Author: edmontonwriter

I am a poet and writer of prose

First Mental Health Coping Strategies Video Blog

Every Little Victory In Our Lives Leads to a Place of Happiness

Hello Dear readers. I have been breaking with convention a bit and posting things of a slightly different nature as you may know. There have been a couple of things going on, one of them is that I have been experiencing a fair bit of stress lately. The funny thing is that the stress seems to stay in my blankets. Namely, I feel stressed about facing the world but if I can get up and get dressed I stand a much better chance of facing my problems and at the very least leaving the house to try and do them. Last night was kind of a special night for me because I love to participate in 5-minute live story readings for cash prizes, and the theme for the story was ‘disability’. I couldn’t have picked a more perfect theme, I loved the idea of talking about my illness and where it took me. The main problem was that I had to make it as though I were telling a story, even though my story was pretty much completely non-fiction. I won’t go too much further into it, I thought I would try and post a relevant photo first and then paste in the text of the story I wrote in case any of my readers would like it. Once again I strongly encourage any regular readers to write me with any questions, I can even keep the responses anonymous, and I have no problem even doing some heavy research to answer any questions you have. I think the biggest thing I can say is that once you find a good medication and have a stable life, you can then go into things like a life-skills group where they teach you to better communicate with others, then perhaps once done this successfully, a person who has been in a hospital for a long stay for psychiatric reasons can look into part-time education (and I often recommend distance learning, especially if you are a little older), bettering themselves, keeping their lives low-stress, and then when you are ready move to the next step of finding normal employment. I think this is a time when volunteering is really good because a lot of employers like the idea that you will work for nothing (just kidding) and many other advantages like filling in any large gaps of time in your resume. So, here goes, picture below and then at the bottom of today’s message I will paste in my winning story. Take care everyone!

 

Story Slam Winning Story

So much of my life I wanted to be a hero. Fight for your country, catch a criminal, save a life. People who did these things and looked good doing them were heroes or so I thought.

 

Getting older changed the game. Drink the most beer, pick up the best-looking girl, make the most money. Then, one day as I was near to finishing school it happened.

 

I had heard of phthalidomide before but had never seen a victim of it. A young, healthy man, born without arms, changed me forever. He spoke to our school for an hour, and as he went, he played the saxophone, talked about going to College, and what it was like for people to stare at him everywhere he went.

 

This young man was a true hero. Someone who spread hope. I could hardly even imagine what he had been through. I told my mom that I felt bad that this unfortunate, birth-defected person had done so much while I had done nothing despite that there was nothing wrong with me.

 

Soon after, I dove into a self-improvement kick. I quit drinking, smoking, started working out and retreated into my schoolwork every free moment I had. Somewhere in that process something went desperately wrong. As the pressure built, I kept being harder on myself. I began to slip away from reality.

 

I have no idea what set me off. All I know is that I started to have thoughts and ideas that no rational person would. I gave things away, fell into a deep, dark depression. My mind, my senses were filled with confusion. I was slowly going insane and had no clue what to do about it.

 

One day a friend came to pick me up and I just wasn’t myself. I was nothing like myself in any way. My friend had the presence of mind to take me to a hospital and soon I was given a powerful injection and confined to a seclusion room.

 

I just couldn’t seem to understand that despite that this had never happened before, it would happen again, and would never go away. When they released me, I threw out my pills, and just days after, I picked a fight at school and was taken by police back to that horrible place and was kicked out of school.

 

It took years after that for me to find myself. I ran from my illness. Vancouver, California. Trouble was, I brought my brain with me. Each day was a struggle to keep sane. After another relapse, I finally returned to Edmonton, accepted my diagnosis and took my medication.

 

So much happened over those years. A thousand lifetimes lived and lost in dreaming or reading or trying to find some kind of work I could handle. I was in no condition to deal with stress, sleeping 12 hours a day because of medications. I was dirt poor and there seemed no hope, no future. When I was around 25, after a harsh rejection from a young woman I once cared about, I took a near lethal overdose.

 

I laid in bed for days, and while I was under my dad came by and put twenty dollars under my door. That money was enough to get me a cab to the hospital where I spent five more days in intensive care. I wasn’t supposed to have recovered, but miracles happen, and they happen for a reason.

