“Inching Back to Sane” Now available here in all ebook formats.
Dare to Dream and Let Your Heart Soar!
Hello my dear readers! I don’t have a poem for you today, but I thought I would still write a quick blog and add a photo. I have been doing both good and bad lately, and I thought I would share a few things that I feel helped the good things to happen that you can take as advice to do, and share a few of the bad things that you can possibly learn from and avoid. I hate to sound preachy, and it makes for poor prose, so I will try my best to avoid it.
Anyhow, I have been saving for some time and I didn’t really know what I was saving for. I can’t afford the gas and insurance for a car, I don’t have any trips I desperately want to take, so I decided wouldn’t hurt to dip into my savings to buy a few things for myself. I started out going with a friend to a comic shop and indulging myself in graphic novels. There is a Canadian artist and writer who really touches my heart when he writes, he seems to have a soul tortured by depression, his name is Jeff Lemire, and I highly recommend him. I found a graphic novel of his I haven’t read, then also bought two volumes of what I feel are the most monumental comics in comic history, I bought “Ben-Hur” and “Great Expectations” from the “Classics Illustrated” reprints. I get so much out of these condensed stories, and it inspires me to pick up the novels or any novel or history book and explore more, so I feel these are also well worth the price.
Last night I called up a friend and despite that we haven’t talked in a while and I wanted to talk with her, she answered the phone to my surprise. She is a very healthy and functional person, but there are times when she needs her solitude, something I completely understand. We decided to meet for lunch tomorrow which made me happy, because I have been isolated beyond my own control and out of my comfort zone for a number of days. Fortunately today the office of my apartment building was open and I was able to sit over coffee and talk with a couple of my friends. I live in a ‘supported’ apartment building and there is a common area at the office where some people I know often go, and I find it very healing to go down there and chat when I can.
So there I was, feeling a bit down, a bit lonely and a bit worn out from all the walking I have been doing. I came back to my apartment and I noticed I had an email. Turns out I have been picked for a great new part-time job opportunity that will help me develop mine and other people’s poetry skills. From then on I was flying on a cloud. I just can’t believe that I was so close to desperation, so down on myself and then this happened. I told my dad about it and he was very happy to hear about it but he reassured me that it was my own hard work that got me to this point. I have been doing a lot of things, not only to battle my mental illness and try and find meaningful work, but it just feels so good to finally arrive at the point where I feel I no longer have to worry, that I am on my way as a writer and public speaker, and that there are definitely going to be many good times ahead. So, my words to you, dear reader, as I may have expressed them before, is to just pound away at your passion, just a little at a time if you have to. Maybe just do one thing a day. If you don’t have a passion, I would suggest going to a community college or YMCA and looking at a class schedule and see if you can afford to take a class or two or if there is funding (free is even better) try and find something that interests you, challenges you, takes you somewhere. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. All the best to you, dear readers, all the best and finest.
(don’t forget to scroll down to view a video I chose to go with today’s blog)
When it all really comes down to it, we are simply animals that can reason and communicate in more complex ways. Many people in modern times use examples from far in the past to solve problems that plague us today. I have heard people talk about the “paleo” diet and workout routine that mimics the ways man (and woman) used to eat and exercise in prehistory. I like to use an example like this to describe how a person with a mental illness should look at stress and work. According to the ‘paleo’ system, we once foraged and sometimes hunted for food to sustain ourselves and our families. We were never hard-wired to sit at a computer terminal or a factory floor spending many hours a day inactive but producing what society deems to be a worthwhile contribution. What if we change the way we consume things and get a chance to step out of this rat-race? I think that our far off descendants didn’t try and hoard up all kinds of possessions, they didn’t assign permanent ownership over the caves or the other places they lived. They migrated with the flora and fauna that sustained them. I like the line from an 80’s movie (Crocodile Dundee I think) that said aboriginals think that to try and own a country is ridiculous, that it is like two flies arguing over who owns the dog they live on.
All this may seem like rambling, but I am getting somewhere with this. Recently, I watched a number of videos about these two men who call themselves minimalists. I had encountered a number of people who believed in this philosophy and it intrigues me because I have always admired monks, be they Buddhist or Catholic. I feel that if one is able to free themselves from the pursuit of vain possessions and live in the simplest way possible, it opens the mind to a type of understanding, knowledge, and spirituality that lifts them out of the world of stress and troubles that get in the way of these things.
