Andrew, 20, looks Hispanic: olive skin, aquiline nose, straight dark hair. He aspires to making a living with his music, but has acquiesced to the need to get accreditation for a more practical job and has registered at a private college to study accounting. He mentions only when asked that he was recently hospitalized for a psychotic break, and intends to avoid a recurrence by refocusing his life. He is eloquent about the stresses of high school, the surprise of post-school reality, and the absence of resources for youth in small towns once they leave school. The church community is important to his family, and perhaps to Andrew, although he identifies some stressors in the relationship.
FM: Let’s start with you telling me a bit about how you were raised – where, the size and composition of your family, what your folks did for a living, etc. etc.
Alright. Well, I was born in Toronto, moved around a lot for the first 10 years of my life. Lived in [a number of small towns in rural south-eastern Ontario], Toronto for a bit and then finally moved to Eastville ten years ago, somewhere around there.
We went to church a lot, pretty much every Sunday. Spent a lot of time together.
FM: Who’s ‘we’ here?
For the first 10 years it would have been myself, my mom, my dad and my little brother. And then once we moved here, we had my little sister and another little brother. We used to take road trips when I was younger.
FM: What did your dad do for a living?
He worked in Scarborough at a company called Scientific [something], a pretty big company. They – he answered calls and translated and took in orders and stuff like that.
FM: Translated from what to what?
From Spanish to English.
FM: So he was Spanish-speaking. Canadian born? Was your mom also Spanish? What about your ethnic or cultural background?
My father was born in El Salvador and then moved here a few years before I was born.
FM: Was he a refugee?
Yeah, I guess you could say that, he was escaping from the guerrilla wars. Like his father called him out.
FM: Do you mean, turned him over to authorities?
No, his father already came over here and – I don’t know exactly how it happened.
FM: Okay, carry on. Actually, I have a question about what kind of work generally [the company your dad worked for] did, and what your father’s background was.
[The company], they had satellites, communication type things, they were into computer devices and stuff they would provide for businesses.
FM: And was he computer trained?
Yeah, in the sense that he would use the computer, could type very well, and he would answer the phone and take orders, like that I guess.
FM: Okay, I’m getting the picture of an educated, maybe almost professional guy with a good job? Yeah?
He went to high school, passed high school, then just found small jobs I guess until he found [that company] and that was an all-right job, not great but wasn’t horrible either. Not minimum wage but not high end.
FM: Okay. What were all the moves about?
Just wanting to be different places, not able to afford certain places. Family, being with family or being on our own. And money issues.
FM: Did you say whether your mom was also Salvadoran?
No she is not. She’s born in Canada.
FM: What brought the family to Eastville?
We wanted our own house. We wanted to stop depending on our grandmother for places because the farm at [one place we lived in] was hers, and the cottage house at [another town we lived in] was hers. So we wanted some independence, I guess.
FM: Okay. Do you live at home now?
Yes, for the time being.
FM: Okay, talk about that, about staying at home.
Well, I’ve been out of high school for about a year now. I was working at a convenience store for about nine months after school ended and then I was fired. So I haven’t had a job since March and been living at home with my parents and little brother and sister. Trying to help out around the house for now. Find money wherever I can, small jobs.
FM: Why’d you get fired?
There was some issue with the boss, thought I was stealing money from him. And I also had stolen some small items from the store, like chocolate bars and stuff like that. So he noticed that and then his numbers for money were off, were going really bad that week for some reason, like someone wasn’t doing their work properly and then he saw what I was doing and figured that it was me stealing the money. So. That was the end of that.
FM: And did it mean that no one else in town would hire you then, that you had a bad reputation?
I honestly didn’t look for a job around here after that. I didn’t want to be around here after that . I looked in Middletown, Porttown, Centretown and I even thought about going to Littletown with my Grandma but she’s deciding to move out now, so that’s not going to work.
FM: What kind of work were you looking for?
I was looking for really anything, mostly retail jobs, I guess. I applied at countless number of stores, went out multiple times, switched my resume. I even had an interview at a roofing company and they said they were going to hire me but never went farther than that. Had the interview, it was all good, went well.
FM: But nothing?
Nothing came of it.
FM: Do you have a career goal, something that you particularly want to do or feel you’re good at?
