100 Individuals: Erin Hawkes
I started an interview series here where I talked with people diagnosed with schizophrenia that shed light on facets of their recovery. I will continue in this vein with the shorthand title: 100 Individuals.
I’m honored to bring you a Q&A with Erin L. Hawkes, MSc.
She was born in Moncton, New Brunswick in 1979. In 2001, while at Mount Saint Vincent and Dalhousie Universities, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she spent four and a half months in a psychiatric hospital. Impressively, she graduated in 2002 with Honours and was recognized with the Hugh Bell award as “most likely to succeed in science.”
She earned an NSERC scholarship (National Science and Research Council) and then moved to Vancouver where she earned an MSc in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
CB: You earned an MSc in Neuroscience at the University of British
Columbia (UBC). Do you feel there was anything about your brain
chemistry that maybe geared you to the sciences, or is that just a
EH: I have long been interested in Neuroscience as a welcome challenge
academically and philosophically. Having schizophrenia - knowing that
my brain is somehow functioning differently - has given me
a passion for brain research. Of note: In high school and
university, I was intuitively and presciently afraid of subjecting my
brain to drugs of addiction (including alcohol) lest I damage my
yet-to-be-diagnosed sensitive chemistry, and instead focused on being
the perfect student.
CB: Talk about your early experiences in recovery, your continuing
persistence, and how you got here. What enabled you to fight so
EH: Recovery for me was learning the cause-and-effect of taking my
medications and being well (i.e., out of hospital). This took about
six years and 12 hospitalizations. During this time, however, I fought
extremely hard to excel academically (straight A+ average) because in
my mind, if I could do this, this would “prove” I did not have
CB: You’re female, you’re involved in a STEM field so these two things
alone might seem remarkable. Do you feel the field you’re in in
some way might be suited to people with SZ or SZA or other MIs?
(I’m a librarian, and I’ve met an inordinate amount of people with
SZ who are librarians.)
EH: Being in the field I am and having the mental illness I have combine
into a passion to further our understanding of such disorders and
their treatment. I believe this adds to what I can bring to a career
in the neurosciences; others too may feel this way, in any field of study.
Interestingly, my mother and her mother are librarians.
CB: Tell us a little about what you do now.
EH: Unfortunately, I was fired from my last job (technician in a science
lab) because my schizophrenia has left me with poor memory function. I
am unemployed now but am searching for jobs, writing cover letters, and
sending out resumes. In my personal life, I am engaged to be married
CB: What suggestions can you give to our community members who are
struggling with these kinds of illnesses? I realize not everyone’s
going to become a neuroscientist like you. That’s not the point, is it?
EH: There is such a diversity of talents and interests among all people,
and that includes people living with schizophrenia. However, you do
need to be able to take a personal inventory to find that out for
yourself. For me, my passions and abilities happen to be
Neuroscience… and caring for small children.
CB: You were brave to come out and tell your story. How were you
able to do this?
EH: My book began as a journal, and I happen to write journal entries as
if they were chapters of a book. That is why the book is so personal
and raw. I began to show my “chapters” to close friends and they
really encouraged me to make it into a book. So, I did. I felt I had a
story worth telling and that perhaps I could reach out to others for
them to further understand what schizophrenia feels like on the
inside, as well as to people with schizophrenia to offer empathy and
This book, "When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey
With Schizophrenia" was published in May of 2012 by Bridgeross
Communications and is available through Amazon, Chapters (online
only), Barnes & Noble, and various smaller bookstores (print and
CB: Could you close out by giving our readers some hope that
schizophrenia is not a life sentence: it can be liberating.
EH: I say in my book that I have determined not to let schizophrenia take
from me anything it doesn’t demand; I will not give up and let it take
over. I take my meds, I see my psychiatrist, but I also spend time
with family and friends being whatever “normal” is for me. I "make
lemonade" often and refuse to compare life difficulties or
achievements with others. We all have our own story and opportunities
CB: Congratulations on your engagement. Thank you for stopping by.
Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.