poetry

From Out of the Darkness of a Pandemic: A Ray of Light, a Streak of Hope

A Little About What Made This the Best Day of Isolation I Have Had and a Flash Fiction Story

 

This photo symbolizes some of what I have been going through lately with this whole Covid-19 self isolation thing. Life had become a flat, undisturbed puddle on a sidewalk, nothing new coming my way, my plans not bearing fruit. Then something came along to shake everything up and make it beautiful. This photo was taken a couple of years ago and is one of the more interesting things I have photographed from something very plain and ordinary. I feel so great about what happened today, I wanted to use this very special photo to tell you all something.

Today, somehow, someone got the information that I have a Patreon Page (click the text to view it) I have only really been advertising it in the signature line of my email. I made some videos for it, one on relaxation with some soothing music played while viewing Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park, and I displayed words telling people ideas and facts about relaxation. I had a lot of hope that people would jump at the chance to help support my efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and increase awareness of it, but I had been told already that mental illness is not a popular charity. The page sat dormant with no supporters for more than a year. Despite all that, I forged ahead. I kept on taking pictures, kept on writing blogs. I didn’t care that I wasn’t even coming close to breaking even. Then some great things happened and I got jobs that paid me a little money to do things like teach creative writing in a psychiatric hospital here in Edmonton and another where I give talks about schizophrenia, the facts, and my own experiences. After hard work and diligence, doors started to open. Miracles started to happen. A few weeks ago I received a letter from an organization called “Northwords” which is a writer’s festival that goes on in the Northwest Territories. Now, as a Canadian, the far North has always fascinated me, and this opportunity was taking place in Yellowknife, which I have never been to but heard so much about. They wanted to fly me up, give me a hotel room and pay very well to have me do some workshops and talks at the festival. I was totally elated. Then, a woman reached out to me about a multicultural project that she wanted me to write poems for, and a small town library offered me a nice sum of money to come up and talk at a mental health conference. Then the axe fell. One by one, each one of these opportunities ended up being cancelled, and I was laid off from my jobs. I really felt dejected, and for the past while I have been having a very hard time with the forced isolation from the Coronavirus Pandemic.

So many chances lost, some of them never to come back. And the fear that if two of my family members (my dad and my sister’s husband) get the virus, they won’t survive it. Something very simple happened, something people may not see as a miracle, but I did. Today after sleeping most of the day away with a bad headache and not knowing if I should risk going out to buy some needed groceries, some sweet, kind and caring person made the effort to reach out to me and say, (not in so many words) “you’re doing something special and I want to help you” A woman named Meg found my Patreon page and put herself down to pledge at the $8 level. This isn’t the largest donation, many people have been so kind and supportive by buying my books, but this was the first time I really felt recognized by someone and valued as a storyteller and poet.

For those of you who don’t know, my patreon page offers two original poems a month at the $5 pledge level, and two poems and an original short story at the $8 level. Anyone who wishes to support me with a one-time donation of $200 will receive a complete set of all 13 of my books which includes four volumes of poetry, three short story books, two short novels and three “Mental Health Memoirs”. My patreon page is at www.patreon.com/leifg and I would so much love it if I could get more people to support my work, but that $8 pledge has given me a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of isolation, frustration, and loss of hope. I am not going to count on it, but if I could get just 3-5 more sponsors, it would pay for small things like groceries and bus passes, and allow me to dedicate more time to this blog, to more videos, and to just getting through the tough times and loss of income that Covid-19 has brought into all of our lives.

At this time, I would like to give a very special thank you to an agency here in Edmonton called The Learning Centre Literacy Association. Through them I am employed to go to our regional psychiatric hospital and teach creative writing. Over the course of a year and a half of working there, I have really grown to love and appreciate not just the incredible staff I work with, but also the patients. As I am in isolation at the moment, I think a lot about some of the things people in there have been through from debilitating depression to psychosis, schizophrenia, and a host of disorders, not to mention unspeakable traumas. I have been able to offer them my knowledge as a writer and experience as a former patient to express themselves through the written word and give them healing and strength to recover and put their lives in order. The Learning Centre is such a great organization that despite that I am unable to attend classes, they are allowing me to do some of my work from home and they are continuing to pay me the weekly amount I am allotted for my 2-hour class.

I am hoping that anyone who reads today’s blog entry will explore this website further and look at some of my videos and stories and poems and friend me on Facebook and consider joining in my efforts to help those who society often forgets. And of course, I want to remind everyone that hasn’t done so yet that my newest book ($12 paperback, email me to order) Alert and Oriented x3: A Snapshot of a Severe Psychosis is available for free download simply by clicking on the photo of the bridge with the two towers to the right of this blog. Just to give everyone a fresh taste of my writing, I would like to share here a flash fiction piece I wrote a few months ago

 

A Little Detroit Muscle

By: Leif Gregersen

 

People said I was nuts to think I could take on Doug’s 1978 Cougar with the 351 V-8 under the hood with me driving my Dad’s van. But because I tried, miracles happened.

I was headed home from West Edmonton Mall on 170th street feeling good. My Dad didn’t lend me his van often, but today he was off work relaxing, so when I asked if I could take his prized 1980 GMC Tradesman van to “West Ed,” and he said yes, I felt like nothing could go wrong. As I drove there, my mind was clouded with thoughts of a shapely, friendly, kind blonde girl in grade ten that almost never left my thoughts in those days.

