Tag Archives: Vancouver

Treatment Resistant Schizophrenia and the Family – A Book Review

By Marvin Ross

book cover My Father Fortunetellers Me

My Father, Fortune Tellers and Me: A Memoir, is a book that should be mandatory reading for all counsellors in training, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and anyone who is working with or involved with families of those with schizophrenia – particularly untreated or treatment resistant schizophrenia.

Eufemia Fantetti, in telling the story of her family and her mother’s treatment resistant illness, has provided us with the full horrible extent of the complete destructive power of this illness. I can’t think of anything that depicts so vividly the impact on the family but the book also gives us more than that – family love and resilience. The book also demonstrates our total failure as a society to help care for people who are that sick.

Eufemia’s father had a pretty good life as a 30’s something Italian immigrant in Toronto – single, good job and living in a vibrant city with a large Italian subculture when he returned to his home town to take an arranged bride, a second cousin, years younger than him. Eufemia opens the book with a wedding photo of her parents in front of the statue of St Anthony of Padua holding the baby Jesus who, Eufemia says, is waving ciao to someone in the church.

Her father she describes as unsure of himself having only seen his bride twice before that day and he had never spoken to her. She points to her mother, Lucia, with Jordan almonds that symbolize health, wealth, happiness, fertility and longevity “My folks scored two out of five”. Married life continued in Toronto and soon Eufemia came along.

Lucia became increasingly more erratic as the years went on and so the family went for a long stay to Italy where it was hoped that she could get medical help. Once her treatment with an Italian doctor started, her father returned to Canada leaving Eufemia with Italian relatives. Lucia quickly stopped taking her medication and eventually, mother and daughter returned to Toronto.

Of course, the bizarre behaviour continued and often Eufemia was the brunt of the mother’s anger and physical abuse. At one point, a little girl in the neighbourhood had drowned in an accident and Lucia took Eufemia to the visitation against her father’s wishes. Visitations freak me out as they are not part of my cultural upbringing and I’ve never been comfortable standing around with a cup of tea making small talk while grandpa lies dead a few feet away. Imagine what it must be like for a young child especially when the departed is another child?

Lucia drags Eufemia to view the body and, if memory serves, makes her touch the little girl. She then gets in the line and introduces the grieving mother to her own daughter who she describes as the light of her life. This causes the departed’s mother to start howling in anguish and the two leave.

Later, Lucia goes to the factory where her husband works and takes his car in order to drive Eufemia to school. After dropping Eufemia off, she plows into the back of a truck and takes off, puts the car in the garage and says nothing. That evening, the damage is discovered and the father calls the police to report it. The police arrive quickly as they had been out looking for the hit and run driver but Lucia was in church so they come back later.

With all the times that Lucia spent in church, I have to wonder why no priest ever realized she was in need of medical help and suggested it. It was mainly the police who did and, after taking their report from Lucia, the officers parting advice to the family was to take her for medical help. It was because of that suggestion that Lucia was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The diagnosis did not lead to any improvement and Lucia continued to terrorize the family often smashing the house and inflicting abuse on Eufemia. There were countless encounters with the police, charges, restraining orders and, at one point, a police officer arrived and gave Eufemia’s father the business card of an Italian social worker so that he could get help. The cop said “sir, you cannot continue to live like this”.

Eufemia regularly saw a counsellor to help her through and the best advice she was given was to graduate from high school and to go to university as far away from Toronto as possible. Eufemia moved to Victoria, BC and lived on the west coast for many years while trying to help her father as best she could. Eufemia’s father endured until the stress of his life took its own toll on him and he had his own mental collapse.

It eventually took him four years to divorce his wife in a proceeding that his lawyer told him was the most complex of his 30 years practice as a lawyer. Ten years ago, Eufemia moved back to Toronto and she and I  were introduced by our mutual friend, Susan Inman (and Bridgeross author of After Her Brain Broke). I was somewhat familiar with the story in the book but not the full details and always hoped that she would write of her experiences.  I’m delighted she has and the book exceeds all expectations I had for it.

Eufemia often posts conversations with her father whom she calls Pappy on Facebook and the love and affection shines through along with Pappy’s optimism and good sense:

My dad insists that the Lord watched out for him – is certain the biblical sky dignitary dealt the cards for the game of Scopa my father played throughout his life.

“And if I didn’t marry the woman who ruined my life” she quotes her father saying, “I wouldn’t have you. I got what I wanted in this world: someone I could talk to. I prayed for someone reasonable and I got you.”

Words escape me!

Going back to the police, Eufemia states that “in a fair and kind society, police wouldn’t be tasked with the role of front-line mental health workers. We wouldn’t close our hearts to the suffering of others. We wouldn’t blame people for their illnesses…..”

At one point after her return to Toronto, Eufemia goes to visit her mom who is under the care of the Provincial Public Guardian and Trustee housed in a nice one bedroom apartment. Eufemia notices that all her blister packs of pills are months out of date and so decided to take Lucia to the doctor’s office for her monthly anti-psychotic injection.

The pleasant nurse points out that “we have not seen you for awhile Lucia”. And my reply is why do they not ensure that she does get her monthly shot and make sure that she is taking the meds in her blister pack? Should their job not also be to ensure that the vulnerable patients under their care at least get the medication they are supposed to?

And a final word about Eufemia. Her story collection, A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love (Mother Tongue Publishing) was runner up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and won the F.G. Bressani Prize for short fiction. A recipient of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Award, she is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Event Magazine, and The New Quarterly. She teaches at Humber College and lives in Toronto.

