depression

Growing Up With Illnesses Like Bipolar and Also Having Severe Anxiety

This is a shot I took of a soccer field near my house. When I look at this photo, I tend to notice that though an exciting game of soccer is going on, the bleachers are empty. It takes me back to the one year I played organized sports in my home town of St.Albert. There was a rep team made up of hand-picked players, one for boys and another for girls. Both of them beat us royally, which was not considered a fair match, so when, in our final game–in overtime–we beat the only team that had ever beat us in a fair match, for a few brief moments we were on top of the world.

Soccer is a wonderful experience, and I suggest any parent should encourage their kids to participate. For a long time I used to try and encourage parents to put their kids in cadets, but few have ever done it. With all the training, the sports, the friends, and the travel you get from it, it seems almost ridiculous that anyone would not want their kids to join. Air cadets was something that taught me skills that got me through a lot of very difficult times, and still to this day, 31 years after I left, I rely on a lot of those skills to make my living and get along in the world.

But to try and keep more on the topic I wanted to speak most about, I would like to try and discuss anxiety. Because I was never given any kind of diagnosis, and it is even unclear today at the ripe old age of 46 what exactly the doctors think is wrong, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in my life. I don’t know if there really was any good treatments for anxiety when mine was at its’ worst. I can try and describe what it was like though.

I was 14. I had been taken out of school for an assessment at the General Hospital in Edmonton for two weeks, and during that time I was allowed to attend cadets. On one of those two nights, I had been assigned to get in front of a class of my peers and give a talk about my hobby-which was collecting military combat uniforms. Now, I will digress for just a moment. When I gave that talk, I hadn’t interacted with anyone my age for quite a few days. I felt that my social skills had just gotten rusty, when it was actually a diagnosable illness I had that wasn’t being treated. I got up in front of the room, and I felt a strong pull taking my gaze away from the audience and looking down at the floor. I also became aware of my looks, my acne, and I blushed crimson red. Maybe what hurt the most was walking past a person who was in the class having a laugh with a friend about how horrible my performance had been.

All through my younger days I drowned in anxiety. I would sit out every single song of every single dance the cadets held. The idea that someone could like me or find me attractive was seemingly out of the question. There were a few times I can recall though that I clearly had bipolar disorder as well (I also have a third diagnosis, of schizoaffective disorder). A friend gave me a ride home from the cadet hall where we had been dropped off after a weekend camp at a base near Red Deer. I can’t even describe it. Maybe the tiredness set me off, I really don’t know. But it was the first time I can remember feeling elated, talking way too fast about too many things, and not having a clue that this was something very out of character for me.

All through my teen years I struggled with insomnia, and a good part of it was my own fault. I would stay up late, eat hot dogs or muffins I had brought home from work, then for some reason as time for school approached, I would get this idea in my head that I could be a superior student like I had once been if I studied every word of a textbook. So many times I got these big ideas, then ended up sleeping, and also sleeping in for class. Skipping breakfast, I would race off to school. When the day ended, I would go home and take a nap. This was not only a bad idea that made it harder for me to sleep properly at night, but I would get these nightmares that were just horrible. This was one of the few times that I started to realize that something was going very wrong with my mind. I told my mom about the bad dreams, and she basically responded by asking me what I thought she could do about it. As problems piled up with me, the loneliness, the social anxiety, the insomnia, the depression, and poor sense of self piled up, I almost went to see a psychiatrist but instead waited until I was forced to see one. I really hope anyone who reads this doesn’t tread down that path, especially the young people.

Back at that time, along with anxiety, I had severe depression. I often say that I wasn’t really sure if I was experiencing depression because I had no real close friends, or if my severe depression made it hard for me to open up to and form solid friendships with people. It may apply to a lot of people, but when I think back now to the three or four really close friends I had, I regret ever meeting them.

One of them was a clear alcoholic who was overweight and wore thick glasses and somehow thought he was the coolest and most attractive person ever. Sometimes I am taken back to the odd fun times we had, and I think it would be neat to look him up. Years ago I tried to do so and he really seemed to feel the need to compete with me over anything I said and look for ways to humiliate me. Him and the people he hung around with never really left my home town. There was one guy who I actually really liked and has always been a friend, though a casual friend, and he became a University Professor and moved out of province.

