mental health page

Author Interview With University of Alberta Hospital Doctors (Grand Rounds) Regarding Mental Health

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. 🙂

Mental Health and the Global Pandemic

Dear Readers:

I understand that a lot of you may be struggling right now, especially as rumours of a 6th wave of the pandemic is circulating. I have a few things to say about that, but first I want to encourage anyone reading to get all three of their vaccinations, and a fourth if they are able. The vaccine isn’t a solid shield of armour that will keep all disease away, but it is the best prevention we have from serious illness. Studies are showing that most of the people who are being hospitalized now or dying from the illness have not been fully vaccinated. I want to emphasize though that the vaccine is not perfect. There are people who will have side effects and problems with the vaccine, but until the world can get on a program where everyone gets vaccinated, Covid-19 is going to keep having more and more waves and there will keep on being more and more deaths.

The pandemic is a serious issue for anyone with a mental health problem. It is very hard to stay inside and deal with isolation, boredom and loneliness. What I am hoping is that I can convince people who are isolating to take some time to get out and walk in a place that isn’t crowded with people. That is the first, most basic step. Then comes the writing. If you are reading this, I will assume you are able to write. One of the best things you can do is to keep a journal. Write down your thoughts, your feelings. Pretend as though you are sharing your life with someone very close to you, and of course, keep this journal in a safe place. One of the cool things about keeping a journal is that you can use it for wellness, and you can also save ideas and project plans that you want to keep for future use.

The next thing I have to suggest also has to do with writing. Write personal emails to friends you haven’t spoken to in a while. Make it a daily routine. Along with giving friends a quick call or giving friends a long phone call, write to people you once knew perhaps by looking them up online or on Facebook.

One of the things I want to emphasize is that a major time of growth for me came when I heard the Astronaut Chris Hadfield say that he started to really grow as a person when he realized that everyone, all the people you see, all the people you know, are struggling. Many people may see Chris Hadfield as a person without problems, but can you imagine the countless hours of preparation and hard work he had to put in to twice serve on board the International Space Station? Some days he would spend 6 hours underwater in a pool training to work in zero gravity in a mock space suit and then go home to spend countless hours studying every possible glitch, every system, every experiment that he had to take on as an astronaut. Now look at anyone and try to empathize with them. Think of a homeless person and how hard it is for them, even just to use a bathroom. Few businesses will let them use theirs without buying something, public bathrooms (in Edmonton) are few and far between, and they have to find food and shelter all over each day. People we may know well, who we may have grown up with, could have struggles with their ageing parents (as I do) and though they have a family, they may have to face a lot of things by themselves.

All this is well and good, but how it relates to mental illness is that there are ways for us to become accustomed to our illnesses and reach a potential that we once thought impossible. I never thought I would have nice things like a computer and a stereo to enjoy my time as I wrote, but with hard work, saving and constantly seeking opportunities to earn despite my crippling depression and occasional psychosis.

So that is my message to you Dear Readers. Consider others and find ways to get through things hour by hour, day by day. And as a last note, when you look at others and understand they are struggling, remember that by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask we are not just protecting ourselves and shortening the time the world will have to fight Covid-19, we are protecting others.

Actually, that is not my last comment. One of the things I like to talk about applies here. Above all things, get yourself plugged into a community. A community can be anything. It can be the youth group of your church, it can be the people who run your community newspaper. Try not to get too involved with groups that are based on negative things, like illicit drugs, alcohol or gambling. Remember there are 12-step groups to help you deal with these things that can be a community as well. When you find that connection, you will soon learn that simply by participating in worthwhile activities (and don’t forget support agencies like for example the Schizophrenia Society) you will soon be accepted for who you are, not the illness you have. I understand it can be really hard at first, but it is so worth the effort. One of the communities I used to be a part of was simply people who went early to the pool. I still have some friends from that time and I want to go back to doing that as soon as it is possible.

As yet another last note, please, if you smoke, do your best to quit. I would like to talk more about this, but I don’t have all the time I need. Try cutting down for a few weeks, and take the extra money and put it aside to buy patches and nicotine gum. You will be thankful that you tried your best, and you will find you have more money and more people want to be around you. It will even be easier to keep a cleaner home.

Best wishes everyone, I look forward to your comments!

The Importance Of Relaxation and Sleep When You Have a Chronic Mental Illness Such As Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder

I thought today’s photo might be relevant, especially since Spring and of course Summer are coming and one of the best ways to feel relaxed is to get out and enjoy some outdoor sports. A psychologist once told me that she was very glad I worked out because our physical selves are such an important part of who we are. When you get regular exercise, including kayaking, you look better, feel better, and are able to deal with stress better. Not to mention that exercise is one of the best insurance policies against getting lazy.

Before I get too much further into today’s blog, I wanted to mention once again (and if you are reading this from my website you will be able to see above this) that I am having a National Public Reading next Wednesday. This is your time to interact with me one on one, listen to stories from my book “Through the Withering Storm” and ask questions, and even order signed books if you like.

Yesterday, I was feeling stressed and had a lot on my mind. One of the things a person can do that is supposed to help with stress is to take B-vitamins. These are supposed to replace what you lose in your body when you are under stress. I recall when I was on just the odd vitamin here and there that taking a B-vitamin and having a nap was a great way to deal with things. Now, I actually take more vitamins than I take medications and it is hard to tell what the B-vitamins are doing. I am considering not taking the B-vitamins for a few weeks to see how I feel.

So, about yesterday–I have been so busy lately, as some of you may know by not getting blogs from me as much as usual. So I poured a hot bath–a hot, hot bath. It was so hot I stepped in and thought I was going to have to cool it down before I sat down in it. I didn’t, and I added in a few handfuls of Epsom salts. These are amazing, my former family doctor recommended them once for haemorrhoids and it has worked better than any other remedy I have used (don’t laugh, those things hurt–you get them from sitting on cold benches in the winter or when you have a lot of diarrhea sometimes. My medications used to give me the diarrhea which I changed by adding more fibre and cheese to my diet). One of the other reasons I wanted to put Epsom salts in my bath, aside from knowing that it was a great help for sore muscles, was that relaxation tanks that people pay big bucks to float in while in darkness, have a ton of the same salts in them.

So anyhow, I had a nice long bath, cleaned myself and then rinsed out the tub and I was still hot and sweaty when I got dressed. I decided to just lay down and the amount of relaxation I experienced was intense. After laying there for just a few minutes, I drifted off into the most relaxing sleep I have ever had and an hour went by with sweet dreams. If I didn’t have dry skin I would take a hot bath like that every night before bed. It works better than any of the pills I take to help me sleep.

One of the problems I have is possibly due to the bipolar disorder part of my schizoaffective disorder illness. I wake up and I have a very hard time not falling back asleep, always have experienced this. It has become an issue in my adulthood, especially back when I used to smoke. I have set more than one mattress on fire waking up and lighting up a cigarette and then falling back asleep. So I strongly urge you if you smoke, not to smoke in bed. I would also really like it if you could somehow quit, and perhaps I should dedicate an upcoming blog to how I was able to quit after an intense 18-year habit. So anyways, now that I don’t smoke, my big problem waking up is that I will make a coffee or tea and bring it back to bed with me and then fall asleep before I can drink it, and when I wake up and am able to drink it, it is sitting at my bedside, cold as anything.

The flip side of it is that by the time the evening comes around, I find it very hard to relax enough to go to sleep. I have tried meditation, self-hypnosis, medication, and so many things. What I have learned is that it is very important to listen to your body’s subtle rhythms. Watch out for any caffeine intake after say 5:30pm. Make sure you have gotten plenty of fresh air and exercise each day. Make sure you always have clean sheets, and wear whatever you consider to be pyjamas. I used to like wearing pyjamas until I found a very comfortable pair of sweat pants/track pants that I use along with a t-shirt. Another thing is that you should keep your bed only for sleeping and sex. For some reason when you bring your tablet or laptop or book to bed and read or work or do anything like that, you forget how to switch off your brain. I have also learned that screen time should be reduced a few hours before bed, not always possible when you are a writer.

There is so much more to relaxation that I want to cover. One thing I think I should make sure and mention is that I don’t think it is good to rely on medications like Ativan to help you relax. When I took it, I found myself getting addicted to it and it left me too groggy. I would often take it and then have a long nap. Naps are great, they feel wonderful, but they should be kept to a bare minimum. The more of a nap you have during the day, the harder it will be to sleep at night.

Well, dear readers, I will leave things off at that. Please feel free to leave a comment, I always love to hear from you folks. If anyone has downloaded and read my book “Alert and Oriented x3” I would really like if you could put a review on Amazon.com for me. Looking forward to meeting some of you in my upcoming reading, please do take care and remember all of you that you are loved.

Advice For When You Have Recovered From Mental Illness But People Around You Are Still Struggling

This Photo is of the “Airing Court” that was added to the lock-down ward of the hospital I was in while I was a patient there. It is an attempt at a humanitarian effort for patients, but sometimes I remember this as a place that broke my spirit regardless. Mental illness is such a devastating thing that it needs to be treated sometimes by methods that take a long time to recover from, if at all recoverable from.

I wanted to talk today about what you can do when you see someone experiencing psychosis. If a person is in psychosis, often they may be talking to themselves or shouting while walking down the street. I have noticed in my experience that they are almost always alone. There are times when you can help and times when you need to do what you can from a distance. One time, ages ago, I was riding a late-night bus not long after being released from the hospital. A young man got on the bus and he looked to be in extreme distress. I overheard him asking the bus driver about a place he could go to pray and I thought this seemed strange. It didn’t take me long to realize that this young man was in the same shoes I was in not that long ago.

I talked to him, gave him directions to some places to get help and tried to explain to him that he may be seeing and hearing strange things, but that they weren’t real. At the time, I thought I was doing him some huge favour, but when I look back I see a lot of mistakes I made.

One of the things I think I should have done was to stay with this guy and keep giving him reassurances about what was going on until I found help for him. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed. One of the key things that has changed is that, in Canada and in some parts of the US, Police have developed a way of responding to this type of thing. What some jurisdictions do now is send only mental health workers, and others will send both a police officer and a mental health worker. Unfortunately here in Western Canada, most smaller communities don’t have the benefit of a large police force or a large budget to respond in this way. Many communities are served by RCMP or Quebec or Ontario Provincial Police. Resources can be stretched so thin that only one constable at a time may be on call.

What is tragic is the number of deaths that occur when police respond to mental health calls, more so in the US than Canada, due possibly to the greater risks police face responding to calls. In the US, from what I understand, a police officer has to keep tight control on the people they are called to deal with and mental illness is something that often resists this type of authority. When you add in the greater risk of violence, it is easy to see why police feel forced to take down the person in question. Not that I condone this, I am just trying to make sense of why these things happen.

The large number of deaths and other negative outcomes of mental health calls has caused a lot of people to raise their voice about defunding the police and simply having different types of crisis response teams, most notably a mental health crisis response team.

It often seems when I go anywhere, especially around this time of the month, there are people who have severe mental illnesses in a lot of public places. It is my hope that anyone reading this will arm themselves with a little knowledge I have to share. The first thing that should be done before you leave your house again is that you should look up your local mental health crisis response agency (sorry, I don’t have the room here to list even the Canadian ones) and program that number on your phone. In Edmonton, as in other major cities, there is something called “The Hope Van” this is a converted ambulance funded by a local shelter that responds to people in crisis. Usually they focus on people who need to warm up or get a ride to a local shelter or are experiencing substance use problems like overdosing. We also have a mental health crisis response team that will intervene for just about anyone who is having a mental health issue. When I was last in the psychiatric hospital, this team actually staked out my apartment, called my parents and followed me until they could intervene on my behalf and get me the treatment I desperately needed. If you are ever on a bus and someone is having a crisis, or downtown or any such place and you recognize some of the signs of severe psychosis, call these people and give them a description of the person and a location. If for any reason you feel they are a danger to themselves or others, call 911. If you think you can help them, talk to them slowly and carefully, repeat yourself when needed, try to get them away from noise and distractions. By all means, if they smoke, let them smoke (though it is bad for you in the long run, nicotine is known to affect some of the same neurotransmitters that psychiatric medication does). It can also be important to ask them what they want to do. You may be able to get them to go to a hospital. Although it is hard to reason with a person’s delusions or hallucinations, or even paranoia, you may be able to logically convince them that things will end up a great deal better for them if they consent to go to a hospital.

There are some sad things to consider. One of them is that you may see people on the streets who are clearly struggling and even the paramedics and police don’t want to help them. This can be where calling something like the “Hope Van” I mentioned can come in handy. It is also sad to consider that some people you see who are mentally ill and struggling are on drugs or so traumatized by life events that they can’t be helped. This doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t try and help them. In a case like this, if I am able, I will try and get them some food (rather than give money that may go to drugs).

The other sad thing to consider is another reason why some feel police departments should be defunded. This is where homeless people or ‘nuisance’ mentally ill homeless people get fined or charged by police for things they have little control over, like public urination or possession of drugs they are so addicted to that they will literally die if they don’t get a hit. These fines pile up and turn into warrants for that person’s arrest, and then all of a sudden we have a local jail taking the place of a psychiatric hospital.

I wish I had better answers. Helping a stranger who is unstable is not always easy. What is important though is that people who have a mental illness or are family members of those who have a mental illness, ALONG with people who want to help change things like stigma, homelessness and untreated mental illness, need to educate themselves on the facts. This could be as simple as reading this blog, or as complicated as people in the US contacting the National Institute of Mental Health to learn more about how they can help, and people in Canada contacting the Canadian Mental Health Association or the Schizophrenia Society. A great way to start is to try and locate a class called “Mental Health First Aid”. Volunteering is another way you can help and begin to better understand people with illnesses and finally, many of these places need your dollars. More to come, thanks for subscribing!

Your Medication Works For Your Psychosis and Bipolar Disorder, But You Still Experience Depression. What Should You Do?

Hello Dear Readers! Before I get into today’s topic, I wanted to mention that soon I will be giving a National Public Reading from one of my memoir books and there will be a chance for you to ask any questions you have live with me. I will provide more details as the date comes closer for the talk.

Depression–it seems to be a problem that just about everyone with mental illness has. When I was a teen, I had such crippling depression that I didn’t have a girlfriend, never went to dances or other social events, and could often be found abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism. I should say right away that if you use alcohol to excess, or any drug, it is important for you to be able to talk about it. I suggest that if you have any of these problems that you find a good 12-step meeting to go to, even if you are at the moment unable to quit.

The next thing I would like to see my readers do if they experience depression is to write about it. It can be a very healing process to keep a journal about your feelings and moods. But don’t just write about it in a private journal you don’t show to anyone, write to your psychiatrist. Write them a note or a letter. If you don’t have an appointment soon, send them the letter (yes I know letters are almost things of the past, but they are a powerful tool for many people). If you write a short note detailing your depression and what you are experiencing, give it to your doctor when you see him or her next. There are many kinds of depression and many kinds of anti-depressants available, it is important that the doctor who treats you to know about your depression, he or she may be able to prescribe you something that could help.

The sad truth is, even if your new medication works, it may take some time. Don’t give up hope, and don’t stop taking the medication if you have some minor side effects. Often medications will have some side effects at first that you can adjust to over time, and during this time, the medication may begin to work.

I have been experiencing a few days of the blues lately. My doctor has looked at my medications and decided that I don’t need to keep taking my anti-depressant, they are actually just meant to be a stop-gap resource in most cases. It worries me that I will slip into my severe, debilitating depression, but there are some things I can still do.

One of the big things you can do if you have depression is simply to try and get more fresh air and exercise. Even though I have a bus pass that allows me unlimited travel, whenever I can, I make it a point to walk. Long walks give you fresh air and exercise, help you sleep better, and can elevate depression. There are many ways to exercise no matter what your current health situation. You can go to the pool and just dog-paddle, moving your arms and legs for fifteen minutes or so, then spending some luxurious time in a steam room or hot tub, alternating with cold showers.

Another thing you can look into (besides the 12-step meetings) is trying to get into therapy. I realize this can be an expense for my friends south of the border, but even though it may be difficult to pay for, a few sessions or even many sessions can help you progress and find ways to cope with thoughts and actions that depress you. Most therapists will work on a sliding scale, and if they won’t go low enough for you, tell them to keep sliding or contact a social services agency like Catholic Social Services who may have free counselling or be able to find you free counselling. And don’t delay, the sooner you start to open up about what bothers you, the sooner you will learn coping skills and feel better. And if you ever start to think of suicide, please pick up the phone.

In Canada help is available at 1(833)456-4566

In the USA, 1(800)784-2433 or 1(800)273-TALK(8255)

In the UK, 0800 689 5652

And of course, you can always reach out to me at my email, viking3082000@yahoo.com

All the best dear readers, stay healthy and know that you are loved!