Schizophrenia

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.

Stigma and Disability: Will Mental Illness Destroy My Whole Life?

The photo above is a close friend. He worked hard for many years, built up an excellent work record, bought a home and has been to many places in the world. Now, after a lifetime of struggle, it sadly seems that compulsive spending, depression, alcoholism, hoarding, and other problems came about from him growing up in poverty and working so hard that substances were his only escape. It all seems such a waste, but even for my friend there is hope.

For most of 2001, I was a patient in a locked ward of a very unpleasant place, the provincial psychiatric hospital. Now, in 2018, I work there and am paid well. This and other jobs has allowed me to do so much, including travelling to London and Hawaii, buying the computer I am using now, having many friends, and living a comfortable though somewhat sparse life.

People are often amazed that I have been able to write more than 10 books, and to get up in front of people I don’t know and talk about the intimate details of my illness. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’m not so much afraid anymore. I have experienced great loss, adventure, been close to death, but there have been some simple axioms I took to heart that have gotten me through.

One of them was from a young man who was an engineer. He said when engineers work on a very large, complex and difficult problem, they will break the larger problem into smaller ones and solve them one small piece at a time. There was another man who I have never met, but who wrote an excellent book and is an example to every young person in the whole world I feel who attributed his success as an astronaut and space station commander by always making sure he had taken the time to properly prepare himself for tasks to come. When I want to sit down and start writing a book I can’t just put pen to page and expect it to come out perfect. I draft up several possible outlines, then toy around with some dialogue, maybe even try to picture my main characters and, by hand, write out some dialogue. If this starts to engage me and I keep on for pages with my pen I know I have something I can continue to work on, to craft into a cohesive story. But most of my books came more from just writing a little for one sitting. I would write a poem and then transfer it to computer and then cut and paste it into Facebook and when I had a bunch of them I would self-publish a book of them. Easiest thing in the world. People even buy them and enjoy them. In a way, I used these two methods of planning and preparation to overcome my severely diminished state after I was last in the hospital.

I had to start with a small step, and I decided it would be medications. I took each dose at the proper time and then looked at the rest of the day as my free time. Not wanting to waste my days away watching TV re-runs, I would try and read a little in one of my Steinbeck books. One of the amazing things was that now that I was over the worst of my symptoms of mental illness, and people could see that I was trying to improve my lot in life, help seemed to come from every corner. My dad would take me for walks, a part-time job allowed me some comforts. Even the cooking chore I had to undertake every two weeks or so taught me many things I never knew about food.

When I think of how the other point I made, of making sure you are adequately prepared for something, especially something difficult that you need to do, I think of a close friend who I knew since high school. Before my most recent stay in the psychiatric hospital, I was extremely delusional and ‘manic’ as well as having other symptoms of psychosis such as thinking the radio was talking about me, that I had billions of dollars and so on. At this time, her sister had heard I was having troubles and tried to help, and for want of a better term, I scared her half to death. My long friendship was over and I was devastated. Almost a year later, I went to see her and it was only because in advance I wrote down what I needed to tell her and predicted how she would react that I was able to successfully convince her she could trust me and that it was worth having me as a friend.

These are common tactics, writing out a script of what you might say to your boss who you know is debating whether or not to fire you. Setting goals, no matter how preposterous or long-range they are, and then setting smaller, more attainable goals that lead you towards that better place. I often think these things can get a person through anything.

One of the things I would like to touch on today may only apply to Canadians, but I will try and add a universal component for people in other countries. One of the hardest things to face when a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, and spends time in a psychiatric hospital is the poverty that is going to follow, perhaps for the rest of their lives. The Canadian Government developed a plan to help those who are disabled for any reason to overcome this, it is called the Registered Disability Saving Program (or something similar-ask your bank staff) this plan allows you to put somewhere around $2,000 to $3,000 away in an account, and have grants and subsidies top up that amount by multiples of two or three times. You can’t take it out for ten years, but it could really go a long way for a person to take a trip or to buy a home.

