mental health page

Growing Up With Illnesses Like Bipolar and Also Having Severe Anxiety

This is a shot I took of a soccer field near my house. When I look at this photo, I tend to notice that though an exciting game of soccer is going on, the bleachers are empty. It takes me back to the one year I played organized sports in my home town of St.Albert. There was a rep team made up of hand-picked players, one for boys and another for girls. Both of them beat us royally, which was not considered a fair match, so when, in our final game–in overtime–we beat the only team that had ever beat us in a fair match, for a few brief moments we were on top of the world.

Soccer is a wonderful experience, and I suggest any parent should encourage their kids to participate. For a long time I used to try and encourage parents to put their kids in cadets, but few have ever done it. With all the training, the sports, the friends, and the travel you get from it, it seems almost ridiculous that anyone would not want their kids to join. Air cadets was something that taught me skills that got me through a lot of very difficult times, and still to this day, 31 years after I left, I rely on a lot of those skills to make my living and get along in the world.

But to try and keep more on the topic I wanted to speak most about, I would like to try and discuss anxiety. Because I was never given any kind of diagnosis, and it is even unclear today at the ripe old age of 46 what exactly the doctors think is wrong, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in my life. I don’t know if there really was any good treatments for anxiety when mine was at its’ worst. I can try and describe what it was like though.

I was 14. I had been taken out of school for an assessment at the General Hospital in Edmonton for two weeks, and during that time I was allowed to attend cadets. On one of those two nights, I had been assigned to get in front of a class of my peers and give a talk about my hobby-which was collecting military combat uniforms. Now, I will digress for just a moment. When I gave that talk, I hadn’t interacted with anyone my age for quite a few days. I felt that my social skills had just gotten rusty, when it was actually a diagnosable illness I had that wasn’t being treated. I got up in front of the room, and I felt a strong pull taking my gaze away from the audience and looking down at the floor. I also became aware of my looks, my acne, and I blushed crimson red. Maybe what hurt the most was walking past a person who was in the class having a laugh with a friend about how horrible my performance had been.

All through my younger days I drowned in anxiety. I would sit out every single song of every single dance the cadets held. The idea that someone could like me or find me attractive was seemingly out of the question. There were a few times I can recall though that I clearly had bipolar disorder as well (I also have a third diagnosis, of schizoaffective disorder). A friend gave me a ride home from the cadet hall where we had been dropped off after a weekend camp at a base near Red Deer. I can’t even describe it. Maybe the tiredness set me off, I really don’t know. But it was the first time I can remember feeling elated, talking way too fast about too many things, and not having a clue that this was something very out of character for me.

All through my teen years I struggled with insomnia, and a good part of it was my own fault. I would stay up late, eat hot dogs or muffins I had brought home from work, then for some reason as time for school approached, I would get this idea in my head that I could be a superior student like I had once been if I studied every word of a textbook. So many times I got these big ideas, then ended up sleeping, and also sleeping in for class. Skipping breakfast, I would race off to school. When the day ended, I would go home and take a nap. This was not only a bad idea that made it harder for me to sleep properly at night, but I would get these nightmares that were just horrible. This was one of the few times that I started to realize that something was going very wrong with my mind. I told my mom about the bad dreams, and she basically responded by asking me what I thought she could do about it. As problems piled up with me, the loneliness, the social anxiety, the insomnia, the depression, and poor sense of self piled up, I almost went to see a psychiatrist but instead waited until I was forced to see one. I really hope anyone who reads this doesn’t tread down that path, especially the young people.

Back at that time, along with anxiety, I had severe depression. I often say that I wasn’t really sure if I was experiencing depression because I had no real close friends, or if my severe depression made it hard for me to open up to and form solid friendships with people. It may apply to a lot of people, but when I think back now to the three or four really close friends I had, I regret ever meeting them.

One of them was a clear alcoholic who was overweight and wore thick glasses and somehow thought he was the coolest and most attractive person ever. Sometimes I am taken back to the odd fun times we had, and I think it would be neat to look him up. Years ago I tried to do so and he really seemed to feel the need to compete with me over anything I said and look for ways to humiliate me. Him and the people he hung around with never really left my home town. There was one guy who I actually really liked and has always been a friend, though a casual friend, and he became a University Professor and moved out of province.

Come to think of it, a lot of the people I knew in school were alcoholics. I was desperately trying to quit back then, but was encouraged into binging a few times with another fair weather friend. Drinking in some ways was magic. It lifted my depression, relaxed me, helped me overcome my social anxiety. The only bad effects was that it was killing me, I was leading an extremely dangerous and risky lifestyle while I was drinking, some of the hangovers I had were epic, and as I drank I watched my family fall apart from similar and different addiction issues. I hate the term ‘self medicate’. I drank because, like many people, I had a subconscious connection with booze and the rarer and rarer good times I would have when using it. Now the very idea of what I used to do as a teen seems ridiculous. Ego contests to see who could drink the most, drinking parties in a delivery car while delivering pizza. Turning into some kind of monster, picking fights with friends or making moves on females that only a 15-year-old could ever get away with.

