Making Your Home a (Mentally) Safe Place During the Pandemic

Please welcome today a guest blogger who wanted to share information about mental health and our current Covid-19 situation. -Leif Gregersen

In January 2020, there were six identified cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections – the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – in the United States. Within a few weeks, we saw school closures, business and crowd restrictions, and office workers at home.

Our collective thoughts were that these were temporary but necessary measures; a few weeks of restraint that would lead us back onto a path of normalcy. For many, it was more inconvenience than pain or sacrifice, done in the name of family and community health.

Almost one year later, how we look at that “health” has been altered. We are not only surrounded by hundreds and thousands of COVID victims and survivors, we are experiencing a mental and emotional health crisis that has led to increased anxiety, depression and a surge in suicidal thoughts.

The emotional costs of COVID

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, much fear and uncertainty was tied to the unknowns about the virus and the disease and illnesses it caused. This “fear of the unknown” is not inherently irrational and may have given us evolutionary advantages, allowing humans to proceed with caution while gaining more information.

However, our efforts to keep SARS-CoV-2 outside our homes, schools and businesses let in other disorders and illnesses such as stress, anxiety, depression, and sleeping disorders, brought on by social isolation and in many cases, financial insecurity or even ruin. The toll has been even greater for those with existing mental health disorders who were kept from in-person treatment, or had gaps in receiving prescription medications.

How you live is more important than where

Practicing self-isolation gets wearisome, regardless of how much you love your home, or how much space you have. It’s what you do in and with that space, and with those who share it with you, that will help your household’s overall emotional and mental well-being.

Below are a few tips that you can employ to keep your home an emotionally safe place during self-isolation:

Routines bring normalcy.

Some people, especially children, find comfort in a routine. This is particularly important during homeschooling. Remember, however, that a routine doesn’t have to mean rigidity – spontaneous “jailbreaks” out to the yard on a lovely day are just as important – but understanding expectations can help mitigate discord, and can also help with healthy habits such as handwashing and frequent surface sanitizing.

We were friends first.

If you have a spouse or partner, daily reminders that you are living with your best friend can help you connect in a manner other than as heads of the household. If applicable, reminisce about other times of shared sacrifices, such as when first starting out or scrimping to save up foryour first home or car. Reminding each other that you’ve gone through some difficulties before and now can look back in nostalgic fondness can be comforting and provide hope.

Be outdoors, inside and out.

A 2015 study demonstrates that being outdoors – ecotherapy – offers therapeutic benefits, so take just a few minutes each day to allow your senses to soak up nature, even if it’s just in your backyard. On the days it’s not feasible or possible, bring some of those sensory elements into your living spaces. Houseplants, playing nature sounds and opening windows to increase natural light and airflow can all improve mental well-being.

Mix it up!

Many households now have to accommodate full-time offices and classrooms. Rearranging your living space to make this doable can lead to other beneficial and mentally therapeutic changes, such as a space set aside for mindfulness or physical workouts, or removing clutter from the kitchen to allow for family meal preparation and other activities. Making such changes can add harmony to the essential work and school while relieving your mind of boredom and a stagnant physical environment.

Mental anti-viral protection

SARS-CoV-2 may have stolen some of our normalcy and physical activities, but we don’t have to let it steal from us emotionally. Attending to the mind-body connection is a powerful pandemic-fighting weapon, and it starts at home

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

So I Reached A Critical Stage In My Recovery, I Feel Okay. What Comes Next?

Purchase Link for book: http://amzn.to/3qvdlkB

Hello Dear Readers! Well, before I launch into today’s topic, I wanted to thank whoever went online and purchased 2 copies of “Alert and Oriented x3” and 2 copies of “Inching Back to Sane.” This may seem like a small thing, but each time I make a sale like this is a huge victory for me. It means that someone out there who doesn’t really know me is taking a chance that my writing will be good, and I hope I don’t disappoint. It also means I earn a little money that I didn’t have to break my back for, and this means groceries, bills, and more writing supplies.

So, I don’t know if I have really talked about when a person has been through all the bad their illness throws at them and finds themselves stuck in some kind of weird limbo. Of course, the most important thing at this point, which I hope you learned in earlier stages of your illness, is that you continue to see a Doctor and take medications as prescribed.

I ran into some very serious trouble once not doing that. I decided it was too much effort to wake up and cross the city on a bus to see my Psychiatrist. All he really did was talk for a few minutes and renew my prescription. So I stopped seeing him. No one came and tracked me down, and I was still getting my prescriptions, they were just being filled by my family doctor. After a while, with no one qualified to go to for an opinion, I cut back on one of my medications. I didn’t stop it, I just cut the dose in half because it seemed to be making me too tired. Serious. mistake. What I didn’t know, and what my doctor would have told me is that the drug I stopped (depekane) only worked at a certain level in my blood stream and that a simple test would have shown me this critical medication wasn’t working. Then end result was that I ended up getting sicker than ever before and spending 6 months of my life in a hospital. Don’t take chances with your mental health. Find a doctor you can work with, commit to seeing him or her, and take medications as prescribed. There is really no other path to recovery if you have a major mental illness like schizophrenia.

