mental health coping skills

Friendships, Family and Romantic Relationships When You Have a Diagnosis of Psychosis, Bipolar Disorder or Depression

So this is a photo of me and my best friend, Richard Van Camp. Richard is such an amazing guy, he is a writer as well and his first book was made into a major feature film with Benjamin Bratt (Julia Roberts used to date him) and some amazing young actors. Richard is such a kind and funny guy. During the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet up much but Richard and I keep our friendship strong, me by coming by his place to sit on the cold patio and chat, and him by bringing me things like boxes of books he came across or even a breakfast from a fast food chain which I eat in my parking lot while we talk.

It is such an important thing to have a friend, but when you have an illness, it is almost essential to do your best to have a few friends. Even those we are close to can feel pressured when we call them too much or constantly seem to be in crisis. Something another friend suggested for me was that I get a counsellor and talk with them only about all of my angst and emotions and save the fun times for my friends and family.

This can work, but still I find myself telling friends about my tough times. What I feel is important is to circulate through friendships (with Covid-19 all of these seem to be over the phone). I have six or seven friends that I will talk to for ten or twenty minutes here and there, aside from when we get together. During the pandemic, in cold weather, get-togethers can be difficult. I suggest to most people that they should try and involve themselves in winter sports when they can. Skating, ice hockey, skiing, cross-country skiing. These will not only get you out, but if you make an effort and prove to people you can be a trustworthy, solid friend, you can also meet people.

A lot of people with mental health conditions have trouble meeting people. This is such a shame because this can lead to loneliness and depression which can lead to self-harm and hospitalization. Then you are in the hospital and your mood is lifted and some may accuse you of malingering. The other negative part of this is that it really isn’t a good idea to meet friends in the hospital, even though you may have a lot in common with them. I have heard doctors declare this and a nurse say she has seen a lot of people continue friendships outside of the hospital and get ripped off and there is nothing the people in the hospital can do. I am sure there are other reasons. In my own case, I left the hospital, was dating someone from the hospital and she became very ill soon after being discharged and thought that I had stolen from her and that the book I wrote was actually her story that I had taken from her somehow.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do if you are depressed and lonely. First of all, I always will recommend people see their doctor. I had a long bout of depression that only ended when I got onto an anti-depressant that worked for me. When I was feeling better, I was able to get out more and meet more people. The last place I want to meet people would be a bar. So many people in bars have messed up lives either through alcohol or drugs or many horrible things. I suggest getting a volunteer or part-time job. I am so fortunate to be able to work for the Schizophrenia Society and to make a little money which is allowed with my disability pension. Check with a social worker if you are getting benefits, there are often limits on what people are allowed to make.

Another great way to meet people where alcohol or cheap sex isn’t as serious an issue is to go to poetry readings and story slams. I used to read a lot of poetry in cafes and such, and I have actually won cash money in a few story slam competitions. Not only that, I met some pretty amazing people.

While you are in the process of working, try and find a way to either finish school or upgrade to something you feel you may enjoy more than your previous field. You will meet people at your new school and education is never wasted, even if you decide later you want to drop out. I took a series of courses through my library that were free and it allowed me to get jobs writing and teaching writing and it literally changed my life. Before that, I went to finish my high school (30 years ago) I met a young woman who became my other best friend who I have been able to be close to for most of my life.

Relationships take work. Family relationships may not be as difficult, though many people rebel in their teens. I certainly did, but eventually my dad and I found peace and he is such a great listener and support for me. I also have a brother, a sister and a few cousins who I know will be there for me no matter what. Friends are the next level up. We have to cultivate our friendships in many of the same ways we do with romantic relationships. I think one of the big things is that it is important to be equal with regards to money. Try to pay for things you and your friend do at least half the time. Surprise a friend with something you know they like, like a chocolate ice cream cone.

Then we have romantic relationships. I am about the worst person in the world to write about this topic, but it basically starts out trying to meet someone who is intellectually equal, stable and someone you are attracted to and hope you are the same for them. There is no shame at all in trying online dating sites, though many of the free ones are only set up for one-night sexual conquests.

I always used to tell a friend that he was lonely because he didn’t do enough, and I stand by what I said (in his case) I really feel that if you do interesting things, find interesting ways to better yourself like taking extended budget trips or volunteering for Greenpeace, then you will have something to talk to your friends and potential life partner about.