I left the hospital after seeing how much I hurt my family and friends with a new determination. Life from then on wasn’t perfect, but each moment, each sunrise and sunset was precious. They were borrowed moments, time I would never have had if no one had cared about me.

I still became severely ill. Once while in psychosis, I took a tour of the Legislature Grounds and was so abusive and obnoxious that I was escorted off the grounds. It’s a fact that people with mental illnesses are more often victims of violence than perpetrators of it. The misguided attitude that you can do anything, the poor choices you make are the cause. I needed to be in a hospital, and things were so serious this time I wasn’t let out for six whole months.

Some of you may know the rest of the story. A long incarceration, a longer recovery. A new job spreading the word about stigma and mental illness. Other work teaching Wellness, Recovery, and Creative Writing to people who suffer. The years slid past and here I am. How far have I come? From being kicked out of the Legislature to being given a special recognition by Canadians For a Civil Society to Participate in Human Rights Day in the same Legislature I was kicked out of eighteen years ago. Am I a hero? I couldn’t tell you, but in my long journey of growth and recovery I think I may have come to a point where I have done more good than harm. Thank you.

An Incredible Book About Love, Sex, Feminism, That Everyone Over 16 Should Read

Every Boy I Ever KissedEvery Boy I Ever Kissed by Nellwyn Lampert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an author of numerous books and I am also a single disabled adult. Being disabled, at a certain point in my life, I lost a sense of connection with my generation (generation X, I am now 47). I wanted to read this book because I briefly met the author and found her to be intelligent, polite, and kind enough to ask for information about my own books, and to be honest, the title grabbed me. What resulted after I picked up a copy at my local mall is sheer wonder and amazement. I have read books about ships, about battles, about courtrooms, and on and on and on, but this book takes a bold step and addresses a topic that is intertwined among each and every human being’s story and the author bravely brings it to light.
Nellwyn Lampert’s memoir follows her life categorized by relationships, through an almost ideal life of growing up in a well off family, having a mother who is open and confident. The main character does well in everything she focuses on, and is in a tight-knit group of University Theatre Students for most of the timeline of the book. She does well in everything except in managing her relationships with the opposite sex, never understanding why or how this continues to happen. This book drew me in because I have often wondered, after writing a book about my own youth, what a book about today’s youth would be like. Nellwyn does such an excellent job of explaining how young people are making different choices in a very different world than ours, and reminded me at every turn how hard it can be to grow up and take on the world as a new adult.
The brave and brutally honest story Nellwyn weaves is at times hilarious, and at other times moving and highly emotional. By the end of the book I felt extremely invested in wanting to see her find the peace and understanding she seeks. This book is not about sex, at least not in any way it has been spoken of before in a memoir like this. It has no overdone fantasy erotic stories but what it does do is offers a very unique viewpoint with poignant insights of topics such as equality, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues and so many subjects that have been danced around for years and now finally, bravely taken on at full speed by an incredible up and coming writer.
This book is for the young person who feels unsure of themselves, for the popular party girl who can find sex but not intimacy, and for anyone who wants to reach out into the core of a human being’s inner self and leave changed forever. I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

When Does It Go From Collecting to Hoarding?

Let me try and describe for you a quick look at a harsh reality. It isn’t a pretty one, but one I will have to face up to in the following months as I move further away from that scenario. A room, nothing but a non-ventillated room with a tiny bathroom attached. The room is no more than 10 feet by 15 feet, and inside of it lives a very ill young man presently having medication problems and who is surrounded by a lifetime of possessions. A book case covers one wall, packed full of every kind of book. More books are in the cupboard space instead of food, and more are laying randomly on the floor. The floor is littered with clothes new and old, garbage, full packs of cigarettes, dirty socks, and the odd can of beans or other uncooked, ready to eat food. On every flat surface piles of papers or CDs or other items are stacked beyond a safe height, and inside the fridge there are many items, but none of them are useable. This was my reality before I spent six months in a psychiatric hospital where I wasn’t even allowed to go home to pack my stuff up when I was evicted for displaying the signs of a person with a mental illness.

