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

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

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

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


The Power of Focus For Those Recovering From a Mental Illness

The above photo of a Sopwith Camel as it sits on a dusty shelf in my apartment is something that took me years to make. When I was a Boy Scout, I had little interest in socializing or ‘doing my best’ in everything. I didn’t believe in what I was being taught and so that year of my young life was mostly wasted. One thing I did do was make models. It was a lot of fun, often my Dad would help or even make his own model alongside me. I ended up leaving Boy Scouts with just a couple of mementos, one being a book about the Royal Navy and Admiral Nelson, and the other a merit badge for model making. Anyone into popular culture I hope still reads the odd new comic book because there are some amazing titles out there. One of them is called “Black Badge” and tells the story of a scout troop that has earned every possible merit badge and then has to work on a secret one called “The Black Badge” of course. It is hilarious, dark, and simply brilliant. Each of these kids has a different type of ‘nerdish’ personality and they go on missions to far off Countries, call in airstrikes with drones, sneak into places, all under the cover of being an innocent scout troop out seeing the world. If such a comic existed when I was young I think I would have earned a lot more badges, but the year after I left Scouts I joined Air Cadets where we actually did shoot rifles, fly planes, teach classes in different things like Air Crew Survival, Citizenship and many other topics. I was in my second year of cadets when I went into the psychiatric ward for the first time and when I left, I had given up on life almost completely.

In the midst of my depressions though, I always had something to hold onto. It was either a car or a motorbike or the possibility of talking to a young woman I worked with at a grocery store. Those hobbies kept me going, kept me sane. In some of the worst years of my life, what kept me going was a love of reading and a dream of one day being a writer. Then, more than 35 years after retiring my almost empty Scout sash, I found this inexpensive model and for hours despite shaky hands and broken parts of the plane, put something together that I could feel pride in doing. I don’t think I will make many models. I was once so absorbed in toy soldiers I was painting them from the Napoleonic War and went so far as to use a single strand of a special paint brush to put a moustache on a soldier that no one could notice on a soldier not taller than an inch.

One of the best possible hobbies one can have is walking. I walk now to so many places near and far that I have no more desire to own a car, just a bus pass for when it rains. I have done so well with it my resting heart rate is now incredibly low at 60 beats per minute. Just yesterday my computer watch recorded that I had traversed over 19 km or about 12 miles. My dream is to one day take a walk across a famous pilgrimage in Spain that a few friends have done. Dreams, goals, hobbies, aspirations, this is what human beings thrive on second only to companionship. Life is so much better when you feel you are moving towards something, and if you don’t have a goal in mind you should set one because without a goal you are only wandering aimlessly in random directions. Without dreams you have no passion and with them you will never think of dying by suicide. Those of us who suffer from mental illness need these things most of all because so much is taken from us. I was once a student pilot, before that I had been a Sergeant in the Air Cadets. Mental illness took everything from me, but over time I have reclaimed my life. If anyone wanted to talk about such lofty aspirations, I am always open to feedback, and despite that I have more than 400 followers, I like to often post my email, so here it is:

Take care friends, look for more soon!

Pushing Through Mental Illness to Reclaim Your Dreams

This is a photo taken by me from the deck of a World War II American Diesel Submarine in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. I don’t know if anything in my life made me happier than to travel to a tropical destination and witness history. I had wanted to go to Hawaii since I was a young boy in school and one of my closer friends would go there every Christmas vacation and come back brown as a chestnut. I accomplished this goal because I decided I was going to make it happen. It had little to do with the fact that I had no money, little to do with the fact that I needed medications and travel insurance and flights and hotels. I just worked as hard as I could, first to get better, then to advance up the pay scale in a regular job to make it real. What are your goals? Do you dream of having children? Aside from a criminal record, why not volunteer for a summer camp job? Why not take some training and work in a day care. Anything a person can do without a mental illness can be done with one, but it takes steps, planning and goals. Your first step may simply be to find the right medication. The next step is to get used to taking it and take it as directed, day after day, month after month. It can take years. Many have traumas that take a lot of time, but if you want to do something, keep reminding yourself of it. Put a photo of your dream destination on the wall, or your dream car. After the step of getting proper medical attention for your illness, your best bet is to get therapy. Group therapy can be great, but I strongly recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, the process of going through steps to make new connections in your mind. It has been shown to be so effective that it actually works better all on its own than medication all on its own. But that doesn’t mean you can stop your medication, you still need it, but together with effort and work, you can get pretty close to fully functional.

