Month: February 2021

Overcoming Suicidal (and other negative) Thoughts

The first thing I am going to say in today’s blog is that I really don’t know anything. All I know was that years in the past, I had a lot of very serious suicidal thoughts, and, in at least one occasion, I acted on it and deeply regret it. If you are having serious suicidal thoughts right now, I suggest that you look up a suicide or other type of help line. If you feel your addictions are causing these thoughts, please match your addiction with an appropriate 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Gambler’s Anonymous and look up their local number, call them, talk to them and get to a meeting. If you have tried all of these things and it hasn’t helped, I invite you to write to me at my personal email, and I will try and match you with the services that best suit your situation. I want people to know though that I am a peer. My only qualification to give advice or help is from me having lived experience of mental illness and addiction. Please read on.

There was a time, early in my years of recovery where I did think a lot about suicide. I was isolated, perhaps I wasn’t being treated by my psychiatrist for my exact illness, I don’t know. All I know is that I was isolated, unpublished, and I thought unwanted. One of my strong desires at the time was to try and turn back the clock, go back to living with my parents and go to my old high school to finish my diploma. Life seemed ideal when I was in that situation previously, but not only had I burned my bridges, I was way too old.

For a while at that time, I had tried going to church with a friend, but as I went to more functions with these people, I seemed to get less and less respect for them. One incident comes to mind where a bunch of people walked out into the wilderness, lit a fire, and one guy was expected to throw his entire ‘secular’ music collection into the fire, which he did. I didn’t get it at the time, and in a few ways I still don’t get it. I love music and artists like Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Sheryl Crowe, and on and on were musicians that I felt brought out good things in me.

So Eventually stopped going to that church and eventually found another, which in some ways was better. But being around people, especially when my medications weren’t right, wasn’t all that much of a help. I still recall a cold winter’s day I just got sick of feeling bad about myself and walked a long way to a medical clinic, and the doctor, an asian man, was appalled that my family and whoever hadn’t supported me, helped me. I left with a prescription for prozac, which worked wonderfully, and that was a turning point for me.

Still, this wasn’t an end to my suicidal ideation/thinking. The way I got through it was, when I was feeling okay, I would make sure all the possible methods of suicide were out of my apartment, trashed or given away or abandoned. No sharp objects other than a butter knife, no poisonous cleaners, no excess of medications or large stashes of pain pills. This was good in a way, and I think this is a good place to mention that there was a person who inspired me to take these steps, a very wonderful young woman who I went to school with for a while who has been a dear friend for many years now. If anything gives you a reason not to commit suicide, it will most often be a dear friend. Really, it is so important to make good friends, form strong relationships and nurture them. Let your friend know they are special, be kind and thoughtful to them. Do the same and more with a romantic interest, but also try not to depend too deeply on just one person, even if it is a romantic partner, a broken heart can be a terrible thing. Do what you can to build your relationships, but keep many friends and even places (yes, I am fond of mentioning all the people I know from the pool here) that you can go where you feel good, relaxed, accepted.

There is, of course, another important thing you can have in your life that will help prevent suicide, a pet, a dog, a cat, a snake, a gerbil. Taking care of an animal, especially say a dog that unconditionally loves its owner, can really get someone through the tough times.

Above all of these things, the most important factor is to be honest with your doctor. Most doctors will recommend a client should keep a journal. You can use a coil, hole-punched notebook. All you have to do is write the date at the top, then your mood from 1-10 and then whatever you want. It can be good if you talk to yourself in this journal about things that worked and things that didn’t work, even be honest about any thoughts of harming yourself or others. This is all information you want to share with your doctor, and if you feel funny about telling him or her about these things, write down key points with a brief explanation on a piece of paper and hand it to them when you go to your appointment, even mail it to them.

Something that I know has helped me a great deal is meditation. I read a lot of books on it, but didn’t finally start getting some of the wonderful benefits of meditation until I went to a small local monastery and studied Tibetan Meditation from a real Tibetan Monk. This man was so full of joy and caring, and was such a warm and dynamic person that I really wanted to one day be like him (not become a monk, but just have that joy). Basically what he taught was that before you go into meditation very far, you have to understand your brain, your consciousness, is like a monkey running around from place to place, playing here, screaming there, tipping this over, running on to tip over the next thing. What you need to do is to train your ‘monkey mind’ to focus and to stay clear, and stop running around, to train the monkey to stay in one place and become more calm and thoughtful. This is accomplished by walking, or sitting and just trying to keep your head clear. Each time you find your ‘monkey mind’ is going a little bananas, simply guide yourself back. Some people try to count their breaths, in and out, one, two, three, four, until they get to ten, and if a thought jumps up, simply go back to one and begin again. The power of this meditation practise is amazing, I have even heard of research studies that have proved over time that meditation is so good for the brain it can reverse brain damage.

