Money Management With Severe Mental Illness

 

When I was younger I had a lot of mixed up ideas about money, and they only got worse as I got older and had to take care of myself. I was a bit of a math whiz in school, having taught myself to program my computer to do such things as play games of chance, create graphic designs, calculate mortgages and do my math homework much faster than when I did it without my computer. When I look at this bridge, I think of the old one that was rusting and getting very old, and I get pretty fascinated with the design of it. A friend who is a much better photographer, took a night shot from around this angle and used a long exposure to make the lights of oncoming cars into a streak of white light, and cars going away a red streak. If you break it down, there are so many ways to apply formulas of money to these situations. In our part of Canada, people, or often for young people their families, must purchase their cars themselves. Some of them put a pretty high value on who they are if they have an expensive car like a Corvette or a Mercedes Benz. Granted, they do pay for their car but without the pooled resources of a major city like Edmonton, things like this bridge don’t get built. To relate money to the photographs, although I did get free training in Air Cadets and at school in photography, my hands are tied when it comes to affording a high quality camera, or a vehicle for that matter. Still, this bridge is something I have every right in the world to use because there is no discrimination (supposedly) when it comes to being a have or a have-not. I did experience one thing right on the street I live on. A car pulled up and slowed for a stop sign in front of where I was about to walk, and I stepped out and he almost hit me. He literally had no intention of stopping for a pedestrian, even though he had a stop sign. I pointed at the sign and I forget if I said anything, but then he rolled his window down, and said to me, “We pay for the road, you don’t!” I was left a bit curious as to what he meant. First off, paying or not paying, he has no right to endanger my life. The other thing that was odd was that he should have been pretty sensitive about saying and doing those things because he was obviously an immigrant. Last year I was in a position to buy a new car, something I have never been able to do but decided instead with the advice of my dad, to just keep walking and buy a bus pass each month. I ended up doing so and I have gotten myself into incredible shape and also lost a good deal of weight, something that has done wonders for my confidence, my social life, my fitness and many more things. It has also allowed me the freedom to have a fair amount of extra money here and there. I feel especially proud of the fact that I was able to buy my brother a TV. It is so important for him to have things like this because he has had back surgery and has difficulty getting out of the house.

Now, to get back on topic. I always wonder what readers from the United States or Great Britain will think of my posts because I am extremely fortunate to be a Canadian. I am provided with a disability pension, subsidized housing, discount bus pass, free fitness and swimming facilities, free health care and free medications. I don’t mean to brag about these things, I would like to see every country in the world move towards a situation like this, but that may take some time. As for readers from the US, I know it is extremely difficult to get by when you have to take medications for any reason. One of the things you can do is to write to the company that makes your medication and ask about any subsidy or free medication programs. It may take an Internet search and a few emails, but be persistent. It really is hard enough for people with psychosis or mood disorders to be medication compliant without having the extreme hardship of paying for medication that won’t exactly cheer you up overnight. Medications often seem awful for the first few weeks or even months until your body can adjust to them and then they will begin to deal with your symptoms. If you do have health care and still don’t like taking medications and there is concern you may impulsively stop and have to go into the hospital again, ask your Doctor about injectable medication. I get a shot in the shoulder every two weeks. By some freak chance my Doctor tried to switch me to a more effective, newer medication and it simply did not work for me. I ended up having to spend a month in the hospital. This became a financial burden, but fortunately I have just about gotten myself back to normal physically mentally and financially.

For anyone, especially those who have to pay for medications and work all week, there is a book that I feel could help them all a lot. It is called “The Richest Man in Babylon” and it talks a lot about tried and true, proven, tested concepts on how to get yourself on firm financial footing no matter what your situation. The most important thing talked about in this book is to always take 10% off the top of what you earn and put it away. Do this for a while. Aim for a year or two. While you wait, another thing is that you will need to increase your earnings. Look for classes on things like beading or about jewelry or self improvement classes through the library. Depending on your interests, you could possibly learn how to set up a website like the one you are reading from now. Or, you could make your own jewelry that you can sell at a farmer’s market or flea market. The book focuses on education and self-improvement as a lifelong thing. The next concept the book covers is how to seek advice. One day your mechanic friend may come to you with an idea to buy a stock of encyclopedias that you can re-sell. Don’t listen to him. Listen to your mechanic when he directs you to a deal on a used car in great shape, that’s his field of expertise. Always make sure advice comes from those qualified and experienced to give it. And, the principles in this book emphasize paying down your debt bit by bit, but not cutting into your savings or what you need to live. 20% is a reasonable figure for debt payments. Now, a couple of years have passed. You have some money saved. You paid off your debts. Now is a good time to look into investing, and not on a vacation to Hawaii. You can go to Hawaii all you want when you retire. The next step is to make sure you have adequate insurance for those who depend on you. It may not have to be much if you are older and your children make a good living. The next step is to own your own home. If not a house, maybe a condo. If not a condo, maybe a lot with a trailer that you will pay off. No matter what, you will have to pay for a place to live, why not make this something that will increase your overall equity?