Sometimes I like to think that back then I wasn’t a hoarder but just a book lover or a music lover. But the plain truth was that I was being choked to death by all of my possessions. I didn’t want to let go of them for any reason. I think it is often the common reason people hoard things is that they feel they have more value than others do, that they can somehow sell them. The idea in my head was that somehow I would read all the books, even though I was consistently buying more books than I could read at that time. Lacking proper space to cook, I was also forced to buy food out or sponge off of my elderly parents which definitely wasn’t sustainable. I think at this time I was a hoarder. I tried an experiment though, a lot of my stuff was put into storage for after my release from hospital, and after spending two years paying for storage I hadn’t once needed to go to get more stuff from there, and I realized that I actually didn’t need any of that stuff. I stopped paying the storage people, they sent me a few nasty letters then auctioned off my things and that was that. The main problem was that I had already begun to accumulate more things.

I have a friend who is definitely a hoarder who lives in a small house stuffed to the rafters with books he will never read, records he will never play and videos he will never watch. At one point he confided with me that when he bought something, it almost gave him a sexual thrill. At first I thought this was a pretty sick thing, but later in years I have heard that many people actually experience this same thing. I think the important thing to understand though is that it is essential to gain awareness of a problem like hoarding, and that there is a great deal of help out there for people to want to change.

It is quite a few years since that incident when I was not only severely mentally ill, but also drowning in more possessions than I needed. What has changed is that I have stabilized on medications, which work well for me, and I have much more space than that tiny little apartment. What I desperately would like to know is if I am still a hoarder.

In the time since that six month hospitalization, I developed an interest in reading comic books. I had once collected them as a child, when I was 10 and I had an impressive collection. Now I don’t read them as much but they have become easy to purchase, I now have thousands more than I ever did, despite that I don’t have a lot of time for reading.

So in all this time since my last hospital admission (19 years) I have fought to find a balance to my life, and I have discovered a movement called minimalism. I find it extremely fascinating, the claims they make are huge though. Get rid of 90% of what you have and you will feel 200% better. Declutter your home and declutter your mind. A lot of it makes sense to me, but I have hit a roadblock. I have this huge collection of comics recently bought and I just don’t know if I can sell the comics at a huge sacrifice, never having taken the time to read them. This surely must be hoarding at its worst, and to break out of the cycle I am going to have to make some really hard decisions. The only way I really know how to deal with it is to read books like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a beautiful book about purging possessions and reorganizing ones’ home. I know it will be difficult, but I think one of the most important things is likely that I shouldn’t worry about getting my money out of the comics. What I really have to focus on is finding a way to force myself not to buy any more, and I am lucky to have a resource in Edmonton that many of us can access with ease, there are graphic novels galore in the Edmonton Public Library. There are actually also a great deal of comics online, but I can’t comment due to lack of knowledge on copyright status and such. One of the wonderful things about the computer age is that it almost seems all one needs is a decent computer and only the very essential necessities of life and you can make it.

There are some truly encouraging reasons to embrace minimalism. The idea that one can either lower the amount they work without worry or work like they did before but be able to save much more, save for things in life that truly matter, like a life-changing vacation or being able to take your spouse out for a special meal at a fancy restaurant you enjoy more often. For me, as I sit at my desk writing this now, all I can think about is what it will be like when the clutter and papers of my work space are cleared and I can think of nothing but writing. I have also been thinking that if I use some of the space in my apartment differently there is no reason why I can’t hold onto my comics, but the essential thing I think is for me not to buy any more, so I have been trying to read up and listen to podcasts on living with less.

Last week I went into kind of a cleaning frenzy. I took all my clothes, piled them up on my futon, then got rid of each and every stitch of fabric that I wasn’t using or didn’t give me immediate joy. I was going to move on to do more this weekend but Edmonton has been hit with a brutal snowstorm and temperature drop which has made it impractical for me to complete my scheduled purge. Books are next. This is going to be the hardest part of it all I think, I have loved books since I was very young, but I think I should go easy on myself and include books but not comic books. I have this idea that I can simply pare down my comic collection to a manageable amount, but the truth is no matter which way I do it, this can become a very emotional time for a person who has had a lot of stuff for a long time. One thing I do know is that changing the way you view possessions, and not letting what you have define what kind of person you are, is so worth it.