I cannot recommend her book strongly enough.

My Father, fortune-Tellers, & Me By Eufemia Fantetti, Mother Tongue Press ISBN-13: 978-1896949758

Art Therapy and Schizophrenia – A Review of DrawBridge

By Marvin Ross
drawbridge Drawbridge, a book by Joan Boxall, about her travels in art with her brother with schizophrenia is a difficult one for me to review. Not because the book is bad which it is not and I do recommend it but because of my own problems with art and art therapy.

I am artistically challenged and can barely draw a stick figure. Art classes which were mandatory when I was in elementary school were torture for me so it is difficult to comprehend the enjoyment and benefit people get from it. David Dawson and I did a documentary on an art program for people with mental illness called the Brush, The Pen and Recovery and I did see the value that the participants derived from their participation.

The Home on the Hill program in Richmond Hill, Ontario does have an art program as well and I did attend a function where the art therapist explained the benefits but it was all over my head.

For those interested in the benefits of an art program, then I highly recommend this book. Written by Joan Boxall, a British Columbia based retired teacher, the book relates how she reconnected to her brother Stephen who had schizophrenia and developed a deep connection with him. As the book blurb states “Joan meets him (Steve) at the Art Studios in Vancouver, where he takes part in art classes for individuals with a mental illness in a safe, supportive environment. This marks the beginning of a remarkable journey into the healing power of art.”

Steve did attend art school in Vancouver in the 1960’s and has considerable talent evident from the drawings included in the book.

Explaining the role of art, Joan quotes from Picasso via Matisse that “painting is a blind man’s profession. He paints not what he sees but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.” And attending the classes at the art studio have resulted in Steve relearning how to focus and make good use of his time.

As the time the two siblings spend together and Steve becomes more involved with the art and the talent he left behind during his travels with psychosis, Joan comments that Steve is becoming unstuck and that he obsesses less and is lighter.

Soon, Steve’s work is displayed at the Art Studio and he has his first show called Dancing on the Interface. Of his 57 paintings on display, six sell along with cards of his images. Later, his paintings are accepted in the Art Rental Program at the North Vancouver Community Arts Council (now called North Van Arts). More paintings sell and his art begins to be displayed at some coffee houses in Vancouver.

Without wishing to give away too much of the book, let me just say that there is now a bursary given every spring to a student at the Emily Carr University in Art and Design in Vancouver to students coping with significant mental health challenges.

Aside from art, the book is a revealing look into the role that siblings can play in the support and help for those with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. It is often not an easy role but in this case it was aided by their mutual participation in art classes (and bocce ball as well.)

It also made me a bit jealous of Vancouver in that the community supported the art program and people bought or borrowed the paintings. We have not found that in our own community of Hamilton, Ontario. I did manage to get our local hospital with responsibility for mental health care to put on a premier for our documentary which they used for fund raising. One of the esteemed guests at that opening is a major donor to the hospital and now to their mental health services.

But when David Dawson held an art show for the artists involved in the film at his art gallery when we did the film, I do not believe that one painting sold. And they were  good pieces of work.

Either last year or early this year, David held another showing for some very talented artists with serious mental illnesses and again I do not believe anything sold. For that, I notified the VP of mental health services at the hospital about the show and suggested they might like to obtain art works from talented patients for the drab, monochromatic institutionalized depressing walls of the hospital. No reply.

So kudos to Vancouver for the support they give.

DrawBridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia, by Joan Boxall  (Author), Stephen A. Corcoran (Illustrator) ISBN-13: 978-1773860022 and available

 

Police Entrapment, Terrorism and Wasted Resources

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Years ago a not-so-bright young man stole a Cadillac convertible. He had always wanted to ride in one, like a country and western star in a small town parade. This was the only way he imagined it could happen. The ensuing police chase, crash, lawyers, court appearances, sentencing was extremely costly. It would have been, I noticed at the time, much, much cheaper to buy him a Cadillac for a birthday present.

Another young woman had a penchant for setting fires. Whether she was in a jail, a hospital, or a boarding home. She was mentally ill, and we were trying to help her, but there was always a risk that her pyromania would cause many deaths as long as she was residing with others. Her care was costing the taxpayers in the neighbourhood of $200,000 per year. While in our institutions someone had to watch her at all times. A decent little house was selling for about $50,000 at the time. I proposed we buy her a detached house and take our services to her.

These two stories came to mind when I read about John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. It has been reported that the RCMP spent about $1,000,000 “entrapping” them.

Two marginalized people. Addicts. Neither bright nor sophisticated. Probably with their fair share of grievances and yearnings. Both destined to be burdens on the taxpayer for years to come. And both in that state of mind, that existential position, of searching for someone or something to blame and a way of elevating their sad lives.

Neither capable, on their own, of condensing those grievances into strategic action. Neither capable, on their own, of buying the ingredients and making a bomb, and successfully delivering it. Probably neither capable on their own of formulating a coherent argument why they should do this.

So, having discovered this despairing pair of hapless would-be terrorists, would it not have been much cheaper to give them a Lotto win of $100,000 and send them on their way. I know there is no sane way of doing that, but perhaps, instead of this elaborate sting operation, the RCMP could have alerted the local social services that this at risk couple needs extra help. Assign a new worker, a counselor to them. Review their needs, (social, educational, medical) and plan with them a better life.

So much less expensive and damaging and wasteful than all that police work, surveillance, subterfuge, and legal work, court costs.

Addiction services, psychiatric treatment, disability benefits, social housing, educational programs. These are all expensive. But so much cheaper than the alternative.