There were so many ways to blow money now that there were three phases to the mall. Multi-plex theatres, hundreds of stores, two food courts, a skating rink, a hotel. What brought me there was a video game called “Galaxia.” It had been phased out of most arcades, likely because the few people that played it could monopolize it for two hours on one quarter. Even though it cost me at least $5 in gas, or $3 in bus fare, I would try and play my game at least once a week. Today I had outdone myself, I made the gold shield level and hadn’t lost a man to the relentless laser fire the aliens bombarded me with for the past two hours. I didn’t care that summer was almost over, I didn’t care that if I didn’t make a move Stephanie would find a more athletic, more cool boyfriend at our high school. All I cared about was my personal victory and that beautiful red and white van waiting to take me home again.

Halfway back, I looked in my mirror to see the sight that I dreaded. The black Cougar, coming up fast on my tail. I hated Doug so much I slowed down, just to annoy him off and make him wait all the way back. But all my slowing did was make him try illegally passing me on the right. When he pulled up beside me I gave him room out of sheer terror of watching someone die. Still, he leaned heavy on the horn. I pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor and started a potentially deadly game of chicken, both knowing that a third vehicle could come along any time and most likely kill one of us.

Doug hit the gas hard, I could hear his engine rev, but to my surprise, he didn’t pull far ahead. As our speed increased to 100 klicks then 120, I was holding my own. I knew the van had a V-8 350 engine with a four-barrel carburetor, but I figured the size and weight of the thing would make it no match for a speedy, low to the ground sporty car like Doug had. I was wrong and for the second time that day I was going to prove that I could grab a lot of glory if I stopped seeing myself as a looser for a day.

Our gas guzzlers blasted down the two-lane road, Doug in the shoulder trying everything, even swerving at me, to regain what he thought was his rightful position. I was wired with fear and adrenalin as I saw my top speed go further than I thought it ever would. At 140 the gauge just stopped increasing, but I kept going faster.

All of it came down to just one critical second. Three simple steps. I looked over at Doug who hit his brakes as I warped through the green light that marked the entrance to St. Albert. Doug took a sharp left at high speed and I totally dusted him.

I took my foot off the gas, let the van slow, but before I had gotten back to the speed limit, blue and red flashing cherries lit up just behind me. Cops! Doug must have had a radar detector!

For the next half hour, I waited, parked in front of the cop as he sat in his car going over all of my information. Then he gave me a long lecture, stopping to explain how much of a nice guy he was to only give me a ticket for speeding and not for racing or stunting. Then he handed me a ticket that would take two of my gas station paycheques to cover and I trembled with fear at the reception I was going to get when my Dad found out about this. I would be lucky if I would ever drive again, at least in his van.

My Dad did find out, it’s hard to miss a broken speedometer. When the date came, I went to court to ask for extra time to pay, having the $150 ready if needed. Then, to my delight, it turned out the cop that ticketed me wasn’t there and the case was dismissed. I figured sometimes fate does work miracles. A couple of days later my school buddy Craig sold me his old 1974 Pinto for $150. The thing even ran! It took a while longer to save for insurance, but one sunny fall morning as I was out washing the cracked, rusting factory reject, I was suddenly star struck as Stephanie, in the flesh, walked by in the cutest summer outfit I had ever seen her in. She glanced at me and smiled, and I smiled back. She came up and asked me about my car and we ended up talking for an hour before she gave me her number. I promised her a ride in my new faithful steed when I got insurance and plates. And that was it. The end of my racing career, and the beginning of a romance that lasted me pretty much up until modern days. Sometimes it was hard growing up where I did, but sometimes it was pretty damned fantastic.

 

END

 

The Long and Lonely Journey of a Writer With a Mental Illness

 

formatted AOX3 march 18:2020

Please Click This text to download my new book in eBook format

Good day to all my readers and beloved fans! After long months of typing away and scanning, taking photos, requesting documents and researching, I have completed my book “Alert and Oriented X3: A Snapshot of a Psychosis”

I have had so much success in this past year getting work as a creative writing teacher, selling my other books when I give talks for various organizations, that I simply don’t see any need to try and make a few bucks off something that I really enjoyed doing, and that so many people could benefit from. So I am freely distributing the eBook to “Alert and Oriented X3” to anyone who wishes a copy, and I am also encouraging all concerned to make as many copies digital or otherwise that they like and share it freely.

It is in times like this that I like to think of some of the wonderful people that have helped me along through my recovery journey. Near the top of the list is my boss at the Schizophrenia Society, Tanya Behm. Tanya not only allows me to sell my books when I give presentations, she gets up and promotes them for me when we work together. Next on my list is my dad, who I have sneaking suspicions of being a writer himself. My mom had told me when he was younger he had submitted some things and didn’t have any luck and so stopped doing so. I really feel this is a shame because my dad is so intelligent when it comes to reading and writing that I come to him for all kinds of advice, and I often have him proof read my short stories.

The list goes on and on, there is Caroline, who is tied in first place to be my best friend with bestselling author Richard Van Camp. Both of them accept me with all my quirks and oddities and both of them have been extremely kind and supportive.

Next on the list but by no means any less of a dear friend than any other is Charity Slobod. Charity is an incredible young woman who works in professional development and has a master’s degree as well. Charity was just about the only thing that kept me going while I was experiencing the 30-day hospital stay I had last year that this book is written about.

My brother Kris and my sister Michelle are way up there in my cheering section, being kind enough to help proof-read, offered suggestions, and always had their doors open for me when needed.

It has been such a long journey. I started writing possibly because of the isolation I experienced when first diagnosed. This had a lot to do with the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness. After being alone and extremely bored for long months, I returned to school in hopes of finishing my high school diploma and attending University. It was there that I met Caroline, who has been such a dear friend ever since. (that was almost 30 years ago). We have both had our trials and difficult times, but no one can make me laugh like Caroline can. She sort of rescued me from being borderline suicidal all those years ago and I love her for it.

