about Von AllanVon Allan's artVon Allan's comic booksabout Von AllanShop page for Von Allan StudioEssays by Von AllanInterview links by Von Allancontact Von AllanLinks to the I Am Still Your Child documentary film featuring Von Allan  rss feeds for vonallan.com
Showing posts with label schizophrenia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schizophrenia. Show all posts

Talk Ottawa Interview

Teaser image and place holder for the Talk Ottawa interview with comic book artist Von Allan

One of my very first long form interviews and one that I thought was lost! This was done way back in 2008 with James Hendricks, then host of Talk Ottawa here in Ottawa, Ontario. This interview meant a lot to me since I was basically just starting out and he and the producers of the show were very open and welcoming.

James and I chat about comics and graphic novels, the challenges of being an indy artist, and the changing face of technology and how that applies to comics. We also do a deep dive into my very first graphic novel, titled “the road to god knows…”, that deals with parental mental illness. In the case of that comic, I drew on a lot of my own experiences growing up with my mom; she was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was very young. We talk about that, too.

Oh! My art that was presented in the original video was pretty rough, so I decided to update it with art revisions I did some years ago.

The player should work below. If not, or if you'd prefer to watch on Youtube, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS8ADTEwBcI

Panel Discussion from 2018 Low-Beer Memorial Lecture

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo On September 27, 2018, I was part of a panel discussion during the 2018 Low-Beer Memorial Lecture that followed a screening of the documentary film "I Am Still Your Child." The film and panel discussion were presented by AMI Quebec (Action on Mental Illness) and was held at Concordia University's Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in Montreal. It was a pretty amazing evening!

The panel discussion was moderated by the always awesome Loreen Pindera from CBC Montreal and featured Megan Durnford (the film's writer and director), Rebecca Heinisch, Marie Leavens, and myself. AMI Quebec's Dr. Ella Amir added closing comments. It took a little while, but I'm very pleased to announce that the audio recording of the panel discussion from the panel discussion is now available! Yeah!

The MP3 can be played directly in your browser at http://vonallan.com/Audio/Low-Beer-Memorial-Lecture-September-27-2018.mp3. You can also directly download the MP3 by right clicking on the link and choosing "save as" (or whatever is appropriate in your browser).

It can also be played in the audio player below:

Panel Discussion from the 2018 Low-Beer Memorial Lecture:

Oh, and some additional photos from the events can be found right here.

CBC Montreal interview with Von Allan on Homerun

Just prior to the screening of the documentary film I AM STILL YOUR CHILD in Montreal as part of the 2018 Low-Beer Memorial Lecture (photos from the event are here), I scampered over to CBC Montreal to do an interview with Sue Smith on the drive home show "Homerun." And thanks to the CBC's Loreen Pindera, I now have an audio copy of the interview I can share!

You can listen to the interview by clicking here or by clicking play on the old timey audio player below.

Low-Beer Memorial Lecture Photos

As I noted in my last post, I was invited to participate in AMI Quebec's 2018 Low-Beer Memorial Lecture that featured I AM STILL YOUR CHILD, the documentary I'm involved in. The screening and subsequent panel discussion was held at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall on Concordia University's Loyola campus in Montreal. It was a terrific evening. Possibly the best part for me was just being able to reconnect with so many of the awesome people who were involved in the film (writer/director Megan Durnford, producer Katarina Soukup, designer Sara Morley, as well as film participants Jessy Bokser, Marie Leavins, and Rebecca Heinisch). And to meet new people, including our fantastic moderator Loreen Pindera of the CBC and AMI Quebec's Dr. Ella Amir.

What follows are various photos of the event. These are courtesy of myself, I AM STILL YOUR CHILD's twitter page, and AMI Quebec's Facebook page. The panel (from left to right) featured Rebecca, Marie, Loreen, Megan, and me.

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture photo

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture

I'm very pleased to announce that the documentary film I AM STILL YOUR CHILD will be presented at the 2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture in Montreal on September 27th 2018. The film is presented by AMI-Quebec Action on Mental Illness. Even better, there will be a panel discussion on the film featuring myself, Jessy Bokser, Sarah Leavens, Rebecca Heinisch, and Megan Durnford, the film's writer and director. It should be a pretty special evening and I'm really looking forward to it!

Update! Charlie Fidelman did a lovely piece on the film and some background on the screening in the Montreal Gazette on September 25, 2018. 

Here are the specific details:

Thursday, September 27 at 7pm
Oscar Peterson Concert Hall
Concordia University
7141 Sherbrooke West
Free admission
Presentation in English

The poster is below. And a PDF of the poster can be found at http://vonallan.com/press/I-AM-STILL-YOUR-CHILD-lecture-in-Montreal.pdf

2018 Edith and John Hans Low-Beer Memorial Lecture

The film's trailer is below:

Glashan Symposium on Student Wellbeing and Mental Health

Glashan Symposium on Student Wellbeing and Mental Health poster

On April 20th, 2018, Glashan Public School hosted a symposium on mental health. I was invited by principal Jim Taylor to be one of the guest speakers at the event. It was a little daunting for a couple of reasons.

