Author: edmontonwriter

I am a poet and writer of prose

The Scourge Of Mental Illness Stigmal and the Ways it Can Affect Those With Bipolar and Schizophrenia

To me, the idea of flight always seemed to symbolize freedom. I saw this in many ways, one of them in which I envisioned myself as the pilot of a plane. I even took some training and went to Commercial Pilot’s School when I was younger before I had a mental breakdown and had to stop. Other ways could easily be explained in some of the writings of Richard Bach, perhaps best in the short work, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. There have been so many times, most of them right in the city I live in, when I felt some negative feelings or had low self-esteem for a moment and would just stop and take some time out to watch birds in flight. Even the lowly gulls and magpies had such incredible amounts of skill that it surprised me their brains were in such tiny areas of their body. The other way is also about a dream that came true for me, when I was able to board a plane and fly to London, England. This has been a dream of mine since I went there the first time. As a kid, I even went to the post office and asked how much it would have cost to mail a package suspiciously the weight of a 12-year-old to England. It was thoughts like these, those quests for new heights of achievement, new realizations of goals I never imagined I would reach that kept me going through the difficult times.

I don’t know if I have written much about the hardest times when I was last in the psychiatric hospital. There was so much time spent not just locked up in a small ward, but also locked into an empty room, screaming, swearing, kicking, pounding my fists in opposition to the way I was being treated, which likely only made them feel that I did belong in an isolation room even more than they initially thought. When I was in there, I kept one idea firm in my head: this would pass. This would happen, but it will end. There were times I wished I could have found a way to kill myself to make the pain stop, times when things seemed to overwhelmingly impossible to deal with that I broke down in tears, but somehow I knew it would end.

It is funny, but in my last hospital stay, I was transferred out of the locked ward and put in a less intense one and there was a woman who talked about living in an apartment and having a friend come over each and every night to have tea with her and talk/visit. That small bit of solace, that image of having just one friend nearby was something that hadn’t really ever happened to me–until recently. There is a young woman my age that lives in my building and we have become friends, and we talk over a cup of tea just about every night. In so many of my previous apartments, the other people in the building never came over for a visit, or did come over once and never came back. It is a funny thing, but I encourage people with mental health issues to find housing where there are many others with similar issues to yours. The big thing about that is that when you put two people together that both deal with all the struggles and difficulties of depression or mania or schizophrenia, there is simply no stigma, they can relate on a very important level. That is why organizations like AA work, that is why a lot of psychologists put an emphasis on group therapy.

Stigma affects just about anyone with a mental illness, and even effects those who work in the field and have family members with an illness. My dad told me once that back when he was younger, in the 1940s I think he meant, if a family had a child who had a mental illness, they would build a special room for them and either lock them in there permanently or whenever they acted up. This sounds so incredibly inhumane, but my first reaction to this was to think of how terrible it feels to be in a psychiatric hospital separated from friends and family. I can recall years back when I first spent time in Alberta Hospital and later when I was in the same place and others, that I could go a very long time without having any visitors, and when I was lucky enough to have a visitor, it would be my dad who, sadly, I didn’t get along with all that well when I was younger. I can remember getting my first apartment and then getting my very own phone and thinking that as soon as I plugged it in I would get all kinds of calls from old girlfriends or people I grew up with who lived in the suburbs of the city I had moved to at the time. After having the phone about a week it finally rang–and on the other end was an incredibly abusive and hostile credit collection agent. It was so bad that during that time I had so few calls from anyone I actually wanted to talk to that I would answer the phone by yelling into it. Once or twice, when the collections people called about my student loan or student credit card that I received for a course I could no longer physically attend, I would deny that I was the person they were looking for. Of course I was lying my face off, but it was fun to confuse these people not knowing whether or not I was a fair target for their abuse. Then one day they got smart and had an attractive sounding young woman call and in a very positive voice she politely asked for me by name. When I said it was me, she put me on hold and in seconds a vile, abusive and hateful collection agent was put on the line again. For a minute I had thought this was one of those people that I had spent my entire life around in my suburban home from age 0-18 who actually wanted to get ahold of me. I think that was around the point I had my phone disconnected and went and bought a roll of quarters so I could use the payphone down the block. It really surprised me that seemingly no one at all that I had grown up with had any interest in contacting me, even my former best friends. The pain and loneliness I went through at that time was immense.

There are so many ways that stigma can effect people. At first, when I was officially labelled, a lot of the stigma came from right between my two ears. I had done some things that I felt awful about. One of them was to pick a fight with a guy who had really done me no other wrong than laugh at me while I was in a vulnerable state of mind. That situation led to me being arrested in my high school and resisting arrest when I learned that I was being taken out of my school in front of each and every member of my peer group. All my thoughts and actions were so confused. For some reason I followed a girl around my school and I don’t know what it made her think. And lastly, and perhaps worst, I was in the mall in my home town and my voices or delusions somehow made me think I was supposed to accompany a girl at the mall to her home. I walked with her and for some reason she didn’t say a word. If at any time I thought she didn’t want me there I would have left, but I got no indication. Then, without any more words, her and I got in the van of the person who was giving her a ride. I looked over and the poor girl looked terrified, and was soon in tears. I realized that I had been deluded by voices or whatever was going on in my head and so when the van stopped I got out and as I closed the door I heard the young person burst into tears. This is perhaps the greatest regret I have to this day. At the time my guilt was so severe that I had made a decision to join the army, and volunteer to be sent to the Persian Gulf where I hoped I would be killed. I began intensive training to get myself fit enough to join the military, running countless miles each day and lifting weights in between working a warehouse job. My own self-stigma was eating me alive. I pushed myself so hard I got what I would almost describe as a second disability, my knees were mostly destroyed from too much running.