There were times when I would sit and do nothing but write and write all day. Soon after I started writing I fell into the trap of vanity presses, but still had no money to give them. I published a few poems, tried to attend church and did actually make some awesome friends like Jade Holownia and his wife Brandy.

Living on my own, there were times when I became so lonely that I reached out for anyone to ease my pain. That led me into serious troubles having street people try and take over my apartment. I tried so hard back then to return to a normal life, get a job, finish school. But it seemed so impossibly hard while I was in a poor state of mental health and taking medications that took a toll on me as well.

Still, somehow I felt that I needed to keep writing, and I paid a lot of money to have my first book edited but couldn’t find a publisher. I ended up self-publishing and with a great deal of determination and hard work, started to sell my first few copies. It is hard to say where the real turning point came. I had been writing short stories but not sending them out, and I met a man who most would call a grump, but for some reason he treated me extremely well. One day I found out he had gone to Journalism school and I asked him how I could get into magazine writing. In just two minutes he explained the whole thing to me and that year I think I published and was paid for about 5 articles in major publications.

It all seems like such a blur, but I do really want to thank Charity again because when I met her, I was at the point of having done a lot of things, but not having any major success. Charity not only helped me so much with my work, but she was so much fun to talk to and do various things with that, along with the Schizophrenia Society work I was doing, plus the odd workshop and class, she gave me a life that was worth living.

Sorry for just prattling on, I feel I have reached a major milestone in my writing. A good friend who contacts me on Facebook is an incredibly accomplished poet, among the top poets in Canada and he is also a professor of creative writing at a local university, just told me that I am “A Great Memoirist, truly great.” I can’t even begin to say how much it means to me to hear that. Writers get so much negative feedback, and it is a lifelong struggle for most to find any kind of success, and all at once with the words of a friend, I have arrived at the point I have wanted to be at since my days in elementary school when I wrote and illustrated my own comic books. In those days, my parents kept our house full of all the greatest books and authors, and each day a few times a day I would pass by a shelf with books loaded down on it by Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemmingway, just to mention a few. I thought to myself that if I could ever write a really good book or two, I could in some way become immortal like these writers. And now, as I sit typing, with no thought at all of slowing down, I am left with a very satisfying and happy glow that whatever happens next in my life is a footnote, I have done something incredible. I want all of you to share in this feeling so please download and copy and give away as many eBooks as you can dear readers! I think the link above will allow you to do that, if you find you can’t download it that way, please contact me at viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will email you one free of charge.

Yours,

Leif Gregersen

New Book Exploring a Recent Psychiatric Ward Admission and a Month Battling Psychosis

Hello Dear Readers! Well, it is with great joy that I introduce to you my latest book, which tells of a recent hospital admission to an Edmonton Hospital in 2019. I had grand plans for this book, but I decided that it was more important to get it out to my readers and to those who suffer with or love someone that suffers with severe psychosis or other mental health difficulties. It is in this spirit that I have put the book up for sale on Amazon for only $12 in paperback and for the next couple of days the eBook is free. After the time when it is free, the eBook will be just $1.49.

The book is something that was inspired by the book “Girl, Interrupted” (not the movie, the book). I decided I wanted to really show the mind of a person who is ill, and so I took poetry I wrote by hand during my stay in the hospital and added commentary to it, as well as put in other poems I wrote at other times, then several essays, introductions from some family members and even copies of my clinical notes. The title, “Alert and Oriented X3” comes from a term that my nurse used several times to describe the state of my mental health in the clinical notes. There are 5 ways you can be ‘alert and oriented’ and I seemed to come up as just a 3 a number of times.

I have felt extremely blessed to have so much support from you my readers and my friends and family to write and to give talks about mental health in Universities and Training Centres that I really just want as many people as possible to enjoy the book regardless of cost to me. If you keep checking back, I may be able to put on some giveaways at this site and mail out some select copies in the hopes that you will leave a review for it on amazon.com. I will also be making the eBook free, and if you like it and recommend it, I have also decided not to set it up so it can’t be copied, so please feel free to share the file you purchase with anyone you know who would be interested.

One small drawback to the current form of the book is that I wrote it for people living in Edmonton and in Canada. Most of the book is completely relevant to anyone reading it anywhere, but there are small sections where I put in some contact details for local resources that will be irrelevant to most non-Canadians. If you would like to get in touch with resources for helping you through any kind of mental health struggle, please contact me at viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will do the best I can. You can also contact me at this email if you would like a free digital copy of the book. Happy reading friends, looking forward to seeing what you think of the book which I had to go to hell and back to write.

Leif Gregersen

Finding Your Passion, Your Creativity

 

Something I have become aware of in the past few years is that it seems everyone, but especially those who have a mental illness, have something that engages them, something that fulfills them. For me it has been photography, which can be rewarding for everyone, but often people’s passions start earlier in their lives than mine did. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until I was around thirty and better and more reliable digital cameras came out. I had tried taking pictures, I had even taken two photography courses, one in school and another in cadets, and it always just frustrated me. I would load the film wrong, I would take pictures and not have the extra money to have them developed or I would wait too long to have them developed. Now, photography to me is an amazing hobby because I don’t need film, I just need a camera memory card and I can load the pictures onto my computer and fool around with the light and colours and even the composition.