So of course, being honest and open with your doctor is essential, meditation, journalling, and even Yoga can be of huge benefit. Next comes a therapist or psychologist. This is territory I am not familiar with, but I do in the last years of my mom’s life, her time with her psychologist was, as my dad said, the only type of appointment that helped her. My mom had both physical and mental health issues, and her psychologist helped her greatly. I won’t dwell on this too much. I do want to say that if you can get to see a psychologist, that is wonderful, if you live outside of Canada and can’t find one for free, you should ask if they have a sliding scale to fit your budget, and make an effort to work with them.

All that I really want to mention now is how I myself attempted suicide. I was on medications, I was managing my mental health okay, then at some point I just decided that I didn’t need my anti-depressant (prozac) any more. Without me noticing it, I slipped down into a deep, dark place. Shortly after, wasn’t working and I had just been treated cruelly by some people I grew up with because of my mental health condition. In a state of severe depression, I took a lot of pills. One thing led to another, and I ended up on the intensive care ward. Burned in my memory was the thought of my mom standing there, bursting into tears because my doctor had told my family I wasn’t going to make it. Because of this attempt, I took a whole new view on suicide, and also on how important the people in your life are and how much it would hurt them to commit suicide. I should have known this mind you, shortly before my first major hospitalization, I was crushed by the death by suicide of a close friend. Not long after, his mother died in the same way and I was devastated. Each time I think of him I count up the years he would have had, the things we could have done together. It really is very sad.

So basically, there are steps here just like in some 12-step meeting. The first step is, are you okay right now? Do you have a strong desire, and the means to kill yourself? Two: Find a way to become safe. Get rid of excess medications, sharp objects, poisonous cleaners and the like. Three is, are you properly medicated? This leads to four, which is, if you are not properly medicated, be honest with your doctor or even find a better doctor until your major symptoms are dealt with in a way you can handle. Five would be too keep a journal to make this honesty easier. Six is to put extra effort into your relationships, family, friends, and romantic partners. Make a solid base of people you are close with. Seven would be to look into exploring your spiritual side, by using things like meditation and Yoga as you are comfortable. Eight would be to find a psychologist, and work hard to deal with and find a way to live with the things that are making you feel worse, basically learn how to handle life better. Thank you for reading this blog to the end, let’s all stay safe and get through this pandemic, there are some good times ahead!

Sleeping Medication and Side Effects

One of the main problems that comes along with depression is insomnia. I have experienced mild to severe insomnia for most of my life. I even recall being a very young boy and not being able to tell time, but watching a clock tick while my parents were downstairs still awake, and thinking to myself, “Well, it can’t be midnight yet, that would be impossible.” It likely was midnight or later, but to me it seemed careless and dangerous to not be in bed by that time.

Growing up, my brother and I shared a room and we used to do things like fight, read, play music or have the lights on after the time we were supposed to have gone to sleep. Finally my dad got sick of coming up the stairs with each noise and decided I would go to bed with my mom who always retired early to read, then when my dad came up, he would carry me to bed already asleep. It worked pretty good. I have a lot of fond memories of talking with my mom and drifting off to sleep and magically waking up in my own bed.

One of the reasons I used to have insomnia was that when I was in elementary school and part of junior high, I hated school. I loved doing schoolwork, I loved learning things, but I had bullies that made me almost afraid to return to school after a weekend. At one point I recall being in tears Sunday evening not wanting to return to school.

High school was when the real problem started, and I blame the great lineup of TV we used to have where I grew up. They had David Letterman, then The Honeymooners, then The Twilight Zone, the Phil Silvers Show and more. Soon it became hard for me to not stay up and watch these shows. I had a routine where after my dad went to bed, I would go in the bathroom, flush the toilet, and with the sound of flushing I would sneak downstairs. I would make tea, eat hot dogs, do my push-up workout routine, then as school time approached, I would convince myself I could take on some huge project like reading the encyclopedia that I never followed through with.

As an adult, after I had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, I was put on sleeping pills, along with a few other meds. After a while, I decided to wean myself off of them, which was extremely difficult. I met a doctor once who told me she had her clients not just break their pills in half to gently lower their dose, she also suggested they file them down with an emery board a little at a time. These things were powerful!

Off and on, I went through a number of periods where I would take something to help me sleep and when I didn’t. In more recent years I have found a system that works fairly well.