Getting over those depressions and anxiety was a long road. It was nearly impossible while I was adjusting to medications my doctor prescribed me to try and deal with my fractured social skills. Finding the Schizophrenia Society has been so key in getting me healthy again. I work a few days a week, I earn a little extra money for groceries. I have some solid friends and a lot of self respect from finding a way I can help others even when I am kind of broken myself. Of course having an incredible, intelligent and caring father means a great deal as well.

At first, I really didn’t know what to expect from the Schizophrenia Society. I figured if any students I was going to speak to were anything like I was in my teens it would be hell. But 98% of the students I present to are incredibly interested and responsive to what I have to say. I worked my way up and have given presentations to police recruits, student nurses, criminology classes. It isn’t all that uncommon for me to speak to lecture halls with 200 students. The difference in my anxiety and social skills have been massive.

Well, dear readers, that is all I think I have to say about bipolar and anxiety for now. If you want to know more, or ask a questions, please contact me. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, talk to your family doctor about a referral. And if you are in crisis or feel suicidal, please go to your nearest emergency room. Best,

Leif G

 

Mental Health and Addiction Issues the Homeless Face Daily

The streets of Edmonton, where I live can be cold and unfriendly. Many people fall into a trap of  being struck down by mental or physical illness, then addictions and eventually homelessness. You see it a lot where I live, makeshift tents with a shopping cart full of garbage nearby. Long line-ups at the soup kitchens and shelters. When oil was at a peak, people came from all over wanting to take part in the prosperity, the huge amounts of money to be made in the oilfields and in Edmonton in some of the numerous supporting industries from plastics to catering. It is almost sickening to think of what all the fossil fuels are doing to our once pristine and beautiful country, yet fracking and pipelines continue. When I was in eleventh grade, a friend was trying to encourage me to get a job in the oilfields. My ambition then was to be a lawyer, I found his idea almost laughable now, especially since he went on to become an alcoholic working under the table so he didn’t have to pay child support. When you take a long look at all the big money jobs in the oilfields, it just doesn’t seem worth the real price in loss of quality of life and many other factors. I know of so many dreamers who became homeless, addicted, mentally ill. A lot of organizations have tried to fill in the gaps left when people have nowhere else to go. From New Year’s Eve 2001 to the present, I have been living in supportive housing and despite the books I’ve written, the work I’ve done, the money I’ve made, I really don’t think I could have done any of it without living in places that supported me through my difficulties with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.

When I last got out of the hospital, my life was destroyed. I had lost control of any finances, I was heavily medicated, and virtually unemployable. A long-term group home was found for me and I was able to recover almost completely. I still have troubles with sleep and stress, I still have times when I question my own existence or allow myself to get angry over things I can’t control. But none of those things can destroy me anymore, I have been allowed to grow new skin over my wounds.

Living in a group home had a number of advantages for me. I lived in a house with three other people, and though there were arguments and fights, and even people who did horrible and disgusting things, the needed stability was there. One time I was in a house with a barely functioning, overbearing bully who kept trying to order me around and pick a fight with me. I had to deal with him by calling the police one night and when I talked to them I didn’t have a chance to mention that he is in the habit of picking fights, losing them badly and then going to an organization called ‘victim’s services’ where he is given money in exchange for proof of his injuries. Another roommate in the same house once called the police and confronted me because I had woken up late for work and took two slices of a cold pizza he had left out in the kitchen because he had put it in the oven and was so drunk he forgot about it.

The thing though, was that when you live with others who suffer from a mental illness, the stigma and guilt are greatly reduced, and provided you are on the medication you need, it is so much easier to function, so much easier to heal. In the group home I lived in for 15 years, medication was given out each day. Adherence to all appointments was necessary. I had the benefit of having my dad come and take me for a walk in the park also which was extremely healing. There were a lot of difficult times with people who lived in the group home. There was one guy who believed that he could legally play his music as loud as he wanted as long as he turned it down a little after 11:00pm. I dealt with it by simply going to the basement and shutting off the breaker for his room, leaving him in silence and darkness. Then the management passed a rule that we weren’t allowed to touch the breakers. Soon, my roommate was playing his music again and I shut him down once more from the breaker switches and then plead my case to a higher authority. The same guy had a habit of coming home from work and turning up the heat as far as it would go, then taking off his shirt in the living room and laying down to watch TV. That was around the time I took up the habit of hiding the remote. Then, when he found it, I would insist he give it back to me as it was legally mine, then when I got it back I would turn the TV off. I had to find ways to amuse myself somehow.