This seems almost unfair to Americans or people in other countries that don’t have this program, but I think even people who have a savings plan could benefit from my second favourite book ever, “The Richest Man in Babylon” by Richard S. Clayson (my favourite book being “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig.

In the ‘babylon’ book, using historical figures and examples, a plan is explained where a person takes a careful look at his earning and spending and tries to get his or her spending down to just 70% of what they earn. 20% of that is put towards debt, and the remaining 10% goes to savings, which, as it grows, you invest. Regarding the investment side of it, the book talks about a very simple strategy to keep your money growing, or at least safe. If you want to invest your money, seek out advice. But make sure that the person giving it has spent all their time and effort in their entire lives to being an expert on what they are talking about. Getting a tip from your neighbour who is a musician that stock in a steel mill is guaranteed to double just doesn’t cut it. But the musician might be a great person to consult to find out which brand of marijuana stock is the best one to invest in based on his own personal choice of the stuff.

Another factor that many people don’t factor in when they think of living in poverty as a disabled person is that as time goes by, especially if you can find a way to work (when I got out of the hospital in 2001 I was useless for any task, but I could still work as a security guard and it gave me a sense of self-respect and some extra money for things), as you get older, you will not only learn to use and invest your money better, you will also have paid for much of the things you want and need and the pressure to always get more money and more stuff will lessen. Of course, you are also free from the thing that made me want to buy a sports car at 18 instead of saving for University-peer pressure.

So, all I really have to say if I must sum it up is that with diligence, a steady and focused effort day after day, week after week, planning and preparing, your life may not just get to be as good as most, it just may get better. And remember, people really do care.

 

The Last Big Battle: Stigma and the Psychiatric Patient

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

 

Mental Health Stigma:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronic Mental Illness and You: Never Give Up

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Path of Recovering From a Mental Illness (and Psychiatry)

I love skylines. I’ve seen more than my share of them. Once, in Vancouver while in a state of psychosis, hallucinating, I was nearly convinced that I had been pushed forward in time to the future and that I was actually on the moon in a replica of Vancouver. Desperately needing help and the care of a psychiatric facility, I called the police and told them I thought someone had put hallucinogenic drugs in my food. I was taken to a hospital psychiatric ward right away. One of the sad things about hospital psychiatric wards is something that is only a theory to me, they only really exist as training tools for Doctors who need to train in all fields and types of wards. This is good when the Doctors become psychiatrists, but psychiatry is not only an unpopular field, it is also among the worst paid careers for a professional, especially when one considers the average psychiatrist will most likely not finish their schooling and internship until they are as old as 30.

I wanted to talk a little today about not just recovering from mental illness, but also recovering from the treatment that a person goes through when they spend time in a psychiatric facility. The most obvious treatments that recovery time is needed for is shock treatments. My Mom had a large number of them and it seemed it was the only thing that would lift her out of her severe depressions. The sad part was that she would lose her memory and in her last years here on Earth, she was almost a different person (personality wise).

When I think of recovering from the treatment a person gets when they are mentally ill, I think of being treated for schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety. At different times it seemed that I had different diagnoses. What really came as a surprise to me was that until I was 44 years old I didn’t even know what my diagnosis was. In Vancouver, I had been labelled as a person with schizophrenia. In Edmonton, depression, and at a later time, schizoaffective, and what I thought for most of my life, I was at some point described as having bipolar disorder. Some say these are just words and don’t mean anything, but I would have really liked to know, I am not a simple minded person, I can research my illness and find things out that may have been beneficial to me. A young woman I know who had anxiety asked me how anyone could have it and not know about it. My problem was that, likely because I never talked to anyone about my difficulties, with the possible exception of my mom, I had no idea that these weren’t normal things. I was never able to express how I felt or communicate and develop friendships with others in my younger years, I thought it was just nerves and that I would grow out of it. I did to an extent, but there were many wasted opportunities in my life.

