In 1998, Jesse Bigelow was an outgoing, cheerful and athletic 19-year-old. He enjoyed playing sports, hanging out with his friends, and singing in a rock band. That is, until he started showing signs of schizophrenia.
Jesse started to withdraw; he lost interest in his social life and began to go on slow, aimless walks. Agitated, angry, and confused, Jesse was losing himself in a world of delusion.
As sometimes happens with schizophrenia, Jesse’s delusions took on a religious theme. He began to believe that he was Jesus Christ and would pace the streets of Toronto ranting about God.
Jesse’s parents were frightened for their son. Soon, although Jesse never became violent, his father began hiding the kitchen knives. Despite changes in his demeanor that were obvious to his family, Jesse could see nothing wrong and refused to go to counseling.
Jesse’s mother, a lawyer, made the heart-wrenching decision to have her son involuntarily committed to hospital. She filed the necessary paperwork and Jesse was taken to CAMH where his care team identified that Jesse has schizophrenia.
The road to recovery was arduous but with his parents and CAMH staff by his side, Jesse got better. Although there is no known cure for schizophrenia, there are treatments that work for many people with this illness. As for Jesse, he’s been symptom-free for more than a decade.
Jesse’s own experiences have inspired him to help others, particularly individuals and families facing their first encounter with schizophrenia. His story was the subject of a Globe and Mail article which kicked off the newspaper’s landmark series on mental health. Jesse also appeared in a documentary film about schizophrenia and remains a sought-after speaker.
Jesse works as a peer support worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association and continues to demonstrate courage and resiliency in living with a serious mental illness.