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.
What a beautiful summer day to lie in the grass and watch a soccer game. When I was younger, I really didn’t factor in the fact that your body decays (in most people) as you get older. I had read a few articles about people in their 80s running marathons, and athletes having comebacks at 50. I started to decline a long time ago, and it likely had to do a lot more with my bull-headedness not wanting to listen to advice like not running in excess of 5 miles, not running on pavement, getting proper shoes for every type of exercise. That was the beginning, I destroyed my knees at the age of 20 years old. But what really got to me was not just this disability, it was also the medications I took. They made me drowsy, lazy. They made my hands shake and messed with my balance. Getting through this was one of the more difficult times of my life. I was good at a few sports as a youngster, I was a decent basketball player, but for all of my teen years I was a smoker which made this nearly impossible. I also loved to play pool, going to the pool hall every morning instead of the second half of my Law 30 class. I dreamed about one day having a pool table at home, and I think I could have been on my way. But medications derailed me. What could I do?
Medications have gotten better since then, and I even know of a few people who take what I do and it works for them and also their hands don’t shake at all. I really don’t ever want to recommend people to go off medication, but there are instances where a person can be on too much, a Doctor can usually spot this in a moment. This is why sometimes it is useful to get a second opinion, especially when you find your medication side effects debilitating. My mom, near the end of her life, was on a lot of medications, but my parents put a lot of faith in her psychiatrist. It hurts to think she could have had a better mental state or a better quality of life if she had been on less. One thing I want to emphasize is that in her final years, she would never miss a psychologist’s appointment because in her mind and my dad’s, that was the only treatment that helped anything.
There are two sides to this coin, one is that I have encountered (and I am no therapist or doctor) studies that said therapy alone is better than medication alone. Of course as I said, I don’t recommend going off meds, but if you can somehow combine your treatment there are chances of feeling better than you are now and any time healthy means you are headed towards a time when new and ‘better’ medication can be developed. My former Psychiatrist, an amazing man named Bishop, whenever I asked about a new medication he would say that what I had was working well, he didn’t like tinkering with people who were doing well, but left it up to me, emphasizing the question, “do you want to take a chance at going back where you were?” Well, for me that was no option. Last time before I saw that doctor that I had been in the hospital I was in a terrible state, being beligerent and abusive, deluded into thinking the world revolved around me and having people respond in kind with everything from flat out insults and threats to a severe beating from a guy who didn’t like the way I crossed the street. No, I did not want to go back there.
Some time later, with a doctor that my old doctor recommended, a decision was made to try a newer medication, and I got very ill and spent a month in the hospital–after I had worked so incredibly hard to build my life back and show stability and such. All at once I was delusional and paranoid to the extreme again. Sadly, this is something anyone with a mental illness must come to expect and prepare for. For more information, look into something called “The Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP. They have an app for phones that allow you to outline things like trigger warnings, ways to help with symptoms and more. The app is based on a course that I found very helpful, and attribute my quick recovery from the relapse of my condition too. It also helped that I had gained a great deal of knowledge about my condition, perhaps mostly by being a part of the Schizophrenia Society.
So, today’s blog is getting pretty long, I will sum things up and try to explain more in a future blog. First off, look into funding or affordable therapy. In Edmonton there are even free therapists as I am sure you can find in any major Canadian city. You drop in, fill out a form, and wait and see someone confidentially who is qualified. But this is a quick fix. When you find you care stable enough, I recommend things like the WRAP course and others, but I also recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Just as a warning though, I believe they state that it takes a commitment of around 16 (if I remember correctly) sessions to read benefits. If you are having any problems finding resources, please email me and I will see if I can help connect you. Look for services you are insured for, and also for services operated on a sliding scale. I once spoke to a hospital counsellor after my mom passed and she wanted me to pay $20 or $30 a session, not so much because she needed the money, but she wanted to make sure I was able to commit and consider my treatment a priority.
I will just sum up and say, if you are having mental health difficulties, first try and contact your psychiatrist, then any psychiatrist, then a medical doctor, learn all you can about your illness, get active in learning (books) and groups (Wrap and many others). Find out all you can about your medications, then find out about counselling. And don’t worry if you seem to take one step forward and two back in your mental health journey, we all have good days and bad days.
