Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Question of All… Employment!

DSC_0119This is a photo from a park on 97th street in Edmonton near downtown that is dedicated to the sufferring of the homeless.  This is the only park where outside drinking is allowed and is a short walk from where I live

 

Hello Dear Readers!  Well, today is going to be an interesting one, I have a lot of feelings about this topic.  Have any of you had a hard time, say you just got out of the hospital and you feel you are adjusting to your meds and you have been told not to work?  Or maybe you have been sick for some time and you have gotten out of shape or your illness doesn’t allow you much room for stress?  I know of a number of people with schizophrenia who hear voices so badly despite their medications that a job seems impossible, but there are two huge problems associated with unemployment: what do you do for money and what do you do with your time?  I knew a guy who was so worked up about the way working people looked at him that he would tell them bald faced lies.  I recall him telling his Dad that he had a full-time job when I knew he didn’t and it turned out he meant his full time job was protesting the cuts to welfare payments.  Here is another part of the stigma surrounding an illness, people who are ill are seen as lazy or as leeches on the rest of society.  Sometimes all of the stigma surrounding mental illness can get so bad that the person experiencing it can turn to alcohol and drugs as I did for a short time when I was younger.  This puts a huge strain on family members and the person with the illness and is a drain on limited finances as well.

So, I have outlined some of the problems but haven’t offered any solutions.  I do like to try and offer solutions, but I also like to try and put in a disclaimer that your Psychiatrist is your boss, what he or she says you should do is the end of it, and hopefully you have enough health care insurance to have a nurse or support worker you can talk to about more of this.  These people are the experts, they have the access to resources in your local area that can help you.  I know in Edmonton there is a place called DECSA, which helps the disabled find work, but I want to just throw in my opinion.  I also want people to keep in mind that my experience relates to what I have been through, which is to be diagnosed at different times with schizophrenia and other times with Bipolar Disorder/manic depression.  The first and most important thing above everything is to stay off drugs and alcohol and take your meds.  For me getting off alcohol was a huge priority for the first year after I stopped drinking.  I was attending often up to two alcohol abuse meetings a day and I would often walk long distances to these places, summer and winter.  But the cool thing was that eventually I got my life back and could focus on other things.  These meetings kept me busy and made me feel like I was doing something, and when I felt more comfortable with the new drug and alcohol free me, I started to take on more.  One of the first things I did was to cultivate a love of swimming that I once had.  It meant so much to me to get up before anyone else, walk out to take the bus, read a book or newspaper on the bus and then go to the pool where I eventually made a lot of good friends that I would see each day and talk to in the hot tub or sauna and it really felt good.  After a while I made friends with a lifeguard and she was taking pre-med in University and helped me do a lot to train myself up to a healthy level.  All this wasn’t a job, but it was something that gave me activity to do, got me out and meeting people, and it made the time I had to spend between disability pension benefits a lot easier to handle for many reasons.  Then, when it was time to work a difficult and taxing job, I was strong enough and had enough endurance to handle what was put before me.  For a time I made pretty good money and felt really good about myself.  This was one of the peaks of my life and I feel that a lot of people can do the same who have mental illnesses or even are off the employment grid for an extended period of time.  Work your way up slowly, address all the isssues that area barier to employment, get yourself fit and ready to work and possibly volunteer, then put out a few resumes and who knows how far you can go?  There is more to it though, and it is definitely not a simple thing for a lot of people, but I have always been a believer in baby steps.  One small thing each day towards a goal, and as my readers may know, I am a firm believer in written, clear, distinct goals that one can work towards.

Anyhow, when you get all that together and you do find employment, it is important to have savings for a lot of reasons, but factor in a part of your savings for a trip.  Myself when I first got back to work after my most recent stay in the Psychiatric Hospital, I saved up and then asked my sister to pay half and bought a ticket to Toronto where I had never been.  I had the most awesome vacation, going to see Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and all kinds of cool places.  In the past 10 years now I have been to Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Northern British Columbia, Northern Alberta and beautiful Hawaii.  All just a small step at a time, and all of this is from someone who thought he would spend the rest of his life in a tiny room doomed to keep making the same mistakes and ending up in the hospital for them.  There is hope, there is always hope!

Below is a poem I wrote for today’s blog.  It isn’t exactly relevant and it is a style I haven’t used before, but I hope all of you will enjoy it.

 

That Which We Lost We Never Knew

Innocence
Do we lose it all at once?
Our grown up souls
Crying, reaching to get through
When, I beg, I pray to really know
When does it all come apart
Sweet virginity just couldn’t be
Once lost
It just seems to not be it

Is it in
A lie you know will be cutting to the bone
A lie given to
A loved one you once thought you could never hurt
But past innocence
Their feelings matter not
Innocence
Though we don’t know how
Is lost
Lost among the breeze

But do we gain
When we lose our innocence
Sometimes it seems
The loss gives us the upper hand
A little edge
On all who came before
A way to stay
And older, wiser soul

Then there is that one
That one, that very special one
That person whom we all must know
Who has our love
And holds in their hands our self esteem
Who never lost
That which we cherished once
Innocence
It flew away among the wind
Happiness
Was never really ours