Do you want to be a writer? You have all that time on your hands most likely. Instead of eating too much, get up, get some exercise to make you feel better all day (walking is the best I feel) and then sit down to read. Most successful authors have read thousands of books, now is your chance. Even start watching a lot of movies. When you are ready, do what I used to do… write a book review, even if you never show it to anyone, keep a separate notebook for writing full page book reviews, and keep another for movies. Get the most out of your experiences. Balance out your life though, make time for walking, biking, swimming, time with friends. If you have a hard time concentrating on reading, work on a few books at a time. Two pages a day can add up to a lot of books in a few years.

As you get better, you may one day find you want to work. Try volunteering. It will greatly enrich your life and your resume. When you volunteer, you can almost get your pick of jobs. You may never be a pilot with a mental illness, but you can work a desk at a flight school and go flying with other licensed pilots all the time. There is so much world out there. But don’t worry if all you can do is just take your medications for now. That is all you need to do, that and maybe some exercise and some healthy food.

Look into supported employment. In Canada, the Schizophrenia Society hires many people with a history of mental illness for essential jobs like being a peer support worker or taking a recovery course and then teaching the course after. You can go and give talks at schools and feel the incredible joy of helping to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Things like this will give your life meaning and hope, and perhaps even a little grocery money. I got some advice once from a man who had once been in a terrible state from bipolar disorder and its symptoms. He said he made a group of friends (five I think) and would talk to each and spend time with each without overloading any with the things he was dealing with, and soon he became stronger and his life became more normal. I should note though, be vigilant. Even after five years or ten years if you stop or change your medications, you can end up in trouble again. Don’t neglect to see your psychiatrist or let yourself believe the lie many people may tell you that you don’t need medications. I knew a very intelligent man who was on medications and doing well who was told that and went off his medications and to be honest, I have severe doubts he is even alive anymore. Listen to the people trained to care for you and those who love and care for you (family). Small steps. Plans. Goals. Dreams. Paradise.


Through the Withering Storm




Non-fiction, paperback, 186 pages


Contact Leif Gregersen


Class sets available




Through the Withering Storm” is a work of non-fiction directly based on the lived experience of Leif Gregersen, the author. This is a story of both desperation and hope. In the start, we learn about the author and how his illness began and built up over years. Often, he would go to Air Cadet camp and return so exhausted that he would hallucinate someone shouting his name until he was able to rest. As his illness progresses, the book chronicles Leif experiencing severe depressions, social anxiety, obsessions of various types and a psychiatric ward admission at the age of fourteen.

Leif pushed down his feelings of unworthiness and depression, despite knowing that mental illness and addictions run in his family. He blames his problems on the fights he has with his alcoholic father. As years pass, despite IQ testing that placed him in the gifted category, he does more and more poorly until in grade ten he decides he must quit Air Cadets in order to be true to his life goals of an academic career, which become all but impossible later in life with the onset of his illness.

    Leif makes his way through high school, trying to avoid obsessing on alcohol, trying to support his needs and habits as he switches from one group of friends to another. Leif’s whole life is caught up in his school work, time spent with his sister and her abusive boyfriend, and his drinking bouts. At this point in his life, his only joy seems to come from the time he treks into the woods hunting rabbits.

