mental health

Hygiene and Mental Illness

The topic of hygiene covers a lot of ground. I wanted to talk about this subject today because I often struggle to keep myself as clean as I like to be while many people tell me I am even cleaner than they are. I know of many cases of people who go for a long time without showering or brushing their teeth and the sad thing is that they pay for this luxury in friendships, job opportunities, and general social interactions. Not too long ago, I was having medication problems and I was experiencing severe paranoia. I believed that people around me thought I stank and that it was so bad they wouldn’t sit near me and they would make jokes and comments. This is yet another aspect of the same issue that plagues people with mental health issues. I can recall being younger and if I was lucky I would take a bath about once a week. Add to the fact that my clothes didn’t get washed often and you have a real problem. In a way, I was afraid of water and taking my clothes off. It may have had to do with the fact that I live in Edmonton where it regularly dips below minus 40 in the winter, but I think there was an actual fear of exposing myself. I had always loved swimming though. Now, thanks to a benevolent government in our city, I am able to get a pass that allows me full access to city swimming pools and gymnasiums. If I am able to swim that is a day I can go without having to shower as they provide hair and body soap for showering before and after a swim. And then, there are times when a shower really does help me get through certain things, like when I am waiting for a long time to do something like meet a friend or get to an appointment. One of the best things about showering I think is that it can be replenishing, refreshing, and even change how you look at the world. Often, when I write a short story, I will go and have a shower so that I can come back and look at the piece from a different point of view after not thinking about it for a while. The benefits of swimming are numerous. If you have ever had a sports injury, swimming is often the best way to exercise with a very low impact on things like joints and knees and ankles and such. It also burns a lot of calories because it exercises many muscles you don’t normally bother with in some workouts like walking or cycling.

One of the things I do to motivate myself to continue my hygiene habits is to try and make them as simple and as enjoyable as possible. I don’t spend too much time in the shower and I no longer take the time to have a bath and have to fill and drain and clean the tub. I jump in the shower, scrub and shampoo and jump out. Then I shave, put on deodorant and quickly brush and floss and use mouthwash and brush my hair. Once you get used to it, it can take under 20 minutes. What I like about it is that I am much more able to feel comfortable around others when I am clean.

Of course, that isn’t the answer for everyone. I had heard of a young man who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. For some time he didn’t shave and grew a long beard, as well as had a hard time showering. His caregivers were told that the important thing to do was to take all pressure off of him, and eventually he went back to taking better care of himself. There is another factor that the “one in five” who have a mental illness of one type or another often need to take medications which causes dry mouth. Fifteen years ago I had no cavities. I was put on medication that caused dry mouth and now I have no more molars. I have just two good chewing teeth (pre-molars) left to eat with and am putting off getting dentures for as long as I possibly can.

Of course there is also the factor that regardless of the mental illness you are diagnosed with, you can experience depression. I can’t offer any advice for this, and I don’t suggest that even people with lived experience give any advice because I am not (and they are not) psychiatrists. It is so important to be totally honest with your psychiatrist, and if they aren’t helping you, you need to discuss this with another person in the field who can tell you if you might be better off with a Doctor who listens more and is more compassionate. This depression can make you simply not care if your teeth or clothes or body are clean. In this case, forcing yourself to shower and all that may not be the priority, getting your sadness dealt with should be.

Self improvement, which I feel is a cornerstone of recovery from a mental illness, and also something that everyone can benefit from, can take years of work. I can remember in my younger days, for want of a better term, my feet smelled really bad. I dreaded the prospect of being invited into a nice house where you had to remove your shoes and often didn’t in my parent’s home. Years later I learned that you can put anti fungal cream on your feet which is also known as athlete’s foot (and also works well on jock itch) and the smell will completely go away (at least until you walk around in a locker room in bare feet anyway). This changed my whole life, and is a perfect example of how much a person can suffer if they are not open and honest, and fully disclose any issues they have to a Doctor. Well my friends, that is all I have for now. I wish everyone a Happy Easter and the summer of your lives. For those of you who are approaching middle age, I just want to tell you that life only gets better as time passes. Ciao!

The Power of Comparisons To All, But Especially The Mentally Ill

Almost hard to believe this is a single family home, one of the more famous mansions in Edmonton. I often wonder what type of people live in a place like this, and if they are happy. An interesting thing in life is that, at least in my experience, no matter what you may own or what you may have it has little to do with happiness. I am in the fortunate position to have the computer I need to do my writing and a large screen TV to play some of my many video games on. I can focus on what I have, and strive to do better and have more, but the fact is that happiness is almost a chemical reality, something that can be determined by things such as your chemical makeup (brain especially) and even your outlook on life. I am fond of discussing how when I was younger I had no idea what a bagel was. I worked at a donut shop and would serve many people bagels of all kinds. Finally I broke down (and I now love bagels but can’t eat them because of diabetes) and ate a bagel and I recall thinking “This is the worst tasting donut I have ever eaten!” Seems funny now, but it betrays an interesting truth: our expectations and former experiences guide us to appreciate things or react in any of the numerous ways a person can. Me, having been to London and seeing places like Buckingham Palace and the private library of an 18th century King, this mansion looks a bit dinky to me. But if I were to own it I might react in many ways, I might think it was too much space, too wasteful of resources. Or I could be extremely happy that I have a place for my books and a room for friends and a garden I can sit in during the summer. I can actually speak from some experience because I once lived at a friend’s house that was huge. It had 5 bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens. My roommate and I each had space for our own office and there was a garage at the back and front of the house. The reality though was that I was miserable. There is so much more to a home and so much more to happiness than square feet. I could cite some reasons why I was miserable in this incredible place, one of them was that it was far away from where I liked to be. There were no nightclubs for people my age, I couldn’t find a good used bookstore nearby or arcade. There was no library. And then there were the factors that really make a home a home, I felt like I was in a massive tomb walking around like a ghost. As mentioned I had a roommate, but he spent so much time watching hockey or playing hockey video games I had no connection to him. He was an incredibly nice guy but I desperately wanted someone to talk to and do things with. I ended up desperately seeking girlfriends and going to dive bars and ended up not only drinking but gambling as well, two things that I absolutely should never do with the mental condition I have.