It was an eye-opening experience to live there. For perhaps the first time in my life I could simply exist. I didn’t need to be some wealthy young entrepreneur, I didn’t need to be an A+ honour student on his way to Oxford, I just had to exist, take my medication, and hopefully not kill any roommates. I found out that housing like this, which is in extreme demand these days, costs about 1/4 of what a hospital bed costs the health care system. I have also heard information about how homeless people, job or not, cost society a great deal as well. I can see why because, to use one example, a shelter needs a lot of resources. They need food, staff, a constant inflow of donations of money, clothing, heat, security. I worked at a drop-in centre that didn’t even have any beds for homeless people and it seemed they had nine paid staff or volunteers supporting, educating, counselling, and even motivating the many people who relied on them. I guess I just wanted to say that in many places in North America, cold weather, extreme in some places is coming fast. Consider gathering up unneeded items, especially things like hoodies, toques, gloves, scarves, and finding a charity that would be extremely grateful to be able to distribute them for you. Something I have seen happen a lot is that people will put warm clothing items onto a tree or fence with a note saying that anyone who needs to warm up can take the item. Excess household items like books and furniture are needed at many thrift shops that support worthwhile charities. Consider also volunteering your time (if a place exists near you) with a schizophrenia society office, or finding ways to help integrate disadvantaged people into the greater community. This time of year is ideal for looking for ways to give back as many students get a Christmas break, and most charities need volunteers at Christmas, which they recruit in October and November.

Sadly though, all of these great ideas doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people, whether they read this blog or not, suffer themselves from a mental illness and don’t have the housing or the support or even the medical attention they need, and many of them are all alone in this world. I can’t imagine what things may have been like if I didn’t have my dad and my sister to advocate for me last time I was ill. To people in this situation, I just pray that they can plant a seed of hope deep inside of their minds. Just enough so that they can get to a clinic and find a way to get the assistance of a psychiatrist, find a way to get their medications. I know that in the US it is much harder to get by as a poor person, but I have also noticed from my own experience that once people see you are trying to take responsibility for yourself, trying to improve your own life so you can perhaps one day help others, they are more than willing to support you in your efforts to recover. One thing I would say is that there are opportunities to dig yourself out. There are things like newspapers that homeless people sell by donation, and if these don’t exist, approach your library and get them to help you put together a booklet of writing about people who are struggling in so many ways. Charge a buck or two and use the money for the essential things the group needs.

I wish I could keep writing. I also wish I had all the answers. But the sad fact is, each person who is ill, each person who is addicted or homeless, needs to find their own way. I found mine with the help of people who cared and loved me back to sanity. I wish this for all of you.

Stigma and Disability: Will Mental Illness Destroy My Whole Life?

The photo above is a close friend. He worked hard for many years, built up an excellent work record, bought a home and has been to many places in the world. Now, after a lifetime of struggle, it sadly seems that compulsive spending, depression, alcoholism, hoarding, and other problems came about from him growing up in poverty and working so hard that substances were his only escape. It all seems such a waste, but even for my friend there is hope.

For most of 2001, I was a patient in a locked ward of a very unpleasant place, the provincial psychiatric hospital. Now, in 2018, I work there and am paid well. This and other jobs has allowed me to do so much, including travelling to London and Hawaii, buying the computer I am using now, having many friends, and living a comfortable though somewhat sparse life.

People are often amazed that I have been able to write more than 10 books, and to get up in front of people I don’t know and talk about the intimate details of my illness. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’m not so much afraid anymore. I have experienced great loss, adventure, been close to death, but there have been some simple axioms I took to heart that have gotten me through.

One of them was from a young man who was an engineer. He said when engineers work on a very large, complex and difficult problem, they will break the larger problem into smaller ones and solve them one small piece at a time. There was another man who I have never met, but who wrote an excellent book and is an example to every young person in the whole world I feel who attributed his success as an astronaut and space station commander by always making sure he had taken the time to properly prepare himself for tasks to come. When I want to sit down and start writing a book I can’t just put pen to page and expect it to come out perfect. I draft up several possible outlines, then toy around with some dialogue, maybe even try to picture my main characters and, by hand, write out some dialogue. If this starts to engage me and I keep on for pages with my pen I know I have something I can continue to work on, to craft into a cohesive story. But most of my books came more from just writing a little for one sitting. I would write a poem and then transfer it to computer and then cut and paste it into Facebook and when I had a bunch of them I would self-publish a book of them. Easiest thing in the world. People even buy them and enjoy them. In a way, I used these two methods of planning and preparation to overcome my severely diminished state after I was last in the hospital.

