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My Illness is Just a Small Part of Me

John Francis

John Francis, 2001-2002 Fellow, is the founder and publisher of TEARAWAY Magazine, The Voice Of New Zealand Youth.

Having schizophrenia isn't going to stop WALLACE STEVENSON, 21, from living life to the limit.

My name is Wallace Stevenson. At the moment I am working for the national 'Like Minds Like Mine' campaign. You might have seen the 'know me before you judge me' ads on TV which are part of the campaign.

We're working to debunk some of the myths around mental illness. As part of my job I carry out workshops in the community.

At 21 I am quite young to be running workshops, but like I always say, "Who needs to jump out of an aeroplane to get a rush when you can just get up and speak in front of 20 strangers?"

I love the thrill of life. I love living on the edge whether it be talking to a group or performing.

I'm not alone

My experiences, being different from the norm - these are what have made me who I am today, building my core and my foundation.

We are all unique. We all have immense dreams about what we want to do with our lives.

No matter what illness I may have it can't control me. It is only a small part of the complete person I am.

I accept my faults and misgivings and move on. There is too much I want to do in life to get hung up on the small things life throws my way.

I am looking towards a career in multi-media design. At the moment I work hard from nine to five, creating and delivering workshops and soon some public events like the Hikoi in the Park. Lucky for me, I'm one of the performers at the Hikoi too!

I also dream of being a prominent rapper on the international music scene, fusing my beats with emotion-evoking messages.

I have always admired the genius of Tupac Amaru Shakur and Eminem. Eminem, like Tupac was, is proud to be "crazy" - and I feel the same.

Helping others

I am studying the National Mental Health Support Workers Certificate. I want to help other people and to spread a positive message about the experience of mental illness.

Illness is only a small part of a unique individual and the real journey and intriguing part is getting to know the person first, rather than judging them.

I have heard many amazing stories from people who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar and other illnesses.

I hope that through my music I can be a positive role model for youth with experience of mental illness. It can affect anyone at any time.

I think it's time some of us got the courage and stole some of the limelight from people without experience of mental illness who are leading our youth culture.

I'm one in five

One in five people experience mental illness, so there is no reason for us to feel alone and afraid - rather, we should be empowered and inspired by our own life experience, skills and knowledge.

I am a real guy with real dreams and aspirations and I appreciate the fact that I experience schizophrenia.

I have more hobbies than I can recollect, like bone and pounamu carving, animation, computer design, rapping, model-making, public speaking and facilitating, and radio broadcasting and interviewing.

My iwi is Ngäti Whätua in Auckland and my hapu (sub-tribe) is Ngäti Raukawa, Putaruru, near Tokoroa.

It started when I was 16

My illness, schizophrenia, started when I was 16 with a major bout of depression, which was related to cannabis use, plus school and family pressure.

After a six-month bout of drugs, depression, delusions and reclusion I left school, got kicked out of home, and four months later ended up in Auckland's Starship Hospital.

After six weeks at Starship I discharged myself and lived with my mum for two weeks, but I relapsed and fell deep into depression. From there I spent a year in a rehabilitation clinic, and then I moved to the Framework Trust residential housing project.

So many experiences

During that time I spent three months interviewing people as a broadcaster on a local radio show.

I attended a youth performing arts and adventure-based learning programme.

The main highlight of the course was abseiling solo down Hunua falls in torrential rain.

I have my own one-bedroom flat where I have a small recording set-up, and I rap and mix beats and burn my songs onto CD.

I've done everything myself, from graphics, to installing the computer hardware and software, rapping, making the beats, and getting gigs and radio play. My crew is called the Virus Crew.

Learning to live with it

I have never really heard voices (as some people with schizophrenia do) but in the past I have tended to have a lot of delusions and become quite worked up and have my thoughts and emotions racing and fluctuating.

I've found it quite hard to think about just one thing at a time, so really I'm just thinking too fast for me to keep up with, which can be frustrating at times.

I've accepted it as a part of me and over the years I've become better at dealing with it - so well, in fact, that it's an advantage on some occasions.

These Body Mind Spirit pages would not have been possible without the support of the Lion Foundation: Thanks!

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from TEARAWAY magazine.

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