mental health awareness

Homelessness and The Mentally Ill

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Well, here I am in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and I have been having a great time.  I have spent a lot of my month here just decompressing from the stress I was experiencing in Edmonton.  I have a heart for homeless people, and I am under the strong belief that a lot of them are actually just untreated mentally ill people.  I recall one day while I wasn’t in the best head space myself being in downtown Vancouver and seeing a man with a tinfoil hat and instead of mocking him or giving him change or anything I just stopped and saluted him and he gave me a smile.  I also think though that there are some horrible people out there who understand how delusional thinking works and they say things to make you think your delusions are real.  Sadly I have done it myself, one time in a Psychiatric ward there was a woman who was always causing me grief.  One time she even came up to me and kissed me and said we had already been married.  Another time my Dad came to visit and she walked up to him and told him I was a bad person and that he should spank me.  I got back at her one day by telling her she had just been on TV and that she was going on a rocket ship to space because she had discovered a new planet.  For days she went around introducing herself as an astronaut, which seems a bit funny, but really is terribly cruel.  In Edmonton there was a young man I see a lot, he has red hair and he is homeless and a couple of times I have given him food or money and once I stopped to talk to him and found out that we had gone to the same junior high and had some of the same teachers.  He also told me that he suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  What is kind of scary I think is that I live in a group home that is very beneficial to my mental health and a lot better than any other group homes I have seen, but it is only set up to house 20 men while there are literally thousands out there who need places like this, many of them completely homeless.

I don’t know if I have discussed this much, but I kind of feel that addiction is a form of mental illness.  I was told during an interview I did for a volunteer radio station by one of Edmonton’s top Psychiatrists that a huge mistake people make is to see alcohol and marijuana as benign drugs.  I know my  brother went through hell because of his heavy pot use and that my Dad literally caused himself frontal lobe damage with years of drinking.  I have dodged these two bullets, but I came across something worse, a gambling addiction which nearly destroyed me.  All these things I should say go hand in hand with Bipolar/Manic Depression.  In the care and treatment of your illness, I strongly urge people on psychiatric medications of any kind to be completely abstinent and to be extremely careful about anything that can be addictive.  In a way, I have also had something many people would consider Obsessive Compulsive, namely that just about all through my life I have collected collections.  It began with stuffed animals, then moved to stamps then books, then GI Joe toys, then comic books and on and on up to right now when I still buy more books than I ever have time to read.  And the funny thing is that with a lot of strength and effort I have been able to overcome these addictions but I have to be very much on my guard because often another addiction will come around the corner at me.  I think one of the most important ways to stay psychologically (as opposed to medically, or in a psychiatric sense dealing with body chemistry and all that) is to have a support group, perhaps many of them.  Sometimes I count the people I meet some mornings at the swimming pool as a group but there are many more kinds, addiction support, writing groups and on and on.  These are great ways to make close friends outside the field of mental health treatment, though, as I had done through the schizophrenia society and a program called the Wellness Recovery Action Plan it never hurts to learn more about how to manage and cope with your mental health issue.

 

Homeless

I sit in loneliness hunger and pain
Facing a night out on the streets again
Walking for miles to where I hid my things
Waiting for the cold each night always brings

My thin bony legs ache and my feet are worn and raw
I think back to days when I would sit and dream and draw
I could have been an artist if I tried
But life all fell apart when my mom died

She was a sweet and loving woman and she cared
One night her boyfriend beat her and I got scared
I tried to stop him and he turned his wrath on me
That night my body was broken, my mom’s soul set free

I wish I could be with her on awful days like this
How she would always bring home a candy bar and a kiss
Now I get a bottle one way or another every night
And my inner will is slowly giving up the fight

In foster homes all they gave was more discipline
I learned to drink and hide my pain deep within
Soon the bottle was the only God I knew
I pray you won’t let this happen to you

If I could only have peace and space to draw like I once could
But that rotten jerk my mother loved took that away for good
I’m only in my forties but my joints all ache
I’ve lost every little thing anyone could take

I feel so worthless now I barely get through each day
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say
You can have a future if you make the proper choice
We all have inside of us a very special voice

Please don’t play the judge even when you see
A dirty smelly homeless guy like me
A lot of us have lost so much it’s just day to day
When you’re this far gone there is no other way

For those of you who practice and believe
There is a way to lighten my load and make you free
It was our Lord Jesus who spelled out how it should be
What you do for the least of my brothers you do for me

