Let me try and describe for you a quick look at a harsh reality. It isn’t a pretty one, but one I will have to face up to in the following months as I move further away from that scenario. A room, nothing but a non-ventillated room with a tiny bathroom attached. The room is no more than 10 feet by 15 feet, and inside of it lives a very ill young man presently having medication problems and who is surrounded by a lifetime of possessions. A book case covers one wall, packed full of every kind of book. More books are in the cupboard space instead of food, and more are laying randomly on the floor. The floor is littered with clothes new and old, garbage, full packs of cigarettes, dirty socks, and the odd can of beans or other uncooked, ready to eat food. On every flat surface piles of papers or CDs or other items are stacked beyond a safe height, and inside the fridge there are many items, but none of them are useable. This was my reality before I spent six months in a psychiatric hospital where I wasn’t even allowed to go home to pack my stuff up when I was evicted for displaying the signs of a person with a mental illness.
Sometimes I like to think that back then I wasn’t a hoarder but just a book lover or a music lover. But the plain truth was that I was being choked to death by all of my possessions. I didn’t want to let go of them for any reason. I think it is often the common reason people hoard things is that they feel they have more value than others do, that they can somehow sell them. The idea in my head was that somehow I would read all the books, even though I was consistently buying more books than I could read at that time. Lacking proper space to cook, I was also forced to buy food out or sponge off of my elderly parents which definitely wasn’t sustainable. I think at this time I was a hoarder. I tried an experiment though, a lot of my stuff was put into storage for after my release from hospital, and after spending two years paying for storage I hadn’t once needed to go to get more stuff from there, and I realized that I actually didn’t need any of that stuff. I stopped paying the storage people, they sent me a few nasty letters then auctioned off my things and that was that. The main problem was that I had already begun to accumulate more things.
I have a friend who is definitely a hoarder who lives in a small house stuffed to the rafters with books he will never read, records he will never play and videos he will never watch. At one point he confided with me that when he bought something, it almost gave him a sexual thrill. At first I thought this was a pretty sick thing, but later in years I have heard that many people actually experience this same thing. I think the important thing to understand though is that it is essential to gain awareness of a problem like hoarding, and that there is a great deal of help out there for people to want to change.
It is quite a few years since that incident when I was not only severely mentally ill, but also drowning in more possessions than I needed. What has changed is that I have stabilized on medications, which work well for me, and I have much more space than that tiny little apartment. What I desperately would like to know is if I am still a hoarder.
In the time since that six month hospitalization, I developed an interest in reading comic books. I had once collected them as a child, when I was 10 and I had an impressive collection. Now I don’t read them as much but they have become easy to purchase, I now have thousands more than I ever did, despite that I don’t have a lot of time for reading.
So in all this time since my last hospital admission (19 years) I have fought to find a balance to my life, and I have discovered a movement called minimalism. I find it extremely fascinating, the claims they make are huge though. Get rid of 90% of what you have and you will feel 200% better. Declutter your home and declutter your mind. A lot of it makes sense to me, but I have hit a roadblock. I have this huge collection of comics recently bought and I just don’t know if I can sell the comics at a huge sacrifice, never having taken the time to read them. This surely must be hoarding at its worst, and to break out of the cycle I am going to have to make some really hard decisions. The only way I really know how to deal with it is to read books like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a beautiful book about purging possessions and reorganizing ones’ home. I know it will be difficult, but I think one of the most important things is likely that I shouldn’t worry about getting my money out of the comics. What I really have to focus on is finding a way to force myself not to buy any more, and I am lucky to have a resource in Edmonton that many of us can access with ease, there are graphic novels galore in the Edmonton Public Library. There are actually also a great deal of comics online, but I can’t comment due to lack of knowledge on copyright status and such. One of the wonderful things about the computer age is that it almost seems all one needs is a decent computer and only the very essential necessities of life and you can make it.
There are some truly encouraging reasons to embrace minimalism. The idea that one can either lower the amount they work without worry or work like they did before but be able to save much more, save for things in life that truly matter, like a life-changing vacation or being able to take your spouse out for a special meal at a fancy restaurant you enjoy more often. For me, as I sit at my desk writing this now, all I can think about is what it will be like when the clutter and papers of my work space are cleared and I can think of nothing but writing. I have also been thinking that if I use some of the space in my apartment differently there is no reason why I can’t hold onto my comics, but the essential thing I think is for me not to buy any more, so I have been trying to read up and listen to podcasts on living with less.