Now, I have given a lot of information here. Maybe some that are close to impossible. I do know that disabled (mentally or physically) Canadian young adults have a program where the Government will match their savings practically 3 to 1 until you turn 49. The only restriction is that it has to stay in savings for ten years. This I feel is a better program than anything. If you qualify when you do your taxes as a disabled person (your Psychiatrist/Doctor must fill this out) then you qualify for this huge potential sum of savings. Honestly, it shouldn’t be passed up.

One of the things that I think about a lot is the situation where someone can’t work at all and have debt. Sadly, sometimes there will be situations where a person with a mental illness needs to declare bankruptcy or even have all their finances given to a public trustee. Both of these things happened to me and not in any way by my own choosing. This is something that often happens in extreme cases. I have seen people who due to depression, ideas of some time soon killing themselves, and many other reasons, simply give away all of their money. Then there is an even worse situation when persons with a mental illness gets credit. I honestly feel most people on a fixed income should not have credit or have a low amount of credit, say less than a thousand dollars. This helps head off scammers who prey on vulnerable people, it also helps in case a person has an episode of mania and overspends. Sometimes it pays to cut up your credit cards and put the pieces in separate garbage collection bins.

Sadly dear readers, it is getting late and I have been writing more than I should. Please message me or email if you want more information or if there is any topic you wish to see on this blog. Have a great long weekend to all my Canadian, British, and Commonwealth friends!

Leif Gregersen, viking3082000@yahoo.com

Mental Health and Stress

Sometimes the sunsets can be so beautiful here in Edmonton, the gateway to the North

 

A Little About Stress and mental illness

In grade 12 I took a course in Law and I got a lot out of it. One of the things that stands out for me is a legal case the textbook quoted where a woman was of a fragile mental state, witnessed a violent car accident, and sued–and won–a case for having a nervous breakdown as a direct result of the negligence of a driver. When I first had severe symptoms though, I knew so very little. Sadly, one of the first things that happens when someone gets sick like I did is that fairly rapidly they lose any material wealth they have and it takes a very long time to get any of it back. What really bothered me was that it seemed people judged me because I was from a nice suburban area and I think they believed I had clothes and money and cigarettes because my parents provided them. All of my teen years were spent working after school or being paid for things around the house and I was proud of what I had accomplished, having owned a nice sports car and a motorcycle I loved to ride. Within a year, every bit of it was gone. What I had left was a comic collection which by today’s standards wouldn’t have been worth much–but they all got stolen anyway.

To get on to the main topic though, when I first was back in Edmonton from living (treatment non-compliant) in Vancouver, I managed to get a job at Safeway. Those were dark days, being deep in depression and never really feeling like myself with the medications I was taking. I had very little knowledge of how to deal with the stress of working and one paycheque I simply walked into a bar and didn’t leave until my money was gone and I was drunk out of my mind. That was another difficult thing for me, no longer being able to drink socially. When I hadn’t been in the hospital and was working I was starting to develop the skills needed to meet and later contact people I had met in bars. But after my pills (which the alcohol worked against) and my loss of faith in myself, I was a sad sight to behold and never really made any close friends or began any relationships in a bar ever.

What did happen though was that one day my Dad started going out of his way to pick me up and take me for walks in the River Valley of Edmonton. I already had a fascination with swimming, and as I built up my stamina and travelled, and found medications that worked better for me, all of my issues seemed to lessen. What I really think had the hugest effect was exercise, or sports for want of a better term. There were times when I had to pull off incredible feats of endurance just to get a little extra money to see me through the month. With a lunch of a spoon, a can opener and a can of beans, I sometimes would have to ride my bike as much as two hours and then work a twelve hour shift and ride two hours back. Often I would come home and be unable to work for a week with the pain in my muscles and sore back.

I hated the fact that I had never been able to hold down a job. I hated more that I had never had a job that required the skills I had built up over a lifetime but instead got labour jobs anyone could do or delivery jobs or security guard jobs. Working security at an old school for a movie set, I made a connection that got me into movie security. I worked my way up to being a stage hand and the money was phenomenal. I also soon learned things about diet and working out with weights and swimming as well as cycling would make me a harder working employee. I managed to last about 7 years at that job and it was a bridge to what I do now, which is to write and to teach.