The story does work out. I moved into an apartment on my own and was able to hold onto a pretty good job for a couple of years. I reconnected with some old friends. I also got put on a drug many people know about, Prozac, which was extremely effective for me. And on top of that I bought a car that was older but in perfect shape for just $75.00. Things could have been better, and I admit, I did eventually get complacent and slipped back into psychosis, but at the time I compared my life to some of the harsher times when there were many people taking advantage of me and when I didn’t have a job or many friends. Having friends is another thing that seems to be so essential. I think now, and for the past couple of years (not counting some time when I had a bad reaction to some medication) I have been having the best time of my life because I have some genuine friends, one who is an incredible young woman who speaks four languages, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, as well as a master’s degree and a fantastic job. The other is a guy who is a best selling writer and he is such a great guy he seems to only have interest in helping me move my career as a writer forward. I wish I knew how such amazing opportunities came to me, many of them were random, one in a million chances. If I were still a smoker I don’t think my writer friend would be able to get along that well with me. If I wasn’t a writer who loves philosophy I don’t think the woman with the black belt would have found enough merit in me to let me into her already busy life. Perhaps it came down to what a dear friend at the group home I used to live in told me, when I explained the hours I worked and what I was doing to improve as a writer, as well as doing actual writing, he said, “God will reward you for your hard work.” and it really seems to have come true.

Just as a quick final note, I think on top of friends and a community you feel like you are a part of, for those of us who have mental health issues, it could perhaps be even more important that we maintain diligence with regards to self care and mental health. That means eating right, sleeping enough at the right times, taking medications on time, and of course, being honest with your Doctor. Please reach out or comment if you wanted to say hello or comment.

viking3082000@yahoo.com

The Way I Deal With Obsessive and Addictive Behaviours Along With My Psychosis

(Blog after photo)

This is another of the beautiful buildings in Edmonton, Canada Place. During construction I worked in this ornate structure with my Dad, painting numbers on stairwells in at least six fifteen storey stairwells. I had two other jobs plus full-time school at the time.

So, I can’t really tell you if I have an obsessive compulsive disorder. I do know that I often feel compelled to do funny things. As a child it may be touching every light pole as I walked past it, then it festered and grew to not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. Soon I began to do increasingly odd things. Comic books seemed harmless until I hoarded and amassed thousands and protected them as though my life depended on them. Before that it was stamps, after that it was military clothing. At fourteen I ended up in psychiatric care and was given medication but no diagnosis. On leaving, though I would often dress up in camouflage or even military work uniforms around the house, I stopped doing it when I went to school. That was the age of alcohol and arcades, cigarettes and all-night sessions in front of the TV on school nights. Quitting any of these habits was so hard, but I showed little foresight knowing things like booze and smokes would ruin my life many years early. Every teenager seems to think they will magically quit before cancer sets in and that they themselves had discovered things like sex, drugs, and alcohol.

At nineteen, I made a vow to quit drinking. I went to meetings, tried to stay away from bars and managed to get six months of clean time in. Unfortunately I became more addicted to cigarettes and had a wicked addiction to coffee, all hours of the night and day. It all finally came to a head when I was in my 30s and I made some coffee one morning and lit up a cigarette, finished it and had another. Then I threw up on the kitchen floor. Something had to be done.

Persons with schizophrenia can have a very hard time quitting tobacco. It has been found that tobacco affects some of the same neurotransmitters that psychiatric medications do. It actually soothes extreme psychosis, which in my opinion is a condition far worse than torture. I didn’t quit coffee, but with the help of patches, a support group, a counsellor, a pharmacist and even a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions, I stopped smoking. It was the hardest and best thing I ever did, but it was almost too late. My breathing was seriously affected by 18 years of smoking and even now, 15 years later I am not recovered.

Coffee was difficult as well. It tasted good, it kept me alert, it seemed to stem the tide of urges to smoke. But perhaps worse than coffee I was addicted to overeating. This was not an easy thing to deal with in a group home where you pay one price for food and eat all you like. I ballooned from 170 pounds to 260. Even just looking at that number, 260 is staggering to me. I stayed in shape, I had a very physical job. Most of that weight was muscle, but a lot was fat as well. It took being diagnosed with diabetes to get me to cut down on my food. I have lost 40 pounds now but have a long way to go.

One of the funny things about all of these addictions is that there are 12-step meetings for all of them. I don’t want to comment on any except to say they help, but anyone who goes into one of these should be extremely mindful that there are many sick people in the groups. In my six-month dry spell, it was a so-called friend from AA who dragged me into a bar and bought me a drink, sending me spiralling on a binge that nearly killed me. Overeater’s Anonymous was a great meeting though often dominated by women who can be extremely sensitive to anyone (like myself) a little rough around the edges.

In conclusion, I guess I would most like to quote a film by Frank Capra, “The Snows of Killamanjaro” where a man spoke of preaching only “Moderation in everything, including moderation.” More to come on this topic.

Behind Locked Doors When There Was No Crime

This is a picture of me when I was in my early 20s. I think one of the coolest compliments I ever recieved was when I showed it to a female friend and she said, “Wow, you really had the whole Val Kilmer thing going for you back then.” I suppose I had the advantage of good looks for a time, but there was so much going wrong withmy life. I think at the time I still hadn’t been able yet to be completely honest with my Doctor and I had some misconceptions about trusting a psychiatrist to give me the proper meds I needed. When I look at this photo it makes me a bit sad because I see the torn hand me down jeans, the jacket my brother gave me which was the only decent clothing I owned. The orange sweater is one my Dad gave me from his store of clothes. Around this time I was going to adult high school and met a friend who I still talk to to this day, but I have no real clue as to why it lasted this long. When I look at this photo it doesn’t even seem like me.

So, for a bit of irony I will tell you all Dear Readers that as I write this blog entry I am currently a patient on a psychiatric ward. I have been here a month and tomorrow I am going to go home for the weekend and I don’t have a clear idea as to what is waiting for me. All I really do know is that there is a lifetime of books, comics, video games and two places to sleep (along with a ton of frozen meat that I truly hope is still okay) that will be a great deal better than staying here. When I come back from my pass, if all has gone well I will be discharged. One of the odd things about this stay is how sick I was when I came in and how quickly I came back from it all. I did use some of the advice I put on this blog, but I have been very lucky to have incredibly caring and intelligent staff members to help me through, as well as being in a hospital where no expense was spared to make sure the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the patients have been met.