Last week I went into kind of a cleaning frenzy. I took all my clothes, piled them up on my futon, then got rid of each and every stitch of fabric that I wasn’t using or didn’t give me immediate joy. I was going to move on to do more this weekend but Edmonton has been hit with a brutal snowstorm and temperature drop which has made it impractical for me to complete my scheduled purge. Books are next. This is going to be the hardest part of it all I think, I have loved books since I was very young, but I think I should go easy on myself and include books but not comic books. I have this idea that I can simply pare down my comic collection to a manageable amount, but the truth is no matter which way I do it, this can become a very emotional time for a person who has had a lot of stuff for a long time. One thing I do know is that changing the way you view possessions, and not letting what you have define what kind of person you are, is so worth it.
Has anyone out there read the classic work “The Gambler” by I think Dosteyovski? It tells the tale of a man so obsessed by gambling that he plots to murder his landlady. I won’t ruin it for you because the whole point in bringing it up is that it portrays an incredibly accurate depiction of a compulsive gambler. I myself was a compulsive gambler for some time, and not only was I totally sure I suffered from this affliction, I also understood that it comes along with the manic side of my bipolar disorder, which is a part of my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I could abstain for long stretches, then all at once I would have a severe compulsion and an almost unfailing faith that I would walk out of the casino with more money than I walked in with. Despite making my own computer programs to test my winning strategies and being something of a former math whiz, I would put money in, perhaps win a little at first and then chase my losses until I had nothing. But this hasn’t been my only addiction.
As a young kid, I had an addiction to comic books. I would work myself to death to try and accumulate as many as I could, and even when I got older and stopped reading them, I would often have dreams about still having the literature hidden in my parent’s closet. I simply could not get enough, even when my parents told me no more comics. Then at 14, I started to smoke cigarettes. That was an addiction that took me 18 years to quit.
Perhaps one of the most damaging of my addictions was alcohol. I found it was that magic elixir that would loosen the chains of my anxiety and remove inhibitions. When I was drunk I could meet girls, dance, do whatever I wanted and even if I got into a fight or got beat up for my stupidity while drinking it didn’t hurt that much.
And now I am trying something new, something that is on the edges of anything I ever tried. I want to take all of my possessions and minimize them and somehow stop fixating on getting better clothes, better furniture, better video games. Even though I am 47 I am finding that there are some professional development courses I would love to take but the money just isn’t there and the rules of having the government sponsor a person for part-time learning have changed.
With all of these addictions, I am trying very hard to find a way to not just cope with the ones I have, but to try and avoid getting any more. I met a young man of 33 yesterday who was homeless and addicted to Fentynal. He likely won’t survive the winter unless he can get lucky enough to be put in jail. That is a very scary thing for me to consider, especially when I consider that there isn’t that much difference between him and I other than that I am much older and less able to bounce back from something of that nature.
When I was in a 12-step program years ago, my now-departed sponsor told me once that when you apply the steps of abstinence in your life, you don’t have a cure for your addiction, you have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of your spiritual condition. He also said that when we abstain, if we don’t deal with whatever personality trait or flaws that caused us to become addicted to something, our illness can manifest itself in other ways.
Clean and purge is all I can manage for now. I do plan to keep a bible and a few books that have meaning for me, but I would like to get to the stage of relying on the library instead of buying and accumulating more and more books. Maybe when I get myself down to the bare bones and can focus on the thing I love the most (writing) I will have enough to not just deal with my addictions, but to really turn myself into a better person all around. I have so little control of my mental health situation. All I can really do is take my medications as prescribed and talk to my nurse and doctor as often as they want me to. I know for a fact that on a fixed income if I can slow down consumption of things such as diet pop (one of my new addictions), purchase of comic books (an affliction that has come back to me) and buying books, I will likely be more able to take care of myself. One of the best things I have found when I want to make an effort to stop a habit is simply to not allow myself to think of the subject. If I have to get off the bus a stop early to walk around a bar that has gambling machines I will. If I have to not go near the mall to not be tempted to buy new clothes, I will do it. And the one thing, the one magical thing that I can always do for myself is as simple as picking up a book, just an interesting book. Reading is such magic, it takes a person to another world, it takes a person inside the mind of the author, it gives a writer a whole new world to create with total omnipresence. Thanks for reading my blog, I couldn’t be a writer if people out there in the world didn’t read my work.
Something I have become aware of in the past few years is that it seems everyone, but especially those who have a mental illness, have something that engages them, something that fulfills them. For me it has been photography, which can be rewarding for everyone, but often people’s passions start earlier in their lives than mine did. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until I was around thirty and better and more reliable digital cameras came out. I had tried taking pictures, I had even taken two photography courses, one in school and another in cadets, and it always just frustrated me. I would load the film wrong, I would take pictures and not have the extra money to have them developed or I would wait too long to have them developed. Now, photography to me is an amazing hobby because I don’t need film, I just need a camera memory card and I can load the pictures onto my computer and fool around with the light and colours and even the composition.
