Schizophrenia Society

The Scourge Of Mental Illness Stigmal and the Ways it Can Affect Those With Bipolar and Schizophrenia

To me, the idea of flight always seemed to symbolize freedom. I saw this in many ways, one of them in which I envisioned myself as the pilot of a plane. I even took some training and went to Commercial Pilot’s School when I was younger before I had a mental breakdown and had to stop. Other ways could easily be explained in some of the writings of Richard Bach, perhaps best in the short work, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. There have been so many times, most of them right in the city I live in, when I felt some negative feelings or had low self-esteem for a moment and would just stop and take some time out to watch birds in flight. Even the lowly gulls and magpies had such incredible amounts of skill that it surprised me their brains were in such tiny areas of their body. The other way is also about a dream that came true for me, when I was able to board a plane and fly to London, England. This has been a dream of mine since I went there the first time. As a kid, I even went to the post office and asked how much it would have cost to mail a package suspiciously the weight of a 12-year-old to England. It was thoughts like these, those quests for new heights of achievement, new realizations of goals I never imagined I would reach that kept me going through the difficult times.

I don’t know if I have written much about the hardest times when I was last in the psychiatric hospital. There was so much time spent not just locked up in a small ward, but also locked into an empty room, screaming, swearing, kicking, pounding my fists in opposition to the way I was being treated, which likely only made them feel that I did belong in an isolation room even more than they initially thought. When I was in there, I kept one idea firm in my head: this would pass. This would happen, but it will end. There were times I wished I could have found a way to kill myself to make the pain stop, times when things seemed to overwhelmingly impossible to deal with that I broke down in tears, but somehow I knew it would end.

It is funny, but in my last hospital stay, I was transferred out of the locked ward and put in a less intense one and there was a woman who talked about living in an apartment and having a friend come over each and every night to have tea with her and talk/visit. That small bit of solace, that image of having just one friend nearby was something that hadn’t really ever happened to me–until recently. There is a young woman my age that lives in my building and we have become friends, and we talk over a cup of tea just about every night. In so many of my previous apartments, the other people in the building never came over for a visit, or did come over once and never came back. It is a funny thing, but I encourage people with mental health issues to find housing where there are many others with similar issues to yours. The big thing about that is that when you put two people together that both deal with all the struggles and difficulties of depression or mania or schizophrenia, there is simply no stigma, they can relate on a very important level. That is why organizations like AA work, that is why a lot of psychologists put an emphasis on group therapy.

Stigma affects just about anyone with a mental illness, and even effects those who work in the field and have family members with an illness. My dad told me once that back when he was younger, in the 1940s I think he meant, if a family had a child who had a mental illness, they would build a special room for them and either lock them in there permanently or whenever they acted up. This sounds so incredibly inhumane, but my first reaction to this was to think of how terrible it feels to be in a psychiatric hospital separated from friends and family. I can recall years back when I first spent time in Alberta Hospital and later when I was in the same place and others, that I could go a very long time without having any visitors, and when I was lucky enough to have a visitor, it would be my dad who, sadly, I didn’t get along with all that well when I was younger. I can remember getting my first apartment and then getting my very own phone and thinking that as soon as I plugged it in I would get all kinds of calls from old girlfriends or people I grew up with who lived in the suburbs of the city I had moved to at the time. After having the phone about a week it finally rang–and on the other end was an incredibly abusive and hostile credit collection agent. It was so bad that during that time I had so few calls from anyone I actually wanted to talk to that I would answer the phone by yelling into it. Once or twice, when the collections people called about my student loan or student credit card that I received for a course I could no longer physically attend, I would deny that I was the person they were looking for. Of course I was lying my face off, but it was fun to confuse these people not knowing whether or not I was a fair target for their abuse. Then one day they got smart and had an attractive sounding young woman call and in a very positive voice she politely asked for me by name. When I said it was me, she put me on hold and in seconds a vile, abusive and hateful collection agent was put on the line again. For a minute I had thought this was one of those people that I had spent my entire life around in my suburban home from age 0-18 who actually wanted to get ahold of me. I think that was around the point I had my phone disconnected and went and bought a roll of quarters so I could use the payphone down the block. It really surprised me that seemingly no one at all that I had grown up with had any interest in contacting me, even my former best friends. The pain and loneliness I went through at that time was immense.

