Schizophrenia

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

 

Mental Health and Stress

Sometimes the sunsets can be so beautiful here in Edmonton, the gateway to the North

 

A Little About Stress and mental illness

In grade 12 I took a course in Law and I got a lot out of it. One of the things that stands out for me is a legal case the textbook quoted where a woman was of a fragile mental state, witnessed a violent car accident, and sued–and won–a case for having a nervous breakdown as a direct result of the negligence of a driver. When I first had severe symptoms though, I knew so very little. Sadly, one of the first things that happens when someone gets sick like I did is that fairly rapidly they lose any material wealth they have and it takes a very long time to get any of it back. What really bothered me was that it seemed people judged me because I was from a nice suburban area and I think they believed I had clothes and money and cigarettes because my parents provided them. All of my teen years were spent working after school or being paid for things around the house and I was proud of what I had accomplished, having owned a nice sports car and a motorcycle I loved to ride. Within a year, every bit of it was gone. What I had left was a comic collection which by today’s standards wouldn’t have been worth much–but they all got stolen anyway.

To get on to the main topic though, when I first was back in Edmonton from living (treatment non-compliant) in Vancouver, I managed to get a job at Safeway. Those were dark days, being deep in depression and never really feeling like myself with the medications I was taking. I had very little knowledge of how to deal with the stress of working and one paycheque I simply walked into a bar and didn’t leave until my money was gone and I was drunk out of my mind. That was another difficult thing for me, no longer being able to drink socially. When I hadn’t been in the hospital and was working I was starting to develop the skills needed to meet and later contact people I had met in bars. But after my pills (which the alcohol worked against) and my loss of faith in myself, I was a sad sight to behold and never really made any close friends or began any relationships in a bar ever.

What did happen though was that one day my Dad started going out of his way to pick me up and take me for walks in the River Valley of Edmonton. I already had a fascination with swimming, and as I built up my stamina and travelled, and found medications that worked better for me, all of my issues seemed to lessen. What I really think had the hugest effect was exercise, or sports for want of a better term. There were times when I had to pull off incredible feats of endurance just to get a little extra money to see me through the month. With a lunch of a spoon, a can opener and a can of beans, I sometimes would have to ride my bike as much as two hours and then work a twelve hour shift and ride two hours back. Often I would come home and be unable to work for a week with the pain in my muscles and sore back.

I hated the fact that I had never been able to hold down a job. I hated more that I had never had a job that required the skills I had built up over a lifetime but instead got labour jobs anyone could do or delivery jobs or security guard jobs. Working security at an old school for a movie set, I made a connection that got me into movie security. I worked my way up to being a stage hand and the money was phenomenal. I also soon learned things about diet and working out with weights and swimming as well as cycling would make me a harder working employee. I managed to last about 7 years at that job and it was a bridge to what I do now, which is to write and to teach.

Doing what I do now feels so amazing, I really feel I am making a difference with the patients I work with and that when I go to give presentations about mental illness I feel that I am helping at least some people view mentally ill people differently. There has even been cases where we have helped people to self identify as having a mental illness and got them the help they needed. My rules are very simple. I don’t work much more than 2 hours a day at most 3 times a week. I do what I can to promote my writing but I also try very hard to live below my means so that I can survive on such limited working hours. When I have a day with nothing to do, I will make up an excuse like taking a two-hour walk to a store far away that has better prices than the stores where I live. I have built myself up, with the aid of a fitness watch, to walk about 5km to the pool where I swim about ten laps, then walk back and I end up having the most peaceful sleeps that I have ever experienced. A young woman who used to lifeguard at the pool I go to once told me that with any illness at all, exercise is the best medicine. I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I do know that feeling fit feels really good, and that people notice when you not only feel good but look good. I seem to get more smiles and winks from single females than when I was young, skinny and 19 years old, full of confidence from being a student pilot. One of the great things about swimming is that you don’t have to do all that much to have great positive effects on weight/fat loss, and muscle tone. You can start out just going to the deep end and treading water for a few minutes. You can work your way up to doing one gentle lap on your back. If you have joint issues or any kind of pain, swimming is as low-impact as you can get. Sadly not everyone has the extreme privilege to do as I do, which is have access for free to all city pools and most weight rooms, but there are options, some are even better. The YMCA will often have a program for low-income individuals to use their pool and their weights and gymnasium. One trick I have learned is to buy very low costing vegetarian protein powder and have a scoop in a fruit smoothie when I finish a workout. Taking protein helps rebuild muscles after a workout and prevents, in many cases, any sore muscles you may experience.