But now there is a lighter side to all of this. Your recovery process can be amazing. One thing I wanted most to do when I felt myself feeling better was to give talks about my experiences. I started out writing short stories about things that happened to me, and I developed them into a loose collection, which became the book you see above (http://amzn.to/3qvdlkB for more information) further to that, I got involved with the schizophrenia society who paid me to give wellness workshops, facilitate support groups, give speeches, give educational presentations, and even work as a telephone peer support person. So now I had two main sources of income and a great source of sharing my thoughts and feelings in a way that could help others. Like I have said a few times before, not necessarily with respect to mental health recovery, you simply establish yourself, force yourself through the difficult times of doing stuff like this alone, and soon you will make friends, feel better about what you are doing. Of course you don’t need to join the schizophrenia society, I couldn’t even guarantee there was one in many of the places this blog reaches, but I think there is a pattern. First of all you may need to go into a hospital or see a psychiatrist. More often than not, you will be prescribed medication. Then you go through the process of finding the optimal medication and go through the process of getting used to it. Then next step when you feel halfway better is to try and get into a life skills course and build your communication skills. Then you are really on your own. But I don’t suggest taking advantage of not having many activities and just sleeping in or staying up every day to watch Star Trek. What I suggest is to either find part-time work, or look at part-time studies that will help you later on when you are looking for work. I happened by photography, which got me a job paying $50 an hour. I could still be doing that, but I wanted to focus now on my writing and I am also teaching. I still take photos when I can, and it even brings in a little money. But I am now teaching two classes a week part-time, and other things present themselves, like the pay I am going to get to be a guest lecturer at a University. All I really have to do is tell the story of my recovery and then answer questions for some first-year students. The idea though that I would progress to the point I am at now considering that for 6 months I was literally a raving mentally ill person in need of being locked up is amazing, and the greatest part of it all? The more I give back, the more I advise those who come after me, the easier it becomes to do the things needed to maintain my mental health. Each time I go to the hospital and see people who have attempted suicide because they stopped their anti-depressants I become more of an advocate for regular, supervised medications. And so much more. Anyhow, anyone who would like to help support my efforts to reduce stigma and increase awareness of mental illness, please purchase my book “Through the Withering Storm” on amazon. Read the reviews, there are some glowing ones. Find the book at this link: http://amzn.to/3qvdlkB and I hope you have a wonderful day and a wonderful read!

Leif Gregersen

A Little About My Flagship Mental Health Book and Why I Sell it

https://amzn.to/39CUsoU

(use the above link to go to the Amazon purchase page of my book, “Inching Back to Sane”)

I think the best way to start this blog off today is to say that no matter if you have a mental illness or if you are having a hard time getting things going with your life, it still means so much to hold onto the dreams and hopes you had when you lived life as a young person. When I was much younger, it was a huge thing for me to think that one day I would go to University and become a Lawyer. Later in life, I wanted a military career, and then for a while I looked at how I could be in the military, be a pilot, and also be a Lawyer. Then mental illness struck with a vengeance. Being unable to pass a medical, I couldn’t even get a lowly position in the military, and flying was out because they have even stricter medical requirements. For a while I held onto the idea that I could still be a Lawyer, and that was by no means impossible, but while taking medication that made my hands shake and living on my own having to support myself, it became extremely difficult to attend school. Then, after a while, I found a common thread that ran through all of my hopes and dreams. Writing. Most of the things I wanted to do, and wanted to be came from great books like “Flight of the Intruder” a fantastic book about Vietnam War era jet pilots. All my life I had absorbed books about military and legal battles, and when I learned that I could create these words on my own with a few million strokes on a keyboard, I started to seek out more and more about how to become a writer. In a way I felt as though there was nothing else left in me, no other career. Fortunately this wasn’t true. Going through the hardships of being on my own for all the years I did and being in hospitals one day started to pay me back. I started slow, I would write short stories based on things that happened when I was growing up, then after a while I compiled them into one book, and this was written and re-written a number of times over the course of years. It was very hard for me to accept that the book was turned down a number of times before I paid for professional editing and self-published the books. At the time, I had the money to go into these ventures because I had a well-paid job setting up stages for rock concerts. I got the book into a workable state, then went around pitching the book to book stores and selling books out of farmer’s markets and book signings in book stores. Where everything really began to shift into gear for me as a writer was when I found the Schizophrenia Society and learned that I could give educational presentations about mental health to many varied groups, and offer my books for sale. Soon I found that people were eager to hear my story, and after trying writing in a few different genres, I wrote a second memoir, “Inching Back to Sane” which is linked above. The importance of this book to me and my writing career is hard to describe. This book tells of how I finally came to accept my mental illness, which is one of the most important things someone can do in their lives, and how I took the long road to recovery, despite setbacks and losses, heartbreaks, and hospitalizations. Now, I have a life I could only dream of when I was younger, even when I was a kid and seemed to have everything. Eventually I found a subsidized apartment outside of the group home system I once thought I would be in forever. I now had my space to write, create, relax, and grow as a person. I also made a very serious decision to face my vices, and quit smoking and drinking completely. My quality of life and quality of health has never been better.

These things are possible for anyone who has taken the time to read this far in this blog. First, you need goals. Then you need plans. And then you need to start to move towards them, breaking down your tasks day by day, week by week, hour by hour. This was how I was able to write ten books, and to have the resources to find people who could buy them.

