Psychiatry

Psychiatric Medications and Weight Gain: Can They Be Controlled?

A reconstructed Hotel and Canada Place. Both have meaning to me, the one in the background (Canada Place) is where I worked myself half to death helping my Dad paint stairwell doors for untold hours each day when I was in High School. The hotel, according to legend, is one that Leonard Cohen stayed at after being kicked out of the Hotel MacDonald, just up the street.

 

So here is how it went: I was a skinny kid when I went into the hospital 17 years ago. I think after making an effort to fatten myself up, I was about 170 pounds/77 kg. I got out of the hospital and life seemed pretty bland, but I enjoyed my freedom. I enjoyed it so much I nearly lost it just a few months after getting it back. I would eat three meals a day, then late at night go buy a large bag of chips and a submarine sandwich. If I had the money I would get a pizza. What I remember is that I was so ravenously hungry that if I didn’t have any food I wouldn’t sleep that night. So I ate and ate and ate. The more food I took in, the more food I was able to take in. I was exercising, but mostly just light walks through the river valley with my dad. Time passed and before I knew it I was 260 pounds/118 kg. By some miracle, if I got much higher than that I was able to fast my way back down. If something happened, I would drop a few pounds but they always seemed to come back.

The first thing I wanted to mention is actually really sad. My mom had a mental illness. She was such a sweet, kind, and caring person and she tried so hard to lose the weight that three kids and a bunch of pills made her get to. After years of trying various diets, she decided to try walking. She ended up walking about five miles each day and the pounds just came off. But maybe she did too much. Maybe she had the early signs of osteoporosis. We don’t really know. What we do know is that she ended up with a crushed vertebrae in her neck. The stress of surgery for it messed up her diet and exercise and not only did she gain weight rapidly, her mental health became very poor and she had a few admissions to hospitals. She spent the rest of her life overweight.

What happened to me was that I moved into my own apartment and was able to cook any type of food I wanted. Thinking that if the Irish people could do it, I could do it, I ended up eating way more potatoes than was healthy. I would bake two of them in the microwave, slather them with butter and salt and gobble them up. I started in on easy, deep fried or fast food. I stocked up on chips, pretzels, cheese puffs and all that. And I ate out a lot. It didn’t seem all that bad. I wasn’t having that much sugar–or so I thought. I was exercising a lot, though just hovering around the same weight. I was also eating a lot of TV dinners. A good friend was appalled because he used to be a prison guard and that was what inmates got.

So one day I ended up having a pretty bad stomach ache. I went to a walk-in Doctor and he prescribed some pills and sent me for some blood tests. When I came back expecting to be complimented for my fitness, he told me that I had diabetes, I didn’t believe him. Even with all the eating and the rolls of flab on my midsection I really thought diabetes was impossible. So I asked for another test. For this one I had to fast for 12 hours. I should have known the night before what the results were going to be. I nearly went mad with hunger. I drank all kinds of water (the only thing allowed before the test) and my whole body screamed out for something fatty or salty or crunchy. Despite staying up all night I made it through and the test was that I had to drink a large glass of sugar water with some orange flavouring in it and then wait for two hours for them to re-check my blood sugar level. I failed. It all seemed so surreal.

I had heard and read that type two diabetes can be reversed, but a doctor assured me that if I reverse it I would still have to stay on a special diet for the rest of my life. Of all the people in the world, the one person I needed most to be able to talk to was my Dad, but he told me in no uncertain terms that diabetes was something that Doctors make up to sell pills. He practically made fun of me. I didn’t hold it against him but I kept it clear in my head the old men I saw in a hospital I worked in who had limbs missing from the same illness. Or the teacher from my junior high who taught us about diabetes and how it greatly shortens a person’s possible life span.

So I had to dig in and form a plan. All sugar was now out. All white food, and fast food was out. Snack food–gone. I did decide that I could eat popcorn but my teeth aren’t in all that good of shape either so it had to be in moderation. On top of all this, I had to start reading every ingredient and every nutritional label on any product I planned to eat. For the first while this was really hard. So many things have high levels of fat. So many of the foods I loved from tomato soup to submarine sandwiches were off the scale for things like salt in the soup and fat in the submarine sandwiches. It seemed there was nothing I could eat. And as an added bonus, I had to start taking a pill for cholesterol and another pill called metformin to regulate my blood sugar level. I also got a kit for testing my blood at home and actually I kind of found it a bit fun–until I had to prick the same finger a dozen times and it got sensitive. The metformin caused me dizziness and tiredness. Fortunately, like many of my psychiatric medications, after time it started to work and the bad side effects mostly went away. I did notice that the metformin seemed to make me extremely jumpy and my nerves were on edge.