I ran into something very interesting the other day, I was in a class and I found it hard to keep my attention on what was being talked about. There were also breaks and blank spaces in the day that I felt a little bit resentful about because I had nothing to do. Then I noticed the person beside me had taken a sheet of an adult colouring book out and had started the long process of colouring in pieces of it with a ball point pen. I took a sheet for myself and started to do the same thing and it was almost like magic. I was fully engaged in colouring, but I was still able to hear and understand everything being said in the class. I have never really seen myself as much of an artistic person, at least not in the case of drawing things with my hand, but there was a time years ago when my dad, who was a sign writer, asked me to come and help him get some patterns of signs that he needed to recreate. At the time, I often fought with my dad and I hate to say it but had a low opinion of him. I felt the things he did for a living to be something beneath me, but still part of me wanted to do things with my dad, we had a glimmer of the special father-son relationship we used to have when I was much smaller. Anyhow, what he needed me to do was to take a ladder, climb up to where “no entry” signs had been posted and using special thin paper, trace out the whole sign. I wish I could describe it better, but really when I did this, I thought it was pure magic. At that age, I mostly did two things, I delivered pizza and I was a student. But now, I was an active part of something, and I was actually creating something useful. As I carefully sketched out the outlines of the sign, I had such a feeling of personal accomplishment. It was a time in my life I will never forget.
Not all that long after that, I was having severe mental health difficulties and ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I was very young to be there, I had just turned 18, and there was another person there my age who seemed to be something of an odd fit to the situation as well. One afternoon, when there was absolutely nothing to do but watch television, something I mostly hate doing, this young person and I sat down and he showed me how to sketch a tiger or a lion. As the task took over all my concentration and effort, he said to me, “See, now it’s like we’re not in a mental hospital anymore.” and it really wasn’t. Over the years I have tried to engage myself with similar things, but I still kind of feel that drawing, painting, visual art is not my best choice, though as I said it can get a person through some pretty tough times. I have found writing. When I feel a day is slipping away from me and I have accomplished nothing, I can come here and write a blog. When I want to feel I am doing something useful and worthwhile, I will sit down and plan out and write a first draft of a short story or a poem.
Basically dear readers, I don’t want to nail you down to any one activity that will be a catch-all for your problems. What I do want to suggest is that you find something that engages you, takes all your concentration and personal skills. For some it could be building a wooden chair or desk. For others it could be working with stained glass or drawing a cartoon. If you don’t already have something like this in your life, find a book that will teach you the basics of something you feel would be interesting. Work through it, find others that do the same kind of things, be it gardening or even simply reading or writing poetry. Try and stick with it, and before you know it you will have a long list of happy memories, and you will have gotten yourself through some difficult times. I know it has worked that way for me.
I live in the city pictured above, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the moment the weather is ideal (aside from a lot of rain this year) but it isn’t always the healthiest climate for recovery. A few years back, I was in the hospital for a month on two separate occasions, and wanting to enjoy the summer weather, I sat outside my apartment on a picnic bench, and a young child while hiding himself was yelling insults at me. This of course is a common thing for young children, but I found it extremely disturbing at the time and felt it was directed at me.
Feeling insults and threats were directed at me is also something not new and not always valid. Before my last hospital visit, I was having extreme problems with paranoia, delusions and hallucinations due to a new medication not working properly. It really can be extremely difficult to function when this sort of thing is going on, difficult to leave the house or to work. I actually got to the point where I thought the people next door to me were laughing and directing insults and threats at me that I recorded what I thought were the remarks on my cell phone to play it for my building manager. She listened to it and couldn’t hear a thing. I remember thinking, and saying that something was very seriously wrong.
One thing I want to note here is that a person’s first few years with a diagnosis of an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar can be very difficult, but statistics show that you can bounce back, that most people do bounce back. The most important thing I feel at this point is just not to isolate yourself. You may be unable to stay with your parents or a sibling as a helper and caregiver, but it would be really positive if you had a roommate. I remember getting an excellent suggestion that I put up a notice at the University in the psychology department telling the truth, that I had a mental illness, and asking for a student to share a room. I didn’t end up going through with it, but still it was a pretty good idea.