The sad thing about all of this is not that I hurt my knees or any of that, it is that all my life I had been conditioned to shun, stigmatize, insult, and perhaps even fear those who were mentally ill. Everything from Fred Flintstone cartoons to stories in Batman comics about the insane, obsessed Joker gave me a very unrealistic image of mentally ill people. If, four years before the above incidents happen, I had been able to accept a diagnosis and medications to treat it, there would have been almost no question at all of me being ill at the age of 18. I might have even had a youth that I could look back on as being pleasant, not wracked with loneliness and depression. My worst enemy in all this? Myself. The stigma towards mental illness I had towards myself.

Well, dear readers, that is quite a bit for today. I want to thank all of you for following me. All I can really say is that there are many more to come. I am consulting with others now to make a complete book of essays on my knowledge and experience, and some of them will be based on these blog entries. For now, I just hope you like my writing on this blog enough to share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter. It is the support of people who get something out of my words that keeps this blog going. I don’t actually make any money, but I get rewards when I hear from those who read this and they say it has helped them in some way. Best wishes,

Leif Gregersen

The Last Big Battle: Stigma and the Psychiatric Patient

One of the hardest things to explain to a lot of people who are not working and on meds is the great joy one can get waking up early to watch the sun come up. This photo was taken on one such morning as I returned home from the swimming pool.

 

Mental Health Stigma:

I don’t know, but a lot of people may think I spend quite a bit of time talking about stigma. Perhaps it would be useful to first explain what I think stigma is, and then with some firm groundwork it will be easier to understand. The dictionary definition of stigma is, “A mark of disgrace on a person because of a particular trait or quality.” Sorry if you lost me there, that is just paraphrasing. My own experience of having stigma towards mentally ill people came to me while I was in the psychiatric hospital. I had been there before, just never as a patient. My mom had spent quite a bit of time on the hospital ward that I, 14 at the time, was now a patient in. And older man, likely not much older than I now am, approached me and wanted to give me some friendly advice. He didn’t say anything mean or get angry, he was truly trying to be helpful, but as he spoke to me, a large stream of drool came out of his mouth. This scared the life out of me. What if I would end up like this man? It could have easily have happened, and drooling is a side effect of many medications, but my own idea that I could ‘end up’ like this man was very skewed because right away I blamed my parents as they were the ones that put me there. I didn’t blame myself as being so difficult to deal with that I had to be there, I blamed them. I still remember telling my dad about this man and being nearly in tears. I think this is a good example of people in society in general and how they feel about mental illness, even a good example as to how irrational assumptions and mistaken prejudices cause stigma.

Of course there is much more to stigma than that, but fortunately times are changing. I would like to use homosexuality as an example. It is no longer cool to single out people because they are effeminate. Only the crudest of people use words like ‘gay’ when trying to describe a negative quality of something. This was not the case just a short while ago. I have a movie I really enjoy, it is a Clint Eastwood film called “Heartbreak Ridge”. The movie would have been a complete bomb if it weren’t for the incredible insults and funny lines that came out of Clint Eastwood’s mouth as he played the role of a Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. The odd thing? That this movie was made in 1986 (approximately) and had so many derogatory things to say about homosexuality. A movie like that now likely wouldn’t have even been made. In the film, something that seems to drive Clint’s humour is to constantly refer to his ‘men’ as ‘ladies’, to give them insulting names like one soldier whose name was Fergetti, which Clint changed to ‘Fag-hetti’. These days, we have gay pride parades attended by politicians who have no fear of being labelled, but in fact applauded for standing up to homophobia. I am often reminded of a teacher who taught me, my brother, my sister, and many of my friends who I dearly loved in junior high as the best teacher I had ever known, who in recent years came out and I now feel no differently about him, though if I had known as a teen I may have felt differently. The cool thing I am getting at is that things are changing. Now, there is even a gay character in Archie comics.

When you turn back the clock some more, you will end up in the time when a similar stigma or ignorance was around over cancer. In the 60s, and before, people didn’t talk about cancer, it just wasn’t mentioned. When this began to change, more people were willing to get checked out and more of those same people were treated at stages where more could be done, and more people gave donations towards research. Sadly, mental illness is one of those things that in many ways still remains ‘in the closet’.

It almost seems sometimes that our society, our media, our entire culture is dedicated to labelling and ostracizing those who are suffering from mental illness. A quick look through a comic book (I am a huge Archie comics fan) from just a few years back will find references all over to “crazy” behaviour, people needing to be taken to the “funny farm” as though they were problems as real and destructive and the bubonic plague. The fact is that mental illness is not a communicable disease, and it is much more common that people realize. The fact that it is not talked about people fear it a great deal.

