The photo above is a close friend. He worked hard for many years, built up an excellent work record, bought a home and has been to many places in the world. Now, after a lifetime of struggle, it sadly seems that compulsive spending, depression, alcoholism, hoarding, and other problems came about from him growing up in poverty and working so hard that substances were his only escape. It all seems such a waste, but even for my friend there is hope.
For most of 2001, I was a patient in a locked ward of a very unpleasant place, the provincial psychiatric hospital. Now, in 2018, I work there and am paid well. This and other jobs has allowed me to do so much, including travelling to London and Hawaii, buying the computer I am using now, having many friends, and living a comfortable though somewhat sparse life.
People are often amazed that I have been able to write more than 10 books, and to get up in front of people I don’t know and talk about the intimate details of my illness. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’m not so much afraid anymore. I have experienced great loss, adventure, been close to death, but there have been some simple axioms I took to heart that have gotten me through.
One of them was from a young man who was an engineer. He said when engineers work on a very large, complex and difficult problem, they will break the larger problem into smaller ones and solve them one small piece at a time. There was another man who I have never met, but who wrote an excellent book and is an example to every young person in the whole world I feel who attributed his success as an astronaut and space station commander by always making sure he had taken the time to properly prepare himself for tasks to come. When I want to sit down and start writing a book I can’t just put pen to page and expect it to come out perfect. I draft up several possible outlines, then toy around with some dialogue, maybe even try to picture my main characters and, by hand, write out some dialogue. If this starts to engage me and I keep on for pages with my pen I know I have something I can continue to work on, to craft into a cohesive story. But most of my books came more from just writing a little for one sitting. I would write a poem and then transfer it to computer and then cut and paste it into Facebook and when I had a bunch of them I would self-publish a book of them. Easiest thing in the world. People even buy them and enjoy them. In a way, I used these two methods of planning and preparation to overcome my severely diminished state after I was last in the hospital.
I had to start with a small step, and I decided it would be medications. I took each dose at the proper time and then looked at the rest of the day as my free time. Not wanting to waste my days away watching TV re-runs, I would try and read a little in one of my Steinbeck books. One of the amazing things was that now that I was over the worst of my symptoms of mental illness, and people could see that I was trying to improve my lot in life, help seemed to come from every corner. My dad would take me for walks, a part-time job allowed me some comforts. Even the cooking chore I had to undertake every two weeks or so taught me many things I never knew about food.
When I think of how the other point I made, of making sure you are adequately prepared for something, especially something difficult that you need to do, I think of a close friend who I knew since high school. Before my most recent stay in the psychiatric hospital, I was extremely delusional and ‘manic’ as well as having other symptoms of psychosis such as thinking the radio was talking about me, that I had billions of dollars and so on. At this time, her sister had heard I was having troubles and tried to help, and for want of a better term, I scared her half to death. My long friendship was over and I was devastated. Almost a year later, I went to see her and it was only because in advance I wrote down what I needed to tell her and predicted how she would react that I was able to successfully convince her she could trust me and that it was worth having me as a friend.
These are common tactics, writing out a script of what you might say to your boss who you know is debating whether or not to fire you. Setting goals, no matter how preposterous or long-range they are, and then setting smaller, more attainable goals that lead you towards that better place. I often think these things can get a person through anything.
One of the things I would like to touch on today may only apply to Canadians, but I will try and add a universal component for people in other countries. One of the hardest things to face when a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, and spends time in a psychiatric hospital is the poverty that is going to follow, perhaps for the rest of their lives. The Canadian Government developed a plan to help those who are disabled for any reason to overcome this, it is called the Registered Disability Saving Program (or something similar-ask your bank staff) this plan allows you to put somewhere around $2,000 to $3,000 away in an account, and have grants and subsidies top up that amount by multiples of two or three times. You can’t take it out for ten years, but it could really go a long way for a person to take a trip or to buy a home.
This seems almost unfair to Americans or people in other countries that don’t have this program, but I think even people who have a savings plan could benefit from my second favourite book ever, “The Richest Man in Babylon” by Richard S. Clayson (my favourite book being “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig.
In the ‘babylon’ book, using historical figures and examples, a plan is explained where a person takes a careful look at his earning and spending and tries to get his or her spending down to just 70% of what they earn. 20% of that is put towards debt, and the remaining 10% goes to savings, which, as it grows, you invest. Regarding the investment side of it, the book talks about a very simple strategy to keep your money growing, or at least safe. If you want to invest your money, seek out advice. But make sure that the person giving it has spent all their time and effort in their entire lives to being an expert on what they are talking about. Getting a tip from your neighbour who is a musician that stock in a steel mill is guaranteed to double just doesn’t cut it. But the musician might be a great person to consult to find out which brand of marijuana stock is the best one to invest in based on his own personal choice of the stuff.
