mental health page

Fatherly Advice On Dealing With Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Here is my Dad, Leif the first. In my mental health recovery, he has played a very key role. Years ago when I was last hospitalized, he traveled in from out of town and sacrificed the tiny extra amount of money he had to bring me comforts such as cigarettes and such. No matter how angry or ill I became, he would visit every day–and I was in the hospital on that occasion for six months. When I finally did get discharged, I was far from a whole person. I needed the support of a group home to exist and get my medications, and I needed the support of my family, especially my Dad. He came through in spades, driving to my place, taking me to our beautiful river valley and talking with me and walking with me month after month. This was the only exercise and the only outside contact I could handle. One of my warmest memories of that time is a habit I used to use to kill time when I walked long distances. I would pick out a rock, then kick it and keep a close eye on where it went, then when I got up to where it was, I would kick it again and see how far I could keep going with the same rock. One day on a walk with my Dad, I kicked a rock for a while, then it went out of my path so I thought I would find another, but my Dad to my surprise had figured out my game and kicked the right rock and in that moment I felt as though my Dad and I both had a child-like concept of fun that helped form a new and strong bond between us.

Anyone who read my last blog will know that I have been struggling with a new medication and have been hearing voices. There are no words to describe how troubling this situation can be for a person already struck with many other mental health issues. I really thought neighbours could read my thoughts or that they were conspiring to harm or rob me. This is a highly unlikely situation, but it is so hard to ignore evidence that comes to you plainly in the form of a voice that sounds reasonable and intelligent. Added to that is the fact that mentally ill people, while experiencing psychosis are in an extremely vulnerable state. I really didn’t know what to do. Then my Dad gave me a simple solution: put on some earphones and play some soothing music. The amazing thing is, even though it seems so simple, it worked really well. I had a hard time at first discounting all the voices I was hearing as false and untrue, but after laying down and listening to music for a while, it was so much easier to realize that all of this was going on in my head.

One of the hard things about delusions/hallucinations/psychosis is that often a person is convinced that they are some type of God or wealthy/powerful person. I will never forget a roommate who became a good friend who once declared to me, “I don’t care what anyone says–my delusions are real!” I totally understood what he was talking about. When I first became ill, my delusions (they weren’t audible hallucinations like I more recently experienced) told me I had untold amounts of money, female admirers, intelligence, accolades and awards, and my choice of Hollywood Starlets to marry. To most it would be preposterous to think such things, but to my fragile mind it was an extremely appealing alternate reality to my own life situation at the time. Even after I was treated and properly medicated, I had in the back of my head the idea that somewhere out there a reality like that was waiting for me. This made medication compliance very difficult for me, so I went through cycles of lucidity, then went off medications and went as far away as California in search of falsehood dreams, then was so far off the deep end that I had to be forcibly hospitalized.

I really thought I had broken that cycle, so my recent foray into the world of paranoid schizophrenia caught me off guard. But one thing I do know is that my Dad, my rock of salvation (one level below Jesus) has rescued my messed up life numerous times now and I have to mature and learn to handle my own problems as his age advances. That’s about it for today dear readers, not much practical advice really other than that an iPod can be your best friend and even a tool an occupational therapist should utilize. Music is almost as powerful as the force that drives it, which I think in the end is love.

When Psychosis Causes Hallucinations Which Causes More Psychosis

 