Leif Gregersen
August 15, 2015

A Poem About Family and the New Year Plus Blog

IMG_8207

Gekko From The Big Island of Hawaii

Good day dear readers!  Much to talk about, much to say.  I have been doing a fair bit of work lately, I have been looking into the field of comic and graphic novel publishing and I am thinking I would like to publish a comic from a script I wrote about mental illness to help educate the teens and young students I will be meeting when I start my new job as a public speaker for the Schizophrenia Society.  It is all really exciting, I have also gotten an offer to set up a writing workshop or two that will actually pay.  I don’t know what concept most of my readers have of writing, but it is a very rare occasion that you make money on anything.  There are postings for people as writers in residence and other things, but I lack the education for such a posting.  I do make a small amount of money on book sales, but when you figure in time and effort and publishing and shipping costs plus all the copies I end up giving out for free, I would be very surprised if I end up breaking even, which really isn’t that bad to be honest.  I love to write, and I love it when others read what I write and give me favourable feedback.  I don’t even mind when people give me negative feedback.  A person the other day wrote to me on this blog about how my belief in God was like believing in Santa Claus and I actually greatly welcomed his comment because it is allowing me to open a dialogue about the whole theology question, which I not only have a lot of experience studying, but a lot of experience arguing about.

It has also been a pretty great week partially because people have been so kind and generous with me in regards to presents, but I am even happier because my sister and my niece are here and I love them both very dearly.  My niece is a joy to be around, I am so amazed at how smart she is.  It is weird that this little girl who I once held in my arms and fed a bottle to can say things like, “Hey dude-watch out!” and all kinds of gems like that.  It really does fill my heart with joy just watching her play.  I think one of the most amazing things about kids is that they really do love people unconditionally.  Nothing can make them stop loving you, except possibly puberty.  It reminds me a lot of when I was a kid and I had this Uncle in Drumheller who was an amazing guy.  I loved him so much, he was a hero to me, he worked as a heavy duty mechanic and heavy equipment operator and he was John freeking Wayne to me.  He was such a dear man and did things like one time my brother and I found a baseball glove, bat and mitt and we were going to share them and my Uncle took my brother’s share of them away from him and gave them to me.  I kept the bat for a very long time and I fear sometimes that my brother still resents that incident.  It did make me feel special though, something that didn’t happen a lot being the youngest although I suppose we all got our measure of love from family, just in different ingredients and measurements.  Anyhow, this is all getting a bit drippy.  I wanted to write a bit about the New Year before I leave you for today’s poem.  It is interesting that the symbol of New Year’s is a new baby who replaces and old man.  It is a metaphor, a symbol of new life, like my niece who is the subject of today’s poem.  I look at her and think of new hope for our family, the idea that we will have this wonderful little human being to represent us after we are gone.  Anyhow dear readers, please give me as much feedback as you can, I hope you enjoy today’s poem which will be below the below photo.  Cheers!!

 

 

DSCF5603

Edmonton Art Gallery

Children

 

As mankind approaches a brand new year

And we consider all of our hopes and fears

I think most of those that I hold dear

Some things in my mind become so clear

 

Close friends I lost that once meant so much

Lost lovers who I will never once more touch

Memories and mementos and such and such

Make me wonder if my past is just a crutch

 

My sister tries to come here in this season

I’m glad she comes for a special reason

My dear wonderful niece whose looks are pleasing

Comes along for happy hugs and teasing

 

My sister’s child who I love so dear

The only person for whom I can still shed a tear

Brings me new hope as innocent as a newborn deer

And reminds me that my goal is clear

 

It is a simple goal, I will tell it to you

To be a hero, always be good and true

It’s not fantastic, not anything new

It’s just what I always wished that I could do

 

My brother Kris was that person for me

My hero, my champion who worked to be

A person I could look up to and see

What it meant to be brave, strong and free

 

I suppose soon now that my niece is ten

I will have to look back on these days and remember when

I called her up every now and then

And she inspired me to pick up my pen

 

I want to paint in words her innocent smile

Her happy spirit, pluck and guile

Keep that in my head for a long long while

Pack the words away in a special file

 

She’s growing up so fast, it seems just days ago

Her little mind was eager to soak up all it didn’t know

At ten she is beginning to lose that glow

But we still laugh sometimes and play in the snow

 

I think often it would have been so nice to have my own child

But being a dad seems to just not be my style

And so I will cherish what I have for a while

A sweet niece for whom I will always go the extra mile

 

I look at my little niece and think about how she is so sweet

And how her soft appealing looks can not be beat

She dances and sings and runs me off my feet

Before I say goodbye and into my own space retreat

 

The love for my flesh and blood is so real

I just wish I knew a little more about how it feels

To be the only little one around your family’s heels

And not have an adults more firm ideals

 

I love her so much it hurts to think of the coming day

When she will change and feel a different way

I wish I had the words to help her, to say

That this world is hers in which to laugh and play

 

But the sad thing that I must realize

If I can ever be thought of as wise

No matter how much a family member tries

Each one of us on Earth has a time to live and a time when he or she dies

 

My little one will have to learn through work and play

And not even listen to what her Uncle has to say

Because truly at the end of each new dawning day

We must own our own choices, own the path we take

 

Leif Gregersen

December 29, 2014