Hello Dear Readers!
I have decided that some of my followers like to read a little about what I have to say, while others want to see videos, so I am going to try and alternate between the two or at least break up the order a little with a written blog now and then and a video blog when I feel up to it. I have been kind of having a struggle the past little while feeling like someone I worked with is stepping on my territory. I’m sure a lot of people who do creative work will feel this way now and then. As many of you know, due to a medication change that was supposed to greatly improve my situation but actually made me extremely sick to the point where I needed to spend a month in the hospital, I had to take some time off work. During that time, I seemed to miss out on a lot of opportunities, the biggest of which was something I really enjoyed, giving presentations to the Police Recruit class here in Edmonton. Thankfully few people seem to be able to do the work I do, and this past fall I was able to go back to speak at the Recruit Centre. For a while though, one of my co-workers had seemed to steal all my thunder, making videos where I was making written blogs (some of which I even wrote from my hospital bed). I tried to contact this person but received no response and then due to my personal social ineptitude, matters only got worse. I can’t remember why, but I had my employer give her a copy of my two memoirs in hopes that she could help get the word out about them, but in reality I am finding more and more that most people are unwilling to do anything that doesn’t directly benefit themselves. I even got a bit angry and asked that my books be returned and heard nothing back, $40 out the window on that one. I really can’t blame this person though, ,most of my feelings can be chalked up to jealousy. Not to mention that I felt extremely hurt that I missed out on so much when I was in the hospital and dealing with horrifying circumstances. Later this year, the person in question actually had her own hospital admission and from that point on I tried to look more at what I had done wrong. I saw how I was being angry and bitter about something that was no one’s fault. Even my doctor could not have predicted that I would have the reaction I did to the medications I took. Hoping to make the best of a bad situation, some time back I decided not to launch a lawsuit and instead went to work on a book about the experience. The book is now done and I have sent it for consideration to a few publishers. Also, I have been trying to find new ways to improve my blog and delivery of my message of more awareness of mental illness and less stigma. The person in question that has videos is really just trying to do the same thing. I have a feeling though that in reality she is much younger and less experienced than me and not someone I should worry about. I should actually be very happy that others are working to improve the situation of people with a mental illness, and simply do the best I can without comparing myself or my work to that of others. A couple of weeks ago there was a staff Christmas party, and as per usual, I was asked to do the photography for it. The video blogger and her boyfriend were there which for whatever reason gave me extreme anxiety which I can’t blame them for, I can only try and recognize my triggers and try to avoid situations like that in the future. Wanting to do the job I was paid for, I took a picture of them and later wished the blogger a Merry Christmas which was returned. When I look back though, it is an interesting rollercoaster of ideas and emotions I went through. First I had heard about this young woman who seemed very kind, nice, and well-dressed. Then some time later after meeting her at a staff meeting she emailed about having me in one of her videos. That was the point where I am uncertain if it was obvious that I was becoming ill, I had my medication change around that time but didn’t enter the hospital until the end of January. I was in a terrible state of paranoia in the hospital and don’t remember if I contacted her. I think this is a good time to pause and mention something: if someone you know has become ill and has been admitted to a hospital, one should always remember how difficult and upsetting it can be. If you have the ability, do your best to visit them just for a short while, as much as once per week, it can make such a huge difference to a person’s recovery.
So anyhow, after leaving the hospital I felt that my status as a mental health advocate had dropped a few hundred points and then I kept hearing about this new blogger. I have to commend her, she has made a lot of great videos though the information in them is pretty simplistic (as they should be–those who need the videos the most have problems processing and remembering things), but she has also managed to stay in school despite schizoaffective disorder and even a hospitalization of her own. These are really qualities I should never be jealous of. Also, I have decided to learn what I can from this new blog format and try and deliver to you, my readers, what you want and need in more efficient ways. I have now started a Patreon page and it would be such a blessing if those who are able can pledge $5-$8 for which I will work with skill and patience on crafting a short story and/or two poems for each month that only supporters will see. Now, I always like to give some advice or at least try and sum up what I say each time I write a blog, but I guess all I can really do is ask that, especially around this time of year we need to be forgiving and inclusive of others, especially if they have an impairment such as mental illness. When I was 18, I was kicked out of the house on Christmas Eve and it took a very long time for me to forgive my dad for it. Now, years later I cherish every moment I can have with my dad (my mom passed ten years ago) and I can see what a selfish teenage jerk I was 30 years ago as a teen. Not only that, but I had two wonderful Christmas dinners this year, one with a friend and his family, and one with my dad and my brother. I really couldn’t ask for any more. Thanks once again for reading and Merry Christmas to one and all!
