Stop, Snap, Breathe: Living and Thriving with Schizophrenia

Mental health problems and the physical hospitals that treat mental illness tend to embody stereotypes, positive and negative. I am a mom to a ten-year-old girl, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend, an entrepreneur – but I also have chronic paranoid schizophrenia. and my experience as an entrepreneur. I am also an accomplished public speaker.

The negative – I was admitted to a hospital with green lit walls, and this was negative. Outside the hospital were barbed wires, and the building was red. It looked like a prison. I had to be there, though.

“Jump off the balcony,” my voice told me.

I went into my bedroom while my husband took my daughter to my in-laws for lunch. I was scared to leave my bedroom, because I was afraid, I would listen to these voices. My bed was made, but I hadn’t showered in days. Too afraid to leave my room to shower.

After a few days of this, my husband grew very concerned and called Schizophrenia society of Ontario for advice. A worker called me right away and encouraged me to go to the psychiatric hospital in Toronto. I didn’t want to go, as I was afraid, I would lose all my rights. But I also wanted to live and was afraid the voices would convince me to kill myself.

The positive – CAMH took me right away, and I felt positive about this. They put me in the emergency ward overnight and promised me I would get better. Medication has kept me out of hospital for 5 years. It takes the voices away, but I do monthly blood test because of the dangerous side effects. I stayed in hospital for 1 month, and my husband was parenting our 2-year-old daughter by himself. But the hospital let me see her everyday and tried to make my life as normal as possible, by allowing me to see her and go to Tim Hortons in the morning, as I was used to a morning coffee.

Recently I did my speech at the mental health hospital in Toronto.

This was one of many speeches I did. I was quite frightened as it was a red big building with barbed wire. They hospital invited high school kids to listen to people speak and this is good as the kids were introduced to what mental illness is even though they had to see the negative exterior. The hospital looked stereotypical like a jail. I remember a more positive time like the first time I spoke to children at a synagogue. I enjoyed teaching these kids about the stigma of mental illness, and that they should never betray their friends who may have a mental illness. I asked them “How would you feel if you had a mental illness, and were all alone?.” In high school when I had anorexia, I went to Boston with the music program and no one wanted to be with me. I described the negative feelings I was left with for the synagogue. After this speech, I felt accomplished that maybe I got through to these kids and they wouldn’t betray their peers. I tried to get in to speak to a different group again, and the person I spoke with said, the group that I spoke with still remembers me and my messages.

I always leave the message to my listeners, “how would you feel if you were all alone because of a mental illness?”

When I was first diagnosed, I saw a psychiatrist right away at CAMH, the Clarke institute of psychiatry, and my mom was with me. She was relieved and felt hopeful when she saw the psychiatrist’s name was Baruch, in Hebrew that means Blessing. She felt he could help me, and he did.

Before I went on medication, I had a daughter. As well, I have been married 16 years. My daughter is 10 years old. She goes to French immersion and plays ringette on the side. My husband is very supportive and if he is at work and I cannot move due to the symptoms, I tell him to come home immediately and he does so he can pick up our daughter, Maggi.

Maggi must deal with a lot as I was in hospital from the time, she was 2. But have stayed out of hospital for 5 years and it is hard for her to see how anxious I can get. She sometimes gets angry with me when I can’t process what she is saying, because she doesn’t understand. Nevertheless, I am a success because I am a wife, a mother and an entrepreneur.

My life experience encouraged me to create a mood band that changes colour when the body temperature changes. The band says “stop snap breathe.” Once the colour changes, the person wearing the band snaps the band against their skin to ground themselves. This is a form of self-regulation and positive aversion treatment.

I came up with this invention from a psychiatrist I had a few years ago when a rubber band was used to ground the patient when the person pulls the band against skin. I made the fashion bit up myself and as well as the thermochromatic (temperature changing elements). When I use it, I feel the sting and this tells me I am just ill, and there is no reason to be afraid of my illness.

I feel empowered when I use the band because I am not relying on a psychiatrist, because I self-regulate.

I feel more independent because I am self-employed and not reliant on my husband financially. I also have dignity now that I am not on injections to regulate my symptoms, because those were invasive.

I hope you learned something from my story. I wanted to teach you about stigma and mental illness, and feel like I did teach you. If you want the mood band or want to invite me to speak at your business, church or synagogue, etc. please contact me at tafriat@gmail.com.