depression

Life Expectancy of a Severely Mentally Ill Person: Is My Clock Running Out?

Good Morning Dear Readers! Fortune has smiled upon us, it is time for a new blog! What does that mean? Basically it means I can’t sleep once again and had a lot of thoughts running through my mind.

First off, the photo you see is not me but my father. He has been my rock and my hero for such a long time, but at 84 he is finally starting to show his age. He keeps somehow forgetting how to turn on the cable box for his TV. He forgets passwords, then forgets where he writes them down, and then I have to come over and fix everything. I don’t really mind, I love spending time with my dad. Anyone who reads my book, “Alert and Oriented x3” (which you can download by clicking on London’s Tower Bridge to the right of this article) will clearly see that he has done so much to care for me and help me despite some very hard times with my illness. I don’t know if it is the source of all the troubles, though something does make sense. I have heard information that states my dad is so confused and forgetful because he has a blockage in an artery in his neck and needs it cleared, and after that is done everything will be fine.

It is such a scary thing to go through, and I can’t imagine it is easy for my dad either. Some 10 years ago now, we lost my mom. My dad sometimes still sees her or thinks she is still with us. I know to many it sounds like Alzheimers or dementia, and the fact is I am very worried it might be. My grandfather, my dad’s dad has Alzheimers and so did his brother, my Uncle Nille. Basically, I am going to have to help him and support him while he waits for surgery and while he is recovering and it feels like it is taking a lot out of me.

On other fronts, things seem to be going well for me on many counts. Not the least of which is getting a story in an online newsmagazine about the three most important books I have read that help me to deal with mental illness. Anyone interested can link to the article here: https://thenewsstation.com/three-books-that-helped-me-overcome-my-mental-illness/

I guess I also want to talk a little more about my recent decision to use Cannabis Products, specifically high CBD, low THC pills to help me sleep. In a way, I think the Cannabinoids (CBD) are taking away some of my ambition. But along with that, they also seem to solve a very serious problem I have that has been with me for decades. It is an antisocial mindset where I feel angry and slighted and say and do things that make others feel bad to make myself feel better. For a while, I was watching videos by a man named Noah Elkrief, and he had some amazing insights on how to stop being angry all the time. Basically the foundation of his theory was that if we truly put ourselves into the shoes of the other person, looking for ways to exonerate them for whatever angers us, there is really no way to keep being angry. It worked really well for a while but then I lost the habit, and now that I have been ingesting CBD pills, my anger is somehow medicinally lowered, and I am able to resume my habit of empathizing with people. If you add to that my improved sleep, it is kind of miraculous. I think I have said most of that before. I have always had a problem with sleep in my life. I can remember as far back as being a toddler and being in my parent’s bed watching an ancient digital clock flip over numbers. I was so young I couldn’t tell time, but for some reason I remember looking at that clock and wondering how late my parents were going to stay up.

This leads into another situation that has me a bit concerned. For the past couple of years I have been using sleep aids, and ever since, my memory has been declining. As you just read, I don’t have any problems remembering things that happened almost 50 years ago as a child, but my brain goes into fogs where I can’t remember the name of people I have worked with for three years. I was talking to a friend about my dad and she pointed out that I am losing some of my faculties and I am much younger than my dad. It was a humbling experience.

Well, dear readers. I have another friend who always tells me not to worry about getting older, that age is just a number. Unfortunately 12:00 midnight is also just a number and I have to take my dad to his doctor tomorrow. I do want to leave you with one thing though. When I look back at the joy my dad gave me, the opportunities he made possible and the love he showed when I was at my worst, my only real regret is never accomplishing the dream I had for most of my life of having a child to teach everything to and to love just like my dad did with me. Perhaps there will be someone out there, someone who never had a father, never had a dad who can read these words and understand that there is always hope, that just about every life is without limits. And maybe a million years ago some visitor from a distant planet will find my archived blogs, read them, and see that in so many ways, life on Earth is a beautiful thing.

-LG

Poetry, Mental Health and Addiction, and How Our Work Defines Us

Just a heads up, if you click on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge to the right, you will be able to download a free copy of my latest mental health book!

I wrote a poem during my writing class that I teach Mondays and Thursdays (please email viking3082000@yahoo.com if you want to join, there are limited spots). I wanted to write about the executive lifestyle and how some people, especially over-achievers will go to business school, work their way up the ladder, end up very successful, then realize that they never really did in life what they wanted.