There are so many ways that stigma can effect people. At first, when I was officially labelled, a lot of the stigma came from right between my two ears. I had done some things that I felt awful about. One of them was to pick a fight with a guy who had really done me no other wrong than laugh at me while I was in a vulnerable state of mind. That situation led to me being arrested in my high school and resisting arrest when I learned that I was being taken out of my school in front of each and every member of my peer group. All my thoughts and actions were so confused. For some reason I followed a girl around my school and I don’t know what it made her think. And lastly, and perhaps worst, I was in the mall in my home town and my voices or delusions somehow made me think I was supposed to accompany a girl at the mall to her home. I walked with her and for some reason she didn’t say a word. If at any time I thought she didn’t want me there I would have left, but I got no indication. Then, without any more words, her and I got in the van of the person who was giving her a ride. I looked over and the poor girl looked terrified, and was soon in tears. I realized that I had been deluded by voices or whatever was going on in my head and so when the van stopped I got out and as I closed the door I heard the young person burst into tears. This is perhaps the greatest regret I have to this day. At the time my guilt was so severe that I had made a decision to join the army, and volunteer to be sent to the Persian Gulf where I hoped I would be killed. I began intensive training to get myself fit enough to join the military, running countless miles each day and lifting weights in between working a warehouse job. My own self-stigma was eating me alive. I pushed myself so hard I got what I would almost describe as a second disability, my knees were mostly destroyed from too much running.

The sad thing about all of this is not that I hurt my knees or any of that, it is that all my life I had been conditioned to shun, stigmatize, insult, and perhaps even fear those who were mentally ill. Everything from Fred Flintstone cartoons to stories in Batman comics about the insane, obsessed Joker gave me a very unrealistic image of mentally ill people. If, four years before the above incidents happen, I had been able to accept a diagnosis and medications to treat it, there would have been almost no question at all of me being ill at the age of 18. I might have even had a youth that I could look back on as being pleasant, not wracked with loneliness and depression. My worst enemy in all this? Myself. The stigma towards mental illness I had towards myself.

Well, dear readers, that is quite a bit for today. I want to thank all of you for following me. All I can really say is that there are many more to come. I am consulting with others now to make a complete book of essays on my knowledge and experience, and some of them will be based on these blog entries. For now, I just hope you like my writing on this blog enough to share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter. It is the support of people who get something out of my words that keeps this blog going. I don’t actually make any money, but I get rewards when I hear from those who read this and they say it has helped them in some way. Best wishes,

Leif Gregersen

The Last Big Battle: Stigma and the Psychiatric Patient

One of the hardest things to explain to a lot of people who are not working and on meds is the great joy one can get waking up early to watch the sun come up. This photo was taken on one such morning as I returned home from the swimming pool.

 

Mental Health Stigma:

I don’t know, but a lot of people may think I spend quite a bit of time talking about stigma. Perhaps it would be useful to first explain what I think stigma is, and then with some firm groundwork it will be easier to understand. The dictionary definition of stigma is, “A mark of disgrace on a person because of a particular trait or quality.” Sorry if you lost me there, that is just paraphrasing. My own experience of having stigma towards mentally ill people came to me while I was in the psychiatric hospital. I had been there before, just never as a patient. My mom had spent quite a bit of time on the hospital ward that I, 14 at the time, was now a patient in. And older man, likely not much older than I now am, approached me and wanted to give me some friendly advice. He didn’t say anything mean or get angry, he was truly trying to be helpful, but as he spoke to me, a large stream of drool came out of his mouth. This scared the life out of me. What if I would end up like this man? It could have easily have happened, and drooling is a side effect of many medications, but my own idea that I could ‘end up’ like this man was very skewed because right away I blamed my parents as they were the ones that put me there. I didn’t blame myself as being so difficult to deal with that I had to be there, I blamed them. I still remember telling my dad about this man and being nearly in tears. I think this is a good example of people in society in general and how they feel about mental illness, even a good example as to how irrational assumptions and mistaken prejudices cause stigma.

