Holiday Season Depression

Well, here I am in my fantastic new car looking at downtown. I can’t help but think a lot about how this has been a pretty bad holiday season. There are things I need to be thankful for. One of them is that my dad, who I used to fight with all the time has turned into just about my best friend, and he bends over backwards for me. He always has actually, it was just hard for me to see it. We used to fight a lot, and I thought that the pressure he put on me just before I had my first serious breakdown was a big factor in me being sick. That was simply not the truth. He did put pressure on me, we did fight tooth and nail, but my illness was something that runs in my family all of the people on my moms side have some form of severe mental illness. It hasn’t stopped us from being successful though, my sister is a public school teacher, my cousin used to teach at Cambridge in England. And my Uncle (his dad) raised two pretty amazing kids. My other cousin, Dan is also among my closest friends.

I don’t know if I want to get into too much detail about how I got sick and what happened, but the important thing is that not only have I put all those stories into my books, but also that with the help of a non-profit corporation here in Edmonton that helps house me and partly employs me, and the health care system here in Canada, I have been able to overcome a lot of that. Right now, there are actually a few people who have run across my work and approached me for help with their family members who have mental illnesses. This feels pretty rewarding.

So, to be true to my title, I should talk a little about holiday season depression. When I think of this, I often think of my departed mother who never liked Christmas. There was so much pressure on her to cook a massive feast and to put on a smile. My brother and sister and I loved it, we were almost always showered with gifts but for my mom it was strain and anxiety around others, and depression.

I think I should talk a little here about depression and my life. When I was even around 7-8 years old, I had anxiety and depression. I was always feeling bad, walking around looking down at the ground because I was too shy to look people in the eyes. As things went on, in junior high, I started to overcome my shyness through doing things like taking Air Cadet classes in public speaking and doing some teaching at camps but I started to slip into becoming a manic depressive. The weekend Cadet camps were the worst for this, I would stay awake for a whole weekend and just go ballistic being around friends and playing army games and running the obstacle course and all that. I often wonder what the other cadets thought of me. A lot of times, I earned the nickname Psycho, and later on in life I had the committal papers to back up their insinuations.

There was a time when I was 14 just after my mom’s doctor had me spend 2 weeks on the psychiatric ward that I tried to make a change in my life. I stopped making ‘firecracker’ bombs, carrying pocket knives and all that. I think the biggest influence on me was that I was becoming very interested in girls and some of the ones I really liked were appalled at my behaviour, the dirty jokes I would tell, and the stunts I would pull in class. Then booze came along. Flash forward 6 years and I was living in Vancouver, working on my pilot’s license and having a lot of fun, carefree adventures like a trip to California and another to Vancouver Island in a rented plane. I thought I had somehow geographically cured my mental illness. I thought I just had to get away from bullies and my dad and people that put me down, and for a time, things were amazing. But in the end, I fell back into psychosis, at Christmas time no less. I don’t know all the facts, but I do know Christmas is a very difficult time for many people. For me, I can recall crying my eyes out watching sad movies on my first Christmas away from home when I was alone. To say nothing of the severe, crippling depressions I went through all through high school.

But what can we do? I think the answer comes from one of my favourtite astronauts, Chris Hadfield (who was actually once also an Air Cadet like me) you need to look into the future and prepare yourself for life events. Make a phone list, get the phone numbers of 6-10 people since you may have to isolate, and call them now and then and chat–use them as support, but don’t put too much social pressure on any one of them. Look into regular counselling, some counsellors will see you on a sliding scale, others will see a person short-term for free. Keep a list of supporti hotlines ready and don’t be afraid to call those people either. Never miss a Doctor’s appointment, and when you know you will be having a difficult time, ask your doctor for more frequent appointments.

Something I did when I had severe depression, was living alone and had suicidal thoughts and thoughts about self harm was to not keep anything sharper than a butterknife around, to get just one week of medication so I didn’t have enough to overdose. But it helps too to distract yourself. I personally think reading is the best way to distract yourself, but you can watch TV, learn something new off Youtube, and many more things. You can even embrace your loneliness and put on a Beatles record and stand up and sing to it. Why not? Life should be fun.