First, I'm actually a former Glashan student and, since my time at the school was not the happiest, stepping back inside was going to be weird. I literally hadn't been inside the school since I left it on my final day of grade 8. As it turns out, it was a "good" weird, but weird all the same.

Second, I was going to be talking a lot about my mom's struggle with mental illness. And since my mom died quite young, it was going to be emotional. On top of it, this is intertwined with my own memories if being a young teen while I went to Glashan.

It was, I'm very pleased to say, a very positive experience. All of the staff as well as the students helped me feel very welcome. I led two sessions of grade 8 students in a discussion about all of this. Probably about 30 minutes each, maybe a bit longer, plus a Q&A after. A number of kids approached me after each session to chat a bit more, too, which I take as a very good sign.

And if anyone wants to get a sense of what it all looked like, Glashan's Instagram page has a number of photos from the event. They're right here.

To prepare for each session, I made quite a few notes. I'm including them below (because, why not?) but the interesting thing is that I wound up not referring to them during the actual sessions. I felt comfortable enough and prepared enough not to need them. That doesn't always happen and I wasn't sure it was going to happen this time, but it did and I think (well, hope) that it means that it was a more natural conversation then a dry presentation.

Anyway! Here are my notes. A little stream of consciousness, but remember that these were here to help guide me if I needed them.

Starting with the Ending

I’m going to do something weird and start with the ending. So! My mom was diagnosed with mental illness when I was quite young. Maybe when I was around 8, but it may have even been earlier than that.

So, the bad news and the sad news was that my mom died quite young. 48, when I was 20 years old. It wasn’t her fault and it wasn’tfair. Life’s like that sometimes, but it can be very hard to place.I’ll get into the specifics in just a sec.

My mom was never able to recover or lead a normal life. I don’t really want to say “beat” or “defeat.” It’s not that simple. But she could never find the right mix of medication to help her lead the life that she wanted to lead.And as she got older, she got physically sicker, too. It was a double-whammy; she was struggling with schizophrenia and everything else and then her physical health declined, too. Partially because she was getting older and partially because it was hard for her to look after herself.

This can be an issue with mental illness; it’s hard, very hard, to exercise and eat right when getting out of bed is almost impossible. That made everything worse. She didn’t have a lot of “reserves.”

This is important: she didn’t make a mistake and get mental illness. She didn’t make a bad decision and get mental illness. It just happened.

But, at the same time, it wasn’t like it was always bad. The danger in talking about situations like this is that it tends to make them seem worse then in some ways they were. Compressed.

My mom wasn’t sick every single day. She’d have good days and bad days. Good weeks and bad weeks. And sometimes even good months and bad months. We did have fun together. And there were good times mixed in with the bad.


I was born in Arnprior.

I’m an only child.

My mom and dad split up when I was around five years old.

My dad moved to Ottawa shortly after that for work. His health wasn’t great, either, but it was all on the physical side. A lot of surgeries and a lot of pain. And he was ex-military, so he and I had very different personalities.

My mom and I moved to Ottawa when I was eight.

I went to Mutchmor and then Glashan and eventually Glebe high school.

Through it all we were pretty poor. A lot of poverty. There was never much money and it meant everything was a constant compromise. My mom went to food banks. Declared bankruptcy. We were on welfare. It was pretty tough.

And slowly, over time, I was becoming aware, probably around the time I was eight or nine, that my mom wasn't like other moms; but I didn't really understand why. She was my mom. And I think, looking back, she probably tried to hide some of what she was going through, too. Until she couldn’t anymore.

My Growing Awareness

Only later did I realize that what she was going through had names. Mental illness. Schizophrenia. Anxiety disorder. Nervous breakdown.

These descriptions are not well-defined. And, to make it even harder, science is still figuring it out. So, “schizophrenia.” What does that mean? Practically, it means that my mom couldn’t deal with things very well. She’d hear voices. Her sense of time (hours, days, weeks) would be very distorted (she’d say something happened yesterday that happened last month). Her thinking could be very confused. It was very hard to know if what she was saying was true or just what she thought was true.

What about “anxiety disorder?” Well, sometimes she’d get very, very worried and have a very difficult time calming down. She would imagine the worst (often involving me), focus on it, and be unable to imagine anything positive. This could go on for days.

What about a “nervous breakdown?” Well, generally it means that someone just can’t cope anymore. But what does that mean practically? In my mom’s case, everything became so overwhelming she’d be almost paralyzed. In these cases, she’d check herself into the hospital and get help. I can’t imagine the courage that must have taken. And how scary that must have been. She wouldn’t have known how long she’d be there. She wouldn’t know what would happen while she was there or when she got out.