Habits and Those With Poor Mental Health Conditions Like Schizophrenia and Bipolar

Has anyone out there read the classic work “The Gambler” by I think Dosteyovski? It tells the tale of a man so obsessed by gambling that he plots to murder his landlady. I won’t ruin it for you because the whole point in bringing it up is that it portrays an incredibly accurate depiction of a compulsive gambler. I myself was a compulsive gambler for some time, and not only was I totally sure I suffered from this affliction, I also understood that it comes along with the manic side of my bipolar disorder, which is a part of my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I could abstain for long stretches, then all at once I would have a severe compulsion and an almost unfailing faith that I would walk out of the casino with more money than I walked in with. Despite making my own computer programs to test my winning strategies and being something of a former math whiz, I would put money in, perhaps win a little at first and then chase my losses until I had nothing. But this hasn’t been my only addiction.

As a young kid, I had an addiction to comic books. I would work myself to death to try and accumulate as many as I could, and even when I got older and stopped reading them, I would often have dreams about still having the literature hidden in my parent’s closet. I simply could not get enough, even when my parents told me no more comics. Then at 14, I started to smoke cigarettes. That was an addiction that took me 18 years to quit.

Perhaps one of the most damaging of my addictions was alcohol. I found it was that magic elixir that would loosen the chains of my anxiety and remove inhibitions. When I was drunk I could meet girls, dance, do whatever I wanted and even if I got into a fight or got beat up for my stupidity while drinking it didn’t hurt that much.

And now I am trying something new, something that is on the edges of anything I ever tried. I want to take all of my possessions and minimize them and somehow stop fixating on getting better clothes, better furniture, better video games. Even though I am 47 I am finding that there are some professional development courses I would love to take but the money just isn’t there and the rules of having the government sponsor a person for part-time learning have changed.

With all of these addictions, I am trying very hard to find a way to not just cope with the ones I have, but to try and avoid getting any more. I met a young man of 33 yesterday who was homeless and addicted to Fentynal. He likely won’t survive the winter unless he can get lucky enough to be put in jail. That is a very scary thing for me to consider, especially when I consider that there isn’t that much difference between him and I other than that I am much older and less able to bounce back from something of that nature.

When I was in a 12-step program years ago, my now-departed sponsor told me once that when you apply the steps of abstinence in your life, you don’t have a cure for your addiction, you have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of your spiritual condition. He also said that when we abstain, if we don’t deal with whatever personality trait or flaws that caused us to become addicted to something, our illness can manifest itself in other ways.

Clean and purge is all I can manage for now. I do plan to keep a bible and a few books that have meaning for me, but I would like to get to the stage of relying on the library instead of buying and accumulating more and more books. Maybe when I get myself down to the bare bones and can focus on the thing I love the most (writing) I will have enough to not just deal with my addictions, but to really turn myself into a better person all around. I have so little control of my mental health situation. All I can really do is take my medications as prescribed and talk to my nurse and doctor as often as they want me to. I know for a fact that on a fixed income if I can slow down consumption of things such as diet pop (one of my new addictions), purchase of comic books (an affliction that has come back to me) and buying books, I will likely be more able to take care of myself. One of the best things I have found when I want to make an effort to stop a habit is simply to not allow myself to think of the subject. If I have to get off the bus a stop early to walk around a bar that has gambling machines I will. If I have to not go near the mall to not be tempted to buy new clothes, I will do it. And the one thing, the one magical thing that I can always do for myself is as simple as picking up a book, just an interesting book. Reading is such magic, it takes a person to another world, it takes a person inside the mind of the author, it gives a writer a whole new world to create with total omnipresence. Thanks for reading my blog, I couldn’t be a writer if people out there in the world didn’t read my work.

Finding Your Passion, Your Creativity

 

Something I have become aware of in the past few years is that it seems everyone, but especially those who have a mental illness, have something that engages them, something that fulfills them. For me it has been photography, which can be rewarding for everyone, but often people’s passions start earlier in their lives than mine did. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until I was around thirty and better and more reliable digital cameras came out. I had tried taking pictures, I had even taken two photography courses, one in school and another in cadets, and it always just frustrated me. I would load the film wrong, I would take pictures and not have the extra money to have them developed or I would wait too long to have them developed. Now, photography to me is an amazing hobby because I don’t need film, I just need a camera memory card and I can load the pictures onto my computer and fool around with the light and colours and even the composition.