Doing what I do now feels so amazing, I really feel I am making a difference with the patients I work with and that when I go to give presentations about mental illness I feel that I am helping at least some people view mentally ill people differently. There has even been cases where we have helped people to self identify as having a mental illness and got them the help they needed. My rules are very simple. I don’t work much more than 2 hours a day at most 3 times a week. I do what I can to promote my writing but I also try very hard to live below my means so that I can survive on such limited working hours. When I have a day with nothing to do, I will make up an excuse like taking a two-hour walk to a store far away that has better prices than the stores where I live. I have built myself up, with the aid of a fitness watch, to walk about 5km to the pool where I swim about ten laps, then walk back and I end up having the most peaceful sleeps that I have ever experienced. A young woman who used to lifeguard at the pool I go to once told me that with any illness at all, exercise is the best medicine. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I do know that feeling fit feels really good, and that people notice when you not only feel good but look good. I seem to get more smiles and winks from single females than when I was young, skinny and 19 years old, full of confidence from being a student pilot. One of the great things about swimming is that you don’t have to do all that much to have great positive effects on weight/fat loss, and muscle tone. You can start out just going to the deep end and treading water for a few minutes. You can work your way up to doing one gentle lap on your back. If you have joint issues or any kind of pain, swimming is as low-impact as you can get. Sadly not everyone has the extreme privilege to do as I do, which is have access for free to all city pools and most weight rooms, but there are options, some are even better. The YMCA will often have a program for low-income individuals to use their pool and their weights and gymnasium. One trick I have learned is to buy very low costing vegetarian protein powder and have a scoop in a fruit smoothie when I finish a workout. Taking protein helps rebuild muscles after a workout and prevents, in many cases, any sore muscles you may experience.

Try it, try just a short walk. Bring your dog or your neighbour’s dog to have company. Buddy up with a friend and walk a little each day, build yourself up to maybe an aquacise class. As you work your way up, focus on bad habits such as too much coffee, too much sugar or smoking. When you start to feel more comfortable, look at getting a part-time job to help fill in the gaps of time in your day and give you a little grocery money. While you are doing this, I not only strongly recommend that you are med-compliant, refrain from any alcohol or drug intake and see your psychiatrist, but also do your best to join a support group or two for your illness or even one that teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And remember, you are a human being and that means you will make mistakes, or have mistakes in your past, even big ones. But you have full rights to live as healthy and as happy as you can make yourself.

LG

Tall Trees Sown From Seeds of Love and Hate

Please see below today’s photo for a poem and a blog entry

All the fearful years of tears and trials

Wreak havoc upon my thoughts

It seems a test, a trial, a quiz

To even focus upon what I have sought

 

In life we have so little time

As our hours slip into days

I remember holding her like she was mine

then her telling me I was just a phase

 

In death and living there are no words

to slow the march of time

I only long to be understood and heard

to tell them all I have found the perfect crime

 

I do what I can for those I see

show compassion for those in troubled times

and somehow I fool myself that the world cares for me

when they all seem to only want what now is mine

 

I gave away my heart too soon

in a lover’s sweet embrace

now as I work and push a mop and broom

my thoughts occupy a sad, unholy place

 

I no longer dream of God our father

Though he seemed to have done right by me

When my day is done and I close the door

he lets my romantic heart soar free

 

I found a loveliness, a happiness

among the stillness and the peace

and whisper out a tiny prayer

that soon my soul will be released

 

Well, not the most cheerful poem I ever wrote, but I think I am making progress with my writing. I guess I can spill the beans now since the project is almost finished. I am writing a book about my most recent stay in the hospital. I went through a couple of very difficult times, one was the delusional voices I heard, which were extremely convincing, and the other was that I was very paranoid. I had really thought I wasn’t going to have to experience all this again as long as I got rest and took my medications, but there is no insurance policy that covers everything. I still don’t understand why I got so incredibly ill just because of switching from one medication to the next, supposedly newer one. Not a lot was explained. I did have my diagnosis changed once again, this time neglecting to mention my anxiety and adding in my diabetes. I think the Doctor put down schizoaffective disorder bipolar subtype. It’s all pretty confusing. I really want to put this book out to help people to understand more about hospital admissions and how horrible they can be.

What bugs me the most is I like to try and make each of these blogs worthwhile for my readers, but there seems to be no easy answers. I met a man last year who was incredibly kind and diligent about getting help for his son who eventually died by suicide. I have tried to show people how they can get work like I do for the schizophrenia society and feel better about themselves and have some recovery in their lives, but there are many heartbreaking cases I have known, even among people who have worked hard all their lives. I guess I am fairly good at taking care of myself, with the exception of getting into debt too easily. But what do you say to someone who comes up to you and says they have a friend with schizophrenia or they themselves have bipolar and don’t know what to do. All I can really do is keep going to schools and Universities and doing my level best to get a few key points across. Number one, there is no cure, there are only treatments, but they are getting better all the time. Number two, don’t use drugs or alcohol or ski or play football or do anything fun where you might hit your head and get a brain injury. I used to love sports like boxing and football and skiing. I will never forget the first time I went into the hospital and they were doing everything they could for me, hooking me up to million dollar machines and putting me through all kinds of tests to see if my erratic behaviour had to do with a bad fall I had taken on a ski hill in town or not. It seemed once I was deemed mentally ill they sent me to a psychiatric facility to let me rot and I lost all of my opportunities, I wasn’t even allowed to try and finish high school by my parents or the school administrators.