Well, I’m good at music and have been doing it the last 10 years of my life, done a lot of stuff around here locally, made a lot of songs, learned a lot about the technology for making music and recording music. But I don’t have the money to actually fund starting my career in music.
FM: So you’re looking for a job that pays the rent and are prepared to have music be a ‘hobby’?
Yeah. For now. I still want to do a lot of shows and get my name out there. Like people around here already know about me, but I want to get my name out there, like in Middletown, Toronto maybe. But meantime I’m looking for a job to make money and make a living. Actually signed up to go to school this year for one semester for an accounting course, and I’ve actually been thinking about doing it for the past few years. Like not actually taking the course but really doing the numbers – I think I could be an accountant. And two or three weeks ago, I went to Middletown to look for a job and stumbled upon [a private college] and they showed me around and showed me their courses and basically I signed up that day. And college wasn’t something I was really planning on doing, like I thought of it, even saved some money last year when I had a job. But I wasn’t actually wanting to do it. And still right now, it’s still a weird transition for me. But I know it’s the path that I want to take.
FM: Want to take, or feel like you don’t really have an option?
Bit of both. I mean I would rather just start travelling right now and making music around the world, but I also want to be here, around my family, around my home town, around my home town, people who know me, that I care about. My girlfriend. I feel as though it’s not necessarily the option that is most desirable but it’s what I feel I need to do for my life right now.
FM: When does that course start, then?
Seven days from now.
FM: The end of … freedom, or perhaps the end of …poverty?
Yeah. Hopefully the end of poverty.
FM: What do your folks think about this decision?
My mom supports it, I can see. She has helped me by taking me down and filling out information so I can get OSAP and she’s taken a trip down to see the College with me. My grandma does because she used to work in accounting office as a secretary and that’s actually where the idea came from originally, three years ago. I even took a course in high school about it. I didn’t pass because I couldn’t learn very well in high school, too distracted with other things going on. My dad, I think supports me mentally in it, but he also wonders why the sudden urge to do it now, instead of last year or a year from now.
FM: He’s not so sure this is a ‘true’ choice for you?
Yeah, I guess you could say that.
FM: Talk a bit about not learning well in high school, and what the distractions were.
Um, classroom, I don’t work well sitting down and that type of way with so many people and everybody talking and making jokes. And trying to fit in is a distraction. Trying to balance my music and having fun, basically. I never really spent time on my homework until it was ‘You do this or you fail’ type of thing. I was always trying to go out with friends, have fun, be young and reckless, whatever, you know, and at the same time keep some sense of safety with my friends. Because I know most of them are pretty crazy sometimes.
FM: Okay, I’m hearing a partying high school culture.
There was a bit of that, grade 11 likely the most, partying wise. Grade 10 I started just skipping for fun, to fit in with a few of my friends. And I didn’t feel like I wanted to be in the classroom learning, I’d rather go out and experience life. Like I was always interested in numbers. In mathematics. And in science. But I never liked staying in those classes when I was in high school. Now when I’m bored, I look into different mathematical equations and stuff with the economy, different new science that I’m interested in.
FM: So you think you’ve matured, maybe, and gotten more serious about the necessity for education, and that will make up for any short-comings in your ability to do well as a student?
In some ways I feel more mature. In the sense, like you’re saying, the necessity for education. The pursuit of higher knowledge. Because I know that in order to have a wealthy life, to be in a position that you want to be in, you have to know what you’re getting into, and know more than just what’s happening now with the economy or with your niche of your market. You have to be able to see what’s going to happen from a month from now based on the trends that are happening today, yesterday, tomorrow. And from a business standpoint, you have to be good with the people in your area if you want to make the right connections. And go where you want to go, basically.
FM: What kind of music do you do?
I started just with rap, with hip-hop. I learned how to play piano, guitar, I guess I started with drums, that was my first instrument. So now I make songs whatever mood I’m feeling. In a mellow mood I pick up my guitar, and make something soothing. If I’m in a bad mood I’ll write about whatever’s stressing me out, and that can go anywhere from rap to rock to even …any style. And recently been working on some covers of songs on the guitar because my friend and I want to perform at the pub in Centretown and I’ve already got the information and she says they pay pretty good. But it’s a 2-hour set so it’s longer than I’ve ever performed before. My longest performance to this point would have been at the church where I go to, we were doing a fund-raiser for some missions trip and I did an hour and a half just rap music set. So I do just whatever I’m feeling. And actually I want to become a producer as my main goal.