And as time went by, I started learning about what my body needed when my blood sugar level was low or when I couldn’t sleep. My Psychiatrist had approved certain pills for use when I needed to sleep and I hate to admit I took more of them than I absolutely needed.

What really seemed to save me though was walking. I have always done a lot of walking, but now I started to take it to almost extremes. My moms record of five miles a day didn’t seem like much at all. I would walk four miles, go for a swim, then walk four miles back. I always felt so anxious about getting to a scale at a pharmacy or a doctor’s office just to see if I had lost another pound. A few times I worked way out in the West end of Edmonton and walked for around three hours to get home. Now I don’t know what to do.

I did something significant. I lost 30 pounds. I found I slept better, I could bend over and pick things off the floor when it used to be a very hard thing for me. I also saved a bit of money because I wasn’t spending cash on fancy restaurants or garbage food. I have to admit I don’t get all of my vegetables. When I cook up a supper though, I often add in frozen peas, broccoli, green beans. I actually like the taste of them now. I have been doing so much learning about food and nutrition it has been a lot of fun. Who would have thought an illness that threatened life and limb could be described ‘fun’?

So here’s the sad part: a lot of people I know who have mental illnesses and take medication have diabetes. One of these people has it because of overeating and inactivity. His culture, the way he was raised, was that one ate until you were full. I will never forget going for breakfast with him one day and watching him clear his plate, then order another special. Another friend who is on even more medication than I am had some incredible success with a system I am trying to do myself. One plate, four sections. One quarter is your meat, one quarter is a vegetable and the last two are some kind of greens.

Gaining weight, having diabetes, and many other issues from heart disease to colon cancer are serious issues for people with mental illnesses. What I have found though is that if you can just somehow tough things out for a couple of weeks you will start to change how you taste things and you will almost miraculously be tuned into eating healthy food instead of junk or fatty and salty food. I would so much rather go to my fridge and get a navel orange or some grapes than pretzels that are doused in salt. I will admit though, as I mentioned, I do love popcorn. It is incredibly cheap, has great aspects to it like its high fibre, low-fat content, and there are things one can add to it like nutritional yeast that make it taste divine. I do still add melted margarine and a little salt, but I make sure it is non-hydrogenated, low calorie margarine, and I go as easy as I can on the salt. Remember that your body does need some salt and some fat. The trick is to exercise it off.

So are there any alternatives if you feel your situation is so far gone even a diet won’t help you and you don’t seem to be able to exercise? In most countries my blog is read in, there is an option called bariatric surgery. There are actually a few surgeries, but bariatric is the only one I know anything about. There is a waiting list to have the surgery done, which is time you spend acclimatizing yourself to having a much smaller stomach and learning how to keep up a healthy diet and other factors. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I have seen it work. If this situation sounds like you, talk to your MD.

Well Dear Readers, this session of blog writing seemed to go a little long. I hope some of it helped some of you in some tiny way. I encourage you to make comments when you read this, it really would help me keep coming back to write these knowing there are people out there who are being helped by it.

Best,

LG

 

Chronic Mental Illness and You: Never Give Up

Today’s Photo is a picture of Rogers Place. Here the Edmonton Oilers battle things out game after game, for the hope of bringing home the Stanley cup. Some of them fight addictions, all of them deal with incredible amounts of stress, but they share one thing: They have made hockey their lives, their entire lives. I dearly wish that each of you who read this blog can find that one thing that keeps them in tune with the human race, gives them purpose. My ‘thing’ is writing, and now I am finding that it is also teaching. Without these in my life I would fall back into a negative mindset in a hurry, it would almost be a death sentence.