And, to make it worse, she was also on medication and that would have an effect on her, too. Sometimes she’d be very, very dopey. Sleepy, but more than that. Other times the medication would work great and she’d be herself. It was just very unpredictable.

And, of course, it meant that my childhood and teenage years were pretty different from a “normal” one (whatever that might mean).

And there wasn’t much support. My grandparents and aunts and uncles didn’t understand and didn’t help much. My dad was there, to a point, but he didn’t understand, either. We’re not close, but to his credit he did help, especially when my mom was hospitalized. I could stay with him for a few weeks and that gave me some stability. There also wasn’t much government support (aside from welfare) and there wasn’t much in the way of education.

I also felt ashamed. It was hard to be poor. Hard to be embarrassed about my mom and my home. I rarely invited anyone over. And it was hard to fit in. It was hard to afford nice clothes, good school supplies, and all of that stuff.

It also meant I was pretty shy. Shy, quiet, poor, fat. So there was bullying and whatnot, too.

And sometimes it was hard to go to school. It felt kinda surreal compared to what was going on at home. Managing as a student was really hard sometimes. You need to have homework done and you need to be in school and all of that stuff. I’m not saying that school isn’t important, but there were times I’d get home from school and my mom hadn’t gotten out of bed all day. Or there were a few times on a school night that she passed out and I was picking her up off the floor. And then, of course, there were the times she couldn’t function at all and wound up being hospitalized. Or times where she just couldn’t function but wasn’t hospitalized. That meant she couldn’t be a mom. And there were times where she wasn’t even herself. Like a stranger had taken over.

Compared to that, things like homework didn’t seem that important.

Confusion and Stress

In my case, there was also a lot of confusion. No one really ever told me anything. And I didn’t know what questions to ask or even who to talk to.

There weren’t any supports at the time. Or at least none that I was aware of. It’s hard to know what to ask for when you don’t have the right information. Or who to talk to. Or who to ask. And remember this was pre-internet. I didn’t know who to turn to and there wasn’t anyone I could really ask.

No one really explained it to me; my mom tried, but it was very hard to understand what she was going through. It was pretty scary and it left me feeling very insecure and shy. This also meant that I didn’t talk to anyone about it, so no one knew what was going on.

Other parents didn’t know because I didn’t tell my friends. Teachers didn’t know, mainly because there weren’t any teachers I felt really comfortable about talking to. And I didn’t talk with guidance councillors because I never really trusted them.

And I was scared; what if I talked to a parent or teacher about this stuff and then they called social services? What if I was taken away from my mom? I loved my mom and I didn’t want to be separated from her.


But...the weird thing about this is that in some ways it got easier as time went on. What do I mean?

Well, at first I didn’t know what was going on and I was scared. A lot. And unhappy. A lot. And stressed. A lot. There was tension all the time, mainly because my mom’s struggle with mental illness meant that, emotionally, she was really up and down.

But slowly, I got better at taking care of myself.

The big thing that helped me was escaping. Just being able to read books or comics and kinda lose myself in them for awhile. Hang out with friends, playing games or watching movies or whatever. And exercise helped, too. I started doing a lot of biking.

Basically, getting away from it sometimes and learning to give myself a break.

I don’t mean running away. And I don’t mean pretending that everything was okay (though I did some of that). What I mean is just finding some joy, some happiness, and taking a break from the crap that was going on around me. I realized that I had every right to be happy.
Also, my mom did start talking about it, on her good days, sometimes. She was seeing a psychiatrist and was more open about what was happening with her. And she had a lot of hope.

And I got more experienced. The first time she was hospitalized was very scary. But it got less scary as it happened a few more times. I started to have a better sense of what to expect.

I realized, and this was hard, that I couldn’t fix this for her. I could support her as best I could. I could love her and be there for her as best I could be, but I couldn’t fix it.

And I started to understand that the mental illness is just that: an illness. It wasn’t my mom’s fault.

And, you know, my mom was a pretty amazing person. She was very kind, very loving, and very courageous. She liked to read. She taught me a lot about life, about being thoughtful and compassionate. I didn’t doubt, through it all, that she loved me. And she was a teacher. Despite all the ups and downs, I consider myself very lucky to have met her.

And you know, I started to realize that mental illness isn’t that scary. Yes, there are scary moments. Sure. And yes, it can be weird. And yes, it can be really frustrating.

Again, mental illness is an illness, just like any other illness. Science and research are getting better and better all the time. If someone was in my mom’s situation now, there’s now a whole range of options that weren’t there for her. So there’s a lot of hope.

A really good example is here, right now. When I was at Glashan, an event like this would not have happened. It just wouldn't have.