I had to start with a small step, and I decided it would be medications. I took each dose at the proper time and then looked at the rest of the day as my free time. Not wanting to waste my days away watching TV re-runs, I would try and read a little in one of my Steinbeck books. One of the amazing things was that now that I was over the worst of my symptoms of mental illness, and people could see that I was trying to improve my lot in life, help seemed to come from every corner. My dad would take me for walks, a part-time job allowed me some comforts. Even the cooking chore I had to undertake every two weeks or so taught me many things I never knew about food.

When I think of how the other point I made, of making sure you are adequately prepared for something, especially something difficult that you need to do, I think of a close friend who I knew since high school. Before my most recent stay in the psychiatric hospital, I was extremely delusional and ‘manic’ as well as having other symptoms of psychosis such as thinking the radio was talking about me, that I had billions of dollars and so on. At this time, her sister had heard I was having troubles and tried to help, and for want of a better term, I scared her half to death. My long friendship was over and I was devastated. Almost a year later, I went to see her and it was only because in advance I wrote down what I needed to tell her and predicted how she would react that I was able to successfully convince her she could trust me and that it was worth having me as a friend.

These are common tactics, writing out a script of what you might say to your boss who you know is debating whether or not to fire you. Setting goals, no matter how preposterous or long-range they are, and then setting smaller, more attainable goals that lead you towards that better place. I often think these things can get a person through anything.

One of the things I would like to touch on today may only apply to Canadians, but I will try and add a universal component for people in other countries. One of the hardest things to face when a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, and spends time in a psychiatric hospital is the poverty that is going to follow, perhaps for the rest of their lives. The Canadian Government developed a plan to help those who are disabled for any reason to overcome this, it is called the Registered Disability Saving Program (or something similar-ask your bank staff) this plan allows you to put somewhere around $2,000 to $3,000 away in an account, and have grants and subsidies top up that amount by multiples of two or three times. You can’t take it out for ten years, but it could really go a long way for a person to take a trip or to buy a home.

This seems almost unfair to Americans or people in other countries that don’t have this program, but I think even people who have a savings plan could benefit from my second favourite book ever, “The Richest Man in Babylon” by Richard S. Clayson (my favourite book being “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig.

In the ‘babylon’ book, using historical figures and examples, a plan is explained where a person takes a careful look at his earning and spending and tries to get his or her spending down to just 70% of what they earn. 20% of that is put towards debt, and the remaining 10% goes to savings, which, as it grows, you invest. Regarding the investment side of it, the book talks about a very simple strategy to keep your money growing, or at least safe. If you want to invest your money, seek out advice. But make sure that the person giving it has spent all their time and effort in their entire lives to being an expert on what they are talking about. Getting a tip from your neighbour who is a musician that stock in a steel mill is guaranteed to double just doesn’t cut it. But the musician might be a great person to consult to find out which brand of marijuana stock is the best one to invest in based on his own personal choice of the stuff.

Another factor that many people don’t factor in when they think of living in poverty as a disabled person is that as time goes by, especially if you can find a way to work (when I got out of the hospital in 2001 I was useless for any task, but I could still work as a security guard and it gave me a sense of self-respect and some extra money for things), as you get older, you will not only learn to use and invest your money better, you will also have paid for much of the things you want and need and the pressure to always get more money and more stuff will lessen. Of course, you are also free from the thing that made me want to buy a sports car at 18 instead of saving for University-peer pressure.

So, all I really have to say if I must sum it up is that with diligence, a steady and focused effort day after day, week after week, planning and preparing, your life may not just get to be as good as most, it just may get better. And remember, people really do care.

 

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.

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

 

A Poem and a Few Words About Mental Health and Walking

I have often wondered if the people who get to run these machines are just older kids at play. Seeing these big machines also makes me think about modern labour and how it changes so rapidly. I often wonder what some of my students do without computer skills-what anyone without computer skills can do. It leaves us so marginalized. But that is a discussion for another day. Please remember to scroll down past today’s poem for today’s blog.

 

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

 

Mental Health and Walking:

I have always been a fan of endurance sports. I suppose it started as far back as the second Rocky Movie which I saw on TV. Everyone knows that Rocky Balboa is going to accomplish his goals when he goes running through the streets, thousands of children run with him as that amazing music plays. One thing I really like about the Rocky Movies is that Rocky doesn’t win all his fights. Like many of us, he does everything he can, fails, reinvents himself or finds new inspiration and then moves on to the next level. Rocky can’t always triumph, but he can always show he has heart, or perhaps more accurately as he says in his movies, he at least proves he is not a bum.

