February 08, 2015 - Phoenix (4th person I approached)
I had hoped the first person I approached would chat with me, but alas, she said no. She was a little elderly lady, wearing a golf visor, sitting in McDonalds, enjoying a burger, fries and a cup of tea. Doreen told me she wasn’t feeling too well today, and that she wanted to just be left alone. Then she asked me questions for the next seven minutes. She told me all about going fishing in Port Moody, getting angry with a cyclist riding too close to her on the sidewalk, telling her son she ‘lost it’ with the cyclist, and that she had a sore back. Doreen apologized for keeping me and wished me a good day. She was so sweet, and really put a smile on my face.
When I approached Phoenix, she was sitting on a couch, and there was another woman sitting nearby. Usually I would avoid going toward someone with another person so close by. I don’t want to limit the conversation should the person nearby be able to hear what is being said. But, for whatever reason, I set my aim on Phoenix, and asked her to chat with me. She had a time limit due to a scheduled phone call she had to make, but told me she could chat for a little bit.
“I was born just outside of Glasgow, in Scotland,” she told me. Most of my family are Scottish and I went to high-school there, and so I always feel a connection with anyone Scottish.
“My father is from Goa (India), and my mother is from Germany. They were both international exchange students, that’s where they met, in Scotland,” Phoenix said.
“When I was three years old, we moved to Toronto. There was a drive to have people immigrate to Canada. My mother saw a poster of the woman paddling her canoe down a treed river, and thought that’s what we’d have in Toronto,” she said, laughing.
“My grade six teacher saved my life, I really do believe that. I was very introverted, and he spent time with me, helping coach me out of my shell.” It was easy to see that Phoenix had been greatly influenced and was grateful for the connection with this teacher.
“I would go visit him every year and kept in touch for as long as I could,” she said.
“There was another teacher that influenced me as well. In grade eight, she pulled me and another student aside and told us we both should pursue our writing skills.”
“I went to university in Toronto and Ottawa,” Phoenix said. She worked part-time to pay for her education. Between getting her bachelor’s degree and going on to study for her Master’s, she had a son.
“I got my undergrad degree in Journalism and Political Science. Then I got my Master’s degree, in International Affairs,” she said. Phoenix was working through some mental health issues at the time, and experienced stigma during her years in university.
“I had one teacher who didn’t think I had what it took to get my Master’s. He didn’t think I should even be in the program.”
There was a relative in Phoenix’s family that she had seen dealing with schizophrenia.
“I knew from what she went though that I never wanted to be in that situation, and taking medication for the rest of my life,” she told me. After completing her Master’s degree, Phoenix was in Washington DC (USA).
“I had been working in an Embassy,” she said.
“I was walking down the middle of a transit corridor, somewhere that I shouldn’t have been. I was picked up by police and ended up hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for a month, in Maryland.” Phoenix lost custody of her son and became homeless.
“I spent a couple of years traveling across Canada and the US. I had a friend that I used to spend holidays with on Salt Spring Island. She lived here in Vancouver,” said Phoenix. She was spending time in the DTES (Downtown Eastside) sleeping in doorways. It was her friend from Salt Spring Island that helped Phoenix find her way forward.
“I spend most of my time volunteering at the Carnegie Centre (DTES). It’s so good to be surrounded by people who understand mental health issues. I’ve gotten a great deal of support, and know so many people there.”
Phoenix is a writer and advocate for mental health and wellness.
“As an immigrant, a woman, a person with dark skin and someone with mental health issues, I’ve experienced stigma and prejudice,” she said. Phoenix is a member of the Carnegie Writers group, who meet every week at the Carnegie Centre. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Phoenix looked at her watch, and told me she had to go make that phone call. She asked if I wanted to wait, but I declined. I took her photograph and thanked her for sharing her story, and for being willing to share so openly.
"I’m going to call my son. He’s living in Ottawa,” she said, smiling. I asked if they had an appointed time for a Sunday call, to make sure they connected.
“Yeah, we do. But not only for Sundays. We speak every other day.” #notastranger
*Fact Check - carnegiewriters.wordpress.com