I ran into something very interesting the other day, I was in a class and I found it hard to keep my attention on what was being talked about. There were also breaks and blank spaces in the day that I felt a little bit resentful about because I had nothing to do. Then I noticed the person beside me had taken a sheet of an adult colouring book out and had started the long process of colouring in pieces of it with a ball point pen. I took a sheet for myself and started to do the same thing and it was almost like magic. I was fully engaged in colouring, but I was still able to hear and understand everything being said in the class. I have never really seen myself as much of an artistic person, at least not in the case of drawing things with my hand, but there was a time years ago when my dad, who was a sign writer, asked me to come and help him get some patterns of signs that he needed to recreate. At the time, I often fought with my dad and I hate to say it but had a low opinion of him. I felt the things he did for a living to be something beneath me, but still part of me wanted to do things with my dad, we had a glimmer of the special father-son relationship we used to have when I was much smaller. Anyhow, what he needed me to do was to take a ladder, climb up to where “no entry” signs had been posted and using special thin paper, trace out the whole sign. I wish I could describe it better, but really when I did this, I thought it was pure magic. At that age, I mostly did two things, I delivered pizza and I was a student. But now, I was an active part of something, and I was actually creating something useful. As I carefully sketched out the outlines of the sign, I had such a feeling of personal accomplishment. It was a time in my life I will never forget.

Not all that long after that, I was having severe mental health difficulties and ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I was very young to be there, I had just turned 18, and there was another person there my age who seemed to be something of an odd fit to the situation as well. One afternoon, when there was absolutely nothing to do but watch television, something I mostly hate doing, this young person and I sat down and he showed me how to sketch a tiger or a lion. As the task took over all my concentration and effort, he said to me, “See, now it’s like we’re not in a mental hospital anymore.” and it really wasn’t. Over the years I have tried to engage myself with similar things, but I still kind of feel that drawing, painting, visual art is not my best choice, though as I said it can get a person through some pretty tough times. I have found writing. When I feel a day is slipping away from me and I have accomplished nothing, I can come here and write a blog. When I want to feel I am doing something useful and worthwhile, I will sit down and plan out and write a first draft of a short story or a poem.

Basically dear readers, I don’t want to nail you down to any one activity that will be a catch-all for your problems. What I do want to suggest is that you find something that engages you, takes all your concentration and personal skills. For some it could be building a wooden chair or desk. For others it could be working with stained glass or drawing a cartoon. If you don’t already have something like this in your life, find a book that will teach you the basics of something you feel would be interesting. Work through it, find others that do the same kind of things, be it gardening or even simply reading or writing poetry. Try and stick with it, and before you know it you will have a long list of happy memories, and you will have gotten yourself through some difficult times. I know it has worked that way for me.

 

 

Tall Trees Sown From Seeds of Love and Hate

Please see below today’s photo for a poem and a blog entry

All the fearful years of tears and trials

Wreak havoc upon my thoughts

It seems a test, a trial, a quiz

To even focus upon what I have sought

 

In life we have so little time

As our hours slip into days

I remember holding her like she was mine

then her telling me I was just a phase

 

In death and living there are no words

to slow the march of time

I only long to be understood and heard

to tell them all I have found the perfect crime

 

I do what I can for those I see

show compassion for those in troubled times

and somehow I fool myself that the world cares for me

when they all seem to only want what now is mine

 

I gave away my heart too soon

in a lover’s sweet embrace

now as I work and push a mop and broom

my thoughts occupy a sad, unholy place

 

I no longer dream of God our father

Though he seemed to have done right by me

When my day is done and I close the door

he lets my romantic heart soar free

 

I found a loveliness, a happiness

among the stillness and the peace

and whisper out a tiny prayer

that soon my soul will be released

 

Well, not the most cheerful poem I ever wrote, but I think I am making progress with my writing. I guess I can spill the beans now since the project is almost finished. I am writing a book about my most recent stay in the hospital. I went through a couple of very difficult times, one was the delusional voices I heard, which were extremely convincing, and the other was that I was very paranoid. I had really thought I wasn’t going to have to experience all this again as long as I got rest and took my medications, but there is no insurance policy that covers everything. I still don’t understand why I got so incredibly ill just because of switching from one medication to the next, supposedly newer one. Not a lot was explained. I did have my diagnosis changed once again, this time neglecting to mention my anxiety and adding in my diabetes. I think the Doctor put down schizoaffective disorder bipolar subtype. It’s all pretty confusing. I really want to put this book out to help people to understand more about hospital admissions and how horrible they can be.

What bugs me the most is I like to try and make each of these blogs worthwhile for my readers, but there seems to be no easy answers. I met a man last year who was incredibly kind and diligent about getting help for his son who eventually died by suicide. I have tried to show people how they can get work like I do for the schizophrenia society and feel better about themselves and have some recovery in their lives, but there are many heartbreaking cases I have known, even among people who have worked hard all their lives. I guess I am fairly good at taking care of myself, with the exception of getting into debt too easily. But what do you say to someone who comes up to you and says they have a friend with schizophrenia or they themselves have bipolar and don’t know what to do. All I can really do is keep going to schools and Universities and doing my level best to get a few key points across. Number one, there is no cure, there are only treatments, but they are getting better all the time. Number two, don’t use drugs or alcohol or ski or play football or do anything fun where you might hit your head and get a brain injury. I used to love sports like boxing and football and skiing. I will never forget the first time I went into the hospital and they were doing everything they could for me, hooking me up to million dollar machines and putting me through all kinds of tests to see if my erratic behaviour had to do with a bad fall I had taken on a ski hill in town or not. It seemed once I was deemed mentally ill they sent me to a psychiatric facility to let me rot and I lost all of my opportunities, I wasn’t even allowed to try and finish high school by my parents or the school administrators.