Link to my first memoir:
Please see below today’s photo for a poem and a blog entry
All the fearful years of tears and trials
Wreak havoc upon my thoughts
It seems a test, a trial, a quiz
To even focus upon what I have sought
In life we have so little time
As our hours slip into days
I remember holding her like she was mine
then her telling me I was just a phase
In death and living there are no words
to slow the march of time
I only long to be understood and heard
to tell them all I have found the perfect crime
I do what I can for those I see
show compassion for those in troubled times
and somehow I fool myself that the world cares for me
when they all seem to only want what now is mine
I gave away my heart too soon
in a lover’s sweet embrace
now as I work and push a mop and broom
my thoughts occupy a sad, unholy place
I no longer dream of God our father
Though he seemed to have done right by me
When my day is done and I close the door
he lets my romantic heart soar free
I found a loveliness, a happiness
among the stillness and the peace
and whisper out a tiny prayer
that soon my soul will be released
Well, not the most cheerful poem I ever wrote, but I think I am making progress with my writing. I guess I can spill the beans now since the project is almost finished. I am writing a book about my most recent stay in the hospital. I went through a couple of very difficult times, one was the delusional voices I heard, which were extremely convincing, and the other was that I was very paranoid. I had really thought I wasn’t going to have to experience all this again as long as I got rest and took my medications, but there is no insurance policy that covers everything. I still don’t understand why I got so incredibly ill just because of switching from one medication to the next, supposedly newer one. Not a lot was explained. I did have my diagnosis changed once again, this time neglecting to mention my anxiety and adding in my diabetes. I think the Doctor put down schizoaffective disorder bipolar subtype. It’s all pretty confusing. I really want to put this book out to help people to understand more about hospital admissions and how horrible they can be.
What bugs me the most is I like to try and make each of these blogs worthwhile for my readers, but there seems to be no easy answers. I met a man last year who was incredibly kind and diligent about getting help for his son who eventually died by suicide. I have tried to show people how they can get work like I do for the schizophrenia society and feel better about themselves and have some recovery in their lives, but there are many heartbreaking cases I have known, even among people who have worked hard all their lives. I guess I am fairly good at taking care of myself, with the exception of getting into debt too easily. But what do you say to someone who comes up to you and says they have a friend with schizophrenia or they themselves have bipolar and don’t know what to do. All I can really do is keep going to schools and Universities and doing my level best to get a few key points across. Number one, there is no cure, there are only treatments, but they are getting better all the time. Number two, don’t use drugs or alcohol or ski or play football or do anything fun where you might hit your head and get a brain injury. I used to love sports like boxing and football and skiing. I will never forget the first time I went into the hospital and they were doing everything they could for me, hooking me up to million dollar machines and putting me through all kinds of tests to see if my erratic behaviour had to do with a bad fall I had taken on a ski hill in town or not. It seemed once I was deemed mentally ill they sent me to a psychiatric facility to let me rot and I lost all of my opportunities, I wasn’t even allowed to try and finish high school by my parents or the school administrators.
But even in that situation there were good times. There was this moment I was hitch-hiking through the rockies trying to get home to Edmonton in the winter and I was in Hope, British Columbia (it’s where they filmed the first Rambo movie) and the air and the sky and the mountains were all shining silently, singing a chorus of light and beauty that took my breath away. Or this time when I was just entering BC for the first time and I saw a massive Moose and her child running in circles in a flowing field of grass with mountains and cumulonimbus clouds in the background. Those images stayed in my heart. I hate to think what it did to my parents for me, off my medications, with no money or means of earning a living to be wandering all over North America. I lived for the five minute phone call I placed to my parents every night from downtown Vancouver. But when I got back there was no love left for me. No place to stay, no one to do things with. It drove me nuts because I would try and call my sister to talk and each time it was a one-sided lecture to me about how busy she was with school.
But the amazing part of things really is that with time, everything got better. I learned to cook, I found out how to eat healthy and how to lose the weight my medication packed onto me. I even learned to make friends and have some pretty incredible people in my life. It is really kind of funny because in just two years of living on the coast it was like my body had lost its ability to heat itself. The Edmonton winters were just too much. It took a long time, maybe ten years but I adjusted to it and I kept pushing myself to make friends, to read, to write. And somehow the world changed around me and I have an incredibly enviable life now. I think a lot of it just came down to becoming a part of a community and caring for and watching out for the people in my life. That’s about it for today folks, thanks for stopping in.
