Schizophrenia Society

The Greatest Enemy of Good Mental Health is Isolation for those With Schizophrenia or Bipolar/Unipolar Disorders

This may seem like funny picture to post with the topic in the title, but for me there is actually a lot of significance in it. From my early days when I was a pre-teen, I was in Air Cadets. After becoming a Sergeant, I quit and tried to forget about that whole part of my life. I spent most of the summer after I quit cadets wishing I had stayed in, that I was still connected to my friends who were out having the times of their lives, going to camps that taught them flying or advanced survival or advanced leadership. I really regret quitting, but a few years later, after having severe psychosis and acting out violently which caused me to be put into a secure unit in a psychiatric hospital a number of times, I wanted all that I had lost back. The trouble was, none of those options were still out there for me. Despite my mental health diagnosis, I took out a massive student loan in BC and tried to get my pilot’s license. This was the best time of my life. I was meeting all kinds of really attractive young women, I was travelling, and the flying was absolutely amazing. When this period of my life ended, and I found myself unable to continue flying or even take care of myself outside of psychiatric care, the depths of my pain were immeasurable. I remember feeling like my life was over, that there would be no more travelling or fun or any of it. What I didn’t really take into account was that at the time I was unable to really take a good hard look at myself when I was flying. At the time, I did experience psychosis, but only when I had been off medication for a while. What I did experience was bipolar disorder, which left me incredibly depressed or far too animated for my own good. I actually was fired from a job because I talked to customers too much. I would talk their ears off, not realizing I was experiencing a manic episode. Then around Christmas, I contacted a friend I had met at a summer camp and if there was any chance of a relationship or even a friendship, my illness made sure that would be impossible.

What was amazing though, was that somehow I was able to hold on to who I was, what mattered to me when I was discharged from the hospital in Edmonton after my return. It took a long wait and a lot of paperwork, but I was given the opportunity to return to high school and complete my grade 12. When I was there, I met the girl of my dreams. I did exceptionally well in school despite little effort, but my main tragic flaw that came was that I decided my penmanship and attractiveness were more important than my mental state and I stopped taking Lithium which was my mood stabilizer (which made my hands shake) and I also stopped taking my pill for psychosis. I don’t know how I have managed it, but that was more than 25 years ago and to this day I still have that same girl (sorry woman) as a best friend. But I had to come first to a point where I was able to admit I had a mental illness. I had to accept treatment. For a long time I lived in severe isolation. In our presentations at the Schizophrenia Society, we relay a disturbing truth. 40% of people with schizophrenia try to end their own lives-and 10% of people with the illness will succeed. It is believed that isolation and stigma are the main factors.

I have come to learn a lot about this fact, and to develop in myself a measure of compassion for those who suffer still by taking on a job at the Schizophrenia Society as a phone support person. Every few weeks I am given a list of people who are shut-ins/isolated and I just call them and talk to them. I try as hard as I can, but I hate to admit that I seem to only make a real difference in a low percentage of the cases. Some of the people though are really so interesting that I don’t understand why they isolate. The trouble is, mental illness has been so stigmatized, so shuffled off to the dirty little corners no one wants to sweep up, that some people don’t even realize that they are full members of the human race regardless of any illness. People need to come to understand that an illness is not the fault of the person who it manifests itself in. To the best of my understanding, there are millions if not billions of nerves in our bodies. Our brain is an example of a bundle of nerves so complex and active that many many things go on in it at once, even while we sleep. Mental illnesses that cause psychosis (and I really don’t think it is relevant to distinguish between diagnoses, but instead to look at how to keep the whole person and their family as healthy as possible, mentally and physically) are based in this huge complex of nerves. Nerves communicate by shooting chemicals called neurotransmitters back and forth to each other. A good deal of psychiatric medications have the end effect of helping stabilize these transmissions. They may reduce the reuptake of the transmitters (serotonin is one of the main ones) or even simply just slow down the nerve traffic so the person can ‘come down’ enough to respond to other treatments. It is worth noting that nicotine affects these same neurotransmitters in much the same way medications do. What all of this adds up to is that this is a physical illness. Yes, maybe people may seem like they are willfully acting out sometimes and doing disturbing or distasteful things, but it is because there is a storm going on in their heads that they simply can’t control. Even people on ideal doses of medications may still experience symptoms.