Well Dear Readers. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to click on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge at right to download a copy of my latest book (if you don’t see it on your newsletter, please navigate to the website at www.edmontonwriter.com and do so). I also encourage you to save a copy of the link

You can also visit the page that has the link to my two online public readings by clicking on this text

One of My Most Prestigious Accomplishments: A Story Published in The British Journal of Psychiatry by Cambridge University Press

Hello Good readers! Just wanted to encourage you to click on my Writer’s Portfolio page link above and scroll to the bottom of the page to read my “Extra” Article from Cambridge University Press. Please feel free to download and share this file (PDF). https://edmontonwriter.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/bjpsych-21-0722_proof_hi.pdf

I thought some of you might enjoy reading one of my more recent poems as well, the title is simply, “Love Villanelle” and you can link to it below:

The Last Barrier We Face: Self-Confidence When You Have a Chronic Mental Illness Like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder Or Social Anxiety Disorder

Hello Dear Readers! Before I get into today’s topic I wanted everyone, especially those of you who get this blog emailed to you, to know that they can download a free copy of my latest book in PDF format by visiting my website www.edmontonwriter.com and clicking on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge. I also want to thank you for taking note of the date and the Zoom link for my upcoming in-person readings online. Details in case you missed them at the below address:

https://bmcnews.org/story/leif-gregersen-to-host-two-online-readings

So, I wanted to talk a little bit about self-confidence. I feel it is a critical topic for people with mental health issues. Lack of self-confidence can lead to isolation, loneliness, putting off career and life goals and generally leave you in a much poorer state than you began. One of the ways self-confidence can be destroyed is through depression. Some years ago, I was put on Prozac and I found it helped with my self-confidence and made me able to do more, but there was still a long ways to go.

Prozac laid a foundation for me to do more, but if I isolated myself (I was not working for a long period of my recovery) I found that my social skills would rapidly decline. I would finally go out say for groceries, and I had a hard time looking people in the eye, I had to stumble and stutter through my sentences, and I only felt a sense of comfort when I was back alone in my apartment.

Right off the top, it should be apparent that if you let depression go untreated, and isolate on top of it, a tragic thing can happen. You can waste a large chunk of your life. There were about three years that went by for me where I accomplished little. Even when I did have a job it bothered me that I wasn’t helping anyone but myself, I felt bad that my family wasn’t around me and one paycheque I made the disastrous mistake of going out drinking and spending a whole paycheque on something that I shouldn’t do with medication.

Fortunately, over the years, I managed to stop drinking, and with prozac, my depression wasn’t as bad. Part of what I feel I owe my sobriety to was going to AA meetings as often as I possibly could, but after I got through a year I stopped going. Even though I had made some great friends there, I found that all too often the people in the meetings were a bad influence and that talking all the time about drinking wasn’t helping any of my other problems. I felt a lot better when I stopped going, but there was something I missed–the advantages–and there are many–of public speaking.

Fortunately, I got involved with The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta. They had me doing all kinds of public speaking and I also had a chance to set up support groups and wellness classes. A friend got me started on teaching writing and I haven’t looked back. I can proudly say that I now work in the same hospital where I was once a certified patient and the doctor who treated me very poorly sees me do it on a regular basis. 🙂

Finding a way to do public speaking isn’t easy. Public speaking isn’t easy. But it can be important to push your limits a little, and also to motivate yourself a little by taking classes or joining support groups. Even joining a library book club can help you to exercise your social muscles and make friends, and there is also opportunities in most communities to join the board of non-profits. I sat on the board of my community newspaper.

Now, I have a number of hobbies. I love retro video gaming. Photography gives me a chance to exercise my creative muscles and I love to write. So a lot of the things that I do help me socially. Teaching, giving talks about mental health–and this blog even! But that isn’t necessarily what I want my readers to do. What I want them to do is to ask themselves who they really are deep down, what moves them, what they are truly good at. I knew a young man who was struggling–it was a very unfortunate case, his mother was murdered and he had a mental illness. A kind neighbour decided to help him out and gave him a piano that fit in his room at the group home he lived in and when he played, not only would he give joy to the other people in the group home, he felt so much more fulfilled and was able to do so much more.