When I came into the hospital, I was in a serious psychosis. I believed that two men from the building I live in had come to kill me and possibly kill my Dad. It was a completely unfounded idea, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I stood my ground until the police, called by my Dad, came to intervene and get me in an ambulance and on to the hospital. Once I saw the police had come I relaxed almost right away and even talked with one of the officers who had seen me speak at his recruit class. But sadly that was where, for a while at least, that I had my last dose of respect from people who were there to help me. I got to the hospital and I thought that everyone was avoiding me and that I stunk horribly so I asked for a gown and a garment bag and went into the bathroom and changed right while I was waiting into a ridiculous piece of hospital clothing that barely covered me. Then, my old enemies anxiety and paranoia surfaced, along with the psychosis (split from reality) that I was experiencing. For a while I really thought I was going to jail though I had done nothing to warrant it.

After incidents I honestly have very little recollection of, I was sent to the hospital where I am now, but not to the quiet and comfortable ward I am on now, I was sent to the locked ward. I can’t even begin to describe how chaotic places like this can be. I did what I could, drank coffee like mad and read until finally I was put over to this ward. There have been some blips, but not a single fight here on the more stable ward, though for a while I still had ideas in my head that someone had a gun and was going to kill me. As I look back in hindsight, there was actually very little animosity. I mostly keep to myself here and try to read and help others when I can. I have to admit to a healthy bit of fear of some of the others, but as I adjusted even those fears dissolved.

I am wondering what tomorrow will bring. How I will cope with the shock of being home. When I went home the other day on a day pass, it seemed that the building was going downhill. For a while I had thought my only solution was to forget about my apartment and head to BC. After a visit and a talk with my building manager, I really don’t think that will be needed. I just really can’t wait to sleep as long as I want, drink tea when I want and not have to report in to anyone.

What Really Changes in Someone When They Have a Mental Illness?

First of all, in the more serious and chronic types of mental illness, when the more obvious symptoms begin to appear, there has more than likely been personality and other issues going on for a long time. I know in my own case, severe depression had existed as far back as the second grade, and kept on getting worse until other symptoms, like psychosis began to surface. When they did, the fact that my condition had been left untreated for so long, compounded the effect of the mental collapse that had me end up in a psychiatric hospital.

As I have been learning in my experience with the Schizophrenia Society, there are different symptoms that appear in different stages of the illness. Quite often this makes an accurate diagnosis next to impossible until a good deal of time has gone past. Schizophrenia begins with symptoms like depression and withdrawal from society and later the more ‘classic’ symptoms like hallucinations and delusions present themselves.

I feel the most important thing that someone can do when they begin to experience any kind of symptom is to seek assessment and possible treatment. If a major disorder is discovered, more than likely (but not in all cases) medication will be prescribed. It is incredibly important that this medication be taken as prescribed and not discontinued without supervision from a professional. At the age of 14 I was given meds and never took them. I often wonder how my life may have turned out if I had continued to take them. The bad news is that medications don’t work right away and can often have debilitating side effects. The good news is that medications are getting better all the time and also that your body will adapt to what you are taking and you will learn to manage the risks versus the benefits.

That is certainly not a comprehensive guide to medications, but I am hoping it may be a few helpful words. The other post-diagnosis problem is that people who have mental illnesses face things like stigma from others, and self-stigma. I know that I was so ashamed to have a mental illness that I left the home town I dearly loved and all of my friends hoping to start over. I often say the problem was that I brought my brain with me. I went to the coast, Vancouver, and made plans to join the military. For a while I had the time of my life. New people, new sights and sounds, places to see that I had no concept of. But I got sick again. I just couldn’t admit to myself (with the barrier of stigma and self-stigma) that I needed any kind of help. And not even my loved ones could do anything but worry while all this went on.

The fact remains though that I returned to Edmonton, sought treatment, finished school, started to write, and built a life for myself. When I am taking my medication properly and it is working properly, often even mental health professionals would not assume I have three major diagnoses. My bipolar is controlled by a mood stabilizer-rarely do I stay up all night or talk so much I drive people away. My psychosis is controlled with a time-release injection which keeps my thoughts firmly rooted in reality. And my severe depressions are also taken care of by an anti-depressant. Am I just like the person I was before the diagnosis and the pills? Maybe not, but I think in many ways I am a better person.

If you have doubts regarding your mental health:

-Seek help, even if it is just from an MD

-Get an assessment done. Find out what is wrong

-Work with your doctor and pharmacist to find medications that will help

-Give the medications time to work

-Find and work with a therapist who just may be able to make you feel better about some of the underlying problems that hold you back in your life

-Enjoy your life.

Fatherly Advice On Dealing With Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Here is my Dad, Leif the first. In my mental health recovery, he has played a very key role. Years ago when I was last hospitalized, he traveled in from out of town and sacrificed the tiny extra amount of money he had to bring me comforts such as cigarettes and such. No matter how angry or ill I became, he would visit every day–and I was in the hospital on that occasion for six months. When I finally did get discharged, I was far from a whole person. I needed the support of a group home to exist and get my medications, and I needed the support of my family, especially my Dad. He came through in spades, driving to my place, taking me to our beautiful river valley and talking with me and walking with me month after month. This was the only exercise and the only outside contact I could handle. One of my warmest memories of that time is a habit I used to use to kill time when I walked long distances. I would pick out a rock, then kick it and keep a close eye on where it went, then when I got up to where it was, I would kick it again and see how far I could keep going with the same rock. One day on a walk with my Dad, I kicked a rock for a while, then it went out of my path so I thought I would find another, but my Dad to my surprise had figured out my game and kicked the right rock and in that moment I felt as though my Dad and I both had a child-like concept of fun that helped form a new and strong bond between us.