But even in that situation there were good times. There was this moment I was hitch-hiking through the rockies trying to get home to Edmonton in the winter and I was in Hope, British Columbia (it’s where they filmed the first Rambo movie) and the air and the sky and the mountains were all shining silently, singing a chorus of light and beauty that took my breath away. Or this time when I was just entering BC for the first time and I saw a massive Moose and her child running in circles in a flowing field of grass with mountains and cumulonimbus clouds in the background. Those images stayed in my heart. I hate to think what it did to my parents for me, off my medications, with no money or means of earning a living to be wandering all over North America. I lived for the five minute phone call I placed to my parents every night from downtown Vancouver. But when I got back there was no love left for me. No place to stay, no one to do things with. It drove me nuts because I would try and call my sister to talk and each time it was a one-sided lecture to me about how busy she was with school.

But the amazing part of things really is that with time, everything got better. I learned to cook, I found out how to eat healthy and how to lose the weight my medication packed onto me. I even learned to make friends and have some pretty incredible people in my life. It is really kind of funny because in just two years of living on the coast it was like my body had lost its ability to heat itself. The Edmonton winters were just too much. It took a long time, maybe ten years but I adjusted to it and I kept pushing myself to make friends, to read, to write. And somehow the world changed around me and I have an incredibly enviable life now. I think a lot of it just came down to becoming a part of a community and caring for and watching out for the people in my life. That’s about it for today folks, thanks for stopping in.

LG

Hygiene and Mental Illness

The topic of hygiene covers a lot of ground. I wanted to talk about this subject today because I often struggle to keep myself as clean as I like to be while many people tell me I am even cleaner than they are. I know of many cases of people who go for a long time without showering or brushing their teeth and the sad thing is that they pay for this luxury in friendships, job opportunities, and general social interactions. Not too long ago, I was having medication problems and I was experiencing severe paranoia. I believed that people around me thought I stank and that it was so bad they wouldn’t sit near me and they would make jokes and comments. This is yet another aspect of the same issue that plagues people with mental health issues. I can recall being younger and if I was lucky I would take a bath about once a week. Add to the fact that my clothes didn’t get washed often and you have a real problem. In a way, I was afraid of water and taking my clothes off. It may have had to do with the fact that I live in Edmonton where it regularly dips below minus 40 in the winter, but I think there was an actual fear of exposing myself. I had always loved swimming though. Now, thanks to a benevolent government in our city, I am able to get a pass that allows me full access to city swimming pools and gymnasiums. If I am able to swim that is a day I can go without having to shower as they provide hair and body soap for showering before and after a swim. And then, there are times when a shower really does help me get through certain things, like when I am waiting for a long time to do something like meet a friend or get to an appointment. One of the best things about showering I think is that it can be replenishing, refreshing, and even change how you look at the world. Often, when I write a short story, I will go and have a shower so that I can come back and look at the piece from a different point of view after not thinking about it for a while. The benefits of swimming are numerous. If you have ever had a sports injury, swimming is often the best way to exercise with a very low impact on things like joints and knees and ankles and such. It also burns a lot of calories because it exercises many muscles you don’t normally bother with in some workouts like walking or cycling.

One of the things I do to motivate myself to continue my hygiene habits is to try and make them as simple and as enjoyable as possible. I don’t spend too much time in the shower and I no longer take the time to have a bath and have to fill and drain and clean the tub. I jump in the shower, scrub and shampoo and jump out. Then I shave, put on deodorant and quickly brush and floss and use mouthwash and brush my hair. Once you get used to it, it can take under 20 minutes. What I like about it is that I am much more able to feel comfortable around others when I am clean.

Of course, that isn’t the answer for everyone. I had heard of a young man who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. For some time he didn’t shave and grew a long beard, as well as had a hard time showering. His caregivers were told that the important thing to do was to take all pressure off of him, and eventually he went back to taking better care of himself. There is another factor that the “one in five” who have a mental illness of one type or another often need to take medications which causes dry mouth. Fifteen years ago I had no cavities. I was put on medication that caused dry mouth and now I have no more molars. I have just two good chewing teeth (pre-molars) left to eat with and am putting off getting dentures for as long as I possibly can.

Of course there is also the factor that regardless of the mental illness you are diagnosed with, you can experience depression. I can’t offer any advice for this, and I don’t suggest that even people with lived experience give any advice because I am not (and they are not) psychiatrists. It is so important to be totally honest with your psychiatrist, and if they aren’t helping you, you need to discuss this with another person in the field who can tell you if you might be better off with a Doctor who listens more and is more compassionate. This depression can make you simply not care if your teeth or clothes or body are clean. In this case, forcing yourself to shower and all that may not be the priority, getting your sadness dealt with should be.