Last thing I want to say is that I apologize for not writing a lot of blogs lately. I would really like to write more, but when it seems I am just writing to no one, it gets difficult. Please, send me a comment or a quick note or anything you like. I will even accept poems and post them if I like them. Until next blog, stay well and know that you are loved.

Sick and Tired of Covid Stories? Let’s Talk Depression!!

There is so many horrible things going on in the world, I think the picture above will help remind us that even though it is the darkest day of the year, we can see the bright side, like how each day from here on in (for us in the Northern Climes) is going to get sunnier and longer, and that summer is just a heartbeat away.

I sat down yesterday and tried to talk a little about depression and what it is doing to me and likely talked more about the pandemic than even I wanted to. I did that because it seems that the isolation and boredom I face daily in our situation seems to be causing my depression. I think a large part of that has to do with the amount of sunlight I have been getting. We get really short days here where I live this time of year and it has often been overcast, not to mention that I have been unable to get out much.

Getting sunlight is essential to good health and wellbeing, anyone that doesn’t know it already should be taking vitamin D to replace what you aren’t getting. They are cheap enough, and come in very small pills. Three or four thousand IU’s (international units) per day in three or four little pills can go a long way.

Then of course there is the question of exercise. Since I was a young kid, I have loved the water, and recently a full fitness facility was built near where I live. I enjoy nothing more than taking my snorkel and swimming for hours if I can, listening to nothing but the sound of my own breathing. It is so invigorating and relaxing, and I kind of like sitting in the hot tub as well. I knew a psychologist as a friend who told me that exercise is such an important part of who we are as human beings. Feeling like my muscles were disappearing and getting weak and sore with just basic household duties, I have been starting to do more with my upper body. I wasn’t doing too bad with my legs, I like to walk long distance, which can be the perfect thing to do when everything is shut down, for lease, boarded up and abandoned. Walking is amazing, it is my personal form of meditation but as I have advanced in distances walked, I have often slacked off a bit on my upper body. Being too weak and overweight to do push-ups or chin-ups of any significant amount, I have been using what used to be called ‘dynamic tension’. What I do is tense my muscles, and instead of using weight to offer resistance, I use other muscles. Part of it I knew for a while, part of it I learned from a friend who knew of a famous bodybuilder who did no abdominal workout, he just tensed his abdominal muscles while doing all of his weight training. It is so important to find ways to exercise, and if you could somehow do it outside, all the better. Are there outdoor rinks where you live? Can you join a local soccer team (I mention this because soccer is a very low-cost sport compared to say, football.) There is more to exercising than just looking better, there are a lot of bonuses, like better balance, better cognitive functioning, and making new friends.

Making friends can be hard, but the best place for most people to start when they are dealing with a mental illness is an organization that either serves people with general mental illnesses, or specific ones that relate to your diagnosis, such as the Schizophrenia Society or a Bipolar support organization.

One of the ways I have found to stretch my meagre grocery budget and get out is to get up early, take my meds, and instead of going back to sleep, three times a week I put on a backpack and walk to the discount store 4km away.

But, all that aside, I am still pretty down. A year ago things really seemed to be going well with a close female friend and I, and then it all fell out from under me. It is so hard to meet new people or interact with old friends when you have to wear masks and worry about a horrible disease. I have been trying to compensate by using the phone a lot, but there are other things, like using zoom to call family in other countries or taking online skills training so when covid ends (if it ever does!) you can look at going back to a better type of volunteer or paid job.

I hope this blog helps someone out there, please comment or like if you feel it was relevant.

Leif Gregersen

Covid-19 and the Delicate Balance of My Medications

It seems like only seconds have gone by since a year ago when all seemed normal.