The end of grade twelve comes, and though Leif has earned enough money for a sports car and a motorcycle, his life seems empty. Instead of travelling as he had longed to do when school was over, he spends the summer after grade 12 working in a gas station for minimum wage. A short trip to Fort MacMurray which corresponded with a three-day drinking binge only caused more feelings of depression and isolation as he once again tried to self- medicate his mental illness. One day Leif realizes that he has very few goals and less direction and makes the decision to return to school in hopes of being accepted to University. Soon after returning, he develops a crush on a young woman that he is unable to act on because of social anxiety. 

Over the next few months, Leif works a night job and attends school during the day while constantly being under the threat of being kicked out of his parents’ before he can even finish school. Slowly, he literally becomes insane. One night, he walks off from his well-paid job never to return. He stops driving his car before even paying it off and seems to almost revert to the motivations and actions of a primate. He is taken to hospital for treatment but rebels against the insistence that he needs to be on medication.

On his return to school, enraged at being laughed at and joked about, Leif picks a fight with the person his crush is now seeing and is arrested in school and taken to a mental institution. A short time later he leaves feeling so humiliated it seems his only option is leave town after selling any possessions he has of value from his hockey cards to his motorbike. Then, one night after yet another fight with his dad, he heads for the highway, not knowing if he is going to be apprehended and taken to the mental hospital again. He leaves, bound for the coast. What follows is a series of tumultuous events where he travels, gets sick, returns home, leaves for Vancouver, makes an attempt to join both the Canadian and US military and also makes an attempt to earn a pilot’s license, and in the end fails at all of these things and leaves himself severely injured from a training injury.

As the story told in “Through the Withering Storm” draws to a close, Leif finally decides to accept his illness, accept treatment for it and at that point begins to travel down the long and rocky path to recovery. Leif does go through more hospital admissions, many medication changes and difficulties, but starting from the publication of his book, by giving public talks, promoting his books, writing newspaper and magazine articles, Leif becomes an advocate for the mentally ill and joins the seemingly unwinnable war on stigma that all those who suffer (silently or otherwise) from a mental illness go through.

The Poor, the Sick, the Homeless…

Video link at beginning and end of today’s blog

Did you ever look up at a soaring bird and just stand in awe of the miracle of flight? For the fortunate majority of us, this how the ragged pan handler, the twerking junkie or the heroin addicted sex worker sees us with our happy, healthy families. Can you imagine what it would be like to be sexually assaulted when you are too young to even understand what that was? Or to be beaten with a strap or punished with cigarette burns, then be taken away and shuffled through group home and foster home after another until, as a reaction you commit a crime and spend years being dehumanized? This is the reality of far too many people in our society, and when it happens, the victims one day find that drugs or alcohol can mask the pain. To feed habits like these and the aftermath of their consumption, sex trade, violent crimes, professional shoplifting, drug dealing and many more crimes come about, leading one day to jail and institutionalization. Why do we have jails and not addiction treatment or mental health clinics? Decaying neighbourhoods and not trade or vocational schooling made affordable and inclusive for the youth and adult alike? So very much has to change. I was kindly given guidance to make the below video, please click the link to view and feel free to contact me for book purchase or updates on my newest project.

Leif Gregersen

Some of the Devastating Effects of Schizophrenia, Bipolar and OCD


I think back a lot to when I first went into a serious psychosis, almost 30 years ago when I was 18. I was working nights stocking shelves at a grocery store, I was doing my best to keep my grades up and my home life was near to intolerable. Of course, after being kicked out of school, things got worse. I kind of drifted around that summer after my final days of trying for a high school diploma. I had lost nearly all of my friends, I had never had a girlfriend, and even my parents and siblings wanted nothing to do with me. Naturally my first thoughts were that I had done something wrong, that I was somehow at fault. This is still a hard conception of the situation to live past. When you go into a psychiatric hospital and do anything the staff doesn’t like, you will be punished, and they will do their best to teach you whatever it is a person learns by being locked into isolation day after day, week after week, month after month until you are nothing more than an animal, in the staff’s eyes and your own. I don’t want to sound too harsh, in fact there were times when I was in the hospital and treated extremely well. In February I was a patient on a psychiatric ward and it was funny–the first part where no one really gave a crap was really horrible, but as I got feeling better and my medication started to take effect, it became a very positive experience. The food was good, there was a gym, a chapel. The staff really seemed to go out of their way to help and to actually listen and care. I am actually kind of curious though now, after 17 years what kind of detrimental effects could have happened to my brain and even my personality by being tortured in the way I had been.