Stigma can affect people in so many ways. I always wonder whether or not I can tell an employer or a co-worker or just about anyone related to my working life about my illness. There have been many, many times when I applied for jobs and didn’t get them possibly because I was honest about my mental illness. There are two things that can be done to combat these situations, one is that my mental illness is not something I am required to disclose to an employer, and if I can prove that I was discriminated against I could have grounds for a lawsuit. The sad fact is that, especially in the Province of Alberta, many employers simply don’t care and the law is slanted to their side regardless.

One of the things that I like to try and get people to consider is what I am like when I am extremely ill. People will see me misunderstanding things, acting on information that is false, saying and doing strange things. But never will I have any desire to hurt or harm anyone. It is much more likely that when I have delusions I see myself as some kind of Spiderman or Batman figure, someone who is mandated to help others. Something I feel is important to note here is how incredibly disturbing it can be to have a mental illness and be in active psychosis. I have these recollections of my illness completely inventing things said by others, and having things said on the TV or the radio tell me that I am some movie star or hero when in fact I am so debilitated by my delusions that I can hardly even move. So basically, stigma is destructive to a large percentage of our population (one in five people are believed to have a mental health struggle in their lifetimes), it causes the illness to get worse, just as homophobia never made the world a better place or hushing up things like cancer only hampered progress and treatment.

So if you are reading this and you don’t have a mental illness, I strongly urge you to try and understand more about mental illness and those who suffer from it. A lot of ignorance even exists in treatment centres where people with mental health problems need to go when they are ill. If you are a person with a mental illness, I would not only love to hear from you and your own experiences with your illness (viking3082000@yahoo.com) but I would encourage you to become an advocate, to speak up for those who are unable to speak. This could be done by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, by gently confronting those who say things that are insensitive to your situation and setting them straight, or even just by being a good friend to others you know who suffer and visiting them in the hospital when they need to be there. If you have a favourite comic book, TV show or any other type of media and you notice as I did that they make inappropriate use of terms like ‘crazy’ or such terms, contact them. Google them and send them an email. Never in history has the individual who is willing to stand up for what is right had so much ability to influence the world. And dear reader, keep reading this blog and support (financially and personally) organizations like your local Schizophrenia Society or mental health organization.

A Whole Bunch of Mental Health Recovery Philosophy and Self Care Wisdom

Well, this is downtown Edmonton again. In days long gone there was an old woman who was known far and wide as the “got a quarter” lady who was once immortalized in an oil painting. This woman was the very definition of a downtown icon. There was also a man who was a street corner preacher who could often be upsetting and somewhat hostile. Now, more and more the downtown core is either steel and glass office towers or another added condominium complex. My big question as I see old buildings get torn down and expensive new ones opening up is, where do all the homeless, the jobless, the hungry, and especially the mentally ill go? The hospitals haven’t gotten any bigger, actually one of them, the famous “Charles Camsell” hospital was shut down and is now being redone as apartments. Despite all these new buildings, affordable housing is at a premium and the agencies that offer housing and care are fewer and farther between. I am so fortunate to live in subsidized and supported housing, but I often wonder where I could go if I ever had to leave here.

Regardless, there are more important things to discuss. I am happy to report that my transition from my once every two weeks’ injection has been successfully changed to invega, which only needs to be administered every four weeks. I am also getting used to my diabetes medication, Metformin which at first made me weak and dizzy. I feel that anyone who has a hard time taking medications really should try them for at least 3 or even 6 months. It is amazing what kind of changes can go on in that amount of time, our bodies can be extremely adaptable.

As far as my insomnia has been going, it has improved. I was sleeping on my new futon and had no idea that my back just wasn’t prepared for a firm mattress. I have gone back to sleeping on my good old Salvation Army $500 pillow top mattress and I have been getting such a great sleep. I was a little worried for a while because I had been using some mild sedatives to get me to sleep for a while, but now that I have gone back to my own bed things have normalized.

I don’t know how many writers there are out there who read my blog, but I do think that anyone who has mental health issues, and also for that matter, anyone period, should keep a journal of their thoughts, ideas, and general progress towards their goals in life. For example, something I have learned by keeping a journal is that taking my medications at the same time each day, as in 5:00am and 9:00pm is much more beneficial than taking them when I wake up or when I go to sleep. One of the reasons this is so much better and has afforded me a much improved quality of life is that when I get up at 5:00am I can have some time to myself, do some reading or some writing, and then go for a walk to a swimming pool or something like that and then have an entire day ahead of me. Getting into synch with the world outside my apartment has given me the ability to work part-time on a regular basis, make connections and make friends I never would have met, and literally publish 11 books in a short amount of time. I am also pretty positive that my medications work a lot better on my symptoms when I take them like this.