Let me try and describe for you a quick look at a harsh reality. It isn’t a pretty one, but one I will have to face up to in the following months as I move further away from that scenario. A room, nothing but a non-ventillated room with a tiny bathroom attached. The room is no more than 10 feet by 15 feet, and inside of it lives a very ill young man presently having medication problems and who is surrounded by a lifetime of possessions. A book case covers one wall, packed full of every kind of book. More books are in the cupboard space instead of food, and more are laying randomly on the floor. The floor is littered with clothes new and old, garbage, full packs of cigarettes, dirty socks, and the odd can of beans or other uncooked, ready to eat food. On every flat surface piles of papers or CDs or other items are stacked beyond a safe height, and inside the fridge there are many items, but none of them are useable. This was my reality before I spent six months in a psychiatric hospital where I wasn’t even allowed to go home to pack my stuff up when I was evicted for displaying the signs of a person with a mental illness.
Sometimes I like to think that back then I wasn’t a hoarder but just a book lover or a music lover. But the plain truth was that I was being choked to death by all of my possessions. I didn’t want to let go of them for any reason. I think it is often the common reason people hoard things is that they feel they have more value than others do, that they can somehow sell them. The idea in my head was that somehow I would read all the books, even though I was consistently buying more books than I could read at that time. Lacking proper space to cook, I was also forced to buy food out or sponge off of my elderly parents which definitely wasn’t sustainable. I think at this time I was a hoarder. I tried an experiment though, a lot of my stuff was put into storage for after my release from hospital, and after spending two years paying for storage I hadn’t once needed to go to get more stuff from there, and I realized that I actually didn’t need any of that stuff. I stopped paying the storage people, they sent me a few nasty letters then auctioned off my things and that was that. The main problem was that I had already begun to accumulate more things.
I have a friend who is definitely a hoarder who lives in a small house stuffed to the rafters with books he will never read, records he will never play and videos he will never watch. At one point he confided with me that when he bought something, it almost gave him a sexual thrill. At first I thought this was a pretty sick thing, but later in years I have heard that many people actually experience this same thing. I think the important thing to understand though is that it is essential to gain awareness of a problem like hoarding, and that there is a great deal of help out there for people to want to change.
It is quite a few years since that incident when I was not only severely mentally ill, but also drowning in more possessions than I needed. What has changed is that I have stabilized on medications, which work well for me, and I have much more space than that tiny little apartment. What I desperately would like to know is if I am still a hoarder.
In the time since that six month hospitalization, I developed an interest in reading comic books. I had once collected them as a child, when I was 10 and I had an impressive collection. Now I don’t read them as much but they have become easy to purchase, I now have thousands more than I ever did, despite that I don’t have a lot of time for reading.
So in all this time since my last hospital admission (19 years) I have fought to find a balance to my life, and I have discovered a movement called minimalism. I find it extremely fascinating, the claims they make are huge though. Get rid of 90% of what you have and you will feel 200% better. Declutter your home and declutter your mind. A lot of it makes sense to me, but I have hit a roadblock. I have this huge collection of comics recently bought and I just don’t know if I can sell the comics at a huge sacrifice, never having taken the time to read them. This surely must be hoarding at its worst, and to break out of the cycle I am going to have to make some really hard decisions. The only way I really know how to deal with it is to read books like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a beautiful book about purging possessions and reorganizing ones’ home. I know it will be difficult, but I think one of the most important things is likely that I shouldn’t worry about getting my money out of the comics. What I really have to focus on is finding a way to force myself not to buy any more, and I am lucky to have a resource in Edmonton that many of us can access with ease, there are graphic novels galore in the Edmonton Public Library. There are actually also a great deal of comics online, but I can’t comment due to lack of knowledge on copyright status and such. One of the wonderful things about the computer age is that it almost seems all one needs is a decent computer and only the very essential necessities of life and you can make it.