I ran into something very interesting the other day, I was in a class and I found it hard to keep my attention on what was being talked about. There were also breaks and blank spaces in the day that I felt a little bit resentful about because I had nothing to do. Then I noticed the person beside me had taken a sheet of an adult colouring book out and had started the long process of colouring in pieces of it with a ball point pen. I took a sheet for myself and started to do the same thing and it was almost like magic. I was fully engaged in colouring, but I was still able to hear and understand everything being said in the class. I have never really seen myself as much of an artistic person, at least not in the case of drawing things with my hand, but there was a time years ago when my dad, who was a sign writer, asked me to come and help him get some patterns of signs that he needed to recreate. At the time, I often fought with my dad and I hate to say it but had a low opinion of him. I felt the things he did for a living to be something beneath me, but still part of me wanted to do things with my dad, we had a glimmer of the special father-son relationship we used to have when I was much smaller. Anyhow, what he needed me to do was to take a ladder, climb up to where “no entry” signs had been posted and using special thin paper, trace out the whole sign. I wish I could describe it better, but really when I did this, I thought it was pure magic. At that age, I mostly did two things, I delivered pizza and I was a student. But now, I was an active part of something, and I was actually creating something useful. As I carefully sketched out the outlines of the sign, I had such a feeling of personal accomplishment. It was a time in my life I will never forget.

Not all that long after that, I was having severe mental health difficulties and ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I was very young to be there, I had just turned 18, and there was another person there my age who seemed to be something of an odd fit to the situation as well. One afternoon, when there was absolutely nothing to do but watch television, something I mostly hate doing, this young person and I sat down and he showed me how to sketch a tiger or a lion. As the task took over all my concentration and effort, he said to me, “See, now it’s like we’re not in a mental hospital anymore.” and it really wasn’t. Over the years I have tried to engage myself with similar things, but I still kind of feel that drawing, painting, visual art is not my best choice, though as I said it can get a person through some pretty tough times. I have found writing. When I feel a day is slipping away from me and I have accomplished nothing, I can come here and write a blog. When I want to feel I am doing something useful and worthwhile, I will sit down and plan out and write a first draft of a short story or a poem.

Basically dear readers, I don’t want to nail you down to any one activity that will be a catch-all for your problems. What I do want to suggest is that you find something that engages you, takes all your concentration and personal skills. For some it could be building a wooden chair or desk. For others it could be working with stained glass or drawing a cartoon. If you don’t already have something like this in your life, find a book that will teach you the basics of something you feel would be interesting. Work through it, find others that do the same kind of things, be it gardening or even simply reading or writing poetry. Try and stick with it, and before you know it you will have a long list of happy memories, and you will have gotten yourself through some difficult times. I know it has worked that way for me.

 

 

Relationships for Those With a Mental Illness: They Can Be a Godsend or a Disaster

One of the difficult things about being a writer of the type I most enjoy being is that you need to be honest with yourself and your readers or you are simply wasting everyone’s time. I have written two memoirs which have done reasonably well in local sales and the odd trip I took. I even managed, for you Manitoba readers to get my works into the Winnipeg Public Library. In my memoirs, you will be able to look into my ‘soul’ as it were as I experience loneliness and severe depression which developed into bipolar disorder, then later schizoaffective disorder. It was a nightmare really, and the worst of it all was how it affected other people in my life. When I first got sick, my dad, who I fought with constantly was in tears every time he thought of me locked up in a psychiatric hospital, not making sense, completely insane.