Today was kind of an incredible day for me. I placed a twitter ad advertising a book I am allowing people to download and share as a .pdf ebook file from this website. Before the day ended, there were over 50 downloads. The idea that 50 people who were affected by mental illness could read my words and find meaning in them, find healing, find peace is so amazing. But the sad thing is that nearly everything I do costs money, and with covid, I can’t do in-person book sales. I still have to pay rent, I still have to pay for gas for my car, and food, not to mention printing and delivery costs for books I may never sell. So, basically I am asking you, my good readers to have a look at the book I have posted as a free .pdf by simply clicking on the photo of the Tower Bridge in London to the right of this post, and then either reading the book online or downloading it, and if you see merit in it, if you would like to see more of one thing or less of another, please help support my efforts and consider buying the book “Inching Back to Sane” even if you could just request it for your local library, or if you have read it and you enjoyed it, please put a review on the page it appears on in the Amazon website. I want to keep on doing this, I want to write many more books and meet many more people that I can hopefully help. If you have any trouble getting a book off the website, or if you would like to receive a signed copy from me directly or request a large order of books, please feel free to email me at: viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will meet your needs and requests as best I can. Thank you to all of you for your ongoing support and kind words.

LG

https://amzn.to/39CUsoU

The Worst Part of Mental Illness: Isolation and Depression

today’s blog to follow the below photo

From my first day of school, I started to experience loneliness and isolation. I have gone over those early days many times and instead of wondering why people didn’t seem to like me, I am starting to ask myself why I let the opinions of others interfere with my life. As I have mentioned before, it could have really benefitted me if I had grown up being the kind of person who sees problems, mishaps, slights, accidents, and really everything from others that I let affect me and look at them from the eyes of the other person.

Back when my dad was still driving, he carried on an unending conversation with himself, and I was often the only person around to hear it. He would curse and swear at other drivers, call them idiots and maniacs and monsters and many more descriptive terms as though he were ready to kill someone for driving too fast, or worse, driving too slow. Time and again I asked him to stop doing it, that he was effectively exposing me to his extreme grumpiness, and he went on with his constant threats and complaints.

When you stop for a moment when someone wrongs you and think about what may be going through their head, you become a more compassionate person, you suddenly become less prone to high blood pressure and heart attacks. For example, if someone goes flying past you in the wrong lane and doesn’t signal, what if one of their children were in a hospital and the prognosis wasn’t good. What if it was a young woman who was trying to get away from an abusive boyfriend and was just seconds ahead of him. There are a million ways too look at things like this and not focus the blame on the person. People have complex, difficult lives, and if you really get down and look, you could find that everyone struggles with something. When you become a more compassionate person, you become someone that others will be able to care about, to want to spend time with you, and you take the first step towards easing isolation.

I have some negative memories in my head of feeling so depressed and defeated and isolated that I called an ambulance to take me to emergency hoping to be admitted to the hospital. The funny thing was I didn’t fully understand that my main problem was being isolated in my apartment, and when I went to the hospital, suddenly I had people to talk to, people who were interested in asking me questions and I cheered up and no longer felt like or looked like I needed to be in the hospital. Of course, a psychiatric ward or hospital isn’t put in place to ease loneliness, though they do encourage people to learn how to reach out to others and to ‘let people in.’ This is something that can also be done effectively through an outpatient clinic though, it can be extremely beneficial to take courses like life skills, where you don’t actually learn about cooking and cleaning, you learn how to express yourself better and how to communicate better.

One of the things that I used to do was to go to a lot of anonymous meetings of various types. I thought it was good that I was working on myself and getting out of the house and meeting people. The main problem is that places like an abstinence/addictions meeting isn’t the best place to find friends. After a solid year of going to as many meetings as I could, I stopped going to any of the meetings, though I still went to church and didn’t drink or use drugs. Church can actually be a good place to go to meet people. I have always felt that in a way you really have to get into a routine and establish yourself, then show that you are a friendly and caring person, and then make as many friends as you can, trying hard not to be caught by some of the predator types who like to attend anonymous meetings. In fact, I have run into many people in the meetings who weren’t even there to quit anything or deal with anything, they were court ordered to attend and were in a pretty destructive headspace.

Some of the things a person can do if they don’t like to attend church can be joining a bowling league, a book club (online or in person), volunteer at a charity, start working out/swimming. And now and then, why not surprise neighbours with an invitation to supper or a pie you either bought or baked? I knew of one guy who lived in a building with very poor people and he would take charity into his own hands and pass out bread he bought to everyone in the building. He quickly made friends with a lot of people and was not just respected, but also protected.

Granted though, all these things can be very difficult if you are suffering from severe depression. I can’t make any kind of diagnosis, but I can say that this is something a family member or friend should monitor people they love for and talk with them and encourage them to seek help. I had such crippling depression during my teen years but I never thought it was anything abnormal. It just felt like I was a horrible person and I hated myself.

