100 Individuals: Erin Hawkes

Patient Expert

Years ago:

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

coincidence?

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

hard?

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

schizophrenia.

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

this summer.

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

hope.

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

electronic versions).

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

to grow.

CB: Congratulations on your engagement.   Thank you for stopping by.