I know things were extremely hard on my mother as well because she was in University trying to get herself a teaching degree and she not only had a serious bowel condition, she had unexplained seizures, most likely from the stress of exams and the fact that her youngest child was now labelled and certified crazy. Still, to me, that wasn’t the worst of it. I was a very athletic and possibly attractive young man when I first got sick. All through high school different girls had tried to get my attention, but I also suffered from severe anxiety at the time and shied away from having girlfriends, though I did go on a few dates. After I got sick though, my mind made up a lot of things. I was extremely delusional, and having hallucinations that were incredibly real. These delusions formed a new kind of reality for me to experience in which I thought women could be seduced with the wink of an eye and that everyone I knew, even the married couples played around. Where the crux of it came was when I was out of the hospital for a short time and I went out with the intention of getting as drunk as I could, and had been given instructions to ‘go out and get laid’ by just going to a random bar and picking up a girl. This was so completely unlike me that I literally had no clue. I remember going into one nightclub where there were a lot of really gorgeous women. I don’t doubt if I had the experience and skill that the average run of the mill pick up artist does, I likely could have gone to a hotel or something with a girl I met there. But instead, there was a young woman who I hadn’t seen since junior high in the bar, a young woman who was extremely kind to me and very extremely attractive and she made a big deal out of seeing me to her friend. That was enough. That embedded an image in my subconscious mind, it was kind of a dream come true. But she wasn’t what my delusions eventually made her out to be. Shortly after that I was in the psychiatric hospital and thoughts and voices kept telling me she was going to help me, that she would take me to top psychiatrists in Switzerland in a private jet, that she had billions of dollars and nothing in the world was out of my grasp. Part of me knew I was delusional, that all this was false. Still, the memory of her, at the height of her beauty built an intricate conglomeration of false ideas that were supported by my hallucinations. Over the years when I would get extremely ill or lonely I would write to her. I somehow wanted to be charged with something so that I could hear in person what was going on and I could get rid of the incessant voices and delusional thoughts. On the positive side, medication made me better, but this young woman would never talk to me again. A few years ago I tried to explain to my nurse/therapist that I couldn’t seem to avoid these thoughts and I wanted to find out if there was a way to deal with them. She somehow thought I wanted to contact her and resume this so-called relationship and she nearly shouted at me saying she could be married with children by now (which from what I understand she is). I felt pretty shitty about what she said, and so when I had a chance, I went to talk to my psychiatrist and told him about the letters and the obsession, and that I thought I was a stalker and wanted help. There wasn’t much help he could give me except to say that if I were a stalker I wouldn’t have come to him to ask for help. That made me feel a lot better.

What doesn’t make me feel better is when I find someone I can relate to who I find attractive and we get along really well, and it seems they misunderstand and greatly fear anyone with my diagnosis. I was what I thought a good friend with a woman I worked with a few years ago and I really thought we had something. I loved her company, she was funny and sweet, she even seemed to really care when the smallest thing happened to me. Then all of a sudden one day I confronted her over something and she said she had only stayed friends with me because she didn’t know what I would do if she stopped. What really got to me was that she wasn’t worried about me harming myself, she was worried about me harming her, something I could never think of doing. Even the woman mentioned above who was in junior high with me is totally insulated, from me by my choice. I don’t know where she lives, I don’t ever see her, and if I do happen by a female from a failed attempt at a relationship, my anxiety just about paralyses me.

What is hardest I think is that I do have a fairly good image of myself, but it is one that is so easily crushed. I suppose some people could consider me pathetic if they wanted to get their digs in me, but the truth is I don’t even know if I should try and get into a relationship at 47 at all because with my bipolar and anxiety and symptoms of schizophrenia, it just may ruin me. When I was a teenager, I went through so many crippling depressions, and during one period of them my mind was stuck on a young woman I met in camp. I eventually stopped calling her around age 16, then out of the blue contacted her on my 20th birthday. We talked a lot and it seemed we got along so well. Then, at the worst possible time of my whole life my delusional thinking came back and I even hallucinated that her and I had a relationship that was more than just friends. She got scared and cut off all contact. I didn’t understand at first but later she told me she did that because she thought I was a psychopath (I have psychosis, but a psychopath is someone born without a conscience) That was the last I ever talked to her, and it took me seemingly forever to get over it. One of the weird things is that I run into a lot of rejection for various reasons. There was a friend of a friend who I met and wanted to hang out with and one day the friend who knew her said for him to not bring me over to her house because she didn’t want to associate with someone as old as her father. It was true, but it was just one of those times your age kicks you in the teeth. There is more, a lot more. Anyone interested, I encourage you to read my memoirs. If you can’t afford a copy, you would do me a huge favour to request your library bring in my two memoirs, “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane” which can be found at amazon.com find links to these and other books by me under ‘books’ on the main page.

Ciao

Leif Gregersen

The Greatest Enemy of Good Mental Health is Isolation for those With Schizophrenia or Bipolar/Unipolar Disorders

This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.

What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.

I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.

Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at viking3082000@yahoo.com with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.

