side effects

More About Relationships and the Mentally Ill: A Focus On Community

DSC_0001A warm winter’s day caused me to grab my camera and head out to capture one of these brave little guys for my blog.

I talked a little yesterday about relationships and what they can mean to a person with a mental illness, and I felt like I left something very significant out.  It seems to me that when we live somewhere or work somewhere, or are part of something larger than ourselves and our roommates or family, we are talking about a community.  A community can really be any group of people, but for the purposes of what I want to discuss I think it is best to think of a community as a group of significant relationships.  There is our neighborhood, my own favorite community.  I live in a section of town where a lot of Italian people settled some time ago and continue to live among those who speak their language, worship at the same churches and share the same culture.  There are many other sub-communities in this area, there are the homeless people which I often try to think of as the ones who are the most special because, as many people may know, Jesus once said that “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do for me.” This is kind of amazing in my mind because we actually have this incredible opportunity to do something for the King of the Universe and gain points in heaven just for helping people who appreciate such small things.  More on that later.

The next level of community includes both the homeless people and the Italian people, it is simply the people who live in this area.  I am a long way from getting to know all of them, but over the course of the past 15 years of me living in this area I have made many friends.  One thing that I really like is that when I publish a new book there are people who will always get a copy from me.  I have to admit to a bit of laziness as to the marketing side of publishing a book, and it means a lot that at least my first few sales are guaranteed when I put out a new book.  Then of course, there is a much smaller segment of the area I live in of people who are my friends, and I like to lump this together with the people who also live in the housing project I live in.  I currently live in a group home of around 20 adults that share common meals, common chores, some entertainment and who are mostly friends. This community is something that perhaps means the most to me because among these adult males who all have a psychiatric issue, there is very little judging, very little stigma and a strong desire to help each other through life’s difficult times.  Even when I first moved here a long time back I was able to borrow money and trust the people here to borrow from me and there were people to play cards and sports and billiards with.  It changed so much because first off I had made my relationship with my family very strained by years of being in and out of hospitals and isolating myself.  Being around these other ‘psychiatric survivors’ was a life-changing, perhaps even life-changing experience.  There is also the slightly larger community there that includes the people who work here at the group home, who are all trained to deal with psychiatric patients and are subject to rules and regulations by the government.  Knowing I am not alone is huge.  I would love to talk about my immediate family, how much it means that I have a cousin here and three in Toronto who are incredible people and inspire me greatly, my brother and sister who I love doing things with and of course my dad who is a tower of strength even now in his declining years, but that may take more space than I have here and I think just about everyone out there understands the importance of family to some degree.

What I wanted to talk about was a situation where I wanted to become a part of a different type of community and succeeded.  I wanted to become a part of a community of people who stay fit, who have regular jobs, who don’t focus everything on a mental illness whether they have one or not.  I found this community at the swimming pool I went to for many years.  It was hard at first.  Of course I knew how to use the facility, I could swim and sit in the hot tub, lift weights and so on, but there were a lot of people who came to the pool on a regular basis and I wanted to get new friends in my life.  I forced myself to go to the same pool at the same time every morning for quite some time, and for the first while I would just sit around and take up space.  After a while though, I was able to strike up conversations with people and I used something called ‘open ended questions’.  I haven’t mastered this ability, but basically what asking open ended questions means is to ask a person a question phrased so that you don’t get a simple one-word answer.  “Where do you like to go for vacation?”  for example, rather than “Do you like to travel?”  I am not very well versed in this method as it has been some time since I took the class that taught me about them, but I have been able to develop the ability to carry on conversations with people and when you can do this in the same place with the same people, over time you will make friends and with friends in your life just about anything is possible.  I can recall making friends with a supervisor while I was working as a security guard and being offered a job that doubled my pay with better working conditions.  Another time a friend I made at the swimming pool turned out to be the owner of a coin shop, coin collecting being one of my favorite hobbies, and I got some great deals from him and lots of usable advice.

Basically what it comes down to I think is of course, you must accept your illness, diagnosis and must be in a situation of proper treatment for this illness.  At this point you are at a crossroads, and I can understand why so many people go off their medications and get sick again because life can really begin to suck if you are alone and taking pills that have a lot of side effects and don’t seem to help.  But if you can establish yourself, settle down into a good place to live and build a life for yourself, there are ways to overcome the difficulties that come with a mental health diagnosis.  Settling into one place has so many advantages.  I don’t see now how I could ever move, I have so many good friends where I live and love the house I am in.  As a small, simple example, when you get a fixed address you can get a library card.  That means you have access to all kinds of books, magazines, courses, and so on.  You also have a place to go where you can attend talks given by guest speakers (in a larger city I should say) and maybe you will also start to meet people.  Maybe you just start to be friends with someone you ride the bus with to get to the library each Tuesday.  They say that a person with one friend is a wealthy person, and I believe it.  But of course, there is much more benefit to be realized from staying in one place.  Most neighborhoods, even in small towns have community leagues, Scout meetings, Toastmasters groups, photography classes.  Some of these may be difficult if you don’t have much money and can’t work or take on too much stress, but even a volunteer job for 2 hours a week can help plug you into something special.