This minimalism is fascinating. These men say you need to take a long, hard look at everything you own, everything you hold onto, and give away, sell or donate everything that doesn’t give you real pleasure. I went through something like this about 16 years ago when I left the hospital after a six-month stay. I had lost my apartment and all of my stuff was in storage. After a couple of years of paying for this storage, I realized that nothing I had accumulated over the years was in any way useful to me. If I wanted to read a book I could get any book I wanted from a library. There was no point in keeping all of those things, from old toys that gave me some nostalgic feelings but were essentially worthless to papers I had saved for years with horrible poetry on them I wanted to forget. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep up with that effort to get rid of everything I didn’t need and soon accumulated even more stuff. I’ve gone through a few binges and purges of accumulating and getting rid of things. But basically, it seems the way it works is to look at it like this: I am a person with a mental illness. I don’t cope well with stress. I get a lot of stress from working. I have to continue to work a difficult job to make more money to buy more things that I don’t really need. The solution? I have found part-time jobs that bring in just a little money, and I have decided to stop buying more things and set my schedule at a maximum of three hours a day of work, four days a week. I fill the extra time with exercise, swimming, long walks, trips to the park to take pictures of birds and my writing. I can’t say I have gotten rid of all the junk, but I am progressing. I can’t say I feel 100% better because I still have a mental illness that won’t go away. But I am finding that life is getting better for me, simplifying things has already begun to make me feel happier. I may never go back to full-time work. I may never own a big house or have a big bank account, but I just may achieve what those things are meant to give a person, satisfaction, and happiness. I will keep you updated!
Well, it has been an interesting week. I finally have a few days off to do what I like which is nice. I have a hard time when I get stressed from doing too many things and sometimes I react to it by sleeping way too much. I know this wreaks havoc on my system and makes it very hard to function in line with the world of the normal people. So many good things have been happening to me, but I know that things won’t stay good for me if I can’t do something about my excessive sleeping.
I feel really blessed today because I was contacted by the City of Edmonton and asked if I could come and give a talk about mental health at the Edmonton Public Library. On Monday I will be just finishing up a six-week contract to teach creative writing and there are many other opportunities coming my way. Still, for some reason, I find a need to worry. One of the big things that I worry about is money. Every now and then I work or do some photography and make a few extra bucks, but then it seems that the money just runs away from me. I am at a point now where I have savings to at least get me through one month of difficulties, but I keep thinking about ways I could spend the money on what I deem “more fun” things. There are cameras I would like to buy, I am always thinking of buying a car or taking a trip. It all seems like such a waste and it took so much effort just to have just the small amount of savings I do have.
I also worry sometimes about my ability as a writer. I went to a story slam the other day and really felt outclassed. I was the first reader up and was quickly knocked out of the competition. This is even after winning two story slams last year. Another thing that happened was that I won a contest for a 24-hour short story that got me $300 USD. I took the story and tried to publish it elsewhere but with no luck. I am really feeling the pinch of not having been able to go to University and take creative writing. Fortunately, I have some good friends who help and support me in making my writing as good as I can make it.
One of the things that often gives me comfort when I find myself worrying is doing meditation or taking long walks. I had planned to walk the 2km to the post office today, but the ice and snow and freezing rain was pretty bad so I ended up taking the bus. When I do take the time to meditate, what I often like to do is to read some of my Asian books about spirituality say from the Dalai Lama or ancient writings like Lao Tzu and then just sit, either cross-legged or not, close my eyes and simply try to focus on nothingness, empty space as I count my breath, breathing in and out until a thought comes up that distracts me, then I go back to zero and try to make it to a count of ten. It can be very helpful to take some training in this, I once used to go to a real Tibetan Monk for classes and it was a big help, very healing.