I wanted to talk a little today about resentments. All of us have times in our past where we were pushed around or bullied, hurt, taken advantage of. Sadly that is not just the normal for people with mental illnesses, but for most people in general. I remember my junior high days being filled with beatings from the biggest kid in school, for no better reason than I was the one he needed to prove he was tougher than. The fact is, and I myself am guilty for this, you can’t continue to live your life and constantly look back at regrets.
There are a couple of ways of looking at times when people hurt or wronged you. These incidents often play themselves over and over through your head, and when you have psychosis, they can actually change in your memories to be even more disturbing and troubling. One of the ways I have recently discovered to help deal with feelings like this which was suggested to me a long time ago was to take all of your anger and hurt and put it into an exercise like swimming or lifting weights, really push yourself to your limits and let the anger loose. I haven’t always agreed with this, but I know that it makes you feel a lot better and has many healthful side benefits.
Another way of looking at thinking about those in the past who hurt us is that we are literally letting them rent free space in our heads. In the end, we have control over how we see things, we have control over how we let them affect us. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to enact this control. One of the best ways to learn is to participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but that can be expensive and time consuming. Still, it gives proven results. Look into places you can get this kind of therapy on a sliding scale, or perhaps even join a group therapy session.
The next way of dealing with these thoughts is something I didn’t really event, but I seemed to discover it on my own as a teenager. I was a smoker and I hated what it did to my health and really wanted to quit. My most successful attempt at quitting came when I used a psychological method of distracting myself from my cravings. One of the big motivators for people in their teens is attraction and desire, so what I did was whenever I wanted to light up a cigarette, I would indulge myself in putting thoughts and images in my head regarding a young woman I really liked. Although I started again later, this was very nearly a successful result that ended up taking 17 more years and professional help to deal with.
So, some of those methods can help get the thoughts out of your head or distract you so you don’t dwell too much on one thing, but I also wanted to describe one of the best things you can do for your mind and your brain. It is meditation, and I make no apologies that I have talked about it before. It is such a simple, though not always easy thing to do. You need to have some quiet time and space, unless you are fortunate to have a class or monastery available where you can learn, and all you really do is focus and breathe. You simply try to clear out your head, and think of nothing. This can be difficult at first, but as you practise meditation more, it will become easier. You breathe in and count one, breathe out and count two. You try to count to ten without being distracted or thinking of something else, which will happen many times, but just gently guide yourself back to not thinking and start again from one. There are many books on meditation, and also many resources like apps. I even once owned a virtual reality headset that had a ‘game’ where you could go to one of 12 destinations and just be alone to think and let your positive thoughts grow and negative thoughts go away. With that, I hope all of you can find peace and enjoyment in your lives, be you caregivers or people who suffer from mental illnesses, all the best!
What a beautiful summer day to lie in the grass and watch a soccer game. When I was younger, I really didn’t factor in the fact that your body decays (in most people) as you get older. I had read a few articles about people in their 80s running marathons, and athletes having comebacks at 50. I started to decline a long time ago, and it likely had to do a lot more with my bull-headedness not wanting to listen to advice like not running in excess of 5 miles, not running on pavement, getting proper shoes for every type of exercise. That was the beginning, I destroyed my knees at the age of 20 years old. But what really got to me was not just this disability, it was also the medications I took. They made me drowsy, lazy. They made my hands shake and messed with my balance. Getting through this was one of the more difficult times of my life. I was good at a few sports as a youngster, I was a decent basketball player, but for all of my teen years I was a smoker which made this nearly impossible. I also loved to play pool, going to the pool hall every morning instead of the second half of my Law 30 class. I dreamed about one day having a pool table at home, and I think I could have been on my way. But medications derailed me. What could I do?
Medications have gotten better since then, and I even know of a few people who take what I do and it works for them and also their hands don’t shake at all. I really don’t ever want to recommend people to go off medication, but there are instances where a person can be on too much, a Doctor can usually spot this in a moment. This is why sometimes it is useful to get a second opinion, especially when you find your medication side effects debilitating. My mom, near the end of her life, was on a lot of medications, but my parents put a lot of faith in her psychiatrist. It hurts to think she could have had a better mental state or a better quality of life if she had been on less. One thing I want to emphasize is that in her final years, she would never miss a psychologist’s appointment because in her mind and my dad’s, that was the only treatment that helped anything.
