bipolar disorder

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.

Fatherly Advice On Dealing With Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

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

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

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

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

When Psychosis Causes Hallucinations Which Causes More Psychosis

 

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

Mental Illness Doesn’t Take a Holiday On Christmas Day

Scroll down past my special Christmas Poem for my Christmas Day Blog.

Christmas Poem December 25, 2018

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Christmas dinner for all is such a fantastic time

No matter your sins, your faults or your crimes

 

Mountains of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and yams

No one sees the stress and the effort only mothers understand

 

Even on our most precious holiday, we orbit the sun as we turn on our axis in place

Each split second, a smile for good or devious origins comes to another child’s face

 

In a country of opportunity, freedom, equal rights and democracy

To bullying children all that matters is the cash value under the tree

 

But the love that kids share with the family members who congregate

Can often be just enough to turn the tides of their fate

 

Show a child that by hard work and effort they will prosper and grow

That precious Christmas vacation will bless them more than you ever could know

 

My favourite Christmas happened somewhat like that

My Uncle Glen was alive and so was our Lilleven our wonderful cat

 

We feasted and laughed, even had a taste of rum and some wine

Uncle Glen got a bottle of liquor and it seemed the whole world was mine

 

I stayed up to watch Jimmy Stewart’s best character give all of himself

All his effort and hard work for others to end up being put on a shelf

 

The message that movie carried deep into my fifteen-year-old heart

Made me tear up, made me vow to make a new start

 

Care for your loved ones, show those struggling there is a much better way

What better time to start on the savior’s most magical day

 

No one will look back when you’re gone and think of your self-serving deeds

The best way to become immortal is to give toil and tears to those truly in need

END

 

Good day people of all faiths and nations. The clock has turned and as I write, (in Mountain Standard Time anyway) it is now Christmas Day. Yesterday I received an injection of Abilify, which comes to the clinic in powder form and then the nurse mixes it up and injects it into one of my shoulders. It is intended to replace a medication I was on earlier which had to be administered twice a month and was considered not as good as the new one. It is going to be difficult, but I want to try and stay with this new injection but there are some reasons why I am beginning to have my doubts. The biggest one is that I am starting to move into the borderline of hallucinating. I don’t see people or things that aren’t there, but, along with making me pretty tired, and often only out of the far range of my peripheral vision, things that can’t move (table, cutting board) seem to move all on their own. I have also been getting flashes of thinking people are behind me or in the room. Worst of all is that I have been getting pretty paranoid, though that situation is improving. One of the things I have been trying to do is ride the bus less, which can be pretty difficult when it is minus 12 to minus 15 Celsius outside and you have to get across the city by walking. Regardless, I have been doing it.

When I do get on the bus, I find myself deathly afraid that I am going to be mistaken for some kind of predator. A couple of times, there has been a female on the bus who goes out of their way to stand near the bus driver, ask for a special stop, then run as fast as possible when the bus stops. This I am sure isn’t always because of me, but once or twice I have been pretty certain. It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma out there regarding people with schizophrenia, and that a couple of years back I was given the gears by an ass of a police detective who got my name from my boss and seemed to suspect that because I was an (un-uniformed) security guard, I fit a description of a uniformed security guard in the area who had assaulted a woman.

The really good thing is that I found out that my new nurse (Best Wishes on your retirement Willie!) not only has a Registered Psychiatric Nursing Diploma/Degree, but also a degree in Psychology. The other cool thing is that she knows her comic books, so I think she may be a huge help to me as time unravels.

I didn’t want to stop the blog today before talking a bit about Christmas. It is the time of year when beds in psychiatric wards and hospitals fill to overflowing. Often this is from suicide attempts from people who are in a terrible state and the Christmas holiday reminds them of lost loved ones, estranged loved ones, and perhaps also their own isolation. These people need our time, our patience and our understanding, not our judgement. Sadly, as many do say, the worst thing you can do is give them money. It will go to addictions a lot of the time. If it doesn’t, say you try to do the right thing and buy them groceries, it is likely they will take their allotted grocery money to use on drugs or alcohol. I personally think the best thing a person can do to help people who have mental health, addiction or homelessness problems (often some have all three) it is best to try and put in some time at a social services agency (Edmonton: Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre, Hope Mission) another thing that can be done is to donate non-perishable food to these places, or even go to a local dollar store if you live in a cold climate and buy a bunch of gloves and hats for people. Giving donations directly to the charities can sound like the ideal thing, but I have been very wary of some charities. I gave more than I thought I could afford more than once to charities that spend upwards of 80 to 90 percent of their donations on raising more donations. This made me sick to my stomach. I would say if a person wanted to donate to a charity, especially a local homeless charity, go down and volunteer and find out what your money will be spent on. Just a suggestion. Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Poetry, Creative Writing, Wellness, and Mental Health Awareness Presenter and Facilitator.

 

I’m Home After Psychiatric Inpatient Care. When Will I Ever Feel Normal Again?