The other thing I wanted to discuss can be something hard to do, but it can be incredibly beneficial to a person with a diagnosis of a mental health issue, be it OCD or bipolar or schizoaffective disorder. It is all about having a friend. For some, especially those who are ‘shut in’ their homes, a pet can be the only friend they have. This is great, and I don’t knock this at all, but having a person you can do things with, go places, watch out for each other is something I consider almost an essential survival tool. Where do you meet people to be friends with these days? I used to meet a lot of people at 12-step meetings, but I think this can be an extremely bad idea. Not to knock the meetings, they do incredible good for a lot of people who couldn’t find any other way to get it, but in my own experience these people can be very controlling, aggressive, and often abusive. I don’t want to discuss any identities, but I will say I had two close friends I met in meetings that I should have ran away from screaming if I knew what they would do to me eventually.

I think one of the best first steps to finding friends is to get involved in a local schizophrenia society or mental health organization. This can be really difficult if you live in a smaller community, but if you are reading this it means you have access to a computer, which means you can access online resources. You can go to Youtube and learn about your illness, cognitive behavioural therapy, and look up your medications. Having knowledge of these things will help you in dealing with your own illness, and it will also give you a chance to one day give back to others who could easily be unknowingly suffering from a mental illness. I do know also that all of the resources that the Schizophrenia Society branch I work for are online as well, including podcasts, support groups, and more. Lastly, if you can afford it or if you can find a practitioner who works on a sliding scale, you can actually get counselling over the computer. As a last side note, there are many 12-step meetings online as well. Anyone who would like to access resources like these, please feel free to comment on this post or email me at viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will do my best to inform you of resources in your area.

Well, dear readers. Once again I am leaving you without a poem to think about. I would love to write more poetry and put them in these blog postings, but I have felt the writer’s block for the past couple of weeks. If anyone out there writes their own poetry, and doesn’t mind others seeing it, I would be more than happy to put a poem I choose with my next blog, but don’t worry too much, I think I am at heart a poet and will have more for those who enjoy them soon. For now, think about some of the things I have been discussing with regards to being mindful of your surroundings (for example by taking a walk and noticing things like what the wind feels like, what the temperature is, what birds can see you, what kind of people live in the neighbourhood) and also think about what I said about using medication times to ‘synch’ yourself with the outside world. Isolation can be poisonous to those of us who suffer, keep it to a minimum and remember you can always reach me at viking3082000@yahoo.com

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.

The Long Path of Recovering From a Mental Illness (and Psychiatry)

I love skylines. I’ve seen more than my share of them. Once, in Vancouver while in a state of psychosis, hallucinating, I was nearly convinced that I had been pushed forward in time to the future and that I was actually on the moon in a replica of Vancouver. Desperately needing help and the care of a psychiatric facility, I called the police and told them I thought someone had put hallucinogenic drugs in my food. I was taken to a hospital psychiatric ward right away. One of the sad things about hospital psychiatric wards is something that is only a theory to me, they only really exist as training tools for Doctors who need to train in all fields and types of wards. This is good when the Doctors become psychiatrists, but psychiatry is not only an unpopular field, it is also among the worst paid careers for a professional, especially when one considers the average psychiatrist will most likely not finish their schooling and internship until they are as old as 30.

I wanted to talk a little today about not just recovering from mental illness, but also recovering from the treatment that a person goes through when they spend time in a psychiatric facility. The most obvious treatments that recovery time is needed for is shock treatments. My Mom had a large number of them and it seemed it was the only thing that would lift her out of her severe depressions. The sad part was that she would lose her memory and in her last years here on Earth, she was almost a different person (personality wise).

When I think of recovering from the treatment a person gets when they are mentally ill, I think of being treated for schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety. At different times it seemed that I had different diagnoses. What really came as a surprise to me was that until I was 44 years old I didn’t even know what my diagnosis was. In Vancouver, I had been labelled as a person with schizophrenia. In Edmonton, depression, and at a later time, schizoaffective, and what I thought for most of my life, I was at some point described as having bipolar disorder. Some say these are just words and don’t mean anything, but I would have really liked to know, I am not a simple minded person, I can research my illness and find things out that may have been beneficial to me. A young woman I know who had anxiety asked me how anyone could have it and not know about it. My problem was that, likely because I never talked to anyone about my difficulties, with the possible exception of my mom, I had no idea that these weren’t normal things. I was never able to express how I felt or communicate and develop friendships with others in my younger years, I thought it was just nerves and that I would grow out of it. I did to an extent, but there were many wasted opportunities in my life.

And of course when I talk about recovering from your treatment, I can’t avoid mentioning my last stay in the hospital when I was a patient for 6 months. I came out of that time period almost completely unable to handle life. Meals had been cooked for me, my finances were taken over by a public trustee. And my interpersonal skills had atrophied. Thank heaven my Dad was able to come to my place every day and take me for a walk. Slowly I was able to ease myself back into society, though I still have difficulties. But I’m on my own now and like to think I’m doing well.

Well Dear Readers, I am going to have to leave things at that. I need to rest. Anyone who reads this blog who resides in Manitoba I wanted to mention to them that my two memoirs, “Inching Back to Sane” and “Through the Withering Storm” are now available in the Winnipeg Library system. They have 3 copies of each book, so if you are in Manitoba and want to read my two memoirs for free, try and interlibrary loan. Of course it may be even easier to purchase the books from amazon.com, both of them and my 9 other titles are available, just go to ‘books’ on the search window and type in “Leif Gregersen” and you should be able to find all of my books and eBooks at reasonable prices. Best to all of you!