The topic of hygiene covers a lot of ground. I wanted to talk about this subject today because I often struggle to keep myself as clean as I like to be while many people tell me I am even cleaner than they are. I know of many cases of people who go for a long time without showering or brushing their teeth and the sad thing is that they pay for this luxury in friendships, job opportunities, and general social interactions. Not too long ago, I was having medication problems and I was experiencing severe paranoia. I believed that people around me thought I stank and that it was so bad they wouldn’t sit near me and they would make jokes and comments. This is yet another aspect of the same issue that plagues people with mental health issues. I can recall being younger and if I was lucky I would take a bath about once a week. Add to the fact that my clothes didn’t get washed often and you have a real problem. In a way, I was afraid of water and taking my clothes off. It may have had to do with the fact that I live in Edmonton where it regularly dips below minus 40 in the winter, but I think there was an actual fear of exposing myself. I had always loved swimming though. Now, thanks to a benevolent government in our city, I am able to get a pass that allows me full access to city swimming pools and gymnasiums. If I am able to swim that is a day I can go without having to shower as they provide hair and body soap for showering before and after a swim. And then, there are times when a shower really does help me get through certain things, like when I am waiting for a long time to do something like meet a friend or get to an appointment. One of the best things about showering I think is that it can be replenishing, refreshing, and even change how you look at the world. Often, when I write a short story, I will go and have a shower so that I can come back and look at the piece from a different point of view after not thinking about it for a while. The benefits of swimming are numerous. If you have ever had a sports injury, swimming is often the best way to exercise with a very low impact on things like joints and knees and ankles and such. It also burns a lot of calories because it exercises many muscles you don’t normally bother with in some workouts like walking or cycling.
One of the things I do to motivate myself to continue my hygiene habits is to try and make them as simple and as enjoyable as possible. I don’t spend too much time in the shower and I no longer take the time to have a bath and have to fill and drain and clean the tub. I jump in the shower, scrub and shampoo and jump out. Then I shave, put on deodorant and quickly brush and floss and use mouthwash and brush my hair. Once you get used to it, it can take under 20 minutes. What I like about it is that I am much more able to feel comfortable around others when I am clean.
Of course, that isn’t the answer for everyone. I had heard of a young man who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. For some time he didn’t shave and grew a long beard, as well as had a hard time showering. His caregivers were told that the important thing to do was to take all pressure off of him, and eventually he went back to taking better care of himself. There is another factor that the “one in five” who have a mental illness of one type or another often need to take medications which causes dry mouth. Fifteen years ago I had no cavities. I was put on medication that caused dry mouth and now I have no more molars. I have just two good chewing teeth (pre-molars) left to eat with and am putting off getting dentures for as long as I possibly can.
Of course there is also the factor that regardless of the mental illness you are diagnosed with, you can experience depression. I can’t offer any advice for this, and I don’t suggest that even people with lived experience give any advice because I am not (and they are not) psychiatrists. It is so important to be totally honest with your psychiatrist, and if they aren’t helping you, you need to discuss this with another person in the field who can tell you if you might be better off with a Doctor who listens more and is more compassionate. This depression can make you simply not care if your teeth or clothes or body are clean. In this case, forcing yourself to shower and all that may not be the priority, getting your sadness dealt with should be.
Self improvement, which I feel is a cornerstone of recovery from a mental illness, and also something that everyone can benefit from, can take years of work. I can remember in my younger days, for want of a better term, my feet smelled really bad. I dreaded the prospect of being invited into a nice house where you had to remove your shoes and often didn’t in my parent’s home. Years later I learned that you can put anti fungal cream on your feet which is also known as athlete’s foot (and also works well on jock itch) and the smell will completely go away (at least until you walk around in a locker room in bare feet anyway). This changed my whole life, and is a perfect example of how much a person can suffer if they are not open and honest, and fully disclose any issues they have to a Doctor. Well my friends, that is all I have for now. I wish everyone a Happy Easter and the summer of your lives. For those of you who are approaching middle age, I just want to tell you that life only gets better as time passes. Ciao!