A random shot of Jasper Avenue, the main downtown street in Edmonton, Alberta. With people everywhere, vehicles battling to be ahead by split seconds, it becomes so easy to feel lost and alone. Yet, when a person goes into a psychiatric ward or hospital, the staff discourage at every turn any friendships or relationships. Sometimes, people with severe illnesses will be discharged with a bag of medications and directions to the homeless shelter. I don’t really have any solutions to these problems. I do know that people in my family cared a lot about me and tried to make my transition from my last hospital stay to the outside world a smooth one. It went well for me, but not 100%. I feel I owe everything to two men in my life, my Doctor and my Dad. Neither of them stopped helping and neither of them asked anything in return.

When I try and think of my recovery, which I will define for the purposes of this blog as the point where I was diagnosed up until the point where I was able to travel overseas on my own, (both Atlantic and Pacific) the word ‘mindfulness’ keeps coming up.

Mindfulness is something that you will often find in books about Buddhism and meditation. Meditation supplies a person with the tools they need to tune out the world, and just embrace the nature of who they are deep down and not analyze or self-talk or really do anything but breathe. This journey for me began with books about Buddhism, mostly ones that my brother Kris loaned me. I found some profound truths of human nature in these books, which was amazing because a lot of the wisdom came from times when the western world was in the dark ages by comparison (if not literally). There were even times when I would delve deep into these books that I was so struck by things that were said it was close to what many people call an epiphany. But I needed more. I was reading dry words on a page, though they were some pretty earth-shattering words. I devoured books by the Dalai Lama, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But where things really started to come together was when I joined a meditation group that was led by a real Tibetan Monk, and incredible man full of joy, decked out in the beautiful robes of a true monk. What did he teach me? He taught me how to breathe, and then he taught me how to clear my mind. That was really about it.

In our minds, especially those of us who have had mental disorders requiring treatment and/or medication, there is a constant dialogue going on, telling us we aren’t good enough, that people are judging us, that we can’t do something. There are also positive messages and neutral ones. In Tibetan meditation the goal is to train yourself not to let these voices control you, something that changed my life after being in Alberta Hospital. I became so much more thoughtful, kind, I had more energy and mental ability. I was able to absorb books and lessons that I could never have completed before despite my high mental functioning. This led me down a path to become a writer, a teacher, a traveller, an Uncle, and more.

I don’t meditate much anymore sitting on a pillow, legs crossed, counting my breath. I like to walk. I like to go for miles, and simply be. To be aware of the blue or grey sky, to look for wildlife or even domesticated life, to not count the steps or measure the distances, just to go out and feel the fresh air on my skin, be aware of increased rates of breathing, from how my heart beats just a little faster to how I begin to warm up no matter how cold it is. I play no music, bring nothing to distract me. I rarely walk with anyone, but it is so healing. I love to make up excuses to walk. One thing that was interesting was that deep inside I have always thought I may have in a past life lived in England and had a special kinship to the Island Kingdom. When I was in London I took a great risk and instead of taking the tube to where I was staying, I just walked and walked for miles to see if I could truly find my way around that great and massive city. I must have walked ten kilometres and never for a moment did I feel lost or on the wrong path.

One of the other ways I love to practise mindfulness is through photography. Anyone who has read a few of my blogs will have seen photos I took with my collection of cameras and lenses. I basically gather all I need for my camera from charged batteries to memory cards and what lenses I need and start out walking. If I can go somewhere I don’t normally go or get off the beaten path all the better. There is no need for me to calculate rights and wrongs, feel angry about someone who cut me off in a checkout line at the grocery store or was rude to me on the bus. I am totally absorbed in finding that split second, that disappearing moment when a shot is perfect. I rarely find it, but in seeking after that perfect shot I seem to mature, grow in some way.

Meditation is something that has been studied a great deal. One of these studies I came across declared that it had proof that people who meditate a lot each day over the course of years can actually reverse brain damage, something so far thought to be impossible. Even now as I am a little tired I long for those moments in bed just before my mind begins to switch over to sleep rather than being awake and I can feel the true joy of just being.

All of that doesn’t really answer the question though, when will you feel normal again after leaving the hospital. I feel obligated to try and give some of what I feel are facts gained from my own experience. First of all, being in the hospital can put a person into shock, especially if this person was lucky enough to go through such things as ECT or being wrestled down and locked in an isolation room. It isn’t natural for humans, which means that in this time it is actually natural for us to feel the fight or flight reaction. Some lash out, some beg not to be treated that way. Either way, it takes a little bit of who we are as human beings away from us. When you leave the hospital, all of a sudden you are responsible for everything. You may even return to a family that doesn’t fully understand or to school where people know where you were and have no kindness or compassion.

The first thing you need to know is that the effect, the shock of being in the hospital is something powerful. It is also something Doctors and Nurses are aware of and they tend to over medicate people while they are in the hospital. When you leave the best thing you can do is educate yourself as much as you can. When I left after one of my first stays, there was no Internet to Google search on. I went to the library and read for hours on treatments only to be laughed at by a Doctor I spoke to who said they hadn’t used any of those treatments for years. Now, we have Google, so I suggest you search everything you can about each and every medication, each word of your diagnosis and make sure you have a solid understanding. Going in blind to see my Psychiatrist years ago when I was at the end of my rope got me onto a medication I still take to this day that at that time was rarely used. It saved my life. As I built up more awareness of my condition though, I looked for ways to decrease the amount of medication I took.