But even in that situation there were good times. There was this moment I was hitch-hiking through the rockies trying to get home to Edmonton in the winter and I was in Hope, British Columbia (it’s where they filmed the first Rambo movie) and the air and the sky and the mountains were all shining silently, singing a chorus of light and beauty that took my breath away. Or this time when I was just entering BC for the first time and I saw a massive Moose and her child running in circles in a flowing field of grass with mountains and cumulonimbus clouds in the background. Those images stayed in my heart. I hate to think what it did to my parents for me, off my medications, with no money or means of earning a living to be wandering all over North America. I lived for the five minute phone call I placed to my parents every night from downtown Vancouver. But when I got back there was no love left for me. No place to stay, no one to do things with. It drove me nuts because I would try and call my sister to talk and each time it was a one-sided lecture to me about how busy she was with school.

But the amazing part of things really is that with time, everything got better. I learned to cook, I found out how to eat healthy and how to lose the weight my medication packed onto me. I even learned to make friends and have some pretty incredible people in my life. It is really kind of funny because in just two years of living on the coast it was like my body had lost its ability to heat itself. The Edmonton winters were just too much. It took a long time, maybe ten years but I adjusted to it and I kept pushing myself to make friends, to read, to write. And somehow the world changed around me and I have an incredibly enviable life now. I think a lot of it just came down to becoming a part of a community and caring for and watching out for the people in my life. That’s about it for today folks, thanks for stopping in.

LG

Christmas Poem and Talk About Psychosis and Anti-Psychotic Medication

Please remember to scroll past today’s blog for a special Christmas Poem I Wrote For a Gathering.

Above is a photo of the church I went to for a long time before the well-known and greatly loved Priest, Father James Holland was retired. Behind is an incredible sunrise, something I had no idea could be so beautiful until I started getting up at 5:00 to take long walks to the grocery store or other places.

I have a lot on my mind right now. I think I am having a problem with a new medication, but it is hard to tell because I was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year and am now not only taking a different injection, but also Metformin and a pill for high cholesterol. I have been losing weight and in general feeling better, but I have a strange drowsiness and loss of balance. It really seems like such a trap for those who have a mental illness, the medication makes you hungry and want to eat more, then the illness makes you unable to work and so the end result is you are in a major risk category for diabetes and heart disease and other disorders. I thought I was safe. I was overweight, but a lot of the weight on me was muscle and I was swimming nearly every day, going for walks. I was even careful about how much sugar I took in. Sadly it was not enough.

A lot of people think diabetes is not a big deal, but the fact is that you can lose limbs, go blind, you lose an average of 12 years off your life expectancy. The only really good thing about it is that having diabetes has made me pay a lot more attention to what I put into my body.

It’s funny though, a few years ago when I worked as a stage hand, I would burn myself out working with all that heavy stuff, then I would swim and lift weights and I would come home sore on every square inch of my body. But it was almost like a drug, it hurt, but it was a welcome change from day to day non-feeling. Now I am exercising my upper body a lot less, but doing a lot of walking and things seem to be much better. I do have back pain, especially when I sleep too much, but my arms and legs feel a lot better than when I was going overboard with exercise.

So, on to other things, I have been having problems with neighbours in my building. Actually, I honestly don’t know if a lot of it has to do with my own paranoia, and that I need my anti-psychotic medication increased or even changed. One of my neighbours came by a couple of months ago and went into a long tirade about people making noise. So at every chance I get, I try to do what I need to without making any unnecessary noise, but it doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone. This is where the paranoia comes in, when I make even a slight noise, any other noises sound to me like a retaliatory noise, and I really don’t want to start a war in a place I really like to live in.

It is more likely that the noise I make isn’t a big deal. The only really bad thing I do is to run the blender or the popcorn maker once a day at least, but I don’t seem to get any negative feedback.

The other thing about my paranoia is that I am finding it harder and harder to go out in public or ride a bus. If I can, I always like to sit near the back and to sit to one side rather than take up two seats. Of course there is almost always some loud, swearing jerk at the very back seat and as the ride moves on I always seem to think he/she is talking about me. It is really making it difficult for me to function. Other than that, things seem to be going so well I can hardly imagine my good fortune. I was asked to speak at a stigma stoppers symposium for some junior high kids, I was also asked to read some Christmas Poetry to 400 people at a Christmas Luncheon. I will put the Christmas poem below since I haven’t posted one in a while.

Funny enough, of all of the things in my life, it seems I am getting the most joy out of my new PS4 Pro system. I bought a game called Sniper 3 for it and it is so incredibly fun to attack bases and go on missions. One lone sniper against sometimes more enemies than you are given sniper rounds. I can’t even imagine how addicted I would be to this game if I were a young kid.

But, dear readers, I hope that has given you all some food for thought. If people do like this blog, or even if they don’t or want to see certain topics, the best way to make that happen is to leave me comments. Without them I am finding it hard to write on a regular basis. Please see below for poem, and Happy Holidays!

 

McCauley Christmas

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Sweet taste of milky chocolates

Candy canes to grab everywhere

 

Christmas dinner plates full of so many things

That even those on diets eat like they don’t care

 

Parents right there to make our lives so wonderful

Also Cousins, Aunts and Uncles all around

 

Hearing the church bells start to ring

Just after Santa brought our presents down

 

We truly had no idea at that time

There was want, disappointment or so much need

 

In fact, when we didn’t get just what we had wanted

We often displayed some very ugly greed

 

Christmas time came year upon year

Each time bringing much needed joy

 

So wonderful in my small home town

To be a youthful girl or boy

 

The time came eventually for my brother and sister and I

To grow past Christmas, and move out on our own

 

And suddenly for the very first time

We learned what it meant to be truly alone

 

But despite the trials each and every year

When there was time for us to return home

 

We happily reunited with our sweet kind family

And forgot we ever had been alone

 

Sadly, we never even realized

In the neighborhood in which we lived

 

Many of our close friends and neighbors were alone

Even though we ourselves had more than enough love to give

 

When everyone seems celebrates, look closely and carefully

Look at those with whom you share your special place

 

Don’t just smile at them while they die inside

Despite how they may put up a happy face

 

Help them through the hardest times

Those who came before we did and after

 

Share with them a special gift

Share joy and love and laughter

 

Show everyone you care about each of them

Everyone tossed around here on mother Earth

 

Please learn a lesson in this special time you will use all year

As we celebrate my savior’s birth

 

Healthy and Unhealthy Ways of Coping With Depression

Sadly, this picture doesn’t do the subject justice. The other day, after a panicked phone call from a friend, I went outside to see something I have never imagined I would ever see–the sun was cherry red from thick forest fire smoke hanging over the city.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog on coping with depression.