Of course there is much more to stigma than that, but fortunately times are changing. I would like to use homosexuality as an example. It is no longer cool to single out people because they are effeminate. Only the crudest of people use words like ‘gay’ when trying to describe a negative quality of something. This was not the case just a short while ago. I have a movie I really enjoy, it is a Clint Eastwood film called “Heartbreak Ridge”. The movie would have been a complete bomb if it weren’t for the incredible insults and funny lines that came out of Clint Eastwood’s mouth as he played the role of a Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. The odd thing? That this movie was made in 1986 (approximately) and had so many derogatory things to say about homosexuality. A movie like that now likely wouldn’t have even been made. In the film, something that seems to drive Clint’s humour is to constantly refer to his ‘men’ as ‘ladies’, to give them insulting names like one soldier whose name was Fergetti, which Clint changed to ‘Fag-hetti’. These days, we have gay pride parades attended by politicians who have no fear of being labelled, but in fact applauded for standing up to homophobia. I am often reminded of a teacher who taught me, my brother, my sister, and many of my friends who I dearly loved in junior high as the best teacher I had ever known, who in recent years came out and I now feel no differently about him, though if I had known as a teen I may have felt differently. The cool thing I am getting at is that things are changing. Now, there is even a gay character in Archie comics.

When you turn back the clock some more, you will end up in the time when a similar stigma or ignorance was around over cancer. In the 60s, and before, people didn’t talk about cancer, it just wasn’t mentioned. When this began to change, more people were willing to get checked out and more of those same people were treated at stages where more could be done, and more people gave donations towards research. Sadly, mental illness is one of those things that in many ways still remains ‘in the closet’.

It almost seems sometimes that our society, our media, our entire culture is dedicated to labelling and ostracizing those who are suffering from mental illness. A quick look through a comic book (I am a huge Archie comics fan) from just a few years back will find references all over to “crazy” behaviour, people needing to be taken to the “funny farm” as though they were problems as real and destructive and the bubonic plague. The fact is that mental illness is not a communicable disease, and it is much more common that people realize. The fact that it is not talked about people fear it a great deal.

Stigma can affect people in so many ways. I always wonder whether or not I can tell an employer or a co-worker or just about anyone related to my working life about my illness. There have been many, many times when I applied for jobs and didn’t get them possibly because I was honest about my mental illness. There are two things that can be done to combat these situations, one is that my mental illness is not something I am required to disclose to an employer, and if I can prove that I was discriminated against I could have grounds for a lawsuit. The sad fact is that, especially in the Province of Alberta, many employers simply don’t care and the law is slanted to their side regardless.

One of the things that I like to try and get people to consider is what I am like when I am extremely ill. People will see me misunderstanding things, acting on information that is false, saying and doing strange things. But never will I have any desire to hurt or harm anyone. It is much more likely that when I have delusions I see myself as some kind of Spiderman or Batman figure, someone who is mandated to help others. Something I feel is important to note here is how incredibly disturbing it can be to have a mental illness and be in active psychosis. I have these recollections of my illness completely inventing things said by others, and having things said on the TV or the radio tell me that I am some movie star or hero when in fact I am so debilitated by my delusions that I can hardly even move. So basically, stigma is destructive to a large percentage of our population (one in five people are believed to have a mental health struggle in their lifetimes), it causes the illness to get worse, just as homophobia never made the world a better place or hushing up things like cancer only hampered progress and treatment.