Anyone who read my last blog will know that I have been struggling with a new medication and have been hearing voices. There are no words to describe how troubling this situation can be for a person already struck with many other mental health issues. I really thought neighbours could read my thoughts or that they were conspiring to harm or rob me. This is a highly unlikely situation, but it is so hard to ignore evidence that comes to you plainly in the form of a voice that sounds reasonable and intelligent. Added to that is the fact that mentally ill people, while experiencing psychosis are in an extremely vulnerable state. I really didn’t know what to do. Then my Dad gave me a simple solution: put on some earphones and play some soothing music. The amazing thing is, even though it seems so simple, it worked really well. I had a hard time at first discounting all the voices I was hearing as false and untrue, but after laying down and listening to music for a while, it was so much easier to realize that all of this was going on in my head.

One of the hard things about delusions/hallucinations/psychosis is that often a person is convinced that they are some type of God or wealthy/powerful person. I will never forget a roommate who became a good friend who once declared to me, “I don’t care what anyone says–my delusions are real!” I totally understood what he was talking about. When I first became ill, my delusions (they weren’t audible hallucinations like I more recently experienced) told me I had untold amounts of money, female admirers, intelligence, accolades and awards, and my choice of Hollywood Starlets to marry. To most it would be preposterous to think such things, but to my fragile mind it was an extremely appealing alternate reality to my own life situation at the time. Even after I was treated and properly medicated, I had in the back of my head the idea that somewhere out there a reality like that was waiting for me. This made medication compliance very difficult for me, so I went through cycles of lucidity, then went off medications and went as far away as California in search of falsehood dreams, then was so far off the deep end that I had to be forcibly hospitalized.

I really thought I had broken that cycle, so my recent foray into the world of paranoid schizophrenia caught me off guard. But one thing I do know is that my Dad, my rock of salvation (one level below Jesus) has rescued my messed up life numerous times now and I have to mature and learn to handle my own problems as his age advances. That’s about it for today dear readers, not much practical advice really other than that an iPod can be your best friend and even a tool an occupational therapist should utilize. Music is almost as powerful as the force that drives it, which I think in the end is love.

Mental Health Crisis and Severe Breakdown Advice

A nice frosty December photo from my trusty iPhone 7.

Well, the past couple of days have been extremely difficult ones, I have spent a lot of time hiding in my bed not wanting to face the world. One of the cool things that I did do was head out to North Edmonton to meet with a young woman who needed help with her writing. I know I am suited for the smaller creative writing classes I teach, but now that I am doing more mentoring I feel one day I may be able to take on a job like my good friend Richard Van Camp does often, which is being a writer in residence at a library or University. In a job like this, you spend half of your time working on your own project, and the other half helping the general public with writing they want help with.

So what I most wanted to do was to put into words what has been going through my head these past few days. I don’t know if many people understand totally what schizophrenia does to a person, but I will try and relate it. Usually when I have an episode, it means something has set it off. When I first got sick, there were many tests done to make sure there wasn’t other things happening to make my behaviour so extremely weird for lack of a better term. They took drug tests, thyroid tests, cat scans. When all came back negative they were ready to diagnose me but the odd thing was that they didn’t seem ready to tell me what this diagnosis was. I had a lot of problems, delusions being the worst of them. I was also experiencing the mania side of bipolar disorder, not eating, working out a mile a minute and staying up all night reading. It didn’t help that there was a lot of pressure at home and at school, as well as the night shift job I was working.

Slowly, over time, I slipped further and further away from reality. I began to think that if I just kept trying harder and harder at doing everything perfectly, things would go well. I took a trip to a mountain resort with family and friends and that perhaps was where everything was falling apart. It is hard to explain, but I was hugely taken advantage of by my sister’s boyfriend who used subtle and not so subtle persuasion to cause me to ruin the engine on my car, spend all the money I had on the trip and other things, and he had also filled me so far up with his garbage political ideas that he himself didn’t practise that I even saw my own father who put. a roof over my head as a terrible, messed up person. It really doesn’t help to blame anyone truthfully, but a lot of my confusion and utter inability to continue to work and function was due to this despicable character.

Somehow, it seemed to me as these things were happening, and I can’t blame them all on my sister’s boyfriend because they happened to other family members as well, that all the things that had been impressed on me about hard work and discipline gave way to me thinking I could get away with quitting my job (which I did by simply walking off in the middle of a shift) and taking my focus away from providing for needs such as money for an apartment so I could move out of the house. I began to believe strange things, like if I wanted something I could just go into a store and take it and not pay for it and that 99% of the rest of the population got through life this way. A whole new reality formed in my mind, new delusions coming by the second. One of them was that there was no such thing as marriage and commitment, that I could somehow sleep with any woman I wanted, I just had to go to a nightclub or dance and start a one-night-stand. This was another delusion that had roots in things my sister’s boyfriend had told me. Before this, I was a strong believer in no sex before marriage or outside of marriage and was pretty much dead set against abortions. I am so glad my sister eventually got free of this guy. He did have some positive qualities to him, he was funny and fun to be around, he also was influential in my sister eventually earning a master’s degree in education. But if she hadn’t left him and married I often wonder if my beautiful, wonderful niece would ever have been born.

So all of these delusions crept up on me. One of the more prominent ones was that police were some kind of different species of human being and that, along with some of my other warped beliefs that would get me into trouble with the law, that jail and getting arrested was considered almost heroic. It all boiled down to one morning when I went to gym class and just a few minutes into my class I picked a fight that I have regretted nearly every day of my life since. I left the ice rink with my teacher, went to the office and was arrested and taken away in front of all of my peers. This, which at the time seemed like it was a positive thing, was the most damaging walk of shame I have ever experienced.

I was taken at that point to the Psychiatric Hospital and though I have often talked about it being a dirty, violent and extremely disturbing place, the reality of it was that in a very short time this place got  me better, got my thoughts in order. It is so weird to think of all the delusions I had, from being ridiculously rich to having the prettiest girls in my school secretly in love with me back to seeing the world through totally rational eyes, then months later these delusions would slowly come back if I wasn’t still taking my medication. Until it happened a number of times, I didn’t realize how when I started to accumulate millions of dollars and the TV was talking to me directly that it wasn’t something the medication and the “evil” doctors were doing to me. When it actually occurred to me, during a time of clarity, that it was so much better to have sane thoughts despite the difficult side effects of psychiatric medication, which ranged from serious tiredness and grogginess to drooling and making my hands shake, my life truly began to turn around. 17 years hospital free!