Another warning is to not use drugs or alcohol to ‘loosen up’ and dance or party or whatever it is you find fun. These are definitely not benign drugs, and should not only not be used by people who suffer from other mental illnesses, I am of the opinion, that, outside medicinal purposes, they really shouldn’t be used at all. Tell your MD or Psychiatrist how you feel. Write out how you feel if you find it hard to tell them and give them the note when you see them or even get their mailing address. I count myself as incredibly lucky because despite that I went through years of depression, when I got on the medication Prozac, I was able to live normally, function well and rebuild my broken life.

I wish all of you good mental health and happiness. Stay real. Stay sober. And stay sane.

thanks,

Leif Gregersen

viking3082000@yahoo.com

What We Can Learn From Life’s Disappointments

I have been facing a lot of setbacks and disappointments lately. One of the more recent ones that really stuck a knife in my gut was missing out on getting a $15,000.00 writer’s Grant. The truth of that disappointment though runs deeper than me just not crossing the t’s or dotting the i’s on the application. Where things probably hit a wall was the fact that I have yet to publish a book with a recognized publisher.

Thinking about this sets off thoughts of a half a million more disappointments, which is all the times I have tried to get work published and simply had no luck. But the truth is, compared to what a lot of writers go through, I hadn’t done all that much to get published. I had tried, I had at one time a literary agent and a fancy editor. But I gave up trying way too soon and put a lot of money into self-publishing. I did well with that too, finding places to sell books and selling quite a few of them. What amazes me is that there are now likely more than 1,000 copies of my books out there and all of them have been marketed just in my home city of Edmonton.

My big thing right now is to try and publish a collection of short stories. A couple of years back, I was sent a rejection letter from a publisher that told me my work showed promise and gave suggestions. I showed it to a professional writer and he literally said, “They don’t ever do this, you need to keep trying.”

Anyhow, what I really wanted to talk about today was setbacks as far as mental health goes. Those of us who deal with mental illness all may have a list of a dozen such occurrences. In early 2019, I succumbed to the side effects of antipsychotic medication. Though I had been well for about 18 years, it didn’t matter to the demon that was in my head. Slowly, gradually, I became extremely ill after having my medications switched. I had a lot of false ideas and paranoia in my head, and I was hearing things and imagining things for example I thought I smelled really bad when I didn’t, I thought people were on the ward I was on with a gun come to kill me. One of the incidents that really was disturbing was when I was outside walking and I swore there was someone behind me, I could hear their steps just as clearly as I could hear mine. But I looked back and I was completely alone.

Though there were some very tough times in the hospital that month, when I left I felt a sense of renewal, of recharging. There were many positive things about my stay. The food was good, the staff was very nice and helpful, and I had an excellent doctor who really helped me. At the end of that month-long stay, (despite embarrassments from when I was ill that people reminded me of), I feel I left a better person.

I joked with a friend recently that whenever something bad happens, I always seem to find something positive about it. I told him if someone said I was to die tomorrow, I would think, ‘Great! Now I don’t have to do my laundry this Sunday’. What it all comes down to is where your focus is, and I believe we can all train ourselves to think this way not just about things that happen, but also with regard to how we feel about people around us.

The most important first step is to realize when you think negatively about something. It might be good to write down when you find yourself getting upset or overstressed by someone or something. Do you get mad in parking lots? (This makes me think of how easy it is to drop off anyone with limited mobility near an entrance, then drive to a far-off space and walk the small extra distance without struggling to find the best spot and wasting gas and effort). When you get home, make a note of it and note down how angry you felt.

Once you start to notice when you get very upset, start to find ways to either calm yourself (meditation here can work miracles). First, if it is a person that made you angry, step out of your comfort zone and try and think of why they did it, if they really had the intention of making you angry, and what extenuating circumstances may have led them to take your parking spot or advance out of turn on a 4-way stop. Maybe they needed a quick parking spot because their child was about to be sick or they desperately needed to make it to the bathroom. You really don’t know why they may have done it, and 99.9% of the time, their reasons had nothing to do with you.

Try and do this with your whole list, and then start to try and train yourself to look not only for ways to avoid getting upset, but also to try and get something positive out of what happened.

Of course, all of this is just a small way of dealing with toxic situations. If you find your negative emotions are controlling you, consider finding a therapist. If you are broke, look for one that works on a sliding scale and tell them to keep sliding until you can afford it. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is known to help people with Schizophrenia just as much as psychiatric medication does. It can give you or your loved one with the illness a second chance at life, but like anything you have to work at it.

My last statement I wanted to cover is physical health. So many of us who read this blog worry about getting medications right, about not sleeping too much or hearing voices. I really feel some of us could benefit from a long walk, a jog, a round of lifting weights, or a game of tennis, racquetball, squash or other sports. Keep yourself toned, trim that gut, and build your ability to face stress as much as you can, your body will thank you and you will be in much better shape to deal with any mental health issues. In the meantime, take care!

LG

Holiday Season Depression

Well, here I am in my fantastic new car looking at downtown. I can’t help but think a lot about how this has been a pretty bad holiday season. There are things I need to be thankful for. One of them is that my dad, who I used to fight with all the time has turned into just about my best friend, and he bends over backwards for me. He always has actually, it was just hard for me to see it. We used to fight a lot, and I thought that the pressure he put on me just before I had my first serious breakdown was a big factor in me being sick. That was simply not the truth. He did put pressure on me, we did fight tooth and nail, but my illness was something that runs in my family all of the people on my moms side have some form of severe mental illness. It hasn’t stopped us from being successful though, my sister is a public school teacher, my cousin used to teach at Cambridge in England. And my Uncle (his dad) raised two pretty amazing kids. My other cousin, Dan is also among my closest friends.

