Author: edmontonwriter

I am a poet and writer of prose

Watching the Highs and Lows When You Are Diagnosed With Bipolar

Don’t forget to ‘Friend’ me and mark my upcoming short story collection as ‘To-read’ so I can invite you to the book launch that will have some juicy giveaways!

Hello Dear Readers! I have been feeling awful that I haven’t written anything for a while that actually had to do with mental illness, and I apologize. I should clarify one thing before I go further, I am actually diagnosed with both schizophrenia and bipolar symptoms, as well as anxiety. I have been doing a number of talks lately and I often like to say that I am so fortunate that my medication controls almost all of my symptoms. What I didn’t say is that a good part of that symptom control isn’t necessarily from medication, I have also had to develop rhythms of living and ways of doing everything from bedtime to choice of video games.

For many years I was plagued by symptoms of bipolar disorder. I had a lot of desperate lows, and highs that were filled with poor choices that bordered on ignorance. When I wasn’t taking medication, often it wouldn’t take long for that to develop into psychosis (hence the schizophrenia symptom diagnosis). Having rapid changes from highs to lows and a general split from reality (if anyone would like to have me describe more about psychosis, please ask) would often have me end up in the hospital. I am very glad they didn’t cause me to end up in the grave or in jail, which they could have all too easily.

What I wanted to talk about in this particular entry was how I stop myself from having manic highs. I should note here also that I currently take Fluoxetine which is the generic form of Prozac, and it works a miracle on keeping me out of depressions, though there are still times when I feel a little down. This is much better though than the desperate, crippling clinical depression I experienced while growing up and didn’t talk to anyone about. What I have the biggest problem with is getting too far on the high side of bipolar.

There are a few things that happen when I get bipolar, some of them are common to many other people who get manic highs. The first indicator is that I talk a lot, and talk fast. The next one is that I get too worked up to sleep, and can often stay up all night until I am completely exhausted. The first thing I do to counter the high moods (when I start to see the signs) is I try to live a lifestyle where I don’t get excited much. This is where the video games come in. If I play loud, driving rock music or sit down to blast away thousands of aliens with my life in danger at all times in a virtual world, it will get my adrenalin going and shoot me into a manic state. I try and curb the behaviour before that happens because it is much harder to curb it after I have already gotten ‘high’ for want of a better term.

I have had a lot of interesting questions over the past few days doing my mental health talks. One discussion involved THC. Someone asked why it was risky to smoke weed. The basic way I explained it was that, at least in my own experience doing it a handful of times, it would induce a psychosis. It wouldn’t induce a severe psychosis, but a mild, pleasurable one. It would skew perception and warp reality. It’s not that dangerous to do this now and then, but if someone becomes a chronic user, especially if they have a family history of mental illness, they can go into something called a ‘drug-induced psychosis’ or they can even trigger schizophrenia.

When I was younger, and I wasn’t on medications that helped my mood swings, each time I wanted to sleep, I had to first play ‘classic rock’ then ‘light rock’ then classical music, then take my medications and either lay down or distract myself with reading or writing in my journal so I could ease myself down for a soft landing and hopefully a proper sleep.

This past week has been very difficult with regards to getting rest. I have been busy just about every day from early to late, had little time for myself, and, had some incredibly good news. The first one was that a very popular magazine wanted to publish one of my articles, I spoke to two University classes about mental health and a high school, and just this evening have been invited to an exclusive writer’s conference. Needless to say, I don’t think I will sleep very much tonight. One of the odd things about all of this is that I haven’t been required to leave my apartment except for groceries or to give rides to my dad. Oh, the other thing–the thing that may have annoyed many of you, I am very close to having the final edit done on my latest short story book, “Voted Off the Crew” and Goodreads among other entities have been helping me put things together in a huge way. I am approaching the launch of this book in a new way, doing it almost completely online. I have made the decision to limit my in-person book promotions, and to simply rely on amazon.com and amazon.ca to sell books on my behalf. If you are a subscriber to this blog and you enjoy my writing, you may also enjoy the three ‘mental health memoirs’ that I have written. You just visit your local amazon store and do a search for Leif Gregersen or by title. My three mental health books are: “Through the Withering Storm” “Inching Back to Sane” and “Alert and Oriented x3” I would encourage regular readers as well to first look at all of the resources here on this website, and then also join or sign in to Goodreads and ‘Friend’ me so I can invite you to my book launch.

Whew…. all that commercial crap aside!

So, basically though I am on an excellent medication called Depekane, and it controls my moods much better than when I was on other drugs like Lithium or Tegratol for the same symptoms, I still need to be very careful. I should mention something here–if you suffer from a mental illness and you like to read, don’t read one of my books first. Read an incredible book by an incredibly smart man titled, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” I had heard good things about it, but the plain truth is that this is the first book I ever picked up where someone talked openly and honestly about mental illness, and I think everyone should read it. There is so much in there, philosophy, travel, mental health, love, family. The author, Robert M. Pirsig, is simply amazing.

Sorry, I wanted to recap what I said. Avoid excitement. Getting excited though it seems better than being boring, can trigger manic episodes. Exciting is great, when it is the summer time and you are with your family and everyone is happy and healthy and safe, and you go to a waterpark. Changing your life and doing risky things so you can erase boredom can become addictive, which means that if you have a tendency towards manic episodes, it will be very hard for you to keep from having a mental breakdown without medication. Avoid excitement. Read. Go to bed early. Study. Spend time with your loved ones. Excitement is for half crippled daredevils. Things like gambling and other ways of finding excitement can even come with their own addictive properties.

Watch out for high or low moods. Talk therapy can help in this case, especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Learn how to train your mind to make healthier associations with things in your life. I think this comes down to taking away your habits and vices, getting yourself mentally strong, and then finding out what you really love. For me it is writing and helping others through difficult times I also have experienced. That’s it for now dear readers, contact me with any suggestions or questions, my email is still viking3082000@yahoo.com and make full use of this site and of the Goodreads site, they are amazing.

LG

Indie Author Leif Gregersen

Use the link immediately below to learn more and sign up for updates on my new book, launching soon. Leave questions on that page, or write to me at: viking3082000@yahoo.com

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57620968-voted-off-the-crew

Just wanted to make my readers aware of the fact that I’m an independent author and I’m working hard to overcome my situation as a disabled person living on a very limited and fixed income. As many of you know, I have written three books about my mental health journey, but what has got me excited is that I am putting out a brand new collection of short fiction that I am hoping is going to put my home town on the map. To get updates on this book, which will launch in just over 30 days, visit the above page, or, if you live in the US, join the giveaway below and get a chance to win a free copy that will be signed and given an original Haiku poem from me personally. As I am a writer more than anything, I am going to soon start blogging on the Goodreads website as well, so please join and mark down my book “Voted Off the Crew” as “to-read” to keep getting updates. Further book projects may include essays from this website (edited of course) along with some I’ve been working on more recently. I may put out a call for submissions of mental health stories for the book, so if you have a mental illness or have a loved one who does, please write to me and let me know if you would like to be a part of that project!

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Voted Off the Crew by Leif Gregersen

Voted Off the Crew

by Leif Gregersen

Giveaway ends May 07, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter Giveaway

Voted Off the Crew

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Voted Off the Crew by Leif Gregersen

Voted Off the Crew

by Leif Gregersen

Giveaway ends May 07, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter Giveaway

Hello Dear Readers! I have been away from the blog for some time, my humble apologies, I do love to write in this space when I can. I have been hard at work perfecting and polishing a new collection of short stories which will be available for sale on May 09/2021. I haven’t set a price just yet, but if you click on the links (you can join Goodreads easily either with a free membership or a Facebook account) you can enter a free giveaway in which you can get a copy signed with a Haiku from yours truly. While you are there, have a look at some groups, there are some great mental health and reading support groups. If you have any difficulties joining or entering the contest, please contact me at danishleif@gmail.com and I will make sure you get your name in. It would also be cool if you find you like Goodreads or are already a member if you would ‘friend’ me so you can keep in touch and keep getting information about my writing.

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, viking3082000@yahoo.com 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”

This link will take you to where you can purchase my books on amazon

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: viking3082000@yahoo.com

Isolation, Depression, and Boredom. It’s Been Happening to Everyone

So, a great deal of us have been affected by the Pandemic, but there are others to whom isolation and depression are practically fatal. In more cases than people realize.

It was more than twenty years ago. At the time, I had few friends and even the friends I had I didn’t connect with all that well. One of the things I was trying to do at the time was to live within my means, which was simply a small cheque each month from Canada Pension Plan disability. The most serious problem? Boredom had overtaken me and I found a temporary fix: gambling. This was possibly the worst thing I could ever do in my situation.

There was something so mysterious and glamorous about gambling. I was a huge James Bond fan, and it seemed that even in the books written years before by Ian Fleming, James Bond had uncanny luck with gambling, and knew the games well enough to waltz into any Casino and Waltz out richer than when he came in.

My own gambling wasn’t as dramatic. As a way to balance the budget, the Provincial Government where I live brought in gambling machines called VLTs. On Each of these machines, you could play one of five games, bet as little as a quarter and as much more as you wanted. These machines used scientifically tested prompts to draw people in and keep them feeding dollar coins into them. The level of addiction I experienced, with the flashing lights and bells when you won even the smallest amount of coins, was devastating.

I didn’t spend a lot of money–unless it was one of the rare times when I had a lot of money. I was spending around $10 a day, but when living on disability and not working, $10 was far too much. I have this image in my head from after a loss, I didn’t feel myself valuable enough to sit on a chair, I sat down on the dirty floor near the entrance to my apartment, curled up, wanting to harm myself, wanting my life to end because I had an addiction that had me by the throat and was slowly draining everything out of my life.

Eventually, I would go to bed but when I woke up, there was the old addiction again, and I would do anything–pawn things for 1/10th their value, lie to my parents to get them to lend/give me money. I was at rock bottom. I don’t know why, but it seems that people who already have mental illnesses seem really prone to such emotional/mental based addictions. One day, putting my last money into a machine, I decided when this money was gone I needed to find help. Of course the money went like water through my fingers and I called up Gambler’s Anonymous. I have so much good to say about those meetings, I made some great friends there, and being able to listen to other people’s journey and tell about my own was very helpful. But there was something that I want to mention here that makes it difficult for people with mental illnesses to quit addictions: The people in these meetings can help you quit gambling or drinking or overeating, whatever problem you want to work on in the appropriate 12-step meeting. The problem is, and this isn’t a detraction towards any of these groups–the problem is that when you go to these 12-step meetings, they assure you they can help you modify your behaviour, and that they have a plan for you to rebuild your life, but you have to remember that not all your problems stem from your addiction. Stopping the addiction is great, but you still have to take medications, and you still will have side effects from them. I quit a few things, I quit drinking, smoking, gambling. I went to meetings for each of these, which was amazing, it helps so much to have peer support, but I used a method that I wasn’t taught by any of the 12-step groups, which was fine with them. I have this method I am sure a lot of people have also done and refined more than I have: what I did was I simply stopped allowing myself to even think about these addictions after I stopped them. I first used it at age 17 to quit smoking. What I did was I carefully kept an eye on what I was thinking about, and then if a thought about smoking came up in my head, I would replace the thought with another, non-smoking image that was more powerful. At the time what I did was think about a young woman I really liked, and put a vivid image in my head of her in all her prettiness, and after hours turned to days and days into weeks, I had conquered one of the most insidious addictions. Later in life, another thing I did to deal with my addictions was of course to attend meetings. (I actually taught a class where a guy who had no addiction issues would go to a 12-step meeting just to be able to talk to others in a non-judgemental way–this can be so powerful in healing). The more dedicated people in meetings will often tell you that you need to treat your addictions for the rest of your life, but after a year of intense meeting attendance, I used what I learned to stay quit on my own, and now it has been years since a drink, a bet, or a cigarette. I took a lot of the money I saved and bought myself a reward, a car.

So all that is just one of the roads a person can go down when they are on their own and suffer from addictions. It is good to quit, and it is good to attend meetings, but personally I don’t suggest that once you feel okay with your quitting that you still have to go to three meetings a day–unless you want to. I think that once you are comfortable about quitting, because of the fact that often the stories and the people inside 12-step meetings can be non-productive or negative, I suggest you look into new ways to build a sense of community. I hate to say it but there were a few people I met at these meetings who really took advantage of me, and had little desire to help me, they just wanted to appear to help so they could throw their help in my face when I got sick of their controlling nature. Whew, that was a pretty damning statement. Anyhow, when you have conquered your addictions/habits, I think it is best to look into things like a swimming or diving class, lessons in a sport or in Yoga so you can not only improve your health and how you feel, you can meet others your age to connect with who hopefully don’t carry as much baggage or desire to relapse as people in meetings. It can be hard at first to get yourself known enough in the community to make friends, but it is all based on just treating all others with respect, offering uplifting or encouraging wisdom to new friends and neighbours, volunteering (I volunteer for my community newspaper and love it) and a few others.

Of course, if you find you are experiencing an addiction, the first person you should tell about it before going to meetings trying to heal yourself is your psychiatrist/physician. I know in Alberta, they can connect people with support, counselling, and many other things. I had a doctor who had me go into a stop smoking program and because they offered me two support groups, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions (they now may be able to get you free nicotine patches as well) and any prescriptions I needed, and I was able to successfully quit. Quitting drinking was a little more difficult, possibly because there is such a lot of societal marketing of alcohol. If needed, I could have gone into a program they would most likely offer anywhere in North America, it is called a dual-diagnosis program for quitting, this means they will take into consideration your mental health diagnosis while helping you quit.

Quitting all these things that we often began doing. because of isolation and boredom, will start to pay off right away. It will positively impact your health, increase your disposable income, and even help your medications to work better for you. And look on the very bright side, if you take the time now to deal with your addictions successfully, when the world starts to wake up post-covid, you will be ready and well-equipped to enjoy the return to freedom.

All the best dear readers!

When Life Comes Together Despite a Psychiatric Disability

Hello Dear Readers! I want to thank my guest blogger for her contribution in the previous blog entry, and thank my readers for being so welcoming. As always, I can be contacted at viking3082000@yahoo.com with any requests for topics, comments or even if you would like to purchase one of my books.

Speaking of books, I opened my web browser last night and had the most incredible feeling. A few days ago someone bought 4 copies of my books, and I earned a small sum in royalties in Canadian dollars. This felt so great, and so I want to keep up my efforts to let people know about my books. When I opened my web browser recently, I was so pleased to see that 3 more copies of my books have been purchased. It is such a compliment when I get sales like that. I did want to mention though, that if you live in Canada, it may be better to order my books directly from me rather than from amazon because when I get a book order I sign the book and write an original Haiku poem on each one, making each book ordered different. My best contact is my email as mentioned above, which is viking3082000@yahoo.com

If you live in the US, or if you have a Prime membership that will allow you free shipping, my suggestion is to purchase all three of my memoirs, which are:

-Through the Withering Storm, (my teen years with mental illness)

-Inching Back to Sane (my acceptance of my illness and recovery)

-Alert and Oriented x3 (A Snapshot of a Severe Psychosis)

If you have read these, and find you like my writing style, I have other books that aren’t about mental illness, which are two short novels, “In the Blink of an Eye” and “Those Who Dare to Dream” as well as two short story collections “The Base Jumpers and Other Stories” and “Mustang Summer” along with four poetry collections. These can all be found on amazon.com at the address: https://amzn.to/2LMSt9W and can also be ordered through me, once again at viking3082000@yahoo.com

Now, all commerce aside, I wanted to talk a bit about the good times, the fun days, the times when things go right. When I look back at my days in the hospital, I think of one admission I had in the summer where I got to be friends with a pathological liar. He made out like he was wealthy and was going to help me become wealthy and lend me his farm truck and yadda yadda yadda. Most of what he said was a bald-faced lie, but we developed quite a close friendship and it was cool to pass the time in the hospital swapping stories (mine mostly true, his mostly not) plus we did things like signed out bicycles, play badminton and ping-pong. Having a friend and being in the hospital was so much better than having no friends and living at home. My brother has a phrase for me, he says that I am a shithead magnet. I tend to attract these kinds of people, possibly because I don’t ever confront liars or hold their lies against them. I politely listen, and don’t let on that I think less of them for needing to lie. With this guy from the hospital, he not only had a need to lie about every little thing that happened, he became controlling and abusive, and made it seem to me that I was at fault when things he told me were going to happen didn’t. It really is so difficult to make friends with people when you have a mental illness. My advice if this sort of thing seems to happen to you a lot as well is to be very selective of friends. I have this pattern that I think everyone should follow when they have a mental illness. First, in or out of the hospital, get your medications working for you and get them to a manageable dose so you deal with your mental health symptoms, but also are able to function. Then, start by taking a few life skills courses, the time spent doing this will pay you back tenfold. After that, keep up going to support groups and therapy groups, and also see a psychologist if you can, my suggestion is to inquire about cognitive behavioural therapy, it works miracles if you put the effort into it. Then, with the rest of your time, get as employed as you reasonably can. If you find you can’t get employed or can’t stand the kind of jobs that are available, get some training or schooling. Go part-time if you have to, look into community college programs and faculty of extension courses. And try not to pay out of pocket, apply for grants, bursaries, anything that will help. You will likely not make enough money at this point to save or invest, but when you start work you really should get plans going to do so. Then, the final and possibly most important thing is to make yourself a part of a community. Volunteer around your neighbourhood. Offer to work at a shelter or a kid’s charity. Look for places that need volunteers, like community skating rinks, and so on. Put a high value on each person you meet, though you may want to be careful who you are to be close friends with until you feel confident you can handle people who are toxic.

All that sounds great, but I also wanted to discuss another aspect of feeling good. Sometimes, people can have periods of high energy or elation, especially if they have bipolar disorder. It is so important to become consciously aware of when you get high and low. If you can record your days into a mental health journal, always put your mood on a scale of 1 to 10 at the top. If you find you were very high one day and a couple of days later very low, share this information with your psychiatrist. A change of mood stabilizer, or increase in dosage may be extremely helpful. And, though I haven’t done this in years, be very careful about alcohol and other drugs. Even drinking too much coffee and not eating much can lift you into a state of mania. I have been told by doctors that once you get put on psychiatric medication, you should never drink again. This was something very hard for me to accept because drinking was a large part of my social activities growing up. I even drank to excess with my dad sometimes. I loved everything about alcohol except the next morning. Quitting was really hard, but the way I finally did it was to go to as many abstinence meetings as I could over the course of a year and once I felt good about it, I stopped going but didn’t go back to drinking. I should caution here as well that if you go to 12-step meetings, be very careful as to who in the meetings you make friends with. There is no one checking at the door with a blood test or screening to see if people in the meetings aren’t drinking or engaging in other behaviour that can negatively affect anyone who associates with them. My suggestion is to go, get what you can out of it, and at the end of the meeting, head home.

Now of course, there will be days when you actually do feel great. I really hope there are days like that for you because mental illness is such a difficult thing to experience, and can have so many low points that sometimes people want to give up. But hang in there. If you are far away from any goals or dreams you have given up on, write them down and write down simple, daily steps on how you can achieve them. I used this method to travel, and I went all over Canada and to Hawaii and even London, England. Step by step, day by day. One of the things I did each day was to try and save a little money and earn a little money. When I had enough for an airline ticket, I bought it way in advance, then as I could save and afford more I paid for extras, like tours and car rentals and things like that. Your goals may be much different, you may want to study in University. There is a great new program now where people can attend University classes free of charge, it is called Humanities 101 or Hum 101 and there may be a branch of it at a local University you can reach. Take advantage of it, it is a great bridge to other learning, very interesting and very low stress. If there isn’t a program near you, sign up for one night class towards what you want to study. You can also try correspondence, which often doesn’t get completed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be among the few, and besides, any learning you do will benefit you.

I think I will leave off at that dear readers. I appreciate all those who have read this far, it has been a bit of a long blog and the start was off topic. But I really would like it if you send me your feedback or comments, or requests to purchase books I have written. For any teachers, class sets off my mental health books are available at a discount. Again, don’t forget my email, it is viking3082000@yahoo.com and you can find my books on amazon at: https://amzn.to/2LMSt9W

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