Well, dear readers, that is it for today. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me at viking3082000@yahoo.com with any questions or topic suggestions. Thanks for continuing to give me the strength to keep this blog going.

Psychiatric Patients Can be Tormented by Negative Memories Along with Delusions, Hallucinations and Paranoia

I live in the city pictured above, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the moment the weather is ideal (aside from a lot of rain this year) but it isn’t always the healthiest climate for recovery. A few years back, I was in the hospital for a month on two separate occasions, and wanting to enjoy the summer weather, I sat outside my apartment on a picnic bench, and a young child while hiding himself was yelling insults at me. This of course is a common thing for young children, but I found it extremely disturbing at the time and felt it was directed at me.

Feeling insults and threats were directed at me is also something not new and not always valid. Before my last hospital visit, I was having extreme problems with paranoia, delusions and hallucinations due to a new medication not working properly. It really can be extremely difficult to function when this sort of thing is going on, difficult to leave the house or to work. I actually got to the point where I thought the people next door to me were laughing and directing insults and threats at me that I recorded what I thought were the remarks on my cell phone to play it for my building manager. She listened to it and couldn’t hear a thing. I remember thinking, and saying that something was very seriously wrong.

One thing I want to note here is that a person’s first few years with a diagnosis of an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar can be very difficult, but statistics show that you can bounce back, that most people do bounce back. The most important thing I feel at this point is just not to isolate yourself. You may be unable to stay with your parents or a sibling as a helper and caregiver, but it would be really positive if you had a roommate. I remember getting an excellent suggestion that I put up a notice at the University in the psychology department telling the truth, that I had a mental illness, and asking for a student to share a room. I didn’t end up going through with it, but still it was a pretty good idea.

I wanted to talk a little today about resentments. All of us have times in our past where we were pushed around or bullied, hurt, taken advantage of. Sadly that is not just the normal for people with mental illnesses, but for most people in general. I remember my junior high days being filled with beatings from the biggest kid in school, for no better reason than I was the one he needed to prove he was tougher than. The fact is, and I myself am guilty for this, you can’t continue to live your life and constantly look back at regrets.

There are a couple of ways of looking at times when people hurt or wronged you. These incidents often play themselves over and over through your head, and when you have psychosis, they can actually change in your memories to be even more disturbing and troubling. One of the ways I have recently discovered to help deal with feelings like this which was suggested to me a long time ago was to take all of your anger and hurt and put it into an exercise like swimming or lifting weights, really push yourself to your limits and let the anger loose. I haven’t always agreed with this, but I know that it makes you feel a lot better and has many healthful side benefits.

Another way of looking at thinking about those in the past who hurt us is that we are literally letting them rent free space in our heads. In the end, we have control over how we see things, we have control over how we let them affect us. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to enact this control. One of the best ways to learn is to participate in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but that can be expensive and time consuming. Still, it gives proven results. Look into places you can get this kind of therapy on a sliding scale, or perhaps even join a group therapy session.

The next way of dealing with these thoughts is something I didn’t really event, but I seemed to discover it on my own as a teenager. I was a smoker and I hated what it did to my health and really wanted to quit. My most successful attempt at quitting came when I used a psychological method of distracting myself from my cravings. One of the big motivators for people in their teens is attraction and desire, so what I did was whenever I wanted to light up a cigarette, I would indulge myself in putting thoughts and images in my head regarding a young woman I really liked. Although I started again later, this was very nearly a successful result that ended up taking 17 more years and professional help to deal with.