One thing I do know is that my first hospital admission changed the entire course of my life. After I had been in the hospital three months, I had lost any and all work skills I had, I couldn’t go back to school, partly because I had missed too many classes, and also because there was no parental support even for me to just get the 10 credits I needed for my high school diploma. As I look back, it is hard to tell if I was a stuck-up, over-priviliged teenager or if I was just frightened at what I was going to end up to the point where my emotions shut down. All I do know is that there were in fact numerous members of the staff who shouldn’t work in a position of a person in care of vulnerable, disabled psychiatric patients. There was one guy named Wayne (yes, his real name) who swore to me if he ever saw me outside of the hospital he would beat the shit out of me because I asked him to stop playing the guitar at a time when silence would have been golden. There was a nurse who had me taken to the lockdown ward where care is a minimum, air is unbreathable, and everyone is an extremely serious case and most of them are violent, including the staff. She did this because I was trying to key out a tune on the piano and I guess she had decided I wasn’t good enough for her standards to even try and learn to play. There was once a patient who yelled insults at me and swore at me several times and then had the nursing staff try to convince him to press charges on me. I had committed the offence of trying to find out about something I was delusional about that he was supposed to be an expert in. I kind of think that if you lock someone in a small space for 5 months and refuse to do anything to help them with their mental health issues, it would almost seem reasonable that a person would defend himself in a fight, and that my reaction was more their responsibility. Had he charged me, it would have been the end of my life outside the hospital. People who are mentally ill who commit crimes are sent to a part of the hospital known as forensics where they stay at the leisure of whatever Psychiatrist they are assigned to, and it is very often years for even the simplest offence.

So really though, as a person who has studied all this, wrote about it, taken psychology classes and wellness and recovery programs, what is the solution? I think that a lot of things have to be brought out into the open. We don’t need to treat all of our psychiatric patients in a facility 10km away from anything, hidden off where no one understands the problem as the local hospital in Edmonton is situated. What needs to happen is such places should be in the community, where even some of the more serious cases can function, with support, go to movies on their own, visit a mall to buy clothes and all that. It doesn’t help in any way to institutionalize people, especially when most of them are short-term patients. I got some good advice one time years ago when I was having a crisis. “You can go to the hospital, you can get in and be treated, but that’s no guarantee you will get any better.” This was coming from intake staff. And it was very true. That’s all for now folks, sorry for the negative tone of today’s entry. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. As a side note, I am now writing a compilation book of my poetry, with some blog material, many essays, and possibly photos, most of which was written during different stages of my illness in the hospital I recently was discharged from. If you are interested in getting a very limited edition of what will be a promotional run, signed of course, please contact me, Leif, at and I will get you a copy.

The Way I Deal With Obsessive and Addictive Behaviours Along With My Psychosis

(Blog after photo)

This is another of the beautiful buildings in Edmonton, Canada Place. During construction I worked in this ornate structure with my Dad, painting numbers on stairwells in at least six fifteen storey stairwells. I had two other jobs plus full-time school at the time.

So, I can’t really tell you if I have an obsessive compulsive disorder. I do know that I often feel compelled to do funny things. As a child it may be touching every light pole as I walked past it, then it festered and grew to not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. Soon I began to do increasingly odd things. Comic books seemed harmless until I hoarded and amassed thousands and protected them as though my life depended on them. Before that it was stamps, after that it was military clothing. At fourteen I ended up in psychiatric care and was given medication but no diagnosis. On leaving, though I would often dress up in camouflage or even military work uniforms around the house, I stopped doing it when I went to school. That was the age of alcohol and arcades, cigarettes and all-night sessions in front of the TV on school nights. Quitting any of these habits was so hard, but I showed little foresight knowing things like booze and smokes would ruin my life many years early. Every teenager seems to think they will magically quit before cancer sets in and that they themselves had discovered things like sex, drugs, and alcohol.