So if you are reading this and you don’t have a mental illness, I strongly urge you to try and understand more about mental illness and those who suffer from it. A lot of ignorance even exists in treatment centres where people with mental health problems need to go when they are ill. If you are a person with a mental illness, I would not only love to hear from you and your own experiences with your illness (viking3082000@yahoo.com) but I would encourage you to become an advocate, to speak up for those who are unable to speak. This could be done by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, by gently confronting those who say things that are insensitive to your situation and setting them straight, or even just by being a good friend to others you know who suffer and visiting them in the hospital when they need to be there. If you have a favourite comic book, TV show or any other type of media and you notice as I did that they make inappropriate use of terms like ‘crazy’ or such terms, contact them. Google them and send them an email. Never in history has the individual who is willing to stand up for what is right had so much ability to influence the world. And dear reader, keep reading this blog and support (financially and personally) organizations like your local Schizophrenia Society or mental health organization.

A Whole Bunch of Mental Health Recovery Philosophy and Self Care Wisdom

Well, this is downtown Edmonton again. In days long gone there was an old woman who was known far and wide as the “got a quarter” lady who was once immortalized in an oil painting. This woman was the very definition of a downtown icon. There was also a man who was a street corner preacher who could often be upsetting and somewhat hostile. Now, more and more the downtown core is either steel and glass office towers or another added condominium complex. My big question as I see old buildings get torn down and expensive new ones opening up is, where do all the homeless, the jobless, the hungry, and especially the mentally ill go? The hospitals haven’t gotten any bigger, actually one of them, the famous “Charles Camsell” hospital was shut down and is now being redone as apartments. Despite all these new buildings, affordable housing is at a premium and the agencies that offer housing and care are fewer and farther between. I am so fortunate to live in subsidized and supported housing, but I often wonder where I could go if I ever had to leave here.

Regardless, there are more important things to discuss. I am happy to report that my transition from my once every two weeks’ injection has been successfully changed to invega, which only needs to be administered every four weeks. I am also getting used to my diabetes medication, Metformin which at first made me weak and dizzy. I feel that anyone who has a hard time taking medications really should try them for at least 3 or even 6 months. It is amazing what kind of changes can go on in that amount of time, our bodies can be extremely adaptable.

As far as my insomnia has been going, it has improved. I was sleeping on my new futon and had no idea that my back just wasn’t prepared for a firm mattress. I have gone back to sleeping on my good old Salvation Army $500 pillow top mattress and I have been getting such a great sleep. I was a little worried for a while because I had been using some mild sedatives to get me to sleep for a while, but now that I have gone back to my own bed things have normalized.

I don’t know how many writers there are out there who read my blog, but I do think that anyone who has mental health issues, and also for that matter, anyone period, should keep a journal of their thoughts, ideas, and general progress towards their goals in life. For example, something I have learned by keeping a journal is that taking my medications at the same time each day, as in 5:00am and 9:00pm is much more beneficial than taking them when I wake up or when I go to sleep. One of the reasons this is so much better and has afforded me a much improved quality of life is that when I get up at 5:00am I can have some time to myself, do some reading or some writing, and then go for a walk to a swimming pool or something like that and then have an entire day ahead of me. Getting into synch with the world outside my apartment has given me the ability to work part-time on a regular basis, make connections and make friends I never would have met, and literally publish 11 books in a short amount of time. I am also pretty positive that my medications work a lot better on my symptoms when I take them like this.

The other thing I wanted to discuss can be something hard to do, but it can be incredibly beneficial to a person with a diagnosis of a mental health issue, be it OCD or bipolar or schizoaffective disorder. It is all about having a friend. For some, especially those who are ‘shut in’ their homes, a pet can be the only friend they have. This is great, and I don’t knock this at all, but having a person you can do things with, go places, watch out for each other is something I consider almost an essential survival tool. Where do you meet people to be friends with these days? I used to meet a lot of people at 12-step meetings, but I think this can be an extremely bad idea. Not to knock the meetings, they do incredible good for a lot of people who couldn’t find any other way to get it, but in my own experience these people can be very controlling, aggressive, and often abusive. I don’t want to discuss any identities, but I will say I had two close friends I met in meetings that I should have ran away from screaming if I knew what they would do to me eventually.