So, some of those methods can help get the thoughts out of your head or distract you so you don’t dwell too much on one thing, but I also wanted to describe one of the best things you can do for your mind and your brain. It is meditation, and I make no apologies that I have talked about it before. It is such a simple, though not always easy thing to do. You need to have some quiet time and space, unless you are fortunate to have a class or monastery available where you can learn, and all you really do is focus and breathe. You simply try to clear out your head, and think of nothing. This can be difficult at first, but as you practise meditation more, it will become easier. You breathe in and count one, breathe out and count two. You try to count to ten without being distracted or thinking of something else, which will happen many times, but just gently guide yourself back to not thinking and start again from one. There are many books on meditation, and also many resources like apps. I even once owned a virtual reality headset that had a ‘game’ where you could go to one of 12 destinations and just be alone to think and let your positive thoughts grow and negative thoughts go away. With that, I hope all of you can find peace and enjoyment in your lives, be you caregivers or people who suffer from mental illnesses, all the best!

Are There Alternatives to Psychiatric Medication?

 

What a beautiful summer day to lie in the grass and watch a soccer game. When I was younger, I really didn’t factor in the fact that your body decays (in most people) as you get older. I had read a few articles about people in their 80s running marathons, and athletes having comebacks at 50. I started to decline a long time ago, and it likely had to do a lot more with my bull-headedness not wanting to listen to advice like not running in excess of 5 miles, not running on pavement, getting proper shoes for every type of exercise. That was the beginning, I destroyed my knees at the age of 20 years old. But what really got to me was not just this disability, it was also the medications I took. They made me drowsy, lazy. They made my hands shake and messed with my balance. Getting through this was one of the more difficult times of my life. I was good at a few sports as a youngster, I was a decent basketball player, but for all of my teen years I was a smoker which made this nearly impossible. I also loved to play pool, going to the pool hall every morning instead of the second half of my Law 30 class. I dreamed about one day having a pool table at home, and I think I could have been on my way. But medications derailed me. What could I do?

Medications have gotten better since then, and I even know of a few people who take what I do and it works for them and also their hands don’t shake at all. I really don’t ever want to recommend people to go off medication, but there are instances where a person can be on too much, a Doctor can usually spot this in a moment. This is why sometimes it is useful to get a second opinion, especially when you find your medication side effects debilitating. My mom, near the end of her life, was on a lot of medications, but my parents put a lot of faith in her psychiatrist. It hurts to think she could have had a better mental state or a better quality of life if she had been on less. One thing I want to emphasize is that in her final years, she would never miss a psychologist’s appointment because in her mind and my dad’s, that was the only treatment that helped anything.

There are two sides to this coin, one is that I have encountered (and I am no therapist or doctor) studies that said therapy alone is better than medication alone. Of course as I said, I don’t recommend going off meds, but if you can somehow combine your treatment there are chances of feeling better than you are now and any time healthy means you are headed towards a time when new and ‘better’ medication can be developed. My former Psychiatrist, an amazing man named Bishop, whenever I asked about a new medication he would say that what I had was working well, he didn’t like tinkering with people who were doing well, but left it up to me, emphasizing the question, “do you want to take a chance at going back where you were?” Well, for me that was no option. Last time before I saw that doctor that I had been in the hospital I was in a terrible state, being beligerent and abusive, deluded into thinking the world revolved around me and having people respond in kind with everything from flat out insults and threats to a severe beating from a guy who didn’t like the way I crossed the street. No, I did not want to go back there.

Some time later, with a doctor that my old doctor recommended, a decision was made to try a newer medication, and I got very ill and spent a month in the hospital–after I had worked so incredibly hard to build my life back and show stability and such. All at once I was delusional and paranoid to the extreme again. Sadly, this is something anyone with a mental illness must come to expect and prepare for. For more information, look into something called “The Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP. They have an app for phones that allow you to outline things like trigger warnings, ways to help with symptoms and more. The app is based on a course that I found very helpful, and attribute my quick recovery from the relapse of my condition too. It also helped that I had gained a great deal of knowledge about my condition, perhaps mostly by being a part of the Schizophrenia Society.