Before sitting down to write today’s post, I looked at the website for the Mayo clinic, and was very surprised. Just about all medications for sleep cause dependence. There was just one in a list of ten or so medications that didn’t, but it only helped people get to sleep, it didn’t help them stay asleep. At the moment, I have the option of taking a small dose of clonazepam (or rivotril) every other day to help me sleep, but it really hasn’t been enough. I now have also been given doctor’s permission to use melatonin. now and then as well. My doctor literally told me he had done a lot of research on melatonin and that he recommends it. Melatonin often helps me get to sleep, but when I wake up it is often very difficult to get out of bed. Another doctor upon hearing this has suggested I take my melatonin an hour before going to bed, I haven’t tried this to be honest.

If I can at all do it, I want to sleep without extra sedation, but sadly even my regular medications have a sedative side effect. When I take medications in this case, I often worry if I will overdose which is unlikely because I never go over the recommended amount. Then comes the worst part of sleeping medication: it can adversely affect your memory. Memory is something I have taken a lot of pride in since I was young. I have long, detailed, vivid memories of grade one, and what part of my elementary school my class was in, the first day my friends and I organized a football game in the field. But I’m starting to lose my ability to remember short-term things. It is very common for me to walk into a room and not remember why I went there. I don’t really find it that scary, but I do know I have not only had some street drugs in my past, I have suffered from concussions a few times, and that I have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. My Uncles, and my grandfather had it, and I can see the signs that my dad is coming down with it too. So I don’t really know if any of these things, or even if there is a combination of all of them is causing my memory loss.

What I do know is that it is extremely hard for me to function when I don’t take things to help me sleep. If I don’t somehow sedate myself enough to rest, I often either sleep in or can’t function in my day to day activities. Fortunately, for some reason, I haven’t had as much trouble sleeping in. I don’t know if it is caused by my dependence to my sleeping meds, or just something that happens with age. I had looked into getting a sleep study done, but I was on a year-long waiting list, and when my appointment time came up, I was unable to make it or re-book. That is one part of Canadian Health Care I resent, the waiting times. I honestly feel that the Alberta Government, in their never-ending quest to save a few pennies on the backs of our most needy citizens, has cut funding in key places that makes these waiting lists necessary. I don’t like to talk about it too much, but my own mother passed away while just 2 days away from a procedure that would have saved her life.

One thing I do often do is try and have a ‘medication holiday’. I don’t stop any of my psychiatric medications, but I do try and fall asleep without medication. It isn’t easy, and I will often sleep much more than normal, but it often feels so refreshing that I wish I could do it all the time. In fact though, I kind of have to be very exhausted from getting poor quality sleep for this to work. This brings me to my final point about sleeping pills. I am of course no doctor and no espert, but one thing I have learned is that our bodies need REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is at this time that we dream and certain chemicals in our brains are renewed. I once read a study about researchers who prevented test subjects from getting REM sleep and the results were astounding. Soon, these people became unable to function and after a while longer, they could no longer be woken up. My take on this? We need to dream whether we remember the dreams or not. If we don’t dream, it is as though we didn’t get any sleep. I would like to invite any specialists in sleep to comment on this. I am currently auditing a “Masterclass” on the importance of sleep, so expect to see more of these posts soon, and sleep well and take care!

Finding Your Own Self-Worth Despite Mental Illness

Today’s photo shows a view from a bridge where many people, in a state of hopelessness, have jumped to their deaths. Not the new barriers to prevent people from doing this. There is also a telephone at either end of the bridge, with a sign stating, “Together We Can Cross This Bridge”

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I have always had a hard time making and keeping friends going way back. Time and circumstance make it difficult for a mentally ill person in general to keep friends. There were some times when I really felt that I knew someone and that we would be friends for life and it just didn’t work out that way. I don’t really think this is a reason to hate anyone, but I do know it can be hard to get through.

To talk about one friend I dearly treasure, I knew this one person in high school and we sat next to each other for an entire year, worked at the same restaurant for a while, and we would get into the most interesting, heated arguments about everything from government to music. When I first became mentally ill, because I was no longer in school, we lost touch. One day I was riding my bike downtown, probably as much as five years later or more, and a car stopped in front of me. I went to go around it and the door opened, and out stepped this friend. Over the next years we communicated quite a bit, had dozens of the coolest conversations, and all seemed well.

