Mental Illness Takes Over Your Life. You Can Take It Back

Sixteen years ago I made a serious mistake. I had been on a dose of depekane, a mood stabilizer and it was working well for me. At some point in my simple existence of renting movies, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes I decided that I could get along just fine with half the dose of my depekane. I did this without consulting any doctor, it just seemed like a good idea. Gradually over the next few months I slowly went insane. It took a six month stay in the hospital and a number of years of recovery to get myself back to that level of mental fitness I had enjoyed for some time.

I was a little alarmed today to see that there are forums on Facebook and other places where people write in and talk about their experiences with different psychiatric medications. Of course, this sort of thing has its place, especially in the US where health care is extremely expensive, but I honestly don’t think it is 100% positive that people can write what they took for their problems and suggest the same drugs to others. Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors that have specialized in the human brain. Most of the time they don’t treat patients all by themselves, they have a team which may include nurses, occupational therapists, parents of younger patients and on and on.

One of the big problems that happened to me during my last (and I hope final) stay in the hospital was that somehow I started to forget that I was sick. When this happens to me, I end up suffering from all kinds of delusional thinking. It often starts with me believing there are hidden millions out there somewhere that I just have to step up to and claim. Another is that the key to all this wealth rests with a woman I used to have a crush on in middle school/junior high who I haven’t even spoken to in 28 years.

Sometimes the potential reward of these ‘delusional prizes’ seems to be so much that I let myself slip into the belief that they are true. Most of the time though, I have some sanity left over and that is enough for me to seek help, seek a way to quiet the dialogue in my head.

One kind of sad thing I remember was being 19 and being admitted into the hospital. I thought the world was against me, everyone but the young Jamaican clothing designer and fashion model I had become close with during a two-month stay there. I kept trying to tell people that it was the constant pressure of living with an alcoholic parent that put me in there. Of course, it wasn’t true. The part about fighting with my Dad was–but it had very little to do with my illness. It likely did contribute to the pressure I was under, but my Dad had been pretty reasonable and had let me stay at his house while he tried to find better housing for me.

What happened though, while I was in the hospital, was that I kept trying to blame my mental illness on the stressful home life I had, and one time I even told them if they were going to keep me in that place indefinitely I wanted to have ECT or electro-convulsive-therapy. At the time, as I am now, I have an incredibly detailed memory and the smallest things form these chains of thoughts that make me end up feeling like garbage. I had hoped the ECT would have helped with that, but it was a lot more likely that it would only have damaged my brain so badly that I would never have been able to write the way I do now. I ended up cancelling the ECT the morning I was supposed to get it.

So, regardless, by finding a Lawyer who wanted to fight for me, and winning favour of the judge in my competency hearing, I was allowed to go home. Or allowed to find a home, find furniture and pay for all the little things I needed to pay for.

For three months things didn’t go all that bad. My sister will tell you though that my mental health never went through any improvement at that time. I have vivid memories of hearing my name on the radio and of different types of thoughts giving me strange ideas. One of the things I did in that apartment was sit down and watch a class on drawing on PBS for quite a few days in a row. It was kind of fun to think that no one could disturb me. I even tried to work a little for a temp agency, but there was only so much of that I could handle. I don’t know why, but it seems when you work a non-union job the other workers are much more likely to grumble and whine and dislike you. I ended up working in a couple of factories, a chemical plant and a few other places. Then I found the number my friend had written down for me and everything changed.

It was just a little scrap of paper, it didn’t even have my friend’s real number on it, it had his sister’s number. He had given it to me just before I left and told me I could call him for anything Seeing as how (in a small way, mostly because of isolation) Edmonton seemed to really suck and Vancouver seemed to be so amazing, I saw this as a sign from above that my destiny lay on the coast, not in oil town. I called up my friend and almost right away he invited me to come out.

A lot of things happened in that time. I would suggest those interested should buy a copy of my book, “Through the Withering Storm” which takes a much more comprehensive take on the story than I can ever give. The way it all ended up was that I was abandoned by my travelling companion right in his little home city, 8,000 miles from home, with no money or credit card. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had been taken, and I stuck out my thumb and limped back north. How I survived it I really don’t know.

So many may be curious: ‘How do I take back what I lost from mental illness?’ The first step is to find the medication(s) that work for you, that have the least possible side effects. This is. good time to get involved in your own care, a great time to research your illness (if you can get your Doctor to tell you what it is) and study up on what works for others. Then, you just have to trust your psychiatrist and see him/her as often as possible, with notes you have kept about how the medication seems to have affected you.

I did just want to mention though that you need to be very honest with your treatment team, especially your doctor. When I first went into the hospital I had severe delusional thinking but was treated and released in just a couple of weeks. I was just gone for two days and I had spent a ton of money, gotten myself drunk, and basically dealt with my problems in the most childish way I could. All that mattered at that age was looking good and meeting members of the opposite sex so you could use them and then hurt them and get rid of them before they did it to you. I honestly believe it was good advice that once you have a diagnosis of a mental health issue you should never touch liquor again. For me it has been five years since I indulged and it actually feels so great.

Regardless my good readers, I appreciate all the support you give me. Please feel free to email me with any questions, or like and share this blog so I know which posts you more want to hear. And if anyone speaks Danish, I could really use some help doing my dad’s pension plan income tax. Should you want to learn more of my story, I have written two books, one being “Through the Withering Storm” and another “Inching Back to Sane” these books can be found on amazon.com, can be ordered through me using the contact information in this website, and I would love to meet anyone who read through both books. Good day dear readers!

Leif Gregersen

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