Often there really is nothing you can do except to kill time, and finances are almost always short for people who just leave the hospital. The first thing I suggest is that you keep a journal, a wellness journal where you talk about how you feel, and what level your mood is, and any other pertinent symptoms. Take a time each day to write, and as you hit milestones, look back at what worked and what didn’t. To people I know who want to make more friends or meet that special ‘life partner’ I always say there are a few steps in the perfect plan at doing that. One is that you settle into a place you can afford, keep clean, and have your privacy. Two is that you look for ways to become involved in your community. Three is that you look for genuine ways to help and care for others. Four is that when you meet someone you want a relationship with, and they themselves have indicated they want a similar relationship, focus on getting to know them, becoming their best friend before worrying about making a move. Don’t force anything, don’t make a fool of yourself automatically thinking this person is the one for you and overwhelming them with attention and gifts. Just be their friend, and your time will come.

Well, Dear readers, that seems to be a good time to draw everything to a close. Your assignment is to 1)get a library card if you don’t have one. 2)take out a book on healing and recovery (my two are “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane”), and read as much as you can and take some time to sit down, become conscious of your own breathing and clear your mind for five to ten minutes, more if you prefer, then schedule a good time to write in your journal. Who knows? Maybe if you heed this lesson, your recovery will accelerate and I will be reading your blog on WordPress some time soon.

Sincerely,

LG

Mental Health and Addiction Issues the Homeless Face Daily

The streets of Edmonton, where I live can be cold and unfriendly. Many people fall into a trap of  being struck down by mental or physical illness, then addictions and eventually homelessness. You see it a lot where I live, makeshift tents with a shopping cart full of garbage nearby. Long line-ups at the soup kitchens and shelters. When oil was at a peak, people came from all over wanting to take part in the prosperity, the huge amounts of money to be made in the oilfields and in Edmonton in some of the numerous supporting industries from plastics to catering. It is almost sickening to think of what all the fossil fuels are doing to our once pristine and beautiful country, yet fracking and pipelines continue. When I was in eleventh grade, a friend was trying to encourage me to get a job in the oilfields. My ambition then was to be a lawyer, I found his idea almost laughable now, especially since he went on to become an alcoholic working under the table so he didn’t have to pay child support. When you take a long look at all the big money jobs in the oilfields, it just doesn’t seem worth the real price in loss of quality of life and many other factors. I know of so many dreamers who became homeless, addicted, mentally ill. A lot of organizations have tried to fill in the gaps left when people have nowhere else to go. From New Year’s Eve 2001 to the present, I have been living in supportive housing and despite the books I’ve written, the work I’ve done, the money I’ve made, I really don’t think I could have done any of it without living in places that supported me through my difficulties with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.

When I last got out of the hospital, my life was destroyed. I had lost control of any finances, I was heavily medicated, and virtually unemployable. A long-term group home was found for me and I was able to recover almost completely. I still have troubles with sleep and stress, I still have times when I question my own existence or allow myself to get angry over things I can’t control. But none of those things can destroy me anymore, I have been allowed to grow new skin over my wounds.

Living in a group home had a number of advantages for me. I lived in a house with three other people, and though there were arguments and fights, and even people who did horrible and disgusting things, the needed stability was there. One time I was in a house with a barely functioning, overbearing bully who kept trying to order me around and pick a fight with me. I had to deal with him by calling the police one night and when I talked to them I didn’t have a chance to mention that he is in the habit of picking fights, losing them badly and then going to an organization called ‘victim’s services’ where he is given money in exchange for proof of his injuries. Another roommate in the same house once called the police and confronted me because I had woken up late for work and took two slices of a cold pizza he had left out in the kitchen because he had put it in the oven and was so drunk he forgot about it.

The thing though, was that when you live with others who suffer from a mental illness, the stigma and guilt are greatly reduced, and provided you are on the medication you need, it is so much easier to function, so much easier to heal. In the group home I lived in for 15 years, medication was given out each day. Adherence to all appointments was necessary. I had the benefit of having my dad come and take me for a walk in the park also which was extremely healing. There were a lot of difficult times with people who lived in the group home. There was one guy who believed that he could legally play his music as loud as he wanted as long as he turned it down a little after 11:00pm. I dealt with it by simply going to the basement and shutting off the breaker for his room, leaving him in silence and darkness. Then the management passed a rule that we weren’t allowed to touch the breakers. Soon, my roommate was playing his music again and I shut him down once more from the breaker switches and then plead my case to a higher authority. The same guy had a habit of coming home from work and turning up the heat as far as it would go, then taking off his shirt in the living room and laying down to watch TV. That was around the time I took up the habit of hiding the remote. Then, when he found it, I would insist he give it back to me as it was legally mine, then when I got it back I would turn the TV off. I had to find ways to amuse myself somehow.