I think one of the best first steps to finding friends is to get involved in a local schizophrenia society or mental health organization. This can be really difficult if you live in a smaller community, but if you are reading this it means you have access to a computer, which means you can access online resources. You can go to Youtube and learn about your illness, cognitive behavioural therapy, and look up your medications. Having knowledge of these things will help you in dealing with your own illness, and it will also give you a chance to one day give back to others who could easily be unknowingly suffering from a mental illness. I do know also that all of the resources that the Schizophrenia Society branch I work for are online as well, including podcasts, support groups, and more. Lastly, if you can afford it or if you can find a practitioner who works on a sliding scale, you can actually get counselling over the computer. As a last side note, there are many 12-step meetings online as well. Anyone who would like to access resources like these, please feel free to comment on this post or email me at viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will do my best to inform you of resources in your area.

Well, dear readers. Once again I am leaving you without a poem to think about. I would love to write more poetry and put them in these blog postings, but I have felt the writer’s block for the past couple of weeks. If anyone out there writes their own poetry, and doesn’t mind others seeing it, I would be more than happy to put a poem I choose with my next blog, but don’t worry too much, I think I am at heart a poet and will have more for those who enjoy them soon. For now, think about some of the things I have been discussing with regards to being mindful of your surroundings (for example by taking a walk and noticing things like what the wind feels like, what the temperature is, what birds can see you, what kind of people live in the neighbourhood) and also think about what I said about using medication times to ‘synch’ yourself with the outside world. Isolation can be poisonous to those of us who suffer, keep it to a minimum and remember you can always reach me at viking3082000@yahoo.com

When Chronic Psychosis and Symptoms of Mental Illness Get To Be Too Much

please note today’s poem will appear after my blog!

This is me, Leif Gregersen at 46 years old (taken today). I am living independently which is a new thing for me, at least while my mental health is good. I have been in my own apartment for two years and handle pretty much everything. Most of the time I am hard at work at my computer, but there is a symptom of mental illness that I wanted to talk about that has very little to do with being manic or experiencing depression. It is kind of a state that medications sometimes induce. It is very difficult to put a name to, but basically, you take your medications, they help with your symptoms, but in a way you feel very detached from your own existence, even your own voice and body. Most people can function very well despite experiencing this side effect, but it has its problems. For me the main problem came when I was stable and on meds for seven years, and felt as though I had made a full recovery. I started to get just a little bit mentally ill and I slacked off. I hadn’t been to see my Psychiatrist in a long time and had started getting my prescriptions from a family Doctor. I hadn’t made a full recovery. I have my doubts that anyone can fully recover from a mental illness, especially one like mine. I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, and I take pills for all of them. These illnesses occur at a cellular level. I am nowhere near any kind of doctor, but to my understanding, an illness like schizophrenia (which I have some symptoms of, hence the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder) occurs in the nerve endings. Our nerves communicate with our brain (which is best explained as a bundle of nerves in an extremely complex and beautifully designed or created, cohesive whole) by shooting near transmitters from one nerve to the next at lightning speeds. All of our information comes to our brain this way, and might tell you where in space the fingers of your right hand are located, or if something is hot to the touch. Mental illness causes these communications to become distorted. There are a great deal of medications that can help these symptoms, but just about all of them have side effects, and many of them don’t completely remove all the symptoms. What I wanted to talk about was how I can look in a mirror or look at a picture of myself and feel a strangeness towards the person looking back at me. Then of course there is something I think everyone experiences, you see yourself and can’t believe that you are ageing. It seems like just. a whisper of time since I was six and in my first year of school, a blink and then I was in grade 12 and about to go off to face the world. Nothing seems real and this is something I hope will be addressed in meeting rooms where medications are developed.