Come to think of it, a lot of the people I knew in school were alcoholics. I was desperately trying to quit back then, but was encouraged into binging a few times with another fair weather friend. Drinking in some ways was magic. It lifted my depression, relaxed me, helped me overcome my social anxiety. The only bad effects was that it was killing me, I was leading an extremely dangerous and risky lifestyle while I was drinking, some of the hangovers I had were epic, and as I drank I watched my family fall apart from similar and different addiction issues. I hate the term ‘self medicate’. I drank because, like many people, I had a subconscious connection with booze and the rarer and rarer good times I would have when using it. Now the very idea of what I used to do as a teen seems ridiculous. Ego contests to see who could drink the most, drinking parties in a delivery car while delivering pizza. Turning into some kind of monster, picking fights with friends or making moves on females that only a 15-year-old could ever get away with.

Getting over those depressions and anxiety was a long road. It was nearly impossible while I was adjusting to medications my doctor prescribed me to try and deal with my fractured social skills. Finding the Schizophrenia Society has been so key in getting me healthy again. I work a few days a week, I earn a little extra money for groceries. I have some solid friends and a lot of self respect from finding a way I can help others even when I am kind of broken myself. Of course having an incredible, intelligent and caring father means a great deal as well.

At first, I really didn’t know what to expect from the Schizophrenia Society. I figured if any students I was going to speak to were anything like I was in my teens it would be hell. But 98% of the students I present to are incredibly interested and responsive to what I have to say. I worked my way up and have given presentations to police recruits, student nurses, criminology classes. It isn’t all that uncommon for me to speak to lecture halls with 200 students. The difference in my anxiety and social skills have been massive.

Well, dear readers, that is all I think I have to say about bipolar and anxiety for now. If you want to know more, or ask a questions, please contact me. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, talk to your family doctor about a referral. And if you are in crisis or feel suicidal, please go to your nearest emergency room. Best,

Leif G

 

Do You Have Schizophrenia, Depression or Bipolar? Sadness and Loneliness Could Be Deadly To You

When people are struck down with mental illness, a lot o things are taken away. Some of them are permanent, and others you slowly get back over time as I discuss in my book, “Inching Back to Sane.” You could be inside a hospital and temporarily lose your freedom. You may lose the ability to be able to speak up for yourself and not be treated like a child. Perhaps the worst part about it is that you will lose friends and family members outside of the hospital setting, and it is extremely important to note even some loved ones will turn their back on you. No matter how hard it may seem, these are the times when you need to reach out to others more, make more effort to sustain and build relationships (not romantic ones). This is the time when you need others more than ever it is also a good time to practice self-care. I recall during this stage in my recovery that it was very important to have time to myself, to go for walks, to stay up late reading. This is also the time when I sat down and started to get serious about my first book, “Through the Withering Storm” writing while in a recovery program was difficult, but now so many people read that book and draw inspiration from it.

Studies have shown that approximately 1% of the population suffers from Schizophrenia. I don’t know how to take that figure because, from personal experience, delusions and hallucinations don’t always get reported. They get denied and buried, and the stigma attached to mental illness is the reason. No one wants to admit they have potentially embarrassing lapses in their concept of reality, so there could very well be more. I do know other illnesses, such as Bipolar, Depression, OCD, and others can lie dormant for years and come up at the worst possible times. It doesn’t help that mental illness can be accelerated by drugs most people here think are harmless like pot, mushrooms, hash, etc.

But let’s look at that 1% idea first, as this is something I have researched in my work with mental health. In Canada last I heard, there are around 33,000,000 people. This is an incredibly small number if you consider that we are larger than China. But, of those thirty-three million, at 1%, we would be looking at 330,000 people with schizophrenia so severe it greatly effects the economy and the people who want to do this type of work that helps the very young., (you are not alone!) Of those people, 10% will eventually die by suicide. This is not a figure of how many people are weak enough to give in, or how many people never had the fortitude to live their lives. This is 33,000 people who have an illness so severe that they feel dying is the only way out. Who is to blame? It seems that everyone shares blame a little. I work for the Schizophrenia Society in Edmonton and I have been made aware of some of the prejudiced thinking people have towards those with a mental illness. Yesterday I went to get some frozen fruit from my freezer to make a smoothie. Inside was a package of “mango mania” frozen mango chunks. Why did they have to put ‘mania’ on it? Thinking of times when I suffered from mania, or elevated moods that are almost totally uncontrollable, and have at times caused me to want to die just to make the merry-go-round on steroids stop spinning, the idea that they could use such a horrible thing to advertise a product made me sick.