I don’t know if I want to get into too much detail about how I got sick and what happened, but the important thing is that not only have I put all those stories into my books, but also that with the help of a non-profit corporation here in Edmonton that helps house me and partly employs me, and the health care system here in Canada, I have been able to overcome a lot of that. Right now, there are actually a few people who have run across my work and approached me for help with their family members who have mental illnesses. This feels pretty rewarding.

So, to be true to my title, I should talk a little about holiday season depression. When I think of this, I often think of my departed mother who never liked Christmas. There was so much pressure on her to cook a massive feast and to put on a smile. My brother and sister and I loved it, we were almost always showered with gifts but for my mom it was strain and anxiety around others, and depression.

I think I should talk a little here about depression and my life. When I was even around 7-8 years old, I had anxiety and depression. I was always feeling bad, walking around looking down at the ground because I was too shy to look people in the eyes. As things went on, in junior high, I started to overcome my shyness through doing things like taking Air Cadet classes in public speaking and doing some teaching at camps but I started to slip into becoming a manic depressive. The weekend Cadet camps were the worst for this, I would stay awake for a whole weekend and just go ballistic being around friends and playing army games and running the obstacle course and all that. I often wonder what the other cadets thought of me. A lot of times, I earned the nickname Psycho, and later on in life I had the committal papers to back up their insinuations.

There was a time when I was 14 just after my mom’s doctor had me spend 2 weeks on the psychiatric ward that I tried to make a change in my life. I stopped making ‘firecracker’ bombs, carrying pocket knives and all that. I think the biggest influence on me was that I was becoming very interested in girls and some of the ones I really liked were appalled at my behaviour, the dirty jokes I would tell, and the stunts I would pull in class. Then booze came along. Flash forward 6 years and I was living in Vancouver, working on my pilot’s license and having a lot of fun, carefree adventures like a trip to California and another to Vancouver Island in a rented plane. I thought I had somehow geographically cured my mental illness. I thought I just had to get away from bullies and my dad and people that put me down, and for a time, things were amazing. But in the end, I fell back into psychosis, at Christmas time no less. I don’t know all the facts, but I do know Christmas is a very difficult time for many people. For me, I can recall crying my eyes out watching sad movies on my first Christmas away from home when I was alone. To say nothing of the severe, crippling depressions I went through all through high school.

But what can we do? I think the answer comes from one of my favourtite astronauts, Chris Hadfield (who was actually once also an Air Cadet like me) you need to look into the future and prepare yourself for life events. Make a phone list, get the phone numbers of 6-10 people since you may have to isolate, and call them now and then and chat–use them as support, but don’t put too much social pressure on any one of them. Look into regular counselling, some counsellors will see you on a sliding scale, others will see a person short-term for free. Keep a list of supporti hotlines ready and don’t be afraid to call those people either. Never miss a Doctor’s appointment, and when you know you will be having a difficult time, ask your doctor for more frequent appointments.

Something I did when I had severe depression, was living alone and had suicidal thoughts and thoughts about self harm was to not keep anything sharper than a butterknife around, to get just one week of medication so I didn’t have enough to overdose. But it helps too to distract yourself. I personally think reading is the best way to distract yourself, but you can watch TV, learn something new off Youtube, and many more things. You can even embrace your loneliness and put on a Beatles record and stand up and sing to it. Why not? Life should be fun.

Last thing I want to say is that I apologize for not writing a lot of blogs lately. I would really like to write more, but when it seems I am just writing to no one, it gets difficult. Please, send me a comment or a quick note or anything you like. I will even accept poems and post them if I like them. Until next blog, stay well and know that you are loved.

Sick and Tired of Covid Stories? Let’s Talk Depression!!

There is so many horrible things going on in the world, I think the picture above will help remind us that even though it is the darkest day of the year, we can see the bright side, like how each day from here on in (for us in the Northern Climes) is going to get sunnier and longer, and that summer is just a heartbeat away.

I sat down yesterday and tried to talk a little about depression and what it is doing to me and likely talked more about the pandemic than even I wanted to. I did that because it seems that the isolation and boredom I face daily in our situation seems to be causing my depression. I think a large part of that has to do with the amount of sunlight I have been getting. We get really short days here where I live this time of year and it has often been overcast, not to mention that I have been unable to get out much.

Getting sunlight is essential to good health and wellbeing, anyone that doesn’t know it already should be taking vitamin D to replace what you aren’t getting. They are cheap enough, and come in very small pills. Three or four thousand IU’s (international units) per day in three or four little pills can go a long way.