In the poem, the main character is basically in the middle of a nervous breakdown and all he really knows how to help himself is with drugs and alcohol. I hope you like it, let me know what you think.

Incidentally, some time this week I will be published in the Ottawa Citizen, in the opinion section. I will put a link to the article here for anyone interested.

Big City Headache

By Leif Gregersen

Killer migraine pounding my head hard

As I wake up in some stranger’s yard

Wandering cold, no place to rest, no way to clean

So many live like this, it seems so obscene

Eat at the shelter three meals a day

Life until now was never this way

So much has happened, so much was lost

Once I had so many possessions, caring not of the cost

No need for coffee, no need for sleep

Just us two would do, cocaine and me

It’s hard to conceive but I forgot my name

Still in some small way I’m more happy insane

My wife came and found me as I sat on a curb

Tossed me her wedding ring without a word

Desperate, I pawned it, then got a room

Sat down and took stock of the poisons I had consumed

I started working temp labour to pay the rent

Fell dead asleep exhausted each night, fully content

I bought back the ring, then went for a walk

But I knew my ex-wife wouldn’t even talk

I walked a long way to a bridge and looked down

Nothing to stop me, no one around

In that desperate state I knew what to do

I tossed in the ring and felt happy and new

Then I did some walking and thinking all night alone

Caring not for my trophy wife or my former home

I now make minimum wage for very hard work

But I’m a real person now, not some uncaring jerk

Cannabis and Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Depression

Just about every one of us have some kind of moral guidance in our lives when it comes to using cannabis products. I think just about as many people oppose it as support it, and both sides claim to have incontrovertible evidence. I don’t use THC, and to be honest, I haven’t spent as much time thinking about it to make a fair judgement that I want to pass on to you, my dear readers. What I do know is that cannabis has been made legal in all of Canada, while only some of the US states call it legal and the Federal Government declares cannabis illegal in all states, leaving many in a difficult and precarious position.

A few weeks ago, more likely a few months, I wandered into a pot shop and started asking questions. One thing I know about THC–I should avoid it like the plague. It makes me paranoid and unbalances my precarious hold on my mental health. But they had product that contained no THC which had cannabinoids oil and capsules. I had heard a lot about the benefits of cannabinoids and decided to gamble $15 Canadian on a few pills.

The first one I tried had kind of comical results. I thought I was getting stoned when in actuality I was just anticipating feeling stoned so much that I believed it was happening. Eventually I fell asleep and had one of the best rests I have had in a long time.

It is now months after that. I have been using cannabinoids for a while. One of the best things about it is that it takes away my susceptibility to get angry. Yes, it clears/calms my head. And I can take some, then take a nap or go to sleep for the night, and fall asleep easier, but wake up refreshed, not drugged.

The expense of the product is a factor that still bothers me. $15 for 15 CBD pills, $50 for 30 of the extra-strength CBD pills. The inexpensive alternative is to use the CBD oils but I have tried that and it seems they don’t have as much as an effect on me.

So, all things considered, I still need to ask myself if I support cannabis products. As a consumer, it is hard to tell anyone they shouldn’t, but I do think anyone who has a mental illness should consult with a psychiatrist, making sure to tell them what type of product you want to/already use. In my case, THC isn’t worth it, but CBD is. Doctors always weigh the risks of a medication based on what it gives you and the negative things that can happen. My understanding is that THC has more risks than rewards in people under 25, and that over 25, if you aren’t prone to paranoia, there are more rewards than risks.

Something I always think about was interviewing a renowned psychiatrist for a radio documentary I was making, and asking him what the most important thing he had to say in closing. He looked very serious and said to me: “The most important thing for people to understand is that marijuana and alcohol are not benign drugs.”

I will be honest with all of you. There were times I was in the psychiatric hospital and there were patients who were normal before chronic pot use and had to spend years in mental health treatment. Their diagnosis was “drug induced psychosis.” If you have a family history of poor mental health, please avoid THC. If you are under 25, please understand that your brain hasn’t stopped developing yet and you may be damaging it by using THC products. Also, look at THC use as a fun, recreational experience, and watch out that your using doesn’t take over your life.

Living With Schizophrenia: Take Me For What I Am

Hello Dear Readers:

A lot has been going on lately. I marked the passing of a friend named Walter Warren Miller. He was an amazing man. He had served in the military, travelled the world, worked a full career as a Canada Post Employee, and he dealt with mental illness.