There are two sides to this coin, one is that I have encountered (and I am no therapist or doctor) studies that said therapy alone is better than medication alone. Of course as I said, I don’t recommend going off meds, but if you can somehow combine your treatment there are chances of feeling better than you are now and any time healthy means you are headed towards a time when new and ‘better’ medication can be developed. My former Psychiatrist, an amazing man named Bishop, whenever I asked about a new medication he would say that what I had was working well, he didn’t like tinkering with people who were doing well, but left it up to me, emphasizing the question, “do you want to take a chance at going back where you were?” Well, for me that was no option. Last time before I saw that doctor that I had been in the hospital I was in a terrible state, being beligerent and abusive, deluded into thinking the world revolved around me and having people respond in kind with everything from flat out insults and threats to a severe beating from a guy who didn’t like the way I crossed the street. No, I did not want to go back there.
Some time later, with a doctor that my old doctor recommended, a decision was made to try a newer medication, and I got very ill and spent a month in the hospital–after I had worked so incredibly hard to build my life back and show stability and such. All at once I was delusional and paranoid to the extreme again. Sadly, this is something anyone with a mental illness must come to expect and prepare for. For more information, look into something called “The Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP. They have an app for phones that allow you to outline things like trigger warnings, ways to help with symptoms and more. The app is based on a course that I found very helpful, and attribute my quick recovery from the relapse of my condition too. It also helped that I had gained a great deal of knowledge about my condition, perhaps mostly by being a part of the Schizophrenia Society.
So, today’s blog is getting pretty long, I will sum things up and try to explain more in a future blog. First off, look into funding or affordable therapy. In Edmonton there are even free therapists as I am sure you can find in any major Canadian city. You drop in, fill out a form, and wait and see someone confidentially who is qualified. But this is a quick fix. When you find you care stable enough, I recommend things like the WRAP course and others, but I also recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Just as a warning though, I believe they state that it takes a commitment of around 16 (if I remember correctly) sessions to read benefits. If you are having any problems finding resources, please email me and I will see if I can help connect you. Look for services you are insured for, and also for services operated on a sliding scale. I once spoke to a hospital counsellor after my mom passed and she wanted me to pay $20 or $30 a session, not so much because she needed the money, but she wanted to make sure I was able to commit and consider my treatment a priority.
I will just sum up and say, if you are having mental health difficulties, first try and contact your psychiatrist, then any psychiatrist, then a medical doctor, learn all you can about your illness, get active in learning (books) and groups (Wrap and many others). Find out all you can about your medications, then find out about counselling. And don’t worry if you seem to take one step forward and two back in your mental health journey, we all have good days and bad days.
Link to my first memoir:
Poverty and the Psychiatric Patient:
People with mental illnesses are often plagued by not having enough to get by, and even not taking what little they get to provide their own necessities. There are a few different aspects of this. The first and perhaps the worst part of this is when a psychiatric patient becomes homeless. This is a horrible situation to be in. In my home city of Edmonton, there are a number of ‘characters’ you see on the streets all the time, winter or summer, begging for money, sleeping in bus shelters, filthy clothes and horrible smell to them, often talking to themselves or even being aggressive with people. It is extremely sad to witness because people like this get to this situation after addictions, loss of trust of family members or worse, and loss of government disability benefits. I had some very serious situations occur in my own life when I would get very sick and my delusional thinking made me believe that in reality I owned the place I was renting and had no need to pay rent. As a result of this happening once, I had to go to the hospital, to the locked ward, and I was evicted with no way to state a defence or even be able to move my stuff or clean my apartment. Mental illness (and I like to include addictions with mental illness) can take away everything and leave the sufferer in a terrible state.
I am very grateful about the fact that I have never seen the inside of a prison, but from my understanding, prisons are full of people who should in reality not be punished, but who should be treated for mental illness and be totally forgiven for many of the crimes that got them there. There is another factor in my home city (which gets exceedingly cold in winter) where people face a winter on the streets and actually commit a crime just to get three meals a day and shelter. It costs society, any society, a great deal to put people into the criminal justice system and try them and detain them. It also costs when a person’s needs such as anti-psychotic medications are not available and they get ill. This is just one more small example of why attitudes towards mental illness should change.
After years of patience, as well as experimenting with many different medications, and many hospital visits (one as recent as this past February) I am in an incredibly fortunate position. I have an apartment that suits my needs, I have a part-time job, and I get partial benefits as a disabled person. Without regular visits to the Doctor, proper medication, and a desire to constantly improve my own abilities and well-being, none of this would have been possible. But how can others do this? I hear horror stories about the US and even worse ones about third world countries and how people have such a difficult time getting by. For a long time, perhaps permanently, people with severe psychiatric disabilities are unable to work. There is just too much going on in their heads, too much depression, paranoia, voices, you name it. I am so grateful that most of the time, when I am on my medications, I am very functional. Sometimes you just have to ignore what people say you should be doing (working and paying taxes when you are ill) and focus on doing everything you can to get better.
