Chronic Mental Illness and You: Never Give Up

Today’s Photo is a picture of Rogers Place. Here the Edmonton Oilers battle things out game after game, for the hope of bringing home the Stanley cup. Some of them fight addictions, all of them deal with incredible amounts of stress, but they share one thing: They have made hockey their lives, their entire lives. I dearly wish that each of you who read this blog can find that one thing that keeps them in tune with the human race, gives them purpose. My ‘thing’ is writing, and now I am finding that it is also teaching. Without these in my life I would fall back into a negative mindset in a hurry, it would almost be a death sentence.

When we deal with a mental illness, perhaps the most difficult part of it is that we often lack a sense of awareness of our own condition. This is called Anosognosia, and I know I have had it. When I was 18, despite that I knew my thinking and concept of the world was extremely skewed, and that after spending a month in a psychiatric hospital on medications I just about literally ‘came back from the dead’, I thought I knew more than the trained specialists who could see what was wrong and fix it. I don’t know why, but I thought Psychiatry was all bunk and I just wasn’t ready to give in and take medications that I felt turned me into a zombie. Talking to Doctors about it, I have learned that this is very frequently the case in people who are recently diagnosed. You simply can’t be mentally ‘fixed’ until you realize what is broken. The worst part of it all? I actually thought that if I was honest with the Doctor about what was going on in my head that I would never leave that hospital, and that scared me. It was a horrible experience, being acted on with violence from the staff who could also give me injections of incredibly barbaric medications when I wasn’t complying. Abuse and violence also came from the other patients, and all of us were locked in together in one cramped, cigarette smoke stained place. There is one memory that sticks out though, there was a young man my age, and I won’t say he was mentally well, but he was a kind and friendly guy. He convinced me one day to sit down at a table with him and draw. He even recommended I take a course called “Drafting 10” which I eventually did take. When I sat down with this guy, it was like I was no longer in the hospital, and when I was able to string together a few good days like that, I was taken to a ward that wasn’t so strict and violent.

So how can people who have a mental illness take this advice and apply it to their lives? First of all, just like I was able to focus (though with great effort) in the violent ward when I was given some encouragement, people with mental illness (and I am sure there are family members of mentally ill people reading this who can encourage their loved ones to do this as well) should be allowed to explore many different endeavours until they find one that they love to do. It could be playing guitar, it could be painting. For me it is writing, poetry, giving talks, even just trying to help some of the many homeless people in my neighbourhood. There are so many things worth doing, if you can just find one thing, perhaps it is something you already have a background in, and then use it in a way that you can become not just a productive person, but a giving person. I once knew a young woman with schizophrenia who became ill a great deal because she never left her apartment. She had trained as an accountant but her skills were fading away and she saw no way to get a job. So, as I will direct many of you, however many read this, I told her to contact an organization called “The Volunteer Network” she did this, and the network (I hope there are similar organizations where you live) placed her in a non-profit business where she was able to work. Unfortunately she didn’t stick with it, but I really think that volunteering can be a source of healing for so many people. There really is a great deal of need for caring, compassionate people, regardless of any mental health diagnosis to simply spend time with elderly people in nursing homes or lodges. At one time I had what was almost a dream job. I worked as a pastoral care volunteer at a Veteran’s Hospital. I met so many kind and caring older men who simply wanted a little company, someone to tell their fascinating stories to. I also helped the Pastor who found four or five men I could visit. I will never forget taking one man out for a walk, and how happy he was to breathe fresh air. To this day, I visit my ex-girlfriend’s mom in the retirement lodge she is in and I love it. She is one of the sweetest, nicest people I know. We get together, eat pizza, play cards, and it really makes me feel worthwhile.

Just to dwell on that word “Worthwhile” for a moment, I should mention that just a couple of years ago I had an amazing job that paid about twice what I get now. If I had stayed with it and carefully saved my money, I could do just about anything, travel all over the globe if I wanted. But it was such a trial dealing with all the politics and competition between me and others. The money was pouring in, but the stress was breaking me down. I found a job with the Schizophrenia Society, which I still have, and I go to many different places and give talks, and there are so many rewards. A couple of weeks ago I met a young man who came to me and told me he thinks he has a mental illness and I was able to help him. Often I go to the Police Recruit Class and teach young officers how to deal with people who are mentally ill. It takes so little effort, but because I love it I do it well, and I have a sense of worth and job security that I don’t ever want to let go of.

Well, dear readers. That is all I really have for today. Soon I will go back to writing poems, I have just been feeling a bit too drained lately. I leave you with a story I want to start adding to my presentations: When I was in Air Crew Survival training as a kid, we were told that we had to pair up with a buddy and watch out for each other. For example, if we were walking and there was rain or puddles, we were told to ask them if they had dry socks. Regardless of their answer, we would have to put our hand into their boots to make sure their socks were dry, and if they weren’t, we would have them change into dry ones. The lesson from this? Find a buddy. Find someone you trust. And when times get hard, check his or her socks. And make sure they are taking care of themselves and that they know to help take care of you.

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