When we deal with a mental illness, perhaps the most difficult part of it is that we often lack a sense of awareness of our own condition. This is called Anosognosia, and I know I have had it. When I was 18, despite that I knew my thinking and concept of the world was extremely skewed, and that after spending a month in a psychiatric hospital on medications I just about literally ‘came back from the dead’, I thought I knew more than the trained specialists who could see what was wrong and fix it. I don’t know why, but I thought Psychiatry was all bunk and I just wasn’t ready to give in and take medications that I felt turned me into a zombie. Talking to Doctors about it, I have learned that this is very frequently the case in people who are recently diagnosed. You simply can’t be mentally ‘fixed’ until you realize what is broken. The worst part of it all? I actually thought that if I was honest with the Doctor about what was going on in my head that I would never leave that hospital, and that scared me. It was a horrible experience, being acted on with violence from the staff who could also give me injections of incredibly barbaric medications when I wasn’t complying. Abuse and violence also came from the other patients, and all of us were locked in together in one cramped, cigarette smoke stained place. There is one memory that sticks out though, there was a young man my age, and I won’t say he was mentally well, but he was a kind and friendly guy. He convinced me one day to sit down at a table with him and draw. He even recommended I take a course called “Drafting 10” which I eventually did take. When I sat down with this guy, it was like I was no longer in the hospital, and when I was able to string together a few good days like that, I was taken to a ward that wasn’t so strict and violent.

So how can people who have a mental illness take this advice and apply it to their lives? First of all, just like I was able to focus (though with great effort) in the violent ward when I was given some encouragement, people with mental illness (and I am sure there are family members of mentally ill people reading this who can encourage their loved ones to do this as well) should be allowed to explore many different endeavours until they find one that they love to do. It could be playing guitar, it could be painting. For me it is writing, poetry, giving talks, even just trying to help some of the many homeless people in my neighbourhood. There are so many things worth doing, if you can just find one thing, perhaps it is something you already have a background in, and then use it in a way that you can become not just a productive person, but a giving person. I once knew a young woman with schizophrenia who became ill a great deal because she never left her apartment. She had trained as an accountant but her skills were fading away and she saw no way to get a job. So, as I will direct many of you, however many read this, I told her to contact an organization called “The Volunteer Network” she did this, and the network (I hope there are similar organizations where you live) placed her in a non-profit business where she was able to work. Unfortunately she didn’t stick with it, but I really think that volunteering can be a source of healing for so many people. There really is a great deal of need for caring, compassionate people, regardless of any mental health diagnosis to simply spend time with elderly people in nursing homes or lodges. At one time I had what was almost a dream job. I worked as a pastoral care volunteer at a Veteran’s Hospital. I met so many kind and caring older men who simply wanted a little company, someone to tell their fascinating stories to. I also helped the Pastor who found four or five men I could visit. I will never forget taking one man out for a walk, and how happy he was to breathe fresh air. To this day, I visit my ex-girlfriend’s mom in the retirement lodge she is in and I love it. She is one of the sweetest, nicest people I know. We get together, eat pizza, play cards, and it really makes me feel worthwhile.

Just to dwell on that word “Worthwhile” for a moment, I should mention that just a couple of years ago I had an amazing job that paid about twice what I get now. If I had stayed with it and carefully saved my money, I could do just about anything, travel all over the globe if I wanted. But it was such a trial dealing with all the politics and competition between me and others. The money was pouring in, but the stress was breaking me down. I found a job with the Schizophrenia Society, which I still have, and I go to many different places and give talks, and there are so many rewards. A couple of weeks ago I met a young man who came to me and told me he thinks he has a mental illness and I was able to help him. Often I go to the Police Recruit Class and teach young officers how to deal with people who are mentally ill. It takes so little effort, but because I love it I do it well, and I have a sense of worth and job security that I don’t ever want to let go of.

Well, dear readers. That is all I really have for today. Soon I will go back to writing poems, I have just been feeling a bit too drained lately. I leave you with a story I want to start adding to my presentations: When I was in Air Crew Survival training as a kid, we were told that we had to pair up with a buddy and watch out for each other. For example, if we were walking and there was rain or puddles, we were told to ask them if they had dry socks. Regardless of their answer, we would have to put our hand into their boots to make sure their socks were dry, and if they weren’t, we would have them change into dry ones. The lesson from this? Find a buddy. Find someone you trust. And when times get hard, check his or her socks. And make sure they are taking care of themselves and that they know to help take care of you.

