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'I lost my job. I hit rock bottom'; Starting a magazine gave back the life schizophrenia stole
Schizophrenia Update, December 2002
Congratulations to this Bill McPhee for his personal success
story. You can view, and subscribe, to Bill's magazine on
the web at http://www.schizophreniadigest.com/
The Hamilton Spectator
By: Denise Davy
He was working as a commercial diver in South East Asia, owned his own home, had a wide circle of friends and looked forward to developing his career. Five years later he was spending his days curled up on his couch in a fetal position. He was often unable to move and used all his energy to keep the voices at bay. MacPhee was diagnosed with schizophrenia and put on medication to control the symptoms. But it took five years to find the proper medication to stabilize them.
"It's not like breaking your arm and it takes six months to heal," said MacPhee, 39.
"The medication is trial and error and it takes time."
Like many who suffer from schizophrenia, his early symptoms of the illness were subtle. Words suddenly floated off the page of a book he was reading. He began to hear voices, sometimes from God telling him he was the chosen one. He saw faces. He became paranoid.
MacPhee was hospitalized six times during those years, once for a suicide attempt. He lived in three different group homes but always ended up back with his family.
"I lost my friends, I lost my house and I lost my job," said MacPhee. "I hit rock bottom."
Then in one of those "meant-to-be" moments, he was connected with Martha Mason, who volunteered with the local literacy council. MacPhee had called there to get help with his penmanship. She saw his potential, not his problems, and got him involved in various volunteer efforts.
One day while in the library he caught sight of a book about starting a business with little or no capital.
"As soon as I read it I knew what I had to do," said MacPhee.
His idea was to start a magazine for and about schizophrenia. He developed a business plan and 18 months later, Schizophrenia Digest was born. The first issue was an eight-page glossy and came out in June 1994. Today, the quarterly magazine is more than 40 pages and has a steadily growing circulation of more than 20,000.
The magazine is the only one of its kind in North America and has earned MacPhee several awards, including this year's National Media award from the Canadian Mental Health Association. The most recent award was the Golden Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth II, which is given out as part of the Jubilee year celebrations organized by the Department of Canadian Heritage.
The Golden Jubilee Medal was set up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Her Majesty's reign as Queen of Canada.
MacPhee was one of four Niagara residents to receive the award.
Schizophrenia Digest tackles the tough issues such as taking critical looks at the health-care system and also profiles people who have the illness. A story in one issue called Dealing with Denial, cites lack of insight as the main reason people don't seek treatment.
It's nice to be recognized for his work, says MacPhee, but it's even more rewarding to be able to link people with schizophrenia and help them in some way.
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects 1 per cent of the population or 270,000 Canadians. There are many theories about what causes the illness, but the most widely accepted is the over-production of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that acts as a link to the messages being sent to brain receptors.
The most common symptoms are disorganized thinking, delusions, hallucinations and changes in emotion and behaviour. Symptoms usually surface between the ages of 16 and 25. MacPhee said a stigma still exists around schizophrenia, which makes it difficult for people to integrate into society and become productive. He encountered that stigma when it came to marketing the magazine.
"I knew it was a great idea but I was always having to convince others it would work."
MacPhee said the movie A Beautiful Mind did more to increase awareness of schizophrenia than anything in the past 20 years. The movie portrayed the life of John Forbes Jr., a mathematical genius who won the Nobel prize for economics after struggling through 30 years of schizophrenia.
"So many people feel isolated,' said MacPhee. "It's hard getting back your motivation and getting back into the workforce."
As for future plans, he hopes to expand into the American market. Once again, the future stretches before him.
"I realize I'm very lucky,' said MacPhee.
"My definition of success is the more thankful you are, the more successful you are."