When Chronic Psychosis and Symptoms of Mental Illness Get To Be Too Much

please note today’s poem will appear after my blog!

This is me, Leif Gregersen at 46 years old (taken today). I am living independently which is a new thing for me, at least while my mental health is good. I have been in my own apartment for two years and handle pretty much everything. Most of the time I am hard at work at my computer, but there is a symptom of mental illness that I wanted to talk about that has very little to do with being manic or experiencing depression. It is kind of a state that medications sometimes induce. It is very difficult to put a name to, but basically, you take your medications, they help with your symptoms, but in a way you feel very detached from your own existence, even your own voice and body. Most people can function very well despite experiencing this side effect, but it has its problems. For me the main problem came when I was stable and on meds for seven years, and felt as though I had made a full recovery. I started to get just a little bit mentally ill and I slacked off. I hadn’t been to see my Psychiatrist in a long time and had started getting my prescriptions from a family Doctor. I hadn’t made a full recovery. I have my doubts that anyone can fully recover from a mental illness, especially one like mine. I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, and I take pills for all of them. These illnesses occur at a cellular level. I am nowhere near any kind of doctor, but to my understanding, an illness like schizophrenia (which I have some symptoms of, hence the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder) occurs in the nerve endings. Our nerves communicate with our brain (which is best explained as a bundle of nerves in an extremely complex and beautifully designed or created, cohesive whole) by shooting near transmitters from one nerve to the next at lightning speeds. All of our information comes to our brain this way, and might tell you where in space the fingers of your right hand are located, or if something is hot to the touch. Mental illness causes these communications to become distorted. There are a great deal of medications that can help these symptoms, but just about all of them have side effects, and many of them don’t completely remove all the symptoms. What I wanted to talk about was how I can look in a mirror or look at a picture of myself and feel a strangeness towards the person looking back at me. Then of course there is something I think everyone experiences, you see yourself and can’t believe that you are ageing. It seems like just. a whisper of time since I was six and in my first year of school, a blink and then I was in grade 12 and about to go off to face the world. Nothing seems real and this is something I hope will be addressed in meeting rooms where medications are developed.

I don’t want to sound so negative though, I actually had a phenomenal day today. I taught the first of a series of classes at the psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Edmonton and I seemed to really connect to a lot of people in my class of around 8 or 9. And just last week I spoke to three small classes of health professionals and I really felt like I was in my element.

I apologize for not having a poem today. I am going to open my word processor and perhaps look for an older one and post it below. Ciao my dear readers. I set a new record, the other day this website got 95 views in just one day. I don’t mind at all doing this for free, I just hope you can follow what I feel is a useful guide to what I write about.

-mental illness is no person’s fault, it can be either random or inherited

-people with mental illnesses need the same love and friendship that everyone else gets

-stigma destroys lives. It isolates people, it makes them unable to find jobs or housing

-mental illness is not a death sentence

-one in five Canadians and Americans will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. show you care and reach out to help someone who is mentally ill. buy a homeless person in distress a sandwich. Be the person who steps up to talk to someone obviously having problems without judging and just be there for them.

Lastly, for all my Alberta friends, enjoy the weather, it isn’t going to last!

-Leif Gregersen

-viking3082000@yahoo.com

Here is a poem I wrote, I apologize if it is a repeat:

Suicide

I know you’re hurting but don’t think you found a better way

Before you waste your life I have some words I want to say

Each one of us, your friends fears to take a chance

And each one of us has failed at romance

Please don’t give up trying

Giving up and giving in

When it comes to love

Is almost like a sin

You have to understand love sometimes fades

The way we all see it you weren’t to blame

You put body, mind, and soul into being a friend and lover

And now that your love is no more you can’t recover

Just keep something always in your mind

You have looks and youth, there is every chance you will find

A new path to happiness once more

Though you may wait a while and find it on a distant shore

The time will come for you then you will just need to go through that open door

You will not regret starting fresh and finding someone new

Right now, those of us who care fear greatly for you

Too many young people gave their lives away

For hurt feelings that would be gone so soon, literally in days

The final choice is up to you

Only you can decide what you do

But my friend I will say anew

So many people care for you

Bipolar, Psychosis, and Depression

It’s a bit interesting that I took this photo of the Alberta Legislature Building. Just a couple of days later I got a letter from one of the offices in here, of the Deputy Premier who is the minister of Health. Due to my work, my writing and efforts to reduce stigma and help people to cope with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other illnesses, I have been asked to be part of a committee that helps set policy on mental health treatment in Alberta. Please scroll past today’s poem for a look at today’s mental health coping skills blog entry.

