Has anyone out there read the classic work “The Gambler” by I think Dosteyovski? It tells the tale of a man so obsessed by gambling that he plots to murder his landlady. I won’t ruin it for you because the whole point in bringing it up is that it portrays an incredibly accurate depiction of a compulsive gambler. I myself was a compulsive gambler for some time, and not only was I totally sure I suffered from this affliction, I also understood that it comes along with the manic side of my bipolar disorder, which is a part of my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I could abstain for long stretches, then all at once I would have a severe compulsion and an almost unfailing faith that I would walk out of the casino with more money than I walked in with. Despite making my own computer programs to test my winning strategies and being something of a former math whiz, I would put money in, perhaps win a little at first and then chase my losses until I had nothing. But this hasn’t been my only addiction.
As a young kid, I had an addiction to comic books. I would work myself to death to try and accumulate as many as I could, and even when I got older and stopped reading them, I would often have dreams about still having the literature hidden in my parent’s closet. I simply could not get enough, even when my parents told me no more comics. Then at 14, I started to smoke cigarettes. That was an addiction that took me 18 years to quit.
Perhaps one of the most damaging of my addictions was alcohol. I found it was that magic elixir that would loosen the chains of my anxiety and remove inhibitions. When I was drunk I could meet girls, dance, do whatever I wanted and even if I got into a fight or got beat up for my stupidity while drinking it didn’t hurt that much.
And now I am trying something new, something that is on the edges of anything I ever tried. I want to take all of my possessions and minimize them and somehow stop fixating on getting better clothes, better furniture, better video games. Even though I am 47 I am finding that there are some professional development courses I would love to take but the money just isn’t there and the rules of having the government sponsor a person for part-time learning have changed.
With all of these addictions, I am trying very hard to find a way to not just cope with the ones I have, but to try and avoid getting any more. I met a young man of 33 yesterday who was homeless and addicted to Fentynal. He likely won’t survive the winter unless he can get lucky enough to be put in jail. That is a very scary thing for me to consider, especially when I consider that there isn’t that much difference between him and I other than that I am much older and less able to bounce back from something of that nature.
When I was in a 12-step program years ago, my now-departed sponsor told me once that when you apply the steps of abstinence in your life, you don’t have a cure for your addiction, you have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of your spiritual condition. He also said that when we abstain, if we don’t deal with whatever personality trait or flaws that caused us to become addicted to something, our illness can manifest itself in other ways.
Clean and purge is all I can manage for now. I do plan to keep a bible and a few books that have meaning for me, but I would like to get to the stage of relying on the library instead of buying and accumulating more and more books. Maybe when I get myself down to the bare bones and can focus on the thing I love the most (writing) I will have enough to not just deal with my addictions, but to really turn myself into a better person all around. I have so little control of my mental health situation. All I can really do is take my medications as prescribed and talk to my nurse and doctor as often as they want me to. I know for a fact that on a fixed income if I can slow down consumption of things such as diet pop (one of my new addictions), purchase of comic books (an affliction that has come back to me) and buying books, I will likely be more able to take care of myself. One of the best things I have found when I want to make an effort to stop a habit is simply to not allow myself to think of the subject. If I have to get off the bus a stop early to walk around a bar that has gambling machines I will. If I have to not go near the mall to not be tempted to buy new clothes, I will do it. And the one thing, the one magical thing that I can always do for myself is as simple as picking up a book, just an interesting book. Reading is such magic, it takes a person to another world, it takes a person inside the mind of the author, it gives a writer a whole new world to create with total omnipresence. Thanks for reading my blog, I couldn’t be a writer if people out there in the world didn’t read my work.
This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.
What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.
I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.
Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.
I live in the city pictured above, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the moment the weather is ideal (aside from a lot of rain this year) but it isn’t always the healthiest climate for recovery. A few years back, I was in the hospital for a month on two separate occasions, and wanting to enjoy the summer weather, I sat outside my apartment on a picnic bench, and a young child while hiding himself was yelling insults at me. This of course is a common thing for young children, but I found it extremely disturbing at the time and felt it was directed at me.