So here I am, 17 years into recovery from a lengthy hospital stay for acute psychosis. In that time, I have mostly been on an injectable medication every two weeks, and it has done a really good job of keeping my head straight. Now, a new medication or two has been developed, and supposedly they are better. One of the advantages is that the new ones only have to be administered once a month rather than every two weeks. So, after a lengthy debate/discussion, my Psychiatrist puts me on one of the new ones (I don’t think it would benefit anyone to know the name of it so I am going to leave it out). But the difficult thing is that it seems I have been taking the previous medication for so long, then when it was stopped, I have been having symptoms of severe schizophrenia, something that hasn’t happened before. The world is a scary place with schizophrenia in it to confuse a person already struck down with bipolar and anxiety. It is a very hard thing to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. When the worst happens is almost always in a public place, often a restaurant or shopping mall. I start off feeling fine, and then I get quiet and begin to listen to people talking around me. This is something I used to do in my late teens when I lived in Vancouver. I hadn’t yet perfected my set of social skills, and I would listen in on people and then, though trying not to be rude, I would join in on what they were talking about. I often gave the excuse I was from a small town, but that was pretty much a lie. Still, I met a lot of people, had friends nearly wherever I went, and often count those times as some of the best ones in my life. Now, that habit I formed, for lack of a better term, torments me to no end. I sit, and there is a cacophony of voices and noise, then I begin to tune in on a specific conversation or sound, and it slowly starts to turn into words and sentences I seem to recognize. If I am unlucky, which has happened a few times in the past weeks, I interpret what was said as a direct threat and suddenly have a very strong desire to leave, whether I have to eat or sit with someone or any reason really. This is when I start to look and feel disturbed (I think) and at that point, I honestly feel that some people can sense my anguish. Then one of them may make a comment or a joke and if I overhear it, or misinterpret it, then I start to feel justified that people are plotting against me and things get worse. This has been my world since Christmas Day when I laid in my bed not wanting to make a sound, listening to the heater/radiator in my bedroom start to sound like two men plotting my demise in the stairwell. It is hard to explain how destructive this psychosis can be. I met a friend at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and as the meal wore on, I keep trying to not let people see me, couldn’t look the person I met with in the eyes, and my voice kept on getting quieter. I have been trying to take steps to deal with it, but I fear it will take time and extreme effort. One of the ways my nurse/therapist was helping me to learn was taking deep breaths, holding them for a couple of seconds and then slowly releasing them, causing you to get beyond the “fight or flight” mode and also distracting you from any false voices. But she was also careful to caution me that there is really no magic pill that will end my auditory hallucinations. One of the things that I think could be an issue is that I have been playing a number of violent video games which I have stopped, but still kind of long to play. One of the best suggestions came from my Dad, who saw my Mom go through this for a long time. He suggested that I simply put some music on an iPod or iPhone and focus on the music rather than the troubling talk. I hope some of this helps people out there who may be experiencing psychosis, as always, please feel free to comment or contact me.

Is It Insane to Think People Suspect You Are Some Evil Person When You Always Feared You Were One?

Well, a lot has gone on since I made my last post to this page. I wish I understood why, but there were a lot of things contributing to me almost having a meltdown so bad that I wanted to try and get admitted to a hospital. I have been doing a lot of little things, like teaching one hour classes way out of town at the Psychiatric Hospital to running all over the place trying to help my Dad and my brother. I have been pretty worried about my brother, he has had two surgeries on his back and now is going to need a procedure done on his kidneys. And every day it seems I think about two people: my departed mother and my niece living very far away with no Uncle to help her or even just be a small part of her life.

At first it started as anxiety, but soon it got worse and became paranoia. Anxiety is hard to explain, especially since until recently I had no idea I was diagnosed as having it. I was a very shy and nervous kid, almost to the point of being ashamed of everything. I have this vivid memory of taking a Toastmaster’s Public speaking course in Cadets and stammering my way through a short talk that seemed to get so little interest from any of my fellow Cadets that all they took from it was ammunition to later mock me with. I will never forget that nervous and shaking, unbearable few minutes. The funny thing is that now, after working in radio and doing possibly hundreds of presentations for the Schizophrenia Society, I have become pretty comfortable with crowds. But not recently. Recently I have been going through hell.

The hell I speak of is paranoia. Some people experience it when they smoke cannabis, I know I did. I was at a party where I didn’t really know anyone and I had a couple of tokes and slowly it started to seem like people were angry with me, saying things about me and it soon escalated to the point of me feeling I was in danger. I reacted by crawling down a third floor fire escape ladder and walking miles home because of the fear.

This has also been happening to me recently though I haven’t used any cannabis in more than 13 years. There is the off chance that now that cannabis is legal and you can smell it everywhere, I picked up some of it but the plain fact is I have been desperately on edge for some time now. Just to give a bit of back story, I was diagnosed with diabetes a few months ago and I have a suspicion that the medication I was given makes me jumpy and dizzy. The jumpy part is also what could have led to the paranoia, but until I become a full psychiatrist or pharmacologist, I will likely never know. What has been happening though is that any time I am in public and I hear people talking, I think they are talking about me. I spend extra time worrying about what others think and I have had to go way out of my way to not offend anyone or make eye contact. This gets extremely difficult on the bus. I have spent so much time in the past couple of weeks staring at the ground or floor that I am starting to have neck problems.

Today it was really disturbing. Some teenager trying to show off to his friends how street smart he was, declared clearly enough that I was sure I wasn’t delusional that he knew I was a cop. Even when I got off the bus, one of the teenagers went out of his way to call me a pig. I can’t even describe how disturbing this was.