Almost hard to believe this is a single family home, one of the more famous mansions in Edmonton. I often wonder what type of people live in a place like this, and if they are happy. An interesting thing in life is that, at least in my experience, no matter what you may own or what you may have it has little to do with happiness. I am in the fortunate position to have the computer I need to do my writing and a large screen TV to play some of my many video games on. I can focus on what I have, and strive to do better and have more, but the fact is that happiness is almost a chemical reality, something that can be determined by things such as your chemical makeup (brain especially) and even your outlook on life. I am fond of discussing how when I was younger I had no idea what a bagel was. I worked at a donut shop and would serve many people bagels of all kinds. Finally I broke down (and I now love bagels but can’t eat them because of diabetes) and ate a bagel and I recall thinking “This is the worst tasting donut I have ever eaten!” Seems funny now, but it betrays an interesting truth: our expectations and former experiences guide us to appreciate things or react in any of the numerous ways a person can. Me, having been to London and seeing places like Buckingham Palace and the private library of an 18th century King, this mansion looks a bit dinky to me. But if I were to own it I might react in many ways, I might think it was too much space, too wasteful of resources. Or I could be extremely happy that I have a place for my books and a room for friends and a garden I can sit in during the summer. I can actually speak from some experience because I once lived at a friend’s house that was huge. It had 5 bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens. My roommate and I each had space for our own office and there was a garage at the back and front of the house. The reality though was that I was miserable. There is so much more to a home and so much more to happiness than square feet. I could cite some reasons why I was miserable in this incredible place, one of them was that it was far away from where I liked to be. There were no nightclubs for people my age, I couldn’t find a good used bookstore nearby or arcade. There was no library. And then there were the factors that really make a home a home, I felt like I was in a massive tomb walking around like a ghost. As mentioned I had a roommate, but he spent so much time watching hockey or playing hockey video games I had no connection to him. He was an incredibly nice guy but I desperately wanted someone to talk to and do things with. I ended up desperately seeking girlfriends and going to dive bars and ended up not only drinking but gambling as well, two things that I absolutely should never do with the mental condition I have.
The story does work out. I moved into an apartment on my own and was able to hold onto a pretty good job for a couple of years. I reconnected with some old friends. I also got put on a drug many people know about, Prozac, which was extremely effective for me. And on top of that I bought a car that was older but in perfect shape for just $75.00. Things could have been better, and I admit, I did eventually get complacent and slipped back into psychosis, but at the time I compared my life to some of the harsher times when there were many people taking advantage of me and when I didn’t have a job or many friends. Having friends is another thing that seems to be so essential. I think now, and for the past couple of years (not counting some time when I had a bad reaction to some medication) I have been having the best time of my life because I have some genuine friends, one who is an incredible young woman who speaks four languages, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, as well as a master’s degree and a fantastic job. The other is a guy who is a best selling writer and he is such a great guy he seems to only have interest in helping me move my career as a writer forward. I wish I knew how such amazing opportunities came to me, many of them were random, one in a million chances. If I were still a smoker I don’t think my writer friend would be able to get along that well with me. If I wasn’t a writer who loves philosophy I don’t think the woman with the black belt would have found enough merit in me to let me into her already busy life. Perhaps it came down to what a dear friend at the group home I used to live in told me, when I explained the hours I worked and what I was doing to improve as a writer, as well as doing actual writing, he said, “God will reward you for your hard work.” and it really seems to have come true.
Just as a quick final note, I think on top of friends and a community you feel like you are a part of, for those of us who have mental health issues, it could perhaps be even more important that we maintain diligence with regards to self care and mental health. That means eating right, sleeping enough at the right times, taking medications on time, and of course, being honest with your Doctor. Please reach out or comment if you wanted to say hello or comment.
First of all, in the more serious and chronic types of mental illness, when the more obvious symptoms begin to appear, there has more than likely been personality and other issues going on for a long time. I know in my own case, severe depression had existed as far back as the second grade, and kept on getting worse until other symptoms, like psychosis began to surface. When they did, the fact that my condition had been left untreated for so long, compounded the effect of the mental collapse that had me end up in a psychiatric hospital.
As I have been learning in my experience with the Schizophrenia Society, there are different symptoms that appear in different stages of the illness. Quite often this makes an accurate diagnosis next to impossible until a good deal of time has gone past. Schizophrenia begins with symptoms like depression and withdrawal from society and later the more ‘classic’ symptoms like hallucinations and delusions present themselves.