One of the first things a person really should do I feel is deal with any addictions. When I was a teen, I was a heavy smoker and drinker. It was a coping mechanism, drinking and smoking cigarettes was how I found some comfort in the world. Drinking stopped being fun when it took away the respect others had for me, when I knew it triggered delusional thinking and smoking quickly went out of style when prices went up to $10 a pack. I started out by going to 12-step meetings, although I want to warn people not to make things like that the main focus of your life. It is so important to make your whole life full. I used to have a routine of swimming every day, which I often still do, and often taking long walks with my Dad. When I took things out of my life like booze and cigarettes, and replaced them with healthy activities, it definitely accelerated my recovery. I wish I had also taken the time to join Toastmasters, learning to do more effective public speaking is an incredibly useful tool.
When I was experiencing poverty (I got $560 per month and $300 was for rent, $60 for bills and $200 for food with absolutely no wiggle room) I rode a bike I got second hand, I got a part-time job which was extremely difficult but let me save enough for an old computer. I started to write at this point and I read as much as I possibly could, filling my days up with preparation for the kinds of things I do now. I really feel everyone (though especially anyone who wants to write) should keep a journal. It lets you track your progress over time, and time being one of the few luxuries that recovering psychiatric patients have, it is best to always use it to extend your limits and decrease your limitations every day.
I really wish I could offer hard and fast solutions, but all I can really say is find something at your speed and try to ramp it up a little at a time. I remember a time when I had a horrible depression and got through it by reading a box full of Archie comics I had saved. Even that simple cartoon taught me a lot about humour and storytelling for children. Make the most of each day, make strong, solid friendships, with a few people-you may need to be around a friend all the time but people can’t always be there for you. When I was younger and had a lot of time to read, I would pick up a book that I knew would be entertaining (my favourite book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” being the best one) and just randomly read it until I was in more of a mindset to read heavier or even non-fiction books. Like Sylvester Stallone said in Creed, you win the title “One step at a time one punch at a time, one round at a time.” Get the steps and punches down right, because with constant, disciplined effort, even those who are horribly afflicted can make something amazing out of their lives.
When I was younger I had a lot of mixed up ideas about money, and they only got worse as I got older and had to take care of myself. I was a bit of a math whiz in school, having taught myself to program my computer to do such things as play games of chance, create graphic designs, calculate mortgages and do my math homework much faster than when I did it without my computer. When I look at this bridge, I think of the old one that was rusting and getting very old, and I get pretty fascinated with the design of it. A friend who is a much better photographer, took a night shot from around this angle and used a long exposure to make the lights of oncoming cars into a streak of white light, and cars going away a red streak. If you break it down, there are so many ways to apply formulas of money to these situations. In our part of Canada, people, or often for young people their families, must purchase their cars themselves. Some of them put a pretty high value on who they are if they have an expensive car like a Corvette or a Mercedes Benz. Granted, they do pay for their car but without the pooled resources of a major city like Edmonton, things like this bridge don’t get built. To relate money to the photographs, although I did get free training in Air Cadets and at school in photography, my hands are tied when it comes to affording a high quality camera, or a vehicle for that matter. Still, this bridge is something I have every right in the world to use because there is no discrimination (supposedly) when it comes to being a have or a have-not. I did experience one thing right on the street I live on. A car pulled up and slowed for a stop sign in front of where I was about to walk, and I stepped out and he almost hit me. He literally had no intention of stopping for a pedestrian, even though he had a stop sign. I pointed at the sign and I forget if I said anything, but then he rolled his window down, and said to me, “We pay for the road, you don’t!” I was left a bit curious as to what he meant. First off, paying or not paying, he has no right to endanger my life. The other thing that was odd was that he should have been pretty sensitive about saying and doing those things because he was obviously an immigrant. Last year I was in a position to buy a new car, something I have never been able to do but decided instead with the advice of my dad, to just keep walking and buy a bus pass each month. I ended up doing so and I have gotten myself into incredible shape and also lost a good deal of weight, something that has done wonders for my confidence, my social life, my fitness and many more things. It has also allowed me the freedom to have a fair amount of extra money here and there. I feel especially proud of the fact that I was able to buy my brother a TV. It is so important for him to have things like this because he has had back surgery and has difficulty getting out of the house.