Walking is something that I have been taking up instead of playing difficult sports, jogging, even cycling. There are so many advantages to it. Perhaps the top one for me is just the time I get to spend on my own with my thoughts. Sometimes I will walk up to 2 hours a day and I can work everything out. I watched a video today that quoted some interesting studies on walking that I hope you won’t take at face value from me but research on your own. One of the studies they talked about was one that discovered a marked increase in mood for people with depression who walked 30 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week. I can honestly say that I do feel a lot happier after I walk and that now that I have been doing it for a few years I wouldn’t want to stop for any reason. I may have to slow down or take days off, but walking is so rewarding (in the happiness and in the feeling of fitness) that I hope I can keep it up for a long time to come.

For a while I didn’t like the idea of walking long distances though I often did as a boy. My Mom had lost a good deal of weight one time and looked amazing from walking about 5 miles a day. The problem came in when an incident, possibly connected, hopefully not, happened where she developed a crushed vertebrae in her neck and needed surgery. She gained her weight back soon during her recovery period and never really got back to the same levels of fitness before she passed away.

One interesting thing I have been noticing is that people with mental health issues seem to be at much more risk of diabetes. Perhaps because they are more sedentary, perhaps it has a lot to do with weight gain on psychiatric medications. Many people are told that their medications will cause them to gain weight, but also asked if they would prefer to be in active mental distress or psychosis or would they prefer to be slimmer. Almost anyone would prefer to be mentally healthy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It may be extremely difficult, but there are ways to still lose weight, and I have found walking to be at the epicentre of the solution despite the effects of medications I take.

I have been walking five plus miles five times a week now as well as watching my calorie, sugar and fat intake. I should mention that I was diagnosed with type two diabetes a month ago despite thinking I  was active and fit. What I didn’t realize was that I was obese and I needed to make some changes. Walking was something I already did, so I just tried to ramp it up a bit and find excuses to walk every day like to go for groceries or even just to go to the pool to sit in the hot tub and weigh myself. The other thing I did was try to eliminate red meat, and anything with large amounts of fat or sugar. My Doctor also put me on Metformin, which is a very helpful medication. The results? I feel way better, people say I look slimmer, and since I have started monitoring my blood glucose levels, I seem to be in the healthy range a lot more of the time and I have lost nearly 30 pounds. I hope some of this is inspiring to you. My suggestion if you have a few pounds to lose or if you worry about diabetes is to load the Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger” into your music player of choice, get some good walking shoes (I love my new sketchers!) and go out and enjoy the sun! (Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere). Best of luck and please post any questions or comments!

Keeping Busy: It Can Save The Life of a Psychiatric Patient

Here is a nice summer shot of downtown Edmonton I took on a long walk from my Dad’s place from the south side of the river to the north side. After today’s poem, I am going to talk about my recent walking and exercising and how it can help people with mental health issues.

 

 

Yellow Liquid Bread

By: Leif Gregersen

July 18, 2018

 

 

Silently the old men sip the golden liquid, putting off the total numbness

One man looks around and sees the faces, sees the signs of total madness

Bar patrons old and hateful, filled with beer and faithful sadness

 

Most felt it would have been better to have followed their teachings to the letter

They each had a reason for believing but saw God to be unforgiving

 

 

The yellow fluid slides past the lips soon reaches the liver

It seems to them that beer is the true forgiver

When like now, all ties to fellow man are severed

 

Each day they face the screaming that is so frightening

They live their lives in dreams and sleep in nightmares

 

 

Although the TV screens all seem to be filled with happiness and glory

Each half-drunk patron longs to one day tell his or her own story

Many tried before and after fifty repeats they were told it was too boring

 

But it is all that gives these people any kind of life or meaning

Poor, forgotten warriors, hell bent on finding some kind of redeeming

 

 

And then a man they once had seen in there often but was almost forgotten

Who disappeared at a time when he looked ready for a coffin

Came in with joy and the hope that some of his luck may rub off him

 

He shows them pictures of a wedding celebration

And of the gifts his long-lost son had gave him

 

 

And then the photo with the highest meaning

The one that leaves this tired old man beaming

And showing that deep down he always had human feelings

 

It is the picture of a baby whose looks can’t be mistaken

This young boy has his grandfather’s face and he even got to name him

 

 

The joy resonates throughout the bar that was once his home

And the new grandfather realizes that when he drank here he was all alone

He buys a round and then skips out to use the phone

 

He never did go back there until he heard an old friend had a heart attack

He could mourn or celebrate there but the spirit in that evil place was far too black

 

Today’s Blog Entry:

Good day to everyone around the world who follows this blog. Today I wanted to talk about how important it is to fill up your time when you are struggling with mental health issues. I can recall a lot of times when I was on medication that didn’t seem to be helping me that had horrible side effects. One of them made me so restless I could barely sit still to have a coffee or read for a few minutes. What I did at that time was to pace around my apartment, then find a short story in a collection I had at the time, (I would look for a really short one) and then read it and start the whole process over again. I fear that if I hadn’t found things to do in some of those difficult times that my situation may well have ended up much worse.

