Two years ago, when he was 17 years old, Edward Gallant inexplicably began hearing a clamor of disembodied voices. Some were positive, and cheered him on as he overcame a struggle. But in those early months, most were negative, and terrorized Edward as they fought to control him.
Edward saw a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“Things literally appeared that didn’t make any sense, which really confused you and you would become really scared,” he said.
There were about six distinct voices, mostly of people from Edward’s past, such as a kind deceased uncle, or a cruel childhood schoolteacher. Many of the negative voices harassed Edward to commit self-harm, and it became difficult to distinguish them from real-world sounds and demands.
“It definitely puts you in a deep depressive state for a while,” he said.
In addition to the voices, Edward had strange hallucinations, such as looking up into the rearview mirror of his car and seeing a woman dressed up for work looking back.
To his family, in his late teenaged years Edward suddenly began speaking in halting sentences, with huge pauses in between strings of words. He began losing his memory, and his weight. He couldn’t concentrate on one topic very long. He couldn’t sleep, and ended up in the hospital after staying awake for five days.
“You could tell he was getting tormented in his mind, and there was nothing anybody could do,” said mom Deanna Wium, who lives in Harrison Hot Springs.
The family members have come out as advocates to break stigma surrounding mental illness, and to fundraise for essential services.
Alongside Edward’s brother Deon Gallant, the family is hosting a benefit concert on Saturday night, July 6, at Evergreen Hall. The all-local line-up consists of Deon’s punk/ska/reggae band, Poison Corn, hard rock group Explicit Mental Therapy, acid rock group The Marlins, and reggae band the Early Birds.
Friends of the family, the band mates agreed to donate all proceeds to non-profit groups in Chilliwack that provide affordable housing for people with mental illness. According to local experts, access to affordable housing is the biggest issue facing people with mental illness in the community.
The concert will feature original music. Tickets are $10, and there will a 50/50 draw and door prizes. With several hundred expected attendees, the family hopes to raise thousands of dollars.
There are about 850 people in Chilliwack living with schizophrenia, according to the B.C. Schizophrenia Society’s estimate of one in 100 people.
Chilliwack has a handful of psychiatrists, each with hundreds of clients, and waiting lists for first diagnoses are many months long.
Deanna brought Edward to Abbotsford for initial testing, but it was still six weeks before he received his first medication. He then slept for 72 hours.
Before his symptoms showed up, Edward was fast on his way to a successful welding career.
“He struggled through school, but still graduated. He wanted to travel. And then this happened, and everything’s come to a stop,” said Deanna. “He’s frustrated. He’s hurt. He’s mad about the situation. He wants his life back to normal.”
Edward is still on the same career path, but at a slower pace. He is due to return to school in October for a first-year welding apprenticeship at a college in Edmonton, where he resides with his dad.
Edward has a natural aptitude for math, chemistry, and engineering. He researched the chemical imbalance that causes schizophrenia, and can take a dirt bike apart completely and put it back together.
He has been trying different medications over the last two years, seeking one that controls his symptoms while not making him drowsy, so that he can operate specialized machinery at his welding training.
Edward, now 20, hasn’t heard the negative voices since he started on anti-psychotic medication over a year ago. When he has schizophrenic symptoms now, they are usually positive and he knows how to handle them.
Edward credits much of his positive trend to recovery with a radical change in lifestyle. He goes to the gym daily, watches what he eats, and meditates at least once a day.
“I went completely on the ‘green’ side of everything. And honestly, I think that helped more than the medication. I’m sure the medication with it helped, but I think I turned it around by going on the greener side of things instead of just relying on the doctors and medication,” he said.
He is working with his psychiatrist to reduce his dosage over time, and hopes to get to the point where he only takes a pill at night, leaving him fully functional during the day.
About a quarter of people with schizophrenia will recover, and another quarter will improve with treatment, according to the B.C. Schizophrenia Society. Another quarter will need extensive community support, 15 per cent will not improve and need hospitalization, and society will lose 10 per cent to suicide.
For Edward, as he takes care of a rescued pit bull/German Shepherd mix, and maintains a healthy lifestyle while planning to continue his education, the future is hopeful.