Psychiatric Patients Can be Tormented by Negative Memories Along with Delusions, Hallucinations and Paranoia

I live in the city pictured above, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the moment the weather is ideal (aside from a lot of rain this year) but it isn’t always the healthiest climate for recovery. A few years back, I was in the hospital for a month on two separate occasions, and wanting to enjoy the summer weather, I sat outside my apartment on a picnic bench, and a young child while hiding himself was yelling insults at me. This of course is a common thing for young children, but I found it extremely disturbing at the time and felt it was directed at me.

Feeling insults and threats were directed at me is also something not new and not always valid. Before my last hospital visit, I was having extreme problems with paranoia, delusions and hallucinations due to a new medication not working properly. It really can be extremely difficult to function when this sort of thing is going on, difficult to leave the house or to work. I actually got to the point where I thought the people next door to me were laughing and directing insults and threats at me that I recorded what I thought were the remarks on my cell phone to play it for my building manager. She listened to it and couldn’t hear a thing. I remember thinking, and saying that something was very seriously wrong.

One thing I want to note here is that a person’s first few years with a diagnosis of an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar can be very difficult, but statistics show that you can bounce back, that most people do bounce back. The most important thing I feel at this point is just not to isolate yourself. You may be unable to stay with your parents or a sibling as a helper and caregiver, but it would be really positive if you had a roommate. I remember getting an excellent suggestion that I put up a notice at the University in the psychology department telling the truth, that I had a mental illness, and asking for a student to share a room. I didn’t end up going through with it, but still it was a pretty good idea.

I wanted to talk a little today about resentments. All of us have times in our past where we were pushed around or bullied, hurt, taken advantage of. Sadly that is not just the normal for people with mental illnesses, but for most people in general. I remember my junior high days being filled with beatings from the biggest kid in school, for no better reason than I was the one he needed to prove he was tougher than. The fact is, and I myself am guilty for this, you can’t continue to live your life and constantly look back at regrets.

There are a couple of ways of looking at times when people hurt or wronged you. These incidents often play themselves over and over through your head, and when you have psychosis, they can actually change in your memories to be even more disturbing and troubling. One of the ways I have recently discovered to help deal with feelings like this which was suggested to me a long time ago was to take all of your anger and hurt and put it into an exercise like swimming or lifting weights, really push yourself to your limits and let the anger loose. I haven’t always agreed with this, but I know that it makes you feel a lot better and has many healthful side benefits.

Another way of looking at thinking about those in the past who hurt us is that we are literally letting them rent free space in our heads. In the end, we have control over how we see things, we have control over how we let them affect us. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to enact this control. One of the best ways to learn is to participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but that can be expensive and time consuming. Still, it gives proven results. Look into places you can get this kind of therapy on a sliding scale, or perhaps even join a group therapy session.

The next way of dealing with these thoughts is something I didn’t really event, but I seemed to discover it on my own as a teenager. I was a smoker and I hated what it did to my health and really wanted to quit. My most successful attempt at quitting came when I used a psychological method of distracting myself from my cravings. One of the big motivators for people in their teens is attraction and desire, so what I did was whenever I wanted to light up a cigarette, I would indulge myself in putting thoughts and images in my head regarding a young woman I really liked. Although I started again later, this was very nearly a successful result that ended up taking 17 more years and professional help to deal with.

So, some of those methods can help get the thoughts out of your head or distract you so you don’t dwell too much on one thing, but I also wanted to describe one of the best things you can do for your mind and your brain. It is meditation, and I make no apologies that I have talked about it before. It is such a simple, though not always easy thing to do. You need to have some quiet time and space, unless you are fortunate to have a class or monastery available where you can learn, and all you really do is focus and breathe. You simply try to clear out your head, and think of nothing. This can be difficult at first, but as you practise meditation more, it will become easier. You breathe in and count one, breathe out and count two. You try to count to ten without being distracted or thinking of something else, which will happen many times, but just gently guide yourself back to not thinking and start again from one. There are many books on meditation, and also many resources like apps. I even once owned a virtual reality headset that had a ‘game’ where you could go to one of 12 destinations and just be alone to think and let your positive thoughts grow and negative thoughts go away. With that, I hope all of you can find peace and enjoyment in your lives, be you caregivers or people who suffer from mental illnesses, all the best!

Are There Alternatives to Psychiatric Medication?