Some time back, I met with a friend who is retired and we spoke over coffee. He had other things in mind to talk about, but the focus of the conversation was an illness. A new type of flu or bug, a virus that had started in China. He told me some amazing things like how the Chinese were welding people who were infected into their apartments, and how this illness was going to spread. Later, one of the first things I did was cancel a vacation I had planned to London, England. My friend (I hope he doesn’t mind that I put his name here) Rick was telling me that we had to keep six feet of distance from each other, that people were hoarding toilet paper and that I had to avoid touching my face and wash my hands often. Telling someone like me to not touch their face is like telling them to stop breathing. I think about it and I have to do it. So many other bizarre things went on in the course of the next few weeks. I have a neighbour who is a real stickler for rules, because she had worked for some high security companies in her day. I ran into her in the hallway and she said I should watch the Premier’s address. She said he was putting out a lockdown order that was just one step below martial law. Still, this all seemed to be a joke. Then I joined a staff meeting for work over the computer and I was told all shifts were cancelled indefinitely. Only the grace of them honouring my contract kept me from going broke and likely even homeless, along with my disability pension.

I will never forget those first few weeks. No masks could be gotten anywhere, busses stopped charging for rides and the streets were deserted even during weekday busy times. For perhaps the first time since I had volunteered to join the fight in the Persian Gulf (which I was turned down for) I saw the reality of the news and of far-off countries drop right in my lap, up here in Edmonton where nothing ever happens and even crime is rare.

One of the worst things I had to deal with was the isolation. I have always been prone to it, but in recent times I had become good friends with a wonderful and intelligent young woman who was working hard to help me with my writing and other projects. I also had a best friend who is a writer. Both of them, for the safety of their families, had to greatly limit our interactions. This made things difficult, but I tried to make the best of it all.

As many may know, from reading “Alert and Oriented x3” I recently had a bad reaction to a medication change that put me in the hospital for a month. I didn’t realize it, but the isolation and lack of exercise and friendship really began to wear me down. At the end of summer though, I was able to resume some of my work and do other things online. I even attended some online church services and a few online comic book auctions. Everything but groceries was coming to me through a screen. Soon, wearing masks in all public spaces became mandatory as they were more available. That was the end of the first wave. Now we are moving through a second and into a third, and the third could be the worst of all.

Once again, I am reminded by the effects of Covid-19 that my mental health has to be my priority, just barely behind physical health (I need to eat and breathe, then I need my medications and supervision with them). There is such a disparity even in Edmonton as to what needs to be done. There are anti-maskers and anti-vaccination people, both of them defended their right to choose to infect others and be infected themselves in large public gatherings. I cringe when I think of actual deaths occurring due to covid parties. I myself have become paranoid. Just a short time ago, I used to be offended when I saw someone walking down a street with a breathing mask on. I often would ask myself if they felt themselves too good to breathe the same air as I did. Soon after that, as covid began, I went out of my way to get a mask, even made myself some and I found myself being taunted walking down the street by grown adults. There are many lessons to be learned here, one is that when you find yourself ready to judge someone, you should take into account what situations they are under before you try to lay a blame on them. I used to look down on people who had mental illnesses, until I found out I was exactly the same as them, and in trying to befriend these people, help them in any way I could, I was banking karma for the time when I got sick.

I recall one time I was in an airport and I heard someone say, “man that guy smells!” and then his friend said, “shut your mouth. maybe he has cancer”. There is always a way to diffuse personal anger and judgement with some imagination and a little compassion. I recently was listening to one of my favourite astronauts Chris Hadfield say that he found his whole life changed when he realized that everyone he knew, everyone he sees, is struggling in one way or another. He was struggling to balance family and the incredible stress of training for spaceflight. A woman he saw was struggling to raise her grandchild after the death of her daughter. The list can go on forever.

I don’t want to type so much that no one gets a chance to read to the bottom, but I did want to apologize to my readers for not blogging in a long time. What it boils down to is that I have been struggling with medications and depression and sleep disorder and a lot of very small things that have added up to make my life extremely difficult. This blog means a lot to me, and I am always encouraged when others read it and compliment me or friends such as Christine and Rick tell me to get my butt in the chair and write more blogs. In this freaked out situation, we all need each other more than ever, so as a favour to me, hug the person next to you (only if they are either family or you are both wearing masks) and remind them that you care. You care no matter what.