Again, I will talk about being in a group home. I was in one for nearly 15 years. I didn’t have a huge social circle, but I had the time and space I needed to do some serious healing, and then I started with taking classes in writing for free through my local library, and before I knew it I was on my own and able to partially support myself with my work. Being in the group home gave me friends who were there all the time, who I could talk to or ignore as I wished. There are very few ways to seem strange or be kicked out of a group home meant for people with mental illnesses. It was so great because they had good food, they taught me a lot about cooking and they often had outings to play pool or indoor soccer and they were really supportive. The only real shame is that so few group homes exist like that, but if you make the best of one, any group home can be a great way to transition to living on your own. I am so fortunate that the same agency that owned the group home had a spot in a subsidized apartment. Just as a side note, no matter what housing situation you are in, I strongly suggest you make an application for a subsidized apartment, even if the only ones you know of are a ways away. Most of these places have a waiting list, and if they are set up for people with mental health issues, they may include other supportive services. The group home I am in has an office and they help and support tenants, they have gatherings when the weather is good outside, and when the pandemic subsides (cross your fingers!) they will have coffee and snacks and indoor gatherings.

Just to go on a little further, I wanted to talk about the benefits of having a shower each day and keeping up with your laundry and general hygiene. This is not just so you don’t smell, it rejuvenates a person, gets them up and out of bed and primes them for the day. I also have to say that when your body and clothes are clean your self-confidence goes up, and when that goes up your depression goes down and you are more able to take social risks and make friends with others. Often what I do is have a shower at a nearby pool. If you like to swim or work out or play badminton or other sports, most communities have a YMCA or a city facility where you can get a reduced rate if you are low-income. This can be very beneficial. Another thing I wanted to mention is that I often have a lot of trouble sleeping and I have found that if I take a hot hot bath before bed, then rinse myself off with the shower head, I drift off to sleep so easily and wake up feeling energized.

Another aspect of self-confidence can depend on your medication. It is tragic that many people don’t pursue a partnership romantic relationship with someone because their hands shake or they are unable to perform sexually because of medications. Talk to your doctor about these things, but don’t just stop taking the pills you believe prevent you from those experiences. I don’t really know if I am in any way qualified to talk about relationships as I only have had one girlfriend in my life, but in a way that is a positive thing. I am still friends with this person who I met 30 years ago and it is so important to have someone you can talk to about anything at any time and who will support you unconditionally. A few years back I was in the hospital with severe psychosis and this person called the hospital and said she was my sister–the hospital was only putting through family members–and we talked for a long time. That was the most memorable part of being in the hospital.

Well, good readers–I thank you for staying around this long and reading all this. Maybe I should talk a little more about relationships in coming blogs. I just want to leave you with two things. First, please download and read and share my book “Alert and Oriented x3” I made it for all of you, and please come to my virtual public reading made possible by The Writer’s Union of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. More information here: https://bmcnews.org/story/leif-gregersen-to-host-two-online-readings

My Best Explanation Of Psychosis Caused By Bipolar and Schizophrenia

Good day dear readers! If you would like to contact me, feel free. My email is viking3082000@yahoo.com

I don’t know exactly why, but when I think of mental illness, pictures like the above one often come to mind. Sometimes I really envy birds, I have spent a lot of time watching them. As a boy, I don’t know if I was that obsessed with birds, but I certainly loved flying and I started from a young age. I was 12 when I first sat in the cockpit of a glider and I later went on to attend commercial pilot school for a while. It just seems sometimes that birds are so free and happy. They just have relatively simple brains and they constantly display incredible amounts of skill and grace as they cleave the air.

As far as psychosis goes, from what I am understanding, it most often comes on gradually. It starts in something called the prodromal phase where a milder mental illness exists and develops into psychosis. For me, it was both anxiety and depression. Some of this could have had to do with the abuse I was getting at home and at school, but my mom did suffer from severe depression, to the point of needing shock treatments. One of the biggest parts of the early phases of my mental illness was a feeling of not being worthy of happiness added to a severe case of anxiety that made it impossible for me to look people in the eye or talk to anyone without blushing. One of the worst parts of this was that I was very slow to learn how to relate to the opposite sex and never even had a girlfriend until I was 20 something.

At a certain point in my life, I think I was starting to get a handle on the anxiety, and I hadn’t had any severe depression for a while. I didn’t notice it, but I was starting to show signs of both bipolar and schizophrenia. Later as a formal patient in a psychiatric hospital, I recall two very esteemed doctors arguing as to whether I had bipolar or schizophrenia. Funny enough, I had both.