And of course when I talk about recovering from your treatment, I can’t avoid mentioning my last stay in the hospital when I was a patient for 6 months. I came out of that time period almost completely unable to handle life. Meals had been cooked for me, my finances were taken over by a public trustee. And my interpersonal skills had atrophied. Thank heaven my Dad was able to come to my place every day and take me for a walk. Slowly I was able to ease myself back into society, though I still have difficulties. But I’m on my own now and like to think I’m doing well.

Well Dear Readers, I am going to have to leave things at that. I need to rest. Anyone who reads this blog who resides in Manitoba I wanted to mention to them that my two memoirs, “Inching Back to Sane” and “Through the Withering Storm” are now available in the Winnipeg Library system. They have 3 copies of each book, so if you are in Manitoba and want to read my two memoirs for free, try and interlibrary loan. Of course it may be even easier to purchase the books from amazon.com, both of them and my 9 other titles are available, just go to ‘books’ on the search window and type in “Leif Gregersen” and you should be able to find all of my books and eBooks at reasonable prices. Best to all of you!

Healthy and Unhealthy Ways of Coping With Depression

Sadly, this picture doesn’t do the subject justice. The other day, after a panicked phone call from a friend, I went outside to see something I have never imagined I would ever see–the sun was cherry red from thick forest fire smoke hanging over the city.

Don’t forget to scroll past today’s poem for today’s blog on coping with depression.

Suicide

 

I know you’re hurting but don’t think you found a better way

Before you waste your life I have some words I want to say

 

Each one of us, your friends fears to take a chance

And each one of us has failed at romance

 

Please don’t give up trying

 

Giving up and giving in

When it comes to love

Is almost like a sin

 

You have to understand love sometimes fades

The way we all see it you weren’t to blame

 

You put body, mind, and soul into being a friend and lover

And now that your love is no more you can’t recover

 

Just keep something always in your mind

You have looks and youth, there is every chance you will find

 

A new path to happiness once more

Though you may wait a while and find it on a distant shore

The time will come for you then you will just need to go through that open door

 

You will not regret starting fresh and finding someone new

Right now, those of us who care fear greatly for you

 

Too many young people gave their lives away

For hurt feelings that would be gone so soon, literally in days

 

The final choice is up to you

Only you can decide what you do

But my friend I will say anew

So many people care and I do too

END

 

Coping With Depression:

I think a lot of people, heck I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone has had their down days. But when you have an actual diagnosis of clinical depression it goes far beyond what most people experience. Depression, which can be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression, is extremely debilitating. When it happens to you I think the most important thing you can do is to not isolate yourself. I went through some times living on my own when it just seemed like there was no way out, that my life was going to end in a bad part of town living all alone in a cheap apartment. I recall literally laying on the floor repeatedly trying to touch wires in the back of my oven for no real reason. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but I was close to being past the point of caring.

One of the hardest things about dealing with depression, (and I should also note a good deal of today’s blog applies to bipolar disorder as well, which has a depressive side to it) is that you are not visibly injured and a lot of people can be extremely judgemental. When I was first out on my own I had a job at a grocery store for a few months but I had a very hard time coping. Somehow when you add stress to depression, you end up with a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Working becomes impossible. More than a few times I have had jobs where I had to call in sick for no better reason than that I didn’t feel like working. Of course I made up more elaborate excuses than that, but it was next to impossible for me to find any kind of job that understood my needs as a disabled person, so naturally after years of trying everything I could, I was put on a disability pension. I was very lucky because I found something I could do, I found that I could write and also give talks for the Schizophrenia Society and help others. Things have turned out extremely well, but I still have the odd bout of depression and mania. I also have symptoms of schizophrenia since my full diagnosis is anxiety, bipolar, and schizoaffective disorder.