Self improvement, which I feel is a cornerstone of recovery from a mental illness, and also something that everyone can benefit from, can take years of work. I can remember in my younger days, for want of a better term, my feet smelled really bad. I dreaded the prospect of being invited into a nice house where you had to remove your shoes and often didn’t in my parent’s home. Years later I learned that you can put anti fungal cream on your feet which is also known as athlete’s foot (and also works well on jock itch) and the smell will completely go away (at least until you walk around in a locker room in bare feet anyway). This changed my whole life, and is a perfect example of how much a person can suffer if they are not open and honest, and fully disclose any issues they have to a Doctor. Well my friends, that is all I have for now. I wish everyone a Happy Easter and the summer of your lives. For those of you who are approaching middle age, I just want to tell you that life only gets better as time passes. Ciao!

The Power of Comparisons To All, But Especially The Mentally Ill

Almost hard to believe this is a single family home, one of the more famous mansions in Edmonton. I often wonder what type of people live in a place like this, and if they are happy. An interesting thing in life is that, at least in my experience, no matter what you may own or what you may have it has little to do with happiness. I am in the fortunate position to have the computer I need to do my writing and a large screen TV to play some of my many video games on. I can focus on what I have, and strive to do better and have more, but the fact is that happiness is almost a chemical reality, something that can be determined by things such as your chemical makeup (brain especially) and even your outlook on life. I am fond of discussing how when I was younger I had no idea what a bagel was. I worked at a donut shop and would serve many people bagels of all kinds. Finally I broke down (and I now love bagels but can’t eat them because of diabetes) and ate a bagel and I recall thinking “This is the worst tasting donut I have ever eaten!” Seems funny now, but it betrays an interesting truth: our expectations and former experiences guide us to appreciate things or react in any of the numerous ways a person can. Me, having been to London and seeing places like Buckingham Palace and the private library of an 18th century King, this mansion looks a bit dinky to me. But if I were to own it I might react in many ways, I might think it was too much space, too wasteful of resources. Or I could be extremely happy that I have a place for my books and a room for friends and a garden I can sit in during the summer. I can actually speak from some experience because I once lived at a friend’s house that was huge. It had 5 bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens. My roommate and I each had space for our own office and there was a garage at the back and front of the house. The reality though was that I was miserable. There is so much more to a home and so much more to happiness than square feet. I could cite some reasons why I was miserable in this incredible place, one of them was that it was far away from where I liked to be. There were no nightclubs for people my age, I couldn’t find a good used bookstore nearby or arcade. There was no library. And then there were the factors that really make a home a home, I felt like I was in a massive tomb walking around like a ghost. As mentioned I had a roommate, but he spent so much time watching hockey or playing hockey video games I had no connection to him. He was an incredibly nice guy but I desperately wanted someone to talk to and do things with. I ended up desperately seeking girlfriends and going to dive bars and ended up not only drinking but gambling as well, two things that I absolutely should never do with the mental condition I have.

The story does work out. I moved into an apartment on my own and was able to hold onto a pretty good job for a couple of years. I reconnected with some old friends. I also got put on a drug many people know about, Prozac, which was extremely effective for me. And on top of that I bought a car that was older but in perfect shape for just $75.00. Things could have been better, and I admit, I did eventually get complacent and slipped back into psychosis, but at the time I compared my life to some of the harsher times when there were many people taking advantage of me and when I didn’t have a job or many friends. Having friends is another thing that seems to be so essential. I think now, and for the past couple of years (not counting some time when I had a bad reaction to some medication) I have been having the best time of my life because I have some genuine friends, one who is an incredible young woman who speaks four languages, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, as well as a master’s degree and a fantastic job. The other is a guy who is a best selling writer and he is such a great guy he seems to only have interest in helping me move my career as a writer forward. I wish I knew how such amazing opportunities came to me, many of them were random, one in a million chances. If I were still a smoker I don’t think my writer friend would be able to get along that well with me. If I wasn’t a writer who loves philosophy I don’t think the woman with the black belt would have found enough merit in me to let me into her already busy life. Perhaps it came down to what a dear friend at the group home I used to live in told me, when I explained the hours I worked and what I was doing to improve as a writer, as well as doing actual writing, he said, “God will reward you for your hard work.” and it really seems to have come true.

Just as a quick final note, I think on top of friends and a community you feel like you are a part of, for those of us who have mental health issues, it could perhaps be even more important that we maintain diligence with regards to self care and mental health. That means eating right, sleeping enough at the right times, taking medications on time, and of course, being honest with your Doctor. Please reach out or comment if you wanted to say hello or comment.