FM: Okay. Well, accounting is like music – or more like music is very mathematical, so the skill sets go together a fair bit. And accounting pays better than music. Most musicians have ‘junk jobs’ to support their (music) habit.
FM: Did having a dead-end job (my judgement) like working in a convenience store have anything to do with motivating you to look at school again?
I was already looking at going to a college before I started working at the convenience store. It was a bible college and it was a two-year course something like that in music and ministry. But I just felt it wasn’t where I wanted to be for this part of my life. Maybe down the road when I’m more financially well off. And can balance doing that with my career in accounting, and music and stuff.
FM: When you say that’s not what you want for now, do you mean the religious or Christian part of life, that you want to be I’m going to say ‘wilder’ now, and you’ll settle down later?
I guess you could put it that way. I still have my beliefs and my faith but I also know that most churches wouldn’t agree with some of my philosophies and thoughts so I want to branch out to a different audience right now.
FM: But church is still important to you, which is a bit unusual for your age. Talk about that.
I think because of being raised in church, being around that type of community my whole life. And I was home-schooled for part of my life too, and it was the same type of community faith-based, learning styles.
FM: Is your family / church what is generally called evangelical?
Yeah. It’s Pentecostal, the one I have attended for the last 10 years of being here.
FM: Just to poke into some of the areas you haven’t covered, does health issues, including mental health and substance abuse, play any role in your story?
Yeah, actually. With the whole mental issues, just two months ago, I had a psychotic episode, you want to call it. And had to be in Middletown mental hospital for 2 weeks. But it wasn’t spawned from substance abuse or drug abuse, it was stress, not sleeping, not eating right and a bunch of other factors . I can’t really explain it in a way that makes sense to how I feel right now, because everything is kinda fine with me, right now, today, but when I’m under a lot of stress and a lot of pressure and I feel a lot of bad going around about my friends or my girlfriend I get really just agitated and I want to hit something. I never have, really, I’ve never hit a person per se, like actually been in a fight, but with this episode I pretty much blacked out and slept-ran/walked into town, like a night-terror kind of walk and did a bunch of stupid stuff in town. I don’t want to go too much into detail about it but I have legal matters, like I have to go to court still about it.
FM: It sounds quite terrifying, being that much out of control, is that what I’m hearing?
Yeah. Pretty much out of control, feeling like you’re disconnected from your body basically, feeling like you’re not really there but remembering doing these things like in a dream. But then dreaming about them later. I guess I was having small psychotic episodes, things I don’t really remember at the time, but later remembering and being like Why did I do that?
FM: I was going to ask about prior history, and I’m hearing there was some indication of trouble but no one saw it as such. Yeah?
Well nobody close to me saw it because nobody close to me had ever gone through something like that. But someone I knew in town approached me when I was working at the convenience store and was pretty much warning me that something could happen to me because he had been though something like I had been though in his own life. But he never told me specifically this is what happened to me, he was just warning me because he saw the same signs I guess.
FM: When you were in Middletown hospital, what did they call what you were experiencing? What diagnosis and treatment?
They called it psychosis but I know that psychosis is just an effect of something. It’s not an actual diagnosis. They had me on Respiridone but I was taking that and it was fine in the hospital in a controlled environment but as soon as I stepped back into the real world, it was like I was taking this pill and basically feeling high for a minute, disorientated and groggy when I woke up in the morning, didn’t want to do anything. So I stopped taking that and just started eating right and taking my vitamins like I usually do and just staying away from too much drama in my life, too much stress. And staying out of other people’s drama more now.
FM: Like your girlfriend’s? You mentioned she was part of that somehow?
It wasn’t really my girlfriend, it was just things that were happening to her. Like she’d just lost her apartment the day before this whole thing went down. And just things like that. Things that upset me, that I didn’t really have control over. But I can handle like talking about her problems because I don’t take it upon myself any more because I know I can’t. And also just I know that she is strong and will be able to handle it on her own.
FM: Did the hospital discharge you with any follow-up counselling or anything?
Yeah, like I meet with them every two months at the hospital and in-between then I meet with the one counsellor from one of the programs.