For a long time I have been filling up my time with different things. I started out working as a security guard, then worked my way up to becoming a stage hand in a union. Working as a stage hand was really hard, I had to know how to do a lot of things and I had to be extremely physically fit and there were a lot of people who treated me like garbage, but the good part was that it filled up a lot of my time, made me tired enough to sleep well, and got me to meet a lot of people. One of the hardest parts of this job though was that it seemed anyone who I was friends with didn’t stay friends after they learned I had a mental illness, and it seemed a lot of the other people in the union that weren’t friends would treat me bad. It is important though to own your own problems. I couldn’t blame people for having wrong ideas about mental illness, and I couldn’t change other people’s minds because they had a poor knowledge of mental illness. I was there to work, to learn, and to cash a paycheque so I could do some of the things I dreamed about for years, like going to London, England.

I have always believed that when a person becomes ill, they need to follow certain steps. The first, and this can take place in or out of a hospital, is to see a psychiatrist and get on medication that works. This can take a lot of time, but it will definitely take less time if you aren’t honest with your Doctor. The next step takes place while a person is still getting used to their medications which can be very difficult. This is where you start to go into therapy and join support groups and take classes that will help you manage your illness better. The next step is to take job training or look for a volunteer job. Then what can be the hardest step of all, I feel a person should get a job, even if it is part-time supportive employment at the Schizophrenia Society like I do. Nothing will make you feel better than to get up, be a part of society, have a reason to shower and keep your clothes clean. Even a volunteer job can be a great idea. If you are having a long period between work, something I like to do is to go for long, long walks, 6-10 miles sometimes. It helps with my weight, it makes me feel great and so many other things. When the weather is colder, I prefer to go to the pool and use the exercise bikes and swim, which are other great ways to keep busy. You don’t need to fill up your day with power lunches and world class workouts, you just need to give yourself a little push to get out, see the sun for a little while be it winter or summer, and try and do a little better each day. Reading can be great too, but there are people I know of who isolate themselves with reading (or video games, or using the computer). Try joining a book club, or having friends over to play video games with you and only play a limited amount each day. At the end of the day, pick up your wellness journal and tell it what you did, how you felt, how you feel you could improve. It will be so much better if you had things to write about other than that you took your medications and watched some TV. Get creative and find ways to meet people like yourself. I hope this helps, much of it is repeated from other blogs I have written, but only because this is so important!

A Little Psychiatry and Nutrition From A Dude Who Has Been there

 there must be pots of gold in Edmonton. I’ve never seen two rainbows up close like this (Please look below today’s poem for today’s blog entry)

 

Through My Living Room Window

 

The setting Spring sun is reaching out with its golden rays

Right into my living room as I rest.

For a moment as I contemplate the coming summer

Contentment washes over me

 

I’ve slept too much today, the warm nurturing sunlight

Made my living room the perfect place to snooze

So hard to shake that lazy tired feeling from me, I must rise to write.

I sit and let my thoughts linger over endless childhood adventures

And all my adult responsibilities. For a moment it doesn’t seem fair.

 

Do all the people on this Earth feel these weak moments?

Times where they consider giving up the fight

For two cars and a house?

 

I know that as I listen to the quiet din of the inner city, and

Let my eyes drink in the green of the grass and budding trees

Thoughts of Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida possess me

But still I know in my heart

Summer in Edmonton is going to be amazing

 

Leif Gregersen

May 12, 2018

 

Good day my friends. Another sleepless night has come upon me and so I am finally going to sit down to write a little. My bipolar (aka manic depression) has somehow gotten me to cut down on food enough and exercise enough to lose some weight. I would put pictures up of the difference but I don’t really want to disgust anyone. Basically, yesterday I walked around 4 or 5 miles to the pool, had a dip and swam a couple of lanes and weighed in almost 20lbs lighter than I had a few months ago on the same scale. The really difficult about losing weight, and I can’t tell you how much psychiatric medications had to do with it, was just going through the initial shock of fasting. I was having ongoing stomach problems and a Doctor sent me for tests for diabetes and I had to fast for 12 hours. This was at first excruciating, even though I was allowed to drink water I thought I was going to go insane. It actually reminded me about what junkies talk about when they start to realize they are either going to get a fix or become extremely sick. I didn’t really get sick, but it took everything I had to get through that night. The sad news at the end is that I was diagnosed with diabetes, but now that I am finally into a ‘losing weight’ mode I think I will be able to control the bad effects. It is a bit scary to think of, studies show that a diagnosis of diabetes takes an average of 12 years off a person’s life. There are a lot of things I could do in 12 years. There is also risks of poor circulation leading to loss of limbs and also needing to take injections of insulin at a later point. I really wish I had done something about my weight sooner. I can only blame myself for this, I thought if I just kept sugar intake low and exercised all I could I would be fine, but this disease snuck up on me.