It was an eye-opening experience to live there. For perhaps the first time in my life I could simply exist. I didn’t need to be some wealthy young entrepreneur, I didn’t need to be an A+ honour student on his way to Oxford, I just had to exist, take my medication, and hopefully not kill any roommates. I found out that housing like this, which is in extreme demand these days, costs about 1/4 of what a hospital bed costs the health care system. I have also heard information about how homeless people, job or not, cost society a great deal as well. I can see why because, to use one example, a shelter needs a lot of resources. They need food, staff, a constant inflow of donations of money, clothing, heat, security. I worked at a drop-in centre that didn’t even have any beds for homeless people and it seemed they had nine paid staff or volunteers supporting, educating, counselling, and even motivating the many people who relied on them. I guess I just wanted to say that in many places in North America, cold weather, extreme in some places is coming fast. Consider gathering up unneeded items, especially things like hoodies, toques, gloves, scarves, and finding a charity that would be extremely grateful to be able to distribute them for you. Something I have seen happen a lot is that people will put warm clothing items onto a tree or fence with a note saying that anyone who needs to warm up can take the item. Excess household items like books and furniture are needed at many thrift shops that support worthwhile charities. Consider also volunteering your time (if a place exists near you) with a schizophrenia society office, or finding ways to help integrate disadvantaged people into the greater community. This time of year is ideal for looking for ways to give back as many students get a Christmas break, and most charities need volunteers at Christmas, which they recruit in October and November.

Sadly though, all of these great ideas doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people, whether they read this blog or not, suffer themselves from a mental illness and don’t have the housing or the support or even the medical attention they need, and many of them are all alone in this world. I can’t imagine what things may have been like if I didn’t have my dad and my sister to advocate for me last time I was ill. To people in this situation, I just pray that they can plant a seed of hope deep inside of their minds. Just enough so that they can get to a clinic and find a way to get the assistance of a psychiatrist, find a way to get their medications. I know that in the US it is much harder to get by as a poor person, but I have also noticed from my own experience that once people see you are trying to take responsibility for yourself, trying to improve your own life so you can perhaps one day help others, they are more than willing to support you in your efforts to recover. One thing I would say is that there are opportunities to dig yourself out. There are things like newspapers that homeless people sell by donation, and if these don’t exist, approach your library and get them to help you put together a booklet of writing about people who are struggling in so many ways. Charge a buck or two and use the money for the essential things the group needs.

I wish I could keep writing. I also wish I had all the answers. But the sad fact is, each person who is ill, each person who is addicted or homeless, needs to find their own way. I found mine with the help of people who cared and loved me back to sanity. I wish this for all of you.

The Scourge Of Mental Illness Stigmal and the Ways it Can Affect Those With Bipolar and Schizophrenia

To me, the idea of flight always seemed to symbolize freedom. I saw this in many ways, one of them in which I envisioned myself as the pilot of a plane. I even took some training and went to Commercial Pilot’s School when I was younger before I had a mental breakdown and had to stop. Other ways could easily be explained in some of the writings of Richard Bach, perhaps best in the short work, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. There have been so many times, most of them right in the city I live in, when I felt some negative feelings or had low self-esteem for a moment and would just stop and take some time out to watch birds in flight. Even the lowly gulls and magpies had such incredible amounts of skill that it surprised me their brains were in such tiny areas of their body. The other way is also about a dream that came true for me, when I was able to board a plane and fly to London, England. This has been a dream of mine since I went there the first time. As a kid, I even went to the post office and asked how much it would have cost to mail a package suspiciously the weight of a 12-year-old to England. It was thoughts like these, those quests for new heights of achievement, new realizations of goals I never imagined I would reach that kept me going through the difficult times.

I don’t know if I have written much about the hardest times when I was last in the psychiatric hospital. There was so much time spent not just locked up in a small ward, but also locked into an empty room, screaming, swearing, kicking, pounding my fists in opposition to the way I was being treated, which likely only made them feel that I did belong in an isolation room even more than they initially thought. When I was in there, I kept one idea firm in my head: this would pass. This would happen, but it will end. There were times I wished I could have found a way to kill myself to make the pain stop, times when things seemed to overwhelmingly impossible to deal with that I broke down in tears, but somehow I knew it would end.

It is funny, but in my last hospital stay, I was transferred out of the locked ward and put in a less intense one and there was a woman who talked about living in an apartment and having a friend come over each and every night to have tea with her and talk/visit. That small bit of solace, that image of having just one friend nearby was something that hadn’t really ever happened to me–until recently. There is a young woman my age that lives in my building and we have become friends, and we talk over a cup of tea just about every night. In so many of my previous apartments, the other people in the building never came over for a visit, or did come over once and never came back. It is a funny thing, but I encourage people with mental health issues to find housing where there are many others with similar issues to yours. The big thing about that is that when you put two people together that both deal with all the struggles and difficulties of depression or mania or schizophrenia, there is simply no stigma, they can relate on a very important level. That is why organizations like AA work, that is why a lot of psychologists put an emphasis on group therapy.