 

McCauley Fall

 

Memories of long, warm sunny days

Best friends and true love by your side

Being so young, naiive in so many ways

But still being tall enough to ride

 

Summer comes and goes so fast

Soon it’s back to work or school

Nothing that good was meant to last

That could be a second golden rule

 

In summertime so many years ago

I met the one I thought was meant for me

But I was never able to truly grow

Until I could set my true love free

 

It seems we need to spend our time

Enjoying things in life but soon moving on

Not letting go is almost a crime

Since one day soon all our days will be gone

 

Hello Dear Readers. Many exciting things have been happening, but still I must remain vigilant not to slip into bad habits. The other day I was experiencing a bout of mania, my mood went almost uncontrollably high until I could get my medication and get some sleep. Sleep is so important, and yet falling asleep is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I sometimes use sleep medication, but I try to do it sparingly. There are a number of problems with trying to medicate sleeplessness. The first one is that I often feel that I don’t get as good of a sleep when I take a pill. Then, it is commonly known that sleeping pills can cause memory loss. And then there is the addiction factor. As a person who has experienced depression, manic-depression and anxiety, I feel I am very prone to addiction. I had a huge problem giving up alcohol after my teen ‘party’ years were done, and I also had a hard time giving up gambling, and I don’t even want to get into smoking. One of the interesting things I was talking to a small audience today about is that when you have a mental illness, nicotine actually acts in similar ways to psychiatric medications. I talk about this as a person with lived experience with mental illness, and there was a perfect example last time I was in the hospital, of course before I was able to quit smoking finally. I would wake up, go into the TV room in the hospital for a cigarette, then I would see the news and it was incredibly convincing and disturbing that the TV would talk to me and about me and I would hear other ‘voices’. Then, I would have a second smoke and things would calm down. After that, a third coffin nail would make me just about normal.

So I had the opportunity today to speak to three different small classes about mental illness and my own experience with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety. I have taken training in public speaking and I really enjoy talking about things that positively effect people and how they go on to deal with those who suffer from illnesses like mine. I get paid a little, and it often seems that I will connect with one or two people who will purchase a book from me. I do have ten books in print (available by messaging me or going to the Edmonton Public Library, Smashwords.com or Amazon.com) but when I go to give talks about my lived experience as a psychiatric patient, I just bring my two memoirs, “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane”. To anyone who has read my books, I am currently working on another which will contain the full story of “Through the Withering Storm” but will include a lot of other types of my work, sort of based on this blog. I will post when this book becomes available.

It seems funny when I look at myself. I am nearly 50, I have back problems, knee problems, hip problems, weight problems, issues with bipolar, symptoms of paranoia likely due to schizophrenia. I even experience psychosis quite a bit, but I feel better now than any time in my life. I am able to live on my own, I have incredible friends, my Dad and I are getting along just as good as when I was his little boy. It is so amazing. And when I think of how sometimes when I am alone and my thoughts wander I sometimes entertain ideas of suicide, it really is scary, because I would have missed out on so many things and really hurt a lot of people who know me or are related to me.

I used to have a roommate who suffered from schizophrenia and he told me that quite often his two voices, Jesse and Taylor, would tell him dirty jokes while he was trying to work out. He would tell the jokes to me and some of them were actually kind of funny. I wondered if they bothered my roommate, and he told me that he liked hearing new jokes. My reaction was to say,

“John, you aren’t supposed to enjoy schizophrenia!”

I will leave you with that dear readers! Please feel free to look around the site, I will be entering a 24-hour short story writing contest tomorrow, so there will likely not be a blog. Have a great day and hey-let’s be careful out there!

Leif Gregersen

Mental Health as Winter Approaches. Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Disable

This is a picture I am kind of proud of, taken with and edited by an iPhone 7. This was pretty much the last all-green day I went out taking photos. Now comes the long struggle to deal with the low sunlight hours of winter that have been known to cause a great deal of people to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. It was a grim sight, but once, right on the very bridge I took this picture of, I saw a man who died by hanging himself off the bridge. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a very serious issue and suicide is a tragic loss for all those left behind. As a last comfort, Edmonton is now a dash of every colour possible.

The following poem first appeared in the Boyle-McCauley News

 

The Forgotten Book

 

On my floor forgotten lies a book

Its cover bent all it seems to do is gather dust

The dismal hum of the summer fan

Licks its pages until it seems alive

This book once had been my hopes, my dreams

To take me places I never dared to go

This book was more than mine it was me

It was written by my hand inspired by my soul

I poured everything into its pages

And now at 5:00am as the sky brightens

I haven’t got the energy to pick it up

I should file the thing; get it out of sight

But I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it

There on my floor

I may be a hermit to some

Old books covering my furniture and floors

Old junk filling up the spaces in between

But among all that will be that book

Hopefully long after I am gone

To tell my story

To somehow let me live on

If only on a page that few will read

Leif Gregersen

 

Good morning noon or night dear readers! It has been some time since I have written a blog, I apologize but feel I have a relevant excuse. I have been given a new pill which is being used to taper me off one antipsychotic medication to another that will have less side effects and only needs to be administered once a month instead of every two weeks. Add to that the pulling of a tooth and the week long use of painkillers and penicillin and I was a bit of a wreck. On Friday I am going to be speaking to an inter professional group, (actually three of them) at the University of Alberta Medical School and I am going to need to tell them about how all of their jobs fit together (I will be speaking in front of dentists, doctors, nurses and more). Something I continue to talk about is how psychiatric medications often cause dry mouth, and saliva is the first line of defence we have against tooth decay. So it follows that, even though they may not know it, dentists play a key role in the treatment of someone with an illness.