One of the things that is interesting to note here is that if you have a mental illness, say schizophrenia or bipolar, or are like me and have schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, it will also sneak up on you. I will never forget the slow, gradual change that came over me just before I first had to be put in the psychiatric hospital. My concept of reality began to change. I didn’t see myself as a thinking human being, I saw myself just as an animal able to feel warmth and cold and pain and comfort. Slowly this got worse and a psychosis developed that made me think the human race was split into two distinct groups, one of them at war with the other, the other unaware of the dirty tricks the first consistently played on them. I can’t believe I was only 18 when all of this started happening. Another kind of scary thing is that I am now 46 and though I am doing extremely well, there is a lot of lost time to make up for that I don’t think I will really get a chance to recover from. I am pretty happy about my present situation though, I have discovered a love of long-distance walking (for 4 weeks now I have walked over 10 miles on Thursdays after work and often walk at least that much on the other days.) I have some very amazing friends like Richard Van Camp who is an incredible author and on and on. I hope some of these words get to people who read my blog. If you feel you are going through something like severe depression, get some trusted advice from a doctor. Have your condition monitored, consider how much an anti-depressant can help. If you hear things or see things that no one else does, talk to someone about it. It isn’t wrong to have a mental illness, and it is never wrong to seek help. The only wrong thing is that so many people are afraid of mental illness and create stigma surrounding it that people think they will be worse off if they share their thoughts and emotions with others. And as far as the diabetes goes, if you can do it, get out for walks. Walk in a mall if it is too icy outside. Get a membership at a pool and try aquafit workouts or even just water-jog (basically dog paddling but you keep your head a little higher and go in laps). Take what you eat into consideration. I’ve now been told to avoid white foods like rice, potatoes, sugar, and a number of others. Get a blender and learn how to make fruit smoothies, they are delicious and very good for you. Salads can be so simple, just get a tomato, some lettuce, some kale, a cucumber, green pepper, and celery and chop all of them up, add some light salad dressing and you’re off. This is just very simple advice I’ve been learning, there are a world of dishes out there that will help you lose weight and get healthier. I do recommend that you consult a Medical Doctor before exercising or dieting and look into taking classes on nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. I can only give tiny bits of things I have been learning but I can emphasize that the feeling of losing weight and being out in the summer sun getting healthy exercise is so amazing it is almost impossible to describe. Don’t leave it until it is too late, make a decision now, turn off your monitor or close your laptop and phone for an appointment to get something done about excess weight or depression, or any mental or physical health concern. I have to tell you things can only get better and you’re worth it!

One in Four Adults Will Experience Mental Illness In Their Lifetime. Do You Feel Lucky?

Going to try something a little different today, instead of a poem, I want to share a 100-word story I wrote. As usual, scroll past the story for today’s blog

 

Warm Summer Memories

All year I wait for the exhibition, save money, make a plan. I love the rides, the fresh mini-donuts, the games of fortune. Eat, drink, ride, wander, play, and pick up women in skimpy summer wear. If you’re skilled you can win them prizes. I saw a babe lining up for the whirlwind and I lined up behind her. We chatted a little, she was cute and friendly. We took our seats, the excitement was electric. I was in heaven, full of cold beer, donuts, and summer sun. When the ride spun faster I threw up all over her. Memories.

                                                                         END

 

BLOG:

Well, I hope someone found the humour in that little story. I have been fond of writing these micro fiction pieces lately. When you use a computer, it is fairly easy, the hard part is coming up with a limited plot. I was even submitting longer stories to a contest and used a lot of my 100 word stories as the basis for them. Once you get the initial idea down it becomes easy to expand on it. Plus, 100-word stories teaches you to keep everything tight.

I am in the midst of working a lot this June. It only adds up to 2 hours a day or so, but still with my illness (schizoaffective disorder) I have a hard time handling that. I am kind of looking forward to tomorrow, I am teaching a class out in the West End and it will be about micro fiction and flash fiction.