Mental Health as Winter Approaches. Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Disable

This is a picture I am kind of proud of, taken with and edited by an iPhone 7. This was pretty much the last all-green day I went out taking photos. Now comes the long struggle to deal with the low sunlight hours of winter that have been known to cause a great deal of people to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. It was a grim sight, but once, right on the very bridge I took this picture of, I saw a man who died by hanging himself off the bridge. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a very serious issue and suicide is a tragic loss for all those left behind. As a last comfort, Edmonton is now a dash of every colour possible.

The following poem first appeared in the Boyle-McCauley News

 

The Forgotten Book

 

On my floor forgotten lies a book

Its cover bent all it seems to do is gather dust

The dismal hum of the summer fan

Licks its pages until it seems alive

This book once had been my hopes, my dreams

To take me places I never dared to go

This book was more than mine it was me

It was written by my hand inspired by my soul

I poured everything into its pages

And now at 5:00am as the sky brightens

I haven’t got the energy to pick it up

I should file the thing; get it out of sight

But I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it

There on my floor

I may be a hermit to some

Old books covering my furniture and floors

Old junk filling up the spaces in between

But among all that will be that book

Hopefully long after I am gone

To tell my story

To somehow let me live on

If only on a page that few will read

Leif Gregersen

 

Good morning noon or night dear readers! It has been some time since I have written a blog, I apologize but feel I have a relevant excuse. I have been given a new pill which is being used to taper me off one antipsychotic medication to another that will have less side effects and only needs to be administered once a month instead of every two weeks. Add to that the pulling of a tooth and the week long use of painkillers and penicillin and I was a bit of a wreck. On Friday I am going to be speaking to an inter professional group, (actually three of them) at the University of Alberta Medical School and I am going to need to tell them about how all of their jobs fit together (I will be speaking in front of dentists, doctors, nurses and more). Something I continue to talk about is how psychiatric medications often cause dry mouth, and saliva is the first line of defence we have against tooth decay. So it follows that, even though they may not know it, dentists play a key role in the treatment of someone with an illness.

More will be said on that topic, but today I wanted to talk a bit about how winter affects us. Unless you live on the equator, in winter there are much fewer hours of sunlight. Many doctors believe that everyone needs a certain amount of sunlight to regulate their moods. Many people with bipolar disorder use a ‘light box’ to make them feel better in the winter months. Some even have headsets with UV light shining into their eyes wherever they go. I don’t know how effective this is, but I do know that midwinter can be a very difficult time for me to get through. This summer has been wonderful, I invested in the best walking shoes I was recommended and have been walking sometimes up to 20km a day, enjoying the hot weather and sunshine, and I have also lost 30 pounds in the process. When winter comes, getting my daily exercise will be much more difficult. I will walk, especially to the grocery store, but it may well go down as far as minus 40 (40 below). This means I will slip and slide at times when I walk, and it also means that my skin will get extremely dry, worse if I go swimming for my exercise, but I have stocked up on video games, movies and books of all kinds, plus I will be working a couple of days a week if all goes well.

Another thing I know about the middle of winter (in Canada) is that around Christmas, the psychiatric hospital and psych wards fill right up to capacity. This makes it very difficult to get help if you are suicidal and in need of treatment. It is an interesting problem one faces because we really need more trained psychiatric staff, but to hire more staff, more must be trained, which can either mean lowered standards of training, or incentives from the government. The biggest problem faced in my own workplace, the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta is that mental illness is not a popular target for funding. There are solutions out there, but I am hoping to spread the word that much of it is down to the general public, not the patients, the staff, the teachers or the government. Much of it comes down to changing attitudes towards mental health. Stigma kills. Literally. A fact we stress when I give presentations for the SSA is that 1% of people in Canada (300,000 people) have the illness of schizophrenia. (can you imagine providing space for that many people plus trained staff if needed?) out of those 300,000 people, and I also like to stress that they are people, 10% will die by suicide as a direct result of being stigmatized, being isolated as a result of stigma, and possibly even not feeling any sense of care or self-worth as a result of stigma. I don’t know all the answers, but I will try and document what I can on this blog, so stick close dear readers, this will be a wild ride!

Leif Gregersen

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

 

Losing Friendships and Family Relationships: All a Part of Mental Illness

I remember in high school thinking if I went to pick up a young woman I had a crush on in a car like this that she would change her mind about not wanting to be my girlfriend. In reality, very few members of the opposite sex would genuinely change their mind about someone like that, but I had been born to think that way. Even if a car like this got me some amazing girlfriend, she would likely be so vain and shallow things would never last.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog and a special video I found for you!