One of the most important daily strategies I use is meditation. Some time back I made an in-depth study of meditation and the things I learned were astounding. For a long time I would use sitting meditation and count my breaths and simply try and focus and keep my ‘monkey mind’ from running around and thinking all kinds of different things. I found it helped with anger, it took a good deal of stress off my shoulders especially when really needed like just before a shift at work, but I slowly slipped away from it. Now I practise walking meditation more, which is great because it is helping me lose weight and feel better which is extremely important for mental and physical health, but I do think I need to go back to sitting meditation soon. There is nothing that gave me more of a positive and caring attitude than sitting meditation.

Of course, when you consider depression, it is important to consider anti-depressants. I take prozac (among pills for other reasons and an injection) and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Not every pill is right for every person. I do have to say though that there was a time when I went off prozac because I thought I was ‘cured’ from my depression and I sunk deep into a depression that was literally so bad I couldn’t see that my mental and physical health were seriously deteriorating. I barely left my apartment, I found no joy in anything. And to top it off, I contacted a high school crush and was told to get out of her life. A short time later I made a very serious suicide attempt and ended up in intensive care. Lesson: don’t discontinue medications without the supervision of a doctor/psychiatrist.

So what about the people who feel down but don’t think their situation is serious enough to get treatment? Talking to your family Doctor about it, or finding a counsellor/psychologist may be the best thing you could ever do. I think a lot of people who have the blues a lot don’t even remember what feeling good was like.

There are many more strategies I can go over. One of my favourites is to get a supportive and positive group of friends (preferably ones that aren’t regular drinkers or drug users) and get five phone numbers. When you feel you need to talk, call the first one, then when you next want some support, call the second and work your way down the list. This way you don’t put too much pressure or demand on one person to help you.

As I mentioned above, physical activity can be a great way to lift the spirits. Walking is great, especially if you have someone to walk with. Sports like tennis or racquetball, or even team sports can be great, but don’t force yourself or risk injury. It is always a good idea to consult an MD before starting a new regimen. But none of these things work alone. Use all of them or a few of them. Get five friends, make an appointment to talk to your family MD to talk about your depression. In most major cities, you can find resources to see a counsellor/psychologist for free. Above all, do everything you can to maintain good health from brushing your teeth to watching salt and fat intake. And if your depression lasts, strongly consider anti-depressants. They were a miracle for me and depression almost killed me more than once.

LG

 

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

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

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

 

Recovery Poem

 

Oftentimes I will forget

The things that brought me here

To the place where I have no more feelings

I’ve been hurt just far too much

 

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

There were so many awesome times

And love that still lives on in me

Will never go away

 

A few years ago, I lost my mother

But still have my loving dad

And a wonderful amazing brother

Who is like a mirror twin

 

I have to say I’ve lost some friends

For reasons that seem so trivial

Maybe they feared my mental illness catching

Or that I was making an excuse

 

My illness is a real thing

That kicks the crap right out of me

And it takes every bit of courage

To keep on walking mental hospital free

 

And then there are those who understand me

Those who care and those who help

It’s just a few disturbing incidents

That torment me endlessly

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Yellow Liquid Bread

By: Leif Gregersen

July 18, 2018

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

The yellow fluid slides past the lips soon reaches the liver

It seems to them that beer is the true forgiver

When like now, all ties to fellow man are severed

 

Each day they face the screaming that is so frightening

They live their lives in dreams and sleep in nightmares

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

He shows them pictures of a wedding celebration

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

 

 

And then the photo with the highest meaning

The one that leaves this tired old man beaming

And showing that deep down he always had human feelings

 

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

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

 

 

The joy resonates throughout the bar that was once his home

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

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

 

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

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

 

Today’s Blog Entry:

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

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

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

A Little Psychiatry and Nutrition From A Dude Who Has Been there

 there must be pots of gold in Edmonton. I’ve never seen two rainbows up close like this (Please look below today’s poem for today’s blog entry)

 

Through My Living Room Window

 

The setting Spring sun is reaching out with its golden rays

Right into my living room as I rest.

For a moment as I contemplate the coming summer

Contentment washes over me

 

I’ve slept too much today, the warm nurturing sunlight

Made my living room the perfect place to snooze

So hard to shake that lazy tired feeling from me, I must rise to write.