What I would really like to talk about today though, is how all of us are flawed in some way. Perhaps in our haphazard interactions with the rest of the human race, we can’t help but make mistakes. But all of us do. We forget to spend time with those we love who may be struggling. We give what we think is our love but is actually just meaningless money.

This is where I end up having problems with many born-again right-wing churches. Their take on making mistakes almost seems to be that if you made one, you are a marked person and because you made that mistake you don’t love Christ and should be cast away.

I encountered so much of this in my time in the Pentecostal Church. It was never a written rule but it seemed that, according to them, if the Pastor gives an empowering speech and you walk to the altar to make ‘a decision for Christ’ that is all you will ever have to do to go to Heaven.

However, in Catholicism, they have a way for people to work on themselves continuously, confessing their sins. Even when they pass away, it is understood that they will spend time in a place called Purgatory where people go to work off the debt of their sins.

But to not just throw all my will and power to the major religions, I should talk about my own philosophy as to dealing with sin. First of all, I think educating people about sensitivity and understanding for the people they interact with, should be done as intensely as you teach a child to brush his or her teeth or work on math problems.

Then, if and when the child you carefully instruct gets older, when they make a mistake, it isn’t seen as a reason to mark that person for life, but an opportunity to educate the person on why what they did was wrong, how the people on the other side of the equation are made to feel about it. Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, the baby gets the time and attention it needs to perhaps feel even closer to society and emerge a better person from the experience.

I would like to try and relate what I was talking about to mental illness, but you know–I am a bit reluctant to. Mental illness is something far different than criminal or abusive behaviour. Mental illness takes away everything you have and so very many people who are chronically afflicted end their own lives.

If I were the head policy maker of this nation, I suppose which can be called “Edu-Nation” seeing as how it is based on educating rather than penalizing people, I would do a few things for the mentally ill.

I think the first thing I would want to do would be to develop some sort of housing, mental health resources and more to homeless people. There are so many people out asking for spare change these days who are just killing time, having nowhere to go. All to often this leads to alcoholism and substance abuse which exacerbates any mental health issues.

All too many of these transient people die on the streets every year. One thing I would like to do would be to train roving support workers to go to these people on the streets and alleys where they live. Find out what is keeping them from getting treatment, give them socks and long underwear in the winter. Bring them inexpensive meals when possible. Basically, try to entice these people to come back to the regular world.

Well, good readers. This was a ‘woke up in the middle of the night’ blog entry. I hope it makes some sense to people, I really shouldn’t write when I’m so tired. Have an awesome day and thanks for visiting! Don’t forget to click on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge to the right of this blog to download your free copy of my latest book (digital format).

Living With a Combination of Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Anxiety Can Get Interesting

Well, I actually haven’t had all that much happen today that was interesting. The highlight of my day was finishing reading another Lee Child, Jack Reacher novel. I have taken up reading again as of late and it always feels good when I finish reading anything of sufficient length. For some strange reason, in the past years I fell out of love with books. I still bought just about as many and I still brought home any free ones but I haven’t been reading novels in years. Finding this amazing character “Jack Reacher” has made things easier, though I have read other stuff. Among the books I have been reading recently I have to include “Girl, Interrupted” and “The Collected Schizophrenias” I have been working on a book review for “The News Station” online magazine and these two were of particular interest. “Girl, Interrupted” is a very gripping tale of a young woman coming to terms with borderline personality disorder while in a psychiatric hospital. “The Collected Schizophrenias” is a study of schizophrenia and also a life story of a woman who experiences it. Regardless of how easy it is or how much information is available, I have never found anything to work better than reading an entire book on a subject to familiarize ones’ self with the subject.

There was something interesting that happened to me today. I did a simple buy in the stock market of a very stable stock and took advantage of a very small price move but with a high number of shares and made about $130.00. The markets are so fascinating to me, they are all about numbers, and I constantly work out numbers in my head. What amazes me is that in the past couple of weeks I have owned everything from a share in Uranium mines in Mongolia to Oil wells in South America, not only without leaving my apartment, but without having any knowledge at all in how these businesses are conducted. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster, but I have been buying and selling on how much hype the stock gets rather than anything to do with the stock’s actual profitability. One of the things I find myself worried about is how fast inflation is coming at us, at the gas pumps, in the grocery store and many other places. I thank my lucky star I live in supportive housing, don’t have a car and live alone. The average bills of a family of five like the one I grew up in would break me in short order.

Sometimes that is all it comes down to… Did I do better than my parents? I can answer that with a no, especially since for years my dad was a successful businessman and my mom worked many meaningful jobs.