Stigma affects just about anyone with a mental illness, and even effects those who work in the field and have family members with an illness. My dad told me once that back when he was younger, in the 1940s I think he meant, if a family had a child who had a mental illness, they would build a special room for them and either lock them in there permanently or whenever they acted up. This sounds so incredibly inhumane, but my first reaction to this was to think of how terrible it feels to be in a psychiatric hospital separated from friends and family. I can recall years back when I first spent time in Alberta Hospital and later when I was in the same place and others, that I could go a very long time without having any visitors, and when I was lucky enough to have a visitor, it would be my dad who, sadly, I didn’t get along with all that well when I was younger. I can remember getting my first apartment and then getting my very own phone and thinking that as soon as I plugged it in I would get all kinds of calls from old girlfriends or people I grew up with who lived in the suburbs of the city I had moved to at the time. After having the phone about a week it finally rang–and on the other end was an incredibly abusive and hostile credit collection agent. It was so bad that during that time I had so few calls from anyone I actually wanted to talk to that I would answer the phone by yelling into it. Once or twice, when the collections people called about my student loan or student credit card that I received for a course I could no longer physically attend, I would deny that I was the person they were looking for. Of course I was lying my face off, but it was fun to confuse these people not knowing whether or not I was a fair target for their abuse. Then one day they got smart and had an attractive sounding young woman call and in a very positive voice she politely asked for me by name. When I said it was me, she put me on hold and in seconds a vile, abusive and hateful collection agent was put on the line again. For a minute I had thought this was one of those people that I had spent my entire life around in my suburban home from age 0-18 who actually wanted to get ahold of me. I think that was around the point I had my phone disconnected and went and bought a roll of quarters so I could use the payphone down the block. It really surprised me that seemingly no one at all that I had grown up with had any interest in contacting me, even my former best friends. The pain and loneliness I went through at that time was immense.

There are so many ways that stigma can effect people. At first, when I was officially labelled, a lot of the stigma came from right between my two ears. I had done some things that I felt awful about. One of them was to pick a fight with a guy who had really done me no other wrong than laugh at me while I was in a vulnerable state of mind. That situation led to me being arrested in my high school and resisting arrest when I learned that I was being taken out of my school in front of each and every member of my peer group. All my thoughts and actions were so confused. For some reason I followed a girl around my school and I don’t know what it made her think. And lastly, and perhaps worst, I was in the mall in my home town and my voices or delusions somehow made me think I was supposed to accompany a girl at the mall to her home. I walked with her and for some reason she didn’t say a word. If at any time I thought she didn’t want me there I would have left, but I got no indication. Then, without any more words, her and I got in the van of the person who was giving her a ride. I looked over and the poor girl looked terrified, and was soon in tears. I realized that I had been deluded by voices or whatever was going on in my head and so when the van stopped I got out and as I closed the door I heard the young person burst into tears. This is perhaps the greatest regret I have to this day. At the time my guilt was so severe that I had made a decision to join the army, and volunteer to be sent to the Persian Gulf where I hoped I would be killed. I began intensive training to get myself fit enough to join the military, running countless miles each day and lifting weights in between working a warehouse job. My own self-stigma was eating me alive. I pushed myself so hard I got what I would almost describe as a second disability, my knees were mostly destroyed from too much running.

The sad thing about all of this is not that I hurt my knees or any of that, it is that all my life I had been conditioned to shun, stigmatize, insult, and perhaps even fear those who were mentally ill. Everything from Fred Flintstone cartoons to stories in Batman comics about the insane, obsessed Joker gave me a very unrealistic image of mentally ill people. If, four years before the above incidents happen, I had been able to accept a diagnosis and medications to treat it, there would have been almost no question at all of me being ill at the age of 18. I might have even had a youth that I could look back on as being pleasant, not wracked with loneliness and depression. My worst enemy in all this? Myself. The stigma towards mental illness I had towards myself.

Well, dear readers, that is quite a bit for today. I want to thank all of you for following me. All I can really say is that there are many more to come. I am consulting with others now to make a complete book of essays on my knowledge and experience, and some of them will be based on these blog entries. For now, I just hope you like my writing on this blog enough to share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter. It is the support of people who get something out of my words that keeps this blog going. I don’t actually make any money, but I get rewards when I hear from those who read this and they say it has helped them in some way. Best wishes,

Leif Gregersen

The Last Big Battle: Stigma and the Psychiatric Patient

One of the hardest things to explain to a lot of people who are not working and on meds is the great joy one can get waking up early to watch the sun come up. This photo was taken on one such morning as I returned home from the swimming pool.