FM: Where do you meet?
Wherever. Tim Hortons, someplace we decide.
FM: I meant, here or in Middletown?
So far we’ve only met here, but with school and everything it might be in Middletown.
FM: Did the counsellor have any input into your decision to go to school?
Not really. It’s something I decided for my own mind. For my own life. A lot of people were giving me different advice and it was all just pointing to doing something more than just accepting just a minimum wage job and just barely getting by. And after just thinking about the way things are with my family and my friends and this area, even, with a lot of jobs, I decided that I needed to do something with my life and this is my ticket into what I want to do.
FM: How did you hear about this research opportunity? Through [the agency where we are meeting] or otherwise?
I came in to talk to one of the [agency] centre representatives about another matter, and he mentioned that this was going on and asked if I wanted to participate.
FM: I’m glad you did. This is an interesting angle on things. Do you have some people in place to support you psychologically when you go to Middletown, to school?
Don’t say I have a support group right now but I do know a lot of people in the area and my dad works in Middletown and my grandma is thinking about moving to Middletown as well. And I might even move in with her for awhile, just to get started, until I have money to rent my own place.
FM: And maybe somebody from the hospital out-patient… I know what I was going to ask. Does your dad’s uncertainty about this choice of yours have anything to do with your psychotic episode? And generally, how did your family deal with that?
I hadn’t decided to go to this college until three weeks ago or like that, and this episode was two months ago. So my dad’s attitude has nothing to do with that, because it wasn’t a factor at the time.
FM: I was thinking the other way around, that the mental health issue made him uncomfortable with you heading off to a new challenge, maybe.
No, I don’t think so, because I’ve been thinking of moving out for the last year, anyways, just haven’t found what I wanted to do until recently. And he knows that I’m going to be aware of what’s going on in my life so it won’t happen again. Because we’ve talked about it a lot because it put them through a lot and I don’t want to put them through it again.
My family was all very supportive of me throughout the whole incident, the whole time, but I could definitely tell it was putting a lot of stress on them and it was also one of those things that either makes or breaks a family. And somehow we’ve all stayed as a family through this and dealt with a lot of issues, even things that weren’t related to what happened. Stuff that needed to be dealt with anyways.
FM: So in some ways it was a good thing?
I wouldn’t say it was a good thing but I would say that good did come out of it. And will continue to. Because I’m learning more now about myself and what I want to do and that kind of gives them a sense of peace knowing that I’m actually trying to do something with my life.
FM: So it brought focus to you, and that was a relief to your family who maybe were worrying about you floating along going sorta nowhere.
Yeah. Definitely ushered in a new part of my life, a new chapter, and one that I won’t say excited by it, prepared to go through.
FM: Like jumping off the diving board, gotta do it, scared, but can’t / won’t climb back down the stairs?
FM: I’m not sure there’s any easier way to make that jump. It’s just that the jump isn’t always where we expect it to be. Like it might not be going off to school or partnering up with somebody, it could be quite another thing, but the characteristic is that when it stares you in the face, you know that it’s the real thing, not just a getting ready for the real thing. If all that makes sense – I think my brain is a bit undernourished right now.
Yeah, that makes sense. It’s like going from dreaming about doing these things and hoping that you’re going to do these things and then taking that extra step and then going out and actually doing these things.
FM: Yeah. Okay, I have some finish-up questions if we’re there. Are we? Anything else you want to add to this story before we take a step back and reflect on it a bit?
FM: Let me ask the finish up questions and we can always add then. Because the first question is: For the people who will read this story, to help give the story some shape or focus in their minds, what would you say is the Most Important Event in this story? Could be something that happened or something that didn’t happen.
What do you mean by that?
FM: Sometimes the Most Important Thing is something that should have happened and didn’t, or a space, an emptiness, where something should be and wasn’t. And sometimes not. Sometimes something that did really happen.
Hmm… I guess to answer truthfully, the Most Important Event that did happen would have been my psychotic episode in the sense that without it happening, without something to kind of wake me up, in a sense, something to force me to do what I need to do, then I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m on right now and I wouldn’t understand those type of things going on in other people’s lives. I wouldn’t be able to relate to those types of experiences. Now that I have gone through it, I have a responsibility to myself, to my peers, to my family and to those that I care about, to be vocal about things that are going on in people’s lives that could cause these things to happen.