Then of course there is the question of exercise. Since I was a young kid, I have loved the water, and recently a full fitness facility was built near where I live. I enjoy nothing more than taking my snorkel and swimming for hours if I can, listening to nothing but the sound of my own breathing. It is so invigorating and relaxing, and I kind of like sitting in the hot tub as well. I knew a psychologist as a friend who told me that exercise is such an important part of who we are as human beings. Feeling like my muscles were disappearing and getting weak and sore with just basic household duties, I have been starting to do more with my upper body. I wasn’t doing too bad with my legs, I like to walk long distance, which can be the perfect thing to do when everything is shut down, for lease, boarded up and abandoned. Walking is amazing, it is my personal form of meditation but as I have advanced in distances walked, I have often slacked off a bit on my upper body. Being too weak and overweight to do push-ups or chin-ups of any significant amount, I have been using what used to be called ‘dynamic tension’. What I do is tense my muscles, and instead of using weight to offer resistance, I use other muscles. Part of it I knew for a while, part of it I learned from a friend who knew of a famous bodybuilder who did no abdominal workout, he just tensed his abdominal muscles while doing all of his weight training. It is so important to find ways to exercise, and if you could somehow do it outside, all the better. Are there outdoor rinks where you live? Can you join a local soccer team (I mention this because soccer is a very low-cost sport compared to say, football.) There is more to exercising than just looking better, there are a lot of bonuses, like better balance, better cognitive functioning, and making new friends.

Making friends can be hard, but the best place for most people to start when they are dealing with a mental illness is an organization that either serves people with general mental illnesses, or specific ones that relate to your diagnosis, such as the Schizophrenia Society or a Bipolar support organization.

One of the ways I have found to stretch my meagre grocery budget and get out is to get up early, take my meds, and instead of going back to sleep, three times a week I put on a backpack and walk to the discount store 4km away.

But, all that aside, I am still pretty down. A year ago things really seemed to be going well with a close female friend and I, and then it all fell out from under me. It is so hard to meet new people or interact with old friends when you have to wear masks and worry about a horrible disease. I have been trying to compensate by using the phone a lot, but there are other things, like using zoom to call family in other countries or taking online skills training so when covid ends (if it ever does!) you can look at going back to a better type of volunteer or paid job.

I hope this blog helps someone out there, please comment or like if you feel it was relevant.

Leif Gregersen

Covid-19 and the Delicate Balance of My Medications

It seems like only seconds have gone by since a year ago when all seemed normal.

Some time back, I met with a friend who is retired and we spoke over coffee. He had other things in mind to talk about, but the focus of the conversation was an illness. A new type of flu or bug, a virus that had started in China. He told me some amazing things like how the Chinese were welding people who were infected into their apartments, and how this illness was going to spread. Later, one of the first things I did was cancel a vacation I had planned to London, England. My friend (I hope he doesn’t mind that I put his name here) Rick was telling me that we had to keep six feet of distance from each other, that people were hoarding toilet paper and that I had to avoid touching my face and wash my hands often. Telling someone like me to not touch their face is like telling them to stop breathing. I think about it and I have to do it. So many other bizarre things went on in the course of the next few weeks. I have a neighbour who is a real stickler for rules, because she had worked for some high security companies in her day. I ran into her in the hallway and she said I should watch the Premier’s address. She said he was putting out a lockdown order that was just one step below martial law. Still, this all seemed to be a joke. Then I joined a staff meeting for work over the computer and I was told all shifts were cancelled indefinitely. Only the grace of them honouring my contract kept me from going broke and likely even homeless, along with my disability pension.

I will never forget those first few weeks. No masks could be gotten anywhere, busses stopped charging for rides and the streets were deserted even during weekday busy times. For perhaps the first time since I had volunteered to join the fight in the Persian Gulf (which I was turned down for) I saw the reality of the news and of far-off countries drop right in my lap, up here in Edmonton where nothing ever happens and even crime is rare.

One of the worst things I had to deal with was the isolation. I have always been prone to it, but in recent times I had become good friends with a wonderful and intelligent young woman who was working hard to help me with my writing and other projects. I also had a best friend who is a writer. Both of them, for the safety of their families, had to greatly limit our interactions. This made things difficult, but I tried to make the best of it all.

As many may know, from reading “Alert and Oriented x3” I recently had a bad reaction to a medication change that put me in the hospital for a month. I didn’t realize it, but the isolation and lack of exercise and friendship really began to wear me down. At the end of summer though, I was able to resume some of my work and do other things online. I even attended some online church services and a few online comic book auctions. Everything but groceries was coming to me through a screen. Soon, wearing masks in all public spaces became mandatory as they were more available. That was the end of the first wave. Now we are moving through a second and into a third, and the third could be the worst of all.

Once again, I am reminded by the effects of Covid-19 that my mental health has to be my priority, just barely behind physical health (I need to eat and breathe, then I need my medications and supervision with them). There is such a disparity even in Edmonton as to what needs to be done. There are anti-maskers and anti-vaccination people, both of them defended their right to choose to infect others and be infected themselves in large public gatherings. I cringe when I think of actual deaths occurring due to covid parties. I myself have become paranoid. Just a short time ago, I used to be offended when I saw someone walking down a street with a breathing mask on. I often would ask myself if they felt themselves too good to breathe the same air as I did. Soon after that, as covid began, I went out of my way to get a mask, even made myself some and I found myself being taunted walking down the street by grown adults. There are many lessons to be learned here, one is that when you find yourself ready to judge someone, you should take into account what situations they are under before you try to lay a blame on them. I used to look down on people who had mental illnesses, until I found out I was exactly the same as them, and in trying to befriend these people, help them in any way I could, I was banking karma for the time when I got sick.