There are some truly encouraging reasons to embrace minimalism. The idea that one can either lower the amount they work without worry or work like they did before but be able to save much more, save for things in life that truly matter, like a life-changing vacation or being able to take your spouse out for a special meal at a fancy restaurant you enjoy more often. For me, as I sit at my desk writing this now, all I can think about is what it will be like when the clutter and papers of my work space are cleared and I can think of nothing but writing. I have also been thinking that if I use some of the space in my apartment differently there is no reason why I can’t hold onto my comics, but the essential thing I think is for me not to buy any more, so I have been trying to read up and listen to podcasts on living with less.
Last week I went into kind of a cleaning frenzy. I took all my clothes, piled them up on my futon, then got rid of each and every stitch of fabric that I wasn’t using or didn’t give me immediate joy. I was going to move on to do more this weekend but Edmonton has been hit with a brutal snowstorm and temperature drop which has made it impractical for me to complete my scheduled purge. Books are next. This is going to be the hardest part of it all I think, I have loved books since I was very young, but I think I should go easy on myself and include books but not comic books. I have this idea that I can simply pare down my comic collection to a manageable amount, but the truth is no matter which way I do it, this can become a very emotional time for a person who has had a lot of stuff for a long time. One thing I do know is that changing the way you view possessions, and not letting what you have define what kind of person you are, is so worth it.
Has anyone out there read the classic work “The Gambler” by I think Dosteyovski? It tells the tale of a man so obsessed by gambling that he plots to murder his landlady. I won’t ruin it for you because the whole point in bringing it up is that it portrays an incredibly accurate depiction of a compulsive gambler. I myself was a compulsive gambler for some time, and not only was I totally sure I suffered from this affliction, I also understood that it comes along with the manic side of my bipolar disorder, which is a part of my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I could abstain for long stretches, then all at once I would have a severe compulsion and an almost unfailing faith that I would walk out of the casino with more money than I walked in with. Despite making my own computer programs to test my winning strategies and being something of a former math whiz, I would put money in, perhaps win a little at first and then chase my losses until I had nothing. But this hasn’t been my only addiction.
As a young kid, I had an addiction to comic books. I would work myself to death to try and accumulate as many as I could, and even when I got older and stopped reading them, I would often have dreams about still having the literature hidden in my parent’s closet. I simply could not get enough, even when my parents told me no more comics. Then at 14, I started to smoke cigarettes. That was an addiction that took me 18 years to quit.
Perhaps one of the most damaging of my addictions was alcohol. I found it was that magic elixir that would loosen the chains of my anxiety and remove inhibitions. When I was drunk I could meet girls, dance, do whatever I wanted and even if I got into a fight or got beat up for my stupidity while drinking it didn’t hurt that much.
And now I am trying something new, something that is on the edges of anything I ever tried. I want to take all of my possessions and minimize them and somehow stop fixating on getting better clothes, better furniture, better video games. Even though I am 47 I am finding that there are some professional development courses I would love to take but the money just isn’t there and the rules of having the government sponsor a person for part-time learning have changed.
With all of these addictions, I am trying very hard to find a way to not just cope with the ones I have, but to try and avoid getting any more. I met a young man of 33 yesterday who was homeless and addicted to Fentynal. He likely won’t survive the winter unless he can get lucky enough to be put in jail. That is a very scary thing for me to consider, especially when I consider that there isn’t that much difference between him and I other than that I am much older and less able to bounce back from something of that nature.
When I was in a 12-step program years ago, my now-departed sponsor told me once that when you apply the steps of abstinence in your life, you don’t have a cure for your addiction, you have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of your spiritual condition. He also said that when we abstain, if we don’t deal with whatever personality trait or flaws that caused us to become addicted to something, our illness can manifest itself in other ways.