Suicide

 

I know you’re hurting but don’t think you found a better way

Before you waste your life I have some words I want to say

 

Each one of us, your friends fears to take a chance

And each one of us has failed at romance

 

Please don’t give up trying

 

Giving up and giving in

When it comes to love

Is almost like a sin

 

You have to understand love sometimes fades

The way we all see it you weren’t to blame

 

You put body, mind, and soul into being a friend and lover

And now that your love is no more you can’t recover

 

Just keep something always in your mind

You have looks and youth, there is every chance you will find

 

A new path to happiness once more

Though you may wait a while and find it on a distant shore

The time will come for you then you will just need to go through that open door

 

You will not regret starting fresh and finding someone new

Right now, those of us who care fear greatly for you

 

Too many young people gave their lives away

For hurt feelings that would be gone so soon, literally in days

 

The final choice is up to you

Only you can decide what you do

But my friend I will say anew

So many people care and I do too

END

 

Coping With Depression:

I think a lot of people, heck I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone has had their down days. But when you have an actual diagnosis of clinical depression it goes far beyond what most people experience. Depression, which can be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression, is extremely debilitating. When it happens to you I think the most important thing you can do is to not isolate yourself. I went through some times living on my own when it just seemed like there was no way out, that my life was going to end in a bad part of town living all alone in a cheap apartment. I recall literally laying on the floor repeatedly trying to touch wires in the back of my oven for no real reason. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but I was close to being past the point of caring.

One of the hardest things about dealing with depression, (and I should also note a good deal of today’s blog applies to bipolar disorder as well, which has a depressive side to it) is that you are not visibly injured and a lot of people can be extremely judgemental. When I was first out on my own I had a job at a grocery store for a few months but I had a very hard time coping. Somehow when you add stress to depression, you end up with a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Working becomes impossible. More than a few times I have had jobs where I had to call in sick for no better reason than that I didn’t feel like working. Of course I made up more elaborate excuses than that, but it was next to impossible for me to find any kind of job that understood my needs as a disabled person, so naturally after years of trying everything I could, I was put on a disability pension. I was very lucky because I found something I could do, I found that I could write and also give talks for the Schizophrenia Society and help others. Things have turned out extremely well, but I still have the odd bout of depression and mania. I also have symptoms of schizophrenia since my full diagnosis is anxiety, bipolar, and schizoaffective disorder.

One of the most important daily strategies I use is meditation. Some time back I made an in-depth study of meditation and the things I learned were astounding. For a long time I would use sitting meditation and count my breaths and simply try and focus and keep my ‘monkey mind’ from running around and thinking all kinds of different things. I found it helped with anger, it took a good deal of stress off my shoulders especially when really needed like just before a shift at work, but I slowly slipped away from it. Now I practise walking meditation more, which is great because it is helping me lose weight and feel better which is extremely important for mental and physical health, but I do think I need to go back to sitting meditation soon. There is nothing that gave me more of a positive and caring attitude than sitting meditation.

Of course, when you consider depression, it is important to consider anti-depressants. I take prozac (among pills for other reasons and an injection) and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Not every pill is right for every person. I do have to say though that there was a time when I went off prozac because I thought I was ‘cured’ from my depression and I sunk deep into a depression that was literally so bad I couldn’t see that my mental and physical health were seriously deteriorating. I barely left my apartment, I found no joy in anything. And to top it off, I contacted a high school crush and was told to get out of her life. A short time later I made a very serious suicide attempt and ended up in intensive care. Lesson: don’t discontinue medications without the supervision of a doctor/psychiatrist.

So what about the people who feel down but don’t think their situation is serious enough to get treatment? Talking to your family Doctor about it, or finding a counsellor/psychologist may be the best thing you could ever do. I think a lot of people who have the blues a lot don’t even remember what feeling good was like.

There are many more strategies I can go over. One of my favourites is to get a supportive and positive group of friends (preferably ones that aren’t regular drinkers or drug users) and get five phone numbers. When you feel you need to talk, call the first one, then when you next want some support, call the second and work your way down the list. This way you don’t put too much pressure or demand on one person to help you.

As I mentioned above, physical activity can be a great way to lift the spirits. Walking is great, especially if you have someone to walk with. Sports like tennis or racquetball, or even team sports can be great, but don’t force yourself or risk injury. It is always a good idea to consult an MD before starting a new regimen. But none of these things work alone. Use all of them or a few of them. Get five friends, make an appointment to talk to your family MD to talk about your depression. In most major cities, you can find resources to see a counsellor/psychologist for free. Above all, do everything you can to maintain good health from brushing your teeth to watching salt and fat intake. And if your depression lasts, strongly consider anti-depressants. They were a miracle for me and depression almost killed me more than once.

LG

 

A Little Psychiatry and Nutrition From A Dude Who Has Been there

 there must be pots of gold in Edmonton. I’ve never seen two rainbows up close like this (Please look below today’s poem for today’s blog entry)

 

Through My Living Room Window

 

The setting Spring sun is reaching out with its golden rays

Right into my living room as I rest.