More will be said on that topic, but today I wanted to talk a bit about how winter affects us. Unless you live on the equator, in winter there are much fewer hours of sunlight. Many doctors believe that everyone needs a certain amount of sunlight to regulate their moods. Many people with bipolar disorder use a ‘light box’ to make them feel better in the winter months. Some even have headsets with UV light shining into their eyes wherever they go. I don’t know how effective this is, but I do know that midwinter can be a very difficult time for me to get through. This summer has been wonderful, I invested in the best walking shoes I was recommended and have been walking sometimes up to 20km a day, enjoying the hot weather and sunshine, and I have also lost 30 pounds in the process. When winter comes, getting my daily exercise will be much more difficult. I will walk, especially to the grocery store, but it may well go down as far as minus 40 (40 below). This means I will slip and slide at times when I walk, and it also means that my skin will get extremely dry, worse if I go swimming for my exercise, but I have stocked up on video games, movies and books of all kinds, plus I will be working a couple of days a week if all goes well.

Another thing I know about the middle of winter (in Canada) is that around Christmas, the psychiatric hospital and psych wards fill right up to capacity. This makes it very difficult to get help if you are suicidal and in need of treatment. It is an interesting problem one faces because we really need more trained psychiatric staff, but to hire more staff, more must be trained, which can either mean lowered standards of training, or incentives from the government. The biggest problem faced in my own workplace, the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta is that mental illness is not a popular target for funding. There are solutions out there, but I am hoping to spread the word that much of it is down to the general public, not the patients, the staff, the teachers or the government. Much of it comes down to changing attitudes towards mental health. Stigma kills. Literally. A fact we stress when I give presentations for the SSA is that 1% of people in Canada (300,000 people) have the illness of schizophrenia. (can you imagine providing space for that many people plus trained staff if needed?) out of those 300,000 people, and I also like to stress that they are people, 10% will die by suicide as a direct result of being stigmatized, being isolated as a result of stigma, and possibly even not feeling any sense of care or self-worth as a result of stigma. I don’t know all the answers, but I will try and document what I can on this blog, so stick close dear readers, this will be a wild ride!

Leif Gregersen

Healthy and Unhealthy Ways of Coping With Depression

Sadly, this picture doesn’t do the subject justice. The other day, after a panicked phone call from a friend, I went outside to see something I have never imagined I would ever see–the sun was cherry red from thick forest fire smoke hanging over the city.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog on coping with depression.

Suicide

 

I know you’re hurting but don’t think you found a better way

Before you waste your life I have some words I want to say

 

Each one of us, your friends fears to take a chance

And each one of us has failed at romance

 

Please don’t give up trying

 

Giving up and giving in

When it comes to love

Is almost like a sin

 

You have to understand love sometimes fades

The way we all see it you weren’t to blame

 

You put body, mind, and soul into being a friend and lover

And now that your love is no more you can’t recover

 

Just keep something always in your mind

You have looks and youth, there is every chance you will find

 

A new path to happiness once more

Though you may wait a while and find it on a distant shore

The time will come for you then you will just need to go through that open door

 

You will not regret starting fresh and finding someone new

Right now, those of us who care fear greatly for you

 

Too many young people gave their lives away

For hurt feelings that would be gone so soon, literally in days

 

The final choice is up to you

Only you can decide what you do

But my friend I will say anew

So many people care and I do too

END

 

Coping With Depression:

I think a lot of people, heck I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone has had their down days. But when you have an actual diagnosis of clinical depression it goes far beyond what most people experience. Depression, which can be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression, is extremely debilitating. When it happens to you I think the most important thing you can do is to not isolate yourself. I went through some times living on my own when it just seemed like there was no way out, that my life was going to end in a bad part of town living all alone in a cheap apartment. I recall literally laying on the floor repeatedly trying to touch wires in the back of my oven for no real reason. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but I was close to being past the point of caring.

One of the hardest things about dealing with depression, (and I should also note a good deal of today’s blog applies to bipolar disorder as well, which has a depressive side to it) is that you are not visibly injured and a lot of people can be extremely judgemental. When I was first out on my own I had a job at a grocery store for a few months but I had a very hard time coping. Somehow when you add stress to depression, you end up with a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Working becomes impossible. More than a few times I have had jobs where I had to call in sick for no better reason than that I didn’t feel like working. Of course I made up more elaborate excuses than that, but it was next to impossible for me to find any kind of job that understood my needs as a disabled person, so naturally after years of trying everything I could, I was put on a disability pension. I was very lucky because I found something I could do, I found that I could write and also give talks for the Schizophrenia Society and help others. Things have turned out extremely well, but I still have the odd bout of depression and mania. I also have symptoms of schizophrenia since my full diagnosis is anxiety, bipolar, and schizoaffective disorder.

One of the most important daily strategies I use is meditation. Some time back I made an in-depth study of meditation and the things I learned were astounding. For a long time I would use sitting meditation and count my breaths and simply try and focus and keep my ‘monkey mind’ from running around and thinking all kinds of different things. I found it helped with anger, it took a good deal of stress off my shoulders especially when really needed like just before a shift at work, but I slowly slipped away from it. Now I practise walking meditation more, which is great because it is helping me lose weight and feel better which is extremely important for mental and physical health, but I do think I need to go back to sitting meditation soon. There is nothing that gave me more of a positive and caring attitude than sitting meditation.

