, but I won’t get into that as I may put you to sleep. I embraced the belief that my future lie ahead in Ottawa, Ontario and so I sold all my belongings, packed my little car and drove across Canada alone. It was amazing! I stared up at lilac Saskatchewan skies, took in the scenery and saw frozen lakes for the first time since I left Eastern Canada. I listened to hundreds of songs, if not thousands and after 5 days arrived in Sudbury, Ontario. This was my home town, not having been back for nearly 10 years. I visited all of my old schools, churches and homes; it was overwhelming how all the memories flooded over me."
Check back tomorrow for part two, in which Andrea shares her struggles with mental illness and her road to recovery.