So, today’s blog is getting pretty long, I will sum things up and try to explain more in a future blog. First off, look into funding or affordable therapy. In Edmonton there are even free therapists as I am sure you can find in any major Canadian city. You drop in, fill out a form, and wait and see someone confidentially who is qualified. But this is a quick fix. When you find you care stable enough, I recommend things like the WRAP course and others, but I also recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Just as a warning though, I believe they state that it takes a commitment of around 16 (if I remember correctly) sessions to read benefits. If you are having any problems finding resources, please email me and I will see if I can help connect you. Look for services you are insured for, and also for services operated on a sliding scale. I once spoke to a hospital counsellor after my mom passed and she wanted me to pay $20 or $30 a session, not so much because she needed the money, but she wanted to make sure I was able to commit and consider my treatment a priority.

I will just sum up and say, if you are having mental health difficulties, first try and contact your psychiatrist, then any psychiatrist, then a medical doctor, learn all you can about your illness, get active in learning (books) and groups (Wrap and many others). Find out all you can about your medications, then find out about counselling. And don’t worry if you seem to take one step forward and two back in your mental health journey, we all have good days and bad days.

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Link to my first memoir:

Through the Withering Storm

 

Hygiene and Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

viking3082000@yahoo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have doubts regarding your mental health:

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

-Get an assessment done. Find out what is wrong

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

-Give the medications time to work

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

-Enjoy your life.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Take a Holiday On Christmas Day

Scroll down past my special Christmas Poem for my Christmas Day Blog.

Christmas Poem December 25, 2018

By: Leif Gregersen

 

Christmas dinner for all is such a fantastic time

No matter your sins, your faults or your crimes

 

Mountains of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and yams

No one sees the stress and the effort only mothers understand

 

Even on our most precious holiday, we orbit the sun as we turn on our axis in place

Each split second, a smile for good or devious origins comes to another child’s face

 

In a country of opportunity, freedom, equal rights and democracy

To bullying children all that matters is the cash value under the tree

 

But the love that kids share with the family members who congregate

Can often be just enough to turn the tides of their fate

 

Show a child that by hard work and effort they will prosper and grow

That precious Christmas vacation will bless them more than you ever could know

 

My favourite Christmas happened somewhat like that

My Uncle Glen was alive and so was our Lilleven our wonderful cat

 

We feasted and laughed, even had a taste of rum and some wine

Uncle Glen got a bottle of liquor and it seemed the whole world was mine

 

I stayed up to watch Jimmy Stewart’s best character give all of himself

All his effort and hard work for others to end up being put on a shelf

 

The message that movie carried deep into my fifteen-year-old heart

Made me tear up, made me vow to make a new start

 

Care for your loved ones, show those struggling there is a much better way

What better time to start on the savior’s most magical day

 

No one will look back when you’re gone and think of your self-serving deeds

The best way to become immortal is to give toil and tears to those truly in need

END

 

Good day people of all faiths and nations. The clock has turned and as I write, (in Mountain Standard Time anyway) it is now Christmas Day. Yesterday I received an injection of Abilify, which comes to the clinic in powder form and then the nurse mixes it up and injects it into one of my shoulders. It is intended to replace a medication I was on earlier which had to be administered twice a month and was considered not as good as the new one. It is going to be difficult, but I want to try and stay with this new injection but there are some reasons why I am beginning to have my doubts. The biggest one is that I am starting to move into the borderline of hallucinating. I don’t see people or things that aren’t there, but, along with making me pretty tired, and often only out of the far range of my peripheral vision, things that can’t move (table, cutting board) seem to move all on their own. I have also been getting flashes of thinking people are behind me or in the room. Worst of all is that I have been getting pretty paranoid, though that situation is improving. One of the things I have been trying to do is ride the bus less, which can be pretty difficult when it is minus 12 to minus 15 Celsius outside and you have to get across the city by walking. Regardless, I have been doing it.

When I do get on the bus, I find myself deathly afraid that I am going to be mistaken for some kind of predator. A couple of times, there has been a female on the bus who goes out of their way to stand near the bus driver, ask for a special stop, then run as fast as possible when the bus stops. This I am sure isn’t always because of me, but once or twice I have been pretty certain. It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma out there regarding people with schizophrenia, and that a couple of years back I was given the gears by an ass of a police detective who got my name from my boss and seemed to suspect that because I was an (un-uniformed) security guard, I fit a description of a uniformed security guard in the area who had assaulted a woman.