 

Recovery Poem

 

Oftentimes I will forget

The things that brought me here

To the place where I have no more feelings

I’ve been hurt just far too much

 

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining

There were so many awesome times

And love that still lives on in me

Will never go away

 

A few years ago, I lost my mother

But still have my loving dad

And a wonderful amazing brother

Who is like a mirror twin

 

I have to say I’ve lost some friends

For reasons that seem so trivial

Maybe they feared my mental illness catching

Or that I was making an excuse

 

My illness is a real thing

That kicks the crap right out of me

And it takes every bit of courage

To keep on walking mental hospital free

 

And then there are those who understand me

Those who care and those who help

It’s just a few disturbing incidents

That torment me endlessly

 

Well, here it is another late night/early morning. I wanted to talk today about relationships, particularly the ones that end when you become mentally ill. It is a sad thing, but something most people who have a mental illness face. There is a lot of negative public opinion out about mental illness. One of the things people believe is that they are being forced to work while someone gets money every month and doesn’t have to work. I get very upset when I hear this sort of thing because honestly, I am a Canadian citizen who has paid into the system, and I became extremely ill, needed treatment, I have a specialist who constantly monitors everything who I comply with, and the sad fact is, I don’t even get as much money as a person getting minimum wage. I keep thinking of this one guy that said that exact thing who considers himself a “Christian” and is basically saying that he is angry that someone is helping the poor and disabled.

All that aside though, I wanted to try and give some coping strategies. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from a man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said he carefully cultivated a group of friends that he could talk to and look to for support, and made sure the group was large enough so that he wasn’t relying on any one person too much, and then went about trying to live his life.

It hurts a lot when friends and family members treat us poorly. One of the things that I did to cope with false friends was to get involved in something that brought me above just making friends for the sake of making friends. For a long time, I sought out others who were disabled or unemployed, didn’t have a lot going on in their lives and a couple of bad things happened that I don’t want to get into. Then I (not quite consciously) decided it was time to get something going in my life and I started getting more involved in poetry and writing. I found out that there was a person at the University who helped writers with their work and I met a dude my age who was extremely helpful and encouraging. I don’t know how it happened, but we got to be friends and he is the most amazing, wonderful friend a guy could ask for. We do all kinds of things together, he helps me with my writing, and I feel very worthwhile and validated about not just my writing, but as a human being.

So, really I have a couple of basic tips from all that: find friends you can count on, find at least five of them and try not to overwhelm any of them. Then, look for something you like to do. Maybe it is poetry, maybe pottery, maybe gardening and get out and join some groups, you can find a lot of this kind of stuff on the Internet. I found a video that I think may be helpful that I am pasting below. Best to everyone!

Keeping Busy: It Can Save The Life of a Psychiatric Patient

Here is a nice summer shot of downtown Edmonton I took on a long walk from my Dad’s place from the south side of the river to the north side. After today’s poem, I am going to talk about my recent walking and exercising and how it can help people with mental health issues.

 

 

Yellow Liquid Bread

By: Leif Gregersen

July 18, 2018

 

 

Silently the old men sip the golden liquid, putting off the total numbness

One man looks around and sees the faces, sees the signs of total madness

Bar patrons old and hateful, filled with beer and faithful sadness

 

Most felt it would have been better to have followed their teachings to the letter

They each had a reason for believing but saw God to be unforgiving

 

 

The yellow fluid slides past the lips soon reaches the liver

It seems to them that beer is the true forgiver

When like now, all ties to fellow man are severed

 

Each day they face the screaming that is so frightening

They live their lives in dreams and sleep in nightmares

 

 

Although the TV screens all seem to be filled with happiness and glory

Each half-drunk patron longs to one day tell his or her own story

Many tried before and after fifty repeats they were told it was too boring

 

But it is all that gives these people any kind of life or meaning

Poor, forgotten warriors, hell bent on finding some kind of redeeming

 

 

And then a man they once had seen in there often but was almost forgotten

Who disappeared at a time when he looked ready for a coffin

Came in with joy and the hope that some of his luck may rub off him

 