A lot of things are changing for the better. How we, as a society, approach mental illness. How science treats it.

It’s really amazing. We have a long way to go. There is still stigma and resource issues and all of the rest. But there's a lot of hope. And a lot to fight for.

Documentary Short - Coping Strategies

I'm one of the subjects of a documentary titled I AM STILL YOUR CHILD, dealing with parental mental illness. In conjunction with the film, a number of short videos have been released; kinda like extra features on a film. The below deals with coping strategies. In my case, my mom was dealing with schizophrenia and it led to some pretty rough experiences. Being able to escape into comics as well as sci-fi and fantasy really helped. Sarah and Jessy, two other subjects from the film, also talk about their strategies in the short.

The entire short series can be viewed on the film's official Youtube page. They add up to over 30 minutes of bonus content. While the documentary is only available for streaming inside Canada right now, the short videos should be watchable anywhere in the world.

Documentary Short - Financial Impact and Poverty

The filmmakers behind the documentary I'm involved in, I AM STILL YOUR CHILD, have released a number of short supporting videos that focus on different aspects of living with a parent struggling with mental illness. The one below deals with the financial impact of mental illness. Simply put: it ain't easy.

The entire video series can be viewed on their Youtube site and add up to over 30 minutes of bonus content. While the documentary is only available for streaming inside Canada right now, the short videos should be watchable anywhere in the world.

Ottawa Citizen front page article on Von Allan

Well, this is pretty neat! Reporter Blair Crawford along with photographer Julie Oliver from the Ottawa Citizen did a feature story on yours truly. The story explores my childhood, my mom's struggle with mental illness (specifically schizophrenia), my graphic novel the road to god knows..., and the documentary film I'm involved in titled I AM STILL YOUR CHILD.

The full article can be found online at the Ottawa Citizen's website at http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/a-child-of-schizophrenia-graphic-novelist-von-allan-on-growing-up-with-a-mentally-ill-mother

I should add that the online article also contains a short two minute video interview with me. Plus the great and mysterious Corbin makes a surprise guest appearance! I've embedded the video below:

Scans from the Ottawa Citizen are below:

Ottawa Citizen article by Blair Crawford on Von Allan, the graphic novel the road to god knows, and the documentary I Am Still Your Child

And the interior page (the scan is a bit hard to read, but the full article can be found online here):

Ottawa Citizen article by Blair Crawford on Von Allan, the graphic novel the road to god knows, and the documentary I Am Still Your Child


As it turns out, the Citizen's sister paper the Ottawa Sun also ran a story. This is pretty much the same thing, though there are a few minor differences. I'm not crazy about the headline, but pretty neat all the same.

Ottawa Sun article on Von Allan, the graphnic novel the road to god knows..., and the documentary film I Am Still Your Child

Ottawa Sun article on Von Allan, the graphnic novel the road to god knows..., and the documentary film I Am Still Your Child

Trailer for I AM STILL YOUR CHILD documentary

I've been fortunate enough to be involved in a documentary project focusing on the children of parents with mental illness (COPMI). It's a pretty amazing project and I've been thrilled to be involved. Megan Durnford, the writer and director, Katarina Soukup, the producer from Catbird Productions, St├ęphanie Couillard, Alex Margineanu (cinematographer), St├ęphane Barsalou (sound recorder), and the rest of the crew have brought an empathy to the film that is quite remarkable. There are still a lot of societal taboos regarding mental illness and I think this film might help challenge that.

So why did they get  in touch with me? Well, my mom was diagnosed schizophrenic when I was quite young. I actually wrote and drew a graphic novel titled the road to god knows... that is an account (albeit fictionalized) of my experiences with my mom's mental illness and my growing awareness that she was not "okay." I didn't go the full autobiographical route for a number of reasons, but one of the main one's is that my mom died before I even started the comic and I wanted some emotional distance from the work and my own life.

The documentary uses quite a bit of my art through it, but I should note that I actually re-drew a number of pages specifically for the film (I'm going to do a follow-up post specifically on this subject in the near future).

The film will be airing on CBC Montreal through the documentary series Absolutely Quebec on Saturday, September 16th. It will have a wider release shortly after that. I'll update the website as I know more.

In the meantime, the trailer linked above really captures the tone of it very well.  I think it's beautiful. For more on the film, keep an eye on the Facebook page and the official website.

Wolf's Head by Von Allan

Link to Von Allan's Wolf's Head comic book series

Email Subscription

If you'd like to receive email updates from Von Allan Studio, please subscribe using the form below.
* indicates required field

Please note: You can unsubscribe from email updates at any time.

City of Ottawa Grant Support

Von Allan Studio gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the City of Ottawa.

City of Ottawa logo

Creative Commons License

I Am Still Your Child Trailer

Documentary Film Excerpt