The really good thing is that I found out that my new nurse (Best Wishes on your retirement Willie!) not only has a Registered Psychiatric Nursing Diploma/Degree, but also a degree in Psychology. The other cool thing is that she knows her comic books, so I think she may be a huge help to me as time unravels.

I didn’t want to stop the blog today before talking a bit about Christmas. It is the time of year when beds in psychiatric wards and hospitals fill to overflowing. Often this is from suicide attempts from people who are in a terrible state and the Christmas holiday reminds them of lost loved ones, estranged loved ones, and perhaps also their own isolation. These people need our time, our patience and our understanding, not our judgement. Sadly, as many do say, the worst thing you can do is give them money. It will go to addictions a lot of the time. If it doesn’t, say you try to do the right thing and buy them groceries, it is likely they will take their allotted grocery money to use on drugs or alcohol. I personally think the best thing a person can do to help people who have mental health, addiction or homelessness problems (often some have all three) it is best to try and put in some time at a social services agency (Edmonton: Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre, Hope Mission) another thing that can be done is to donate non-perishable food to these places, or even go to a local dollar store if you live in a cold climate and buy a bunch of gloves and hats for people. Giving donations directly to the charities can sound like the ideal thing, but I have been very wary of some charities. I gave more than I thought I could afford more than once to charities that spend upwards of 80 to 90 percent of their donations on raising more donations. This made me sick to my stomach. I would say if a person wanted to donate to a charity, especially a local homeless charity, go down and volunteer and find out what your money will be spent on. Just a suggestion. Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Poetry, Creative Writing, Wellness, and Mental Health Awareness Presenter and Facilitator.

 

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

 

Growing Up With Illnesses Like Bipolar and Also Having Severe Anxiety

This is a shot I took of a soccer field near my house. When I look at this photo, I tend to notice that though an exciting game of soccer is going on, the bleachers are empty. It takes me back to the one year I played organized sports in my home town of St.Albert. There was a rep team made up of hand-picked players, one for boys and another for girls. Both of them beat us royally, which was not considered a fair match, so when, in our final game–in overtime–we beat the only team that had ever beat us in a fair match, for a few brief moments we were on top of the world.

Soccer is a wonderful experience, and I suggest any parent should encourage their kids to participate. For a long time I used to try and encourage parents to put their kids in cadets, but few have ever done it. With all the training, the sports, the friends, and the travel you get from it, it seems almost ridiculous that anyone would not want their kids to join. Air cadets was something that taught me skills that got me through a lot of very difficult times, and still to this day, 31 years after I left, I rely on a lot of those skills to make my living and get along in the world.

But to try and keep more on the topic I wanted to speak most about, I would like to try and discuss anxiety. Because I was never given any kind of diagnosis, and it is even unclear today at the ripe old age of 46 what exactly the doctors think is wrong, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in my life. I don’t know if there really was any good treatments for anxiety when mine was at its’ worst. I can try and describe what it was like though.

I was 14. I had been taken out of school for an assessment at the General Hospital in Edmonton for two weeks, and during that time I was allowed to attend cadets. On one of those two nights, I had been assigned to get in front of a class of my peers and give a talk about my hobby-which was collecting military combat uniforms. Now, I will digress for just a moment. When I gave that talk, I hadn’t interacted with anyone my age for quite a few days. I felt that my social skills had just gotten rusty, when it was actually a diagnosable illness I had that wasn’t being treated. I got up in front of the room, and I felt a strong pull taking my gaze away from the audience and looking down at the floor. I also became aware of my looks, my acne, and I blushed crimson red. Maybe what hurt the most was walking past a person who was in the class having a laugh with a friend about how horrible my performance had been.