Feeling insults and threats were directed at me is also something not new and not always valid. Before my last hospital visit, I was having extreme problems with paranoia, delusions and hallucinations due to a new medication not working properly. It really can be extremely difficult to function when this sort of thing is going on, difficult to leave the house or to work. I actually got to the point where I thought the people next door to me were laughing and directing insults and threats at me that I recorded what I thought were the remarks on my cell phone to play it for my building manager. She listened to it and couldn’t hear a thing. I remember thinking, and saying that something was very seriously wrong.
One thing I want to note here is that a person’s first few years with a diagnosis of an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar can be very difficult, but statistics show that you can bounce back, that most people do bounce back. The most important thing I feel at this point is just not to isolate yourself. You may be unable to stay with your parents or a sibling as a helper and caregiver, but it would be really positive if you had a roommate. I remember getting an excellent suggestion that I put up a notice at the University in the psychology department telling the truth, that I had a mental illness, and asking for a student to share a room. I didn’t end up going through with it, but still it was a pretty good idea.
I wanted to talk a little today about resentments. All of us have times in our past where we were pushed around or bullied, hurt, taken advantage of. Sadly that is not just the normal for people with mental illnesses, but for most people in general. I remember my junior high days being filled with beatings from the biggest kid in school, for no better reason than I was the one he needed to prove he was tougher than. The fact is, and I myself am guilty for this, you can’t continue to live your life and constantly look back at regrets.
There are a couple of ways of looking at times when people hurt or wronged you. These incidents often play themselves over and over through your head, and when you have psychosis, they can actually change in your memories to be even more disturbing and troubling. One of the ways I have recently discovered to help deal with feelings like this which was suggested to me a long time ago was to take all of your anger and hurt and put it into an exercise like swimming or lifting weights, really push yourself to your limits and let the anger loose. I haven’t always agreed with this, but I know that it makes you feel a lot better and has many healthful side benefits.
Another way of looking at thinking about those in the past who hurt us is that we are literally letting them rent free space in our heads. In the end, we have control over how we see things, we have control over how we let them affect us. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to enact this control. One of the best ways to learn is to participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but that can be expensive and time consuming. Still, it gives proven results. Look into places you can get this kind of therapy on a sliding scale, or perhaps even join a group therapy session.
The next way of dealing with these thoughts is something I didn’t really event, but I seemed to discover it on my own as a teenager. I was a smoker and I hated what it did to my health and really wanted to quit. My most successful attempt at quitting came when I used a psychological method of distracting myself from my cravings. One of the big motivators for people in their teens is attraction and desire, so what I did was whenever I wanted to light up a cigarette, I would indulge myself in putting thoughts and images in my head regarding a young woman I really liked. Although I started again later, this was very nearly a successful result that ended up taking 17 more years and professional help to deal with.
So, some of those methods can help get the thoughts out of your head or distract you so you don’t dwell too much on one thing, but I also wanted to describe one of the best things you can do for your mind and your brain. It is meditation, and I make no apologies that I have talked about it before. It is such a simple, though not always easy thing to do. You need to have some quiet time and space, unless you are fortunate to have a class or monastery available where you can learn, and all you really do is focus and breathe. You simply try to clear out your head, and think of nothing. This can be difficult at first, but as you practise meditation more, it will become easier. You breathe in and count one, breathe out and count two. You try to count to ten without being distracted or thinking of something else, which will happen many times, but just gently guide yourself back to not thinking and start again from one. There are many books on meditation, and also many resources like apps. I even once owned a virtual reality headset that had a ‘game’ where you could go to one of 12 destinations and just be alone to think and let your positive thoughts grow and negative thoughts go away. With that, I hope all of you can find peace and enjoyment in your lives, be you caregivers or people who suffer from mental illnesses, all the best!
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 photo above is a close friend. He worked hard for many years, built up an excellent work record, bought a home and has been to many places in the world. Now, after a lifetime of struggle, it sadly seems that compulsive spending, depression, alcoholism, hoarding, and other problems came about from him growing up in poverty and working so hard that substances were his only escape. It all seems such a waste, but even for my friend there is hope.
For most of 2001, I was a patient in a locked ward of a very unpleasant place, the provincial psychiatric hospital. Now, in 2018, I work there and am paid well. This and other jobs has allowed me to do so much, including travelling to London and Hawaii, buying the computer I am using now, having many friends, and living a comfortable though somewhat sparse life.