I don’t want to sound so negative though, I actually had a phenomenal day today. I taught the first of a series of classes at the psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Edmonton and I seemed to really connect to a lot of people in my class of around 8 or 9. And just last week I spoke to three small classes of health professionals and I really felt like I was in my element.

I apologize for not having a poem today. I am going to open my word processor and perhaps look for an older one and post it below. Ciao my dear readers. I set a new record, the other day this website got 95 views in just one day. I don’t mind at all doing this for free, I just hope you can follow what I feel is a useful guide to what I write about.

-mental illness is no person’s fault, it can be either random or inherited

-people with mental illnesses need the same love and friendship that everyone else gets

-stigma destroys lives. It isolates people, it makes them unable to find jobs or housing

-mental illness is not a death sentence

-one in five Canadians and Americans will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. show you care and reach out to help someone who is mentally ill. buy a homeless person in distress a sandwich. Be the person who steps up to talk to someone obviously having problems without judging and just be there for them.

Lastly, for all my Alberta friends, enjoy the weather, it isn’t going to last!

-Leif Gregersen

-viking3082000@yahoo.com

Here is a poem I wrote, I apologize if it is a repeat:

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 for you

Bipolar, Psychosis, and Depression

It’s a bit interesting that I took this photo of the Alberta Legislature Building. Just a couple of days later I got a letter from one of the offices in here, of the Deputy Premier who is the minister of Health. Due to my work, my writing and efforts to reduce stigma and help people to cope with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other illnesses, I have been asked to be part of a committee that helps set policy on mental health treatment in Alberta. Please scroll past today’s poem for a look at today’s mental health coping skills blog entry.

 

McCauley Fall

 

Memories of long, warm sunny days

Best friends and true love by your side

Being so young, naiive in so many ways

But still being tall enough to ride

 

Summer comes and goes so fast

Soon it’s back to work or school

Nothing that good was meant to last

That could be a second golden rule

 

In summertime so many years ago

I met the one I thought was meant for me

But I was never able to truly grow

Until I could set my true love free

 

It seems we need to spend our time

Enjoying things in life but soon moving on

Not letting go is almost a crime

Since one day soon all our days will be gone

 

Hello Dear Readers. Many exciting things have been happening, but still I must remain vigilant not to slip into bad habits. The other day I was experiencing a bout of mania, my mood went almost uncontrollably high until I could get my medication and get some sleep. Sleep is so important, and yet falling asleep is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I sometimes use sleep medication, but I try to do it sparingly. There are a number of problems with trying to medicate sleeplessness. The first one is that I often feel that I don’t get as good of a sleep when I take a pill. Then, it is commonly known that sleeping pills can cause memory loss. And then there is the addiction factor. As a person who has experienced depression, manic-depression and anxiety, I feel I am very prone to addiction. I had a huge problem giving up alcohol after my teen ‘party’ years were done, and I also had a hard time giving up gambling, and I don’t even want to get into smoking. One of the interesting things I was talking to a small audience today about is that when you have a mental illness, nicotine actually acts in similar ways to psychiatric medications. I talk about this as a person with lived experience with mental illness, and there was a perfect example last time I was in the hospital, of course before I was able to quit smoking finally. I would wake up, go into the TV room in the hospital for a cigarette, then I would see the news and it was incredibly convincing and disturbing that the TV would talk to me and about me and I would hear other ‘voices’. Then, I would have a second smoke and things would calm down. After that, a third coffin nail would make me just about normal.