I wanted to talk now a bit about the symptoms I have been experiencing in the past few days, but I don’t want to write a blog so long no one will read it. I will do my best to write about more up to date mental health issues in the blog to follow. Thanks Dear Readers, and Happy New Year!

I’m Home After Psychiatric Inpatient Care. When Will I Ever Feel Normal Again?

A random shot of Jasper Avenue, the main downtown street in Edmonton, Alberta. With people everywhere, vehicles battling to be ahead by split seconds, it becomes so easy to feel lost and alone. Yet, when a person goes into a psychiatric ward or hospital, the staff discourage at every turn any friendships or relationships. Sometimes, people with severe illnesses will be discharged with a bag of medications and directions to the homeless shelter. I don’t really have any solutions to these problems. I do know that people in my family cared a lot about me and tried to make my transition from my last hospital stay to the outside world a smooth one. It went well for me, but not 100%. I feel I owe everything to two men in my life, my Doctor and my Dad. Neither of them stopped helping and neither of them asked anything in return.

When I try and think of my recovery, which I will define for the purposes of this blog as the point where I was diagnosed up until the point where I was able to travel overseas on my own, (both Atlantic and Pacific) the word ‘mindfulness’ keeps coming up.

Mindfulness is something that you will often find in books about Buddhism and meditation. Meditation supplies a person with the tools they need to tune out the world, and just embrace the nature of who they are deep down and not analyze or self-talk or really do anything but breathe. This journey for me began with books about Buddhism, mostly ones that my brother Kris loaned me. I found some profound truths of human nature in these books, which was amazing because a lot of the wisdom came from times when the western world was in the dark ages by comparison (if not literally). There were even times when I would delve deep into these books that I was so struck by things that were said it was close to what many people call an epiphany. But I needed more. I was reading dry words on a page, though they were some pretty earth-shattering words. I devoured books by the Dalai Lama, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But where things really started to come together was when I joined a meditation group that was led by a real Tibetan Monk, and incredible man full of joy, decked out in the beautiful robes of a true monk. What did he teach me? He taught me how to breathe, and then he taught me how to clear my mind. That was really about it.

In our minds, especially those of us who have had mental disorders requiring treatment and/or medication, there is a constant dialogue going on, telling us we aren’t good enough, that people are judging us, that we can’t do something. There are also positive messages and neutral ones. In Tibetan meditation the goal is to train yourself not to let these voices control you, something that changed my life after being in Alberta Hospital. I became so much more thoughtful, kind, I had more energy and mental ability. I was able to absorb books and lessons that I could never have completed before despite my high mental functioning. This led me down a path to become a writer, a teacher, a traveller, an Uncle, and more.

I don’t meditate much anymore sitting on a pillow, legs crossed, counting my breath. I like to walk. I like to go for miles, and simply be. To be aware of the blue or grey sky, to look for wildlife or even domesticated life, to not count the steps or measure the distances, just to go out and feel the fresh air on my skin, be aware of increased rates of breathing, from how my heart beats just a little faster to how I begin to warm up no matter how cold it is. I play no music, bring nothing to distract me. I rarely walk with anyone, but it is so healing. I love to make up excuses to walk. One thing that was interesting was that deep inside I have always thought I may have in a past life lived in England and had a special kinship to the Island Kingdom. When I was in London I took a great risk and instead of taking the tube to where I was staying, I just walked and walked for miles to see if I could truly find my way around that great and massive city. I must have walked ten kilometres and never for a moment did I feel lost or on the wrong path.

One of the other ways I love to practise mindfulness is through photography. Anyone who has read a few of my blogs will have seen photos I took with my collection of cameras and lenses. I basically gather all I need for my camera from charged batteries to memory cards and what lenses I need and start out walking. If I can go somewhere I don’t normally go or get off the beaten path all the better. There is no need for me to calculate rights and wrongs, feel angry about someone who cut me off in a checkout line at the grocery store or was rude to me on the bus. I am totally absorbed in finding that split second, that disappearing moment when a shot is perfect. I rarely find it, but in seeking after that perfect shot I seem to mature, grow in some way.

Meditation is something that has been studied a great deal. One of these studies I came across declared that it had proof that people who meditate a lot each day over the course of years can actually reverse brain damage, something so far thought to be impossible. Even now as I am a little tired I long for those moments in bed just before my mind begins to switch over to sleep rather than being awake and I can feel the true joy of just being.

All of that doesn’t really answer the question though, when will you feel normal again after leaving the hospital. I feel obligated to try and give some of what I feel are facts gained from my own experience. First of all, being in the hospital can put a person into shock, especially if this person was lucky enough to go through such things as ECT or being wrestled down and locked in an isolation room. It isn’t natural for humans, which means that in this time it is actually natural for us to feel the fight or flight reaction. Some lash out, some beg not to be treated that way. Either way, it takes a little bit of who we are as human beings away from us. When you leave the hospital, all of a sudden you are responsible for everything. You may even return to a family that doesn’t fully understand or to school where people know where you were and have no kindness or compassion.

The first thing you need to know is that the effect, the shock of being in the hospital is something powerful. It is also something Doctors and Nurses are aware of and they tend to over medicate people while they are in the hospital. When you leave the best thing you can do is educate yourself as much as you can. When I left after one of my first stays, there was no Internet to Google search on. I went to the library and read for hours on treatments only to be laughed at by a Doctor I spoke to who said they hadn’t used any of those treatments for years. Now, we have Google, so I suggest you search everything you can about each and every medication, each word of your diagnosis and make sure you have a solid understanding. Going in blind to see my Psychiatrist years ago when I was at the end of my rope got me onto a medication I still take to this day that at that time was rarely used. It saved my life. As I built up more awareness of my condition though, I looked for ways to decrease the amount of medication I took.