Now, to get back on topic. I always wonder what readers from the United States or Great Britain will think of my posts because I am extremely fortunate to be a Canadian. I am provided with a disability pension, subsidized housing, discount bus pass, free fitness and swimming facilities, free health care and free medications. I don’t mean to brag about these things, I would like to see every country in the world move towards a situation like this, but that may take some time. As for readers from the US, I know it is extremely difficult to get by when you have to take medications for any reason. One of the things you can do is to write to the company that makes your medication and ask about any subsidy or free medication programs. It may take an Internet search and a few emails, but be persistent. It really is hard enough for people with psychosis or mood disorders to be medication compliant without having the extreme hardship of paying for medication that won’t exactly cheer you up overnight. Medications often seem awful for the first few weeks or even months until your body can adjust to them and then they will begin to deal with your symptoms. If you do have health care and still don’t like taking medications and there is concern you may impulsively stop and have to go into the hospital again, ask your Doctor about injectable medication. I get a shot in the shoulder every two weeks. By some freak chance my Doctor tried to switch me to a more effective, newer medication and it simply did not work for me. I ended up having to spend a month in the hospital. This became a financial burden, but fortunately I have just about gotten myself back to normal physically mentally and financially.
For anyone, especially those who have to pay for medications and work all week, there is a book that I feel could help them all a lot. It is called “The Richest Man in Babylon” and it talks a lot about tried and true, proven, tested concepts on how to get yourself on firm financial footing no matter what your situation. The most important thing talked about in this book is to always take 10% off the top of what you earn and put it away. Do this for a while. Aim for a year or two. While you wait, another thing is that you will need to increase your earnings. Look for classes on things like beading or about jewelry or self improvement classes through the library. Depending on your interests, you could possibly learn how to set up a website like the one you are reading from now. Or, you could make your own jewelry that you can sell at a farmer’s market or flea market. The book focuses on education and self-improvement as a lifelong thing. The next concept the book covers is how to seek advice. One day your mechanic friend may come to you with an idea to buy a stock of encyclopedias that you can re-sell. Don’t listen to him. Listen to your mechanic when he directs you to a deal on a used car in great shape, that’s his field of expertise. Always make sure advice comes from those qualified and experienced to give it. And, the principles in this book emphasize paying down your debt bit by bit, but not cutting into your savings or what you need to live. 20% is a reasonable figure for debt payments. Now, a couple of years have passed. You have some money saved. You paid off your debts. Now is a good time to look into investing, and not on a vacation to Hawaii. You can go to Hawaii all you want when you retire. The next step is to make sure you have adequate insurance for those who depend on you. It may not have to be much if you are older and your children make a good living. The next step is to own your own home. If not a house, maybe a condo. If not a condo, maybe a lot with a trailer that you will pay off. No matter what, you will have to pay for a place to live, why not make this something that will increase your overall equity?
Now, I have given a lot of information here. Maybe some that are close to impossible. I do know that disabled (mentally or physically) Canadian young adults have a program where the Government will match their savings practically 3 to 1 until you turn 49. The only restriction is that it has to stay in savings for ten years. This I feel is a better program than anything. If you qualify when you do your taxes as a disabled person (your Psychiatrist/Doctor must fill this out) then you qualify for this huge potential sum of savings. Honestly, it shouldn’t be passed up.
One of the things that I think about a lot is the situation where someone can’t work at all and have debt. Sadly, sometimes there will be situations where a person with a mental illness needs to declare bankruptcy or even have all their finances given to a public trustee. Both of these things happened to me and not in any way by my own choosing. This is something that often happens in extreme cases. I have seen people who due to depression, ideas of some time soon killing themselves, and many other reasons, simply give away all of their money. Then there is an even worse situation when persons with a mental illness gets credit. I honestly feel most people on a fixed income should not have credit or have a low amount of credit, say less than a thousand dollars. This helps head off scammers who prey on vulnerable people, it also helps in case a person has an episode of mania and overspends. Sometimes it pays to cut up your credit cards and put the pieces in separate garbage collection bins.
Sadly dear readers, it is getting late and I have been writing more than I should. Please message me or email if you want more information or if there is any topic you wish to see on this blog. Have a great long weekend to all my Canadian, British, and Commonwealth friends!
Leif Gregersen, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes the sunsets can be so beautiful here in Edmonton, the gateway to the North
A Little About Stress and mental illness
In grade 12 I took a course in Law and I got a lot out of it. One of the things that stands out for me is a legal case the textbook quoted where a woman was of a fragile mental state, witnessed a violent car accident, and sued–and won–a case for having a nervous breakdown as a direct result of the negligence of a driver. When I first had severe symptoms though, I knew so very little. Sadly, one of the first things that happens when someone gets sick like I did is that fairly rapidly they lose any material wealth they have and it takes a very long time to get any of it back. What really bothered me was that it seemed people judged me because I was from a nice suburban area and I think they believed I had clothes and money and cigarettes because my parents provided them. All of my teen years were spent working after school or being paid for things around the house and I was proud of what I had accomplished, having owned a nice sports car and a motorcycle I loved to ride. Within a year, every bit of it was gone. What I had left was a comic collection which by today’s standards wouldn’t have been worth much–but they all got stolen anyway.