I sit and let my thoughts linger over endless childhood adventures

And all my adult responsibilities. For a moment it doesn’t seem fair.

 

Do all the people on this Earth feel these weak moments?

Times where they consider giving up the fight

For two cars and a house?

 

I know that as I listen to the quiet din of the inner city, and

Let my eyes drink in the green of the grass and budding trees

Thoughts of Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida possess me

But still I know in my heart

Summer in Edmonton is going to be amazing

 

Leif Gregersen

May 12, 2018

 

Good day my friends. Another sleepless night has come upon me and so I am finally going to sit down to write a little. My bipolar (aka manic depression) has somehow gotten me to cut down on food enough and exercise enough to lose some weight. I would put pictures up of the difference but I don’t really want to disgust anyone. Basically, yesterday I walked around 4 or 5 miles to the pool, had a dip and swam a couple of lanes and weighed in almost 20lbs lighter than I had a few months ago on the same scale. The really difficult about losing weight, and I can’t tell you how much psychiatric medications had to do with it, was just going through the initial shock of fasting. I was having ongoing stomach problems and a Doctor sent me for tests for diabetes and I had to fast for 12 hours. This was at first excruciating, even though I was allowed to drink water I thought I was going to go insane. It actually reminded me about what junkies talk about when they start to realize they are either going to get a fix or become extremely sick. I didn’t really get sick, but it took everything I had to get through that night. The sad news at the end is that I was diagnosed with diabetes, but now that I am finally into a ‘losing weight’ mode I think I will be able to control the bad effects. It is a bit scary to think of, studies show that a diagnosis of diabetes takes an average of 12 years off a person’s life. There are a lot of things I could do in 12 years. There is also risks of poor circulation leading to loss of limbs and also needing to take injections of insulin at a later point. I really wish I had done something about my weight sooner. I can only blame myself for this, I thought if I just kept sugar intake low and exercised all I could I would be fine, but this disease snuck up on me.

One of the things that is interesting to note here is that if you have a mental illness, say schizophrenia or bipolar, or are like me and have schizoaffective disorder and anxiety, it will also sneak up on you. I will never forget the slow, gradual change that came over me just before I first had to be put in the psychiatric hospital. My concept of reality began to change. I didn’t see myself as a thinking human being, I saw myself just as an animal able to feel warmth and cold and pain and comfort. Slowly this got worse and a psychosis developed that made me think the human race was split into two distinct groups, one of them at war with the other, the other unaware of the dirty tricks the first consistently played on them. I can’t believe I was only 18 when all of this started happening. Another kind of scary thing is that I am now 46 and though I am doing extremely well, there is a lot of lost time to make up for that I don’t think I will really get a chance to recover from. I am pretty happy about my present situation though, I have discovered a love of long-distance walking (for 4 weeks now I have walked over 10 miles on Thursdays after work and often walk at least that much on the other days.) I have some very amazing friends like Richard Van Camp who is an incredible author and on and on. I hope some of these words get to people who read my blog. If you feel you are going through something like severe depression, get some trusted advice from a doctor. Have your condition monitored, consider how much an anti-depressant can help. If you hear things or see things that no one else does, talk to someone about it. It isn’t wrong to have a mental illness, and it is never wrong to seek help. The only wrong thing is that so many people are afraid of mental illness and create stigma surrounding it that people think they will be worse off if they share their thoughts and emotions with others. And as far as the diabetes goes, if you can do it, get out for walks. Walk in a mall if it is too icy outside. Get a membership at a pool and try aquafit workouts or even just water-jog (basically dog paddling but you keep your head a little higher and go in laps). Take what you eat into consideration. I’ve now been told to avoid white foods like rice, potatoes, sugar, and a number of others. Get a blender and learn how to make fruit smoothies, they are delicious and very good for you. Salads can be so simple, just get a tomato, some lettuce, some kale, a cucumber, green pepper, and celery and chop all of them up, add some light salad dressing and you’re off. This is just very simple advice I’ve been learning, there are a world of dishes out there that will help you lose weight and get healthier. I do recommend that you consult a Medical Doctor before exercising or dieting and look into taking classes on nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. I can only give tiny bits of things I have been learning but I can emphasize that the feeling of losing weight and being out in the summer sun getting healthy exercise is so amazing it is almost impossible to describe. Don’t leave it until it is too late, make a decision now, turn off your monitor or close your laptop and phone for an appointment to get something done about excess weight or depression, or any mental or physical health concern. I have to tell you things can only get better and you’re worth it!