There have been a few really good things happening lately though, one of them is that I ran into a young woman who I was in a class with and had a chance to catch up. She had an earlier stop than me and got off, but lately I have been worrying while on the bus that (once again, mind reading) women see me get off at the same stop as them and fear I will follow them to some alley and do some unthinkable thing to them. I have recently become so aware of this possibility that I will go far out of my way to avoid taking the same bus or even the same street as a woman walking alone. Then, the miracle happened.

Tuesday I had enough and I went in to see my psychiatrist. Not long ago I had been put on a much newer medication called Invega and was taken off another injectable drug in the anti-psychotic class of medications. My Doctor increased my dose by the teeniest, tiniest little pill and all of a sudden within a few minutes of taking the pill, my fear went away. Now two days after that dose, I feel so much better, though I have to admit that I am still very conscious of what others think and say, but the fear, the deep down danger warning indicator seems to be gone. Well, as it is late, I will leave things at that. I encourage any of you experiencing this sort of thing to talk to a medical doctor or psychiatrist as soon as you can. The way of dealing with it is very simple, but not always easy. You need to sit down and be honest, and trust your health care provider and before you know it, things will go back on track. Good day, dear readers!

Christmas Poem and Talk About Psychosis and Anti-Psychotic Medication

Please remember to scroll past today’s blog for a special Christmas Poem I Wrote For a Gathering.

Above is a photo of the church I went to for a long time before the well-known and greatly loved Priest, Father James Holland was retired. Behind is an incredible sunrise, something I had no idea could be so beautiful until I started getting up at 5:00 to take long walks to the grocery store or other places.

I have a lot on my mind right now. I think I am having a problem with a new medication, but it is hard to tell because I was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year and am now not only taking a different injection, but also Metformin and a pill for high cholesterol. I have been losing weight and in general feeling better, but I have a strange drowsiness and loss of balance. It really seems like such a trap for those who have a mental illness, the medication makes you hungry and want to eat more, then the illness makes you unable to work and so the end result is you are in a major risk category for diabetes and heart disease and other disorders. I thought I was safe. I was overweight, but a lot of the weight on me was muscle and I was swimming nearly every day, going for walks. I was even careful about how much sugar I took in. Sadly it was not enough.

A lot of people think diabetes is not a big deal, but the fact is that you can lose limbs, go blind, you lose an average of 12 years off your life expectancy. The only really good thing about it is that having diabetes has made me pay a lot more attention to what I put into my body.

It’s funny though, a few years ago when I worked as a stage hand, I would burn myself out working with all that heavy stuff, then I would swim and lift weights and I would come home sore on every square inch of my body. But it was almost like a drug, it hurt, but it was a welcome change from day to day non-feeling. Now I am exercising my upper body a lot less, but doing a lot of walking and things seem to be much better. I do have back pain, especially when I sleep too much, but my arms and legs feel a lot better than when I was going overboard with exercise.

So, on to other things, I have been having problems with neighbours in my building. Actually, I honestly don’t know if a lot of it has to do with my own paranoia, and that I need my anti-psychotic medication increased or even changed. One of my neighbours came by a couple of months ago and went into a long tirade about people making noise. So at every chance I get, I try to do what I need to without making any unnecessary noise, but it doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone. This is where the paranoia comes in, when I make even a slight noise, any other noises sound to me like a retaliatory noise, and I really don’t want to start a war in a place I really like to live in.

It is more likely that the noise I make isn’t a big deal. The only really bad thing I do is to run the blender or the popcorn maker once a day at least, but I don’t seem to get any negative feedback.

The other thing about my paranoia is that I am finding it harder and harder to go out in public or ride a bus. If I can, I always like to sit near the back and to sit to one side rather than take up two seats. Of course there is almost always some loud, swearing jerk at the very back seat and as the ride moves on I always seem to think he/she is talking about me. It is really making it difficult for me to function. Other than that, things seem to be going so well I can hardly imagine my good fortune. I was asked to speak at a stigma stoppers symposium for some junior high kids, I was also asked to read some Christmas Poetry to 400 people at a Christmas Luncheon. I will put the Christmas poem below since I haven’t posted one in a while.

Funny enough, of all of the things in my life, it seems I am getting the most joy out of my new PS4 Pro system. I bought a game called Sniper 3 for it and it is so incredibly fun to attack bases and go on missions. One lone sniper against sometimes more enemies than you are given sniper rounds. I can’t even imagine how addicted I would be to this game if I were a young kid.

But, dear readers, I hope that has given you all some food for thought. If people do like this blog, or even if they don’t or want to see certain topics, the best way to make that happen is to leave me comments. Without them I am finding it hard to write on a regular basis. Please see below for poem, and Happy Holidays!

 

McCauley Christmas

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Sweet taste of milky chocolates

Candy canes to grab everywhere

 

Christmas dinner plates full of so many things

That even those on diets eat like they don’t care

 

Parents right there to make our lives so wonderful

Also Cousins, Aunts and Uncles all around

 

Hearing the church bells start to ring

Just after Santa brought our presents down

 

We truly had no idea at that time

There was want, disappointment or so much need

 

In fact, when we didn’t get just what we had wanted

We often displayed some very ugly greed

 

Christmas time came year upon year

Each time bringing much needed joy

 

So wonderful in my small home town

To be a youthful girl or boy

 

The time came eventually for my brother and sister and I

To grow past Christmas, and move out on our own

 

And suddenly for the very first time

We learned what it meant to be truly alone

 

But despite the trials each and every year

When there was time for us to return home

 

We happily reunited with our sweet kind family

And forgot we ever had been alone

 

Sadly, we never even realized

In the neighborhood in which we lived

 

Many of our close friends and neighbors were alone

Even though we ourselves had more than enough love to give

 

When everyone seems celebrates, look closely and carefully

Look at those with whom you share your special place

 

Don’t just smile at them while they die inside

Despite how they may put up a happy face

 

Help them through the hardest times

Those who came before we did and after

 

Share with them a special gift

Share joy and love and laughter

 

Show everyone you care about each of them

Everyone tossed around here on mother Earth

 

Please learn a lesson in this special time you will use all year

As we celebrate my savior’s birth

 

Are Those People Saying Horrible Things About Me Or Am I Paranoid?

Well, I have fallen into the good habit of trying to spend as much time outside as I can possibly manage. One of the benefits of this is that I see a lot of sunsets and sunrises, and to my great surprise after living in Edmonton most of my life is that they really are beautiful beyond measure. Look for more like this soon.

Last night, I had what bordered on a really good time but my mental health seemed to want to take any enjoyment of my company or the meal I ate away from me. I went to meet a friend at a coffee shop and it was a pretty busy place. I have to admit that I stand out possibly partly because I am tall and wear clothes more suited to the outdoors, but I am also bald as a cueball. As I sat working on a Christmas poem, I had the strongest feeling that people around were angry with me for some reason, it seemed I was overhearing comments about my hair or my sweater, judgemental comments. Then my friend arrived, and it only seemed to get worse. This has been going on a lot lately and I am pretty sure it is the part of me that suffers from schizophrenia making things worse on me.

I don’t really know a lot of easy solutions to problems like this, I am certainly not a doctor and can only give small suggestions of things that work for me and may not work for others. What was disturbing was that in my false thoughts, I often felt like I had been wronged. Tonight I thought back to my high school days, which were now 40 years ago and I started to figure something out with respects to a couple of young woman I once was a passing acquaintance to. These were over-achievers and I admired their hard work and dedication, but somewhere along the line, my mind convinced me they were working with me. Seemingly, now, having insight brought on by years of taking medications and Doctor’s advice, I have come to realize that they never were a part of my life. They were parts of things like toys and such that could truly help ease stress and better cope with life’s daily trials. Having this insight into my treatment goals is like gold to me as my delusions regarding these two young women were perhaps the most harmful. What must have been disturbing for me in early years was knowing they read letters I sent that made no sense, that came to no point. It is very common with people who suffer from schizophrenia to feel they are being persecuted. My delusional thinking was so intense that I thought there were billions of dollars that I had never touched, that I had won huge book awards and other things. Somehow, my brain in its diminished capacity thought that these two women mentioned above were somehow the key to all my my suffering and misunderstanding. I wish I could name them here, but I am hoping they know who they are.

What I have often found so amazing is that when I was sent to the Alberta Hospital there were psychiatrists and staff members who were vey well trained, and had the ability to get me functioning again in a short time. I almost can’t imagine the level of clarity that a person gets when the right medications are found. Suddenly there is room in life for so many beneficial things from reading to visiting arcades.

I truly hope that I won’t get sick again, but even now after a long period of sanity I can see the other part of me edging through to my conscious thoughts quite often. I have been avoiding going swimming and working on preparing for my job as a creative writing group facilitator, but swimming was one of the times when I most felt part of a community, where I had friends I could talk to, something I feel is so essential that some people could actually delay or even control their mental illnesses with by becoming aware of the power of social interaction and learning. Being a creative writing facilitator has been awesome, I feel very much more respected being able to teach others something they may use to benefit their wellbeing or even their recreation time, and it has gotten me through difficult times in an amazing way.

Happy Holidays!

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