FM: So be an advocate, sort of?
Yeah kinda like an advocate, the voices of the voiceless.
FM: That’s an accepted role for music, in society…
That’s actually where I got that saying from, it’s a song I listen to called the Voices of the Voiceless.
FM: Okay… next question, the judgement question: The people who read this story will want to know how it ends up, and of course they can’t know, no one can, but how do you think this story will unfold? Are you optimistic or not so much?
I’d say that I’m completely optimistic about my future, about my story, the way it will turn out. Because I know that no matter what happens, no matter how much struggles I go through now, and no matter how hard they are, I know that there are people who have been though worse and there are people that can help me through it. And also that I never want to be in the position that I have been for the last say 6 months, again, financially, and I’m going to do everything in my power to do so that I can live the life that I want to live. And be the person I want to be. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I know it’s going to happen. Because I believe with everything that’s within me that I’m going to find a way to make it happen.
FM: I read this article recently about Grit as the characteristic that makes the difference between people who succeed and those that don’t, and Grit was defined as passion + perseverance, i.e. having a defined goal and being relentless in finding a way to go after that goal, no matter what the impediments are, just getting around them or over them or under them, one at a time, keeping the goal in mind. I thought that was a pretty good formula for living life.
Does seem a very good formula, recipe.
FM: Okay, two more questions, first advice question: What advice would you give your younger self, even if your younger self didn’t take that advice, that would improve the probability of a good outcome for this story, or make it easier… what advice?
The biggest advice I would give my younger self would be to speak your mind more often. And to actually do what you feel like you need to do instead of putting it off so long. Also not to be too nice to people. And let them walk over you. To use your mind before doing things more than just accepting what the people around you are telling you to do.
FM: Are we talking being more self-directing rather than going with the crowd?
Yeah. Definitely. I’ve never really been an imitator of the crowd, but I’ve always tried to blend in and stick out at the same time and it doesn’t really work that way, with the way I am.
FM: Actually, sounds like a recipe for driving you crazy?
Yeah, pretty much.
FM: Because the two things pull in two different directions.
Completely different directions. Because I feel like a leader but every time that I’ve tried to take a leadership role, whether it was in school , whether it was in church, or whether it was just with my friends, I always felt that my advice and my thoughts were never truly listened to, like people would hear me, they would listen to my songs, they would listen to my advice, and they would even follow me sometimes out of situations, but more often than not they would try to bring me down to their level and down to a place where they wanted me in their life, and not considering my life, my goals for my town, my community, my family, my career.
FM: So they used you for their needs and couldn’t hear or respect, maybe, yours.
Yeah, I would definitely say the respect wasn’t always there. I always put it out and I’d have very few enemies, but I have a lot of fake friends and a lot of people who just want, hey, you’ve got money, you’ve got smokes, come here, let’s just chill, do this… and the start of this year I got back into the – not really party scene but just that type of people, drinking kind, people who didn’t have a job like me because we all needed something to do so that I feel put me in the wrong direction for this year, even though none of those people made me do anything. Or really even influenced me in a personal way of my beliefs of anything, it still put too much pressure, too much negativity on me to deal with as one person. Because I care about everyone, anybody could be my friend if they wanted to be and that’s the way I tried to be with everybody. And I still can walk up to anybody and start a conversation, hear what they’re dealing with, give them some advice or just a positive word for that day. But I don’t take it upon myself as much as I was to where it felt like it was my problem to deal with.
FM: So learning to be more discriminating in how you use your energy,
More discerning, I’d say.
FM: Okay, last question: What advice would you give to people like me, who want to be helpful and useful to people like yourself, what advice would you give to us?
I guess my biggest advice to someone who wants to help the younger people, the youth, all of my age group, it would be to keep learning what we know to be true, what WE know to be life, what WE think of this generation of our peers. And what we are doing with our lives. Because there are a lot of people in this town who do actually want to go somewhere with their life and want to do something for their family and for their future but there’s not a lot of understanding of their situation. There’s a lot of speculation, I think, about what’s going on, a lot of rumours about how people are becoming, but there’s not a lot of – I wouldn’t say not a lot of resources, there’s just not a lot of … not even accessibility … it’s just
FM: Is it empathy? Is that it? A way of opening themselves to understanding the reality of your age?