Another factor that many people don’t factor in when they think of living in poverty as a disabled person is that as time goes by, especially if you can find a way to work (when I got out of the hospital in 2001 I was useless for any task, but I could still work as a security guard and it gave me a sense of self-respect and some extra money for things), as you get older, you will not only learn to use and invest your money better, you will also have paid for much of the things you want and need and the pressure to always get more money and more stuff will lessen. Of course, you are also free from the thing that made me want to buy a sports car at 18 instead of saving for University-peer pressure.
So, all I really have to say if I must sum it up is that with diligence, a steady and focused effort day after day, week after week, planning and preparing, your life may not just get to be as good as most, it just may get better. And remember, people really do care.
Good day dear readers. Well, it is my last full day in Toronto. Yesterday I went around taking pictures and these three men were kind enough to let me take their picture. I wanted people to see the real face of homelessness. I don’t know what brought these men out on the streets like this but there are a thousand valid reasons. For starters they either have no family or are estranged from their family. This is something that touches me heart because my family is so important to me. I like to focus on my niece a lot but I also have a sister and a Dad and a few cousins and an Aunt and Uncle that I really like having in my life. I guess the easiest way for me to think about these men is to put myself in their shoes. I can recall being in California and not being able to work (due to no work permit) and not wanting to get in trouble with the Law in case I ever wanted to go back there (which I eventually did when I went to Hawaii). The first day I was in California the guy I traveled with took off on me and I spent the night sleeping in a ditch. This was not the first time or the last I had to resort to outside sleeping and it isn’t very pleasant. I knew a guy who once slept under a bridge and his whole day was about getting enough booze so that he could drink himself to sleep. He was mentally ill and this cycle of booze and not sleeping is so easy to get caught up in. Before I was able to hitch rides out of California there were times when I had literally gone 5 days without food or sleep. It was so bad that if I sat down somewhere I would sleep almost instantly and have extremely vivid and frightening dreams. I was able to get back to Canada, to get the sleep I needed to get myself functioning again and then I was able to find work but if I hadn’t gotten out of there I don’t know where I would be right now.
One of the sad things about homelessness is that it seems that no matter how well (and things are NOT going well with the economy right now) the economy may be going, there will be people who are poor. I think this means it is quite obvious that these people are unable to work, and I feel strongly that anyone in that situation should be given benefits enough to have a place to live and means to get food to eat. I will never forget the words of a Danish friend when he had seen Vancouver, he said the place was very depressing, that it was like there was almost no social welfare. I see a lot of news about Denmark, how they make 140% of their power needs through wind, how their people are among the happiest. At one time I could have become a Danish citizen but I have a deep love for this country I live in. I am very pleased now to see that Alberta for the very first time in its history has a Socialist Government. There won’t be a lot of drastic changes, I am actually finding that often even Conservatives in Canada are more Socialist than many would think. They do some things to provide universal health care and one of the best disability programs in the country. Like Denmark, Alberta is able to afford these things by virtue of having oil in their jurisdiction. I think one of the ways a person can judge how well the government helps the homeless is how many of them one sees, and in Toronto there is a lot of them. They sleep right on sidewalk corners, they have sleeping bags and ‘campsites’ staked out under bridges. I really wish I knew the best thing to do for them. I often try to give a little change, and people say that if you give them change they will spend their money on booze or drugs but I think a lot about that. You are almost required to tip waiters and waitresses, but you don’t tell them how they have to spend their money. I also watched a video recently of a gifted native piano player who had been homeless for a very long time until he got into a supportive housing situation where they would allow him to drink a couple of drinks every few hours just to keep his nerves calm and allow him to function. I challenge you, dear readers to think of what you can do to help even just one homeless person. Can you give them an old sleeping bag now that winter is coming? Can you buy coffee shop gift cards to give for Christmas? It’s up to you. I hope you will stick around to read today’s poem, it is another one about a homeless person and I hope you will enjoy it.
