community

More About Relationships and the Mentally Ill: A Focus On Community

DSC_0001A warm winter’s day caused me to grab my camera and head out to capture one of these brave little guys for my blog.

I talked a little yesterday about relationships and what they can mean to a person with a mental illness, and I felt like I left something very significant out.  It seems to me that when we live somewhere or work somewhere, or are part of something larger than ourselves and our roommates or family, we are talking about a community.  A community can really be any group of people, but for the purposes of what I want to discuss I think it is best to think of a community as a group of significant relationships.  There is our neighborhood, my own favorite community.  I live in a section of town where a lot of Italian people settled some time ago and continue to live among those who speak their language, worship at the same churches and share the same culture.  There are many other sub-communities in this area, there are the homeless people which I often try to think of as the ones who are the most special because, as many people may know, Jesus once said that “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do for me.” This is kind of amazing in my mind because we actually have this incredible opportunity to do something for the King of the Universe and gain points in heaven just for helping people who appreciate such small things.  More on that later.

The next level of community includes both the homeless people and the Italian people, it is simply the people who live in this area.  I am a long way from getting to know all of them, but over the course of the past 15 years of me living in this area I have made many friends.  One thing that I really like is that when I publish a new book there are people who will always get a copy from me.  I have to admit to a bit of laziness as to the marketing side of publishing a book, and it means a lot that at least my first few sales are guaranteed when I put out a new book.  Then of course, there is a much smaller segment of the area I live in of people who are my friends, and I like to lump this together with the people who also live in the housing project I live in.  I currently live in a group home of around 20 adults that share common meals, common chores, some entertainment and who are mostly friends. This community is something that perhaps means the most to me because among these adult males who all have a psychiatric issue, there is very little judging, very little stigma and a strong desire to help each other through life’s difficult times.  Even when I first moved here a long time back I was able to borrow money and trust the people here to borrow from me and there were people to play cards and sports and billiards with.  It changed so much because first off I had made my relationship with my family very strained by years of being in and out of hospitals and isolating myself.  Being around these other ‘psychiatric survivors’ was a life-changing, perhaps even life-changing experience.  There is also the slightly larger community there that includes the people who work here at the group home, who are all trained to deal with psychiatric patients and are subject to rules and regulations by the government.  Knowing I am not alone is huge.  I would love to talk about my immediate family, how much it means that I have a cousin here and three in Toronto who are incredible people and inspire me greatly, my brother and sister who I love doing things with and of course my dad who is a tower of strength even now in his declining years, but that may take more space than I have here and I think just about everyone out there understands the importance of family to some degree.

What I wanted to talk about was a situation where I wanted to become a part of a different type of community and succeeded.  I wanted to become a part of a community of people who stay fit, who have regular jobs, who don’t focus everything on a mental illness whether they have one or not.  I found this community at the swimming pool I went to for many years.  It was hard at first.  Of course I knew how to use the facility, I could swim and sit in the hot tub, lift weights and so on, but there were a lot of people who came to the pool on a regular basis and I wanted to get new friends in my life.  I forced myself to go to the same pool at the same time every morning for quite some time, and for the first while I would just sit around and take up space.  After a while though, I was able to strike up conversations with people and I used something called ‘open ended questions’.  I haven’t mastered this ability, but basically what asking open ended questions means is to ask a person a question phrased so that you don’t get a simple one-word answer.  “Where do you like to go for vacation?”  for example, rather than “Do you like to travel?”  I am not very well versed in this method as it has been some time since I took the class that taught me about them, but I have been able to develop the ability to carry on conversations with people and when you can do this in the same place with the same people, over time you will make friends and with friends in your life just about anything is possible.  I can recall making friends with a supervisor while I was working as a security guard and being offered a job that doubled my pay with better working conditions.  Another time a friend I made at the swimming pool turned out to be the owner of a coin shop, coin collecting being one of my favorite hobbies, and I got some great deals from him and lots of usable advice.

