This story is part of OUR VOICE MATTERS, a collaborative project created by CAMH’s Youth Engagement Initiative and HealthyDebate.ca.
“If I told people I had cancer, it would be different…but people don’t understand because the education is not there. We all struggle, we all go through things.”
In 2012, nearly finished her degree in Human Rights and Equity Studies at York University in Toronto, Augustina decided to move to Edmonton, Alberta, for a job opportunity. The stress of a new job, new friends and building a new community in an entirely new city took its toll on her.
That is when Augustina started hearing voices. At first, they were quiet, but as time passed, they got louder and more frequent. Augustina was in a state of psychosis.
“I was hearing voices 24 hours a day, seven days a week for over nine months straight. And it was the scariest and loneliest time in my life.”
Augustina experienced voices and hallucinations all day every day. They were vivid. At first, she thought someone was playing a joke on her. They told her various things — that she was on a mission, pointing out insecurities she felt about herself, telling her to kill herself, to run away and to keep her ‘mission’ a secret from people around her.
After eventually receiving treatment after some co-workers noticed something was off, Augustina was enrolled in a psychosis early intervention program that ended up saving her life.
“I was very lucky that I got in. I only had to wait two to three months before I got into the program. And that was THE hardest two to three months of my life. [I told myself] one more day. One more day. But there were some days where I was like, today is the day. Maybe today is the day I’m going to kill myself. I don’t know if I’m going to make it through today.”
Augustina’s family and team of doctors encouraged her to take up more wholistic styles of treatment when medication wasn’t entirely working for her. She began to dance, write and paint, things she once loved.
“I didn’t really want to try medication. I did for a bit but I didn’t feel it was the right fit for me… I used to dance a lot and that was one of the things the depression and psychosis took away from me. At first it was difficult… I would put on music and move.”
Augustina is an advocate for different styles of treatment, whether they are independent or co-exist with medication and therapy. The use of dance, music, poetry and painting were instrumental to her recovery.
“You can take medication, but maybe you also need to dance a bit… And then you also can paint.”
“Recovery is a rollercoaster. Some days you’re feeling great, other days you aren’t…you need to figure out what helps you when you’re down. That’s why I want to see more of a conversation about different types of treatment.”
As a woman of colour, Augustina finds it important to speak about her experience to hopefully empower others in her community to do the same. She decided to share her story to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health on a large scale, but also within her family and community.
“Mental illness can happen to anybody. Anybody. Of any age. Any country. Any gender.”
Augustina is a youth lead on a research study looking at the implementation of a new model of care for adolescents and young adults with newly diagnosed psychosis. She sits on the project’s steering committee, where she uses her own experience to inform decisions on the project. Augustina is part of multiple committees working on research and youth engagement.
Currently, Augustina is working on her own documentary series about her experiences with mental health and speaks publicly about her story. She is planning to get her PhD and further research surrounding Black mental health and suicide.
You can read more about Augustina’s story and contact her here: https://augustinaampofo.com/