Of course, when you consider depression, it is important to consider anti-depressants. I take prozac (among pills for other reasons and an injection) and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Not every pill is right for every person. I do have to say though that there was a time when I went off prozac because I thought I was ‘cured’ from my depression and I sunk deep into a depression that was literally so bad I couldn’t see that my mental and physical health were seriously deteriorating. I barely left my apartment, I found no joy in anything. And to top it off, I contacted a high school crush and was told to get out of her life. A short time later I made a very serious suicide attempt and ended up in intensive care. Lesson: don’t discontinue medications without the supervision of a doctor/psychiatrist.

So what about the people who feel down but don’t think their situation is serious enough to get treatment? Talking to your family Doctor about it, or finding a counsellor/psychologist may be the best thing you could ever do. I think a lot of people who have the blues a lot don’t even remember what feeling good was like.

There are many more strategies I can go over. One of my favourites is to get a supportive and positive group of friends (preferably ones that aren’t regular drinkers or drug users) and get five phone numbers. When you feel you need to talk, call the first one, then when you next want some support, call the second and work your way down the list. This way you don’t put too much pressure or demand on one person to help you.

As I mentioned above, physical activity can be a great way to lift the spirits. Walking is great, especially if you have someone to walk with. Sports like tennis or racquetball, or even team sports can be great, but don’t force yourself or risk injury. It is always a good idea to consult an MD before starting a new regimen. But none of these things work alone. Use all of them or a few of them. Get five friends, make an appointment to talk to your family MD to talk about your depression. In most major cities, you can find resources to see a counsellor/psychologist for free. Above all, do everything you can to maintain good health from brushing your teeth to watching salt and fat intake. And if your depression lasts, strongly consider anti-depressants. They were a miracle for me and depression almost killed me more than once.

LG

 

Losing Friendships and Family Relationships: All a Part of Mental Illness

I remember in high school thinking if I went to pick up a young woman I had a crush on in a car like this that she would change her mind about not wanting to be my girlfriend. In reality, very few members of the opposite sex would genuinely change their mind about someone like that, but I had been born to think that way. Even if a car like this got me some amazing girlfriend, she would likely be so vain and shallow things would never last.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog and a special video I found for you!

 

Recovery Poem

 

Oftentimes I will forget

The things that brought me here

To the place where I have no more feelings

I’ve been hurt just far too much

 

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining

There were so many awesome times

And love that still lives on in me

Will never go away

 

A few years ago, I lost my mother

But still have my loving dad

And a wonderful amazing brother

Who is like a mirror twin

 

I have to say I’ve lost some friends

For reasons that seem so trivial

Maybe they feared my mental illness catching

Or that I was making an excuse

 

My illness is a real thing

That kicks the crap right out of me

And it takes every bit of courage

To keep on walking mental hospital free

 

And then there are those who understand me

Those who care and those who help

It’s just a few disturbing incidents

That torment me endlessly

 

Well, here it is another late night/early morning. I wanted to talk today about relationships, particularly the ones that end when you become mentally ill. It is a sad thing, but something most people who have a mental illness face. There is a lot of negative public opinion out about mental illness. One of the things people believe is that they are being forced to work while someone gets money every month and doesn’t have to work. I get very upset when I hear this sort of thing because honestly, I am a Canadian citizen who has paid into the system, and I became extremely ill, needed treatment, I have a specialist who constantly monitors everything who I comply with, and the sad fact is, I don’t even get as much money as a person getting minimum wage. I keep thinking of this one guy that said that exact thing who considers himself a “Christian” and is basically saying that he is angry that someone is helping the poor and disabled.

All that aside though, I wanted to try and give some coping strategies. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from a man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said he carefully cultivated a group of friends that he could talk to and look to for support, and made sure the group was large enough so that he wasn’t relying on any one person too much, and then went about trying to live his life.

It hurts a lot when friends and family members treat us poorly. One of the things that I did to cope with false friends was to get involved in something that brought me above just making friends for the sake of making friends. For a long time, I sought out others who were disabled or unemployed, didn’t have a lot going on in their lives and a couple of bad things happened that I don’t want to get into. Then I (not quite consciously) decided it was time to get something going in my life and I started getting more involved in poetry and writing. I found out that there was a person at the University who helped writers with their work and I met a dude my age who was extremely helpful and encouraging. I don’t know how it happened, but we got to be friends and he is the most amazing, wonderful friend a guy could ask for. We do all kinds of things together, he helps me with my writing, and I feel very worthwhile and validated about not just my writing, but as a human being.

So, really I have a couple of basic tips from all that: find friends you can count on, find at least five of them and try not to overwhelm any of them. Then, look for something you like to do. Maybe it is poetry, maybe pottery, maybe gardening and get out and join some groups, you can find a lot of this kind of stuff on the Internet. I found a video that I think may be helpful that I am pasting below. Best to everyone!