He shows them pictures of a wedding celebration

And of the gifts his long-lost son had gave him

 

 

And then the photo with the highest meaning

The one that leaves this tired old man beaming

And showing that deep down he always had human feelings

 

It is the picture of a baby whose looks can’t be mistaken

This young boy has his grandfather’s face and he even got to name him

 

 

The joy resonates throughout the bar that was once his home

And the new grandfather realizes that when he drank here he was all alone

He buys a round and then skips out to use the phone

 

He never did go back there until he heard an old friend had a heart attack

He could mourn or celebrate there but the spirit in that evil place was far too black

 

Today’s Blog Entry:

Good day to everyone around the world who follows this blog. Today I wanted to talk about how important it is to fill up your time when you are struggling with mental health issues. I can recall a lot of times when I was on medication that didn’t seem to be helping me that had horrible side effects. One of them made me so restless I could barely sit still to have a coffee or read for a few minutes. What I did at that time was to pace around my apartment, then find a short story in a collection I had at the time, (I would look for a really short one) and then read it and start the whole process over again. I fear that if I hadn’t found things to do in some of those difficult times that my situation may well have ended up much worse.

For a long time I have been filling up my time with different things. I started out working as a security guard, then worked my way up to becoming a stage hand in a union. Working as a stage hand was really hard, I had to know how to do a lot of things and I had to be extremely physically fit and there were a lot of people who treated me like garbage, but the good part was that it filled up a lot of my time, made me tired enough to sleep well, and got me to meet a lot of people. One of the hardest parts of this job though was that it seemed anyone who I was friends with didn’t stay friends after they learned I had a mental illness, and it seemed a lot of the other people in the union that weren’t friends would treat me bad. It is important though to own your own problems. I couldn’t blame people for having wrong ideas about mental illness, and I couldn’t change other people’s minds because they had a poor knowledge of mental illness. I was there to work, to learn, and to cash a paycheque so I could do some of the things I dreamed about for years, like going to London, England.

I have always believed that when a person becomes ill, they need to follow certain steps. The first, and this can take place in or out of a hospital, is to see a psychiatrist and get on medication that works. This can take a lot of time, but it will definitely take less time if you aren’t honest with your Doctor. The next step takes place while a person is still getting used to their medications which can be very difficult. This is where you start to go into therapy and join support groups and take classes that will help you manage your illness better. The next step is to take job training or look for a volunteer job. Then what can be the hardest step of all, I feel a person should get a job, even if it is part-time supportive employment at the Schizophrenia Society like I do. Nothing will make you feel better than to get up, be a part of society, have a reason to shower and keep your clothes clean. Even a volunteer job can be a great idea. If you are having a long period between work, something I like to do is to go for long, long walks, 6-10 miles sometimes. It helps with my weight, it makes me feel great and so many other things. When the weather is colder, I prefer to go to the pool and use the exercise bikes and swim, which are other great ways to keep busy. You don’t need to fill up your day with power lunches and world class workouts, you just need to give yourself a little push to get out, see the sun for a little while be it winter or summer, and try and do a little better each day. Reading can be great too, but there are people I know of who isolate themselves with reading (or video games, or using the computer). Try joining a book club, or having friends over to play video games with you and only play a limited amount each day. At the end of the day, pick up your wellness journal and tell it what you did, how you felt, how you feel you could improve. It will be so much better if you had things to write about other than that you took your medications and watched some TV. Get creative and find ways to meet people like yourself. I hope this helps, much of it is repeated from other blogs I have written, but only because this is so important!

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!

Coping With a Sleep Disorder and Bipolar

(scroll down for a look at today’s poem)

 

So, for those of you who don’t know, this is me some years ago. Since then I have gained a few pounds, my hair is not naturally blond anymore and I have quite a bit more money than I did then. This picture shows me wearing faded jeans with holes in them, a leather jacket my brother gave me and a sweater that used to be my Dad’s. Funny how when you look back, in some ways you had everything someone could wish for, but at the same time had nothing.

In this picture I was still a young man yearning to be a writer. Now, I am actually a person who is considered a professional writer. As I did then, I now live alone, but have a lot more supportive and encouraging friends in my life. I think back then I had a condition similar to the one I have now, that is a sense that I’m not really there, that the things going on around me aren’t real.

