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:
A Lovely Shot of the River Valley, Shortly Before the Snow Came
Well, this was a happy time when I could wander far and wide in Edmonton. One of my favourite newer hobbies is to take ridiculously long walks to keep my thoughts clear and my lungs pumping good oxygen. Just about anyone who knows me well enough will have heard of how my kind old father helped me to recover from a severe bout with mental illness by taking me into this same River Valley each day and going for a long walk with me. My Dad and I still both walk a lot, but since now neither of us has a car we mostly walk on our own. I am a firm believer that if you do some light exercise each day it is good for mind, body and soul.
It is pretty much midwinter now and the temperature in Edmonton often drops below minus 20. That doesn’t bother me too much, I can dress for the cold, but what does scare me a bit is falling. A close friend fell and hit her chin and needed stitches and also had a concussion. Falls on the winter ice here can lead to all kinds of injuries. So far I have been very lucky. As a quick bit of trivia, I should state that there is much less chance of slipping on ice when it is very cold, because what causes slips is moisture on the ice. If anyone has been ice skating, the reason skates slide so well is because when they are sharp, they dig into the ice and cause a thin layer of moisture to be created.
So, these past few days have been a bit difficult for me. I should remind everyone, especially this time of the year (in the northern hemisphere) that our low sunlight hours can cause a depression on their own, something known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I was down in the dumps this past week because I got word that a manuscript I submitted to a publisher was declined. For a while I really felt like all of my efforts have been in vain and that I would never see any kind of success as a writer. Then my bestselling author and film producer friend came over and we worked out a plan to rework the manuscript and find another publisher. I also found an email I had been sent about the same manuscript that said it was very good in many ways but needed a couple of things tweaked. I feel a lot better now and have tried to fill the time I would otherwise have been moping with active work writing an promoting my writing. More and more I am thinking I need to focus on making a name for myself over even paying the immediate bills I am responsible for. I can already afford the bills if I am careful, and if I can get my name out there eventually the money will come.
The other point I wanted to make to you, my dear readers, is that when you are down or when you are lonely and nothing seems to be going right (this is starting to sound like the lyrics to a “Doors” song, I apologize) the best thing you can do is force yourself just to do one little thing. For me it may be reading a short story or picking up a book of poetry. It may involve writing an email to an old friend you miss, some kind of creative or enriching thing. When you start to feel better, do two things, and soon you will have accomplished something. Reading your short stories could add up to having become an expert on the genre. Writing emails could give you many caring friends who you can talk to through your depressions. It’s not always easy, but it always works (so I have found). With that Dear Readers, I bid you a fond farewell. And for Edmontonians, don’t forget to get your free library card and check my books out of the Edmonton or St.Albert libraries. Soon to be also coming to Vancouver Public Library. All the best!
All I can do is marvel at animals that are capable of flight, the one thing in the world I have found makes me the most happy and energized
Scroll down past today’s poem for today’s blog entry
By: Leif Gregersen
As the days slip by so fast
It often seems that nothing lasts
Not our love or our generation’s song
Our time to rejoice and play is gone
If things only lasted long enough for me to feel
That the loves I once had were real
Just as real as all the days
Sadness came to me in waves
I have regrets that my only way to cope and deal
With my pain was to take a pill and just not feel
Feel either good or bad just dead
But not trapped inside my own head
When I was not quite yet a man
From commitments I always ran
Not understanding how love grows like a flower
Gaining beauty, gaining power
I wanted so badly to be free
I masked and hid the love inside of me
Now I’m both lonely and alone
Never quite feeling like I have a home
Deny it, but I say we still can have a chance
As long as there is one more dance
Though I think you understand the fact
Time is slipping by for us to act
There is also one thing I wish you knew
I hate myself for hurting you
I also think something else is true
You get sad and lonely too
So take my hand and come with me
Knowing that love still can set us free
November 14, 2017
Good day dear readers! I have been so encouraged by the increasing support and exposure I am getting for my blog that I have decided to do more entries than I usually do. Either that or I have found that working on this blog is one of the best cures for insomnia I have this side of sleeping pills.