But it’s not just there-it’s everywhere. A little while ago I thumbed through an old Archie Comic-possibly the most politically correct, wholesome-type comic they have for sale. On just about every page there was some prejudiced statement about mental illness. Jughead would have to be crazy for not eating 20 hamburgers, Reggie was nuts to think he could get away with talking to Big Moose’s girl Midge. Then you look at the TV. Shows about the most depraved, perverted criminals are displayed as having schizophrenia or bipolar. Some reason to shuffle off some of the real problems of society, like the constant glorification of violence and extremely outdated attitudes towards women. Stigma like this destroys lives and will continue on until people take a stand for those who simply suffer from illnesses that can be treated and controlled with medication and other care.

When you leave your community and are sent to a place that supposedly helps you deal with a mental illness, all too often you are no longer a part of that community. Shame, stigma, the isolation that many people with illnesses force on themselves will drive you out eventually–unless you have a supportive family and friends. These are such essential aspects of getting better. My problem was that when I first went into the hospital I was only 18 and just about every one of my friends did very little other than get together and drink beer until they were incapacitated. A harsh reality is that beer, this seemingly innocent social lubricant is just about like poison to anyone who is taking psychiatric medications. I learned at another time that once a person is put on psychiatric meds, they are supposed to quit drinking completely for the rest of their lives.

Quitting drinking was one thing. Being a part of a social group, having friends who didn’t drink were another. It has been very hard since that time when I first had a mental breakdown. There were times when I sold things pennies on the dollar just to have a few bucks in my pocket to buy a sandwich or a bag of chips as I hitch-hiked in near winter weather across the Rocky Mountains. I feel so lucky now. It was such a long process. My depression started at a very young age, I can recall it being a factor in my life before I was even ten. I was prone to crying spells and isolating myself even then. At the end of a weekend, I was often so upset at the idea of going back to school the next day I would literally cry myself to sleep. These depressive episodes went on and on through my teen years. The worst part of it was that I kept it all to myself. I had an inkling something was wrong. Most people didn’t seem to be in a cloud of self-loathing and depression. But I had no way to reach out for help. One thing I keep replaying in my head is talking to my mom about some of what I was going through and her offering to let me see her psychiatrist about these problems. This was my last chance, my last hope. I turned it down and within just a couple of months I ended up stark raving mad for want of a better term.

By miracles of modern psychiatry, when I did get very sick, it only took around a month in the hospital to get my brain operating the way it should (with medication) but I wasn’t ready to admit I needed the meds. Those were really dark times. I had a few close friends left, and I even have a couple of warm memories of doing things like working as a bouncer at a dance party, getting drunk out of my mind and feeling the bliss, the numbness, and the joy of no longer caring about everything.

One thing that my illness took away from me was my meek nature, my idea that everyone mattered, that each person was a human being like me. One night a friend came over and we got very drunk and decided to go play some basketball. For no reason at all, when we were on the court, I threw a basketball as hard as I could at a kid a couple of years younger than me. I look back now and see myself as some kind of animal. I just no longer cared. My school ‘career’ was ruined, all my credibility was ruined, kids were running around calling me psychopath and my reputation was ruined. It seemed I had so few options. I chose to join the military in hopes of finding an honourable way to die, but even those people didn’t want me. After a lot of problems with my dad, I cashed in everything I could, sold my motorcycle for $20, and put my thumb out and headed for the highway. It wasn’t all bad. I got to see the Rockies from a convertible. I experienced the many wonderful aspects of living in a coastal city. But I didn’t get into the military. Without my medication I slowly decayed until I was out of my mind again and returned home. From there I went through more treatment and when I got out all of my old school friends wanted nothing to do with me, aside from a few people who I would call just users and abusers. I was taking my medication, but there was no system in place to give me ongoing treatment. I didn’t even leave the house much. At that time I started to slip back into my delusional world. Movie stars were in love with me, millions of dollars was waiting for me just to claim for my own. Most of these delusions came in the form of distorted memories on the radio. I sat and I watched TV and let time slip by and soon I had been there three months and had accomplished nothing but gaining a bunch of weight and missing the life I had in Vancouver.

Over the next years, I was often left with a choice: associate with unsavoury people and have someone to talk to, or not have anything to do with these people and slip further and further into isolation and depression. There were many mishaps, and they didn’t really come to an end until my parents intervened and convinced my doctors to add an anti-depressant to the medications I was taking. This really made a huge difference. I was able to get refreshing sleep. I was able to sit down and read. Not long after I got a job but the stress soon proved nearly impossible to deal with and I quit. But I was writing.

