Schizophrenia

When Does It Go From Collecting to Hoarding?

Let me try and describe for you a quick look at a harsh reality. It isn’t a pretty one, but one I will have to face up to in the following months as I move further away from that scenario. A room, nothing but a non-ventillated room with a tiny bathroom attached. The room is no more than 10 feet by 15 feet, and inside of it lives a very ill young man presently having medication problems and who is surrounded by a lifetime of possessions. A book case covers one wall, packed full of every kind of book. More books are in the cupboard space instead of food, and more are laying randomly on the floor. The floor is littered with clothes new and old, garbage, full packs of cigarettes, dirty socks, and the odd can of beans or other uncooked, ready to eat food. On every flat surface piles of papers or CDs or other items are stacked beyond a safe height, and inside the fridge there are many items, but none of them are useable. This was my reality before I spent six months in a psychiatric hospital where I wasn’t even allowed to go home to pack my stuff up when I was evicted for displaying the signs of a person with a mental illness.

Sometimes I like to think that back then I wasn’t a hoarder but just a book lover or a music lover. But the plain truth was that I was being choked to death by all of my possessions. I didn’t want to let go of them for any reason. I think it is often the common reason people hoard things is that they feel they have more value than others do, that they can somehow sell them. The idea in my head was that somehow I would read all the books, even though I was consistently buying more books than I could read at that time. Lacking proper space to cook, I was also forced to buy food out or sponge off of my elderly parents which definitely wasn’t sustainable. I think at this time I was a hoarder. I tried an experiment though, a lot of my stuff was put into storage for after my release from hospital, and after spending two years paying for storage I hadn’t once needed to go to get more stuff from there, and I realized that I actually didn’t need any of that stuff. I stopped paying the storage people, they sent me a few nasty letters then auctioned off my things and that was that. The main problem was that I had already begun to accumulate more things.

I have a friend who is definitely a hoarder who lives in a small house stuffed to the rafters with books he will never read, records he will never play and videos he will never watch. At one point he confided with me that when he bought something, it almost gave him a sexual thrill. At first I thought this was a pretty sick thing, but later in years I have heard that many people actually experience this same thing. I think the important thing to understand though is that it is essential to gain awareness of a problem like hoarding, and that there is a great deal of help out there for people to want to change.

It is quite a few years since that incident when I was not only severely mentally ill, but also drowning in more possessions than I needed. What has changed is that I have stabilized on medications, which work well for me, and I have much more space than that tiny little apartment. What I desperately would like to know is if I am still a hoarder.

In the time since that six month hospitalization, I developed an interest in reading comic books. I had once collected them as a child, when I was 10 and I had an impressive collection. Now I don’t read them as much but they have become easy to purchase, I now have thousands more than I ever did, despite that I don’t have a lot of time for reading.

So in all this time since my last hospital admission (19 years) I have fought to find a balance to my life, and I have discovered a movement called minimalism. I find it extremely fascinating, the claims they make are huge though. Get rid of 90% of what you have and you will feel 200% better. Declutter your home and declutter your mind. A lot of it makes sense to me, but I have hit a roadblock. I have this huge collection of comics recently bought and I just don’t know if I can sell the comics at a huge sacrifice, never having taken the time to read them. This surely must be hoarding at its worst, and to break out of the cycle I am going to have to make some really hard decisions. The only way I really know how to deal with it is to read books like “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a beautiful book about purging possessions and reorganizing ones’ home. I know it will be difficult, but I think one of the most important things is likely that I shouldn’t worry about getting my money out of the comics. What I really have to focus on is finding a way to force myself not to buy any more, and I am lucky to have a resource in Edmonton that many of us can access with ease, there are graphic novels galore in the Edmonton Public Library. There are actually also a great deal of comics online, but I can’t comment due to lack of knowledge on copyright status and such. One of the wonderful things about the computer age is that it almost seems all one needs is a decent computer and only the very essential necessities of life and you can make it.

There are some truly encouraging reasons to embrace minimalism. The idea that one can either lower the amount they work without worry or work like they did before but be able to save much more, save for things in life that truly matter, like a life-changing vacation or being able to take your spouse out for a special meal at a fancy restaurant you enjoy more often. For me, as I sit at my desk writing this now, all I can think about is what it will be like when the clutter and papers of my work space are cleared and I can think of nothing but writing. I have also been thinking that if I use some of the space in my apartment differently there is no reason why I can’t hold onto my comics, but the essential thing I think is for me not to buy any more, so I have been trying to read up and listen to podcasts on living with less.

Last week I went into kind of a cleaning frenzy. I took all my clothes, piled them up on my futon, then got rid of each and every stitch of fabric that I wasn’t using or didn’t give me immediate joy. I was going to move on to do more this weekend but Edmonton has been hit with a brutal snowstorm and temperature drop which has made it impractical for me to complete my scheduled purge. Books are next. This is going to be the hardest part of it all I think, I have loved books since I was very young, but I think I should go easy on myself and include books but not comic books. I have this idea that I can simply pare down my comic collection to a manageable amount, but the truth is no matter which way I do it, this can become a very emotional time for a person who has had a lot of stuff for a long time. One thing I do know is that changing the way you view possessions, and not letting what you have define what kind of person you are, is so worth it.

Finding Your Passion, Your Creativity

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are There Alternatives to Psychiatric Medication?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Link to my first memoir:

Through the Withering Storm

 

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 ┬áme 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!