People are often amazed that I have been able to write more than 10 books, and to get up in front of people I don’t know and talk about the intimate details of my illness. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’m not so much afraid anymore. I have experienced great loss, adventure, been close to death, but there have been some simple axioms I took to heart that have gotten me through.
One of them was from a young man who was an engineer. He said when engineers work on a very large, complex and difficult problem, they will break the larger problem into smaller ones and solve them one small piece at a time. There was another man who I have never met, but who wrote an excellent book and is an example to every young person in the whole world I feel who attributed his success as an astronaut and space station commander by always making sure he had taken the time to properly prepare himself for tasks to come. When I want to sit down and start writing a book I can’t just put pen to page and expect it to come out perfect. I draft up several possible outlines, then toy around with some dialogue, maybe even try to picture my main characters and, by hand, write out some dialogue. If this starts to engage me and I keep on for pages with my pen I know I have something I can continue to work on, to craft into a cohesive story. But most of my books came more from just writing a little for one sitting. I would write a poem and then transfer it to computer and then cut and paste it into Facebook and when I had a bunch of them I would self-publish a book of them. Easiest thing in the world. People even buy them and enjoy them. In a way, I used these two methods of planning and preparation to overcome my severely diminished state after I was last in the hospital.
I had to start with a small step, and I decided it would be medications. I took each dose at the proper time and then looked at the rest of the day as my free time. Not wanting to waste my days away watching TV re-runs, I would try and read a little in one of my Steinbeck books. One of the amazing things was that now that I was over the worst of my symptoms of mental illness, and people could see that I was trying to improve my lot in life, help seemed to come from every corner. My dad would take me for walks, a part-time job allowed me some comforts. Even the cooking chore I had to undertake every two weeks or so taught me many things I never knew about food.
When I think of how the other point I made, of making sure you are adequately prepared for something, especially something difficult that you need to do, I think of a close friend who I knew since high school. Before my most recent stay in the psychiatric hospital, I was extremely delusional and ‘manic’ as well as having other symptoms of psychosis such as thinking the radio was talking about me, that I had billions of dollars and so on. At this time, her sister had heard I was having troubles and tried to help, and for want of a better term, I scared her half to death. My long friendship was over and I was devastated. Almost a year later, I went to see her and it was only because in advance I wrote down what I needed to tell her and predicted how she would react that I was able to successfully convince her she could trust me and that it was worth having me as a friend.
These are common tactics, writing out a script of what you might say to your boss who you know is debating whether or not to fire you. Setting goals, no matter how preposterous or long-range they are, and then setting smaller, more attainable goals that lead you towards that better place. I often think these things can get a person through anything.
One of the things I would like to touch on today may only apply to Canadians, but I will try and add a universal component for people in other countries. One of the hardest things to face when a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, and spends time in a psychiatric hospital is the poverty that is going to follow, perhaps for the rest of their lives. The Canadian Government developed a plan to help those who are disabled for any reason to overcome this, it is called the Registered Disability Saving Program (or something similar-ask your bank staff) this plan allows you to put somewhere around $2,000 to $3,000 away in an account, and have grants and subsidies top up that amount by multiples of two or three times. You can’t take it out for ten years, but it could really go a long way for a person to take a trip or to buy a home.
This seems almost unfair to Americans or people in other countries that don’t have this program, but I think even people who have a savings plan could benefit from my second favourite book ever, “The Richest Man in Babylon” by Richard S. Clayson (my favourite book being “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig.
In the ‘babylon’ book, using historical figures and examples, a plan is explained where a person takes a careful look at his earning and spending and tries to get his or her spending down to just 70% of what they earn. 20% of that is put towards debt, and the remaining 10% goes to savings, which, as it grows, you invest. Regarding the investment side of it, the book talks about a very simple strategy to keep your money growing, or at least safe. If you want to invest your money, seek out advice. But make sure that the person giving it has spent all their time and effort in their entire lives to being an expert on what they are talking about. Getting a tip from your neighbour who is a musician that stock in a steel mill is guaranteed to double just doesn’t cut it. But the musician might be a great person to consult to find out which brand of marijuana stock is the best one to invest in based on his own personal choice of the stuff.