Please Help Get Me Through The Day
Shuffled off from each and every place
Nowhere I can call my very own space
All the horrid memories I can’t erase
Staring down the devil in the face
Way back when life seemed to be going fine
Then I lost every single little thing I could call mine
My father used to beat me every day
Drove me insane and then they put me away
With any justice in this world he would have been the one
To have had to live through those god-awful years of being on the run
First they decided I was crazy and put me away
Then no one listened to anything I had to say
I was the patient now I could just sit and rot
They listened less and less and then forgot
Forgot I was a human being first
Knowing they felt that way was perhaps the worst
All my childhood days were lived in fear
I was never safe as long as he was near
At fourteen they let me out for a visit and I ran away
There was no hope or future in that place anyway
Soon after that I found solace in booze and drugs
And for a time they replaced my loving mother’s hugs
It felt so good to do it the first few times
But then I needed it so bad I committed crimes
I’m not proud that I ripped so many people off
I’m not happy to sit in the street and hack and cough
Gone are the days of football glory and being cool
No more chances to go back and finish school
I sleep under a bridge and beg for change
Even my old friends from childhood think I’m deranged
Don’t look into my eyes you will see a world of pain
You’ll feel the lonely hurting and learn why I’m insane
I can only dream of the life you live
And it does help a little when you give
But in truth I long for someone just like you
To help me, take me in, let me start anew
I know I could have a life if I just got clean
You have no idea what a chance like that would mean
But sadly none of you could trust me in that way
So if you please, a few coins to get me through the day?
August 25, 2015
Well, here I am in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and I have been having a great time. I have spent a lot of my month here just decompressing from the stress I was experiencing in Edmonton. I have a heart for homeless people, and I am under the strong belief that a lot of them are actually just untreated mentally ill people. I recall one day while I wasn’t in the best head space myself being in downtown Vancouver and seeing a man with a tinfoil hat and instead of mocking him or giving him change or anything I just stopped and saluted him and he gave me a smile. I also think though that there are some horrible people out there who understand how delusional thinking works and they say things to make you think your delusions are real. Sadly I have done it myself, one time in a Psychiatric ward there was a woman who was always causing me grief. One time she even came up to me and kissed me and said we had already been married. Another time my Dad came to visit and she walked up to him and told him I was a bad person and that he should spank me. I got back at her one day by telling her she had just been on TV and that she was going on a rocket ship to space because she had discovered a new planet. For days she went around introducing herself as an astronaut, which seems a bit funny, but really is terribly cruel. In Edmonton there was a young man I see a lot, he has red hair and he is homeless and a couple of times I have given him food or money and once I stopped to talk to him and found out that we had gone to the same junior high and had some of the same teachers. He also told me that he suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. What is kind of scary I think is that I live in a group home that is very beneficial to my mental health and a lot better than any other group homes I have seen, but it is only set up to house 20 men while there are literally thousands out there who need places like this, many of them completely homeless.
I don’t know if I have discussed this much, but I kind of feel that addiction is a form of mental illness. I was told during an interview I did for a volunteer radio station by one of Edmonton’s top Psychiatrists that a huge mistake people make is to see alcohol and marijuana as benign drugs. I know my brother went through hell because of his heavy pot use and that my Dad literally caused himself frontal lobe damage with years of drinking. I have dodged these two bullets, but I came across something worse, a gambling addiction which nearly destroyed me. All these things I should say go hand in hand with Bipolar/Manic Depression. In the care and treatment of your illness, I strongly urge people on psychiatric medications of any kind to be completely abstinent and to be extremely careful about anything that can be addictive. In a way, I have also had something many people would consider Obsessive Compulsive, namely that just about all through my life I have collected collections. It began with stuffed animals, then moved to stamps then books, then GI Joe toys, then comic books and on and on up to right now when I still buy more books than I ever have time to read. And the funny thing is that with a lot of strength and effort I have been able to overcome these addictions but I have to be very much on my guard because often another addiction will come around the corner at me. I think one of the most important ways to stay psychologically (as opposed to medically, or in a psychiatric sense dealing with body chemistry and all that) is to have a support group, perhaps many of them. Sometimes I count the people I meet some mornings at the swimming pool as a group but there are many more kinds, addiction support, writing groups and on and on. These are great ways to make close friends outside the field of mental health treatment, though, as I had done through the schizophrenia society and a program called the Wellness Recovery Action Plan it never hurts to learn more about how to manage and cope with your mental health issue.
