By Bromley Chamberlain
In this day and age, kids are taught that it’s OK to be different, that individualism is something to strive for. In Tom Barthel’s case he wasn’t just different; he wasn’t just an individual; he had schizophrenia and didn’t know it.
Barthel had a run-in with drugs while he was a teenager and young adult. He did drugs, sold drugs and stirred up trouble in his hometown of Red Deer. After walking away from a car crash that should have killed him, he made the choice to go to college and further his education.
He graduated with high grades and took an apprenticeship, but was fired for incompetence. Barthel’s parents were angry with their son for not trying.
“What are you doing Tom? You’ve got no respect. What was all that college money for? Are you drinking alcohol? It’s your friends again, isn’t it?” Barthel’s parents demanded of him.
“That was the night I made the third biggest choice I’ve ever made in my entire life. I knew that I had this problem with employment,” Barthel told an audience in Ponoka last week. “I didn’t know what it was and my worst fear was to be one of those stupid people that everybody knows as dumb.”
He draws from his experience as a drug dealer, drug user, and schizophrenic to share with parents in attendance what they need to know to safeguard their children.
Barthel knew that he had to have a job to make a living. He decided to become a drug dealer.
“I made my choice. That night, at 20 years old I made the choice to become a drug dealer. I had all the criminal contacts. I had hundreds and hundreds of friends,” Barthel said. It made sense.
Within six months Barthel and his friends were coming back from Calgary with garbage bags full of marijuana, magic mushrooms and LSD to sell to people in Red Deer. Barthel and his friends delivered drugs to people’s doors faster than Chinese food.
“We sold drugs to everybody. We had dealers in every high school. I sold drugs to construction workers. I sold drugs to professionals, doctors and lawyers that worked downtown. I sold drugs to senior citizens,” Barthel said. “I used to drop off bags of weed and have a cup of tea and some muffins with them after.”
Barthel and his friends sold drugs to anyone and everyone. To him, it was a never-ending party.
“I had a lot of fun — that’s why they call it partying.” Barthel said. “If it was called boredom, they would spell it differently.”
Barthel had an underlying mental issue that he was unaware of and when he woke up one morning in a full paranoid schizophrenia psychosis, he didn’t know what to do.
“It was very hard to think straight. It was like watching a television channel stuck on five different channels at the same time,” Barthel said. “I tried to be strong. I tried to fight through the problem and I didn’t get anywhere.”
His parents wanted him to see a doctor, but he wasn’t listening.
“After four months of trying to be stronger than the problem. I got out of bed one day and the pain was just too much,” Barthel said. “That day I made the second biggest choice I’ve ever made in my entire life at 23 and a half years old.”
Barthel woke up and chose to commit suicide. He had suicidal thoughts since he was 13 so it seemed like destiny to Barthel that the day was actually here.
“I paid some people to leave a house in the south end of Red Deer. I walked into their kitchen and I grabbed a big butcher knife,” Barthel said.
Barthel was going to cut his wrist with the knife and he prepared to bring the knife down.
“As I brought the knife up, I had a moment to think about my life. The most disgusting feeling of regret came over me,” Barthel said. “It was really interesting, because it wasn’t regret for anything that I had done. It was regret for everything I hadn’t done.”
The thought made Barthel sick, he vomited and dropped the knife.
Barthel’s voice was full of emotion while he talked about his suicide attempt.
After all Barthel had been through, he stood up and asked for help.
“I thought I had to buck up and be a solider. Not let anything take me out. I thought when the going got tough, I got tougher,” Barthel said. “I was wrong.”
Barthel now talks to parents about how to deal with their children and teens using drugs. He runs Street Smart Counselling in Red Deer and tries to help others who are going through what he went through. For more information call 403-391-4184.