Anyhow, to get down to brass tacks, once again I have found myself needing to get to sleep for something important and completely unable to sleep. I have even taken some melatonin and a sleeping pill together and can’t even seem to lay still in bed. I often wonder if a day filled with high energy activating does this to me. Yesterday I took a long walk with my dad and then went for an invigorating swim. First thing this morning, I walked about six kilometres to an appointment and back, then walked later to a hospital to visit a sick friend.

I don’t really seem to understand what the solution is to this dependence I seem to be getting for sleep aids. I know that if I go on the ones my doctor will eventually prescribe that they will start to affect my memory. I also know that there are certain rules I am not following regarding my sleep. The first one, is that often I sleep in. The second is that I don’t avoid caffeine after a certain hour, and one of the worst ones is that I often take naps. If I could somehow stop doing these things I am sure I will be able to lick my problem with sleeping pills, but they can be very hard things to do, especially when a person doesn’t work full-time. I don’t know now if I am able to work full-time, though I do feel I am close. It almost scares me that in my life I have never really held down a full-time job for any amount of time. I just end up getting too stressed out, I become unable to sleep as always and walk around work like a zombie. Eventually I just sleep in, unplug the phone and let them fire me as I get the morning rest I feel I desperately need. This is a luxury I am sure is not available to millions of people who have a mental illness and don’t have a disability pension.

Well, that is about all I can type on that subject for now. I think I am going to try and write a poem today, any feedback would be appreciated.

 

Years, Months, and Days All Slip By In a Haze

 

life keeps lingering in the dark wee hours

the joys of youth slip away that once were ours

we long for days when resting simply meant putting down your head

now I begin to fear my next refreshing rest will come when I’m dead

 

To think of times of stuffy bears and being tucked in by dad

the only joy I needed in life was the love my family had

a brother, sister, mom, and dad and a little cat

riding bikes with friends far and wide with my Pittsburg Pirates hat

 

summer came so slowly and slipped away so fast

now it seems that summer only meant happiness far back in the past

I don’t want to reminisce too much and cut open a scar

Because I know when I think of my departed mom my thinking has gone too far

 

So let me dream of the future, accept but forget the past

let me think of conquests and adventures that soon will go by so fast

In honesty it feels so good to live alone and choose my own personal fate

I have everything I wanted now, including freedom for which I no longer have to wait

 

Yes it was hard to lose my mom and one day I will lose my father too

I can’t explain how I will feel on that day or what things I will have to do

I just know that being a grown-up means facing some pretty harsh realities

But it all can be so special because as a grown-up you are free.

 

 

Work, Mental Health, and the Occasional Sleeping Pill

Downtown Edmonton during our winter deep freeze

     Hello my good readers! No poem today. I have been writing poetry lately, but all of it is for a cool contest I am helping to get out to the public. It is called “Word On the Street” and it is a contest to win a little money and get one or more of your poems engraved on the sidewalk. I think it is just about the coolest idea to come along in some time.

Well, along with working on this poetry project, I have been doing a number of things. One of them is going to occur in just a few hours, I am on a working group to help determine human resources needs for a new Edmonton project called a “Recovery College”. I have done some things before relating to this type of thing, there will be a number of courses people can take to get themselves on the right track to mental health and wellness. Because of my experience for this sort of thing, I have been asked to put together a course of my own right in the building I live in.

There are just so many things going on in my life it is hard to accurately think about all of them. In a couple of weeks I am going to give a presentation to the Edmonton Police Recruit class about mental illness and they have expressed interest in purchasing a number of my books to provide to cadets. It really feels good to be a part of something like this. I feel a special kinship to police because I was a security guard for such a long time and I grew up with a strong military influence in my life, doing these talks is very rewarding and I get to understand that police are just regular people, sometimes with preconceived notions. What I often like to tell them is that a good number of the cadets in the class I speak to are going to experience things like depression and PTSD. I think this helps them to be more empathetic to people who have a mental illness, and no one encounters more people in the middle of a mental health crisis than police.

Along with that I am trying to keep up with my writing, working on a short story collection with a friend, and doing my best to maintain good mental health. One of the problems I am having that I wanted to discuss is sleep and sleep medications. I am very reluctant to go on regular prescription sleeping pills because of two things, they are addictive and they can affect a person’s memory. So I have been using different things that are hopefully less harmful, from melatonin to over the counter sleeping pills. One of the side effects that seem to come with this method is that on the weekend I will often sleep way too much perhaps to catch up on REM sleep. I am grateful though, I have been really good lately at getting up in time for work and other things that I need to do. As a kid I needed an alarm clock and even that was no guarantee I would get up on time.