Anyhow, I hope you have enjoyed this blog. I want to thank everyone that has been adding themselves to follow me and invite all of you to comment or email me.  At the moment, I am hard at work on a short story collection but am hoping to fuel the creative fires again soon and start writing more poetry.  Take care friends, and keep in touch!      viking3082000@yahoo.com

Medications/Pills: The Tough Questions

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Hello Dear Readers!  Well, I thought I would tackle kind of a large problem for those of us who suffer from disorders that require Psychiatric meds and there is so much I can talk about.  I think that the first question that one should address is,when do you stop taking your pills?  When are side effects so bad that you really should go off of them.  I have so much to say about this I will dive right in.  I think the most simple answer to this question is, you can go off your pills when your Doctor says you can.  Back in 2001, before 9/11 happened and changed the world, I was on about 1000mg of Depekane a day and I was living on my own.  Most people will see the recipe for disaster right there: I was living alone.  You see, I had heard about an apartment that was very small and also very cheap and in a not too bad building.  About this time, I had somehow decided that going to the Psychiatrist was a waste of my time.  This was another serious mistake.  Now, things didn’t happen overnight, I was taking my medications every day but in the process of living in this very tiny, very dirty place with no human contact, I came to decide that I could lower (not stop, but just lower) the dose of my Depekane because it was making me drowsy among other things.  I cut the medication in half, but that was enough to cause the worst mishap of my life which nearly killed me.  I slowly began to get ideas in my head that I owned the buildings in the complex I lived in, I stopped eating almost completely, and went into serious serious depressions where I would cry out loud at things on the TV.  Life had gone from being comfortable with lots of friends to being almost completely unbearable in a short period of time and unluckily enough I had a good credit rating at the time and kept getting more.  I spent mounds of money and eventually ended up in the hospital with no means to pay them off.  But I will stop there, I have likely told this story before and it can also be found in greater and better detail in my book, “Inching Back To Sane”.  The  fact was that I had made some serious mistakes that led to worse and worse things.

I think one of the key aspects of my recovery over the past few years is that I have not lived alone.  By the grace of God, I was let into a very positive group home where I am fed regularly, my health and mental well-being is monitored, I get my medications every day and they throw a kniption fit if I miss a Psychiatrist or Pharmacist appointment.  Living there now for just about 14 years I have seen a lot of guys fail, and it seems just about every time it has to do with properly taking medications and dealing with the side effects of this.  There was this one guy, who was an addict and alcoholic who saw it as a badge of honor to get his Doctor to lower his anti-psychotic.  Then not long after as a result of his alcohol abuse he had to go back in the hospital for a long time.  I went to visit him a couple of times and it seemed so awful that he had to go through all that because when I saw him after his hospital visit, he had gotten no further along than he had been.  Hopefully he was wiser about taking his meds.

I want to mention something about medications.  There is a funny rule that applies a lot of the time, and that is that the longer you stay on medications, the more likely it is that they will work properly for you and that you will adjust to the side effects.  I want to use an extreme example.  I tried Lithium, and it made my hands shake so bad I went off of it.  I got sick.  I tried Tegratol and it made me exceedingly restless and I petitioned my Doctor to put me on something else, the drug I take now for a mood stabilizer, Depekene.  This drug works, but it causes extreme diarrhea.  This is something very hard to deal with, but the fact that now my hands don’t shake and that I can have my concentration back is extremely important to me, so what I do is manage the side effect as best as I can.  If I have to work, I take pills.  If I am going out I make sure I go to the bathroom beforehand and I make sure that I go before I leave a place that has a bathroom for a place that doesn’t.  Having the runs is now a fact of my life, but I haven’t let it ruin me, but I do have to accept that I need my pills, and I need to take precautions so I can live a normal life.  One has to accept that things may get difficult, but stopping medication you need is no option.  I hope this blog is helpful to those who read it, I think a lot of it applies to people who don’t even have a mental illness, because sooner or later if you reach a certain age, you have to get used to facts that aren’t the most convenient.  Some of them can be just as difficult as the problem I was just talking about.  There may be men who can’t get erections, some as a result of meds, some just as a result of getting older and even some because of poor diet or exercise.  The fact is that you need to own your diagnosis, be prepared to live with it and do what needs to be done.  I know from personal experience that it is very hard to go to a Doctor and talk about erections, but sex is something just about essential to a healthy life.  If you can’t be honest with your Doctor though, he can’t help you and you need to find new strategies or a new Doctor.  I found the best advice I have gotten about seeing a Doctor is, if you aren’t up to talking and have things you need to say, write a note and give it directly to your Doctor when you visit.  You can even mail a letter if you find yourself to be a better writer than you are a talker.  With that I will leave you Dear Readers with best wishes for a wonderful day.

 

As Hard As Things May Seem

Sometimes I find it hard to face each new day
But I have to work, I need my pay
And my best shot at happiness will not knock on my door
That’s what pounding the street and making your own way is for

My bed is soft and warm; the world outside is hard and cruel
On days like this I wish I could have stayed in school
But above all my whining I have to say
If I get up I may see her today

Have I not told you of the perfect love I met
She has such a lovely face no one could forget
She has a smile that radiates a glow
Each day my love for her continues to grow

My job makes sense to me when I think of her eyes
And her golden flowing curls all perfect like the sunrise
She gives me so much joy when I can see
The myriad of things she could do and be

She’s lovely, wonderful and she cares so much
So full of love she could heal the blind with just a touch
She fills my whole heart with love and peace
My sister’s daughter, my love, my niece

No matter how much life may beat me down
For her I can get up and take on another round
She is a new creation, but still my own flesh and bone
And because she came to Earth I can face the cruel and the unknown

I suppose I would like one day to have my own child
But there is no way to compare my niece’s smile
To anyone else on Earth or heaven above
She’s my favorite girl, my first experience with perfect love

Leif Gregersen
August 11, 2015