Another factor that many people don’t factor in when they think of living in poverty as a disabled person is that as time goes by, especially if you can find a way to work (when I got out of the hospital in 2001 I was useless for any task, but I could still work as a security guard and it gave me a sense of self-respect and some extra money for things), as you get older, you will not only learn to use and invest your money better, you will also have paid for much of the things you want and need and the pressure to always get more money and more stuff will lessen. Of course, you are also free from the thing that made me want to buy a sports car at 18 instead of saving for University-peer pressure.
So, all I really have to say if I must sum it up is that with diligence, a steady and focused effort day after day, week after week, planning and preparing, your life may not just get to be as good as most, it just may get better. And remember, people really do care.
I have often wondered if the people who get to run these machines are just older kids at play. Seeing these big machines also makes me think about modern labour and how it changes so rapidly. I often wonder what some of my students do without computer skills-what anyone without computer skills can do. It leaves us so marginalized. But that is a discussion for another day. Please remember to scroll down past today’s poem for today’s blog.
The Forgotten Book
On my floor forgotten lies a book
Its cover bent all it seems to do is gather dust
The dismal hum of the summer fan
Licks its pages until it seems alive
This book once had been my hopes, my dreams
To take me places I never dared to go
This book was more than mine it was me
It was written by my hand inspired by my soul
I poured everything into its pages
And now at 5:00am as the sky brightens
I haven’t got the energy to pick it up
I should file the thing; get it out of sight
But I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it
There on my floor
I may be a hermit to some
Old books covering my furniture and floors
Old junk filling up the spaces in between
But among all that will be that book
Hopefully long after I am gone
To tell my story
To somehow let me live on
If only on a page that few will read
Mental Health and Walking:
I have always been a fan of endurance sports. I suppose it started as far back as the second Rocky Movie which I saw on TV. Everyone knows that Rocky Balboa is going to accomplish his goals when he goes running through the streets, thousands of children run with him as that amazing music plays. One thing I really like about the Rocky Movies is that Rocky doesn’t win all his fights. Like many of us, he does everything he can, fails, reinvents himself or finds new inspiration and then moves on to the next level. Rocky can’t always triumph, but he can always show he has heart, or perhaps more accurately as he says in his movies, he at least proves he is not a bum.
Walking is something that I have been taking up instead of playing difficult sports, jogging, even cycling. There are so many advantages to it. Perhaps the top one for me is just the time I get to spend on my own with my thoughts. Sometimes I will walk up to 2 hours a day and I can work everything out. I watched a video today that quoted some interesting studies on walking that I hope you won’t take at face value from me but research on your own. One of the studies they talked about was one that discovered a marked increase in mood for people with depression who walked 30 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week. I can honestly say that I do feel a lot happier after I walk and that now that I have been doing it for a few years I wouldn’t want to stop for any reason. I may have to slow down or take days off, but walking is so rewarding (in the happiness and in the feeling of fitness) that I hope I can keep it up for a long time to come.
For a while I didn’t like the idea of walking long distances though I often did as a boy. My Mom had lost a good deal of weight one time and looked amazing from walking about 5 miles a day. The problem came in when an incident, possibly connected, hopefully not, happened where she developed a crushed vertebrae in her neck and needed surgery. She gained her weight back soon during her recovery period and never really got back to the same levels of fitness before she passed away.
One interesting thing I have been noticing is that people with mental health issues seem to be at much more risk of diabetes. Perhaps because they are more sedentary, perhaps it has a lot to do with weight gain on psychiatric medications. Many people are told that their medications will cause them to gain weight, but also asked if they would prefer to be in active mental distress or psychosis or would they prefer to be slimmer. Almost anyone would prefer to be mentally healthy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It may be extremely difficult, but there are ways to still lose weight, and I have found walking to be at the epicentre of the solution despite the effects of medications I take.
I have been walking five plus miles five times a week now as well as watching my calorie, sugar and fat intake. I should mention that I was diagnosed with type two diabetes a month ago despite thinking I was active and fit. What I didn’t realize was that I was obese and I needed to make some changes. Walking was something I already did, so I just tried to ramp it up a bit and find excuses to walk every day like to go for groceries or even just to go to the pool to sit in the hot tub and weigh myself. The other thing I did was try to eliminate red meat, and anything with large amounts of fat or sugar. My Doctor also put me on Metformin, which is a very helpful medication. The results? I feel way better, people say I look slimmer, and since I have started monitoring my blood glucose levels, I seem to be in the healthy range a lot more of the time and I have lost nearly 30 pounds. I hope some of this is inspiring to you. My suggestion if you have a few pounds to lose or if you worry about diabetes is to load the Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger” into your music player of choice, get some good walking shoes (I love my new sketchers!) and go out and enjoy the sun! (Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere). Best of luck and please post any questions or comments!