Basically what it comes down to I think is of course, you must accept your illness, diagnosis and must be in a situation of proper treatment for this illness.  At this point you are at a crossroads, and I can understand why so many people go off their medications and get sick again because life can really begin to suck if you are alone and taking pills that have a lot of side effects and don’t seem to help.  But if you can establish yourself, settle down into a good place to live and build a life for yourself, there are ways to overcome the difficulties that come with a mental health diagnosis.  Settling into one place has so many advantages.  I don’t see now how I could ever move, I have so many good friends where I live and love the house I am in.  As a small, simple example, when you get a fixed address you can get a library card.  That means you have access to all kinds of books, magazines, courses, and so on.  You also have a place to go where you can attend talks given by guest speakers (in a larger city I should say) and maybe you will also start to meet people.  Maybe you just start to be friends with someone you ride the bus with to get to the library each Tuesday.  They say that a person with one friend is a wealthy person, and I believe it.  But of course, there is much more benefit to be realized from staying in one place.  Most neighborhoods, even in small towns have community leagues, Scout meetings, Toastmasters groups, photography classes.  Some of these may be difficult if you don’t have much money and can’t work or take on too much stress, but even a volunteer job for 2 hours a week can help plug you into something special.

Anyhow, I hope you have enjoyed this blog. I want to thank everyone that has been adding themselves to follow me and invite all of you to comment or email me.  At the moment, I am hard at work on a short story collection but am hoping to fuel the creative fires again soon and start writing more poetry.  Take care friends, and keep in touch!      viking3082000@yahoo.com

Advertisements

How To Succeed in Life When You Have Bipolar

DSC00209

Well, today’s title suggests a tall order.  In fact, I really don’t know how to succeed in life despite my Bipolar because I haven’t sat down and written out what I think I need to do to succeed in life.  Maybe that could be a good topic to consider-goals.  I really like to quote a study that was once undertaken where a graduating group was asked if they had clear, concise, written goals for themselves and when the same people were checked years later, the three percent or so that had written goals had made more money than the entire rest of the graduating class.  What this tells me is that writing has power.

When I was younger, one of my goals was to write books and I had written down these goals.  I had other goals I didn’t write down like learn 3 or four languages, get my pilot’s license and become a military officer.  None of these came true, but my goal of writing-that really went a long way.  One of the reasons I think this is was because I worked at it a tiny bit each day for a very long time.  I regret to say that for a period of time I did nothing but chat in various chat rooms and pursue relationships with people I would never meet, but I kept returning to my writing goal knowing that if I failed at it I would be losing something very important in my life and it came true.  One of the reasons for that could be the power of keeping  a journal.  One day soon I want to head down to the basement and read some of the journals I wrote when I was just starting out as a writer and see how my thinking has progressed.  I do know that now as it has been a long time since I drank alcohol, a long time since I gambled, and a very long time since I was without proper medications that my thoughts have cleared up a great deal.  Years ago I had some thoughts in my head that I had a very hard time letting go of, everything from resentments to imagined relationships with females, and I think for these reasons they have gotten a lot better.  I also would like to thank the power of meditation for clearing up my thinking.  I haven’t done it in a while, but meditation is a powerful tool for freeing the mind from negative thinking.  You can actually train yourself to push away negative thoughts and embrace positive ones through meditation.

One of my favorite forms of meditation is simply snorkeling at the swimming pool.  I start out my workout by sitting in the hot tub to get my joints moving and then strap on flippers and mask and snorkel and propel myself through the water, enjoying the silence and freedom from the outside world.  It is so relaxing and renewing.

Another huge part of being a success, aside from sitting down and getting a clear idea of what you want to accomplish to succeed, is to become a part of a community.  I have lived in the neighborhood I now live in for 14 years and it is simply wonderful.  It took some time, but now when I walk down the street I know my neighbors and am always glad to stop to talk with them.  It started out with me volunteering at the local community newspaper, something that looks great on a resume and it grew so that now I have many friends living near me and many opportunities as a result of knowing these people.  The editor of the paper, Paula, edits my short stories and other writing for free and gave me a great deal on this website.  My neighbor Gary down the street is an accomplished writer himself and is a great guy to go to poetry readings and other events with.  There is also a community in the people that live in the group home I’m in which is perhaps the most important one in my life right now.  There are around 20 people who I can call at any time, who I can talk to each day, borrow from or lend to.  There is also staff, but there is something very important about having other people around who have mental illnesses because I need to feel comfortable as a person with a mental illness and when people around you are going through the same thing, you can feel so much more free to be yourself.