For a moment as I contemplate the coming summer

Contentment washes over me

 

I’ve slept too much today, the warm nurturing sunlight

Made my living room the perfect place to snooze

So hard to shake that lazy tired feeling from me, I must rise to write.

I sit and let my thoughts linger over endless childhood adventures

And all my adult responsibilities. For a moment it doesn’t seem fair.

 

Do all the people on this Earth feel these weak moments?

Times where they consider giving up the fight

For two cars and a house?

 

I know that as I listen to the quiet din of the inner city, and

Let my eyes drink in the green of the grass and budding trees

Thoughts of Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida possess me

But still I know in my heart

Summer in Edmonton is going to be amazing

 

Leif Gregersen

May 12, 2018

 

Good day my friends. Another sleepless night has come upon me and so I am finally going to sit down to write a little. My bipolar (aka manic depression) has somehow gotten me to cut down on food enough and exercise enough to lose some weight. I would put pictures up of the difference but I don’t really want to disgust anyone. Basically, yesterday I walked around 4 or 5 miles to the pool, had a dip and swam a couple of lanes and weighed in almost 20lbs lighter than I had a few months ago on the same scale. The really difficult about losing weight, and I can’t tell you how much psychiatric medications had to do with it, was just going through the initial shock of fasting. I was having ongoing stomach problems and a Doctor sent me for tests for diabetes and I had to fast for 12 hours. This was at first excruciating, even though I was allowed to drink water I thought I was going to go insane. It actually reminded me about what junkies talk about when they start to realize they are either going to get a fix or become extremely sick. I didn’t really get sick, but it took everything I had to get through that night. The sad news at the end is that I was diagnosed with diabetes, but now that I am finally into a ‘losing weight’ mode I think I will be able to control the bad effects. It is a bit scary to think of, studies show that a diagnosis of diabetes takes an average of 12 years off a person’s life. There are a lot of things I could do in 12 years. There is also risks of poor circulation leading to loss of limbs and also needing to take injections of insulin at a later point. I really wish I had done something about my weight sooner. I can only blame myself for this, I thought if I just kept sugar intake low and exercised all I could I would be fine, but this disease snuck up on me.

One of the things that is interesting to note here is that if you have a mental illness, say schizophrenia or bipolar, or are like me and have schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, it will also sneak up on you. I will never forget the slow, gradual change that came over me just before I first had to be put in the psychiatric hospital. My concept of reality began to change. I didn’t see myself as a thinking human being, I saw myself just as an animal able to feel warmth and cold and pain and comfort. Slowly this got worse and a psychosis developed that made me think the human race was split into two distinct groups, one of them at war with the other, the other unaware of the dirty tricks the first consistently played on them. I can’t believe I was only 18 when all of this started happening. Another kind of scary thing is that I am now 46 and though I am doing extremely well, there is a lot of lost time to make up for that I don’t think I will really get a chance to recover from. I am pretty happy about my present situation though, I have discovered a love of long-distance walking (for 4 weeks now I have walked over 10 miles on Thursdays after work and often walk at least that much on the other days.) I have some very amazing friends like Richard Van Camp who is an incredible author and on and on. I hope some of these words get to people who read my blog. If you feel you are going through something like severe depression, get some trusted advice from a doctor. Have your condition monitored, consider how much an anti-depressant can help. If you hear things or see things that no one else does, talk to someone about it. It isn’t wrong to have a mental illness, and it is never wrong to seek help. The only wrong thing is that so many people are afraid of mental illness and create stigma surrounding it that people think they will be worse off if they share their thoughts and emotions with others. And as far as the diabetes goes, if you can do it, get out for walks. Walk in a mall if it is too icy outside. Get a membership at a pool and try aquafit workouts or even just water-jog (basically dog paddling but you keep your head a little higher and go in laps). Take what you eat into consideration. I’ve now been told to avoid white foods like rice, potatoes, sugar, and a number of others. Get a blender and learn how to make fruit smoothies, they are delicious and very good for you. Salads can be so simple, just get a tomato, some lettuce, some kale, a cucumber, green pepper, and celery and chop all of them up, add some light salad dressing and you’re off. This is just very simple advice I’ve been learning, there are a world of dishes out there that will help you lose weight and get healthier. I do recommend that you consult a Medical Doctor before exercising or dieting and look into taking classes on nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. I can only give tiny bits of things I have been learning but I can emphasize that the feeling of losing weight and being out in the summer sun getting healthy exercise is so amazing it is almost impossible to describe. Don’t leave it until it is too late, make a decision now, turn off your monitor or close your laptop and phone for an appointment to get something done about excess weight or depression, or any mental or physical health concern. I have to tell you things can only get better and you’re worth it!

Mental and Physical Wellness and the Beautiful June Sky

Scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog

 

On The Verge (A Villanelle)

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Sometimes it pays back more to sacrifice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

I know falling behind can truly sting

One day you will be glad you paid the price

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

Giving up will never make you a King

Just ask yourselves if you are men or mice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

One day you’ll get a medal and they’ll sing

Unless you give up despite my advice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

 

In life as athletes you are just in Spring

I hope these humble words to you suffice

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

Dig deep inside for constant improving

And in the game always look cold as ice

Winning isn’t always the only thing

Strong people learn lessons that losing brings

 

June 2, 2018

 

Blog entry for today:

Good day dear readers. I have been having a pretty amazing past few days despite that I got both good and bad news. If I were to sum up the things that went well, I would try to use just one word, “community.” I feel very blessed to live in McCauley (which is where the photo above was taken) because now that I have been here 17 years, I am making so many friends, getting connected with so many opportunities, and I even feel that my illness is further into remission than I thought it was.