To get on to the main topic though, when I first was back in Edmonton from living (treatment non-compliant) in Vancouver, I managed to get a job at Safeway. Those were dark days, being deep in depression and never really feeling like myself with the medications I was taking. I had very little knowledge of how to deal with the stress of working and one paycheque I simply walked into a bar and didn’t leave until my money was gone and I was drunk out of my mind. That was another difficult thing for me, no longer being able to drink socially. When I hadn’t been in the hospital and was working I was starting to develop the skills needed to meet and later contact people I had met in bars. But after my pills (which the alcohol worked against) and my loss of faith in myself, I was a sad sight to behold and never really made any close friends or began any relationships in a bar ever.
What did happen though was that one day my Dad started going out of his way to pick me up and take me for walks in the River Valley of Edmonton. I already had a fascination with swimming, and as I built up my stamina and travelled, and found medications that worked better for me, all of my issues seemed to lessen. What I really think had the hugest effect was exercise, or sports for want of a better term. There were times when I had to pull off incredible feats of endurance just to get a little extra money to see me through the month. With a lunch of a spoon, a can opener and a can of beans, I sometimes would have to ride my bike as much as two hours and then work a twelve hour shift and ride two hours back. Often I would come home and be unable to work for a week with the pain in my muscles and sore back.
I hated the fact that I had never been able to hold down a job. I hated more that I had never had a job that required the skills I had built up over a lifetime but instead got labour jobs anyone could do or delivery jobs or security guard jobs. Working security at an old school for a movie set, I made a connection that got me into movie security. I worked my way up to being a stage hand and the money was phenomenal. I also soon learned things about diet and working out with weights and swimming as well as cycling would make me a harder working employee. I managed to last about 7 years at that job and it was a bridge to what I do now, which is to write and to teach.
Doing what I do now feels so amazing, I really feel I am making a difference with the patients I work with and that when I go to give presentations about mental illness I feel that I am helping at least some people view mentally ill people differently. There has even been cases where we have helped people to self identify as having a mental illness and got them the help they needed. My rules are very simple. I don’t work much more than 2 hours a day at most 3 times a week. I do what I can to promote my writing but I also try very hard to live below my means so that I can survive on such limited working hours. When I have a day with nothing to do, I will make up an excuse like taking a two-hour walk to a store far away that has better prices than the stores where I live. I have built myself up, with the aid of a fitness watch, to walk about 5km to the pool where I swim about ten laps, then walk back and I end up having the most peaceful sleeps that I have ever experienced. A young woman who used to lifeguard at the pool I go to once told me that with any illness at all, exercise is the best medicine. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I do know that feeling fit feels really good, and that people notice when you not only feel good but look good. I seem to get more smiles and winks from single females than when I was young, skinny and 19 years old, full of confidence from being a student pilot. One of the great things about swimming is that you don’t have to do all that much to have great positive effects on weight/fat loss, and muscle tone. You can start out just going to the deep end and treading water for a few minutes. You can work your way up to doing one gentle lap on your back. If you have joint issues or any kind of pain, swimming is as low-impact as you can get. Sadly not everyone has the extreme privilege to do as I do, which is have access for free to all city pools and most weight rooms, but there are options, some are even better. The YMCA will often have a program for low-income individuals to use their pool and their weights and gymnasium. One trick I have learned is to buy very low costing vegetarian protein powder and have a scoop in a fruit smoothie when I finish a workout. Taking protein helps rebuild muscles after a workout and prevents, in many cases, any sore muscles you may experience.
Try it, try just a short walk. Bring your dog or your neighbour’s dog to have company. Buddy up with a friend and walk a little each day, build yourself up to maybe an aquacise class. As you work your way up, focus on bad habits such as too much coffee, too much sugar or smoking. When you start to feel more comfortable, look at getting a part-time job to help fill in the gaps of time in your day and give you a little grocery money. While you are doing this, I not only strongly recommend that you are med-compliant, refrain from any alcohol or drug intake and see your psychiatrist, but also do your best to join a support group or two for your illness or even one that teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And remember, you are a human being and that means you will make mistakes, or have mistakes in your past, even big ones. But you have full rights to live as healthy and as happy as you can make yourself.