Sacrificing For Those We Love: It’s About Our Mental Illness and Their Caring

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Mental Health During Times of Pandemic and Isolation

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 viking3082000@yahoo.com

 

Lovers First and then Maybe Friends. Psychosis and Romance Poetry

This is the Provincial Legislature Building in Edmonton, a favourite of mine for getting photos. The grounds are beautiful and well-kept, and young lovers often come here at night on summer weekends to talk and stroll in a romantic setting

 

Seeking Solace

By: Leif Gregersen

cue the music

kill this silence

deep in my mind

I’m seeking solace

I just can’t be

alone with myself

all the things I’ve done

make silence my private hell

and yet somehow

the quiet reaches through

as I close my eyes

and think of you

you and I

were never meant to be

But still my deepest wish

is that you didn’t set me free

why can’t mishap romance

end with two people as friends

was it that much of

an unhealthy love

It was wrong to think

you had to love me back

I still think of you

and regret the past

misplaced love

is all I have

and moments of silence

that always take me back

 

Happiness on a Saturday Afternoon For a Psychiatric Survivor of Schizoaffective disorder and Depression

To order this wonderful book, by the author of this blog, please contact:

viking3082000@yahoo.com

Please scroll past this photo and paragraph if you already have a copy or just want to read my blog

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 viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will get your copy right out to you. Help me in my battle against ignorance and stigma surrounding mental health!

Today’s Blog:

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!

Illnesses Like Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Schizoaffective Disorder and Employment

Hello to all. Just wanted to let everyone know that I have a stock of my most popular book sitting, which is the story of my recovery from mental illness. Anyone interested in a copy please send an email to viking3082000@yahoo.com and once I get your details, I will sign and mail a copy for $26 Canadian (within Canada) or $22 US (within US, both with postage and tax included) Please support my efforts to decrease stigma and increase awareness of mental illness. Class sets available, and if you are in the media, evaluation copies can also be provided.

 

On to the meat of today’s blog:

So, I thought a good thing to talk about today would be jobs and employment and money. It is interesting to work on a blog that goes to so many parts of the world when often all I really know is Canada with some experience in the USA. In Canada, in my province, when a person is diagnosed with a severe mental illness and has no means of support, they go into a program called AISH which stands for Assured Income For the Severely Handicapped. Most people who are on it, at lease for the first few years as I definitely was, have no other income. I have found though, that once a person has found medications that work well for them, and have made connections in the community, there is often a fair number of jobs they can take on. One of my best jobs was working for the Union that handles labour for concerts as a stagehand and it was a great steppingstone to take me to where I could spend more time writing and teaching writing. It certainly wasn’t easy though, and if AISH didn’t have a policy where they allowed you to work part-time and still get not only the monetary supports, but the essential medications and health insurance they provide the disabled, I wouldn’t have been able to take on this job.

I remember my first day as a stagehand, it seemed impossible, and I didn’t even know if I would make it through the first day. I had a hard time dealing with not just how difficult the job was, but also with people I worked with who made things even more difficult. There was one woman who wasn’t a supervisor or a shop steward or anything who yelled at me for taking a donut from the coffee area one morning. I went to put it back and apologized and she said I had touched it now, I couldn’t put it back, I would have to throw it in the garbage. There were a lot of people like that in the union. I liked most of the people though, and I enjoyed being a part of concerts and such, but after seven years at it I had enough. I didn’t have any savings, but I had job opportunities that would help pay my bills. One of the main things that kept me going was that I had published my memoir, “Through the Withering Storm” and was having some success in selling it as well as a part-time job with the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.

So, I started slow. I tried really hard to minimize my expenses, I even sold my car so I could focus on writing and teaching/facilitating and presenting mental health information for the Schizophrenia Society and any other place I could.

