mental health coping skills

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

 

Poverty and the Psychiatric Patient. How Can You Stop It/Break Away From It?

Poverty and the Psychiatric Patient:

 

People with mental illnesses are often plagued by not having enough to get by, and even not taking what little they get to provide their own necessities. There are a few different aspects of this. The first and perhaps the worst part of this is when a psychiatric patient becomes homeless. This is a horrible situation to be in. In my home city of Edmonton, there are a number of ‘characters’ you see on the streets all the time, winter or summer, begging for money, sleeping in bus shelters, filthy clothes and horrible smell to them, often talking to themselves or even being aggressive with people. It is extremely sad to witness because people like this get to this situation after addictions, loss of trust of family members or worse, and loss of government disability benefits. I had some very serious situations occur in my own life when I would get very sick and my delusional thinking made me believe that in reality I owned the place I was renting and had no need to pay rent. As a result of this happening once, I had to go to the hospital, to the locked ward, and I was evicted with no way to state a defence or even be able to move my stuff or clean my apartment. Mental illness (and I like to include addictions with mental illness) can take away everything and leave the sufferer in a terrible state.

I am very grateful about the fact that I have never seen the inside of a prison, but from my understanding, prisons are full of people who should in reality not be punished, but who should be treated for mental illness and be totally forgiven for many of the crimes that got them there. There is another factor in my home city (which gets exceedingly cold in winter) where people face a winter on the streets and actually commit a crime just to get three meals a day and shelter. It costs society, any society, a great deal to put people into the criminal justice system and try them and detain them. It also costs when a person’s needs such as anti-psychotic medications are not available and they get ill. This is just one more small example of why attitudes towards mental illness should change.

After years of patience, as well as experimenting with many different medications, and many hospital visits (one as recent as this past February) I am in an incredibly fortunate position. I have an apartment that suits my needs, I have a part-time job, and I get partial benefits as a disabled person. Without regular visits to the Doctor, proper medication, and a desire to constantly improve my own abilities and well-being, none of this would have been possible. But how can others do this? I hear horror stories about the US and even worse ones about third world countries and how people have such a difficult time getting by. For a long time, perhaps permanently, people with severe psychiatric disabilities are unable to work. There is just too much going on in their heads, too much depression, paranoia, voices, you name it. I am so grateful that most of the time, when I am on my medications, I am very functional. Sometimes you just have to ignore what people say you should be doing (working and paying taxes when you are ill) and focus on doing everything you can to get better.

One of the first things a person really should do I feel is deal with any addictions. When I was a teen, I was a heavy smoker and drinker. It was a coping mechanism, drinking and smoking cigarettes was how I found some comfort in the world. Drinking stopped being fun when it took away the respect others had for me, when I knew it triggered delusional thinking and smoking quickly went out of style when prices went up to $10 a pack. I started out by going to 12-step meetings, although I want to warn people not to make things like that the main focus of your life. It is so important to make your whole life full. I used to have a routine of swimming every day, which I often still do, and often taking long walks with my Dad. When I took things out of my life like booze and cigarettes, and replaced them with healthy activities, it definitely accelerated my recovery. I wish I had also taken the time to join Toastmasters, learning to do more effective public speaking is an incredibly useful tool.

When I was experiencing poverty (I got $560 per month and $300 was for rent, $60 for bills and $200 for food with absolutely no wiggle room) I rode a bike I got second hand, I got a part-time job which was extremely difficult but let me save enough for an old computer. I started to write at this point and I read as much as I possibly could, filling my days up with preparation for the kinds of things I do now. I really feel everyone (though especially anyone who wants to write) should keep a journal. It lets you track your progress over time, and time being one of the few luxuries that recovering psychiatric patients have, it is best to always use it to extend your limits and decrease your limitations every day.