I often wonder about some of the people from the US who read this, especially the ones that suffer from Bipolar Disorder or other mental illnesses, not to mention some of the people from far off countries.  I had a person read my blog from a place called Qutar the other day and I wonder about what it must be like to live in a more judgemental type of atmosphere and have a child who suffers or be someone who suffers.  As usual, I am always more than ready to talk to anyone who wants help in understanding what they may be going through, viking3082000@yahoo.com

So when you boil it all down, what does it take?  First, you need a plan, you need to brainstorm what success is to you.  It can be owning a motorbike or a car, it can be having a job or having a better job.  Details count.  Then you need to find people who will be your friend and support you in your quest to accomplish these things.  Many people out there don’t want to see you succeed but quite often if you talk with them and perhaps even impart some of these principles to them they will not only support you, they will learn how to succeed themselves.  Then, once you have got your list, you need to make realistic and achievable steps to get to these goals.  If you want to know more languages, start with a free course from the library.  If you want to make more more money, read the book I talked about “The Richest Man in Babylon” and take the advice of carefully putting away 10-30% of your income after all of your expenses and learn how to make more money.  If you want to simply have more friends and a better social life, seek out organizations in your community where you can meet people your age.  It can be a political party, it can be a writer’s group, it can be a mental health organization.  If you want to write, commit to filling a page each day with your journal entries and writing about each movie you see, each book you read.  I am a firm believer in the library, I think a lot of things can be found there like book clubs, books on making more money in your chosen profession, books you can read to help you write better.  A lot of larger libraries will also have a writer in residence you can talk to about your writing goals totally free.  So you have to know when you will consider yourself a success, you need to take small steps, take advantage of resources out there, and make friends that will support your efforts.  I have taken these steps and life has gotten incredibly good for me over time.  Bipolar?  Take your medications, see your Doctor, work on your life issues with counselors and psychologists and in group therapy and then just baby step yourself back up.  If you are interested in seeing the choices I made and the things I went through, order a copy of “Through The Withering Storm” or “Inching Back to Sane” from the ‘books’ section of this website and let me know how things go.  All the best to all my readers!

DSC00356

Relationships For the Mentally Ill

DSCF3413This is a picture of me with a young Air Cadet Glider Pilot taken at a local small airport

 

Today’s Blog:

Some time ago, very soon after I was first diagnosed, I found out that a close friend of my brother’s had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  He had been on Lithium and didn’t like it at all, which was not hard to understand since a few short years later I was on Lithium and had similar problems.  My brother’s friend said that he slowly tapered down on his medication (which I very strongly do not recommend) and then established himself a group of friends that he could call and talk to and keep himself more on an even keel.  He had done well for himself, and likely had only a mild or even a mis-diagnosed form of Bipolar, but how does a person go from being house-bound due to problems handling stress, or something even more common among those of us who suffer, have simply lost a great deal of their friends because the friends couldn’t cope with our mental diversions.

This is a very difficult question, and I want to stress here that I am only able to tell what I have experienced, and that I have no clinical training other than one University course in Psychology and two more from high school, plus of course my years of dealing with the illness.  What I have done in the past when I felt alone was to try and establish myself with a community.  This can be something simple like a volunteer job, your community can include just your boss and the people you directly work with.  I am so lucky to work in a supportive and mutually strong workplace where making each other get through the day is rewarded, not simply trying to outwork someone so they are no longer competition for you.  A fair number of years back though, all I had for a ‘community’ was the three people I shared a house with and my Dad.  For a while this was the perfect thing, I would sleep, get up and watch some TV with my roommate George, who liked to watch four kinds of Star Trek every day and we would casually talk about how we were coping, what our dreams were like and then I would go out for a walk with my Dad in the beautiful river valley of Edmonton and I would get just a little fresh air and exercise and slowly I was progressing towards more of a ‘life’ for want of a better term.