Really though, sometimes things come down to just having a place to go and something to do. I think maybe before even that though, a person should try and get connected to others within their community. I met a lot of people volunteering to write for our local community newspaper, and I also got a lot of great connections and experience doing so. One of the things I think a lot of people with mental illnesses perhaps don’t realize is that most of your recovery from an illness takes place out of the hospital, and just about all of it will depend on you.

Almost 20 years ago, I was in the hospital for an extended stay and I slowly recovered first by going for long walks outside with my dad every day, then becoming involved in my community by attending local events and making friends with the people I lived in the same group home with, then I got a part-time job. The job was the hardest part, and I think I might have been better off waiting more time before taking one on. I did okay with the work, but I kept having people tell me what to do and then still after that report me to my supervisor regardless of the fact that I knew what I should have been doing from working as a security guard for over 15 years. It became very difficult to go into work each day knowing that I was going to face people who had appointed themselves the status as my employer. Of course, as mentioned, the stagehand job was similar and there were many times I just wanted to walk away from the abuse in the middle of my shift and never come back. I have to say what got me through all those times that I didn’t even want to go into work was not just compliance to my treatment and medication, but also to having faith in a creator and learning how to clear my mind through meditation.

Work is still very difficult for me. I have problems with concentration and memory. But I believe that if a person keeps trying and keeps seeking new ways to adapt, anything is possible. I have started making a lot of notes and keeping a calendar so I don’t forget things. I also have put up a bulletin board above my computer so I can print up and post important papers to remind myself of them. Lastly, something I hope could benefit those that read this blog is that I don’t like to let the day go by without accomplishing something towards my goals. Having goals is a very powerful way of accomplishing things, but also committing to working towards them each and every day can take a person a long way towards huge achievements. It could be as small as writing a blog or as large as completing editing of a whole manuscript. I just have to work and reach out in some way, and I find if I push myself to do just a little that before I know it I will be comfortable taking on a lot. Thanks dear readers!

The Simple Acts of Falling Asleep and Waking Up For Those With Mental Health Issues Such as Bipolar and Schizophrenia

 

It has been a very interesting week for me. I was lucky enough to find two summer jobs, one teaching computer literacy 2x a week and the other teaching creative writing 1x a week. Thanks to Covid, I am teaching these courses online, which gives me the great benefit of having my morning commute be only 8 feet which is the distance from my kitchen to my laptop. I find I really love to teach, it’s a funny thing because I don’t have an education degree, I was mostly chosen for these jobs because of my patience in dealing with others and hands-on experience. I really find it to be quite an honour.

I feel so honoured by being given these jobs that I want to do them well. The most important thing for me is how much sleep I get, and that is where my current problems come from. I have been using over the counter sleep aids for some time, though my doctor will give me sleeping pills and they are covered under my health insurance. The problem is I was told that sleeping pills affect your memory. Well, the sad thing is that it seems over the counter sleep aids also do this. My memory, at least my short-term memory has been getting really bad. I hate to count disorders, but so far it seems like I have symptoms of schizophrenia, symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, severe depression, mood swings, poor impulse control and OCD with a tendency towards hoarding. I like to just say I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and leave it at that but I think if I ever go back to seeing a therapist, I will have to be honest about all of my symptoms. I guess one has to think about what affects their day to day life the most. Today I got some bad news about a writing project I had set in motion and depression kind of blindsided me. Then I wrote an email to a friend and they were kind enough to call and talk with me for about 2 whole hours. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was feeling pretty upset. The main problem was the fact that for any number of possible reasons, I think I was in what bipolar disorder experts refer to as a ‘manic’ state. I had them much worse when I was younger, and I was aware of them, I just never knew that if you leave these mood swings untreated for too long, you run a large risk of entering psychosis and acting irrationally. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind that so much, but the truth is that untreated schizophrenia has been known to cause brain damage. It is a pretty harsh thing to look in the mirror and see a person with a mental illness looking back at you.