Leif Gregersen
August 24, 2015

Medications/Pills: The Tough Questions

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Hello Dear Readers!  Well, I thought I would tackle kind of a large problem for those of us who suffer from disorders that require Psychiatric meds and there is so much I can talk about.  I think that the first question that one should address is,when do you stop taking your pills?  When are side effects so bad that you really should go off of them.  I have so much to say about this I will dive right in.  I think the most simple answer to this question is, you can go off your pills when your Doctor says you can.  Back in 2001, before 9/11 happened and changed the world, I was on about 1000mg of Depekane a day and I was living on my own.  Most people will see the recipe for disaster right there: I was living alone.  You see, I had heard about an apartment that was very small and also very cheap and in a not too bad building.  About this time, I had somehow decided that going to the Psychiatrist was a waste of my time.  This was another serious mistake.  Now, things didn’t happen overnight, I was taking my medications every day but in the process of living in this very tiny, very dirty place with no human contact, I came to decide that I could lower (not stop, but just lower) the dose of my Depekane because it was making me drowsy among other things.  I cut the medication in half, but that was enough to cause the worst mishap of my life which nearly killed me.  I slowly began to get ideas in my head that I owned the buildings in the complex I lived in, I stopped eating almost completely, and went into serious serious depressions where I would cry out loud at things on the TV.  Life had gone from being comfortable with lots of friends to being almost completely unbearable in a short period of time and unluckily enough I had a good credit rating at the time and kept getting more.  I spent mounds of money and eventually ended up in the hospital with no means to pay them off.  But I will stop there, I have likely told this story before and it can also be found in greater and better detail in my book, “Inching Back To Sane”.  The  fact was that I had made some serious mistakes that led to worse and worse things.

I think one of the key aspects of my recovery over the past few years is that I have not lived alone.  By the grace of God, I was let into a very positive group home where I am fed regularly, my health and mental well-being is monitored, I get my medications every day and they throw a kniption fit if I miss a Psychiatrist or Pharmacist appointment.  Living there now for just about 14 years I have seen a lot of guys fail, and it seems just about every time it has to do with properly taking medications and dealing with the side effects of this.  There was this one guy, who was an addict and alcoholic who saw it as a badge of honor to get his Doctor to lower his anti-psychotic.  Then not long after as a result of his alcohol abuse he had to go back in the hospital for a long time.  I went to visit him a couple of times and it seemed so awful that he had to go through all that because when I saw him after his hospital visit, he had gotten no further along than he had been.  Hopefully he was wiser about taking his meds.

I want to mention something about medications.  There is a funny rule that applies a lot of the time, and that is that the longer you stay on medications, the more likely it is that they will work properly for you and that you will adjust to the side effects.  I want to use an extreme example.  I tried Lithium, and it made my hands shake so bad I went off of it.  I got sick.  I tried Tegratol and it made me exceedingly restless and I petitioned my Doctor to put me on something else, the drug I take now for a mood stabilizer, Depekene.  This drug works, but it causes extreme diarrhea.  This is something very hard to deal with, but the fact that now my hands don’t shake and that I can have my concentration back is extremely important to me, so what I do is manage the side effect as best as I can.  If I have to work, I take pills.  If I am going out I make sure I go to the bathroom beforehand and I make sure that I go before I leave a place that has a bathroom for a place that doesn’t.  Having the runs is now a fact of my life, but I haven’t let it ruin me, but I do have to accept that I need my pills, and I need to take precautions so I can live a normal life.  One has to accept that things may get difficult, but stopping medication you need is no option.  I hope this blog is helpful to those who read it, I think a lot of it applies to people who don’t even have a mental illness, because sooner or later if you reach a certain age, you have to get used to facts that aren’t the most convenient.  Some of them can be just as difficult as the problem I was just talking about.  There may be men who can’t get erections, some as a result of meds, some just as a result of getting older and even some because of poor diet or exercise.  The fact is that you need to own your diagnosis, be prepared to live with it and do what needs to be done.  I know from personal experience that it is very hard to go to a Doctor and talk about erections, but sex is something just about essential to a healthy life.  If you can’t be honest with your Doctor though, he can’t help you and you need to find new strategies or a new Doctor.  I found the best advice I have gotten about seeing a Doctor is, if you aren’t up to talking and have things you need to say, write a note and give it directly to your Doctor when you visit.  You can even mail a letter if you find yourself to be a better writer than you are a talker.  With that I will leave you Dear Readers with best wishes for a wonderful day.

 

As Hard As Things May Seem

Sometimes I find it hard to face each new day
But I have to work, I need my pay
And my best shot at happiness will not knock on my door
That’s what pounding the street and making your own way is for

My bed is soft and warm; the world outside is hard and cruel
On days like this I wish I could have stayed in school
But above all my whining I have to say
If I get up I may see her today

Have I not told you of the perfect love I met
She has such a lovely face no one could forget
She has a smile that radiates a glow
Each day my love for her continues to grow

My job makes sense to me when I think of her eyes
And her golden flowing curls all perfect like the sunrise
She gives me so much joy when I can see
The myriad of things she could do and be

She’s lovely, wonderful and she cares so much
So full of love she could heal the blind with just a touch
She fills my whole heart with love and peace
My sister’s daughter, my love, my niece

No matter how much life may beat me down
For her I can get up and take on another round
She is a new creation, but still my own flesh and bone
And because she came to Earth I can face the cruel and the unknown

I suppose I would like one day to have my own child
But there is no way to compare my niece’s smile
To anyone else on Earth or heaven above
She’s my favorite girl, my first experience with perfect love

Leif Gregersen
August 11, 2015

The Question of Goals, The Question of Dreams

143This is an incredible scene from Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park, one of my favorite places on Earth

     Well, I am really fond of quoting a study done on a bunch of Harvard graduates a while back.  They took a graduating class and asked them how many of them had clear, written goals as to where they saw themselves going and what they saw themselves doing and only 3% of them actually had them (please don’t quote me, I am only estimating, it is a while since I read the actual study).  They went back to these students a number of years later, and they found that regardless of whether or not the people had stuck to their plan, the 3% group had made more money than the entire rest of their graduating class.  Lesson?  Know where you are going, be a planner!