For a while I went to church, I did make some friends, but nothing like the friendships I had with my cadet buddies. My anti-depressant somehow stopped working and I ended up going on Prozac. What a difference that made in my life. It helped with my moods, it helped control my horrible nightmares, and it also helped a little with my social anxiety. A few years later though, I went through a very difficult time in my life. Basically I learned that I would never get another chance to be friends with a young woman I thought the world of. Instead of having any means to deal with my feelings, I once again isolated myself. Perhaps I was trying to punish myself. But I stopped taking my Prozac as well, and a few months later took a very near deadly dose of painkillers. The feelings of rejection and loneliness were just too much. But people still cared. My parents, after all I had put them through happened to come by and when I didn’t answer the door, my dad slipped a $20 bill under it. If he hadn’t done that I would have had no way to get a cab to the hospital and I likely would not be here writing this.

This blog has actually gone on for quite a while and I haven’t been 100% on topic. I think I will follow up on this topic in the next blog, so stay tuned. For now, I hope my readers, whether they have a mental illness or not to practise self-care. Take a mental health day off of everything. On your death bed you will never wish you had spent less time with people you cared about and more time working. If you smoke, quit and put the extra money it gives you into taking a relaxing and renewing vacation. My trips to Hawaii and London, England have proved to make me happier, more fulfilled, and even simply more talkative with friends about the things I have seen and done. If you experience depression, look into medication options, but do your research. Talk to a doctor you trust, talk to a pharmacist you trust. And when you are put on a medication, don’t stop taking it because of symptoms you can handle. Some symptoms may be too much, but it could be detrimental to just stop a medication. Do everything you can to hold out and wait for the good effects to come about and for your body to adjust to the negative ones. And reach out. Find a counsellor, join a support group. Your most effective and powerful tools are your social abilities. Human beings need each other. And, above all, before you decide to do something desperate, pick up the phone. Heck, drop me an email or reply to this blog. I’ll do what I can.    viking3082000@yahoo.com

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

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

 

A Little Psychiatry and Nutrition From A Dude Who Has Been there

 there must be pots of gold in Edmonton. I’ve never seen two rainbows up close like this (Please look below today’s poem for today’s blog entry)

 

Through My Living Room Window

 

The setting Spring sun is reaching out with its golden rays

Right into my living room as I rest.

For a moment as I contemplate the coming summer

Contentment washes over me

 

I’ve slept too much today, the warm nurturing sunlight

Made my living room the perfect place to snooze

So hard to shake that lazy tired feeling from me, I must rise to write.

I sit and let my thoughts linger over endless childhood adventures

And all my adult responsibilities. For a moment it doesn’t seem fair.

 

Do all the people on this Earth feel these weak moments?

Times where they consider giving up the fight

For two cars and a house?

 

I know that as I listen to the quiet din of the inner city, and

Let my eyes drink in the green of the grass and budding trees

Thoughts of Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida possess me

But still I know in my heart

Summer in Edmonton is going to be amazing

 

Leif Gregersen

May 12, 2018

 

Good day my friends. Another sleepless night has come upon me and so I am finally going to sit down to write a little. My bipolar (aka manic depression) has somehow gotten me to cut down on food enough and exercise enough to lose some weight. I would put pictures up of the difference but I don’t really want to disgust anyone. Basically, yesterday I walked around 4 or 5 miles to the pool, had a dip and swam a couple of lanes and weighed in almost 20lbs lighter than I had a few months ago on the same scale. The really difficult about losing weight, and I can’t tell you how much psychiatric medications had to do with it, was just going through the initial shock of fasting. I was having ongoing stomach problems and a Doctor sent me for tests for diabetes and I had to fast for 12 hours. This was at first excruciating, even though I was allowed to drink water I thought I was going to go insane. It actually reminded me about what junkies talk about when they start to realize they are either going to get a fix or become extremely sick. I didn’t really get sick, but it took everything I had to get through that night. The sad news at the end is that I was diagnosed with diabetes, but now that I am finally into a ‘losing weight’ mode I think I will be able to control the bad effects. It is a bit scary to think of, studies show that a diagnosis of diabetes takes an average of 12 years off a person’s life. There are a lot of things I could do in 12 years. There is also risks of poor circulation leading to loss of limbs and also needing to take injections of insulin at a later point. I really wish I had done something about my weight sooner. I can only blame myself for this, I thought if I just kept sugar intake low and exercised all I could I would be fine, but this disease snuck up on me.