The thing about the stock market and me… Some people warn me of the risks and caution me. My main problem with it is that playing the stock market can be just about as bad as playing a game of roulette or even Russian roulette if the stakes are high enough. Not all that long ago I had a problem with gambling addiction. It took me years of forcing myself to avoid any place that had gambling, which was a lot of places since the Liquor and Gaming Board has video lottery terminals in most bars. But I forced myself and I am glad for it. A lot of the time it came down to the temptation of simply riding the bus home. When I arrived, there was a number of bars with VLTs that I could stop in at and maybe make a couple of bucks. Not that I would ever stop after just making a couple of bucks. Any former or current addicted gambler knows that it is a sin to leave a place with even a quarter in your pocket.

So basically what I had to do was to get off the bus a couple of stops early and walk the extra distance, trying not to think of gambling. This was fairly easy, all I had to do was keep something on my mind that was more powerful than gambling. So I would fill my head with images of supermodels and former love interests and soon it became easy to go past the bars with VLTs in them. It also didn’t hurt that I soon realized after working in a bar that a somewhere like that is not a good place to meet friends or potential life partners. I kept on running into guys who knew more about ripping people off than they did about the job they worked at. The women in bars, if they aren’t raging alcoholics yet, were often cruel and insulting. At a certain point in my life I decided that as good as all the young women may look, I simply can’t focus my life around a place founded on mutual alcohol consumption. That made it easier to quit drinking, easier to quit gambling and smoking and I am amazed now at how much extra money I have.

Most people out there have a place in mind of where they would like most to live. I often think of the suburban city I grew up in and what it would be like to live on the millionaire side of the city. But for many reasons, friends, love interests, different ideas from our spouse, it doesn’t come true. The sad fact is that 99% of us have to make the most out of what is dropped in our laps. The thing is, just about anything can be good or bad. I have a job opportunity coming up that I just can’t make it to. When I think of not having this job, I try to emphasize to myself that I am already earning close to the limit my disability pension allows, and it will be so much better to have that extra time to complete other projects.

Just about any situation can be treated this way. I joked recently to a friend that I was so positive that if someone told me I was going to die by Saturday I would be happy that this week I wouldn’t have to worry about doing dishes on Sunday.

But to go back to the stock market, I have been coasting on luck and I fear that soon I am going to make a bad deal in it and end up in trouble. One thing I do know is that over this past week I had bought a stock that turned out to be a lot more volatile than it seemed it would be. I bought it at $1.76. While I taught a class over my computer, I was checking the stock in my breaks. It went so low I almost wanted to pause the class so I could sell it. But I held on, and by the end of the day the stock had regained all its losses. I could have been just a little more patient and turned a profit, but I has glad to get out unscathed. What I couldn’t believe was all the pressure and risk I was taking with a volatile stock. Once again though, this anxiety and fear from risking large amounts of money causes neurotransmitters to work double time. There are so many more negative things about getting involved in stocks when the simple truth is that you are more likely to do well running a family business and investing in a home than by thinking you can beat other traders who are just about as devious and shark-like as anyone can get. And if you let yourself become addicted to the experience, you will keep coming back for more punishment.

Never Get Complacent About the Mental Illness of You or a Loved One

Well, I have to admit it, I have been getting complacent, so I thought it would be a good time to sit down and write. I have some bad news off the top, it looks like there is really no way I am going to have my new book, “Voted Off the Crew” ready for the launch date. On the good side of that, I am having it professionally edited and I think the end result of what will become of the book will be something my readers will enjoy more and I will be more proud of.

As for me, I have been isolating a lot but doing some writing that I really think might help make a difference. I have written essays for the websites, “OC87 Recovery Diaries” and “The News Station”. It feels good to publish, especially since in the case of the above, I am publishing about my mental health experiences. But I almost feel I need to shock myself into getting off my butt and getting down to doing more with each precious day I have.

I think it is something that people with mental illnesses are prone to, for a couple of days all I did was lay in bed. At first I gave myself the excuse that it was because I had a headache, which was true, then I had some pretty severe stomach pains and wanted to use that as an excuse to lie around, but when I got up and went for a mid-day walk, I soon forgot about any headache and my stomach pain went away.

I am not saying that everyone out there with health issues is being weak or lazy, but I am thinking that sometimes when you get into a rut it can be really helpful to get some fresh air and exercise. I love taking walks because they are fairly low-impact and you don’t need any fancy equipment, most of the time you don’t even need to change. You just head out your door and plan not to be back for an hour more or less.