 

Mental Health Stigma:

I don’t know, but a lot of people may think I spend quite a bit of time talking about stigma. Perhaps it would be useful to first explain what I think stigma is, and then with some firm groundwork it will be easier to understand. The dictionary definition of stigma is, “A mark of disgrace on a person because of a particular trait or quality.” Sorry if you lost me there, that is just paraphrasing. My own experience of having stigma towards mentally ill people came to me while I was in the psychiatric hospital. I had been there before, just never as a patient. My mom had spent quite a bit of time on the hospital ward that I, 14 at the time, was now a patient in. And older man, likely not much older than I now am, approached me and wanted to give me some friendly advice. He didn’t say anything mean or get angry, he was truly trying to be helpful, but as he spoke to me, a large stream of drool came out of his mouth. This scared the life out of me. What if I would end up like this man? It could have easily have happened, and drooling is a side effect of many medications, but my own idea that I could ‘end up’ like this man was very skewed because right away I blamed my parents as they were the ones that put me there. I didn’t blame myself as being so difficult to deal with that I had to be there, I blamed them. I still remember telling my dad about this man and being nearly in tears. I think this is a good example of people in society in general and how they feel about mental illness, even a good example as to how irrational assumptions and mistaken prejudices cause stigma.

Of course there is much more to stigma than that, but fortunately times are changing. I would like to use homosexuality as an example. It is no longer cool to single out people because they are effeminate. Only the crudest of people use words like ‘gay’ when trying to describe a negative quality of something. This was not the case just a short while ago. I have a movie I really enjoy, it is a Clint Eastwood film called “Heartbreak Ridge”. The movie would have been a complete bomb if it weren’t for the incredible insults and funny lines that came out of Clint Eastwood’s mouth as he played the role of a Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. The odd thing? That this movie was made in 1986 (approximately) and had so many derogatory things to say about homosexuality. A movie like that now likely wouldn’t have even been made. In the film, something that seems to drive Clint’s humour is to constantly refer to his ‘men’ as ‘ladies’, to give them insulting names like one soldier whose name was Fergetti, which Clint changed to ‘Fag-hetti’. These days, we have gay pride parades attended by politicians who have no fear of being labelled, but in fact applauded for standing up to homophobia. I am often reminded of a teacher who taught me, my brother, my sister, and many of my friends who I dearly loved in junior high as the best teacher I had ever known, who in recent years came out and I now feel no differently about him, though if I had known as a teen I may have felt differently. The cool thing I am getting at is that things are changing. Now, there is even a gay character in Archie comics.

When you turn back the clock some more, you will end up in the time when a similar stigma or ignorance was around over cancer. In the 60s, and before, people didn’t talk about cancer, it just wasn’t mentioned. When this began to change, more people were willing to get checked out and more of those same people were treated at stages where more could be done, and more people gave donations towards research. Sadly, mental illness is one of those things that in many ways still remains ‘in the closet’.

It almost seems sometimes that our society, our media, our entire culture is dedicated to labelling and ostracizing those who are suffering from mental illness. A quick look through a comic book (I am a huge Archie comics fan) from just a few years back will find references all over to “crazy” behaviour, people needing to be taken to the “funny farm” as though they were problems as real and destructive and the bubonic plague. The fact is that mental illness is not a communicable disease, and it is much more common that people realize. The fact that it is not talked about people fear it a great deal.

Stigma can affect people in so many ways. I always wonder whether or not I can tell an employer or a co-worker or just about anyone related to my working life about my illness. There have been many, many times when I applied for jobs and didn’t get them possibly because I was honest about my mental illness. There are two things that can be done to combat these situations, one is that my mental illness is not something I am required to disclose to an employer, and if I can prove that I was discriminated against I could have grounds for a lawsuit. The sad fact is that, especially in the Province of Alberta, many employers simply don’t care and the law is slanted to their side regardless.

One of the things that I like to try and get people to consider is what I am like when I am extremely ill. People will see me misunderstanding things, acting on information that is false, saying and doing strange things. But never will I have any desire to hurt or harm anyone. It is much more likely that when I have delusions I see myself as some kind of Spiderman or Batman figure, someone who is mandated to help others. Something I feel is important to note here is how incredibly disturbing it can be to have a mental illness and be in active psychosis. I have these recollections of my illness completely inventing things said by others, and having things said on the TV or the radio tell me that I am some movie star or hero when in fact I am so debilitated by my delusions that I can hardly even move. So basically, stigma is destructive to a large percentage of our population (one in five people are believed to have a mental health struggle in their lifetimes), it causes the illness to get worse, just as homophobia never made the world a better place or hushing up things like cancer only hampered progress and treatment.

So if you are reading this and you don’t have a mental illness, I strongly urge you to try and understand more about mental illness and those who suffer from it. A lot of ignorance even exists in treatment centres where people with mental health problems need to go when they are ill. If you are a person with a mental illness, I would not only love to hear from you and your own experiences with your illness (viking3082000@yahoo.com) but I would encourage you to become an advocate, to speak up for those who are unable to speak. This could be done by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, by gently confronting those who say things that are insensitive to your situation and setting them straight, or even just by being a good friend to others you know who suffer and visiting them in the hospital when they need to be there. If you have a favourite comic book, TV show or any other type of media and you notice as I did that they make inappropriate use of terms like ‘crazy’ or such terms, contact them. Google them and send them an email. Never in history has the individual who is willing to stand up for what is right had so much ability to influence the world. And dear reader, keep reading this blog and support (financially and personally) organizations like your local Schizophrenia Society or mental health organization.