One of the things that is interesting to note here is that if you have a mental illness, say schizophrenia or bipolar, or are like me and have schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, it will also sneak up on you. I will never forget the slow, gradual change that came over me just before I first had to be put in the psychiatric hospital. My concept of reality began to change. I didn’t see myself as a thinking human being, I saw myself just as an animal able to feel warmth and cold and pain and comfort. Slowly this got worse and a psychosis developed that made me think the human race was split into two distinct groups, one of them at war with the other, the other unaware of the dirty tricks the first consistently played on them. I can’t believe I was only 18 when all of this started happening. Another kind of scary thing is that I am now 46 and though I am doing extremely well, there is a lot of lost time to make up for that I don’t think I will really get a chance to recover from. I am pretty happy about my present situation though, I have discovered a love of long-distance walking (for 4 weeks now I have walked over 10 miles on Thursdays after work and often walk at least that much on the other days.) I have some very amazing friends like Richard Van Camp who is an incredible author and on and on. I hope some of these words get to people who read my blog. If you feel you are going through something like severe depression, get some trusted advice from a doctor. Have your condition monitored, consider how much an anti-depressant can help. If you hear things or see things that no one else does, talk to someone about it. It isn’t wrong to have a mental illness, and it is never wrong to seek help. The only wrong thing is that so many people are afraid of mental illness and create stigma surrounding it that people think they will be worse off if they share their thoughts and emotions with others. And as far as the diabetes goes, if you can do it, get out for walks. Walk in a mall if it is too icy outside. Get a membership at a pool and try aquafit workouts or even just water-jog (basically dog paddling but you keep your head a little higher and go in laps). Take what you eat into consideration. I’ve now been told to avoid white foods like rice, potatoes, sugar, and a number of others. Get a blender and learn how to make fruit smoothies, they are delicious and very good for you. Salads can be so simple, just get a tomato, some lettuce, some kale, a cucumber, green pepper, and celery and chop all of them up, add some light salad dressing and you’re off. This is just very simple advice I’ve been learning, there are a world of dishes out there that will help you lose weight and get healthier. I do recommend that you consult a Medical Doctor before exercising or dieting and look into taking classes on nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. I can only give tiny bits of things I have been learning but I can emphasize that the feeling of losing weight and being out in the summer sun getting healthy exercise is so amazing it is almost impossible to describe. Don’t leave it until it is too late, make a decision now, turn off your monitor or close your laptop and phone for an appointment to get something done about excess weight or depression, or any mental or physical health concern. I have to tell you things can only get better and you’re worth it!

One in Four Adults Will Experience Mental Illness In Their Lifetime. Do You Feel Lucky?

Going to try something a little different today, instead of a poem, I want to share a 100-word story I wrote. As usual, scroll past the story for today’s blog

 

Warm Summer Memories

All year I wait for the exhibition, save money, make a plan. I love the rides, the fresh mini-donuts, the games of fortune. Eat, drink, ride, wander, play, and pick up women in skimpy summer wear. If you’re skilled you can win them prizes. I saw a babe lining up for the whirlwind and I lined up behind her. We chatted a little, she was cute and friendly. We took our seats, the excitement was electric. I was in heaven, full of cold beer, donuts, and summer sun. When the ride spun faster I threw up all over her. Memories.

                                                                         END

 

BLOG:

Well, I hope someone found the humour in that little story. I have been fond of writing these micro fiction pieces lately. When you use a computer, it is fairly easy, the hard part is coming up with a limited plot. I was even submitting longer stories to a contest and used a lot of my 100 word stories as the basis for them. Once you get the initial idea down it becomes easy to expand on it. Plus, 100-word stories teaches you to keep everything tight.

I am in the midst of working a lot this June. It only adds up to 2 hours a day or so, but still with my illness (schizoaffective disorder) I have a hard time handling that. I am kind of looking forward to tomorrow, I am teaching a class out in the West End and it will be about micro fiction and flash fiction.

As far as my mental health goes, it is a bit hard to say. A couple of days ago I was given a cholesterol pill and I had some invega pills sitting. As both were new to me, I didn’t know the difference and accidentally took the invega for a few days. I was really zonked, sleeping about 70% of the time. My Doctor wants to put me on a similar pill permanently in August when I have gotten used to my diabetes pill and I don’t know how I feel about it. The advantage is, less side effects and the possibility that the new pill won’t cause me to gain weight, the disadvantage being there is really no way to tell what the pill will do. I think in the end I am going to choose the new pill, even if it causes me to sleep a lot. Anything that may help clear my thoughts. I have a lot of problems with concentrating and thinking normally. I often wish I had the time and energy to sit down and read the classics, though I have read a lot of books in my life. I miss running through stacks of books and engaging my mind. I have been drawn lately to comic books and graphic novels. In some ways I see them as an investment, and in others I just want to read the stories and some of them can be extremely well written.