So I had the opportunity today to speak to three different small classes about mental illness and my own experience with bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety. I have taken training in public speaking and I really enjoy talking about things that positively effect people and how they go on to deal with those who suffer from illnesses like mine. I get paid a little, and it often seems that I will connect with one or two people who will purchase a book from me. I do have ten books in print (available by messaging me or going to the Edmonton Public Library, Smashwords.com or Amazon.com) but when I go to give talks about my lived experience as a psychiatric patient, I just bring my two memoirs, “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane”. To anyone who has read my books, I am currently working on another which will contain the full story of “Through the Withering Storm” but will include a lot of other types of my work, sort of based on this blog. I will post when this book becomes available.

It seems funny when I look at myself. I am nearly 50, I have back problems, knee problems, hip problems, weight problems, issues with bipolar, symptoms of paranoia likely due to schizophrenia. I even experience psychosis quite a bit, but I feel better now than any time in my life. I am able to live on my own, I have incredible friends, my Dad and I are getting along just as good as when I was his little boy. It is so amazing. And when I think of how sometimes when I am alone and my thoughts wander I sometimes entertain ideas of suicide, it really is scary, because I would have missed out on so many things and really hurt a lot of people who know me or are related to me.

I used to have a roommate who suffered from schizophrenia and he told me that quite often his two voices, Jesse and Taylor, would tell him dirty jokes while he was trying to work out. He would tell the jokes to me and some of them were actually kind of funny. I wondered if they bothered my roommate, and he told me that he liked hearing new jokes. My reaction was to say,

“John, you aren’t supposed to enjoy schizophrenia!”

I will leave you with that dear readers! Please feel free to look around the site, I will be entering a 24-hour short story writing contest tomorrow, so there will likely not be a blog. Have a great day and hey-let’s be careful out there!

Leif Gregersen

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!

Taking the Next Step: Giving Back To Keep Yourself Healing

This is a photo of a very old school in my neighbourhood. When I go by there, it is a refreshing sound to hear young children at play. I often wonder if they play the same games I did. Please scroll past today’s poem for the blog for the day.

 

No Changing the World

 

Nothing ever touched me like the sky

That cool, brilliant morning

When the indescribable shade of red

Came out and spoke to my soul

Told me I had to be more than just a consumer

I had life, love and laughter to share

 

There was another sky I’ll never forget

The chill of a winter afternoon was upon me

The girl I was to fall in love with beside me

I wanted to shout out that she was mine

And the sky was so crystal clear blue

 

For that one morning

I lived in total happiness

 

There are moments when I wake up

I feel like my head has been smashed with a mallet

And every muscle and bone cries out as I lift myself out of bed

But it’s worth it to smell the trees and the flowers

And the green green grass of summer

 

And to go outside to watch the struggle

On the faces of the lost and unwanted

 

As I get older now I see things

That escaped me as a child

The sad things. The homeless and alone

On the streets hungry and tired

 

I sometimes give them money if I have it

Even knowing it will be spent on drugs

 

We all share one sky, we share one sun

All of us want to be content and at peace

We chase that all our lives

Maybe it’s those who expect all that too soon

That end up asking me for change

In the times when all I have is an ATM card

 

Today’s Blog:

Good morning or evening dear readers. I wanted to talk a little about a more advanced phase in a person’s recovery from a mental illness (and by mental illness I include addictions, and in addictions I include alcohol). I know not a lot of people are able to do this sort of thing for pay, and often pay may cloud the healing part of it, but I like to think that there is a process that happens when we suffer from a mental illness. 1, we start to deal with symptoms. 2. the symptoms get worse. 3. We get help or help is forced on us. 4. We need to try many treatments and medications before we get a good fit. For many, even the best medications don’t do the whole job. 5. We begin to feel better and are released from the hospital/our psychiatrist feels we don’t need to visit him or her on a frequent basis. 6. We may take life skills or group therapy for a while. 7. We go through occupational therapy or job training 8. We find a job and re-enter the workforce.

