Poverty and the Psychiatric Patient:
People with mental illnesses are often plagued by not having enough to get by, and even not taking what little they get to provide their own necessities. There are a few different aspects of this. The first and perhaps the worst part of this is when a psychiatric patient becomes homeless. This is a horrible situation to be in. In my home city of Edmonton, there are a number of ‘characters’ you see on the streets all the time, winter or summer, begging for money, sleeping in bus shelters, filthy clothes and horrible smell to them, often talking to themselves or even being aggressive with people. It is extremely sad to witness because people like this get to this situation after addictions, loss of trust of family members or worse, and loss of government disability benefits. I had some very serious situations occur in my own life when I would get very sick and my delusional thinking made me believe that in reality I owned the place I was renting and had no need to pay rent. As a result of this happening once, I had to go to the hospital, to the locked ward, and I was evicted with no way to state a defence or even be able to move my stuff or clean my apartment. Mental illness (and I like to include addictions with mental illness) can take away everything and leave the sufferer in a terrible state.
I am very grateful about the fact that I have never seen the inside of a prison, but from my understanding, prisons are full of people who should in reality not be punished, but who should be treated for mental illness and be totally forgiven for many of the crimes that got them there. There is another factor in my home city (which gets exceedingly cold in winter) where people face a winter on the streets and actually commit a crime just to get three meals a day and shelter. It costs society, any society, a great deal to put people into the criminal justice system and try them and detain them. It also costs when a person’s needs such as anti-psychotic medications are not available and they get ill. This is just one more small example of why attitudes towards mental illness should change.
After years of patience, as well as experimenting with many different medications, and many hospital visits (one as recent as this past February) I am in an incredibly fortunate position. I have an apartment that suits my needs, I have a part-time job, and I get partial benefits as a disabled person. Without regular visits to the Doctor, proper medication, and a desire to constantly improve my own abilities and well-being, none of this would have been possible. But how can others do this? I hear horror stories about the US and even worse ones about third world countries and how people have such a difficult time getting by. For a long time, perhaps permanently, people with severe psychiatric disabilities are unable to work. There is just too much going on in their heads, too much depression, paranoia, voices, you name it. I am so grateful that most of the time, when I am on my medications, I am very functional. Sometimes you just have to ignore what people say you should be doing (working and paying taxes when you are ill) and focus on doing everything you can to get better.
One of the first things a person really should do I feel is deal with any addictions. When I was a teen, I was a heavy smoker and drinker. It was a coping mechanism, drinking and smoking cigarettes was how I found some comfort in the world. Drinking stopped being fun when it took away the respect others had for me, when I knew it triggered delusional thinking and smoking quickly went out of style when prices went up to $10 a pack. I started out by going to 12-step meetings, although I want to warn people not to make things like that the main focus of your life. It is so important to make your whole life full. I used to have a routine of swimming every day, which I often still do, and often taking long walks with my Dad. When I took things out of my life like booze and cigarettes, and replaced them with healthy activities, it definitely accelerated my recovery. I wish I had also taken the time to join Toastmasters, learning to do more effective public speaking is an incredibly useful tool.
When I was experiencing poverty (I got $560 per month and $300 was for rent, $60 for bills and $200 for food with absolutely no wiggle room) I rode a bike I got second hand, I got a part-time job which was extremely difficult but let me save enough for an old computer. I started to write at this point and I read as much as I possibly could, filling my days up with preparation for the kinds of things I do now. I really feel everyone (though especially anyone who wants to write) should keep a journal. It lets you track your progress over time, and time being one of the few luxuries that recovering psychiatric patients have, it is best to always use it to extend your limits and decrease your limitations every day.
I really wish I could offer hard and fast solutions, but all I can really say is find something at your speed and try to ramp it up a little at a time. I remember a time when I had a horrible depression and got through it by reading a box full of Archie comics I had saved. Even that simple cartoon taught me a lot about humour and storytelling for children. Make the most of each day, make strong, solid friendships, with a few people-you may need to be around a friend all the time but people can’t always be there for you. When I was younger and had a lot of time to read, I would pick up a book that I knew would be entertaining (my favourite book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” being the best one) and just randomly read it until I was in more of a mindset to read heavier or even non-fiction books. Like Sylvester Stallone said in Creed, you win the title “One step at a time one punch at a time, one round at a time.” Get the steps and punches down right, because with constant, disciplined effort, even those who are horribly afflicted can make something amazing out of their lives.