At nineteen, I made a vow to quit drinking. I went to meetings, tried to stay away from bars and managed to get six months of clean time in. Unfortunately I became more addicted to cigarettes and had a wicked addiction to coffee, all hours of the night and day. It all finally came to a head when I was in my 30s and I made some coffee one morning and lit up a cigarette, finished it and had another. Then I threw up on the kitchen floor. Something had to be done.

Persons with schizophrenia can have a very hard time quitting tobacco. It has been found that tobacco affects some of the same neurotransmitters that psychiatric medications do. It actually soothes extreme psychosis, which in my opinion is a condition far worse than torture. I didn’t quit coffee, but with the help of patches, a support group, a counsellor, a pharmacist and even a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions, I stopped smoking. It was the hardest and best thing I ever did, but it was almost too late. My breathing was seriously affected by 18 years of smoking and even now, 15 years later I am not recovered.

Coffee was difficult as well. It tasted good, it kept me alert, it seemed to stem the tide of urges to smoke. But perhaps worse than coffee I was addicted to overeating. This was not an easy thing to deal with in a group home where you pay one price for food and eat all you like. I ballooned from 170 pounds to 260. Even just looking at that number, 260 is staggering to me. I stayed in shape, I had a very physical job. Most of that weight was muscle, but a lot was fat as well. It took being diagnosed with diabetes to get me to cut down on my food. I have lost 40 pounds now but have a long way to go.

One of the funny things about all of these addictions is that there are 12-step meetings for all of them. I don’t want to comment on any except to say they help, but anyone who goes into one of these should be extremely mindful that there are many sick people in the groups. In my six-month dry spell, it was a so-called friend from AA who dragged me into a bar and bought me a drink, sending me spiralling on a binge that nearly killed me. Overeater’s Anonymous was a great meeting though often dominated by women who can be extremely sensitive to anyone (like myself) a little rough around the edges.

In conclusion, I guess I would most like to quote a film by Frank Capra, “The Snows of Killamanjaro” where a man spoke of preaching only “Moderation in everything, including moderation.” More to come on this topic.

Behind Locked Doors When There Was No Crime

This is a picture of me when I was in my early 20s. I think one of the coolest compliments I ever recieved was when I showed it to a female friend and she said, “Wow, you really had the whole Val Kilmer thing going for you back then.” I suppose I had the advantage of good looks for a time, but there was so much going wrong withmy life. I think at the time I still hadn’t been able yet to be completely honest with my Doctor and I had some misconceptions about trusting a psychiatrist to give me the proper meds I needed. When I look at this photo it makes me a bit sad because I see the torn hand me down jeans, the jacket my brother gave me which was the only decent clothing I owned. The orange sweater is one my Dad gave me from his store of clothes. Around this time I was going to adult high school and met a friend who I still talk to to this day, but I have no real clue as to why it lasted this long. When I look at this photo it doesn’t even seem like me.

So, for a bit of irony I will tell you all Dear Readers that as I write this blog entry I am currently a patient on a psychiatric ward. I have been here a month and tomorrow I am going to go home for the weekend and I don’t have a clear idea as to what is waiting for me. All I really do know is that there is a lifetime of books, comics, video games and two places to sleep (along with a ton of frozen meat that I truly hope is still okay) that will be a great deal better than staying here. When I come back from my pass, if all has gone well I will be discharged. One of the odd things about this stay is how sick I was when I came in and how quickly I came back from it all. I did use some of the advice I put on this blog, but I have been very lucky to have incredibly caring and intelligent staff members to help me through, as well as being in a hospital where no expense was spared to make sure the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the patients have been met.