One in Four Adults Will Experience Mental Illness In Their Lifetime. Do You Feel Lucky?

Going to try something a little different today, instead of a poem, I want to share a 100-word story I wrote. As usual, scroll past the story for today’s blog

 

Warm Summer Memories

All year I wait for the exhibition, save money, make a plan. I love the rides, the fresh mini-donuts, the games of fortune. Eat, drink, ride, wander, play, and pick up women in skimpy summer wear. If you’re skilled you can win them prizes. I saw a babe lining up for the whirlwind and I lined up behind her. We chatted a little, she was cute and friendly. We took our seats, the excitement was electric. I was in heaven, full of cold beer, donuts, and summer sun. When the ride spun faster I threw up all over her. Memories.

                                                                         END

 

BLOG:

Well, I hope someone found the humour in that little story. I have been fond of writing these micro fiction pieces lately. When you use a computer, it is fairly easy, the hard part is coming up with a limited plot. I was even submitting longer stories to a contest and used a lot of my 100 word stories as the basis for them. Once you get the initial idea down it becomes easy to expand on it. Plus, 100-word stories teaches you to keep everything tight.

I am in the midst of working a lot this June. It only adds up to 2 hours a day or so, but still with my illness (schizoaffective disorder) I have a hard time handling that. I am kind of looking forward to tomorrow, I am teaching a class out in the West End and it will be about micro fiction and flash fiction.

As far as my mental health goes, it is a bit hard to say. A couple of days ago I was given a cholesterol pill and I had some invega pills sitting. As both were new to me, I didn’t know the difference and accidentally took the invega for a few days. I was really zonked, sleeping about 70% of the time. My Doctor wants to put me on a similar pill permanently in August when I have gotten used to my diabetes pill and I don’t know how I feel about it. The advantage is, less side effects and the possibility that the new pill won’t cause me to gain weight, the disadvantage being there is really no way to tell what the pill will do. I think in the end I am going to choose the new pill, even if it causes me to sleep a lot. Anything that may help clear my thoughts. I have a lot of problems with concentrating and thinking normally. I often wish I had the time and energy to sit down and read the classics, though I have read a lot of books in my life. I miss running through stacks of books and engaging my mind. I have been drawn lately to comic books and graphic novels. In some ways I see them as an investment, and in others I just want to read the stories and some of them can be extremely well written.

I think I will leave off at that for now. I do have a bit of advice for people who are seeking to improve their mental health. First of all, build up your concentration. If you can’t read a full-length book, look for a book of short stories or find a textbook from a subject that interests you and read it a little at a time. Healing and challenging your mind can be so important. Don’t neglect your health at all. I allowed too much time to go past without getting serious about my weight and now I have diabetes. I could go blind, lose a limb, many bad things as a result of it. Be good to your families, they are the ones that you will need the most and may have to rely on. Never miss an opportunity to tell a family member that you love them. I even do it with my grumpy old Dad when I can. Never give up hope. New medications are coming thick and fast along with new techniques in psychiatry like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It may be hard to do these things, but the rewards can be great. You can get your thoughts back. I hope this helps. As always, anyone who reads this blog and wants more advice, feel free to email me, my current email I check the most is viking3082000@yahoo.com      I also appreciate any comments (positive or negative) that you may have about my website. Keep coming back, things are going to change and improve soon!

L. Gregersen