Often there really is nothing you can do except to kill time, and finances are almost always short for people who just leave the hospital. The first thing I suggest is that you keep a journal, a wellness journal where you talk about how you feel, and what level your mood is, and any other pertinent symptoms. Take a time each day to write, and as you hit milestones, look back at what worked and what didn’t. To people I know who want to make more friends or meet that special ‘life partner’ I always say there are a few steps in the perfect plan at doing that. One is that you settle into a place you can afford, keep clean, and have your privacy. Two is that you look for ways to become involved in your community. Three is that you look for genuine ways to help and care for others. Four is that when you meet someone you want a relationship with, and they themselves have indicated they want a similar relationship, focus on getting to know them, becoming their best friend before worrying about making a move. Don’t force anything, don’t make a fool of yourself automatically thinking this person is the one for you and overwhelming them with attention and gifts. Just be their friend, and your time will come.

Well, Dear readers, that seems to be a good time to draw everything to a close. Your assignment is to 1)get a library card if you don’t have one. 2)take out a book on healing and recovery (my two are “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane”), and read as much as you can and take some time to sit down, become conscious of your own breathing and clear your mind for five to ten minutes, more if you prefer, then schedule a good time to write in your journal. Who knows? Maybe if you heed this lesson, your recovery will accelerate and I will be reading your blog on WordPress some time soon.

Sincerely,

LG

Do You Have Schizophrenia, Depression or Bipolar? Sadness and Loneliness Could Be Deadly To You

When people are struck down with mental illness, a lot o things are taken away. Some of them are permanent, and others you slowly get back over time as I discuss in my book, “Inching Back to Sane.” You could be inside a hospital and temporarily lose your freedom. You may lose the ability to be able to speak up for yourself and not be treated like a child. Perhaps the worst part about it is that you will lose friends and family members outside of the hospital setting, and it is extremely important to note even some loved ones will turn their back on you. No matter how hard it may seem, these are the times when you need to reach out to others more, make more effort to sustain and build relationships (not romantic ones). This is the time when you need others more than ever it is also a good time to practice self-care. I recall during this stage in my recovery that it was very important to have time to myself, to go for walks, to stay up late reading. This is also the time when I sat down and started to get serious about my first book, “Through the Withering Storm” writing while in a recovery program was difficult, but now so many people read that book and draw inspiration from it.

Studies have shown that approximately 1% of the population suffers from Schizophrenia. I don’t know how to take that figure because, from personal experience, delusions and hallucinations don’t always get reported. They get denied and buried, and the stigma attached to mental illness is the reason. No one wants to admit they have potentially embarrassing lapses in their concept of reality, so there could very well be more. I do know other illnesses, such as Bipolar, Depression, OCD, and others can lie dormant for years and come up at the worst possible times. It doesn’t help that mental illness can be accelerated by drugs most people here think are harmless like pot, mushrooms, hash, etc.

But let’s look at that 1% idea first, as this is something I have researched in my work with mental health. In Canada last I heard, there are around 33,000,000 people. This is an incredibly small number if you consider that we are larger than China. But, of those thirty-three million, at 1%, we would be looking at 330,000 people with schizophrenia so severe it greatly effects the economy and the people who want to do this type of work that helps the very young., (you are not alone!) Of those people, 10% will eventually die by suicide. This is not a figure of how many people are weak enough to give in, or how many people never had the fortitude to live their lives. This is 33,000 people who have an illness so severe that they feel dying is the only way out. Who is to blame? It seems that everyone shares blame a little. I work for the Schizophrenia Society in Edmonton and I have been made aware of some of the prejudiced thinking people have towards those with a mental illness. Yesterday I went to get some frozen fruit from my freezer to make a smoothie. Inside was a package of “mango mania” frozen mango chunks. Why did they have to put ‘mania’ on it? Thinking of times when I suffered from mania, or elevated moods that are almost totally uncontrollable, and have at times caused me to want to die just to make the merry-go-round on steroids stop spinning, the idea that they could use such a horrible thing to advertise a product made me sick.

But it’s not just there-it’s everywhere. A little while ago I thumbed through an old Archie Comic-possibly the most politically correct, wholesome-type comic they have for sale. On just about every page there was some prejudiced statement about mental illness. Jughead would have to be crazy for not eating 20 hamburgers, Reggie was nuts to think he could get away with talking to Big Moose’s girl Midge. Then you look at the TV. Shows about the most depraved, perverted criminals are displayed as having schizophrenia or bipolar. Some reason to shuffle off some of the real problems of society, like the constant glorification of violence and extremely outdated attitudes towards women. Stigma like this destroys lives and will continue on until people take a stand for those who simply suffer from illnesses that can be treated and controlled with medication and other care.

When you leave your community and are sent to a place that supposedly helps you deal with a mental illness, all too often you are no longer a part of that community. Shame, stigma, the isolation that many people with illnesses force on themselves will drive you out eventually–unless you have a supportive family and friends. These are such essential aspects of getting better. My problem was that when I first went into the hospital I was only 18 and just about every one of my friends did very little other than get together and drink beer until they were incapacitated. A harsh reality is that beer, this seemingly innocent social lubricant is just about like poison to anyone who is taking psychiatric medications. I learned at another time that once a person is put on psychiatric meds, they are supposed to quit drinking completely for the rest of their lives.

Quitting drinking was one thing. Being a part of a social group, having friends who didn’t drink were another. It has been very hard since that time when I first had a mental breakdown. There were times when I sold things pennies on the dollar just to have a few bucks in my pocket to buy a sandwich or a bag of chips as I hitch-hiked in near winter weather across the Rocky Mountains. I feel so lucky now. It was such a long process. My depression started at a very young age, I can recall it being a factor in my life before I was even ten. I was prone to crying spells and isolating myself even then. At the end of a weekend, I was often so upset at the idea of going back to school the next day I would literally cry myself to sleep. These depressive episodes went on and on through my teen years. The worst part of it was that I kept it all to myself. I had an inkling something was wrong. Most people didn’t seem to be in a cloud of self-loathing and depression. But I had no way to reach out for help. One thing I keep replaying in my head is talking to my mom about some of what I was going through and her offering to let me see her psychiatrist about these problems. This was my last chance, my last hope. I turned it down and within just a couple of months I ended up stark raving mad for want of a better term.