viking3082000@yahoo.com

The Power of Focus For Those Recovering From a Mental Illness

The above photo of a Sopwith Camel as it sits on a dusty shelf in my apartment is something that took me years to make. When I was a Boy Scout, I had little interest in socializing or ‘doing my best’ in everything. I didn’t believe in what I was being taught and so that year of my young life was mostly wasted. One thing I did do was make models. It was a lot of fun, often my Dad would help or even make his own model alongside me. I ended up leaving Boy Scouts with just a couple of mementos, one being a book about the Royal Navy and Admiral Nelson, and the other a merit badge for model making. Anyone into popular culture I hope still reads the odd new comic book because there are some amazing titles out there. One of them is called “Black Badge” and tells the story of a scout troop that has earned every possible merit badge and then has to work on a secret one called “The Black Badge” of course. It is hilarious, dark, and simply brilliant. Each of these kids has a different type of ‘nerdish’ personality and they go on missions to far off Countries, call in airstrikes with drones, sneak into places, all under the cover of being an innocent scout troop out seeing the world. If such a comic existed when I was young I think I would have earned a lot more badges, but the year after I left Scouts I joined Air Cadets where we actually did shoot rifles, fly planes, teach classes in different things like Air Crew Survival, Citizenship and many other topics. I was in my second year of cadets when I went into the psychiatric ward for the first time and when I left, I had given up on life almost completely.

In the midst of my depressions though, I always had something to hold onto. It was either a car or a motorbike or the possibility of talking to a young woman I worked with at a grocery store. Those hobbies kept me going, kept me sane. In some of the worst years of my life, what kept me going was a love of reading and a dream of one day being a writer. Then, more than 35 years after retiring my almost empty Scout sash, I found this inexpensive model and for hours despite shaky hands and broken parts of the plane, put something together that I could feel pride in doing. I don’t think I will make many models. I was once so absorbed in toy soldiers I was painting them from the Napoleonic War and went so far as to use a single strand of a special paint brush to put a moustache on a soldier that no one could notice on a soldier not taller than an inch.

One of the best possible hobbies one can have is walking. I walk now to so many places near and far that I have no more desire to own a car, just a bus pass for when it rains. I have done so well with it my resting heart rate is now incredibly low at 60 beats per minute. Just yesterday my computer watch recorded that I had traversed over 19 km or about 12 miles. My dream is to one day take a walk across a famous pilgrimage in Spain that a few friends have done. Dreams, goals, hobbies, aspirations, this is what human beings thrive on second only to companionship. Life is so much better when you feel you are moving towards something, and if you don’t have a goal in mind you should set one because without a goal you are only wandering aimlessly in random directions. Without dreams you have no passion and with them you will never think of dying by suicide. Those of us who suffer from mental illness need these things most of all because so much is taken from us. I was once a student pilot, before that I had been a Sergeant in the Air Cadets. Mental illness took everything from me, but over time I have reclaimed my life. If anyone wanted to talk about such lofty aspirations, I am always open to feedback, and despite that I have more than 400 followers, I like to often post my email, so here it is: viking3082000@yahoo.com

Take care friends, look for more soon!

Pushing Through Mental Illness to Reclaim Your Dreams

This is a photo taken by me from the deck of a World War II American Diesel Submarine in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. I don’t know if anything in my life made me happier than to travel to a tropical destination and witness history. I had wanted to go to Hawaii since I was a young boy in school and one of my closer friends would go there every Christmas vacation and come back brown as a chestnut. I accomplished this goal because I decided I was going to make it happen. It had little to do with the fact that I had no money, little to do with the fact that I needed medications and travel insurance and flights and hotels. I just worked as hard as I could, first to get better, then to advance up the pay scale in a regular job to make it real. What are your goals? Do you dream of having children? Aside from a criminal record, why not volunteer for a summer camp job? Why not take some training and work in a day care. Anything a person can do without a mental illness can be done with one, but it takes steps, planning and goals. Your first step may simply be to find the right medication. The next step is to get used to taking it and take it as directed, day after day, month after month. It can take years. Many have traumas that take a lot of time, but if you want to do something, keep reminding yourself of it. Put a photo of your dream destination on the wall, or your dream car. After the step of getting proper medical attention for your illness, your best bet is to get therapy. Group therapy can be great, but I strongly recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, the process of going through steps to make new connections in your mind. It has been shown to be so effective that it actually works better all on its own than medication all on its own. But that doesn’t mean you can stop your medication, you still need it, but together with effort and work, you can get pretty close to fully functional.

Do you want to be a writer? You have all that time on your hands most likely. Instead of eating too much, get up, get some exercise to make you feel better all day (walking is the best I feel) and then sit down to read. Most successful authors have read thousands of books, now is your chance. Even start watching a lot of movies. When you are ready, do what I used to do… write a book review, even if you never show it to anyone, keep a separate notebook for writing full page book reviews, and keep another for movies. Get the most out of your experiences. Balance out your life though, make time for walking, biking, swimming, time with friends. If you have a hard time concentrating on reading, work on a few books at a time. Two pages a day can add up to a lot of books in a few years.

As you get better, you may one day find you want to work. Try volunteering. It will greatly enrich your life and your resume. When you volunteer, you can almost get your pick of jobs. You may never be a pilot with a mental illness, but you can work a desk at a flight school and go flying with other licensed pilots all the time. There is so much world out there. But don’t worry if all you can do is just take your medications for now. That is all you need to do, that and maybe some exercise and some healthy food.