Perhaps the whole idea of sleeping pills is a good issue to discuss today. For the past four days I haven’t taken anything to get me to sleep and I feel better for it, but not 100% yet. I should tell some of the back story, I have a lot of commitments from working for the Schizophrenia society to teaching creative writing and other things and I really need to be rested to do these things well. Lately I have been trying a few different sleep aids to help with this and they seem to do more harm than good. I thought maybe if I talked about them here that people would be able to avoid some of the pitfalls. To start with, I have my Psychiatrist’s approval to use melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that can help balance out a person’s sleeping habits. It has some funny effects though, one of them is that if you (or at least in my case I have, I am sure other people have had different experiences) take it for a while and start to tolerate it, the pills can do something much worse than help you sleep, they can cause extreme restlessness that amounts to a type of seizure of legs and back muscles/bones. It is a very disturbing experience, one I have only ever before had in the psychiatric hospital when injected with a serious tranquilizer because I was “bad”. I still take melatonin now and then, but I am very careful about how frequently I use it. The other problem I have found with it is that it can make you very drowsy the next day and leave you with a desire to sleep a very long time.
The next pill I sometimes take for sleep is one that is called clonazepam or rivotril. I take it in the 0.5 mg orange pill. It looks a lot like the average gravol tablet and is very powerful. It is a tranquilizer along the lines of valium, but without some of valium’s more serious side effects. This is a prescribed medication and I am only given a few every couple of weeks which I use sparingly. This pill seems to be highly addictive because when I take it I feel very relaxed and soon drift off to sleep and feel better for the next day, but if I don’t take it for a few days I start to get edgy.
Those are the major ones. There is a pill called imovane, a blue little football shaped pill that I suggest people avoid. It is extremely addictive. I also want to warn people that sleeping pills in just about any form I have encountered them end up being a crutch and can seriously affect a person’s memory. Time and time again I have found that the best sleep aid is to get out and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. In my own daily routine, if there isn’t something for me to do that requires a long walk, I think of something. I seem to always be able to find a reason to get out of the house like walking to the warehouse grocery store a few miles away or walking to the post office. I used to like to bring and iPod with me when I did this, but lately I have just enjoyed walking as a form of meditation. I have to say that in the past short while I have been getting a bit lax about my walks and exercise in general and I have felt much worse as a result, physically and mentally.
The final thing I wanted to mention today was that if you find yourself sleeping days and staying up nights, there is a cure, which can only really be done in the summer. You need three weeks and not much else. What you do is go out camping, leave behind all of your electronics and get up with the sun each day. In three weeks your biological clock will naturally reset itself.
Best wishes dear readers!
Since they were so popular, I thought I would put links to my two television appearances at the start of this blog:
So, I thought I would talk a little about something that maybe doesn’t get a lot of attention but I feel can be extremely important in the lives of a person with a mental illness. I don’t know if anyone has read my book “Through the Withering Storm” but in it I discuss being a teenager and going through a series of humiliations and negative events that still to this day bother me. One of the things I recall the most was growing up in a house with secrets. It was a secret that my Mom had a mental illness, it was a secret that my Dad drank quite a bit. It was a secret that my Dad and I fought all the time. It scared me a lot that any of these secrets would come out to the public. None of them ever really did, but I think sometimes that living in that way, inundated with traumatizing events warped me as a youngster. But that wasn’t all. As I first became mentally ill during my teen years, I did a lot of things that I am extremely ashamed of, so ashamed that sometimes my memories can almost paralyze me. For example, there was a time when I was very out of it when I thought I was being told to get in a car with some strange people and I must have scared the hell out of the young girl I sat next to. Once I realized what was happening, I had enough sense to leave the vehicle, but I can’t imagine the fear I must have put this young woman through.