 

What a beautiful summer day to lie in the grass and watch a soccer game. When I was younger, I really didn’t factor in the fact that your body decays (in most people) as you get older. I had read a few articles about people in their 80s running marathons, and athletes having comebacks at 50. I started to decline a long time ago, and it likely had to do a lot more with my bull-headedness not wanting to listen to advice like not running in excess of 5 miles, not running on pavement, getting proper shoes for every type of exercise. That was the beginning, I destroyed my knees at the age of 20 years old. But what really got to me was not just this disability, it was also the medications I took. They made me drowsy, lazy. They made my hands shake and messed with my balance. Getting through this was one of the more difficult times of my life. I was good at a few sports as a youngster, I was a decent basketball player, but for all of my teen years I was a smoker which made this nearly impossible. I also loved to play pool, going to the pool hall every morning instead of the second half of my Law 30 class. I dreamed about one day having a pool table at home, and I think I could have been on my way. But medications derailed me. What could I do?

Medications have gotten better since then, and I even know of a few people who take what I do and it works for them and also their hands don’t shake at all. I really don’t ever want to recommend people to go off medication, but there are instances where a person can be on too much, a Doctor can usually spot this in a moment. This is why sometimes it is useful to get a second opinion, especially when you find your medication side effects debilitating. My mom, near the end of her life, was on a lot of medications, but my parents put a lot of faith in her psychiatrist. It hurts to think she could have had a better mental state or a better quality of life if she had been on less. One thing I want to emphasize is that in her final years, she would never miss a psychologist’s appointment because in her mind and my dad’s, that was the only treatment that helped anything.

There are two sides to this coin, one is that I have encountered (and I am no therapist or doctor) studies that said therapy alone is better than medication alone. Of course as I said, I don’t recommend going off meds, but if you can somehow combine your treatment there are chances of feeling better than you are now and any time healthy means you are headed towards a time when new and ‘better’ medication can be developed. My former Psychiatrist, an amazing man named Bishop, whenever I asked about a new medication he would say that what I had was working well, he didn’t like tinkering with people who were doing well, but left it up to me, emphasizing the question, “do you want to take a chance at going back where you were?” Well, for me that was no option. Last time before I saw that doctor that I had been in the hospital I was in a terrible state, being beligerent and abusive, deluded into thinking the world revolved around me and having people respond in kind with everything from flat out insults and threats to a severe beating from a guy who didn’t like the way I crossed the street. No, I did not want to go back there.

Some time later, with a doctor that my old doctor recommended, a decision was made to try a newer medication, and I got very ill and spent a month in the hospital–after I had worked so incredibly hard to build my life back and show stability and such. All at once I was delusional and paranoid to the extreme again. Sadly, this is something anyone with a mental illness must come to expect and prepare for. For more information, look into something called “The Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP. They have an app for phones that allow you to outline things like trigger warnings, ways to help with symptoms and more. The app is based on a course that I found very helpful, and attribute my quick recovery from the relapse of my condition too. It also helped that I had gained a great deal of knowledge about my condition, perhaps mostly by being a part of the Schizophrenia Society.

So, today’s blog is getting pretty long, I will sum things up and try to explain more in a future blog. First off, look into funding or affordable therapy. In Edmonton there are even free therapists as I am sure you can find in any major Canadian city. You drop in, fill out a form, and wait and see someone confidentially who is qualified. But this is a quick fix. When you find you care stable enough, I recommend things like the WRAP course and others, but I also recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Just as a warning though, I believe they state that it takes a commitment of around 16 (if I remember correctly) sessions to read benefits. If you are having any problems finding resources, please email me and I will see if I can help connect you. Look for services you are insured for, and also for services operated on a sliding scale. I once spoke to a hospital counsellor after my mom passed and she wanted me to pay $20 or $30 a session, not so much because she needed the money, but she wanted to make sure I was able to commit and consider my treatment a priority.

I will just sum up and say, if you are having mental health difficulties, first try and contact your psychiatrist, then any psychiatrist, then a medical doctor, learn all you can about your illness, get active in learning (books) and groups (Wrap and many others). Find out all you can about your medications, then find out about counselling. And don’t worry if you seem to take one step forward and two back in your mental health journey, we all have good days and bad days.

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Link to my first memoir:

Through the Withering Storm