Ahh, it has been such a long time since I sat down to write a proper blog entry. So much has been happening to me. For starters, I have some savings right now but I have too many commitments to take any long trips. It’s funny but for the first time in my life, I have the means and cash to go to London and don’t want to. I may want to go back there in the near future, but for the moment I am happy just to stay in Edmonton. It is likely I will go to Toronto in the summer to visit my wonderful sister and sweet little niece, but that is at the back of my thoughts right now.
This past Friday was quite a shindig. The guy who got me work as a creative writing teacher hired me to MC the 20th-anniversary party for the building I live in and it was amazing. I felt really comfortable for most of the time I was up there and people really seemed to respond to my jokes and the poetry I read. I went to sleep that night feeling like my world was spinning and I was trying to hang onto it by spewing out a few choice words into a microphone.
What I am starting to slowly realize is that though my medications deal with a large portion of my symptoms, I still have a mental illness and stress, fatigue, emotion and contact with the outside world can affect it. Tonight was my Humanities 101 course at the University of Alberta and I found myself being hyper-sensitive to others and the things they said and did. I put my hand up a few times to ask questions and I got the impression that the instructor was getting frustrated. Then some guy sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could ‘please’ pull my shirt down. That kind of pissed me off and it felt like it ruined a good night of learning and debate but I thought about things for a while and realized that I was the one wanting to be in control, that I don’t like it when people show their unwholesome body parts in public and that my ego was telling me that this person, though just as valuable as me or any other person had no right to tell me anything. So here I am at home now, playing some relaxing music, sipping a cup of ‘sleepytime’ brand tea and honestly considering an early night and a ‘take as needed’ pill that will help me rest. Well, that’s about it for now, folks. Thanks for tuning in. I will do more VLOGs as time allows. In the meantime, stay real!
A View of Downtown Edmonton From Outside My New Apartment
Hi, I wanted to talk a little about disability benefits today. This is a senstive topic for many reasons. One of the big ones, as I know a good deal of my readers are from the United States, is that people on Welfare or even Social Security Benefits are looked down upon. The tax burden on Americans is great, plus the cost of health care and this ends up worsening the problem from both ends. People with mental illnesses are faced with costs that can’t be managed for medications, hospital treatment, doctors, housing and on and on. The way the American system seems to be set up to work is that each person is responsible for themselves, and when someone has a severe mental illness, this can be just about impossible. I can recall being in the US and simply knowing a guy who applied for foodstamps and then discussing it with an older gentleman and he literally stopped talking to me after we had travelled together for 3 days. It seemed a harsh judgement and pretty ignorant, but this is the way many people down there think and there are valid reasons for this attitude. I feel very fortunate to live in Canada and to have a disability benefit program plus health care and on top of that I get heavily subsidized housing and free fitness and leisure access. It almost seems like paradise, but it definitely has its drawbacks. One of them is that if I do go out and get a job, I have to limit my income to less than a minimum wage job or lose my benefits completely. With the cost of psychiatric medications this would be a staggering blow. At the present point I’m at I don’t honestly know if I could hold down a full-time job for any length of time, but I also don’t want to live the rest of my life with no improvements in my standard of living.
Some 27 years ago I found myself in a homeless shelter, mentally ill and penniless due to prolonged hospital admissions. There were very few options left for me and so I made an application to join the military. This would have provided me health benefits, an income, and a purpose in my life. My application process was interrupted by a fight with my dad that sent me to the shelter, and I decided that since I was working towards something that I could do something I thought was unthinkable-I would apply for welfare benefits. I will never forget the words of the social worker when I applied, as she looked up from the forms she was filling out for me, “Don’t get caught in the trap.” I think she meant more along the lines of the trap of drug abuse or alcoholism and circle of poverty. But whatever she meant, due to my mental illness, I was never able to join the military, and I later failed a concerted attempt to complete commercial pilot school, and was unable to hold down a full-time job. For me the trap wasn’t in getting money for nothing, it was in that every time I tried to do something, either I was told I was ineligible as a person with a mental illness, or that I would try and do a job set before me and the incredible pressure of working up to acceptable standards was simply too much. I was caught in a trap, and in some ways I still am.