I feel the most important thing that someone can do when they begin to experience any kind of symptom is to seek assessment and possible treatment. If a major disorder is discovered, more than likely (but not in all cases) medication will be prescribed. It is incredibly important that this medication be taken as prescribed and not discontinued without supervision from a professional. At the age of 14 I was given meds and never took them. I often wonder how my life may have turned out if I had continued to take them. The bad news is that medications don’t work right away and can often have debilitating side effects. The good news is that medications are getting better all the time and also that your body will adapt to what you are taking and you will learn to manage the risks versus the benefits.
That is certainly not a comprehensive guide to medications, but I am hoping it may be a few helpful words. The other post-diagnosis problem is that people who have mental illnesses face things like stigma from others, and self-stigma. I know that I was so ashamed to have a mental illness that I left the home town I dearly loved and all of my friends hoping to start over. I often say the problem was that I brought my brain with me. I went to the coast, Vancouver, and made plans to join the military. For a while I had the time of my life. New people, new sights and sounds, places to see that I had no concept of. But I got sick again. I just couldn’t admit to myself (with the barrier of stigma and self-stigma) that I needed any kind of help. And not even my loved ones could do anything but worry while all this went on.
The fact remains though that I returned to Edmonton, sought treatment, finished school, started to write, and built a life for myself. When I am taking my medication properly and it is working properly, often even mental health professionals would not assume I have three major diagnoses. My bipolar is controlled by a mood stabilizer-rarely do I stay up all night or talk so much I drive people away. My psychosis is controlled with a time-release injection which keeps my thoughts firmly rooted in reality. And my severe depressions are also taken care of by an anti-depressant. Am I just like the person I was before the diagnosis and the pills? Maybe not, but I think in many ways I am a better person.
If you have doubts regarding your mental health:
-Seek help, even if it is just from an MD
-Get an assessment done. Find out what is wrong
-Work with your doctor and pharmacist to find medications that will help
-Give the medications time to work
-Find and work with a therapist who just may be able to make you feel better about some of the underlying problems that hold you back in your life
-Enjoy your life.
Scroll down past my special Christmas Poem for my Christmas Day Blog.
Christmas Poem December 25, 2018
By: Leif Gregersen
Christmas dinner for all is such a fantastic time
No matter your sins, your faults or your crimes
Mountains of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and yams
No one sees the stress and the effort only mothers understand
Even on our most precious holiday, we orbit the sun as we turn on our axis in place
Each split second, a smile for good or devious origins comes to another child’s face
In a country of opportunity, freedom, equal rights and democracy
To bullying children all that matters is the cash value under the tree
But the love that kids share with the family members who congregate
Can often be just enough to turn the tides of their fate
Show a child that by hard work and effort they will prosper and grow
That precious Christmas vacation will bless them more than you ever could know
My favourite Christmas happened somewhat like that
My Uncle Glen was alive and so was our Lilleven our wonderful cat
We feasted and laughed, even had a taste of rum and some wine
Uncle Glen got a bottle of liquor and it seemed the whole world was mine
I stayed up to watch Jimmy Stewart’s best character give all of himself
All his effort and hard work for others to end up being put on a shelf
The message that movie carried deep into my fifteen-year-old heart
Made me tear up, made me vow to make a new start
Care for your loved ones, show those struggling there is a much better way
What better time to start on the savior’s most magical day
No one will look back when you’re gone and think of your self-serving deeds
The best way to become immortal is to give toil and tears to those truly in need
Good day people of all faiths and nations. The clock has turned and as I write, (in Mountain Standard Time anyway) it is now Christmas Day. Yesterday I received an injection of Abilify, which comes to the clinic in powder form and then the nurse mixes it up and injects it into one of my shoulders. It is intended to replace a medication I was on earlier which had to be administered twice a month and was considered not as good as the new one. It is going to be difficult, but I want to try and stay with this new injection but there are some reasons why I am beginning to have my doubts. The biggest one is that I am starting to move into the borderline of hallucinating. I don’t see people or things that aren’t there, but, along with making me pretty tired, and often only out of the far range of my peripheral vision, things that can’t move (table, cutting board) seem to move all on their own. I have also been getting flashes of thinking people are behind me or in the room. Worst of all is that I have been getting pretty paranoid, though that situation is improving. One of the things I have been trying to do is ride the bus less, which can be pretty difficult when it is minus 12 to minus 15 Celsius outside and you have to get across the city by walking. Regardless, I have been doing it.