But what I most wanted to talk about today was sleep, and when you are experiencing mania it can be damn near impossible. The lack of sleep, (at least in my opinion) is perhaps the largest disabler, the biggest reason that many people with bipolar can’t work or hold down a job. When I was younger I had a system going, I would play the radio most of the day instead of watching TV, and when bedtime approached I would put on progressively slower and more relaxing music. It worked pretty good, I used to refer to it as coming in for a smooth and even landing.

The part of this equation that makes people with mental health issues feel bad comes in when (at least in my opinion) they sleep too much. I sleep very jagged, disruptive sleep at night. It could be because of my many years of night shifts working as a security guard, but it also leaves me pretty tired when the sun comes up and I have to take my morning medications. I really have to watch because if I go back to sleep after my medications, I can easily sleep until 2pm. This is something that was very much frowned upon by my dad when I was growing up, even in the summer. Of all the summers I had, the one I enjoyed the most as a kid was the one where my dad would wake us up and get us down for breakfast before he left for work. I had so many fun bike rides and went to matinees, read comic books and watched cartoons. That summer seemed like two summers long, which is why I really kind of hate it when I fall into an oversleeping trap. This isn’t always detrimental I believe because when I have work days in my week I get very energized and don’t sleep until the evening, and if I have allowed myself to go into a manic state that means the cycle can continue. Then comes the pills, the part I really hate.

I have a few different kinds of over the counter sleep aids such as melatonin and gravol (not meant as a sleep aid but seems to work well for me when I can’t sleep–I told my psychiatrist about this and he said as long as I’m not doing it every day it is okay). Sometimes I take a medication to get me to sleep and I don’t sleep. This is when I am best off to get out of bed and read, or do what I am doing now, writing in my blog. If I can’t sleep and I’m not working I will sometimes take on a writing project. It is amazing how the wee hours of the night can melt away while I am ‘creating’. But wheat seems to be happening more and more is that I stay up very late and am totally unproductive, then when I realize I am getting close to the point where I can just grab a few hours, then I will sleep just that short time, wake up and dose up with coffee, got to work, and sadly all to often either stay up and find myself in not just a manic state, but also in a bitchy mood with more than a tiny bit of paranoia, but I also don’t perform well at work and the situation steamrollers whether I have a nap (in which case I don’t sleep again that night) or stay up which requires copious amounts of coffee. It’s all a pretty viscous cycle, but small bits of wisdom often help. Of course, writing a new blog entry helps a lot. So does trying to get a nice long walk in. Going to the pool always helps but our pools are closed now until fall. My favourite thing to do when I can’t sleep is to go and soak in the tub for a half hour or so, make the water really hot and then just towel off a little when I get out and lay in bed without getting dressed. That has gotten me to sleep many times. I have tried so many things in my life from hypnosis to meditation to reading and on and on and on. What it all really comes down to with me is, if I am going to stay up late, how can I make that time worthwhile? I have been looking at trying to write more science fiction lately, and I not only find great videos on YouTube about writing, I also have found a lot of awesome astronomy/space programs to watch. My favourite treatment for when I am extremely tired and want to get to work? Splash after splash of ice cold water on my face. Feels good when you stop.

Best wishes Dear Readers, stay safe!

 

The Question of Non-Psychiatric Medications and Mental Illness: When To Draw the Line #drugs #medications #mental illness #bipolar #schizophrenia #mentalhealth #overthecounter

Mountain Goat, Jasper National Park, Summer 2020

Being on psychiatric medications can be a difficult situation and over the counter and legal drugs can make things worse if you aren’t careful. Many times in my life I have looked back and wondered what may have happened in my life if I had taken my medications as prescribed from the first time that they were prescribed. For me the first time was age 14-I am 48 now. I have asked my Doctor this question and he has told me that if I had done that at 14 I would be the exception-not the norm.

My illness is schizoaffective disorder with anxiety-I have an odd combination of having mood swings with symptoms of schizophrenia. The last time I was in psychosis it was a living hell. I had been given a replacement medication for the one that dealt with my psychosis and over time I began to get paranoid to the point of thinking all my neighbours could hear and see everything I did and were waiting for the chance to kill me. I was admitted to a hospital, but it took time for the new drug that wasn’t working for me to get out of my system so that the old one that I was put back on could get to work.