The next step in this chain of events is, I feel, giving back. It can be as simple as being a friend to others who suffer, and listening to them when no one else will, or it can be more complicated like how I joined the Schizophrenia Society, took some classes with them and was then offered a paid position. I currently work three jobs for the SSA (Schizophrenia Society of Alberta) I give presentations to any group that will have us. (I am giving two separate talks to high school students tomorrow). I also facilitate a healing group, and lastly I go in once every two weeks and call up people who are mostly shut-ins, very debilitated by their illness and converse with them and also try and get them to access our programs and any other programs available that are needed by them.

Even before my last (and I hope final) breakdown, I volunteered as a pastoral care worker at a veteran’s hospital. I would visit men who had been in WWII or Korea and just try to help with their isolation and loneliness. Giving back to others like this can have amazing rewards. One of the cool things about volunteering is you can work your way into the job you want, doing what you want. For me this meant getting a job as a public speaker and a counsellor when I had very few qualifications for it and it has payed off in spades. With my experience gained from teaching wellness classes and giving presentations regarding mental health, I have been asked to do many well paid jobs. I think also it has made me a better person, and also has helped me work my way further and further away from my next mental health breakdown. I have learned so much about mental illness and what makes people sick, and perhaps most important of all to take my medications regularly. I hope this helps dear reader. Please send a comment if there is anything you would like me to talk about in my next blog and take care!

 

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!

Four Poems, a Photo and a Brief Blog

 

Have a quick look at the previous photo to put this one in perspective.

 

Here are some poems that I submitted to a magazine but were turned down today. I hope my readers here see some value in them:

Walking Meditation
There is a way to meditate
That doesn’t require chanting
Walking meditation
 
Focus on breathing, the first step is to mind your breath
Be mindful of your surroundings too
Use the clash of images
 
To clear your mind
Breathe slowly
 
Focus
 
And try not to think of this poem
 

END

 
 
 
I Remember You
 
If I described it to you it would no longer matter
This thing you call a relationship
 
If the emotion and the feeling isn’t there
My words won’t create them
 
Years before we met
I saw you on the bus
 
You were so cute, so beautiful
So young, fresh and perfect
 
And when I saw you again
Not only did the years melt away
 
But you had become old enough
To hit on
 
You see, my words can only
Ruin things
END
 
 
 
Living Room View
 
I stared out my window
And pondered my day
The moon in its brilliance
The sunrise approaching
 
Life giving water
Strewn frozen below
Thinking of places
Where the water is ocean
 
Where the sun climbs above you

As you lay in the sand

 
 
END
 
 
The Tall Oaks
 
Further up are the oak trees lining 97th street
They weren’t here before, they just seem to be
From a thousand years ago
 
They stretch their long limbs pretending
To be wariors brandishing swords
As the masses
 
Safely traverse the street below
END

Today’s Blog:

Well, not a whole lot to say today. I am kind of curious if there are any other writers out there who would like to form an online group of some sort to critique each other’s work and support our efforts. There are tons on Facebook, but they all seem impersonal.

Well, my mental health seems to be good. Lately I have been looking into CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it seems it can really help someone like me. From what I understand, with many sessions and a lot of work, I can train my mind to stop going into negative thinking. Something I don’t like to talk about much is that there are a few ideas ‘stuck’ in my consciousness. Some of them are memories of things I’m ashamed of doing, some of them are results of delusions I had about some girls I knew when I was in my early teens. It makes it pretty hard to function when these memories seem to keep beating me down, but I am starting to see hope that I can gain more control over them.

Other than that, I have been neglecting my physical health a little. One one side, I have been drinking a lot of fruit and vegetable smoothies, but on the other side I haven’t been getting as much exercise as I should. It is so important to keep yourself feeling healthy with a balanced diet, medication taken on time and regular exercise because things can degenerate quickly.

So, I will end things at that. I just felt my readers might like some of the new styles of poetry I have been experimenting with. I hope all of you have a wonderful Spring, except for those darned Australians who I hope have a wonderful Fall 😉

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.