Try it, try just a short walk. Bring your dog or your neighbour’s dog to have company. Buddy up with a friend and walk a little each day, build yourself up to maybe an aquacise class. As you work your way up, focus on bad habits such as too much coffee, too much sugar or smoking. When you start to feel more comfortable, look at getting a part-time job to help fill in the gaps of time in your day and give you a little grocery money. While you are doing this, I not only strongly recommend that you are med-compliant, refrain from any alcohol or drug intake and see your psychiatrist, but also do your best to join a support group or two for your illness or even one that teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And remember, you are a human being and that means you will make mistakes, or have mistakes in your past, even big ones. But you have full rights to live as healthy and as happy as you can make yourself.

LG

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

(Blog after photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatherly Advice On Dealing With Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

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

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

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

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

When Psychosis Causes Hallucinations Which Causes More Psychosis

 

So here I am, 17 years into recovery from a lengthy hospital stay for acute psychosis. In that time, I have mostly been on an injectable medication every two weeks, and it has done a really good job of keeping my head straight. Now, a new medication or two has been developed, and supposedly they are better. One of the advantages is that the new ones only have to be administered once a month rather than every two weeks. So, after a lengthy debate/discussion, my Psychiatrist puts me on one of the new ones (I don’t think it would benefit anyone to know the name of it so I am going to leave it out). But the difficult thing is that it seems I have been taking the previous medication for so long, then when it was stopped, I have been having symptoms of severe schizophrenia, something that hasn’t happened before. The world is a scary place with schizophrenia in it to confuse a person already struck down with bipolar and anxiety. It is a very hard thing to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. When the worst happens is almost always in a public place, often a restaurant or shopping mall. I start off feeling fine, and then I get quiet and begin to listen to people talking around me. This is something I used to do in my late teens when I lived in Vancouver. I hadn’t yet perfected my set of social skills, and I would listen in on people and then, though trying not to be rude, I would join in on what they were talking about. I often gave the excuse I was from a small town, but that was pretty much a lie. Still, I met a lot of people, had friends nearly wherever I went, and often count those times as some of the best ones in my life. Now, that habit I formed, for lack of a better term, torments me to no end. I sit, and there is a cacophony of voices and noise, then I begin to tune in on a specific conversation or sound, and it slowly starts to turn into words and sentences I seem to recognize. If I am unlucky, which has happened a few times in the past weeks, I interpret what was said as a direct threat and suddenly have a very strong desire to leave, whether I have to eat or sit with someone or any reason really. This is when I start to look and feel disturbed (I think) and at that point, I honestly feel that some people can sense my anguish. Then one of them may make a comment or a joke and if I overhear it, or misinterpret it, then I start to feel justified that people are plotting against me and things get worse. This has been my world since Christmas Day when I laid in my bed not wanting to make a sound, listening to the heater/radiator in my bedroom start to sound like two men plotting my demise in the stairwell. It is hard to explain how destructive this psychosis can be. I met a friend at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and as the meal wore on, I keep trying to not let people see me, couldn’t look the person I met with in the eyes, and my voice kept on getting quieter. I have been trying to take steps to deal with it, but I fear it will take time and extreme effort. One of the ways my nurse/therapist was helping me to learn was taking deep breaths, holding them for a couple of seconds and then slowly releasing them, causing you to get beyond the “fight or flight” mode and also distracting you from any false voices. But she was also careful to caution me that there is really no magic pill that will end my auditory hallucinations. One of the things that I think could be an issue is that I have been playing a number of violent video games which I have stopped, but still kind of long to play. One of the best suggestions came from my Dad, who saw my Mom go through this for a long time. He suggested that I simply put some music on an iPod or iPhone and focus on the music rather than the troubling talk. I hope some of this helps people out there who may be experiencing psychosis, as always, please feel free to comment or contact me.

Mental Health Crisis and Severe Breakdown Advice

A nice frosty December photo from my trusty iPhone 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Insane to Think People Suspect You Are Some Evil Person When You Always Feared You Were One?

Well, a lot has gone on since I made my last post to this page. I wish I understood why, but there were a lot of things contributing to me almost having a meltdown so bad that I wanted to try and get admitted to a hospital. I have been doing a lot of little things, like teaching one hour classes way out of town at the Psychiatric Hospital to running all over the place trying to help my Dad and my brother. I have been pretty worried about my brother, he has had two surgeries on his back and now is going to need a procedure done on his kidneys. And every day it seems I think about two people: my departed mother and my niece living very far away with no Uncle to help her or even just be a small part of her life.