I could dwell on things I did when I was mentally ill all day, but I would rather try and offer my readers some kind of solution to thoughts like this. I am reminded of when I was 17 and there weren’t a lot of ways out there to quit smoking. Smoking wasn’t nearly as taboo as it is now but I wanted to quit. I decided I needed to train my mind to resist the power of smoking. I figured that if I could somehow make myself think of something that moved me more than smoking did, I would be able to quit. Basically what I did was, whenever I had a strong urge to smoke a cigarette, I would instead think about an attractive girl I went to school with and the images of her beauty took over (this specific example may only work for teenagers!) Now, later in life when I want to clear my head of negative thoughts, I have found a somewhat similar but very effective method of quelling thoughts about my past that are extremely negative and even debilitating. I have learned to meditate. It may seem funny that one would have to learn something like that, but there is a lot of learning an effort one must put into meditating to be able to clear their minds and also be able to control their thoughts when they are not meditating. I started out doing a lot of reading on the subject, which will only take you so far. Then I went to an actual Tibetan Monk in Edmonton and studied under him for a few months.
If I were to just cut things down to basics, Meditation is about trying to clear your mind, to declutter your thought process, which you train yourself to do, and to focus on something like your breathing to keep yourself centred. I have a virtual reality headset that I bought a meditation app for and it is amazing. You choose the relaxing setting and what type of meditation you want (I always choose Zen Meditation) and a narrator will talk you through a session of clearing your mind, breathing, focusing your thoughts. I even have an app on my watch that I often use to meditate for five minutes or so when it is convenient. When you can learn to control your thoughts, declutter your mind, you will be able to set aside negative thoughts and memories quite easily. I will try and write more on this topic in the next little while, for now, thanks for making yesterday a new record of views and all the best to you my dear readers!
Hello Dear Readers! Well, I didn’t really want to allow this to turn into shameless self-promotion, but then I was thinking that there really are some people out there who could be helped by this book I have written. It is a memoir, 200 pages and is available at amazon.com or for order at any Canadian Chapters, Coles or Indigo book store. The book began when I was just 20 (I am 44 now.) I basically wanted to sit down and teach myself to become a writer and I figured the best way I could do this would be to first write about myself, because people are more comfortable talking about themselves. When I speak of this it makes me think of advice I got in dating from my older brother to let women talk about themselves no matter how disinterested you may be. So anyhow, I started to write this book in short stories and it changed and morphed a lot over the years. The first one to read the early drafts were my sister and my close friend Caroline. After writing for a long time I had some copies printed up on an old copier and gave one of these to Caroline. If I hadn’t done that, and if she hadn’t saved the papers for many years like she did, this book may not only not exist, I might not even be a writer. One day years later, after I had long given up hope of being published, Caroline gave me the photocopied pages and I started all over again. Another female friend a few years after that knew an editor and after having the book gone over at no small expense, it was ready to be published. I had a hard time finding a publisher so I self-published and slowly over even more time more and more people became interested in my story and I sold quite a few copies.
The point of the book though is that it tells my story of how I started out as a young overachiever and slowly started to descend into madness. It tells of me being 14 and being sent to a psychiatric ward and how difficult those times were for me. It tells of the years before I was finally hospitalized and how I went through so many depressions and difficult times that only seemed to be relieved when I was under the influence of alcohol. But then, after some very horrid experiences in the mental hospital here, I finally came to an acceptance of my illness and as a result started to really get better. One of the things I am very proud of is that this book has been read and reviewed by many people, in fact if you look at the paperback page (link provided) you will see that one of the people who reviewed it is a professional, well-known psychologist (Stephanie Sorrel) who gave it a perfect rating.
I feel this book really can help people with bipolar disorder and other conditions because it is a true life, personal experience, and though not perfect throughout, it can help those who suffer to see that they are not alone and that there is hope. I have also sold a good number of books to mental health professionals.
Anyhow, I just wanted to allow people to have a look at what I do for a living and have the chance to participate in my efforts to educate people about illness, reduce stigma and promote wellness. Anyone who has difficulty finding a book or can’t afford one, I will definitely consider giving a free copy to them, though possibly it might be a computer file that they can either print up or read on their computer. Please contact me at email@example.com and let me know what you think. And for those who have read the book, it would be great if you could review it on amazon.com for me. Have a great day, I think I will be posting a book information blog like this once a week for a little while to see if it sparks online sales. Best!
Hello Dear readers! I am a bit excited today because so many great things have been happening in my life and in my career as a writer. To start with, I have had my blog and my books approved to be a part of the ‘Mental Health Writer’s Guild’ which I am hoping will allow me to reach a greater audience with my writing. I don’t have a poem today, I am going to take a short break from writing poetry because I have just put out a brand new book titled, ‘Poetry of Love Life and Hope’ and it was a bit exhausting. Anyone interested in a copy can order it from amazon.com. I should note that I have taken my eBooks off amazon.com because I felt they just weren’t getting the exposure they deserved. I have set up one book on smashwords.com (Inching Back To Sane) and made it available for just about every platform for just $3.25.
I wanted to share a bit about what has been going on with my writing. I have been doing so much. I owe a lot of the great things that have been happening to two people, my Dad and my good friend Richard Van Camp. They have been helping me, supporting me and working towards my betterment as a writer now for some time. I also have to admit I have been doing a fair bit of work on things as well. I got the news yesterday that I have been approved to take a special course to become a facilitator for a Wellness Recovery Action Plan group. I am very excited about this as it will pay a little and teach me a lot. I will be teaching people how to become more aware of themselves so they can write out a detailed plan to manage illness or addictions.
It doesn’t stop there by any means though, I have so many great things happening in my life I can barely list them all. For any writers out there I wanted to tell you a bit about this new program ‘Grammarly’ that they may have seen in commercials. It is an abosultely amazing program that is a revolution in editing software. It doesn’t just catch the odd spelling mistake, it checks punctuation, grammar, dangling particples, active or passive voice, it is a dream come true and the same night I went and looked at what it could do I purchased a full year’s membership. If there are any die-hard writers out there who are curious, I suggest they try out the free version of the software, and then possibly look at getting a one month membership and I am sure they will be very impressed. I honestly think this program is going to take my writing to a whole new level and save me a lot of money on editors.
Along with all of that I have been working as a journalist on two mental health magazines. It is pretty amazing because I love writing this blog and helping people with mental health issues and now I am able to do the same work and get paid a little for it. I am not just tooting my own horn though, I want people to understand that if they set a dream and a plan down on paper, then work towards it even just a little each day, there is no telling where that dream can take you. Some of the things you have to do is network, plan, save and invest to make your plans feasible, pay attention to your mental and physical needs, work hard towards controlling things like addictions, food, gambling and other vices, and then if you really want to have a happy life, I think it can be so important to have a spiritual outlet. I attend a Catholic Church but I also read books by the Dalai Lama and meditate. I also have many wonderful friends who have seen a generosity and stability in me that have made them want to help me and stay by my side. Things were defintely not like this forever. 15 years ago I was very mentally ill and my life seemed to be over. I had lost my best friends and my finances were a mess. To top off all of that I think in a certain way I didn’t like myself at all. Slowly, day by day, bit by bit I worked myself up and out and I know that anyone who reads these blogs can do it themselves as well. There is so much beauty and joy to be had. I don’t think I know all of the answers, but some of it can come down to going for a half hour walk every day, having a hobby you enjoy, having a pet–some little creature that couldn’t get by without you that gives you unconditional love. Planning, setting goals and challenging yourself to do just a little better, do a little more each day. Medications can be very hard to deal with, but two things happen over time: your body adapts to meds and you learn little tricks to deal with things like side effects. And of course, there is the amazing fact that medications just keep getting better.
Well Dear Readers, I hate to leave you in the middle of a talk like that, but the hour is late and I have go work very soon. As always, anyone is free to write to me or to comment, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to hear from you!
Well, here is an example of what you can do with a 300mm lens on a new Nikon camera. I was able to get this shot from about 30 feet away. I have a couple of other photos that came out a bit clearer, but I liked this one for some reason. My Dad has a wall full of bird photos he printed up, he even has a bald eagle and all kinds of rare birds. It makes me sad to think of all the innocent and beautiful little birds I killed simply for sport when I was younger. I always felt that it was one thing to kill an animal and another thing to waste it’s body and essence for lack of a better word.
Regardless, it is a new day and I am finding the words told to me about being a writer are very true… you really have to have a thick skin and a lot of patience. I have been expecting a cheque for some time from a magazine and another from a bookstore that has sold a few of my books and nothing seems to be coming. On the lighter side though, I had an old friend from school come by yesterday and buy one of my books and he also took me for coffee and it was really great to reminisce and hear what he’s been up to. He also has written a book which I stayed up late last night reading. I was in a part of it, it was from a time when a bunch of us went in his mom’s car to a drive-in movie and this really cute girl and I got in the trunk to save the gate admission. What I didn’t know was that he expected me to make a move on her while I was in there and thought for all this time that I had. I actually didn’t want to do anything ungentlemanly not only because I was that type of guy, but also because her 6’4″ boyfriend was with us. I remember her well though, her name was Stephanie and she was beautiful, gorgeous. If I had thought I had stood any kind of chance with her I would have gone for it (with the help of a few beers). But that all was almost 30 years ago. Sure is good to reunite with old friends, thanks Facebook!
In other news, as I am trying to make this a bit more of a blog about mental health, I should mention that I have been struggling to keep my weight down for some time now. I got word from a very nice young woman I work with about a drug called Lamotragene or Topomax. I saw my Psychiatrist the other day and asked him about it and he agreed that I should do something about the weight and that we could try this drug. It seemed great at first, my craving for food greatly diminished, but I found that I was very tired even though I was only on a very small dose, so I decided the best thing I could do would be to stop the medication. It also gave me an odd, very difficult to describe feeling. I didn’t seem to have too many physical symptoms, but I just felt really ‘dumbed down’ like I had a cold and was taking cold pills or something. I can’t really say if these effects would have lessened if I stayed on the pill for a while, I just know that with the job I have, feeling that way can be dangerous.
As far as my job goes, I got to work a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert the other day which was pretty amazing. I didn’t get to see much of the show but it felt so great to be a part of setting up something like that. I think that if I ever did permanently move on from this job I would really miss it. The money is nice of course, it is what allows me to print and distribute my books right now, but sometimes I get a chance to work with some really great people. As some may know, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s band lost 3 members in the 1970’s in a plane crash and there is kind of a ritual that everyone on the crew observes. There is a road case (a big box for show equipment with wheels that is sturdy enough to transport in a semi truck) that belonged to one of the original band members and they have used it all this time, always giving it the highest respect and never putting anything on top of it or letting it get damaged. I also got to put the brass eagle on the band’s piano and fly the Alabama and US flags as two of the curtains for the show. I feel very privileged to be a part of such cool rock and roll history. Very difficult and stressful job though sometimes, but I have the odd show that I really enjoy and the other night was definitely one of them.
I wish I could impart some piece of wisdom, something in me that could help others who may be out there struggling with a mental illness. In all despite that I have had some pretty rough times, even extended rough times, I somehow got through all of them and now I see myself as a very lucky dude. If anyone is out there and hurting or needing help, I hope they can find a way to talk, to get their pain out. I myself held it in and never wanted to admit that I had a mental health issue (which is common) even when my life was at risk because of my denial. The first step is to find a family Doctor, and talk openly with them. It scares me to think that so many people out there in the world in poor countries or remote places have no hope of overcoming their illness because there are simply very few or no Doctors and even less Psychiatrists or treatment. Once again I would like to offer my email to anyone who wants to ask questions or needs help, no matter where they are from. Just email: email@example.com and I will do all I can.
Leif has published two new books! Mustang Summer: Stories Tall and Short is his latest collection of short stories, while Inching Back to Sane: My years with Bipolar picks up where his last memoir left off. You can get more information about both books on the Books page.
Also, read a write-up about Leif and his two new books in The Boyle-McCauley News