When I came into the hospital, I was in a serious psychosis. I believed that two men from the building I live in had come to kill me and possibly kill my Dad. It was a completely unfounded idea, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I stood my ground until the police, called by my Dad, came to intervene and get me in an ambulance and on to the hospital. Once I saw the police had come I relaxed almost right away and even talked with one of the officers who had seen me speak at his recruit class. But sadly that was where, for a while at least, that I had my last dose of respect from people who were there to help me. I got to the hospital and I thought that everyone was avoiding me and that I stunk horribly so I asked for a gown and a garment bag and went into the bathroom and changed right while I was waiting into a ridiculous piece of hospital clothing that barely covered me. Then, my old enemies anxiety and paranoia surfaced, along with the psychosis (split from reality) that I was experiencing. For a while I really thought I was going to jail though I had done nothing to warrant it.

After incidents I honestly have very little recollection of, I was sent to the hospital where I am now, but not to the quiet and comfortable ward I am on now, I was sent to the locked ward. I can’t even begin to describe how chaotic places like this can be. I did what I could, drank coffee like mad and read until finally I was put over to this ward. There have been some blips, but not a single fight here on the more stable ward, though for a while I still had ideas in my head that someone had a gun and was going to kill me. As I look back in hindsight, there was actually very little animosity. I mostly keep to myself here and try to read and help others when I can. I have to admit to a healthy bit of fear of some of the others, but as I adjusted even those fears dissolved.

I am wondering what tomorrow will bring. How I will cope with the shock of being home. When I went home the other day on a day pass, it seemed that the building was going downhill. For a while I had thought my only solution was to forget about my apartment and head to BC. After a visit and a talk with my building manager, I really don’t think that will be needed. I just really can’t wait to sleep as long as I want, drink tea when I want and not have to report in to anyone.

A Short Peek At the Mental Health System From the Inside, Written by a Patient With Schizoaffective Disorder

Very famous hotel in Edmonton where the Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen and many other icons of 20th and 21st century have stayed.

Well dear readers, as the title of today’s blog states, I am currently a patient in a psychiatric ward. Right off the top of my head, I think it is relevant to note that life on a psychiatric ward is infinitely better than life in a psychiatric hospital. There are a few ways you can make your chances of going to a psychiatric ward better, the first of them is having written out a personal directive that specifies a specific hospital you want to be treated at, or a specific Doctor at a hospital you would prefer to be sent to in the case of severe problems. Another way is, when you are feeling well, to take a number of courses like anger management and classes on nutrition and other classes such as one on relationships or self-esteem. These will not only benefit you, they will increase the amount of time you spend between hospital visits. When medical professionals see that you are a person who heeds advice, and takes proper care of yourself in everything from taking your medication to keeping your shoes laced and tied up, they will be much more willing to fight a bit to keep you in a friendlier place. Location of nearby family visitors is also a factor they will consider. I don’t want to recommend it too much because I haven’t undergone the treatment yet, but there is a lot of buzz these days about the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how well it works.

So now you’re on the Psychiatric Ward. You may be suffering from depression, anxiety, delusional thoughts or sensory input. Your best bet at this point is to be as honest as possible with your treatment team. If you hear a voice that sounds extremely convincing telling you someone in your family is in danger, don’t make an effort to leave the ward. If you are really concerned, try and just phone the person you are concerned about. 99.9% of the time there will have been no such event. Then you need to talk to your nurse/doctor and explain what went on. This will make it so much easier for them to treat you. Was it an auditory hallucination? (did you hear something that was false?) or a visual one? (you saw something that didn’t exist or as is often common, you have a combination. One time I saw a TV change what they were talking about and I heard them talk about me, being both). When you first get to your treatment area, it might make sense to just rest, sleep, and eat for the first while. It is a really good idea (for anyone with a tense living situation not even related to mental illness such as a woman in an abusive home) to keep a bag packed with some items such as an mp3 player/iPod, some clean underwear and a change of clothing. You could also bring snacks and a book to read as well as a book of puzzles.