At first it started as anxiety, but soon it got worse and became paranoia. Anxiety is hard to explain, especially since until recently I had no idea I was diagnosed as having it. I was a very shy and nervous kid, almost to the point of being ashamed of everything. I have this vivid memory of taking a Toastmaster’s Public speaking course in Cadets and stammering my way through a short talk that seemed to get so little interest from any of my fellow Cadets that all they took from it was ammunition to later mock me with. I will never forget that nervous and shaking, unbearable few minutes. The funny thing is that now, after working in radio and doing possibly hundreds of presentations for the Schizophrenia Society, I have become pretty comfortable with crowds. But not recently. Recently I have been going through hell.

The hell I speak of is paranoia. Some people experience it when they smoke cannabis, I know I did. I was at a party where I didn’t really know anyone and I had a couple of tokes and slowly it started to seem like people were angry with me, saying things about me and it soon escalated to the point of me feeling I was in danger. I reacted by crawling down a third floor fire escape ladder and walking miles home because of the fear.

This has also been happening to me recently though I haven’t used any cannabis in more than 13 years. There is the off chance that now that cannabis is legal and you can smell it everywhere, I picked up some of it but the plain fact is I have been desperately on edge for some time now. Just to give a bit of back story, I was diagnosed with diabetes a few months ago and I have a suspicion that the medication I was given makes me jumpy and dizzy. The jumpy part is also what could have led to the paranoia, but until I become a full psychiatrist or pharmacologist, I will likely never know. What has been happening though is that any time I am in public and I hear people talking, I think they are talking about me. I spend extra time worrying about what others think and I have had to go way out of my way to not offend anyone or make eye contact. This gets extremely difficult on the bus. I have spent so much time in the past couple of weeks staring at the ground or floor that I am starting to have neck problems.

Today it was really disturbing. Some teenager trying to show off to his friends how street smart he was, declared clearly enough that I was sure I wasn’t delusional that he knew I was a cop. Even when I got off the bus, one of the teenagers went out of his way to call me a pig. I can’t even describe how disturbing this was.

There have been a few really good things happening lately though, one of them is that I ran into a young woman who I was in a class with and had a chance to catch up. She had an earlier stop than me and got off, but lately I have been worrying while on the bus that (once again, mind reading) women see me get off at the same stop as them and fear I will follow them to some alley and do some unthinkable thing to them. I have recently become so aware of this possibility that I will go far out of my way to avoid taking the same bus or even the same street as a woman walking alone. Then, the miracle happened.

Tuesday I had enough and I went in to see my psychiatrist. Not long ago I had been put on a much newer medication called Invega and was taken off another injectable drug in the anti-psychotic class of medications. My Doctor increased my dose by the teeniest, tiniest little pill and all of a sudden within a few minutes of taking the pill, my fear went away. Now two days after that dose, I feel so much better, though I have to admit that I am still very conscious of what others think and say, but the fear, the deep down danger warning indicator seems to be gone. Well, as it is late, I will leave things at that. I encourage any of you experiencing this sort of thing to talk to a medical doctor or psychiatrist as soon as you can. The way of dealing with it is very simple, but not always easy. You need to sit down and be honest, and trust your health care provider and before you know it, things will go back on track. Good day, dear readers!

Mental Health and Addiction Issues the Homeless Face Daily

The streets of Edmonton, where I live can be cold and unfriendly. Many people fall into a trap of  being struck down by mental or physical illness, then addictions and eventually homelessness. You see it a lot where I live, makeshift tents with a shopping cart full of garbage nearby. Long line-ups at the soup kitchens and shelters. When oil was at a peak, people came from all over wanting to take part in the prosperity, the huge amounts of money to be made in the oilfields and in Edmonton in some of the numerous supporting industries from plastics to catering. It is almost sickening to think of what all the fossil fuels are doing to our once pristine and beautiful country, yet fracking and pipelines continue. When I was in eleventh grade, a friend was trying to encourage me to get a job in the oilfields. My ambition then was to be a lawyer, I found his idea almost laughable now, especially since he went on to become an alcoholic working under the table so he didn’t have to pay child support. When you take a long look at all the big money jobs in the oilfields, it just doesn’t seem worth the real price in loss of quality of life and many other factors. I know of so many dreamers who became homeless, addicted, mentally ill. A lot of organizations have tried to fill in the gaps left when people have nowhere else to go. From New Year’s Eve 2001 to the present, I have been living in supportive housing and despite the books I’ve written, the work I’ve done, the money I’ve made, I really don’t think I could have done any of it without living in places that supported me through my difficulties with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.