Chronic Mental Illness and You: Never Give Up

Today’s Photo is a picture of Rogers Place. Here the Edmonton Oilers battle things out game after game, for the hope of bringing home the Stanley cup. Some of them fight addictions, all of them deal with incredible amounts of stress, but they share one thing: They have made hockey their lives, their entire lives. I dearly wish that each of you who read this blog can find that one thing that keeps them in tune with the human race, gives them purpose. My ‘thing’ is writing, and now I am finding that it is also teaching. Without these in my life I would fall back into a negative mindset in a hurry, it would almost be a death sentence.

When we deal with a mental illness, perhaps the most difficult part of it is that we often lack a sense of awareness of our own condition. This is called Anosognosia, and I know I have had it. When I was 18, despite that I knew my thinking and concept of the world was extremely skewed, and that after spending a month in a psychiatric hospital on medications I just about literally ‘came back from the dead’, I thought I knew more than the trained specialists who could see what was wrong and fix it. I don’t know why, but I thought Psychiatry was all bunk and I just wasn’t ready to give in and take medications that I felt turned me into a zombie. Talking to Doctors about it, I have learned that this is very frequently the case in people who are recently diagnosed. You simply can’t be mentally ‘fixed’ until you realize what is broken. The worst part of it all? I actually thought that if I was honest with the Doctor about what was going on in my head that I would never leave that hospital, and that scared me. It was a horrible experience, being acted on with violence from the staff who could also give me injections of incredibly barbaric medications when I wasn’t complying. Abuse and violence also came from the other patients, and all of us were locked in together in one cramped, cigarette smoke stained place. There is one memory that sticks out though, there was a young man my age, and I won’t say he was mentally well, but he was a kind and friendly guy. He convinced me one day to sit down at a table with him and draw. He even recommended I take a course called “Drafting 10” which I eventually did take. When I sat down with this guy, it was like I was no longer in the hospital, and when I was able to string together a few good days like that, I was taken to a ward that wasn’t so strict and violent.

So how can people who have a mental illness take this advice and apply it to their lives? First of all, just like I was able to focus (though with great effort) in the violent ward when I was given some encouragement, people with mental illness (and I am sure there are family members of mentally ill people reading this who can encourage their loved ones to do this as well) should be allowed to explore many different endeavours until they find one that they love to do. It could be playing guitar, it could be painting. For me it is writing, poetry, giving talks, even just trying to help some of the many homeless people in my neighbourhood. There are so many things worth doing, if you can just find one thing, perhaps it is something you already have a background in, and then use it in a way that you can become not just a productive person, but a giving person. I once knew a young woman with schizophrenia who became ill a great deal because she never left her apartment. She had trained as an accountant but her skills were fading away and she saw no way to get a job. So, as I will direct many of you, however many read this, I told her to contact an organization called “The Volunteer Network” she did this, and the network (I hope there are similar organizations where you live) placed her in a non-profit business where she was able to work. Unfortunately she didn’t stick with it, but I really think that volunteering can be a source of healing for so many people. There really is a great deal of need for caring, compassionate people, regardless of any mental health diagnosis to simply spend time with elderly people in nursing homes or lodges. At one time I had what was almost a dream job. I worked as a pastoral care volunteer at a Veteran’s Hospital. I met so many kind and caring older men who simply wanted a little company, someone to tell their fascinating stories to. I also helped the Pastor who found four or five men I could visit. I will never forget taking one man out for a walk, and how happy he was to breathe fresh air. To this day, I visit my ex-girlfriend’s mom in the retirement lodge she is in and I love it. She is one of the sweetest, nicest people I know. We get together, eat pizza, play cards, and it really makes me feel worthwhile.

Just to dwell on that word “Worthwhile” for a moment, I should mention that just a couple of years ago I had an amazing job that paid about twice what I get now. If I had stayed with it and carefully saved my money, I could do just about anything, travel all over the globe if I wanted. But it was such a trial dealing with all the politics and competition between me and others. The money was pouring in, but the stress was breaking me down. I found a job with the Schizophrenia Society, which I still have, and I go to many different places and give talks, and there are so many rewards. A couple of weeks ago I met a young man who came to me and told me he thinks he has a mental illness and I was able to help him. Often I go to the Police Recruit Class and teach young officers how to deal with people who are mentally ill. It takes so little effort, but because I love it I do it well, and I have a sense of worth and job security that I don’t ever want to let go of.

Well, dear readers. That is all I really have for today. Soon I will go back to writing poems, I have just been feeling a bit too drained lately. I leave you with a story I want to start adding to my presentations: When I was in Air Crew Survival training as a kid, we were told that we had to pair up with a buddy and watch out for each other. For example, if we were walking and there was rain or puddles, we were told to ask them if they had dry socks. Regardless of their answer, we would have to put our hand into their boots to make sure their socks were dry, and if they weren’t, we would have them change into dry ones. The lesson from this? Find a buddy. Find someone you trust. And when times get hard, check his or her socks. And make sure they are taking care of themselves and that they know to help take care of you.