Things are improving in my life though, I have found a part-time job that I am good at and that I enjoy. I give talks to students about mental illness for the Schizophrenia Society, and I have written a number of books. The books give me little income, but together I manage to put food on the table. One thing I often think about is that despite that numerous times I went over the brink into madness, I now have a good life with stable housing and income and something to do, but I have a lot of regret that I have no life partner. This is another trap that people with mental illnesses have to be aware of, the isolation factor, and it has a lot to do with receiving benefits. If you don’t have to force yourself to get up and get out and look for work, you may just sit inside and watch TV and never care if you have friends or a significant other, and years will fly past and a person will have nothing but regrets. One of the reasons that people end up isolated like this besides recieving benefits is that there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. One thing with me is that I used to try and hide the fact that I have a diagnosed illness, but now I am very forward about it. So many people, when you stop trying to hide things, will tell you they suffer, they have a family member or close friend that suffers.
Anyhow, a lot of that is beside the point I was trying to make. How do you avoid the trap that going on benefits causes? You may not be able to, but you can make your life as full as possible. I always like to say that the first thing you need to do with a mentally ill person is get them proper treatment, proper medications. Then you need to take some therapy that will help you understand yourself. After that, a life skills course or Wellness Recovery Action Plan course can help a great deal. From there, even if it just means taking one course, get some school under your belt. While you are doing this, find ways to keep fit and healthy, in what you do with your body and what you put in it. Quit smoking if you smoke. Then, try and find work, even part-time. Spend as little as possible, and save, and keep taking your medications, work on your mental health on an ongoing basis, and before you know it, you may forget you ever were sick. It isn’t an easy process, and it isn’t a simple one, but it is one that is worthwhile. I like to keep telling people that you need to have goals and direction, specific ones. “I want a bachelor’s degree in six years.” would be an excellent one. “I want to be stabilized and back working in two years, earning enough to drive a car and rent my own apartment.” is another good one. Once you have goals, you have a direction to move in, and if you are having a hard time, you can end up feeling so much better about yourself from just working a little bit each day towards your goal. Take care Dear Readers!
When have you done too much waiting for your mental health to get better? When is the time to throw in the towel and stop holding on? I hope you never give in or give up.
I am so fascinated by these little creatures in so many ways. Took this on the front steps of my sister’s house in Toronto this past summer.
Please scroll past today’s poem for a very important blog post
I was feeling trapped by loneliness and pain
I never thought life would get any good again
As a young man, I was scared of growing old
I didn’t like the stories about old age my elders told
And now I’ve made it all the way to middle age
Trying to make my way with words upon a page
And I have to tell you things really aren’t that bad
I have all the toys and friends to keep me from being sad
In fact, when I look back now upon my youth
I kind of wish someone had told me the honest truth
That there may be some pretty hard times when you are young
But if you dig in and hold on life can get so very fun
When I think of all the joy my little niece has given me
I can’t deny her arrival set my soul free
I love that little girl more than anything
I can’t describe the joy a young child can bring
When she was growing up I was born all over again
And I didn’t ever have to lie, be fake, or pretend
I could just be the Uncle who loved her so
I hope that these are things you already know
Now I have so many friends I truly love
True friendships are a gift from up above
So stand fast and don’t worry about being a child
I promise you that life will get so wonderful and wild
October 15, 2016
Have you ever sat and watched a spider spin their web? It is a mind-numbingly tedious process. But in order to eat and to survive, they must do it. Spiders have to start at one side of where they want their trap to be, then climb back and forth, back and forth, spinning their tiny web enough times for the most amazing geometric structure, then spin the inner circles that connect those lines. If someone comes along and wipes out their work, they start right over at the beginning. I hope that this is the way you see overcoming your mental illness or other difficulties in your life. Never, never, never, never give up.
I don’t know how much I can handle sharing with you, my dear readers, but at a time I was very messed up and didn’t understand what was happening. It amazes me that I got through all of that and now am a successful writer with many friends, a past of many wonderful trips and experiences and a genuinely happy life. Twenty-six years ago I was a far ways from it and maybe if I can share a little of my story with you it might help you to help yourself or your loved ones from going through the same thing. First and foremost, I had no understanding of mental illness, and it crept up on me. The illness manifested itself while I was in school and I did a lot of irrational things that got me in trouble. I was taken to a secure ward in a mental hospital which was absolutely the worst experience of my life. It felt as though my brains were scrambled, but still there were a lot of people at the hospital who really were trying hard to help me. The thing was, because no one I knew had ever talked about mental illness, my opinion was that if I told these people about the thoughts and problems I was having they would simply lock me up longer. The miracle of it was that in short order medications were found that had me back in excellent shape in a surprisingly short time.