When I last got out of the hospital, my life was destroyed. I had lost control of any finances, I was heavily medicated, and virtually unemployable. A long-term group home was found for me and I was able to recover almost completely. I still have troubles with sleep and stress, I still have times when I question my own existence or allow myself to get angry over things I can’t control. But none of those things can destroy me anymore, I have been allowed to grow new skin over my wounds.

Living in a group home had a number of advantages for me. I lived in a house with three other people, and though there were arguments and fights, and even people who did horrible and disgusting things, the needed stability was there. One time I was in a house with a barely functioning, overbearing bully who kept trying to order me around and pick a fight with me. I had to deal with him by calling the police one night and when I talked to them I didn’t have a chance to mention that he is in the habit of picking fights, losing them badly and then going to an organization called ‘victim’s services’ where he is given money in exchange for proof of his injuries. Another roommate in the same house once called the police and confronted me because I had woken up late for work and took two slices of a cold pizza he had left out in the kitchen because he had put it in the oven and was so drunk he forgot about it.

The thing though, was that when you live with others who suffer from a mental illness, the stigma and guilt are greatly reduced, and provided you are on the medication you need, it is so much easier to function, so much easier to heal. In the group home I lived in for 15 years, medication was given out each day. Adherence to all appointments was necessary. I had the benefit of having my dad come and take me for a walk in the park also which was extremely healing. There were a lot of difficult times with people who lived in the group home. There was one guy who believed that he could legally play his music as loud as he wanted as long as he turned it down a little after 11:00pm. I dealt with it by simply going to the basement and shutting off the breaker for his room, leaving him in silence and darkness. Then the management passed a rule that we weren’t allowed to touch the breakers. Soon, my roommate was playing his music again and I shut him down once more from the breaker switches and then plead my case to a higher authority. The same guy had a habit of coming home from work and turning up the heat as far as it would go, then taking off his shirt in the living room and laying down to watch TV. That was around the time I took up the habit of hiding the remote. Then, when he found it, I would insist he give it back to me as it was legally mine, then when I got it back I would turn the TV off. I had to find ways to amuse myself somehow.

It was an eye-opening experience to live there. For perhaps the first time in my life I could simply exist. I didn’t need to be some wealthy young entrepreneur, I didn’t need to be an A+ honour student on his way to Oxford, I just had to exist, take my medication, and hopefully not kill any roommates. I found out that housing like this, which is in extreme demand these days, costs about 1/4 of what a hospital bed costs the health care system. I have also heard information about how homeless people, job or not, cost society a great deal as well. I can see why because, to use one example, a shelter needs a lot of resources. They need food, staff, a constant inflow of donations of money, clothing, heat, security. I worked at a drop-in centre that didn’t even have any beds for homeless people and it seemed they had nine paid staff or volunteers supporting, educating, counselling, and even motivating the many people who relied on them. I guess I just wanted to say that in many places in North America, cold weather, extreme in some places is coming fast. Consider gathering up unneeded items, especially things like hoodies, toques, gloves, scarves, and finding a charity that would be extremely grateful to be able to distribute them for you. Something I have seen happen a lot is that people will put warm clothing items onto a tree or fence with a note saying that anyone who needs to warm up can take the item. Excess household items like books and furniture are needed at many thrift shops that support worthwhile charities. Consider also volunteering your time (if a place exists near you) with a schizophrenia society office, or finding ways to help integrate disadvantaged people into the greater community. This time of year is ideal for looking for ways to give back as many students get a Christmas break, and most charities need volunteers at Christmas, which they recruit in October and November.

Sadly though, all of these great ideas doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people, whether they read this blog or not, suffer themselves from a mental illness and don’t have the housing or the support or even the medical attention they need, and many of them are all alone in this world. I can’t imagine what things may have been like if I didn’t have my dad and my sister to advocate for me last time I was ill. To people in this situation, I just pray that they can plant a seed of hope deep inside of their minds. Just enough so that they can get to a clinic and find a way to get the assistance of a psychiatrist, find a way to get their medications. I know that in the US it is much harder to get by as a poor person, but I have also noticed from my own experience that once people see you are trying to take responsibility for yourself, trying to improve your own life so you can perhaps one day help others, they are more than willing to support you in your efforts to recover. One thing I would say is that there are opportunities to dig yourself out. There are things like newspapers that homeless people sell by donation, and if these don’t exist, approach your library and get them to help you put together a booklet of writing about people who are struggling in so many ways. Charge a buck or two and use the money for the essential things the group needs.

I wish I could keep writing. I also wish I had all the answers. But the sad fact is, each person who is ill, each person who is addicted or homeless, needs to find their own way. I found mine with the help of people who cared and loved me back to sanity. I wish this for all of you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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