Healthy and Unhealthy Ways of Coping With Depression

Sadly, this picture doesn’t do the subject justice. The other day, after a panicked phone call from a friend, I went outside to see something I have never imagined I would ever see–the sun was cherry red from thick forest fire smoke hanging over the city.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog on coping with depression.

Suicide

 

I know you’re hurting but don’t think you found a better way

Before you waste your life I have some words I want to say

 

Each one of us, your friends fears to take a chance

And each one of us has failed at romance

 

Please don’t give up trying

 

Giving up and giving in

When it comes to love

Is almost like a sin

 

You have to understand love sometimes fades

The way we all see it you weren’t to blame

 

You put body, mind, and soul into being a friend and lover

And now that your love is no more you can’t recover

 

Just keep something always in your mind

You have looks and youth, there is every chance you will find

 

A new path to happiness once more

Though you may wait a while and find it on a distant shore

The time will come for you then you will just need to go through that open door

 

You will not regret starting fresh and finding someone new

Right now, those of us who care fear greatly for you

 

Too many young people gave their lives away

For hurt feelings that would be gone so soon, literally in days

 

The final choice is up to you

Only you can decide what you do

But my friend I will say anew

So many people care and I do too

END

 

Coping With Depression:

I think a lot of people, heck I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone has had their down days. But when you have an actual diagnosis of clinical depression it goes far beyond what most people experience. Depression, which can be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression, is extremely debilitating. When it happens to you I think the most important thing you can do is to not isolate yourself. I went through some times living on my own when it just seemed like there was no way out, that my life was going to end in a bad part of town living all alone in a cheap apartment. I recall literally laying on the floor repeatedly trying to touch wires in the back of my oven for no real reason. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but I was close to being past the point of caring.

One of the hardest things about dealing with depression, (and I should also note a good deal of today’s blog applies to bipolar disorder as well, which has a depressive side to it) is that you are not visibly injured and a lot of people can be extremely judgemental. When I was first out on my own I had a job at a grocery store for a few months but I had a very hard time coping. Somehow when you add stress to depression, you end up with a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Working becomes impossible. More than a few times I have had jobs where I had to call in sick for no better reason than that I didn’t feel like working. Of course I made up more elaborate excuses than that, but it was next to impossible for me to find any kind of job that understood my needs as a disabled person, so naturally after years of trying everything I could, I was put on a disability pension. I was very lucky because I found something I could do, I found that I could write and also give talks for the Schizophrenia Society and help others. Things have turned out extremely well, but I still have the odd bout of depression and mania. I also have symptoms of schizophrenia since my full diagnosis is anxiety, bipolar, and schizoaffective disorder.

One of the most important daily strategies I use is meditation. Some time back I made an in-depth study of meditation and the things I learned were astounding. For a long time I would use sitting meditation and count my breaths and simply try and focus and keep my ‘monkey mind’ from running around and thinking all kinds of different things. I found it helped with anger, it took a good deal of stress off my shoulders especially when really needed like just before a shift at work, but I slowly slipped away from it. Now I practise walking meditation more, which is great because it is helping me lose weight and feel better which is extremely important for mental and physical health, but I do think I need to go back to sitting meditation soon. There is nothing that gave me more of a positive and caring attitude than sitting meditation.

Of course, when you consider depression, it is important to consider anti-depressants. I take prozac (among pills for other reasons and an injection) and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Not every pill is right for every person. I do have to say though that there was a time when I went off prozac because I thought I was ‘cured’ from my depression and I sunk deep into a depression that was literally so bad I couldn’t see that my mental and physical health were seriously deteriorating. I barely left my apartment, I found no joy in anything. And to top it off, I contacted a high school crush and was told to get out of her life. A short time later I made a very serious suicide attempt and ended up in intensive care. Lesson: don’t discontinue medications without the supervision of a doctor/psychiatrist.

So what about the people who feel down but don’t think their situation is serious enough to get treatment? Talking to your family Doctor about it, or finding a counsellor/psychologist may be the best thing you could ever do. I think a lot of people who have the blues a lot don’t even remember what feeling good was like.

There are many more strategies I can go over. One of my favourites is to get a supportive and positive group of friends (preferably ones that aren’t regular drinkers or drug users) and get five phone numbers. When you feel you need to talk, call the first one, then when you next want some support, call the second and work your way down the list. This way you don’t put too much pressure or demand on one person to help you.

As I mentioned above, physical activity can be a great way to lift the spirits. Walking is great, especially if you have someone to walk with. Sports like tennis or racquetball, or even team sports can be great, but don’t force yourself or risk injury. It is always a good idea to consult an MD before starting a new regimen. But none of these things work alone. Use all of them or a few of them. Get five friends, make an appointment to talk to your family MD to talk about your depression. In most major cities, you can find resources to see a counsellor/psychologist for free. Above all, do everything you can to maintain good health from brushing your teeth to watching salt and fat intake. And if your depression lasts, strongly consider anti-depressants. They were a miracle for me and depression almost killed me more than once.

LG