A close friend who was both a medical student and a lifeguard once told me that in the case of just about everything, exercise is the best medicine. Of course there are limits, but if you find yourself in a funk and you aren’t doing anything constructive, try and get a little exercise in. There are also things you can do around the house that can be very beneficial and simple. You can lean against a wall and push away from it, doing what I call ‘low-impact push-ups’ you can do sit-ups, use tension to push your arms against each other at the fists or another point to build tone and strength. You can even find a second hand Yoga mat or invest a few bucks in a new one and go along with some of the many Youtube videos of Yoga classes.

Fortunately, my recent complacency hasn’t made me miss any of my doses of medication. If that happens to you, do your best to resume your medication at the point you are at. Don’t try and catch up and take a couple off doses, if it is Tuesday, start with Tuesday’s dose and move on. If you have been off medications and notice you are experiencing severe depression or voices, paranoia, or any of your old symptoms, either get to see your doctor as soon as you can or get to an emergency room, it could be a long wait, but there will be psychiatrists on call who can assess you and see what the next best course of action should be.

So I am hoping my words will be helpful. Getting complacent is a dangerous place to be in, a person should always remember what things were like when they were in a hospital setting or otherwise having a hard time and make an honest decision as to whether or not they want to go back to all that. Mental and physical health, which are deeply related, need daily and careful maintenance. If you are off your medications and not feeling good about yourself, find a way to see a doctor, and make a phone call before you do anything. There are crisis lines in Canada and the US that can help you through these difficult times, all you need to do is google, dial, reach out, and there will be someone there to listen.

The number for the suicide help line in Canada is: 1(833)456-4566

In the US, the number is: 1(800)273-TALK (8255)

Overcoming Suicidal (and other negative) Thoughts

The first thing I am going to say in today’s blog is that I really don’t know anything. All I know was that years in the past, I had a lot of very serious suicidal thoughts, and, in at least one occasion, I acted on it and deeply regret it. If you are having serious suicidal thoughts right now, I suggest that you look up a suicide or other type of help line. If you feel your addictions are causing these thoughts, please match your addiction with an appropriate 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Gambler’s Anonymous and look up their local number, call them, talk to them and get to a meeting. If you have tried all of these things and it hasn’t helped, I invite you to write to me at my personal email, viking3082000@yahoo.com and I will try and match you with the services that best suit your situation. I want people to know though that I am a peer. My only qualification to give advice or help is from me having lived experience of mental illness and addiction. Please read on.

There was a time, early in my years of recovery where I did think a lot about suicide. I was isolated, perhaps I wasn’t being treated by my psychiatrist for my exact illness, I don’t know. All I know is that I was isolated, unpublished, and I thought unwanted. One of my strong desires at the time was to try and turn back the clock, go back to living with my parents and go to my old high school to finish my diploma. Life seemed ideal when I was in that situation previously, but not only had I burned my bridges, I was way too old.

For a while at that time, I had tried going to church with a friend, but as I went to more functions with these people, I seemed to get less and less respect for them. One incident comes to mind where a bunch of people walked out into the wilderness, lit a fire, and one guy was expected to throw his entire ‘secular’ music collection into the fire, which he did. I didn’t get it at the time, and in a few ways I still don’t get it. I love music and artists like Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Sheryl Crowe, and on and on were musicians that I felt brought out good things in me.

So Eventually stopped going to that church and eventually found another, which in some ways was better. But being around people, especially when my medications weren’t right, wasn’t all that much of a help. I still recall a cold winter’s day I just got sick of feeling bad about myself and walked a long way to a medical clinic, and the doctor, an asian man, was appalled that my family and whoever hadn’t supported me, helped me. I left with a prescription for prozac, which worked wonderfully, and that was a turning point for me.

Still, this wasn’t an end to my suicidal ideation/thinking. The way I got through it was, when I was feeling okay, I would make sure all the possible methods of suicide were out of my apartment, trashed or given away or abandoned. No sharp objects other than a butter knife, no poisonous cleaners, no excess of medications or large stashes of pain pills. This was good in a way, and I think this is a good place to mention that there was a person who inspired me to take these steps, a very wonderful young woman who I went to school with for a while who has been a dear friend for many years now. If anything gives you a reason not to commit suicide, it will most often be a dear friend. Really, it is so important to make good friends, form strong relationships and nurture them. Let your friend know they are special, be kind and thoughtful to them. Do the same and more with a romantic interest, but also try not to depend too deeply on just one person, even if it is a romantic partner, a broken heart can be a terrible thing. Do what you can to build your relationships, but keep many friends and even places (yes, I am fond of mentioning all the people I know from the pool here) that you can go where you feel good, relaxed, accepted.