I think I will leave off at that for now. I do have a bit of advice for people who are seeking to improve their mental health. First of all, build up your concentration. If you can’t read a full-length book, look for a book of short stories or find a textbook from a subject that interests you and read it a little at a time. Healing and challenging your mind can be so important. Don’t neglect your health at all. I allowed too much time to go past without getting serious about my weight and now I have diabetes. I could go blind, lose a limb, many bad things as a result of it. Be good to your families, they are the ones that you will need the most and may have to rely on. Never miss an opportunity to tell a family member that you love them. I even do it with my grumpy old Dad when I can. Never give up hope. New medications are coming thick and fast along with new techniques in psychiatry like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It may be hard to do these things, but the rewards can be great. You can get your thoughts back. I hope this helps. As always, anyone who reads this blog and wants more advice, feel free to email me, my current email I check the most is viking3082000@yahoo.com      I also appreciate any comments (positive or negative) that you may have about my website. Keep coming back, things are going to change and improve soon!

L. Gregersen

 

Mental and Physical Wellness and the Beautiful June Sky

Scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog

 

On The Verge (A Villanelle)

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Sometimes it pays back more to sacrifice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

I know falling behind can truly sting

One day you will be glad you paid the price

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

Giving up will never make you a King

Just ask yourselves if you are men or mice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

One day you’ll get a medal and they’ll sing

Unless you give up despite my advice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

In life as athletes you are just in Spring

I hope these humble words to you suffice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

Dig deep inside for constant improving

And in the game always look cold as ice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

June 2, 2018

 

Blog entry for today:

Good day dear readers. I have been having a pretty amazing past few days despite that I got both good and bad news. If I were to sum up the things that went well, I would try to use just one word, “community.” I feel very blessed to live in McCauley (which is where the photo above was taken) because now that I have been here 17 years, I am making so many friends, getting connected with so many opportunities, and I even feel that my illness is further into remission than I thought it was.

This past weekend, I had a table at a music festival in the arts tent and I was really happy to find out that people like my photography and put a high value to it. I had framed up a few photos and sold 3 of 4 pieces I put out. One of the things I love about photography is that you need a lot of the same skills a hunter does like patience and awareness of many things such as light, the paths that subjects may take (in my case often birds) but you don’t kill anything. I hate to admit it now, but when I was a teenager I had a rifle and it was just about the only thing that gave me any joy to go out in the wilderness and hunt small animals. Now I hunt them with a camera and it pays me back in way more joy and even a few bucks now and then.

The music festival was pretty amazing, I also was the M.C. for part of the show on Sunday and got to hear some amazing bands. It is amazing how good live music sounds, if it is good music it reaches right to your heart.

I should actually talk just a little about some of the bad side of things here. I might have mentioned already in this blog I have been diagnosed with diabetes. A lot of people get it, but it is  in no way a small thing. The complications from it are far-reaching, it can lead to things such as blindness and losing limbs. And it can be extremely difficult to follow the diet that is recommended for it. I have to admit being a little blindsided by the whole experience of finding this out. I would say though that I am glad I found out so now treatment and adjustment can begin. I suppose these types of things are just a part of getting older.

To say a few things on the topic of mental illness, I am actually almost starting to see my illness(es) as a blessing of sorts. Now that I went through the horrible times of being mentally ill, being in a hospital, almost losing all hope and many other difficult experiences, I feel that I have something important to share with others that only I can talk about because I’ve been through it. I just want to end today’s blog with a message of hope. There really is recovery be it far off on the horizon. There really is a state of remission you can get to where you have complete or close to complete control of your symptoms. I’m at that point now and I cherish each moment I have to sip a cup of tea, sit in my favourite chair and read, watch a movie or a Youtube clip. I know I’m not going to be 100% healthy and happy forever, but I’m going to hold on to the good times with friends and family and even the enjoyable times I spend by myself as much as I can. I can’t tell anyone if there really is an afterlife, that is more a matter of faith than anything and you can’t just tell someone to have faith and expect them to understand everything you do all at once. I just know that family, friends, love is precious and for as long as I can I’m going to hold onto my health and wellbeing so I can enjoy them to the fullest.

LG

The Natural Cycle of Life, Love, and Mental Illness

        This was just before the winter began in Edmonton. Look for summer photos soon!