Look into supported employment. In Canada, the Schizophrenia Society hires many people with a history of mental illness for essential jobs like being a peer support worker or taking a recovery course and then teaching the course after. You can go and give talks at schools and feel the incredible joy of helping to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Things like this will give your life meaning and hope, and perhaps even a little grocery money. I got some advice once from a man who had once been in a terrible state from bipolar disorder and its symptoms. He said he made a group of friends (five I think) and would talk to each and spend time with each without overloading any with the things he was dealing with, and soon he became stronger and his life became more normal. I should note though, be vigilant. Even after five years or ten years if you stop or change your medications, you can end up in trouble again. Don’t neglect to see your psychiatrist or let yourself believe the lie many people may tell you that you don’t need medications. I knew a very intelligent man who was on medications and doing well who was told that and went off his medications and to be honest, I have severe doubts he is even alive anymore. Listen to the people trained to care for you and those who love and care for you (family). Small steps. Plans. Goals. Dreams. Paradise.

LG

Through the Withering Storm

 

 

Memoir

Non-fiction, paperback, 186 pages

$20.00

Contact Leif Gregersen

(587)920-8272

viking3082000@yahoo.com

www.edmontonwriter.com

Class sets available

 

Synopsis:

 

Through the Withering Storm” is a work of non-fiction directly based on the lived experience of Leif Gregersen, the author. This is a story of both desperation and hope. In the start, we learn about the author and how his illness began and built up over years. Often, he would go to Air Cadet camp and return so exhausted that he would hallucinate someone shouting his name until he was able to rest. As his illness progresses, the book chronicles Leif experiencing severe depressions, social anxiety, obsessions of various types and a psychiatric ward admission at the age of fourteen.

Leif pushed down his feelings of unworthiness and depression, despite knowing that mental illness and addictions run in his family. He blames his problems on the fights he has with his alcoholic father. As years pass, despite IQ testing that placed him in the gifted category, he does more and more poorly until in grade ten he decides he must quit Air Cadets in order to be true to his life goals of an academic career, which become all but impossible later in life with the onset of his illness.

    Leif makes his way through high school, trying to avoid obsessing on alcohol, trying to support his needs and habits as he switches from one group of friends to another. Leif’s whole life is caught up in his school work, time spent with his sister and her abusive boyfriend, and his drinking bouts. At this point in his life, his only joy seems to come from the time he treks into the woods hunting rabbits.

The end of grade twelve comes, and though Leif has earned enough money for a sports car and a motorcycle, his life seems empty. Instead of travelling as he had longed to do when school was over, he spends the summer after grade 12 working in a gas station for minimum wage. A short trip to Fort MacMurray which corresponded with a three-day drinking binge only caused more feelings of depression and isolation as he once again tried to self- medicate his mental illness. One day Leif realizes that he has very few goals and less direction and makes the decision to return to school in hopes of being accepted to University. Soon after returning, he develops a crush on a young woman that he is unable to act on because of social anxiety. 

Over the next few months, Leif works a night job and attends school during the day while constantly being under the threat of being kicked out of his parents’ before he can even finish school. Slowly, he literally becomes insane. One night, he walks off from his well-paid job never to return. He stops driving his car before even paying it off and seems to almost revert to the motivations and actions of a primate. He is taken to hospital for treatment but rebels against the insistence that he needs to be on medication.

On his return to school, enraged at being laughed at and joked about, Leif picks a fight with the person his crush is now seeing and is arrested in school and taken to a mental institution. A short time later he leaves feeling so humiliated it seems his only option is leave town after selling any possessions he has of value from his hockey cards to his motorbike. Then, one night after yet another fight with his dad, he heads for the highway, not knowing if he is going to be apprehended and taken to the mental hospital again. He leaves, bound for the coast. What follows is a series of tumultuous events where he travels, gets sick, returns home, leaves for Vancouver, makes an attempt to join both the Canadian and US military and also makes an attempt to earn a pilot’s license, and in the end fails at all of these things and leaves himself severely injured from a training injury.

As the story told in “Through the Withering Storm” draws to a close, Leif finally decides to accept his illness, accept treatment for it and at that point begins to travel down the long and rocky path to recovery. Leif does go through more hospital admissions, many medication changes and difficulties, but starting from the publication of his book, by giving public talks, promoting his books, writing newspaper and magazine articles, Leif becomes an advocate for the mentally ill and joins the seemingly unwinnable war on stigma that all those who suffer (silently or otherwise) from a mental illness go through.

