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.