Non-fiction, paperback, 186 pages
Contact Leif Gregersen
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“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.