By miracles of modern psychiatry, when I did get very sick, it only took around a month in the hospital to get my brain operating the way it should (with medication) but I wasn’t ready to admit I needed the meds. Those were really dark times. I had a few close friends left, and I even have a couple of warm memories of doing things like working as a bouncer at a dance party, getting drunk out of my mind and feeling the bliss, the numbness, and the joy of no longer caring about everything.

One thing that my illness took away from me was my meek nature, my idea that everyone mattered, that each person was a human being like me. One night a friend came over and we got very drunk and decided to go play some basketball. For no reason at all, when we were on the court, I threw a basketball as hard as I could at a kid a couple of years younger than me. I look back now and see myself as some kind of animal. I just no longer cared. My school ‘career’ was ruined, all my credibility was ruined, kids were running around calling me psychopath and my reputation was ruined. It seemed I had so few options. I chose to join the military in hopes of finding an honourable way to die, but even those people didn’t want me. After a lot of problems with my dad, I cashed in everything I could, sold my motorcycle for $20, and put my thumb out and headed for the highway. It wasn’t all bad. I got to see the Rockies from a convertible. I experienced the many wonderful aspects of living in a coastal city. But I didn’t get into the military. Without my medication I slowly decayed until I was out of my mind again and returned home. From there I went through more treatment and when I got out all of my old school friends wanted nothing to do with me, aside from a few people who I would call just users and abusers. I was taking my medication, but there was no system in place to give me ongoing treatment. I didn’t even leave the house much. At that time I started to slip back into my delusional world. Movie stars were in love with me, millions of dollars was waiting for me just to claim for my own. Most of these delusions came in the form of distorted memories on the radio. I sat and I watched TV and let time slip by and soon I had been there three months and had accomplished nothing but gaining a bunch of weight and missing the life I had in Vancouver.

Over the next years, I was often left with a choice: associate with unsavoury people and have someone to talk to, or not have anything to do with these people and slip further and further into isolation and depression. There were many mishaps, and they didn’t really come to an end until my parents intervened and convinced my doctors to add an anti-depressant to the medications I was taking. This really made a huge difference. I was able to get refreshing sleep. I was able to sit down and read. Not long after I got a job but the stress soon proved nearly impossible to deal with and I quit. But I was writing.

For a while I went to church, I did make some friends, but nothing like the friendships I had with my cadet buddies. My anti-depressant somehow stopped working and I ended up going on Prozac. What a difference that made in my life. It helped with my moods, it helped control my horrible nightmares, and it also helped a little with my social anxiety. A few years later though, I went through a very difficult time in my life. Basically I learned that I would never get another chance to be friends with a young woman I thought the world of. Instead of having any means to deal with my feelings, I once again isolated myself. Perhaps I was trying to punish myself. But I stopped taking my Prozac as well, and a few months later took a very near deadly dose of painkillers. The feelings of rejection and loneliness were just too much. But people still cared. My parents, after all I had put them through happened to come by and when I didn’t answer the door, my dad slipped a $20 bill under it. If he hadn’t done that I would have had no way to get a cab to the hospital and I likely would not be here writing this.

This blog has actually gone on for quite a while and I haven’t been 100% on topic. I think I will follow up on this topic in the next blog, so stay tuned. For now, I hope my readers, whether they have a mental illness or not to practise self-care. Take a mental health day off of everything. On your death bed you will never wish you had spent less time with people you cared about and more time working. If you smoke, quit and put the extra money it gives you into taking a relaxing and renewing vacation. My trips to Hawaii and London, England have proved to make me happier, more fulfilled, and even simply more talkative with friends about the things I have seen and done. If you experience depression, look into medication options, but do your research. Talk to a doctor you trust, talk to a pharmacist you trust. And when you are put on a medication, don’t stop taking it because of symptoms you can handle. Some symptoms may be too much, but it could be detrimental to just stop a medication. Do everything you can to hold out and wait for the good effects to come about and for your body to adjust to the negative ones. And reach out. Find a counsellor, join a support group. Your most effective and powerful tools are your social abilities. Human beings need each other. And, above all, before you decide to do something desperate, pick up the phone. Heck, drop me an email or reply to this blog. I’ll do what I can.    viking3082000@yahoo.com

When Things Get Bad: Being a Patient In a Psychiatric Hospital

This is a shot of the sunset over what used to be the Edmonton Municipal Airport. The planes on display, which you may have seen before in other posts are part of the aviation museum. It always kind of bothered me that they would put the last of the three up, a surface to air missile called “the Bomarc” This missile holds a lot of meaning for Canadians, because it was what we got in exchange for the Avro Arrow, the most famous of all Canadian planes that never went into production. The Bomarc on display is something I also disagree with because it was originally designed as a nuclear missile and like many of my time, nuclear war was a very real and scary possibility.

To get on to the stated topic, there is a lot to know about hospitals, especially psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric wards of ordinary hospitals. The first big thing that I didn’t like about being in a psychiatric hospital is that there is often very little medical help and poorly funded medical/dental help in these places. When I was 19 and had nearly destroyed my knees from too much running, I actually encountered staff members who purposely moved my room to the end of the long hallway of the ward I was on to discourage me from smoking, while at the same time being completely ignorant of the incredible pain and discomfort of my injuries and constant requests for tensor bandages, and even a few times, a wheelchair. I even tried to appeal to my Psychiatrist, who had taken the full training of a medical doctor and he simply told me, “oh, I forgot all that medical stuff years ago.” Then, somehow an appointment was made for me to see an orthopaedic surgeon, and after waiting just about the entire three months it took to see one, a nurse casually informed me that she had taken it upon herself to cancel my appointment because she didn’t think I needed it.

Funny enough though, being in the hospital can be a very productive time. One of the biggest problems is that while you are there you may be very ill mentally and not be able to participate in any of the programming that could help. Things like communication groups, anger management groups, can teach a person to better manage their lives and better communicate to others when they go out and try to rebuild something of a normal life. Something that has to be stressed though, is that the people you encounter are likely a good deal more sensitive about things than you realize. I can remember getting into trouble because some woman overheard me talking about sex. I was 20, I didn’t have many other topics on my mind. I didn’t even say anything to her, I got into trouble for talking to someone completely different than the person who complained. All I could do was suck it up and try not to bring up the subject.