Clean and purge is all I can manage for now. I do plan to keep a bible and a few books that have meaning for me, but I would like to get to the stage of relying on the library instead of buying and accumulating more and more books. Maybe when I get myself down to the bare bones and can focus on the thing I love the most (writing) I will have enough to not just deal with my addictions, but to really turn myself into a better person all around. I have so little control of my mental health situation. All I can really do is take my medications as prescribed and talk to my nurse and doctor as often as they want me to. I know for a fact that on a fixed income if I can slow down consumption of things such as diet pop (one of my new addictions), purchase of comic books (an affliction that has come back to me) and buying books, I will likely be more able to take care of myself. One of the best things I have found when I want to make an effort to stop a habit is simply to not allow myself to think of the subject. If I have to get off the bus a stop early to walk around a bar that has gambling machines I will. If I have to not go near the mall to not be tempted to buy new clothes, I will do it. And the one thing, the one magical thing that I can always do for myself is as simple as picking up a book, just an interesting book. Reading is such magic, it takes a person to another world, it takes a person inside the mind of the author, it gives a writer a whole new world to create with total omnipresence. Thanks for reading my blog, I couldn’t be a writer if people out there in the world didn’t read my work.
Something I have become aware of in the past few years is that it seems everyone, but especially those who have a mental illness, have something that engages them, something that fulfills them. For me it has been photography, which can be rewarding for everyone, but often people’s passions start earlier in their lives than mine did. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until I was around thirty and better and more reliable digital cameras came out. I had tried taking pictures, I had even taken two photography courses, one in school and another in cadets, and it always just frustrated me. I would load the film wrong, I would take pictures and not have the extra money to have them developed or I would wait too long to have them developed. Now, photography to me is an amazing hobby because I don’t need film, I just need a camera memory card and I can load the pictures onto my computer and fool around with the light and colours and even the composition.
I ran into something very interesting the other day, I was in a class and I found it hard to keep my attention on what was being talked about. There were also breaks and blank spaces in the day that I felt a little bit resentful about because I had nothing to do. Then I noticed the person beside me had taken a sheet of an adult colouring book out and had started the long process of colouring in pieces of it with a ball point pen. I took a sheet for myself and started to do the same thing and it was almost like magic. I was fully engaged in colouring, but I was still able to hear and understand everything being said in the class. I have never really seen myself as much of an artistic person, at least not in the case of drawing things with my hand, but there was a time years ago when my dad, who was a sign writer, asked me to come and help him get some patterns of signs that he needed to recreate. At the time, I often fought with my dad and I hate to say it but had a low opinion of him. I felt the things he did for a living to be something beneath me, but still part of me wanted to do things with my dad, we had a glimmer of the special father-son relationship we used to have when I was much smaller. Anyhow, what he needed me to do was to take a ladder, climb up to where “no entry” signs had been posted and using special thin paper, trace out the whole sign. I wish I could describe it better, but really when I did this, I thought it was pure magic. At that age, I mostly did two things, I delivered pizza and I was a student. But now, I was an active part of something, and I was actually creating something useful. As I carefully sketched out the outlines of the sign, I had such a feeling of personal accomplishment. It was a time in my life I will never forget.
Not all that long after that, I was having severe mental health difficulties and ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I was very young to be there, I had just turned 18, and there was another person there my age who seemed to be something of an odd fit to the situation as well. One afternoon, when there was absolutely nothing to do but watch television, something I mostly hate doing, this young person and I sat down and he showed me how to sketch a tiger or a lion. As the task took over all my concentration and effort, he said to me, “See, now it’s like we’re not in a mental hospital anymore.” and it really wasn’t. Over the years I have tried to engage myself with similar things, but I still kind of feel that drawing, painting, visual art is not my best choice, though as I said it can get a person through some pretty tough times. I have found writing. When I feel a day is slipping away from me and I have accomplished nothing, I can come here and write a blog. When I want to feel I am doing something useful and worthwhile, I will sit down and plan out and write a first draft of a short story or a poem.
Basically dear readers, I don’t want to nail you down to any one activity that will be a catch-all for your problems. What I do want to suggest is that you find something that engages you, takes all your concentration and personal skills. For some it could be building a wooden chair or desk. For others it could be working with stained glass or drawing a cartoon. If you don’t already have something like this in your life, find a book that will teach you the basics of something you feel would be interesting. Work through it, find others that do the same kind of things, be it gardening or even simply reading or writing poetry. Try and stick with it, and before you know it you will have a long list of happy memories, and you will have gotten yourself through some difficult times. I know it has worked that way for me.
This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.
What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.
I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.
Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at email@example.com with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.