I recall one time I was in an airport and I heard someone say, “man that guy smells!” and then his friend said, “shut your mouth. maybe he has cancer”. There is always a way to diffuse personal anger and judgement with some imagination and a little compassion. I recently was listening to one of my favourite astronauts Chris Hadfield say that he found his whole life changed when he realized that everyone he knew, everyone he sees, is struggling in one way or another. He was struggling to balance family and the incredible stress of training for spaceflight. A woman he saw was struggling to raise her grandchild after the death of her daughter. The list can go on forever.

I don’t want to type so much that no one gets a chance to read to the bottom, but I did want to apologize to my readers for not blogging in a long time. What it boils down to is that I have been struggling with medications and depression and sleep disorder and a lot of very small things that have added up to make my life extremely difficult. This blog means a lot to me, and I am always encouraged when others read it and compliment me or friends such as Christine and Rick tell me to get my butt in the chair and write more blogs. In this freaked out situation, we all need each other more than ever, so as a favour to me, hug the person next to you (only if they are either family or you are both wearing masks) and remind them that you care. You care no matter what.

Sacrificing For Those We Love: It’s About Our Mental Illness and Their Caring

Some of you may have heard me talk before about my dad. When I had the worst hospital admission of my life, he was there for me. He would drive all the way to my apartment, across town, and then we would drive to the beautiful Edmonton River Valley for a long and soothing walk. He did this with me for a very long time until I was fit enough and well enough to go places on my own. Just that little bit of company and that little bit of exercise was enough to put me through a powerful transformation, recovering almost 100% from my hospital stay.

Then, yesterday, it was time to celebrate my dad’s birthday. I can’t help but notice he seems a little shorter, a little more helpless, but no less funny and kind and lovable. He was turning 83.

I think my dad somehow understands that he isn’t going to be around forever. I don’t think he ever imagined me, the youngest, would be taking him out for supper near my 50th birthday, but he is starting to understand. It is getting harder for him to concentrate, he forgets things more and more. There will be a time some day soon we will have to look for a place for him to live that has more care.

Something that is very important to remember is something that a young woman who was studying social work told me a long time ago: “The worst thing you can do is use your illness as an excuse.” I think, for me anyway, that being the best writer, best son, best friend, best brother, and all of those things are extremely important. Sadly though, there was a time in my life that I didn’t live up to what was expected of me on these counts, and I lost friends and girlfriends, and I almost made my family sick of me.

I think it can be a good idea to find someone, be they an actual family member, or even a fictional character on TV that you admire and use them as a foundation for how to treat your loved ones. Now, all that is good, but there are some things a person can do that will almost guarantee they will have good friends and that they will be close with family members.

  1. Be able to listen just as much as you talk, and even try and talk less to your friend or loved one than they speak to you. Listening skills have to be cultivated, and it is so important to give each person the ear they deserve.
  2. If you can’t work full-time, try and work casual or part-time. Be careful with your money but not cheap. This seems like an irrelevant point, but the truth is that if you never have any money of your own and you end up making friends or family members pay for you, they will want to have less and less to do with you. A little money is also good for things you may want like a second hand mountain bike or other wish items
  3. Having a job (or even a volunteer job) pays back in a few ways, it will make you a more interesting person. Who wants to hear the run-down of the latest TV shows each time you meet up with them? Volunteering is also a great way of building skills for a future job that may be just what you dreamed of.
  4. Keep drinking or drug use to an absolute minimum, and if you smoke or vape, do your best to stop. Doing these things will increase your worth in the eyes of your friends and loved ones (unless you currently hang with the ‘wrong’ crowd, which I suggest you work on changing). If you moderate and quit these things, so many barriers come down for you, and you will definitely have more pocket money. With the price and danger of smoking tobacco or vaping, quitting is almost a no-brainer, but I want to emphasize you can’t get feeling better or be in a better financial situation than you will be in if you stop smoking.
  5. If you are able to stop smoking or vaping, and you are not physically disabled, getting involved with sports can be a great thing to do. I personally have osteo-arthritis in my knees and I have a few health issues from torn cartilage in my feet to a thick head, and I am still able to walk long distances and to go swimming. Doing these things not only opens a new world to me in things to do, it has allowed me to meet and get close to some pretty wonderful people.

Well, that is about it for today, I hope you got something from all that writing. I think I could close in saying one of my favourite modern phrases:

Use things and love people. It never works out the other way around.

 

Mental Health During Times of Pandemic and Isolation

Right now, I know that a lot of people are hurting. My heart goes out to young people who are caught in a trap most of them don’t fully understand. I have a neighbour, a brilliant young man who is going to University while his family is taking on a work term from Denmark. He really is missing out on so many of the things that makes University such an enriching experience, from the sports to the interactions, parties, and many other activities. On the other end of the educational grid, elementary students are extremely tough to manage and so many parents are opting for home schooling.

What I feel is a little more relevant is how all this is affecting those who suffer from mental illness. A lot of us already isolate and now it is getting worse. The Canadian government has pledged a very small amount of extra support for people with disabilities but still aren’t being very clear about when or how they will be doing this. I really fear the possibility that this is going to go on for years more. When one figures the impact on not only our own wallets, but the government’s resources, and the economy’s resources, it seems that something will one day have to give.