When I do get on the bus, I find myself deathly afraid that I am going to be mistaken for some kind of predator. A couple of times, there has been a female on the bus who goes out of their way to stand near the bus driver, ask for a special stop, then run as fast as possible when the bus stops. This I am sure isn’t always because of me, but once or twice I have been pretty certain. It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma out there regarding people with schizophrenia, and that a couple of years back I was given the gears by an ass of a police detective who got my name from my boss and seemed to suspect that because I was an (un-uniformed) security guard, I fit a description of a uniformed security guard in the area who had assaulted a woman.
The really good thing is that I found out that my new nurse (Best Wishes on your retirement Willie!) not only has a Registered Psychiatric Nursing Diploma/Degree, but also a degree in Psychology. The other cool thing is that she knows her comic books, so I think she may be a huge help to me as time unravels.
I didn’t want to stop the blog today before talking a bit about Christmas. It is the time of year when beds in psychiatric wards and hospitals fill to overflowing. Often this is from suicide attempts from people who are in a terrible state and the Christmas holiday reminds them of lost loved ones, estranged loved ones, and perhaps also their own isolation. These people need our time, our patience and our understanding, not our judgement. Sadly, as many do say, the worst thing you can do is give them money. It will go to addictions a lot of the time. If it doesn’t, say you try to do the right thing and buy them groceries, it is likely they will take their allotted grocery money to use on drugs or alcohol. I personally think the best thing a person can do to help people who have mental health, addiction or homelessness problems (often some have all three) it is best to try and put in some time at a social services agency (Edmonton: Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre, Hope Mission) another thing that can be done is to donate non-perishable food to these places, or even go to a local dollar store if you live in a cold climate and buy a bunch of gloves and hats for people. Giving donations directly to the charities can sound like the ideal thing, but I have been very wary of some charities. I gave more than I thought I could afford more than once to charities that spend upwards of 80 to 90 percent of their donations on raising more donations. This made me sick to my stomach. I would say if a person wanted to donate to a charity, especially a local homeless charity, go down and volunteer and find out what your money will be spent on. Just a suggestion. Merry Christmas Everyone!!!
Poetry, Creative Writing, Wellness, and Mental Health Awareness Presenter and Facilitator.
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,
The streets of Edmonton, where I live can be cold and unfriendly. Many people fall into a trap of being struck down by mental or physical illness, then addictions and eventually homelessness. You see it a lot where I live, makeshift tents with a shopping cart full of garbage nearby. Long line-ups at the soup kitchens and shelters. When oil was at a peak, people came from all over wanting to take part in the prosperity, the huge amounts of money to be made in the oilfields and in Edmonton in some of the numerous supporting industries from plastics to catering. It is almost sickening to think of what all the fossil fuels are doing to our once pristine and beautiful country, yet fracking and pipelines continue. When I was in eleventh grade, a friend was trying to encourage me to get a job in the oilfields. My ambition then was to be a lawyer, I found his idea almost laughable now, especially since he went on to become an alcoholic working under the table so he didn’t have to pay child support. When you take a long look at all the big money jobs in the oilfields, it just doesn’t seem worth the real price in loss of quality of life and many other factors. I know of so many dreamers who became homeless, addicted, mentally ill. A lot of organizations have tried to fill in the gaps left when people have nowhere else to go. From New Year’s Eve 2001 to the present, I have been living in supportive housing and despite the books I’ve written, the work I’ve done, the money I’ve made, I really don’t think I could have done any of it without living in places that supported me through my difficulties with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.
When I last got out of the hospital, my life was destroyed. I had lost control of any finances, I was heavily medicated, and virtually unemployable. A long-term group home was found for me and I was able to recover almost completely. I still have troubles with sleep and stress, I still have times when I question my own existence or allow myself to get angry over things I can’t control. But none of those things can destroy me anymore, I have been allowed to grow new skin over my wounds.