What having those two illnesses meant early on was that I had extreme highs and lows and later developed psychosis, which I will explain in a moment. As far as my bipolar went though, I have a recollection of being able to induce a manic or high phase of my illness by drinking alcohol. I was invited to one party at a friend’s house once and was laughing a little too loud, making a few too many jokes and displaying too much energy for anyone’s liking. One of the things I recall about the times when I didn’t have any friends and thus didn’t do any drinking, was that I thought drinking was the only true joy in my life. It was also a social lubricant and if I had a few drinks, I was much more likely to approach a woman to talk or ask her to dance or even start necking with her.

One of the things about Air Cadets was that, possibly because of what the real military was like, there was a huge drinking culture. I recall having a phase of social development where I went from wallflower to life of the party in a few short months, then after I quit cadets losing all of my chances to interact with and relate to women.

To go past this for a little while, I should talk about my psychosis. It is a funny thing to have and a difficult thing to explain. Basically, psychosis is when a person becomes out of touch with reality. In my own case, and I am sure in many from experience, psychosis starts out with delusions. These are thoughts, ideas and beliefs that kind of appear seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes they can take the form of a running commentary of what the person is doing. My false thoughts didn’t appear to be someone talking to me, everything was from inside my head. The next aspect of psychosis is hallucinations. These are sensory inputs (touch, taste, smell, hearing–they can come in the form of any of the five senses) that are false. Often in my case, my hallucinations backed up what my delusions were telling me. I remember spending a great deal of time once when I was in the psych hospital sitting and listening to the air conditioner. It made a sound like a drum roll and inside my head a dialogue was telling me that I was about to be awarded a medal for bravery, all I had to do was walk out of the TV room and claim it. Sometimes this would go on for hours, I would even sometimes go and look if anything was there.

Another time, I was on the psych ward and experiencing false ideas and sensory input and a group of student nurses came onto the ward. One of them kept telling me, “Your Limo is outside.” I am pretty sure she really said this, not because I really had a Limo, but because she understood a lot about psychosis and wanted to see how much she could mess with me. I found it actually very common to experience this sort of cruelty from staff members.

So we have delusions and hallucinations. The next part is a feeling of paranoia. Certainly not everyone who has schizophrenia experiences all of these or even has all the same symptoms. Even when I was taking my medication though, I sometimes felt like others wanted to harm me. This made it very hard to attend school, go to parties, even have a job or a social life.

The next part of psychosis (and I should mention there are a lot of illnesses that can possibly include psychosis, though schizophrenia with 1 in 100 people having it is one of the more common ones) is having a general susceptibility to the false ideas you are receiving. One of the interesting things about symptoms like this is the fact that some ideas that people with schizophrenia get are shared with a great deal of other people with schizophrenia. One is a spy agency planting a computer in your brain to track you and spy on you. Some people with schizophrenia will walk around with tin foil on their heads in public so they don’t transmit radio waves. What I remember is experiencing those false ideas and thoughts, and having hallucinations and tendency to believe them and thinking the most preposterous things. I desperately wanted to make sense of why the CIA wanted me dead and that a super model wanted me to steal a car I saw that supposedly had a million dollars in the trunk (thankfully I didn’t do any of the more extreme things) I made a lot of logical conclusions and reasoned things out and quite often the only explanations that made sense were ideas like aliens were communicating with me or such.

Psychosis sucks. It hurts those who experience it and it puts their family and friends over the brink of never wanting to talk to the sick person again, but it shouldn’t. It isn’t a choice people make, and the goal should be to get the person treatment, not to just get rid of them. When I look back at times when I had psychosis, I am amazed that my doctors were able to bring me back from the brink. I don’t necessarily like all the things I went through in the hospital, but it may have been the only place I could get the help I needed. I will never forget spending five months on the locked ward being thrown into solitary time and time again, weeks, months on end. I honestly feel it exacerbated my psychological health problems, which I believe to be PTSD. But now, 20 years later, my life is on track again. One of the worst things about mental illness is that not a lot of people know enough to help someone they know who is going through depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Seriously. Things. Need. To. Change.

Why It Is Almost Always Negative To Make Friends or Find Romantic Partners While In a Psychiatric Ward

drop me a line with some of your own stories like these or other feedback: viking3082000@yahoo.com

I remember when I first met the guy who became one of my few friends after I left the hospital. He was incredibly strange, he looked awkward and was very stuck up. One of the things I remember him doing was running up and down the hospital hallways in short bursts. One time, a nurse slighted him and he went on for hours about how he was going to look up the definition of a nurse in the library and photocopy it and put it where she could see it as revenge. Then, when I left the hospital I found out he lived just two blocks away and I ran into him now and then. One time he was carrying a bottle of milk and I asked him if I could have a sip and he gladly handed it over. It turned out that he had saved rotten milk in his fridge so he could fill a bottle with it and then take it back for a refund. I nearly threw up because of his desire to lie and cheat.