So, to get myself to the next level, I found out that city swim passes were free for people who were on disability, and I got myself a bus pass and would get up each day to ride the bus to the pool.  I would meet a man I know only as John each morning at the bus stop, and him and I still meet in the neighborhood now and then, he is a very fascinating guy and a fan of my poetry now, and then I would head over to the pool.  At first I wouldn’t say so much I was nervous, but I didn’t know really how to make friends or talk to people, I had lost a lot of ‘life skills’ while I was in the hospital and also afterwards not being around new people or even simply ‘normal’ people for some time.  I remember going into the steam room and sitting alone and people would talk about different things and slowly I started to feel very at home sitting in the hot tub and the sauna and steam room and doing a few laps in the pool.  After a few weeks, or perhaps even months of saying hello to the women who ran the front desk I ventured a little further and started to chat with them and once more found people who were new fans of my writing and this was where I sold some of my first books while they were still in ring binders with hole punched paper inside.  Day by day, I started talking to the people at the pool and met some really amazing people.  I met two older people there who had come from Denmark around the time my Dad did and became close enough to them to be invited for coffee at their houses and at McDonald’s after we went for our swim.   I also met a man who was a coin dealer on the weekends and owner of a steel plant during the week.  He was very wealthy but put on no airs and I would often go and see him for a very fair deal on coins that I used to collect.  I met a lot of people, and one of them was a very attractive young life guard who helped me a lot with my swimming and my health in general as she was attending pre-med in school and wanted to become a chiropractor.  I can’t even remember her name but I remember her pretty smile and endless kindness to me.  Establish yourself, allow yourself to get comfortable, push your limits a bit and make friends.  Not all that complicated, but not always easy.

Another topic I think is very relevant to address in this day’s blog is when you lose friends because of your illness.  I had one friend that I used to talk to every day, often drive home and even worked with at the same restaurant while we were in grade 12 in my home town of St.Albert.  He was a very, shall we say–‘solid’ person, meaning he followed the rules passed down to him from his mother and stepfather and worked very hard and did very well for himself.  I was in a terrible state last time I talked to him, my mind was racing and I just couldn’t go five minutes without trying to phone someone.  I ended up calling him a few times and his wife would answer and she was very nice about talking to me but when he found out about it he was upset.  Add to that the fact that I was falling apart and he didn’t understand what I was going through and I lost one of the best friends I knew, certainly knew at the time.  This has happened a lot, and in some ways I am numb to these things happening, but I still think about them a lot and they still hurt in a repressed sort of way.  As far as trying to rekindle old friendships I don’t have any easy answers.  One thing that can be done is to wait until you are sure you are in a positive frame of mind and if you really want to talk to the person again, do two things that I have found very helpful:  write a brief letter explaining not only that you were having struggles but also that you have come back from that state and are now being treated properly and will likely not have problems like that again.  This isn’t any hard and fast thing, but I have saved a very important friendship (with my ex-gf Caroline) that otherwise would have just been lost.  The next step is to prepare to talk to the person directly which can be very difficult, but easier if you sit down and write out a script.  You plan out and write out what you want to say, what the person could conceivably say to you, allowing for permutations and then write out your response.  A little preparation can go a long way.  If you tune in tomorrow, I will try and talk a little about romantic relationships in the life of a person suffering from a mental illness, provided everyone understands that I can only speak of my own limited experience.  In some ways I feel I am very lucky because in my life I have only had one serious romantic relationship and I have stayed good friends with this person through the years, I even am still her friend now that she is married to someone else.  So, Dear Readers, have a wonderful day and please take a look at some of the other parts of this website while you are here, I have some videos, some links to eBooks and paperbacks for sale and even samples of some of my best writing.  Take care and keep smiling!

DSCF1014My good friend Walter Warren Milley, retired soldier, retired postie and a very nice man