That Saturday night in 1985 started out just like any other, but by the time Ron awoke the next morning his life as he had known it would be changed forever.
At age 26, Ron was an alcoholic and had spent this particular evening at a bar, drinking heavily and eventually blacking out. When he awoke the next day, however, something was different, very different. That morning, Ron would begin hearing the voices that would continue to torment him for more than 17 years.
“There were two voices,” he recalls, “a man’s and a woman’s who sounded as though they were speaking to me from another room beyond the next wall, almost like an echo. They told me I had killed someone at the bar the night before...and they wouldn’t go away.” A few days later the voices began telling him he needed to take his own life. After a failed suicide attempt, Ron was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
During the many years that followed Ron struggled with mental illness and the voices that tortured him. He spent short bouts in hospital but often lied to his doctor about his symptoms to avoid being separated from his family as the hospital was more than an hour away from home.
In 2003, after finally realizing he needed treatment, Ron was admitted to St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care London (RMHCL). “I was so lost by then,” says Ron. “I decided I couldn’t live like that any longer, I knew I needed professional help.”
Now 54, Ron has faced and overcome many of the obstacles life has thrown his way. He has been sober for more than 26 years and is successfully managing his mental illness, controlling his symptoms and living a full life within the community.
He now volunteers at RMHCL where he is also a member of the patient’s council and has a part time job in the community. In his spare time, Ron builds structures such as ferriswheels, gazebos and wishing wells, to scale, out of Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors- a hobby that calms his anxiety and helps to relieve stress.
Recovery for Ron has also included building a support system of family, friends and health care professionals- both within community support programs and through RMHC London’s outpatient department, which he continues to visit twice per month. “This place helped me heal and keeps me healthy,” boasts Ron about the staff and programs at RMHCL. “It is full of dedicated professionals who help people get and stay well.”
As someone who knows first-hand how devastating the impact of a mental illness can be, combined with the negative stigma that so often accompanies it, Ron understands the importance of promoting awareness in today’s society. “When I was diagnosed, I had never even heard of schizophrenia,” says Ron. “Back then, no one talked about mental illness and no one understood it. I lost every friend I had at the time.”
Medication and education are the two things that Ron says have helped him the most. “Learning about your illness so that you understand it is empowering.”
He also believes that those who are supporting a loved one with a mental illness need to have an understanding and awareness as well, which was underscored when he shared his story of recovery through RMHCL’s family education course. “I was approached by a couple whose son was receiving care at RMHCL. They shook my hand and thanked me for giving them hope and confidence...if sharing my story gives hope to others then I feel pretty good about that.”