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! email@example.com
Here is a photo of a massive cruise ship I saw in Hawaii last time I was there.
Hello to my many kind followers. I don’t know really what to talk about much today, the past little while has gotten me a bit down. Of course I am still taking my anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, so it isn’t really that bad but I think one of my main problems is that I am often sleeping during the day and staying up all night. In a way this has been a good thing because I have had time to work on my writing, but isolation is something I really have to watch out for. It hasn’t helped that I was turned down for a low-income swim pass with the city and haven’t been able to work out much. I have been doing a lot of thinking about not being able to work out. I know I definitely felt better when I was working out, but I don’t know if I should really go back to swimming every day and lifting weights. It certainly also helped me when it came time to do my job as a stage hand, but still it was a lot of time, a lot of work and I don’t really think I enjoyed it. It would be just about impossible for me to stop exercising completely, I love to take my long walks and long bike rides in the summer. I just don’t know what level of fitness I should pursue.
One of the huge things I think I need to do if I am to stop going for muscle mass is to work on the paranoid/anger side of my illness. The reason for this is that if I get angry, it will get me into fights, and if I am just some skinny writer nerd type I will really get my butt kicked. There are a lot of reasons though, I know when I am fit I am more motivated to do things, I feel more confident. I do tend to eat a lot more though, and this is not only an expense, it adds to my weight which isn’t exactly in the healthy level.
Another fact I want to really face up to is that even if I take all the vitamins recommended, get my exercise and do all these healthy things, it will make a difference, but it will never stave off death permanently. I have to fact up to the fact that I only have so many days, months, years, minutes, seconds before my time will come, and also that this time may come this very moment. It is unlikely, but we all really only have the present moment don’t we? I think what that line of thought tells me is that I have to try and focus on the more important things, the bigger battles. Who really cares if some guy with a black belt can kick my ass? I have to find a way to cope with the world that allows me to live among people like this without getting into fights or even arguments. There really is no such thing as righteous anger, unless of course God communicates with you directly. There were times when I thought he did, but I am of course wrong about that.
So, I wanted to write a little about writing. A lot of great things have been happening in my new chosen profession and it has been making me very happy. I have been approached about having a co-author help re-write my second memoir, and it would mean some drastic changes would happen in my life. One of the amazing things about writing is that once you get going, aside from a few times when you may be called out of town or have to speak somewhere, most of the time you can get away with just writing about 2 hours a day and still make a success of yourself. There have been times for me though when I have been driven to finish a project in a short amount of time and spent marathon sessions at the keyboard. When I wrote my first novel, “Green Mountain Road”, what I did was go to an all-night burger restaurant and sit and write until I had 3-5,000 words done. It was often difficult to pick up right from where I left off, so what I would do was to read the chapter I had done the previous day and edit it as I went along and I found that soon I had my creative juices flowing.
I would really like to get feedback from any writers out there, especially in the form of requests for certain topics I can address here in the blog. If you want to know more about poetry, or journalism or any such topic, please ask and I would love to teach you all I know.
Something I also wanted to put out there for new writers is that, especially when you are starting out, it is so important to make and maintain contacts with writers of works in your genre or even just successful writers in general. You can write to me, or you can often find emails of your favorite authors listed on the cover of books as I think John Grisham does. I haven’t tried this, but I have had so many great things happen as a result of connecting with other writers. There is this co-authoring partnership I may be getting into which will give me so many advantages (the writer I have in mind already has an excellent relationship with a publisher). Not to mention that I found a real gem of a friend in the well known Canadian writer Richard Van Camp. Richard has had movies made from his writing and has done so well for himself and is just about totally dedicated to helping me succeed. Him and I get together over milkshakes at a diner near his house about two times a month and he is a massive help. They say that what defines the most successful people in any field is having a mentor, and Richard has been this for me. (If anyone wanted to see a review I wrote of Richard’s latest short story collection, “Night Moves” it is on the front page of the Ottawa Review of Books website.) And then it takes daily effort, persistence and time. Sometimes it takes a lot of time. Most people will write their first book over the course of years and write many drafts before they feel it’s ready. Then there is the process of finding an agent, getting your work edited and sending it off to publishers or getting it self published. This can take years more and like any other business, you have to establish your repuation. One of the best things you can do while waiting out this process is to get in to see a writer in residence at your local library, university or college and they will help guide you. I hope all of this helps, I am including a poem below, I hope you enjoy it.
