‘There is madness everywhere’

By Susana Gómez Báez

Eight years ago, Khari Stewart left his house in search of a gun, desperate to do anything to silence the relentless negative commentary of his two companions. Their constant criticism and forceful invasion of every crevice of his privacy almost pushed him over the edge.

Fortunately, he didn’t find a weapon that night. But his struggle began long before he tried to kill himself.

Stewart was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2000, four years after he first heard the voices that exist only in his head.

“When I heard them, I thought I was crazy,” the 35-year-old says. “I thought there was a computer chip in me, that somebody had bugged me or something.”

For the past 16 years, he has lived with two unwelcomed delusions.

Anacron and Anacrona, as Stewart calls them, are demons from Mars, who he says know his location at all times via telekinesis. They communicate with him through torturous commentary of his life and often physically hurt him.

“They torment me,” he says. ”They are there when I’m sleeping. They are there when I’m in the washroom. I mean if they can even communicate with me, obviously they have enough power to kill me. I think they left me alive so they can victimize me more.”

In Canada, almost six million people — or 20 per cent of the population — live with some form of mental illness. Of those, one per cent will develop schizophrenia, often projecting itself in delusions or hallucinations in a patient’s late teens or early twenties, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

When Stewart was 20, he moved out to Vancouver from Edmonton. One evening, a group of men invaded his home and beat him savagely, leaving him for dead. He had always been a little unusual, but since the attack, the voices became permanent.

Now, he has to live with not just the monsters inside his head, but the skepticism and judgment of everyone he meets who doesn’t take the time to understand.

Jonathan Balazs was one of those people. The 2010 Ryerson film graduate met Stewart in Edmonton, where they both grew up.

“He had a rep of being eccentric,” Balazs, 27, says. “A bit of a drug addict, maybe a little bit unreliable — a good guy — but just a guy who’s messed up.”

They came back into contact in Toronto in 2009 through the rap scene, where Stewart is well known by his artistic name, “Conspiracy.”

“We did an interview for a music magazine and we got to talking about all the spiritual stuff he believes,” Balazs says. “I wanted to know more about it, how this thing happened.”

So Stewart became the subject of Balazs’ one-hour documentary, Mars Project. The idea took root during Balazs’ second year at Ryerson, as a five-minute video project for a class, A History of Madness.

His professor loved it and encouraged him to turn it into a feature-length film.

The documentary explores Stewart’s illness, recreating several of the dark moments that have occurred as a result. Many scenes were shot at Ryerson.

It took five years to shoot the entire movie and ideas changed tremendously throughout the process.

Balazs says at first he saw Stewart as a “freak show.” But his perspective shifted. “I realized that people were kind of oversimplifying it,” he says.

Balazs decided it was negative perspectives like his own that he wanted to correct.

“People with these unconventional beliefs and unconventional behaviours don’t fit into the mold,” he says. “But there’s still value somewhere for them. They also humble us. We don’t know everything.”

Stewart’s identical twin brother, Addi, agrees.

“Whether I think he’s crazy or not, whether I believe in Anacron or not, it doesn’t matter,” Addi says. “It’s a garment [Khari's] been wearing for years. It’s his reality. Do I believe in psychic vampires that maybe live on Mars? No. But I believe that they exist for him.”

He says madness is a relative term.

“Mental illness is everywhere,” Addi says. “I genuinely believe everyone is crazy to a certain degree. People in North America would say ’Oh it’s so crazy in China, or India. It’s so crazy that girl got raped on a bus in India.’ Well, yeah, but in America, 20 kids got shot in a school. There is madness everywhere. Pick your kind of crazy. The world has 10 billion.”

In 2000, after his diagnosis, doctors found Stewart was the clinical type of crazy. He was confined and medicated for five months, until he decided he wanted to go home. He says his pills weren’t doing anything to help.

“I could hear them in the hospital just the same,” Stewart says. “So I was like ‘Well, if they’re going to talk to me anyway, I’d rather be somewhere I want to be.’ So I just told [the doctors] the voices were gone.”

Professor David Reville, Balazs’ technical director and instructor of A History of Madness, wasn’t surprised. He says mental health institutions are often more of a problem than a solution.

“The thing that I find the most helpful is peer support,” Reville says, drawing from his own experience 48 years ago, when he was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and hospitalized. “And I think the problem with our system is that it relies very heavily on biochemistry and, of course, biochemistry can’t give you a hug.”

Ryerson announced at the end of last year that a partnership is in the works with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to help combat mental health issues on campus.

“My hope is that Ryerson won’t get totally caught up in the biochemical approach to mental illness,” Reville says.

Stewart certainly won’t. He puts his faith in spiritual healing instead.

But regardless, Anacron and Anacrona have stolen much from him – particularly his boldness.

“He was the most fearless guy in my life before this happened,” Addi says. “When we were teens, he was the leader. Since this happened, it’s kind of taken a lot of his will to live. He’s not a follower, he’s way more of a wanderer now.”

How could he not be, when he says he lives tormented by delusions he can’t walk away from?

“I thought they would just go away,” Stewart says, monotone. ”I didn’t know that hearing voices could last so long. In 1996 I didn’t think I’d be hearing them in 2013.”

Dwelling in his anguish, he knows this is his reality and his heart goes out to the only people who can truly understand him.

“God bless anyone who has the same problem as me.”

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5 Comments

  1. Mertella said:

    Well written article. Glad you didn’t make him out to be a crazy person…I see him as an instrument of change, a challenge to the status quo. I sat there and listened to him ask a panel of psychiatrist, social workers and doctors…”Have you ever been to Mars? How do you know that your reality is real and mine isn’t?”

  2. Dub C 902 said:

    Bigg ups Khari hope you can find what you need in your life to maintain & flourish my brotha! I wish you had of opened up a bit a told me what type of shit you were going thru,but I guess you wern’t ready & I probably couldn’t have helped ya anyway cuz. I remember I talked to Adam X & Trinny & them boyz when I got back to Van after they did that dirt to ya. I told them ALL that you were my brotha and that shit wouldn’t have EVER went down if I had of been there….on tha real homie!!!

  3. paula said:

    Great article – mental illness (like anything else that society does not understand) is not readily accepted as a true condition; one that people can rally around like breast cancer or aids. But Mental illness affects individuals, friends and families in the same manner. I’m proud of Stewart for stepping forward and telling his story because it gives MI a face, a character and a voice.

    God bless you and all those who stand in your corner

  4. Adenike said:

    I like it that Stewart certainly does not put his faith in biochemical approach to mental illness. It is simply another form of control and manipulation. He puts his faith in spiritual healing instead. Good for Stewart. Stewart’s faith will make him whole. Those of us who believe in spiritual healing will continue to uphold him with our prayers that his mind be made fully restored and whole through the Power of the Great Physician our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

  5. Virginia said:

    A very informative piece on MI, and Khari has persevered through this as has his family. He has a great and caring family that support him. Thankyou for coming forward to share your challenges and triumphs.

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