Quite often the first thing a person wants to know is how long they will be in the hospital. This is a good sign because people who don’t really care about the outside world may end up being kept under a treatment order for some time. I am not 100% sure about how the US system works, but where I live in Alberta in Canada, if you seem to be a danger to self or others, you will be certified and there will be no formal review of your hospital stay for 30 days. I have, in my many admissions, found that rarely does a hearing do much good. After attending many to hopefully get out of the hospital, only once was I released and I had to pour out animosity about how my father treated me growing up which helped make a bigger rift between him and I and also made me leave the hospital far too early to get feeling 100%. The best way to leave the hospital is to participate in group and one on one therapy, to be honest with the doctors and nurses treating you, to take your medications diligently, and to not drink alcohol or use street drugs. There are many more factors of course, but the best advice I received was not to take on the problems of others or to let them get in the way of me getting better. I think I will continue this post in the next entry, until then, stay gold dear readers, stay gold.

What Really Changes in Someone When They Have a Mental Illness?

First of all, in the more serious and chronic types of mental illness, when the more obvious symptoms begin to appear, there has more than likely been personality and other issues going on for a long time. I know in my own case, severe depression had existed as far back as the second grade, and kept on getting worse until other symptoms, like psychosis began to surface. When they did, the fact that my condition had been left untreated for so long, compounded the effect of the mental collapse that had me end up in a psychiatric hospital.

As I have been learning in my experience with the Schizophrenia Society, there are different symptoms that appear in different stages of the illness. Quite often this makes an accurate diagnosis next to impossible until a good deal of time has gone past. Schizophrenia begins with symptoms like depression and withdrawal from society and later the more ‘classic’ symptoms like hallucinations and delusions present themselves.

I feel the most important thing that someone can do when they begin to experience any kind of symptom is to seek assessment and possible treatment. If a major disorder is discovered, more than likely (but not in all cases) medication will be prescribed. It is incredibly important that this medication be taken as prescribed and not discontinued without supervision from a professional. At the age of 14 I was given meds and never took them. I often wonder how my life may have turned out if I had continued to take them. The bad news is that medications don’t work right away and can often have debilitating side effects. The good news is that medications are getting better all the time and also that your body will adapt to what you are taking and you will learn to manage the risks versus the benefits.

That is certainly not a comprehensive guide to medications, but I am hoping it may be a few helpful words. The other post-diagnosis problem is that people who have mental illnesses face things like stigma from others, and self-stigma. I know that I was so ashamed to have a mental illness that I left the home town I dearly loved and all of my friends hoping to start over. I often say the problem was that I brought my brain with me. I went to the coast, Vancouver, and made plans to join the military. For a while I had the time of my life. New people, new sights and sounds, places to see that I had no concept of. But I got sick again. I just couldn’t admit to myself (with the barrier of stigma and self-stigma) that I needed any kind of help. And not even my loved ones could do anything but worry while all this went on.

The fact remains though that I returned to Edmonton, sought treatment, finished school, started to write, and built a life for myself. When I am taking my medication properly and it is working properly, often even mental health professionals would not assume I have three major diagnoses. My bipolar is controlled by a mood stabilizer-rarely do I stay up all night or talk so much I drive people away. My psychosis is controlled with a time-release injection which keeps my thoughts firmly rooted in reality. And my severe depressions are also taken care of by an anti-depressant. Am I just like the person I was before the diagnosis and the pills? Maybe not, but I think in many ways I am a better person.

If you have doubts regarding your mental health:

-Seek help, even if it is just from an MD

-Get an assessment done. Find out what is wrong

-Work with your doctor and pharmacist to find medications that will help

-Give the medications time to work

-Find and work with a therapist who just may be able to make you feel better about some of the underlying problems that hold you back in your life

-Enjoy your life.