I really wish I could offer hard and fast solutions, but all I can really say is find something at your speed and try to ramp it up a little at a time. I remember a time when I had a horrible depression and got through it by reading a box full of Archie comics I had saved. Even that simple cartoon taught me a lot about humour and storytelling for children. Make the most of each day, make strong, solid friendships, with a few people-you may need to be around a friend all the time but people can’t always be there for you. When I was younger and had a lot of time to read, I would pick up a book that I knew would be entertaining (my favourite book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” being the best one) and just randomly read it until I was in more of a mindset to read heavier or even non-fiction books. Like Sylvester Stallone said in Creed, you win the title “One step at a time one punch at a time, one round at a time.” Get the steps and punches down right, because with constant, disciplined effort, even those who are horribly afflicted can make something amazing out of their lives.

Money Management With Severe Mental Illness

 

When I was younger I had a lot of mixed up ideas about money, and they only got worse as I got older and had to take care of myself. I was a bit of a math whiz in school, having taught myself to program my computer to do such things as play games of chance, create graphic designs, calculate mortgages and do my math homework much faster than when I did it without my computer. When I look at this bridge, I think of the old one that was rusting and getting very old, and I get pretty fascinated with the design of it. A friend who is a much better photographer, took a night shot from around this angle and used a long exposure to make the lights of oncoming cars into a streak of white light, and cars going away a red streak. If you break it down, there are so many ways to apply formulas of money to these situations. In our part of Canada, people, or often for young people their families, must purchase their cars themselves. Some of them put a pretty high value on who they are if they have an expensive car like a Corvette or a Mercedes Benz. Granted, they do pay for their car but without the pooled resources of a major city like Edmonton, things like this bridge don’t get built. To relate money to the photographs, although I did get free training in Air Cadets and at school in photography, my hands are tied when it comes to affording a high quality camera, or a vehicle for that matter. Still, this bridge is something I have every right in the world to use because there is no discrimination (supposedly) when it comes to being a have or a have-not. I did experience one thing right on the street I live on. A car pulled up and slowed for a stop sign in front of where I was about to walk, and I stepped out and he almost hit me. He literally had no intention of stopping for a pedestrian, even though he had a stop sign. I pointed at the sign and I forget if I said anything, but then he rolled his window down, and said to me, “We pay for the road, you don’t!” I was left a bit curious as to what he meant. First off, paying or not paying, he has no right to endanger my life. The other thing that was odd was that he should have been pretty sensitive about saying and doing those things because he was obviously an immigrant. Last year I was in a position to buy a new car, something I have never been able to do but decided instead with the advice of my dad, to just keep walking and buy a bus pass each month. I ended up doing so and I have gotten myself into incredible shape and also lost a good deal of weight, something that has done wonders for my confidence, my social life, my fitness and many more things. It has also allowed me the freedom to have a fair amount of extra money here and there. I feel especially proud of the fact that I was able to buy my brother a TV. It is so important for him to have things like this because he has had back surgery and has difficulty getting out of the house.

Now, to get back on topic. I always wonder what readers from the United States or Great Britain will think of my posts because I am extremely fortunate to be a Canadian. I am provided with a disability pension, subsidized housing, discount bus pass, free fitness and swimming facilities, free health care and free medications. I don’t mean to brag about these things, I would like to see every country in the world move towards a situation like this, but that may take some time. As for readers from the US, I know it is extremely difficult to get by when you have to take medications for any reason. One of the things you can do is to write to the company that makes your medication and ask about any subsidy or free medication programs. It may take an Internet search and a few emails, but be persistent. It really is hard enough for people with psychosis or mood disorders to be medication compliant without having the extreme hardship of paying for medication that won’t exactly cheer you up overnight. Medications often seem awful for the first few weeks or even months until your body can adjust to them and then they will begin to deal with your symptoms. If you do have health care and still don’t like taking medications and there is concern you may impulsively stop and have to go into the hospital again, ask your Doctor about injectable medication. I get a shot in the shoulder every two weeks. By some freak chance my Doctor tried to switch me to a more effective, newer medication and it simply did not work for me. I ended up having to spend a month in the hospital. This became a financial burden, but fortunately I have just about gotten myself back to normal physically mentally and financially.