It is scary to think about my lack of proper sleep when I was a teenager. I was constantly tired and was drinking coffee at the age of 14 and up to try and cope. There were times when I would stay up late watching TV or go out to drink some alcohol until very late and then have to wake up in just a few hours to work and it must have taken quite a toll on me. That was one thing I liked about being considered disabled when I first lived on my own, I could sleep all I wanted and it seemed that it was a healing process.

It is so hard to try and crack the code of my insomnia. For a long time I was getting a lot of strenuous exercise working setting up stages, but that didn’t always guarantee me a good sleep. I am actually starting to think that exerting mental energy is just as important as physical energy in getting yourself tired enough to sleep at a proper time and also sleep through the night.

I don’t recommend it to a lot of people with mental illnesses, but I am finding that living on my own is an incredibly rewarding experience. I don’t know if it would be if I didn’t have a very conscientious approach to my work. I am able to keep up with writing work and presentations and classes I teach very easily. But all this doesn’t come suddenly. I had to build up to it. A good number of years ago when I was a younger man I had very little faith or belief in work. I saw things like working in a coffee shop or gas station as menial work that was so beneath me that I would go out of my way to do such things as shirk responsibilities and do sloppy work, even steal. I am definitely not proud of that, but I am proud I have gone through enough changes so that I can get jobs, do a good job and feel good about doing that.

Well, dear readers, that was a bit of a long post that didn’t talk about too much. I hope you enjoy the photo I took, I am really looking forward to the weather getting better here in Edmonton and then I will be out taking a lot more photos. All the best and thanks for keeping in touch with this blog!

LG

Hope Faith and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.

This is the view of Edmonton from my back door. The tall tower on the right is going to be 80 stories tall, which is now possible in Edmonton because we closed our municipal airport

Please Scroll Down Past Today’s Poems for Today’s Blog

 

Love confounds me

When I know you are with him

And I am here. alone

Did I not give you so much more

Than long curly hair and muscles?

                                                                  *                  *                  *

Hold on my son your pain will subside

We are only a few decades

Away from holiness

Peace everlasting

Hold on

                                                                    *              *                *

A moment ago

It all seemed so perfect

And yet with the passing of time

I think maybe

Sanity still eludes me

 

Hello Dear Readers! So much has been happening lately I don’t know where to start. All I can say is that if you are out there suffering and it seems like there is no hope, hold on. If you are seeing a family member struggling and it seems like you are going to lose them forever, hold on. If you have lost a loved one or feel like so much has happened you will never recover, hold on.

Just a few short years ago my life seemed like it was over. I had spent six months in a mental hospital, I had no more faith in myself or modern Psychiatry to help me but I inched ahead. Somehow the world was a better place when I left the hospital and I was able to experience recovery. It took years. It took pushing myself past all the limits I had. It took working a job that was extremely difficult and dangerous. But somehow at the end I stopped and looked and there I was, just the same person who had accomplished so much at a young age. I learned that it didn’t matter what type of limitations life put on me there were no limitations in my heart and soul. I have been writing, I have been teaching, I have been giving public talks about my illness and my own story and it feels wonderful.

Each one of you out there may have something holding them back. I’m too old. I’m disabled. I don’t have the money. Age means nothing. We all have the possibility of living far beyond expectations. Money is a number on a paper doll. Learn to live on 90% of what you bring in and seek out knowledgeable people to help you make the extra grow and before you know it you will be able to do anything. If you are disabled, take whatever you can do, measure it, time it, and do it now, today. It could be reading a poem, typing a short story, sending a letter to someone you are about. Tomorrow do a little more. The next day do a little more. Soon your days will be filled with accomplishments and satisfaction that will make you forget you are disabled. There is so much hope for all of us. All we have to do is remind ourselves how precious each day is, how incredible it is to have others in our lives to share the good and the bad. I will leave you with that and hope you can leave me comments and look through my website. Once again, for Edmonton residents, my books are available at Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue and also at the Edmonton Public Library. Keep the faith!