This past weekend, I had a table at a music festival in the arts tent and I was really happy to find out that people like my photography and put a high value to it. I had framed up a few photos and sold 3 of 4 pieces I put out. One of the things I love about photography is that you need a lot of the same skills a hunter does like patience and awareness of many things such as light, the paths that subjects may take (in my case often birds) but you don’t kill anything. I hate to admit it now, but when I was a teenager I had a rifle and it was just about the only thing that gave me any joy to go out in the wilderness and hunt small animals. Now I hunt them with a camera and it pays me back in way more joy and even a few bucks now and then.

The music festival was pretty amazing, I also was the M.C. for part of the show on Sunday and got to hear some amazing bands. It is amazing how good live music sounds, if it is good music it reaches right to your heart.

I should actually talk just a little about some of the bad side of things here. I might have mentioned already in this blog I have been diagnosed with diabetes. A lot of people get it, but it is  in no way a small thing. The complications from it are far-reaching, it can lead to things such as blindness and losing limbs. And it can be extremely difficult to follow the diet that is recommended for it. I have to admit being a little blindsided by the whole experience of finding this out. I would say though that I am glad I found out so now treatment and adjustment can begin. I suppose these types of things are just a part of getting older.

To say a few things on the topic of mental illness, I am actually almost starting to see my illness(es) as a blessing of sorts. Now that I went through the horrible times of being mentally ill, being in a hospital, almost losing all hope and many other difficult experiences, I feel that I have something important to share with others that only I can talk about because I’ve been through it. I just want to end today’s blog with a message of hope. There really is recovery be it far off on the horizon. There really is a state of remission you can get to where you have complete or close to complete control of your symptoms. I’m at that point now and I cherish each moment I have to sip a cup of tea, sit in my favourite chair and read, watch a movie or a Youtube clip. I know I’m not going to be 100% healthy and happy forever, but I’m going to hold on to the good times with friends and family and even the enjoyable times I spend by myself as much as I can. I can’t tell anyone if there really is an afterlife, that is more a matter of faith than anything and you can’t just tell someone to have faith and expect them to understand everything you do all at once. I just know that family, friends, love is precious and for as long as I can I’m going to hold onto my health and wellbeing so I can enjoy them to the fullest.

LG

Sidewalk Poetry and Discovering I’m An Artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, dear readers. Today is kind of unique. The two photos above display both my love of photography and of poetry. These are two poems that I submitted to a contest to be sandblasted into the sidewalk in my neighbourhood that were accepted.

A lot of interesting things have been going on in my life but that is not what I want to talk about today (and likely shouldn’t ever unless I finally win that Nobel Prize I’ve been after). I am going to be teaching two classes in the next month and have completed training to be a telephone peer support counsellor. Working for two nonprofit organizations is odd for me, but filled with joy and pleasure. I work with so many people whose whole mission in life is to reach out to the most disadvantaged in our society and to make their lives better. I even am starting to keep running into people who have been marginalized for many reasons and really feel a strong bond with them. Many people know about opiod abuse and the deaths that fentynal and other drugs have been causing, but few of these people are educated enough about the feelings and dangers associated with these drugs. I have been asked to facilitate four poetry workshops at an inner city agency for people to learn how to express themselves better through poetry. The poems that come out of this project will go into a booklet that will be distributed to some of the rougher parts of town.

I guess what I have most in mind right now is a belly ache that has been bothering me for a few days now. I am pretty sure it’s nothing serious, but there is some pain and a doctor I went to see has set me up for x-rays, an ultrasound, and some blood tests which I will get done in the morning. The thoughts I have on these things is that a lot of us can so easily get caught up in work, in planning for a vacation, and many of you who read this blog, can get caught up in trying to somehow attain that elusive situation of good mental health, but it does very little if your physical health isn’t on track. I keep watching a video on Youtube from a movie by Oliver Stone (Any Given Sunday) where Al Pacino gives a talk to some football players at half time and says (and I paraphrase) “When you get old in life, you start losing things. The trouble is you don’t know about it until they are already gone.” It really makes me think about how important good physical health is, because we are all getting older, even the smallest baby and the happiest billionaire (if there is such a thing as a happy billionaire). Sometimes I piss and moan about all my health problems, from arthritis in my joints to my declining vision and the sore muscles I get when I exercise. If that’s what 46 is like, I wonder what 80 or 90 will be like if I make it that far.

I have a brother who is going through some really difficult times with his back and other issues, and I wish I could somehow help him, but I wonder sometimes that if he was even in perfect health if there was a way he would feel content and positive about it. His is a sad case, he suffered for many years from mental illness and I got him some help and he was soon put on a disability pension. At first, he looked at the bright side of it and talked about using his time to learn a language and other things. But I think what the problem was at that time was that he didn’t take a hard look at his mental illness and get to work on that so he could move on and do some of these wonderful things. I feel very responsible for his condition because I got him help when he first asked for it and I have been in a position to do things for him to help him get through the tougher times.

So what I want to say to all of you, is very old and very cliche. Take care of your health. Love yourself enough to go for annual checkups, quit smoking or using drugs or alcohol. They only take away from what can be wonderful experiences. Get your exercise, especially on cold days when you don’t want to. Care for those you love and be generous with them. When I was a young boy it seemed like I would never grow up. I often think of a book my brother was reading when I was in elementary school called “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” and thinking to myself about how old someone in grade four was compared to me. Don’t waste your life, if you are out of work make the best of it. Walk to the library each day with a notebook and write poetry, use the computers and suck the marrow out of life. If you have a mental illness, find ways to use the bad things that you went through to help others who are going through the same thing. One day you may realize that giving really makes life worth living. And with that dumb little poem, I will wrap up.

LG