As far as my mental health goes, it is a bit hard to say. A couple of days ago I was given a cholesterol pill and I had some invega pills sitting. As both were new to me, I didn’t know the difference and accidentally took the invega for a few days. I was really zonked, sleeping about 70% of the time. My Doctor wants to put me on a similar pill permanently in August when I have gotten used to my diabetes pill and I don’t know how I feel about it. The advantage is, less side effects and the possibility that the new pill won’t cause me to gain weight, the disadvantage being there is really no way to tell what the pill will do. I think in the end I am going to choose the new pill, even if it causes me to sleep a lot. Anything that may help clear my thoughts. I have a lot of problems with concentrating and thinking normally. I often wish I had the time and energy to sit down and read the classics, though I have read a lot of books in my life. I miss running through stacks of books and engaging my mind. I have been drawn lately to comic books and graphic novels. In some ways I see them as an investment, and in others I just want to read the stories and some of them can be extremely well written.

I think I will leave off at that for now. I do have a bit of advice for people who are seeking to improve their mental health. First of all, build up your concentration. If you can’t read a full-length book, look for a book of short stories or find a textbook from a subject that interests you and read it a little at a time. Healing and challenging your mind can be so important. Don’t neglect your health at all. I allowed too much time to go past without getting serious about my weight and now I have diabetes. I could go blind, lose a limb, many bad things as a result of it. Be good to your families, they are the ones that you will need the most and may have to rely on. Never miss an opportunity to tell a family member that you love them. I even do it with my grumpy old Dad when I can. Never give up hope. New medications are coming thick and fast along with new techniques in psychiatry like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It may be hard to do these things, but the rewards can be great. You can get your thoughts back. I hope this helps. As always, anyone who reads this blog and wants more advice, feel free to email me, my current email I check the most is viking3082000@yahoo.com      I also appreciate any comments (positive or negative) that you may have about my website. Keep coming back, things are going to change and improve soon!

L. Gregersen

 

Mental and Physical Wellness and the Beautiful June Sky

Scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog

 

On The Verge (A Villanelle)

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Sometimes it pays back more to sacrifice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

I know falling behind can truly sting

One day you will be glad you paid the price

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

Giving up will never make you a King

Just ask yourselves if you are men or mice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

One day you’ll get a medal and they’ll sing

Unless you give up despite my advice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

In life as athletes you are just in Spring

I hope these humble words to you suffice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

Dig deep inside for constant improving

And in the game always look cold as ice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

June 2, 2018

 

Blog entry for today:

Good day dear readers. I have been having a pretty amazing past few days despite that I got both good and bad news. If I were to sum up the things that went well, I would try to use just one word, “community.” I feel very blessed to live in McCauley (which is where the photo above was taken) because now that I have been here 17 years, I am making so many friends, getting connected with so many opportunities, and I even feel that my illness is further into remission than I thought it was.

This past weekend, I had a table at a music festival in the arts tent and I was really happy to find out that people like my photography and put a high value to it. I had framed up a few photos and sold 3 of 4 pieces I put out. One of the things I love about photography is that you need a lot of the same skills a hunter does like patience and awareness of many things such as light, the paths that subjects may take (in my case often birds) but you don’t kill anything. I hate to admit it now, but when I was a teenager I had a rifle and it was just about the only thing that gave me any joy to go out in the wilderness and hunt small animals. Now I hunt them with a camera and it pays me back in way more joy and even a few bucks now and then.

The music festival was pretty amazing, I also was the M.C. for part of the show on Sunday and got to hear some amazing bands. It is amazing how good live music sounds, if it is good music it reaches right to your heart.

I should actually talk just a little about some of the bad side of things here. I might have mentioned already in this blog I have been diagnosed with diabetes. A lot of people get it, but it is  in no way a small thing. The complications from it are far-reaching, it can lead to things such as blindness and losing limbs. And it can be extremely difficult to follow the diet that is recommended for it. I have to admit being a little blindsided by the whole experience of finding this out. I would say though that I am glad I found out so now treatment and adjustment can begin. I suppose these types of things are just a part of getting older.

To say a few things on the topic of mental illness, I am actually almost starting to see my illness(es) as a blessing of sorts. Now that I went through the horrible times of being mentally ill, being in a hospital, almost losing all hope and many other difficult experiences, I feel that I have something important to share with others that only I can talk about because I’ve been through it. I just want to end today’s blog with a message of hope. There really is recovery be it far off on the horizon. There really is a state of remission you can get to where you have complete or close to complete control of your symptoms. I’m at that point now and I cherish each moment I have to sip a cup of tea, sit in my favourite chair and read, watch a movie or a Youtube clip. I know I’m not going to be 100% healthy and happy forever, but I’m going to hold on to the good times with friends and family and even the enjoyable times I spend by myself as much as I can. I can’t tell anyone if there really is an afterlife, that is more a matter of faith than anything and you can’t just tell someone to have faith and expect them to understand everything you do all at once. I just know that family, friends, love is precious and for as long as I can I’m going to hold onto my health and wellbeing so I can enjoy them to the fullest.

LG