Of course, I didn’t continue to take treatment. Over the years, I was in and out of hospitals a lot, and I came to a point where I just wanted the pain to end. I took a serious overdose of acetaminophen and came very near to ending my life. When I saw the pain and difficulties I caused my family, I decided I would never attempt suicide again. I had to have some kind of hope in my life though. It was excruciatingly difficult, but I kept trying to find a doctor and medications that worked for me and I forced myself to get a job and at least try and make my own way in the world. I found a lot of help going to church and some 12-step meetings, though for years it almost felt like my whole life was just about going through the motions.
One of the things I needed to do perhaps the most was to get my life on a schedule, even if I was occasionally sleeping all day or staying up all night. My method of doing this was to start going to the swimming pool. By the grace of God, the city of Edmonton started a plan where people who were disabled or impoverished could get a free pass to use city facilities. It was very hard at first, but I forced myself to go and forced myself to fit into the groups that went there at the same time as me and before I knew it, I had friends that went there and worked there and lifeguards were helping me train and it was fantastic overall. This exertion made me sleep better, made me feel better, and improved my life in so many ways. In a lot of ways I thought I would never participate in sports again after knee injuries as a youth, but now I was getting very fit and it was helping nearly every part of my life.
Being in shape led me to be able to work more, and eventually just by the sheer fact that I got along with people and was helpful, I was given a job working security on movie sets in Edmonton. This led to other work as a stagehand for concerts and life just kept on improving. As time went past, I started to use my free time to work on my writing, and basically just took things one step at a time until I had built a body of work that I was proud of. Meanwhile, my niece was born and my purpose in life soon became all about spending time with her and trying to be the best Uncle I could be. None of this would have ever happened if when I was younger I decided life sucked now and would suck forever and stopped trying. If you have a goal or a dream, sit down and make a plan. Keep a success journal to record yourself moving towards that goal each and every day. It can be something as simple as taking a walk to a community college and looking at courses that you could take. It could be as simple as just taking a walk. But please, never, never, never, never, never give up! Life can take you so many amazing places and I honestly believe that our Creator will never give you more than you can handle. Joy and happiness to all of you!
Living alone after a hospitalization can be difficult. It took me 15 years! I started out in a group home where I was supported, and everyone in the home had been hospitalized at one point for a mental illness of some type. This made for less stigma regarding my illness (bipolar/anxiety/schizoaffective disorder) and forced me to learn a lot of skills that are helping me thrive in my first self-contained apartment in yes, 15 years! Of course, there are my books which I feel are the most important part of my recovery.
(apologies: Today’s introduction and photo ran a bit long. Please enjoy today’s poem and scroll aaaalllllllll the way down to the bottom to read today’s actual post!)
This photo on the right is a picture I took while visiting my sister in Toronto. it is three tiers of a wing of the Ontario Provincial Parliament building. I really love to explore and photograph lavish art like this, especially when it draws on the architecture of the ancient Greeks as does a lot of ornate government buildings. I don’t really know that period in history that well, but I think this trend is because of the fact that Greece is credited as the birthplace of Democracy. One of the things that keeps me going, having a lot of fun and experiencing new things is travel, which I think is essential in my quest to be more independent. I always try to get the most out of my travel dollar, booking my own flights, staying with friends or in Hostels. One of the best things to do is to learn the local public transportation system as I did in Toronto and London. Please see below the poem underneath this text for the rest of today’s blog, and if you like my poetry or other writing, please support me by buying a book off amazon!