 

Poetry For My Fellows (blog to follow)

 

I thought I had gotten

As well as could be

But the voices and cravings

Got the better of me

 

Slowly the world shifted

Somehow I was at its core

I won’t give you excuses

I just won’t speak of it anymore

 

When you lose you mind

It doesn’t go all in one day

But it will strike you blind

No matter what people say

 

Yes I went crazy

Yes I was insane

No I did not choose it

This imbalanced brain

 

I want to be normal

Have kids and a wife

But most people don’t even trust me

With a dull butter knife

 

It’s hard to keep going

Alone and hopped up on meds

Writing weird poems

While everyone rests in their beds

L. Gregersen, May 8, 2018

Well, it has been a good and bad day. My head is reeling a bit because I have been working very hard and denying myself a lot of things and then I went and gave away $630.00 that I don’t think I will ever get back. I find it so hard to not be generous with people I care about. The fact is that it doesn’t hurt me much to give away that money, I just really feel a bit foolish about it.

Today I went for an eight kilometre walk, then later went swimming and to be honest I feel great. It’s just that I really don’t know if I will even sleep tonight. It sometimes seems this blog only gets written if I can’t sleep, but often it does seem to help. I have to do a presentation tomorrow and I also have to drop off some stuff with my brother. I have to admit feeling a bit lost because my Dad is in Denmark right now and I have come to really depend on him. I used to think he was an awful, cruel person, but now I just see him as a sweet, caring man who used to have an anger problem and is dealing with it. He also went through hell to quit drinking and since my Mom passed away he has done some incredibly kind things for me. I have to admit to having an anger problem of my own that meditation is helping me to deal with. I also am going to sign up for therapy soon after I come back from Toronto late this month.

I just can’t believe how far I have come. Sometimes I think about being killed in a car accident or something and I really feel confident that I have done enough to have led a worthwhile life. One of the big things for me was that I wanted my words to live beyond my simple existence, and in many ways I have accomplished that. I have even had two of my short poems sandblasted into the sidewalk in my neighbourhood for all to see. As a kid I always thought that the really amazing writers, the greats, never really die because their words go on. I also feel really happy because I seem to have gotten myself into a state of balance, a state of recovery in my mental illness. I wish I could bottle up this feeling and give a little bit of it to the young people who are still struggling, let them know that there is a lot of hope and that it is so important to keep fighting the illness (bipolar/schizophrenia/all others) because the human mind and body is so amazing and adaptable that although it may take a lot of time, life can be so good, and I do feel that life is precious and that all of us are loved. Hope that helps a bit dear readers! Stay with me and keep your membership to this website, I am planning some awesome changes in content and structure soon after I return from my trip!

 

Four Poems, a Photo and a Brief Blog

 

Have a quick look at the previous photo to put this one in perspective.

 

Here are some poems that I submitted to a magazine but were turned down today. I hope my readers here see some value in them:

Walking Meditation
There is a way to meditate
That doesn’t require chanting
Walking meditation
 
Focus on breathing, the first step is to mind your breath
Be mindful of your surroundings too
Use the clash of images
 
To clear your mind
Breathe slowly
 
Focus
 
And try not to think of this poem
 

END

 
 
 
I Remember You
 
If I described it to you it would no longer matter
This thing you call a relationship
 
If the emotion and the feeling isn’t there
My words won’t create them
 
Years before we met
I saw you on the bus
 
You were so cute, so beautiful
So young, fresh and perfect
 
And when I saw you again
Not only did the years melt away
 
But you had become old enough
To hit on
 
You see, my words can only
Ruin things
END
 
 
 
Living Room View
 
I stared out my window
And pondered my day
The moon in its brilliance
The sunrise approaching
 
Life giving water
Strewn frozen below
Thinking of places
Where the water is ocean
 
Where the sun climbs above you

As you lay in the sand

 
 
END
 
 
The Tall Oaks
 
Further up are the oak trees lining 97th street
They weren’t here before, they just seem to be
From a thousand years ago
 
They stretch their long limbs pretending
To be wariors brandishing swords
As the masses
 
Safely traverse the street below
END

Today’s Blog:

Well, not a whole lot to say today. I am kind of curious if there are any other writers out there who would like to form an online group of some sort to critique each other’s work and support our efforts. There are tons on Facebook, but they all seem impersonal.