The other problem I faced a number of times is with regards to a psychiatric hospital. The hospital I went to was divided into two major parts, one for forensics, and the other for people who hadn’t yet been convicted of a crime. Many times I ran across some very seriously bad people in the non-convict section I was in. I vividly remember a man who was on my ward to be assessed to see if he could get off a crime he had committed for mental health purposes, and he made some very serious threats to me. Should he have been in the forensics part the whole time? I honestly believe so, but the doctors didn’t see things that way. In a more recent visit, there was a guy from some middle eastern country who for some reason didn’t like me. One day we got into an argument and he attacked me. I was accused of starting the fight, but he was the one who tried to dig his nails into my carotid artery so he could end my life,

I really don’t want to scare people when I write this. I do admit that I am ranting though because these things never should have happened. What are some of the ways others can avoid serious problems like this? First of all, while it is a given that you need to be completely honest with your doctor about what is going on inside your head, you also need to communicate with the staff where you are a patient about people who are giving you problems/on your case. Most of the time the staff can deal with it. If you find yourself in a serious situation where you think someone is going to attack you like happened to me a number of times, the best thing to do is to assume a defensive stance, and yell for staff as loud as you can.

I can also recall though being assaulted by staff members. This seems almost impossible, but it was a daily reality for me when I was last in the hospital. It was a very difficult situation because my doctor was avoiding me completely and I was on medication that was not helpful at all. If he had talked to me, he might have realized that I needed a mood stabilizer, a pill for psychosis, and an anti-depressant, Instead he played golf or whatever they do when they don’t feel like doing their job. My family and I tried everything to have this situation dealt with, and nothing ever came of it, and the same Doctor was later made head Psychiatrist of the entire Hospital. But regardless, not being on proper meds made it almost impossible for me to think straight or be as pleasant as the staff preferred me to be, and as a result, with the express order from my absentee doctor that I should be placed in isolation at the first indication of problems, I was put through this torture. Once, when I was locked inside the isolation room for a long time, I put the plastic mattress up against the wall and slid behind it so they couldn’t see what I was doing. The staff member watching me came in and a fight ensued, I grabbed his ‘life call’ button and pressed it and all kinds of alarms went off and other staff came running from all over the hospital. As a result, with too many witnesses, I was spared a beating.

The fact is, most of the people who will end up looking at this blog will have been through the very difficult stages of being in a psychiatric hospital. What I am hoping to get across is that it is very important to have a good psychiatrist, and to be honest with them, take your medications and never miss your appointments, and when you feel your mental health is starting to deteriorate, get in touch with your doctor and try and get into a hospital ward for psychiatry rather than a psychiatric hospital.

Then comes the day to day business of surviving as a patient. I recall that my time was best spent in the hospital reading and listening to classical music. Reading was difficult, and many of you may too find the same thing. Often when you are in the hospital you are getting your medications changed around and until you get used to them it can be hard to concentrate. I do like to remind people though that with medications, it takes time for them to work, time for your body to adapt to them, and there is also a period of time that you need to adapt to how they affect you. I take a number of pills and they make my hands shake, but now after 15 years on a similar dose, I know how to function. My typing speed and pool game aren’t what they used to be, but I can function, and I can maintain my mental health.

There is another factor that I have encountered regarding hospital visits. It is a difficult thing to go into a hospital and adapt to the conditions there. You need to get used to the food, the institutional air (which people often feel contains some kind of funny gas, but the doctors breathe it too). Then, you adjust, you get to know a few people who are patients, a few staff members and doctors. Then you are deemed well again and sent home where you go through another serious adjustment. When you are leaving, this is the time first of all to get yourself involved in life skills classes or support groups in your community. Make sure and rekindle any neglected relationships, this is when you are really going to need your friends. The one thing you have to be careful about is trying to form long-term relationships, be they friendships or romantic involvement, or even friendship with a staff member. First of all, staff members may seem friendly and nice, but they have professional ethics, plus may not like the idea of having to interact with people when they aren’t getting paid. This happened to me when a doctor and a nurse who I thought cared simply dropped my case and never said another word to me because they didn’t feel I was trying hard enough. In my mom’s case, she had the same nurse/therapist for years and tried calling her up at her office one day after their professional relationship ended, and she was devastated to learn the nurse wouldn’t even say one word to her.

As far as friendships and romantic involvements go, it can be nice to sit down with people and talk after going through therapy and dealing with the same food and the same staff members. But everyone who is there as a patient is there for a reason, most likely a very serious reason and it almost always ends up in disaster when you try to continue these friendships outside the hospital. Once I met a young woman who was an independent film maker and I showed her a copy of my book. We seemed to get along great, there were some great positive things about her. But shortly after she was released from the hospital she accused me of stealing her manuscript (my first work of non-fiction, “Through the Withering Storm”) and then accused me of “stealing Ian’s treasure box” which I don’t even know a thing about. There were other problems. Once I met a guy who was supposedly going to help me get my truck driving license and I simply never saw him again.

This one is getting long, so I am going to mention one last thing. If you feel your mental health is deteriorating, do everything you can to stay out of the hospital, but make sure there is someone who cares to help you decide when the breaking point will be. Keep a bag by your door with a few things you will need to help get you through the difficult days at the hospital. A radio with headphones can be a lifesaver. Simple to finish puzzles can also help. Then a few hygiene essentials such as toothpaste, toothbrush, etc. and a change or two of clothing. It is often best (unless you have made an attempt at suicide) to get a ride or take a cab to the emergency department. Many paramedics get pretty snarky when you don’t appear to have any surface problems even when your life is falling apart on the inside. Your bag could include $10 for a cab ride if you so choose. It would also be good to bring a small journal, which could be used for many things, including a sort of diary for how your mental health progress is coming. Don’t be afraid to write down some goals related to your recovery, and even some goals you just want to do to have something to look forward to. And please, please understand that many people do care and that there is a way, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You won’t be a hospital patient forever, and everyone can have a full and productive, happy life, even with a mental illness.