Then the time came when I got sick again. It happens to those of us who take medications. A lot. It makes it very hard to do anything that requires stability or dependability. My friend from high school stopped talking to me, and after trying a few times I think he had my number blocked. I felt very slighted by this, but I was to learn years later that a doctor who I didn’t really like had told him he should stop associating with me totally. I didn’t know this. I simply thought he couldn’t handle my illness when the truth was, he did a great deal to try and help me in contacting my doctor, much more than many people I knew. Fortunately, years later I picked up the phone finally. This is such a shining example of how, despite things that seem unfair, it is so important not to judge people, and not just relating to mental health stigma, but to many things. It can hurt a lot to go through these things, but it will hurt less if you forgive and move on.

There was another incident I had where my self worth came into question. Some years back a friend introduced me to his girlfriend who literally turned out to be one of the most amazing people I have ever met on the face of the planet. She was so many things, teacher, manager, executive. She had a master’s degree and a black belt in a martial art. It didn’t take long for me to get to know her and get to really like her. Then one day a worker in the building I live in was asking me why I looked down and I stupidly told him I was thinking about this woman. He offered some not-asked for advice then literally told me, “did it ever occur to you she’s out of your league?” wow. What a great way for a mental health worker to boost a person’s self esteem! Although this opinion hurt, I didn’t stop being friends with this person, and a long while after this I told her about the advice I had gotten and right away she told me he was wrong and that she didn’t particularly like the guy. I was never to have any kind of romantic relationship with this person, but we have a very cool friendship that lasts to this day. The moral of this paragraph? Be the person you are inside, be real and honest and gentlemanly and let it be your heart not your face that others see in you.

There is much to be said on this topic. Unfortunately though, I don’t have a lot of new advice for you dear readers. Mental illness, especially autism or schizophrenia robs us of our ability to relate to others. But there is never a time when you should give up trying. When I used to work a lot more for the schizophrenia society, we had psychiatrists come along to our presentations for a while. They showed on a chart that even severe illnesses are very often overcome in time. I personally think that is what is known as recovery time and you need to fill it with time for plenty of rest, plenty of exercise, being open to self-improvement, and of course getting your medications right so that you don’t deal with being too sedated or too restless because of any of your medications. Once again I really feel for people in the US who have a hard time affording insurance, but there are ways to get help that won’t break you. While many psychologists will work on a sliding scale, some will donate their time free to a particular organization. There are also organizations out there who pay their psychologists but don’t charge clients. Once again, my magic formula looks like this: you may or may not need to be in the hospital to get diagnosed and treated properly with medications. Make the most of this time, go to occupational therapy groups, go to support groups. Learn all you can about your illness and ways to treat it. But be a little wary of making friends and simply don’t start romantic relationships in the hospital. Once you are released, put your housing needs as priority one. You need to find a place to live and to make sure you pay the rent on time every month. Once you have a place to live assured, look into ongoing support groups in your area and do your best to go to them. A lot of people will end up living close to their city centre because rents are lower there. Use this opportunity to get some great fresh air and exercise, and walk everywhere, taking the bus as little as possible. This is not only a money saving and healthy alternative, it will make you sleep better and feel better. You will surprise yourself how far you can walk after just a little practice. The next step is to get involved in a life skills group, and if you feel up to it, volunteer for a few hours a week. You will find this time invaluable and it will pay you back many times over when it comes time to polish up your resume. After you take a life skills (communication and more) class or two, decide where you are academically and where you want to be. Some may be older and like the jobs they have had and are good at them. Some may be younger and want to train for a job they dream of. Either is okay, the important thing is that the time will come when you want to transition yourself away from supports or even simply supplement them with part-time work or apply for job training. The next step is one that a lot of people don’t think they will ever make. I certainly didn’t think I would. That is your normal/freedom phase. I have a normal job, make a little extra money, and I am free from the constraints of being in the hospital. Although nothing is ever 100%, I feel great and I know that if I just work at things a little bit as I can handle them, always keeping my goals in mind, I know that I will have accomplished significant things by the time I have to retire.

I have just one last comment to make. On average, 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia. 4 in 10 will attempt suicide due to stigma and isolation. 1 in 10 people with schizophrenia will eventually commit suicide and die. These numbers have to change. When I look at the 4 in 10 number, I think of a friend who jumped off a bridge and broke both of his legs after a doctor almost directly dared him to do so. I think of the fact that as a youth I became so depressed after stopping a medication I took an overdose of acetaminophen and did serious damage to my liver. It isn’t worth it. Please reach out when you are hurting, please connect with a local agency such as the schizophrenia society. Each of us are wonderful human beings and worth so much more.

USA Suicide Prevention Helpline 1(800)784-2433

USA Mental Health Helpline: 1(800)273-TALK (8255)

Canadian Mental Health Helpline: 1(416)646-5557

Canadian Centre For Suicide Prevention: 1(833)4566-4566

My personal email: