Hello good readers. I will most likely make a full, regular blog tomorrow evening, I just wanted to give you all a chance to have a look at a video made of an interview I was in on the 6th of April, 2022. Click the link here: https://youtu.be/J9ocWcunFg0 and I hope you enjoy, even if you just want to see how silly my voice sounds and what my un-tanned, bald talking head looks like. 🙂
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Hello good readers! I really wanted to thank all of you for reading my blog on a regular basis and for your support. With any luck, after much editing and work, I will be making the archives of this blog available as a downloadable digital file and paper book. In the meantime, I need to raise cash for rent, food and covid-19 masks, so I thought I would put the two monumental events together and offer those who read my blog a special discount on my first book. For just $25 (USD or Canadian, they work out the same because I live in Canada and my postage here is less) I will personally sign a copy of “Through the Withering Storm” for you and mail it right to your home. Just email me at email@example.com and I will get your copy right out to you. Help me in my battle against ignorance and stigma surrounding mental health!
Hello my brothers and sisters in arms. We have a huge battle to fight, there are so many people out there who still suffer from schizophrenia that don’t know they can get help or how to get help, and there are many more who live in places where there is simply no help to be gotten. On top of that, so many loved ones and families of sufferers are going through hell seeing a loved one succumb to this horrible illness. I just wanted to take another moment not only to thank my readers, but to thank my co-worker, Christine May for being my biggest fan and my best supporter. Christine reads all of my blogs and when I get lazy and haven’t written one in a while, she pokes and prods me into posting another one. Thanks Christine!
I thought a good topic right now might be the whole idea of fun in the life of a person with a mental illness. To start, I was thinking back to when I was in the intensive care (lockdown some call it) ward of a psychiatric hospital and having a really hard time just existing. What I ended up doing was I started to learn to trace pictures to teach myself to draw and sometimes played ping-pong or video games. It was simply too hard to read in there with all the medications I was on. But to go back to it, my fellow patient, a very nice guy, encouraged me to draw while I was there and after we got really absorbed in it for a little while, he said, “See, now it’s no longer a mental hospital.” I know it can be so hard to find things to do, I love to read and couldn’t, and the dose of medications you often get in the hospital to settle you down to ‘normal’ robs you of a lot, especially concentration. I still had to force myself to not succumb to smoking to pass the time or overdoing the snacks for the same reason. It takes a lot of willpower to not do negative activities while in a hospital for mental health purposes, but it can be done. Things like meditation, relaxing music, writing poems, trying to participate in rehabilitation classes or activities can not only help the time go by, it can also let the doctors know that you are serious about working towards recovery and want to help you more and communicate with you more, something essential to getting you out of the hospital. This is something that family members or any visitors should keep in mind. Bring the person a radio to listen to, an ‘easy’ puzzle book to occupy their time. Just try and make sure you aren’t pushing the person too hard. Once someone ends up in the hospital, a lot of things have gone wrong and they don’t need to be pushed beyond a slow pace of recovery in their comfort zone. Suggest, don’t demand that there are things they can do, things they can look forward to. In my case in my last hospital stay the most important thing I had was a notebook I could write my poems now (they now are part of my book, “Alert and Oriented x3” which you can download by clicking on the picture of the Tower Bridge in London to the right of this text.)
Then we have the outside world. So many more things you need to motivate yourself to get done. Cleaning, grocery shopping, managing time and money. In my case a long time ago I had a particularly devastating hospital stay and instead of going right into my own apartment, I went into a very well run and supportive group home until I was ready to live on my own again.
Really what all of that comes down to is, can you find someone who you trust and who understands you and your illness to live as your roommate? Are there broken relationships you can mend? I had a very close friend break off contact with me some 20 years ago and it took all that time for me to get back in touch with him and I found out he was actually trying everything he could to help me 20 years ago, and that all that time had been wasted. But it felt really good to talk to him again and we are on track to becoming the close friends we once were.
So if you don’t have a family and you end up living on your own, you still have to do your best to build a group of people who you can depend on for support, the odd ride to an appointment, and many other things, not the lease of which being recreation. It can be really hard to make friends in the hospital and maintain those friendships after you are released because you have to remember those people have problems too and these types of friendships or romantic relationships almost always end in disaster.
It is so important to have hobbies that interest you that can take up time, make you feel better, and get you out meeting people. One of my first suggestions is that you really should be careful to take up a hobby that doesn’t include a lot of shopping. An expensive hobby like photography is okay, but if your hobby is finding deals in shopping malls on designer clothes, you are going to end up with problems. One of the reasons that an expensive hobby is okay is that you will be motivated to better manage your money, save your money, and then learn all you can about cameras, and there are so many clubs and people to take pictures with and teach you things. Not to mention that you may get lucky like I did and get a job paying $50 an hour taking pictures, not to mention the money I won in contests and other cash I got framing and selling some of my better work.
Sadly, there can be times when you simply can’t handle living on your own. I am lucky to have friends who will come over and play chess with me and the building I live in is focused on housing people with disabilities, so I know quite a few of the people who live here from local events and things put on by the charity that runs the building.
It all comes down to priorities, and nature has already laid them out for us. Immediate health, food, water, shelter, friends and loved ones. Do the best you can to buy healthy food, minimize sugar and fats, read and learn how to make less expensive recipies from magazines you can read free at the library. Come to think of it, make the library your second home, they have resources for everything from chess games to photography books and magazines. Something I started doing when I was very poor was I got permission to eat at a men’s shelter. The food wasn’t that great or that healthy, but it wasn’t harmful and having steady meals did a lot to help me recover and look for things I wanted to do. I think it was the following fall after I went to the shelter for hot meals for a few months that I was able to save to buy a typewriter.
There is really much more to say on the topic, but I know that my readers don’t have all the time in the world. If there is something you would like me to blog about, even off the topic of mental illness, please let me know and I will do my best to accommodate your requests. Ciao!
I can recall a wise friend of mine once telling me about his experience in AA meetings. He said not only that he had been diagnosed with it, but also that in the 12-step program he was in, people with bipolar disorder were greatly over-represented.
Something that I often have thought about is, how do people go from regular people to alcoholics and then addicts? I watched a very insightful TV miniseries that came out of Britain called Traffic which was mostly about Heroin. I found it interesting in many ways. One of the things that was enlightening was not only that there is a huge problem with heroin addiction destroying lives in Britain, but that the opium poppy, which is what heroin is derived from, is grown openly as just another cash crop. I don’t know all the places that it is cultivated, but in another documentary I saw about the present war in Afghanistan, American and other countries’ soldiers are instructed not to harm the opium crops or obstruct any of the farmers from cultivating them. It seems so tragic that this problem could be cut off at the source but it is a very complicated problem. First of all, the Afghan farmers who grow the opium poppy don’t get very rich of their crops, they barely earn enough to feed their families and it would cause such extreme hardship if the crops were destroyed and forbidden throughout the whole country that there would be starvation and death to follow.
Another thing that must be considered is that if the production of opium poppy crops went underground, there would be a great deal more profiteering and violence surrounding it. Opium has existed for thousands of years in Asia and there are large numbers of people all over the world in serious dependance of the drug.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to instruct a poetry class in a homeless drop-in centre that had a safe injection site. The purpose of me teaching this subject was to help people to be able to express themselves about how they felt about the opiod crisis. This referred more to things like fentanyl and oxycontin, though heroin and other needle drugs are used in the community. What I learned from this experience is that a great deal of the people who end up homeless and addicted start out just like any normal person. They go through school, get work experience, find a job, and then one day they have the unfortunate experience of painful illness or injury. They may get benefits for disability, but a lot of them have to rely on savings and selling possessions like vehicles and houses just to put food on the table. These people get prescribed pain killers and soon find they can’t do without them. Then something happens (in a lot of cases) where the person realizes that street drugs work better and are much cheaper than designer painkillers. Then we open Pandora’s box and before you know it, the person is addicted and homeless. Then of course there is another side of it, a childhood trauma, often sexual abuse makes a person so incredibly ‘messed up’ for want of a better term that they turn to drugs to blank out the pain and the nightmares and bad memories.
I think at this point it might be useful to state that there are some drugs that end up as gateway drugs, but attitudes and concepts of this are changing. Now, even experts are saying that the real gateway drug is trauma. But I have known some people who were in recovery who told me about how they got started. In my own case, I actually used THC before I even drank alcohol in amounts sufficient to inebriate myself. I only did it a handful of times but things happened when I did this. I found in doing it I made the only strong connection with my older brother of my early teen years. Soon after I started smoking cigarettes and then I began to drink, just a little at first, but soon I was getting drunk every weekend, and soon after that I was drinking at least something every day. I almost couldn’t understand why I started to like alcohol so much because my dad was a drinker and I blamed a lot of my problems on his aggressive behaviour after his daily intake of at least 12 beer. I remember being so worried he would get an impaired driving conviction or that one time when he was driving drunk with the whole family in our van he would go off the road at high speed and kill us all. Looking. back, that could have been where a lot of my life-long difficulty with anxiety came from. I always felt (at school with bullies) that my health, safety, even my life was in danger. That anxiety stunted my social growth. I never had a girlfriend in school, never went to a single school dance. I did know a couple of young women and had a date or two but I couldn’t even look females in the eye, I was so ashamed that they would find out how messed up I was. Then came a cadet dance. Just about every time I went to a cadet dance I just sat in the corner, but this time, a friend brought a large quantity of beer. I got really drunk and came very close to having sex with two young women in the same night. It was a deadly connection I made in thinking that alcohol equalled calming of the nerves, which equalled sex. It took me a long time to quit.
Around the age of 20, I started to take psychiatric medications on a regular basis and I tried to quit drinking. Then I nearly killed myself one weekend drinking extremely strong rum on a camping trip. I blacked out everything after my first drink. I took my medication after drinking and vomited all over the place and alienated friends completely that I had known for years. Luckily though over the years I was able to keep control of the drinking and I used THC very few times. What scared me though was going through my early to middle adult years and finding out that friends had done such drugs as crack, morphine, cocaine and just about anything a person could name. I wanted to cut ties with them but as a person with a mental illness I had few friends so it was difficult.
Along the way I developed some theories of addiction that I think are relevant to share. Sometimes, people use drugs to self-medicate away some of their mental health issues. I recall a party I went to where I downed a bunch of beers quickly and then was bouncing off the walls in a state of mania. I thought, as I thought that alcohol meant more female attention, that alcohol also meant a release from my depression. For as long as I connected good times with booze I was unable to stay quit for very long. Fortunately maturity really helped me and at this point it has been years since I drank or used drugs or even smoked a cigarette. Some people who are really successful, like high-priced lawyers or rock stars end up doing a lot of drugs and I think I understand why. They work extremely hard, rise up to the top, have everything they ever imagined, but deep down they are just ordinary people who need things like love and satisfaction in life just like anyone. Their lives seem empty or they regret that things will never get better and in this time they turn to drugs. It’s astounding what some rock stars have done, like Stephen Tyler of Arrowsmith admitting that he had consumed literally six million dollars of cocaine in his life.
Mental illness can lead to addiction. Substance abuse, and this can lead to homelessness, and alienation and eventually even your life isn’t worth that much. What I feel has to happen is that people need to learn more about themselves, possibly through therapy, group therapy or 12-step meetings. What needs to happen is that a person has to rebuild a world view. They need to come to understand the importance of living the clean life, the good life, the advantages of being stable and trustworthy and the steps they need to take to become that way. It starts with abstinence, but the work isn’t done with just that. My wise friend from the 12-step program, now departed, once said that “We don’t have a cure for addiction, we just have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” With that I will leave you dear readers. Remember you can write me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and that my books are available on amazon.