But how does that apply to mental health?  In some key ways it applies, especially if you have become part of the growing movement in the WRAP or Wellness Recovery Action Plan course.  I took the course and tried to get everything out of it I could.  I attended every session, which was my main goal at the start of the course and as a result I now have a written plan as to what to do if I get sick, what some of the things are that could make me sick again, and warning signs and much more.  For those that are interested, there is actually a ‘wrap app’ for most smartphones where you can plug in all of these things and come up with a plan to improve your life that applies across many situations.

There is still another thing though, what does planning have to do with someone who suffers, who can’t work.  Well, you could write down a goal as something like I did which was to find a decent part-time job.  As a note here, I strongly recommend that anyone who does get a job that has a mental health issue should be as honest as possible to their employer about it and also try and get a union job.  I am in a union that does so much for me.  I can turn down work if I don’t feel up to it, I have the option of cancelling shifts if I am sick or for no reason if it is 24 hours before, and I am paid well and treated well.  This isn’t the end of the story though, there are many jobs out there that are non-union that can be just as good as mine.  I think the important thing is to try and move towards some kind of employment, staying at home and doing little than posting to forums and chatting on Facebook can be very detrimental to one’s mental health, especially if you are not maintaining a proper sleep schedule.

So, basically, the first goal is to try and get yourself ready to be employed.  There are a number of things that can get you started, but I think the first thing you need is a reason to be employed.  Myself I wanted the extra money and when I had saved enough I bought a laptop and I also took a trip to visit my sister on the other side of the country.  I did this in two stages, one stage was where I simply tried to sleep while the sun was down and stay awake while the sun was up, and then the second stage was that I needed to get physically fit for a job.  I happen to live in a city where bus passes and gym memberships to city facilities are greatly subsidized though I used neither of these things at first, I simply rode my bike as much as I could, and this was something that did me a world of good.  If I hadn’t gotten into good shape I would have never been able to hold down the job I have had for 7 years which has put a lot of money in my pocket.

So baby steps, goals, plans.  They all have their place.  I can’t even begin to describe the mess my life was in when I was back in my 20’s, but a strong commitment to taking my medications, listening to my Doctors, honoring the wishes of my parents to get well and a number of other things came together and a miracle happened.  I have a life now when there was a time when I felt my life had ended.  Try this.  Try sitting down and writing out all the things you want in life.  Do you want a motorcycle?  Write it down.  Do you want a violin and lessons to get back up to snuff?  It might be a great investment if you are good enough to busk in the streets or play for parties or even fancy restaurants.  Write it down!  There really is no limits, this is your mind having fun.  Then, when you have written it down, make a plan.  It may take ten years, it may take two months, but until you figure it out you will be a lot less likely to follow through.  And I want to mention something for the younger people who may read this blog.  A wonderful fact about life is that as you get older, even if you get the same money you will get more money.  How?  Maybe you will be able to quit smoking and put $5 to $10 more in your pocket each and every day.  Maybe you will strengthen your legs and learn the joy of walking and save on taxi fares or learn how to discipline yourself not to eat in restaurants but to prepare your own food.  And another factor that comes into play is that as you get older more jobs will come your way, especially if you are able to overcome depression (perhaps through newer meds, or trying different ones) or other illnesses that can often make you feel like you don’t care about being a good worker.  Anyhow, I hope this leaves my readers with a sense that they have learned something.  Please don’t be afraid to comment and as usual, don’t forget to scroll down for today’s poem which is meant to be themed to this post.  All the best Dear Readers, and if you like my blog posts, please support my efforts to bring them to you and purchase a paperback or eBook of my writing from the ‘purchase books’ link above.

A Beautiful Soul, Loving and True

Does your soul long for things grander than the sky
You know, you can have those things if you really try
I have had many hopes and dreams that I held close
Wonderful things, only those I wanted the most

When I think of these things I see my perfect wife
A spacious home, beautiful car, all that’s good in life
I may never have all that I so deeply desire
But these goals keep my heart on fire

I never understood why some aim low
Never let their dreaming mind thrive and glow
Our time here is so short and it is a beautiful place
So why not run as though to win the race

Just ask your inner mind how you can earn it all
Give yourself a reason to get up each time you fall
Write down on paper all you want to have and be
You can have it all, this land is strong and free

I just want to ask if you do end up with more
Look back behind and hold open the door
There will be someone wanting to get through
Please remember someone held the door for you

We all must share the gifts that life lays at our feet
And when you do this people will say you are kind and sweet
Then who knows perhaps your future mate will see in you
Your beautiful soul, loving and true

Leif Gregersen
August 10, 2015