I ended up knowing this guy for a long time. It was hard to let go of friends when I was living marginalized and had few people to talk to. At one point I moved in with a roommate and he kept ending up sleeping on our floor, and being in the way most of the morning. If I didn’t give him permission, he would get permission from my roommate who he barely knew. I was soon ready to carry him off and put him in a dumpster. The bad incidents went on and on, and cumulated in him accusing me of backstabbing and cheating him when he was so clearly in the wrong it was obvious.

It wouldn’t be bad if this was an isolated incident, but this situation kept repeating itself. I had to come to realize that people in the hospital are seriously ill and not necessarily capable of forming a normal friendship. There was one guy who I really liked being friends with, I thought he was the end of the world. We had tons in common, had even been in the same Air Cadet Squadron. But he was a pathological liar. And man, did he tell some doozies. Every day I saw him he told me he had just had sex with another beautiful young woman. On and on he would talk about the money he had, from a farm he supposedly owned to millions of dollars he had made one way or another. He even promised me a job when I left the hospital. I left before him and was unable to contact him, which should have been a good thing. A couple of years later I met him at a camping trip sponsored by the building I lived in. All of a sudden, all the good times and good stories were back, and somehow I believed them.

It might not have been so bad that he was always lying about everything, but the problem was that he wanted to use his lies to control me. Near the end of our friendship, he had me convinced that he had gotten a lawyer to seize a vehicle from a guy that owed me money and that if it weren’t for the fact that I had slept in (I hadn’t) I would have been able to get a cheque for the full amount owed. I had no choice, I had to tell him the friendship was over. He actually tried to convince me that I had to go to a counsellor with him so we could talk about how we crossed each other’s boundaries. He actually thought somehow that by being friends with him we were married or that he owned me. The incidents went on.

It can be so hard to get through those long days in the hospital. I don’t disagree that people should have friends, but I think that you really shouldn’t meet people in the hospital that you continue to be friends with when you leave. There are so many better ways to meet people who will become real friends. I met a lot of people volunteering for my community newspaper. I met my best friend because I worked hard on and then sought help with a book I wrote. Another close friend was someone I simply cared a great deal for who I have been close with for 30 years and we talk every day. I also prefer the company of my family most of the time, the people who will really stick with you through tough times.

If you need a way to get through the long, boring days on a psychiatric ward, consider drawing, doing puzzles, playing board games. Fill up the time in any way you can, you will feel better and get better sooner. I was never any good at drawing until one day a fellow patient suggested I try drawing something, a picture of a tiger, and after a few minutes I was transported to a place where it didn’t matter that I was ill and that I didn’t like my surroundings.

Three times while I was in a psychiatric ward I found romantic partners and learned too late that not only were these people in a vulnerable state, but that soon after leaving the hospital they became ill again and it was literally living hell having a relationship with them.

Another thing I think is important to mention here is that your doctors and nurses are not your friends. You may like them a great deal, and there is nothing wrong with that, it actually may help you recover faster if you feel motivated to take professional advice. But you have to remember that these people are professionals who have strict ethics about how far they are allowed to let the doctor/nurse–patient relationship go. Don’t try and make friends with these people either. Friends mostly come from a shared interest in something, a unique ability to communicate with each other and mutual respect, along with good times. Though they may seem to be nice and treat you well, the sad reality is that they have to treat everyone well and a few years down the road these people will likely not even remember you, they just treat so many people.

I have seen exceptions to this rule, I actually really like my present psychiatrist. She has bought books I wrote and I have loaned her Canadian Poetry books as she is from Scotland and hasn’t experienced Canadian Poetry much. And my nurse/therapist I have known for 30 years and he is a truly exceptional and kind person. But this is in an ongoing clinical setting where I continue to see these people and will pretty much keep seeing them until they retire. I recall running into a former psychiatrist of mine who I had for years and who I had deep respect for. I asked him if since he was retired I could call him “Brian” and he simply said no. But at least he was kind enough to buy, read and write an introduction for one of my books. Sadly though, as much as I respect and admire him, we really aren’t friends.