For anyone, especially those who have to pay for medications and work all week, there is a book that I feel could help them all a lot. It is called “The Richest Man in Babylon” and it talks a lot about tried and true, proven, tested concepts on how to get yourself on firm financial footing no matter what your situation. The most important thing talked about in this book is to always take 10% off the top of what you earn and put it away. Do this for a while. Aim for a year or two. While you wait, another thing is that you will need to increase your earnings. Look for classes on things like beading or about jewelry or self improvement classes through the library. Depending on your interests, you could possibly learn how to set up a website like the one you are reading from now. Or, you could make your own jewelry that you can sell at a farmer’s market or flea market. The book focuses on education and self-improvement as a lifelong thing. The next concept the book covers is how to seek advice. One day your mechanic friend may come to you with an idea to buy a stock of encyclopedias that you can re-sell. Don’t listen to him. Listen to your mechanic when he directs you to a deal on a used car in great shape, that’s his field of expertise. Always make sure advice comes from those qualified and experienced to give it. And, the principles in this book emphasize paying down your debt bit by bit, but not cutting into your savings or what you need to live. 20% is a reasonable figure for debt payments. Now, a couple of years have passed. You have some money saved. You paid off your debts. Now is a good time to look into investing, and not on a vacation to Hawaii. You can go to Hawaii all you want when you retire. The next step is to make sure you have adequate insurance for those who depend on you. It may not have to be much if you are older and your children make a good living. The next step is to own your own home. If not a house, maybe a condo. If not a condo, maybe a lot with a trailer that you will pay off. No matter what, you will have to pay for a place to live, why not make this something that will increase your overall equity?

Now, I have given a lot of information here. Maybe some that are close to impossible. I do know that disabled (mentally or physically) Canadian young adults have a program where the Government will match their savings practically 3 to 1 until you turn 49. The only restriction is that it has to stay in savings for ten years. This I feel is a better program than anything. If you qualify when you do your taxes as a disabled person (your Psychiatrist/Doctor must fill this out) then you qualify for this huge potential sum of savings. Honestly, it shouldn’t be passed up.

One of the things that I think about a lot is the situation where someone can’t work at all and have debt. Sadly, sometimes there will be situations where a person with a mental illness needs to declare bankruptcy or even have all their finances given to a public trustee. Both of these things happened to me and not in any way by my own choosing. This is something that often happens in extreme cases. I have seen people who due to depression, ideas of some time soon killing themselves, and many other reasons, simply give away all of their money. Then there is an even worse situation when persons with a mental illness gets credit. I honestly feel most people on a fixed income should not have credit or have a low amount of credit, say less than a thousand dollars. This helps head off scammers who prey on vulnerable people, it also helps in case a person has an episode of mania and overspends. Sometimes it pays to cut up your credit cards and put the pieces in separate garbage collection bins.

Sadly dear readers, it is getting late and I have been writing more than I should. Please message me or email if you want more information or if there is any topic you wish to see on this blog. Have a great long weekend to all my Canadian, British, and Commonwealth friends!

Leif Gregersen, viking3082000@yahoo.com

Mental Health and Stress

Sometimes the sunsets can be so beautiful here in Edmonton, the gateway to the North

 

A Little About Stress and mental illness

In grade 12 I took a course in Law and I got a lot out of it. One of the things that stands out for me is a legal case the textbook quoted where a woman was of a fragile mental state, witnessed a violent car accident, and sued–and won–a case for having a nervous breakdown as a direct result of the negligence of a driver. When I first had severe symptoms though, I knew so very little. Sadly, one of the first things that happens when someone gets sick like I did is that fairly rapidly they lose any material wealth they have and it takes a very long time to get any of it back. What really bothered me was that it seemed people judged me because I was from a nice suburban area and I think they believed I had clothes and money and cigarettes because my parents provided them. All of my teen years were spent working after school or being paid for things around the house and I was proud of what I had accomplished, having owned a nice sports car and a motorcycle I loved to ride. Within a year, every bit of it was gone. What I had left was a comic collection which by today’s standards wouldn’t have been worth much–but they all got stolen anyway.

To get on to the main topic though, when I first was back in Edmonton from living (treatment non-compliant) in Vancouver, I managed to get a job at Safeway. Those were dark days, being deep in depression and never really feeling like myself with the medications I was taking. I had very little knowledge of how to deal with the stress of working and one paycheque I simply walked into a bar and didn’t leave until my money was gone and I was drunk out of my mind. That was another difficult thing for me, no longer being able to drink socially. When I hadn’t been in the hospital and was working I was starting to develop the skills needed to meet and later contact people I had met in bars. But after my pills (which the alcohol worked against) and my loss of faith in myself, I was a sad sight to behold and never really made any close friends or began any relationships in a bar ever.

What did happen though was that one day my Dad started going out of his way to pick me up and take me for walks in the River Valley of Edmonton. I already had a fascination with swimming, and as I built up my stamina and travelled, and found medications that worked better for me, all of my issues seemed to lessen. What I really think had the hugest effect was exercise, or sports for want of a better term. There were times when I had to pull off incredible feats of endurance just to get a little extra money to see me through the month. With a lunch of a spoon, a can opener and a can of beans, I sometimes would have to ride my bike as much as two hours and then work a twelve hour shift and ride two hours back. Often I would come home and be unable to work for a week with the pain in my muscles and sore back.

I hated the fact that I had never been able to hold down a job. I hated more that I had never had a job that required the skills I had built up over a lifetime but instead got labour jobs anyone could do or delivery jobs or security guard jobs. Working security at an old school for a movie set, I made a connection that got me into movie security. I worked my way up to being a stage hand and the money was phenomenal. I also soon learned things about diet and working out with weights and swimming as well as cycling would make me a harder working employee. I managed to last about 7 years at that job and it was a bridge to what I do now, which is to write and to teach.

Doing what I do now feels so amazing, I really feel I am making a difference with the patients I work with and that when I go to give presentations about mental illness I feel that I am helping at least some people view mentally ill people differently. There has even been cases where we have helped people to self identify as having a mental illness and got them the help they needed. My rules are very simple. I don’t work much more than 2 hours a day at most 3 times a week. I do what I can to promote my writing but I also try very hard to live below my means so that I can survive on such limited working hours. When I have a day with nothing to do, I will make up an excuse like taking a two-hour walk to a store far away that has better prices than the stores where I live. I have built myself up, with the aid of a fitness watch, to walk about 5km to the pool where I swim about ten laps, then walk back and I end up having the most peaceful sleeps that I have ever experienced. A young woman who used to lifeguard at the pool I go to once told me that with any illness at all, exercise is the best medicine. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I do know that feeling fit feels really good, and that people notice when you not only feel good but look good. I seem to get more smiles and winks from single females than when I was young, skinny and 19 years old, full of confidence from being a student pilot. One of the great things about swimming is that you don’t have to do all that much to have great positive effects on weight/fat loss, and muscle tone. You can start out just going to the deep end and treading water for a few minutes. You can work your way up to doing one gentle lap on your back. If you have joint issues or any kind of pain, swimming is as low-impact as you can get. Sadly not everyone has the extreme privilege to do as I do, which is have access for free to all city pools and most weight rooms, but there are options, some are even better. The YMCA will often have a program for low-income individuals to use their pool and their weights and gymnasium. One trick I have learned is to buy very low costing vegetarian protein powder and have a scoop in a fruit smoothie when I finish a workout. Taking protein helps rebuild muscles after a workout and prevents, in many cases, any sore muscles you may experience.

Try it, try just a short walk. Bring your dog or your neighbour’s dog to have company. Buddy up with a friend and walk a little each day, build yourself up to maybe an aquacise class. As you work your way up, focus on bad habits such as too much coffee, too much sugar or smoking. When you start to feel more comfortable, look at getting a part-time job to help fill in the gaps of time in your day and give you a little grocery money. While you are doing this, I not only strongly recommend that you are med-compliant, refrain from any alcohol or drug intake and see your psychiatrist, but also do your best to join a support group or two for your illness or even one that teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And remember, you are a human being and that means you will make mistakes, or have mistakes in your past, even big ones. But you have full rights to live as healthy and as happy as you can make yourself.

LG

Tall Trees Sown From Seeds of Love and Hate

Please see below today’s photo for a poem and a blog entry

All the fearful years of tears and trials

Wreak havoc upon my thoughts

It seems a test, a trial, a quiz

To even focus upon what I have sought

 

In life we have so little time

As our hours slip into days

I remember holding her like she was mine

then her telling me I was just a phase

 

In death and living there are no words

to slow the march of time

I only long to be understood and heard

to tell them all I have found the perfect crime

 

I do what I can for those I see

show compassion for those in troubled times

and somehow I fool myself that the world cares for me

when they all seem to only want what now is mine

 

I gave away my heart too soon

in a lover’s sweet embrace

now as I work and push a mop and broom

my thoughts occupy a sad, unholy place

 

I no longer dream of God our father

Though he seemed to have done right by me

When my day is done and I close the door

he lets my romantic heart soar free

 

I found a loveliness, a happiness

among the stillness and the peace

and whisper out a tiny prayer

that soon my soul will be released

 

Well, not the most cheerful poem I ever wrote, but I think I am making progress with my writing. I guess I can spill the beans now since the project is almost finished. I am writing a book about my most recent stay in the hospital. I went through a couple of very difficult times, one was the delusional voices I heard, which were extremely convincing, and the other was that I was very paranoid. I had really thought I wasn’t going to have to experience all this again as long as I got rest and took my medications, but there is no insurance policy that covers everything. I still don’t understand why I got so incredibly ill just because of switching from one medication to the next, supposedly newer one. Not a lot was explained. I did have my diagnosis changed once again, this time neglecting to mention my anxiety and adding in my diabetes. I think the Doctor put down schizoaffective disorder bipolar subtype. It’s all pretty confusing. I really want to put this book out to help people to understand more about hospital admissions and how horrible they can be.

What bugs me the most is I like to try and make each of these blogs worthwhile for my readers, but there seems to be no easy answers. I met a man last year who was incredibly kind and diligent about getting help for his son who eventually died by suicide. I have tried to show people how they can get work like I do for the schizophrenia society and feel better about themselves and have some recovery in their lives, but there are many heartbreaking cases I have known, even among people who have worked hard all their lives. I guess I am fairly good at taking care of myself, with the exception of getting into debt too easily. But what do you say to someone who comes up to you and says they have a friend with schizophrenia or they themselves have bipolar and don’t know what to do. All I can really do is keep going to schools and Universities and doing my level best to get a few key points across. Number one, there is no cure, there are only treatments, but they are getting better all the time. Number two, don’t use drugs or alcohol or ski or play football or do anything fun where you might hit your head and get a brain injury. I used to love sports like boxing and football and skiing. I will never forget the first time I went into the hospital and they were doing everything they could for me, hooking me up to million dollar machines and putting me through all kinds of tests to see if my erratic behaviour had to do with a bad fall I had taken on a ski hill in town or not. It seemed once I was deemed mentally ill they sent me to a psychiatric facility to let me rot and I lost all of my opportunities, I wasn’t even allowed to try and finish high school by my parents or the school administrators.

But even in that situation there were good times. There was this moment I was hitch-hiking through the rockies trying to get home to Edmonton in the winter and I was in Hope, British Columbia (it’s where they filmed the first Rambo movie) and the air and the sky and the mountains were all shining silently, singing a chorus of light and beauty that took my breath away. Or this time when I was just entering BC for the first time and I saw a massive Moose and her child running in circles in a flowing field of grass with mountains and cumulonimbus clouds in the background. Those images stayed in my heart. I hate to think what it did to my parents for me, off my medications, with no money or means of earning a living to be wandering all over North America. I lived for the five minute phone call I placed to my parents every night from downtown Vancouver. But when I got back there was no love left for me. No place to stay, no one to do things with. It drove me nuts because I would try and call my sister to talk and each time it was a one-sided lecture to me about how busy she was with school.

But the amazing part of things really is that with time, everything got better. I learned to cook, I found out how to eat healthy and how to lose the weight my medication packed onto me. I even learned to make friends and have some pretty incredible people in my life. It is really kind of funny because in just two years of living on the coast it was like my body had lost its ability to heat itself. The Edmonton winters were just too much. It took a long time, maybe ten years but I adjusted to it and I kept pushing myself to make friends, to read, to write. And somehow the world changed around me and I have an incredibly enviable life now. I think a lot of it just came down to becoming a part of a community and caring for and watching out for the people in my life. That’s about it for today folks, thanks for stopping in.

LG

Hygiene and Mental Illness

The topic of hygiene covers a lot of ground. I wanted to talk about this subject today because I often struggle to keep myself as clean as I like to be while many people tell me I am even cleaner than they are. I know of many cases of people who go for a long time without showering or brushing their teeth and the sad thing is that they pay for this luxury in friendships, job opportunities, and general social interactions. Not too long ago, I was having medication problems and I was experiencing severe paranoia. I believed that people around me thought I stank and that it was so bad they wouldn’t sit near me and they would make jokes and comments. This is yet another aspect of the same issue that plagues people with mental health issues. I can recall being younger and if I was lucky I would take a bath about once a week. Add to the fact that my clothes didn’t get washed often and you have a real problem. In a way, I was afraid of water and taking my clothes off. It may have had to do with the fact that I live in Edmonton where it regularly dips below minus 40 in the winter, but I think there was an actual fear of exposing myself. I had always loved swimming though. Now, thanks to a benevolent government in our city, I am able to get a pass that allows me full access to city swimming pools and gymnasiums. If I am able to swim that is a day I can go without having to shower as they provide hair and body soap for showering before and after a swim. And then, there are times when a shower really does help me get through certain things, like when I am waiting for a long time to do something like meet a friend or get to an appointment. One of the best things about showering I think is that it can be replenishing, refreshing, and even change how you look at the world. Often, when I write a short story, I will go and have a shower so that I can come back and look at the piece from a different point of view after not thinking about it for a while. The benefits of swimming are numerous. If you have ever had a sports injury, swimming is often the best way to exercise with a very low impact on things like joints and knees and ankles and such. It also burns a lot of calories because it exercises many muscles you don’t normally bother with in some workouts like walking or cycling.

One of the things I do to motivate myself to continue my hygiene habits is to try and make them as simple and as enjoyable as possible. I don’t spend too much time in the shower and I no longer take the time to have a bath and have to fill and drain and clean the tub. I jump in the shower, scrub and shampoo and jump out. Then I shave, put on deodorant and quickly brush and floss and use mouthwash and brush my hair. Once you get used to it, it can take under 20 minutes. What I like about it is that I am much more able to feel comfortable around others when I am clean.

Of course, that isn’t the answer for everyone. I had heard of a young man who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. For some time he didn’t shave and grew a long beard, as well as had a hard time showering. His caregivers were told that the important thing to do was to take all pressure off of him, and eventually he went back to taking better care of himself. There is another factor that the “one in five” who have a mental illness of one type or another often need to take medications which causes dry mouth. Fifteen years ago I had no cavities. I was put on medication that caused dry mouth and now I have no more molars. I have just two good chewing teeth (pre-molars) left to eat with and am putting off getting dentures for as long as I possibly can.

Of course there is also the factor that regardless of the mental illness you are diagnosed with, you can experience depression. I can’t offer any advice for this, and I don’t suggest that even people with lived experience give any advice because I am not (and they are not) psychiatrists. It is so important to be totally honest with your psychiatrist, and if they aren’t helping you, you need to discuss this with another person in the field who can tell you if you might be better off with a Doctor who listens more and is more compassionate. This depression can make you simply not care if your teeth or clothes or body are clean. In this case, forcing yourself to shower and all that may not be the priority, getting your sadness dealt with should be.

Self improvement, which I feel is a cornerstone of recovery from a mental illness, and also something that everyone can benefit from, can take years of work. I can remember in my younger days, for want of a better term, my feet smelled really bad. I dreaded the prospect of being invited into a nice house where you had to remove your shoes and often didn’t in my parent’s home. Years later I learned that you can put anti fungal cream on your feet which is also known as athlete’s foot (and also works well on jock itch) and the smell will completely go away (at least until you walk around in a locker room in bare feet anyway). This changed my whole life, and is a perfect example of how much a person can suffer if they are not open and honest, and fully disclose any issues they have to a Doctor. Well my friends, that is all I have for now. I wish everyone a Happy Easter and the summer of your lives. For those of you who are approaching middle age, I just want to tell you that life only gets better as time passes. Ciao!

The Power of Comparisons To All, But Especially The Mentally Ill

Almost hard to believe this is a single family home, one of the more famous mansions in Edmonton. I often wonder what type of people live in a place like this, and if they are happy. An interesting thing in life is that, at least in my experience, no matter what you may own or what you may have it has little to do with happiness. I am in the fortunate position to have the computer I need to do my writing and a large screen TV to play some of my many video games on. I can focus on what I have, and strive to do better and have more, but the fact is that happiness is almost a chemical reality, something that can be determined by things such as your chemical makeup (brain especially) and even your outlook on life. I am fond of discussing how when I was younger I had no idea what a bagel was. I worked at a donut shop and would serve many people bagels of all kinds. Finally I broke down (and I now love bagels but can’t eat them because of diabetes) and ate a bagel and I recall thinking “This is the worst tasting donut I have ever eaten!” Seems funny now, but it betrays an interesting truth: our expectations and former experiences guide us to appreciate things or react in any of the numerous ways a person can. Me, having been to London and seeing places like Buckingham Palace and the private library of an 18th century King, this mansion looks a bit dinky to me. But if I were to own it I might react in many ways, I might think it was too much space, too wasteful of resources. Or I could be extremely happy that I have a place for my books and a room for friends and a garden I can sit in during the summer. I can actually speak from some experience because I once lived at a friend’s house that was huge. It had 5 bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens. My roommate and I each had space for our own office and there was a garage at the back and front of the house. The reality though was that I was miserable. There is so much more to a home and so much more to happiness than square feet. I could cite some reasons why I was miserable in this incredible place, one of them was that it was far away from where I liked to be. There were no nightclubs for people my age, I couldn’t find a good used bookstore nearby or arcade. There was no library. And then there were the factors that really make a home a home, I felt like I was in a massive tomb walking around like a ghost. As mentioned I had a roommate, but he spent so much time watching hockey or playing hockey video games I had no connection to him. He was an incredibly nice guy but I desperately wanted someone to talk to and do things with. I ended up desperately seeking girlfriends and going to dive bars and ended up not only drinking but gambling as well, two things that I absolutely should never do with the mental condition I have.

The story does work out. I moved into an apartment on my own and was able to hold onto a pretty good job for a couple of years. I reconnected with some old friends. I also got put on a drug many people know about, Prozac, which was extremely effective for me. And on top of that I bought a car that was older but in perfect shape for just $75.00. Things could have been better, and I admit, I did eventually get complacent and slipped back into psychosis, but at the time I compared my life to some of the harsher times when there were many people taking advantage of me and when I didn’t have a job or many friends. Having friends is another thing that seems to be so essential. I think now, and for the past couple of years (not counting some time when I had a bad reaction to some medication) I have been having the best time of my life because I have some genuine friends, one who is an incredible young woman who speaks four languages, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, as well as a master’s degree and a fantastic job. The other is a guy who is a best selling writer and he is such a great guy he seems to only have interest in helping me move my career as a writer forward. I wish I knew how such amazing opportunities came to me, many of them were random, one in a million chances. If I were still a smoker I don’t think my writer friend would be able to get along that well with me. If I wasn’t a writer who loves philosophy I don’t think the woman with the black belt would have found enough merit in me to let me into her already busy life. Perhaps it came down to what a dear friend at the group home I used to live in told me, when I explained the hours I worked and what I was doing to improve as a writer, as well as doing actual writing, he said, “God will reward you for your hard work.” and it really seems to have come true.

Just as a quick final note, I think on top of friends and a community you feel like you are a part of, for those of us who have mental health issues, it could perhaps be even more important that we maintain diligence with regards to self care and mental health. That means eating right, sleeping enough at the right times, taking medications on time, and of course, being honest with your Doctor. Please reach out or comment if you wanted to say hello or comment.

viking3082000@yahoo.com