Gary was a new youth to Covenant House Vancouver and was struggling with some pretty significant mental health issues. When he first arrived at the Crisis Program there were some concerns about Gary’s mental health and how he would do in a communal living environment. He presented as a bit “odd”, had trouble reading others body language, and his boundaries with staff and other youth was at times challenging.
In the beginning, youth workers watched Gary closely and noted his behaviours as we really didn’t know what was happening for him. Over the first few days while he was in Shelter, several phone calls were made to community organizations previously involved with Gary. This resulted in us finding out that Gary had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia and was currently un-medicated. Once this information was discovered, Gary was quickly connected to a psychiatrist through the Inner City Mental Health Team and put back on his medication. Within a few days there was a notable difference in Gary. His conversations made more sense, he seemed more clear and his personality really had started to come out.
Today I had the opportunity to spend some extra one-to-one time with Gary. We talked about a lot of things, with Gary’s main focus of conversation being getting a job. Gary spoke about how he was able to hold a job in the past and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t find a job yet, despite his best efforts in doing so. Then Gary made a comment that made my heart drop a little. Gary said to me with a sullen face, “I don’t think that people want to hire people like me...I’m not like everyone else I have Schizophrenia you know.” We talked about what this meant to Gary. He described very eloquently how he at times thinks of himself as a mutant like that of an X-Men character. He went on to state that like a mutant, he doesn’t fit into society and that he has to hide who he really is from others… concealing his mental illness for fear of being rejected and cast away into hiding. Gary asked me if I understood what he was telling me. I nodded my head in agreement and he continued talking.
Gary told me that because he felt this way he often felt very alone in the world. He spoke about the difficulties he had in making friends and how he was sad most of the time because of it. He put his head down on the table eventually and when I looked at him I could see some tears rolling down his cheeks. I comforted him by sharing with him that a lot of people have a mental illness and that often you would never even know it. I encouraged him to keep seeing his doctor and to stay on his medication as it seemed to be helping him. He smiled and nodded. Gary then switched the topic to showing me some pictures of the car he used to own and some pictures of his family, and then the conversation ended and Gary went about his business on the computer.
Today’s conversation with Gary really reminded me of the courage and insight the young people we support possess and reaffirmed for me that Covenant House really is a place where youth can come to feel fully accepted…whether they feel like an X-Men character or not.