A Madman Who Was King
The air is cool, the night is dark
I’m lost among my books
Pages of pictures of people
Through the ages
Their eyes all seem so stark
I dreamed about one of these before
Perhaps I was just a child
He’s the only one with just a little more
A look a little wild
Gazing into the picture neatly framed
Trying to see the soul it represented
One that is long forgotten perhaps because
Into madness this man had descended
It is said he had a particular madness
That warped the most brilliant of all thoughts
And hence all in his life he ever accomplished
Was to be left tied in leather knots
I lose myself in this portrait
In the image on the page
Wondering if in a time like now
This poor soul could even draw a living wage
It may be over 200 years
It maybe be an ocean or two away
But when I look in this man’s eyes
I think if he were well he would have something to say
But they would just fill him up with pills
Until he had no more independent thought
Until he no longer cared to chase
Any hope of the dreams that he once sought
It was said he was a happy man
Until they took all he had
But that taking his writing away
Was the only thing that made him sad
You see this man had dreams
And could express them like no other
But when he showed the slightest sign of madness
They locked him up and gave his kingdom to his brother
It is such a funny thing to me
This ancient man a king in a far off land
Because despite high birth and massive wealth
No one wept for him or tried to understand
Living Alone After a Hospitalization:
Well, when you get out of the hospital you are going to need to look at a number of things. The first time I was out of the hospital 15 years ago I had become such a wreck that things were done for me. This was extremely difficult for me to face, but I had to accept that I had a real illness, and honestly, let’s take a look at the difference between a physical illness and a mental one–is there really a difference? Is there something about the brain that is separate from the body? The fact is, the brain had mass, is an organ, needs blood, and can go haywire just like a bladder or liver or heart. No one should be ashamed or feel they have to make excuses about having a mental illness, it isn’t something a person chooses to do. Just like they are doing with drugs in some countries, instead of shuffling people off and stigmatising them, we need to look at harm reduction and community involvement.
So, the first thing I really started to do when I left the hospital was to write. I had a computer though I had no printer or Internet connection but I would play games and write. I would write poems, journals. I didn’t send any of them out like I do now, but I needed to start somewhere. I had a goal and I was willing to work towards it no matter how long it took. Before that time I had written some stories, some poems. Things were very different then, to write a book you kind of had to lock yourself away and then send it to a publisher or agent, pay all kinds of fees, you often got ripped off and even if you had good news come back it would take years. Now people are using SEO to write books that come up on all kinds of search engines, self-publishing them and sending them out, and they are garbage. Not to say writing was never crap before, but it seemed that people spent a lot more time polishing and perfecting their work.
So let’s break down what we have so far. You’re in the hospital, you get out and you don’t know if you can cope and worry you may go back in a few months. First of all, take some time no matter how hard it is and take your medications. You have a physical illness that can almost 75% of the time be corrected with medications. That number goes up when you add in group therapy and counselling. So get the treatment you need. It truly sucks that some people in the US live without a health plan to get themselves these things, but you have to do everything you can to get better. No one thought I would get better when I first got out, but here I am now supporting myself with writing work and book sales and I’m travelling and I have all kinds of great opportunities come my way. If you live in the US, why not try and contact a pharmaceutical company about getting discounted or even free medication because of hardship? This is a tax write-off and also a major Public Relations step that the big companies often do. You may see a Psychiatrist at a free clinic who isn’t helping you, but you can look into getting a more effective doctor that you can work with by paying on a sliding scale. I knew one guy who was seeing a Psychiatrist for $1 a visit, and he helped him a lot.
The next thing that is very important is to have a goal, to have something to work towards. It could be a new computer, it could be a reliable car, it could be anything. For me, it was having a girlfriend and getting out of the cycle of living on disability benefits. I haven’t accomplished these totally, but I have female friends in my life who I really care for, and my disability benefits are now reduced because I work and I get benefits from another program that I paid into. Again and again I will say that you need goals because without them you are just floating, you can’t look at the past year or years and figure out what was working and what wasn’t, you aren’t going in a direction.
So I hope at this point you have goals and you have found a way to optimize your medication and can afford it. I don’t want to bore you with too much reading today, but I think the next thing to think about is relationships. Mostly family, but friends and life partners too. Work hard on making these as strong and loving as you can. Work hard to build trust and look for ways to show people you care, talk with them about their feelings and your feelings and invest in them. They are the ones who are really going to help you as time goes by. That’s all for today Dear Readers, I am going to post a picture below, I hope you all are benefitting from my words.