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Courage To Come Back: Mental illness winner uses documentaries to shine light out of darkness

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – As a boy, he used to listen for voices only he could hear, before his schizophrenia landed him in jail and into the clutches of addiction.

We continue our “Courage To Come Back” series with a look at the winner in the mental illness category.

“I’ll never forget my time living on the 100 block of East Hastings. How could I? It was the lowest point of my life, almost 10 years of hell,” admits Andy Fiore in “The 100 Block: Survival Sex Trade in the Downtown East Side,” one of several documentaries he has filmed about Vancouver’s poorest postal code.

These days, the place that was once his hell is now his inspiration.

“I’m either going to die in the Downtown Eastside or I’m going to get out of this place, but I don’t know how,” he once thought.

“It was kind of like a training ground so that I could learn… the things that I went through, I learned from and that now I can use that knowledge to have other people understand what exactly happens.”

But how did he end up there?

His story starts with schizophrenia, and nearly ended in addiction. Fiore suffered his first major breakdown while teaching English abroad, starting him on a path that nearly killed him.

“I was mostly using marijuana and then later I went up to cocaine — just snorting it casually — and then I went into heroin, and at first, I was just snorting it; I didn’t realize in the beginning that I was self-medicating so that I could cope.”

“I wouldn’t have seen the inside of a jail had I not touched heroin,” admits Fiore.

A near-fatal overdose at Insite was his rock-bottom point.

“I just remember doing it and feeling, ‘Wow, this is great’ and then I woke up to a guy punching my chest. So, I’m very, very fortunate to be here talking to you right now.”

He says the supervised injection site saved his life.

“If we can save another hundred people [and] they become productive citizens, hey, it’s all good,” says Fiore, noting that he’s living proof.

Part of what drives him these days is to remove some of the misconceptions around his illness, and that’s what he tries to do when he speaks to student groups, and of course, through his films.

“We are just like everybody else, right? We all want to work, we all want to feel like we… have something we can share with the world. A talent, a gift… we all want to be loved and to love.”

Fiore is humbled by his Courage To Come Back honour and hopes it can help show that people with mental illness can go on to lead productive lives.

“Just being able to share this information with people is what this award is all about for me.”

News1130 is a proud sponsor of the Courage To Come Back Awards, which are being handed out April 25th.

THE 100 BLOCK: Survival Sex Trade in the Downtown East Side from Andrew Fiore on Vimeo.