Midwinter Edmonton Musing
The wide Pacific calls out to me
Nowhere else have I felt so free
I would plunge into waters clear and blue
But I just can’t let go of loving you
Tropical Islands grab your heart and soul
No better way to make a person feel whole
It’s to escape from this cold place in which I live
And to take a little time to relax, forget and forgive
In just one sunny Hawaiian day
Ten years of anger melt away
I no longer see the point of a mad rat race
And soon my wrinkles are erased
If you were mine and we both could go
I could teach you things no one else knows
We could spend our nights walking the shore and sand
And feel the tropical night’s cool loving hand
Looking deep into each other’s eyes
We would not have to wear any disguise
Just you and me and our love that stood the test of time
Finally I would be fully yours; you would be completely mine
But if I have to go alone I will
Even alone there are pleasures still
Oh, I would give up a year here for one day there
And that feeling of lying in the sun without a care
I would rent a little car and just explore
It’s like opening up a new dimension’s door
To be so very far away from all of life’s concerns
Just one worry: make sure your skin doesn’t burn
Now that I found that place I feel I was born to stay
I just need to find some simple way
To say goodbye to all those I care so much for here
And return to the Islands that I hold so dear
December 13, 2015
The title above is a quote from an extremely hilarious Australian friend I showed our amazing West Edmonton Mall to. I thought this would be a good photo for today because it is an example of how Edmontonians deal with the extreme weather that this time of year starts to usher in. It can be very difficult for people living here at these times, partially because of something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a condition where the low sunlight hours actually causes a form of depression to set in that can be quite serious.
Depression is a topic very near to me, when I was just 17 I lost a friend to suicide who I believe must have suffered from it. Over the years I had serious problems with depression as well, but at first I didn’t understand that it was anything wrong. I always attributed it to something else and just lived with it, which could have been a very serious and even fatal mistake. I have a clear memory of going out on a date with a young woman I really liked and then finding out she had no interest in going out with me a second time and really wanting to end it all-over just one date. Fortunately as time passed and I had other problems, namely my psychosis that caused me to be hospitalized, my Doctors eventually realized that I had severe depressions as well. I was put on anti-depressants and they helped but it took time. I think the medication that has made the most difference in me to this date is Prozac.
Right now I am having another kind of difficulty that has to do with my illness and the medications I am on, I have an extreme need for sleep but often I have problems getting to sleep. I have found some herbal remedies that seem to be working well, including melatonin, skullcap and valerian (anyone with any questions or wanting more information about these please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org). I don’t know too much about the skullcap and valerian other than that when I take them in combination with each other, always being careful not to build up a tolerance to any one herbal remedy, they seem to work well. It seems sometimes it has been years since I had a full 8 hour sleep, but lately I have had a few of them.
Melatonin was approved for me by my Psychiatrist, I know that it is a naturally occurring sleep hormone and that it can be pretty powerful. What I have been finding is that if I take too much or take the melatonin too often, it doesn’t make me sleep, it makes me incredibly restless. The skullcap and valerian seem to help me get longer and more restful sleep but again if I take any of them every night the effects lessen greatly.
One of the problems I run into is that when I am working a lot or under a lot of pressure I need some serious time to decompress. This weekend I went to see a movie (Bridge of Spies–awesome film!!) with my Dad and slept fairly well when I got home but it has been a very hectic week. I woke up and had a bit of a stomach ache and so I took some gravol which put me right back to sleep again and I basically slept away all of Saturday, Saturday evening/Sunday morning and most of Sunday. I do feel pretty renewed now but I hate to think sometimes that I am wasting my life sleeping. I suppose it doesn’t just have to do with stress, but also the other medications I take, but everything plays a part. In lieu of a poem I am going to post a second photo below for everyone.