There is, of course, another important thing you can have in your life that will help prevent suicide, a pet, a dog, a cat, a snake, a gerbil. Taking care of an animal, especially say a dog that unconditionally loves its owner, can really get someone through the tough times.

Above all of these things, the most important factor is to be honest with your doctor. Most doctors will recommend a client should keep a journal. You can use a coil, hole-punched notebook. All you have to do is write the date at the top, then your mood from 1-10 and then whatever you want. It can be good if you talk to yourself in this journal about things that worked and things that didn’t work, even be honest about any thoughts of harming yourself or others. This is all information you want to share with your doctor, and if you feel funny about telling him or her about these things, write down key points with a brief explanation on a piece of paper and hand it to them when you go to your appointment, even mail it to them.

Something that I know has helped me a great deal is meditation. I read a lot of books on it, but didn’t finally start getting some of the wonderful benefits of meditation until I went to a small local monastery and studied Tibetan Meditation from a real Tibetan Monk. This man was so full of joy and caring, and was such a warm and dynamic person that I really wanted to one day be like him (not become a monk, but just have that joy). Basically what he taught was that before you go into meditation very far, you have to understand your brain, your consciousness, is like a monkey running around from place to place, playing here, screaming there, tipping this over, running on to tip over the next thing. What you need to do is to train your ‘monkey mind’ to focus and to stay clear, and stop running around, to train the monkey to stay in one place and become more calm and thoughtful. This is accomplished by walking, or sitting and just trying to keep your head clear. Each time you find your ‘monkey mind’ is going a little bananas, simply guide yourself back. Some people try to count their breaths, in and out, one, two, three, four, until they get to ten, and if a thought jumps up, simply go back to one and begin again. The power of this meditation practise is amazing, I have even heard of research studies that have proved over time that meditation is so good for the brain it can reverse brain damage.

So of course, being honest and open with your doctor is essential, meditation, journalling, and even Yoga can be of huge benefit. Next comes a therapist or psychologist. This is territory I am not familiar with, but I do in the last years of my mom’s life, her time with her psychologist was, as my dad said, the only type of appointment that helped her. My mom had both physical and mental health issues, and her psychologist helped her greatly. I won’t dwell on this too much. I do want to say that if you can get to see a psychologist, that is wonderful, if you live outside of Canada and can’t find one for free, you should ask if they have a sliding scale to fit your budget, and make an effort to work with them.

All that I really want to mention now is how I myself attempted suicide. I was on medications, I was managing my mental health okay, then at some point I just decided that I didn’t need my anti-depressant (prozac) any more. Without me noticing it, I slipped down into a deep, dark place. Shortly after, wasn’t working and I had just been treated cruelly by some people I grew up with because of my mental health condition. In a state of severe depression, I took a lot of pills. One thing led to another, and I ended up on the intensive care ward. Burned in my memory was the thought of my mom standing there, bursting into tears because my doctor had told my family I wasn’t going to make it. Because of this attempt, I took a whole new view on suicide, and also on how important the people in your life are and how much it would hurt them to commit suicide. I should have known this mind you, shortly before my first major hospitalization, I was crushed by the death by suicide of a close friend. Not long after, his mother died in the same way and I was devastated. Each time I think of him I count up the years he would have had, the things we could have done together. It really is very sad.

So basically, there are steps here just like in some 12-step meeting. The first step is, are you okay right now? Do you have a strong desire, and the means to kill yourself? Two: Find a way to become safe. Get rid of excess medications, sharp objects, poisonous cleaners and the like. Three is, are you properly medicated? This leads to four, which is, if you are not properly medicated, be honest with your doctor or even find a better doctor until your major symptoms are dealt with in a way you can handle. Five would be too keep a journal to make this honesty easier. Six is to put extra effort into your relationships, family, friends, and romantic partners. Make a solid base of people you are close with. Seven would be to look into exploring your spiritual side, by using things like meditation and Yoga as you are comfortable. Eight would be to find a psychologist, and work hard to deal with and find a way to live with the things that are making you feel worse, basically learn how to handle life better. Thank you for reading this blog to the end, let’s all stay safe and get through this pandemic, there are some good times ahead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best dear readers!

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

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.