One of the things that often happens with me is that I will wake up and take my medications and then go back to bed. Prozac seems to have the ability to give me the sweetest dreams. But I can’t always do that–often if I get up at 5:00 am (like today) and take my medications, they will cause me to sleep as late as noon or later. I now have a part-time job that makes a schedule like that impossible to follow, so I medicate-with coffee and exercise. These may not seem like harmful drugs, but coffee is definitely a drug, an addictive and powerful one, and for me exercise–be it swimming or long-distance walking (my knees make it so I can no longer run, I injured them years ago) is what gets me out of my morning funk. The problem really comes when it is getting late and I know I will need a minimum amount of hours of sleep to work the next day and due to mania (mood swings) I am simply unable to slow down enough to rest. This can start a vicious cycle, needing more coffee, needing more exercise (often more than is healthy for my ageing body) and getting less and less sleep.

This is the point where I often find myself turning to over the counter drugs. Something I have found helps a great deal with short naps (they cause me severe nightmares sometimes) is to take a multivitamin before a nap. This is a positive over the counter medication that is largely harmless. But when it stops helping, I have turned to stronger ones. My first level of self-medication during times of little sleep due to nightmares used to be alcohol. I will never forget being 19 and living in a cheap hotel in Vancouver, waking from a very bad dream and being able to go downstairs, get a shot of whiskey and be able to sleep contently. Fortunately I didn’t do this every day, but still I would have binge sessions of drinking that I greatly enjoyed–which had to stop at a certain point. I did all I could, going to meetings and counselling. I even picked up other habits after quitting that had to also be dealt with like overeating and gambling, that I have now fortunately put behind me. I can’t stress enough that if you self-medicate with alcohol, and you are taking medications, it is just as bad as playing Russian roulette. You are playing a very deadly game. Compulsive gambling is a real destroyer of people and families as well. You actually become addicted to the hormones in your brain that turn on when you gamble, be it slot machines, video lottery terminals or garage poker games. If you have the tendency towards becoming addicted like I did, gambling will take over everything. All your money, all your time, all your relationships. Seek help.

So now that I have eliminated some of the less obvious medication, I should talk about some of the more obviously harmful ones. On occasion I take melatonin to help me sleep. This drug is a naturally occurring sleep hormone which I have cleared with my doctor. It definitely helps me get more hours of sleep and more restful sleep, but sometimes it can work too well. Sometimes when I take melatonin, I will wake up and feel exhausted, and all I can think of as I go about my day is how much I want to go back to sleep. And there is another thing about melatonin, a person (or at least me) can get used to it, or ‘develop a tolerance’ in a short amount of time. I try to take it rarely, and if I take it over the course of a few days, it not only doesn’t help me sleep, but it causes me to move and thrash around, never feeling settled in bed, and not going to sleep for hours.

Here comes one drug that a lot of people argue is harmless, THC. THC is often found in pot and hash, and other cannabis products. In Canada it is a legal drug, but very few psychiatrists will call it a harmless one. It is known to increase a person’s chances of psychosis, especially if used at a young age. I haven’t used it in years, and even then I don’t think I ever paid for it, I only used it a few times, and one of those times was an utter disaster. I went to a party and smoked up as they say and quickly slipped into seriously warped thinking. By the end of the party a lot of people thought I was either a cop or a true weirdo and I got so paranoid I climbed down the fire escape thinking I was going to be killed by someone at the party. It may be something to laugh at now, but when it happened, it was far from fun, not to mention that if you use THC and drive a vehicle, you are truly taking your life in your hands because your judgement will be impaired worse than if on alcohol.

Well good readers, I would like to keep on writing, but I have a strong feeling that blog readers get a little bored if I make my entries too long. As always, feel free to reach out. I am always willing to discuss any mental health topics people suggest to me here, my email is viking3082000@yahoo.com