Well, my mental health seems to be good. Lately I have been looking into CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it seems it can really help someone like me. From what I understand, with many sessions and a lot of work, I can train my mind to stop going into negative thinking. Something I don’t like to talk about much is that there are a few ideas ‘stuck’ in my consciousness. Some of them are memories of things I’m ashamed of doing, some of them are results of delusions I had about some girls I knew when I was in my early teens. It makes it pretty hard to function when these memories seem to keep beating me down, but I am starting to see hope that I can gain more control over them.

Other than that, I have been neglecting my physical health a little. One one side, I have been drinking a lot of fruit and vegetable smoothies, but on the other side I haven’t been getting as much exercise as I should. It is so important to keep yourself feeling healthy with a balanced diet, medication taken on time and regular exercise because things can degenerate quickly.

So, I will end things at that. I just felt my readers might like some of the new styles of poetry I have been experimenting with. I hope all of you have a wonderful Spring, except for those darned Australians who I hope have a wonderful Fall 😉

Work, Mental Health, and the Occasional Sleeping Pill

Downtown Edmonton during our winter deep freeze

     Hello my good readers! No poem today. I have been writing poetry lately, but all of it is for a cool contest I am helping to get out to the public. It is called “Word On the Street” and it is a contest to win a little money and get one or more of your poems engraved on the sidewalk. I think it is just about the coolest idea to come along in some time.

Well, along with working on this poetry project, I have been doing a number of things. One of them is going to occur in just a few hours, I am on a working group to help determine human resources needs for a new Edmonton project called a “Recovery College”. I have done some things before relating to this type of thing, there will be a number of courses people can take to get themselves on the right track to mental health and wellness. Because of my experience for this sort of thing, I have been asked to put together a course of my own right in the building I live in.

There are just so many things going on in my life it is hard to accurately think about all of them. In a couple of weeks I am going to give a presentation to the Edmonton Police Recruit class about mental illness and they have expressed interest in purchasing a number of my books to provide to cadets. It really feels good to be a part of something like this. I feel a special kinship to police because I was a security guard for such a long time and I grew up with a strong military influence in my life, doing these talks is very rewarding and I get to understand that police are just regular people, sometimes with preconceived notions. What I often like to tell them is that a good number of the cadets in the class I speak to are going to experience things like depression and PTSD. I think this helps them to be more empathetic to people who have a mental illness, and no one encounters more people in the middle of a mental health crisis than police.

Along with that I am trying to keep up with my writing, working on a short story collection with a friend, and doing my best to maintain good mental health. One of the problems I am having that I wanted to discuss is sleep and sleep medications. I am very reluctant to go on regular prescription sleeping pills because of two things, they are addictive and they can affect a person’s memory. So I have been using different things that are hopefully less harmful, from melatonin to over the counter sleeping pills. One of the side effects that seem to come with this method is that on the weekend I will often sleep way too much perhaps to catch up on REM sleep. I am grateful though, I have been really good lately at getting up in time for work and other things that I need to do. As a kid I needed an alarm clock and even that was no guarantee I would get up on time.

It is scary to think about my lack of proper sleep when I was a teenager. I was constantly tired and was drinking coffee at the age of 14 and up to try and cope. There were times when I would stay up late watching TV or go out to drink some alcohol until very late and then have to wake up in just a few hours to work and it must have taken quite a toll on me. That was one thing I liked about being considered disabled when I first lived on my own, I could sleep all I wanted and it seemed that it was a healing process.

It is so hard to try and crack the code of my insomnia. For a long time I was getting a lot of strenuous exercise working setting up stages, but that didn’t always guarantee me a good sleep. I am actually starting to think that exerting mental energy is just as important as physical energy in getting yourself tired enough to sleep at a proper time and also sleep through the night.

I don’t recommend it to a lot of people with mental illnesses, but I am finding that living on my own is an incredibly rewarding experience. I don’t know if it would be if I didn’t have a very conscientious approach to my work. I am able to keep up with writing work and presentations and classes I teach very easily. But all this doesn’t come suddenly. I had to build up to it. A good number of years ago when I was a younger man I had very little faith or belief in work. I saw things like working in a coffee shop or gas station as menial work that was so beneath me that I would go out of my way to do such things as shirk responsibilities and do sloppy work, even steal. I am definitely not proud of that, but I am proud I have gone through enough changes so that I can get jobs, do a good job and feel good about doing that.

Well, dear readers, that was a bit of a long post that didn’t talk about too much. I hope you enjoy the photo I took, I am really looking forward to the weather getting better here in Edmonton and then I will be out taking a lot more photos. All the best and thanks for keeping in touch with this blog!

LG