The Poor, the Sick, the Homeless…

Video link at beginning and end of today’s blog

https://youtu.be/3sD-jBPxRAc

Did you ever look up at a soaring bird and just stand in awe of the miracle of flight? For the fortunate majority of us, this how the ragged pan handler, the twerking junkie or the heroin addicted sex worker sees us with our happy, healthy families. Can you imagine what it would be like to be sexually assaulted when you are too young to even understand what that was? Or to be beaten with a strap or punished with cigarette burns, then be taken away and shuffled through group home and foster home after another until, as a reaction you commit a crime and spend years being dehumanized? This is the reality of far too many people in our society, and when it happens, the victims one day find that drugs or alcohol can mask the pain. To feed habits like these and the aftermath of their consumption, sex trade, violent crimes, professional shoplifting, drug dealing and many more crimes come about, leading one day to jail and institutionalization. Why do we have jails and not addiction treatment or mental health clinics? Decaying neighbourhoods and not trade or vocational schooling made affordable and inclusive for the youth and adult alike? So very much has to change. I was kindly given guidance to make the below video, please click the link to view and feel free to contact me for book purchase or updates on my newest project.

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

https://youtu.be/3sD-jBPxRAc

Some of the Devastating Effects of Schizophrenia, Bipolar and OCD

 

I think back a lot to when I first went into a serious psychosis, almost 30 years ago when I was 18. I was working nights stocking shelves at a grocery store, I was doing my best to keep my grades up and my home life was near to intolerable. Of course, after being kicked out of school, things got worse. I kind of drifted around that summer after my final days of trying for a high school diploma. I had lost nearly all of my friends, I had never had a girlfriend, and even my parents and siblings wanted nothing to do with me. Naturally my first thoughts were that I had done something wrong, that I was somehow at fault. This is still a hard conception of the situation to live past. When you go into a psychiatric hospital and do anything the staff doesn’t like, you will be punished, and they will do their best to teach you whatever it is a person learns by being locked into isolation day after day, week after week, month after month until you are nothing more than an animal, in the staff’s eyes and your own. I don’t want to sound too harsh, in fact there were times when I was in the hospital and treated extremely well. In February I was a patient on a psychiatric ward and it was funny–the first part where no one really gave a crap was really horrible, but as I got feeling better and my medication started to take effect, it became a very positive experience. The food was good, there was a gym, a chapel. The staff really seemed to go out of their way to help and to actually listen and care. I am actually kind of curious though now, after 17 years what kind of detrimental effects could have happened to my brain and even my personality by being tortured in the way I had been.

One thing I do know is that my first hospital admission changed the entire course of my life. After I had been in the hospital three months, I had lost any and all work skills I had, I couldn’t go back to school, partly because I had missed too many classes, and also because there was no parental support even for me to just get the 10 credits I needed for my high school diploma. As I look back, it is hard to tell if I was a stuck-up, over-priviliged teenager or if I was just frightened at what I was going to end up to the point where my emotions shut down. All I do know is that there were in fact numerous members of the staff who shouldn’t work in a position of a person in care of vulnerable, disabled psychiatric patients. There was one guy named Wayne (yes, his real name) who swore to me if he ever saw me outside of the hospital he would beat the shit out of me because I asked him to stop playing the guitar at a time when silence would have been golden. There was a nurse who had me taken to the lockdown ward where care is a minimum, air is unbreathable, and everyone is an extremely serious case and most of them are violent, including the staff. She did this because I was trying to key out a tune on the piano and I guess she had decided I wasn’t good enough for her standards to even try and learn to play. There was once a patient who yelled insults at me and swore at me several times and then had the nursing staff try to convince him to press charges on me. I had committed the offence of trying to find out about something I was delusional about that he was supposed to be an expert in. I kind of think that if you lock someone in a small space for 5 months and refuse to do anything to help them with their mental health issues, it would almost seem reasonable that a person would defend himself in a fight, and that my reaction was more their responsibility. Had he charged me, it would have been the end of my life outside the hospital. People who are mentally ill who commit crimes are sent to a part of the hospital known as forensics where they stay at the leisure of whatever Psychiatrist they are assigned to, and it is very often years for even the simplest offence.

So really though, as a person who has studied all this, wrote about it, taken psychology classes and wellness and recovery programs, what is the solution? I think that a lot of things have to be brought out into the open. We don’t need to treat all of our psychiatric patients in a facility 10km away from anything, hidden off where no one understands the problem as the local hospital in Edmonton is situated. What needs to happen is such places should be in the community, where even some of the more serious cases can function, with support, go to movies on their own, visit a mall to buy clothes and all that. It doesn’t help in any way to institutionalize people, especially when most of them are short-term patients. I got some good advice one time years ago when I was having a crisis. “You can go to the hospital, you can get in and be treated, but that’s no guarantee you will get any better.” This was coming from intake staff. And it was very true. That’s all for now folks, sorry for the negative tone of today’s entry. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. As a side note, I am now writing a compilation book of my poetry, with some blog material, many essays, and possibly photos, most of which was written during different stages of my illness in the hospital I recently was discharged from. If you are interested in getting a very limited edition of what will be a promotional run, signed of course, please contact me, Leif, at viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will get you a copy.