I sit in loneliness hunger and pain
Facing a night out on the streets again
Walking for miles to where I hid my things
Waiting for the cold each night always brings
My thin bony legs ache and my feet are worn and raw
I think back to days when I would sit and dream and draw
I could have been an artist if I tried
But life all fell apart when my mom died
She was a sweet and loving woman and she cared
One night her boyfriend beat her and I got scared
I tried to stop him and he turned his wrath on me
That night my body was broken, my mom’s soul set free
I wish I could be with her on awful days like this
How she would always bring home a candy bar and a kiss
Now I get a bottle one way or another every night
And my inner will is slowly giving up the fight
In foster homes all they gave was more discipline
I learned to drink and hide my pain deep within
Soon the bottle was the only God I knew
I pray you won’t let this happen to you
If I could only have peace and space to draw like I once could
But that rotten jerk my mother loved took that away for good
I’m only in my forties but my joints all ache
I’ve lost every little thing anyone could take
I feel so worthless now I barely get through each day
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say
You can have a future if you make the proper choice
We all have inside of us a very special voice
Please don’t play the judge even when you see
A dirty smelly homeless guy like me
A lot of us have lost so much it’s just day to day
When you’re this far gone there is no other way
For those of you who practice and believe
There is a way to lighten my load and make you free
It was our Lord Jesus who spelled out how it should be
What you do for the least of my brothers you do for me
August 24, 2015
Hello Dear Readers! Well, I have to apologize, I don’t have any photos to run so I thought I would just put in a picture of my book. Things have been going really well with the book, I was on TV the other day in Edmonton promoting it. It has won an honorable mention in a big contest and right at the moment I am in Toronto trying to promote the book.
The trip really has been wonderful, though the plane ride had its bumps. The guy sitting next to me seemed to want to try and push me over as far as I could go and I was near the bathrooms so just about anyone, including the flight attendants had to slide past me rubbing themselves on my arm as they went. Ewwww!
But actually the plane ride was only just over 3 hours which was a cake walk for me since I took another one of my annual trips to New Hazelton (see the blog entry ‘Tommy and Red’) and ended up on the bus or waiting in a bus depot for a total of 22 hours. Traveling is so awesome though, now that I am at my sister’s place in Toronto I feel great. I slept most of yesterday but I do feel pretty good. Tonight we went to a place called The Keg Steakhouse and though the prices were higher than any place I’ve ever eaten, I had a pretty good time. I ended up ordering an 8 ounce top sirloin and baked potato, and both were beautiful.
As far as my mental health goes, I feel okay. I don’t know if it really is bad for mental health to sleep a lot, I certainly know that it is a symptom of nearly every major disorder, including schizophrenia and depression. I often feel I need more than 10 hours a day, especially if I take anything to help me to sleep.
For some reason I find myself saddened by a young man in Edmonton. Everyone in my neighborhood seems to know him, he has this whole gothic look to him, he has flowing curly blond hair and very masculine features. He wears a long black trench coat even in the summer and can be seen wandering around talking to himself. I used to see him a lot at the farmer’s market, walking around, quoting laws and all kinds of stuff. I think back to some of my sicker days living in Vancouver I would turn my head and yell and then resume walking as if I hadn’t made any sound. I have run into a lot of people who say things that they themselves don’t want to do but they somehow hope by saying it out loud someone else will do it, and I suppose there are those who think people are listening to them with a hidden microphone or possibly that aliens are listening to them. What bothers me about this guy in the trench coat is that I saw him the other day sleeping on a park bench and I really hope he isn’t homeless. I know so little about him even though he is technically a neighbor and I think a lot about how people shun those with mental illness and even get angry or violent towards them. What can one person do though? It really sucks.
Anyhow, I think that is all I really feel like sharing today. I will try and take some photos of around Toronto, it really is a beautiful city with all kinds of trees, lots of natural wildlife like black squirrels and birds and so many new varieties of flowers that I have never seen. There is also a lot of amazing architecture here, many many high rises and of course the CN Tower and the twin curving towers of city hall. Below is today’s poem dear readers, hope you enjoy it!
Reach Out and Touch The World
Strike forth and do not let your heart or mind grow still
your hopes and dreams are what your soul wills
cross the world because all of it is your home
love all the souls on earth and they won’t let you be alone
I left my home when I was still part boy part man
left all that I loved, gave up all my plans
but somehow this path led me to the one
with her, life is now joy and full of love and fun
I try now to move the world with words
and I find so much joy in sunshine and trees and birds
and a dear friend is showing me the way
to love these things and still have it all one day
there is a world out there that longs and waits for you
perhaps even a love so beautiful and true
but it will not find you by breaking down your door
it might just be found in crashing waves by the seashore
we all need to do this, leave home now and then
never worry that you won’t find your way back again
if you don’t go you won’t ever know if there was a better way
or if that perfect love you haven’t found yet will come to you some day
I sit now writing poems of my love
and thank the god that he is our creator up above
because he gave all of us the precious gift of you
you, dear reader, with a heart full of love and peace so true
no, I don’t have to know your name
because the truth is we are all the same
we want to care for and love those that are near
and live our lives without any fear
love and the wish for peace is something we all share
despite the different burdens that everyone bears
work hard, stay humble, experience the happiness
and know that if you are not lonely you are richly blessed
August 2, 2015