I like to think of myself as a source of advice but in this case I really don’t know what to say. When you have a mental illness, first and foremost you need to get your medications right. If they aren’t, you are going to have to get after your psychiatrist (I now meet with my doctor only over the phone which isn’t nearly as good as in person) Once again I feel for my American readers who don’t have the resources I have access to in Canada. If I have serious issues, there is no question of getting in to see a doctor, I have numerous options available. I recently had a physical health problem and ended up using my health care number to contact a physician over the phone and get a. prescription called into my pharmacy. I put my mental health as my number one priority. Even if I lose my home and sleep in a garbage bin I will still take my medications and see my doctor, and follow his advice. I also feel it is so important to do all the research you can, and set up supports as much as possible. One thing I recommend for anyone is to join an organization like the Schizophrenia Society, and take all the free courses and take out all the library books you can about your illness. You can get through this, it just needs time, work, patience, and perseverance.

Next to my strong desire to take my medications, see my doctor and maintain a good diet with exercise, is very simply, my apartment. I had to wait a long time to get into this place, but it was well worth it. I now have a huge apartment (for my needs as a single disabled adult) and my rent is very low. One of the things I would strongly suggest to add to approaching the Schizophrenia Society is to join or start a group on Facebook for others who are in the same physical, mental, or financial situation you are in. The government plan to give money to people with disabilities in the province I live in is called Aish–Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. There is a Facebook group just for those getting it and it helps me a great deal. I get to connect with people, I learn about new programs and subsidies, information about housing, and much more. One of the more recent things it has helped me with is getting my Internet bill lowered greatly under a new plan for people with disabilities. I now pay just $10 a month for Internet compared to $80. That $70 buys groceries, the odd 12-pack of diet cola, or whatever I need.

So, if you can find it, put your name on a list for subsidized or co-op housing as soon as you can. Every dollar you can save counts. I think it is kind of obvious to state, but it is also a really good time to look at habits. The cost of cigarettes in Canada has gone through the roof, along with gas and alcohol. I don’t want to demand anyone give these things up, but the way prices are, you may find if you do some calculating, that you could afford some stuff you really desire if you find help in putting aside your vices. Imagine taking a penny-pinchers trip to Hawaii or a train ride across Canada. These things are possible if you can manage to quit some of your habits and find a part-time job you can handle.

I do suggest that if a person is able, a part-time job is a great idea. I work on a casual basis for the Schizophrenia Society and also have a two-hour a week job as a computer tutor. Even this little bit of work feels stressful sometimes, but it has allowed me to get a lot of things and do a lot of things that would be impossible without them. Volunteering is an alternative that should be considered. If you volunteer, you pretty much pick what you want to do, and when you become good at it, there could be a paid job in it for you down the road.

The last topic I wanted to mention is entrepreneurship. I hope this is something that people with mental illnesses are free to do wherever this blog is read, but I am not sure. Entrepreneurship is when you make your own job. The simpler forms of it are collecting deposit bottles and asking for change. I heard of one guy who will stand out on the road and ask for change and one day out of the year-near Christmas, he can rake in $1,500.00. I don’t recommend this approach, but it is an example of something that can be done if there is a true need for funds, especially around Christmas when you want to buy family presents or have a large meal with guests.

There are many kinds of entrepreneurship. One of them is to do what I have done and write about your experiences and have a few copies printed to sell. You really have no idea who your story could help until you try. It can be a long process but extremely rewarding. One of the best places to start if you feel you are ready for a regular job, even if only part-time is to apply at Goodwill. They have a strong reputation of hiring disadvantaged people. I know one person who made enough after a lot of saving to buy a second-hand luxury car and a top rated motorcycle. Once again though, I have to remind you that none of this will matter if you aren’t taking care of your mental and physical health.

Something I have been a part of is putting together a collection of poetry. The first step in this journey is to get involved in local poetry events (or short stories but poetry can be simpler to put together) once you meet a few poets, get one or two to help you set up a contest and then canvass the businesses in your neighbourhood to donate prizes or funds to rent a space to hold the giveaway night. Put the word out that you are looking for poetry, and that there are prizes to be won, then make a simple zine with the poems in it and you can charge $5 or something after the contest is over for the books, and keep the profits. I did this twice, and I met a lot of people and I like to think gained a lot of respect from people in my community. Something that I have seen being done in many cities is for homeless or impoverished people to have things like a poetry zine or a newspaper that they can stand in the street and sell for a fixed price or donations. One many I knew that did this in a popular part of town often would come into a pool hall I went to with a wad of cash. Even if you make just a small amount of money you will feel you earned it and feel better about yourself, and have esteem in the community. These projects can take a lot of work, but there are people out there who want to help and volunteer to help. The important thing is to never take on more than you feel comfortable with. I have to make sacrifices often to get through the month on my 2-hour jobs, but as I’m nearing 50 I don’t mind so much not going out to a bar on the weekend and spending my time reading books I get from the library.

And so, dear readers, that concludes today’s blog. I wish you health and wealth and happiness. Feel free to write any time and suggest a topic for me to write on. My email is viking3082000@yahoo.com