All through my younger days I drowned in anxiety. I would sit out every single song of every single dance the cadets held. The idea that someone could like me or find me attractive was seemingly out of the question. There were a few times I can recall though that I clearly had bipolar disorder as well (I also have a third diagnosis, of schizoaffective disorder). A friend gave me a ride home from the cadet hall where we had been dropped off after a weekend camp at a base near Red Deer. I can’t even describe it. Maybe the tiredness set me off, I really don’t know. But it was the first time I can remember feeling elated, talking way too fast about too many things, and not having a clue that this was something very out of character for me.

All through my teen years I struggled with insomnia, and a good part of it was my own fault. I would stay up late, eat hot dogs or muffins I had brought home from work, then for some reason as time for school approached, I would get this idea in my head that I could be a superior student like I had once been if I studied every word of a textbook. So many times I got these big ideas, then ended up sleeping, and also sleeping in for class. Skipping breakfast, I would race off to school. When the day ended, I would go home and take a nap. This was not only a bad idea that made it harder for me to sleep properly at night, but I would get these nightmares that were just horrible. This was one of the few times that I started to realize that something was going very wrong with my mind. I told my mom about the bad dreams, and she basically responded by asking me what I thought she could do about it. As problems piled up with me, the loneliness, the social anxiety, the insomnia, the depression, and poor sense of self piled up, I almost went to see a psychiatrist but instead waited until I was forced to see one. I really hope anyone who reads this doesn’t tread down that path, especially the young people.

Back at that time, along with anxiety, I had severe depression. I often say that I wasn’t really sure if I was experiencing depression because I had no real close friends, or if my severe depression made it hard for me to open up to and form solid friendships with people. It may apply to a lot of people, but when I think back now to the three or four really close friends I had, I regret ever meeting them.

One of them was a clear alcoholic who was overweight and wore thick glasses and somehow thought he was the coolest and most attractive person ever. Sometimes I am taken back to the odd fun times we had, and I think it would be neat to look him up. Years ago I tried to do so and he really seemed to feel the need to compete with me over anything I said and look for ways to humiliate me. Him and the people he hung around with never really left my home town. There was one guy who I actually really liked and has always been a friend, though a casual friend, and he became a University Professor and moved out of province.

Come to think of it, a lot of the people I knew in school were alcoholics. I was desperately trying to quit back then, but was encouraged into binging a few times with another fair weather friend. Drinking in some ways was magic. It lifted my depression, relaxed me, helped me overcome my social anxiety. The only bad effects was that it was killing me, I was leading an extremely dangerous and risky lifestyle while I was drinking, some of the hangovers I had were epic, and as I drank I watched my family fall apart from similar and different addiction issues. I hate the term ‘self medicate’. I drank because, like many people, I had a subconscious connection with booze and the rarer and rarer good times I would have when using it. Now the very idea of what I used to do as a teen seems ridiculous. Ego contests to see who could drink the most, drinking parties in a delivery car while delivering pizza. Turning into some kind of monster, picking fights with friends or making moves on females that only a 15-year-old could ever get away with.

Getting over those depressions and anxiety was a long road. It was nearly impossible while I was adjusting to medications my doctor prescribed me to try and deal with my fractured social skills. Finding the Schizophrenia Society has been so key in getting me healthy again. I work a few days a week, I earn a little extra money for groceries. I have some solid friends and a lot of self respect from finding a way I can help others even when I am kind of broken myself. Of course having an incredible, intelligent and caring father means a great deal as well.

At first, I really didn’t know what to expect from the Schizophrenia Society. I figured if any students I was going to speak to were anything like I was in my teens it would be hell. But 98% of the students I present to are incredibly interested and responsive to what I have to say. I worked my way up and have given presentations to police recruits, student nurses, criminology classes. It isn’t all that uncommon for me to speak to lecture halls with 200 students. The difference in my anxiety and social skills have been massive.

Well, dear readers, that is all I think I have to say about bipolar and anxiety for now. If you want to know more, or ask a questions, please contact me. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, talk to your family doctor about a referral. And if you are in crisis or feel suicidal, please go to your nearest emergency room. Best,

Leif G

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

LG