VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – For years, she was held prisoner by her own mind, today, the recipient of the Courage To Come Back award in the Mental Health category is a neuroscientist and peer support worker who counsels others with their own mental health issues.
Erin Emiru came to B.C. from New Brunswick in 2002, but she says her story begins much earlier than that, earlier than she can even remember.
“I remember hearing things that weren’t real but I don’t remember when they started. I just know by age five that I was used to them,” Erin admits.
In fact, she had been hearing voices in her head for so long she thought it was normal. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, the little voice in my head said this,’ so I thought that’s what I was just dealing with it…poorly.”
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From there, her mental illness escalated: an eating disorder, self-harm, and suicide attempts.
Erin was in and out of the hospital more than a dozen times between 2001 and 2014, often from weeks to months at a time.
“My first hospitalization was after a suicide attempt. I stayed there 10 days, discharged, and within four or six weeks I was back at the hospital and during that four-month hospitalization was when I got my first diagnosis of schizophrenia.”
Mental illness would also force her to pause her PhD studies. And it affected her relationships too.
“Schizophrenia left me with a very fragile sense of self and self-esteem,” she says. “And I think that led to my first marriage which ended with him becoming quite abusive.”
Today, Erin has found a way to live with her mental illness. She is a Peer Support Worker with the Vancouver Coastal Health Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT).
“Over the five and a half years I’ve been there, I’ve been able to build up some really strong relationships,” she says.
Erin is also working on her second book about mental illness. Her first, “When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia,” was a memoir detailing her own struggles with the disease. Quietness, in this case, meant silencing those voices in her head.
“When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia” cover. (Source: Erin Emiru)
“I’d always been the quiet one ever since I was little. And I feel like this sort of gave me that that peace again,” she says. “My name, Erin, is Irish for peace and I’ve always felt that I need to live up to that name.”
She says her second book will combine memoir with science, but with her telling the story of her clients this time around.
Erin also gives regular talks to students, helping illustrate that sufferers they are not alone.
“I do that to tell them that, even if you’re going through that, it doesn’t define you, it’s not the endpoint. And I just want to convey that kind of hope to others.”
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However, Erin remains humble despite all her accomplishments, including her Courage To Come Back Award.
“I just feel like I represent so many other people who haven’t gotten this award and yet are just as deserving. I didn’t know I was encouraging as many people as I realized.”
NEWS 1130 is a proud sponsor of the 21st Coast Mental Health “Courage To Come Back” awards, which are being handed out on Wednesday, April 24.