Living in a group home had a number of advantages for me. I lived in a house with three other people, and though there were arguments and fights, and even people who did horrible and disgusting things, the needed stability was there. One time I was in a house with a barely functioning, overbearing bully who kept trying to order me around and pick a fight with me. I had to deal with him by calling the police one night and when I talked to them I didn’t have a chance to mention that he is in the habit of picking fights, losing them badly and then going to an organization called ‘victim’s services’ where he is given money in exchange for proof of his injuries. Another roommate in the same house once called the police and confronted me because I had woken up late for work and took two slices of a cold pizza he had left out in the kitchen because he had put it in the oven and was so drunk he forgot about it.
The thing though, was that when you live with others who suffer from a mental illness, the stigma and guilt are greatly reduced, and provided you are on the medication you need, it is so much easier to function, so much easier to heal. In the group home I lived in for 15 years, medication was given out each day. Adherence to all appointments was necessary. I had the benefit of having my dad come and take me for a walk in the park also which was extremely healing. There were a lot of difficult times with people who lived in the group home. There was one guy who believed that he could legally play his music as loud as he wanted as long as he turned it down a little after 11:00pm. I dealt with it by simply going to the basement and shutting off the breaker for his room, leaving him in silence and darkness. Then the management passed a rule that we weren’t allowed to touch the breakers. Soon, my roommate was playing his music again and I shut him down once more from the breaker switches and then plead my case to a higher authority. The same guy had a habit of coming home from work and turning up the heat as far as it would go, then taking off his shirt in the living room and laying down to watch TV. That was around the time I took up the habit of hiding the remote. Then, when he found it, I would insist he give it back to me as it was legally mine, then when I got it back I would turn the TV off. I had to find ways to amuse myself somehow.
It was an eye-opening experience to live there. For perhaps the first time in my life I could simply exist. I didn’t need to be some wealthy young entrepreneur, I didn’t need to be an A+ honour student on his way to Oxford, I just had to exist, take my medication, and hopefully not kill any roommates. I found out that housing like this, which is in extreme demand these days, costs about 1/4 of what a hospital bed costs the health care system. I have also heard information about how homeless people, job or not, cost society a great deal as well. I can see why because, to use one example, a shelter needs a lot of resources. They need food, staff, a constant inflow of donations of money, clothing, heat, security. I worked at a drop-in centre that didn’t even have any beds for homeless people and it seemed they had nine paid staff or volunteers supporting, educating, counselling, and even motivating the many people who relied on them. I guess I just wanted to say that in many places in North America, cold weather, extreme in some places is coming fast. Consider gathering up unneeded items, especially things like hoodies, toques, gloves, scarves, and finding a charity that would be extremely grateful to be able to distribute them for you. Something I have seen happen a lot is that people will put warm clothing items onto a tree or fence with a note saying that anyone who needs to warm up can take the item. Excess household items like books and furniture are needed at many thrift shops that support worthwhile charities. Consider also volunteering your time (if a place exists near you) with a schizophrenia society office, or finding ways to help integrate disadvantaged people into the greater community. This time of year is ideal for looking for ways to give back as many students get a Christmas break, and most charities need volunteers at Christmas, which they recruit in October and November.
Sadly though, all of these great ideas doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people, whether they read this blog or not, suffer themselves from a mental illness and don’t have the housing or the support or even the medical attention they need, and many of them are all alone in this world. I can’t imagine what things may have been like if I didn’t have my dad and my sister to advocate for me last time I was ill. To people in this situation, I just pray that they can plant a seed of hope deep inside of their minds. Just enough so that they can get to a clinic and find a way to get the assistance of a psychiatrist, find a way to get their medications. I know that in the US it is much harder to get by as a poor person, but I have also noticed from my own experience that once people see you are trying to take responsibility for yourself, trying to improve your own life so you can perhaps one day help others, they are more than willing to support you in your efforts to recover. One thing I would say is that there are opportunities to dig yourself out. There are things like newspapers that homeless people sell by donation, and if these don’t exist, approach your library and get them to help you put together a booklet of writing about people who are struggling in so many ways. Charge a buck or two and use the money for the essential things the group needs.
I wish I could keep writing. I also wish I had all the answers. But the sad fact is, each person who is ill, each person who is addicted or homeless, needs to find their own way. I found mine with the help of people who cared and loved me back to sanity. I wish this for all of you.