It’s a bit of that, a bit of a lack of empathy, a bit, not a lot but enough that it sets things off with people. Even in a town like Middletown there’s more of a culture for kids, for young adults. There’s more things to be involved in, even if you don’t have a lot of money. But what’s missing in this small town, which is probably in a lot of small towns, is the mix of the young aspirations and energy with the old and the knowledgeable and the wise people, there’s not a lot of mix, there’s some of it but not a lot of it. Like in small towns if your family, the people that know you are up finance wise, they’re going to be able to get a job, you’re going to be able to have a place to go to, even if you have to leave for the night, if you have a disagreement with your family, or having financial problems, there’s always somebody around you that can help you out. But if you’re not so high on the totem pole, the people that are higher up in town kind of ignore you or just don’t know about you or have negative views upon you because of your family or because they hear something about you. Or somebody that you associate yourself with.
FM: Okay, so I’m hearing that in a small town, people decide quite quickly where you ‘belong’ and they then don’t try to understand that any more, they think they know what needs to be known. And that’s what’s needed is what we would call social inclusion, a place for everyone that is valued for itself.
Yeah I agree. And I think there is places for people to go. There is things for people to do. And if you’re in school, there’s a lot of clubs for you to join. There’s a lot of activities. But outside of school, there’s not really much. Let’s go to Tim Hortons – that gets boring after awhile. So let’s go to Bob’s house and play video games. And then that gets boring after awhile. So you just keep going back and forth between this place and that place doing the same things, though, and you get stuck in that mind set that there is nothing to do, that life is boring. And then you create that reality in your mind. And a lot of people don’t want to talk to their family about this type of stuff, or they have or there’s nothing they can do or want to do because of whatever reason, whether it’s finances or whether it’s family disagreements. And I think because of I wouldn’t say necessarily poverty but the mentality of poverty in this town, it keeps people thinking that way, that they’re never going to be better than this. That they can get up to here, but they can’t pass that.
FM: That’s very good. I was hearing a bit that there are things for youth to do as long as they’re in school, but out of school, they’re no one’s responsibility.
Yeah, pretty much. In school, there’s a lot of people encouraging you, a lot of people that are trying to help you genuinely that have been through the same thing you’ve been through, teachers, counsellors, and even other parents. There’s more of a community when you’re in school. As soon as school – high school – is over, everybody just expects you to know what to do with your life all of a sudden because you’re finished with high school. And for the most part, they have told you a lot of options that you have for college or trades-wise. It’s not like they’ve neglected to tell you in school, it’s just that outside of school, it’s a different world, it’s not a classroom, things aren’t you do this and then this and then we get to watch a movie. It’s you do this and then this and then you hope you can have some free time. But a lot of times there’s things to deal with and in school it’s easier because you have a lot of peers around you, no matter what group you’re in, what clique you’re in, you pretty much find your group when you’re in high school. But once high school is over, it’s basically like throwing you to the wolves.
FM: And the resources that were available to you in high school are no longer available, even if you need them later. It’s about when they’re available –if your time line is out of whack with that expectation, there’s no resource available to you when you need it.
Yeah, or there’s no knowledge of the resources that are out there. Because I know there is a lot of places like this [place], a lot of resources but again, there’s either not a lot of knowledge of it or not a lot of buzz going on about it. Because when people are talking about it a lot, people are using it a lot and people start seeing their peers and their friends using these things and it’s working for them, they’re more likely to try something than to sit back and say I can’t do anything about it.
FM: That’s very good advice. You’re saying it needs to be high profile and popular and ‘normal’ in order to succeed.
Pretty much. And it needs to be more of a personal thing than of a – we’re here to help you and we have this and this and this options, so people can say there’s a lot of options, I’m not the only one sitting here hearing somebody telling me their view, I’m actually going to be able to speak my mind and get the advice I need. Because everybody, even though we’re all the same and have the same needs, we’re all completely different because we’ve been raised different, we’ve been told different, we have different beliefs about everything in life, really.
FM: So personalized, not one size fits all. And something that is plastic enough that it can be moulded to the particular needs of the person. So the differences between people are respected, but the same programs can be manipulated to fit them.
FM: That’s very good advice. I hope we can take it…