THIS IS A PHOTO FROM SACRED HEART CHURCH OF THE FIRST PEOPLES, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WHERE I TRY TO ATTEND MASS EVERY SUNDAY
Many things in life can be a transition. When we finish high school and either get going with a job or a relationship or College, we go through the transition of leaving our parents’ home and starting out on our own. When we meet someone and either get married or just take the step of moving in with them, we go through a transition that can shake the foundation of our relationship or cement it into something that will last a lifetime. The transitions I most want to talk about today is what a person with a mental illness goes through in different situations.
The first transition may be the most difficult one. You are young, you are healthy, maybe you are happy, maybe you aren’t. And then all of a sudden you hear a voice in your head that tells you something disturbing or you start to have delusions that you are something you are not. Delusions can be anything. I don’t always feel comfortable talking about mine, but I will share some of them here. One delusion I had once was that I was soon to become King of England. This seems absolutely preposterous, but in small increments with what was going on in my head it made sense. First off I was deluded into thinking that I had some kind of great wealth. I owned companies, land, I had held offices that were paid jobs that I simply managed by telling people that I was in a meeting or at a conference. Somehow all of these things came together to make me feel I was wealthy for some reason. Then there was the book. My Dad has a book from Denmark that was researched about our family. It traces my blood lines back all the way to the twelfth century, it looks amazing, the cover is hand-carved wood and most of it is in Danish. My mentally ill mind put these things together and then hallucinated news reports that the Queen of England was finally stepping down and that the ‘book’ told of Kings and Queens in my past and there you have it. Incredibly far from the truth, but very real nonetheless. I ended up going to the hospital willingly after reports from my Doctor, my parents, and I am sure others that I had gone completely out of my mind. The transition of going into the hospital was a difficult one. I had to get on medication and give it time to work. It took months because my Doctor labelled me as ‘difficult to treat’. Basically, I got sick of him, requested a different Doctor and called him incompetent. Let me warn you that it can be extremely problematic to poke a hole in a Doctor’s ego.
So the next transition that I speak of is the one of going into the hospital. I had such a hard time existing in that place. I was a heavy smoker and we were only allowed to smoke during the day. At night there was no way to access the smoking room. This seemed cruel and unusual, but I guess it is even worse now because the hospital has become a non-smoking institution. Smoking is a big thing for psychiatric patients, our bodies react to cigarette smoke in similar ways that we react to medications. It stabilizes our thoughts. I have strong memories of getting up in that hospital ward and having horrible hallucinatory delusions that got a little better with each smoke I had. First off the TV was talking to me and was very grim, then after a smoke it got a little better and so on. I suppose this was a transition from relative insanity to relative stability. But the really difficult transition was in going from my comfortable little apartment where I felt comfortable and could have coffee or cigarettes any time I wanted to being under extremely strict rules. Another thing that was hard to adjust to was to having to live not just according to a written set of rules, but to the rules of each individual staff member while my a$%hole Doctor had told them to put me into isolation at any time they felt like it. I would get so angry in there, scream and kick at the door and do things like pee in the bottle they left in there for me and then try and throw the waste under the door so the person watching me would be standing in it. It was the worst. But deep down inside I kept telling myself that one day this would end, one day things would get better. I thank heaven that the emotional scars of those experiences weren’t so bad that they torment me with bad memories and dreams each day as some of my first hospital experiences did.
The transition I really want to talk about is perhaps the most important one. It is the transition of leaving the protection of the hospital, going back out on your own or at least to a place outside the hospital. In the past I have moved into places that were obviously there to take advantage of mental patients and the tiny incomes they get from disability benefits. I was in a house for three months where the rules were ridiculous, the landlady picked favorites and treated everyone else like shit, not even giving them enough food to survive on and screamed in your face any time she felt like it. Although I knew it would most likely lead to poor mental health, I tried to move into a private apartment after that one. The cycle would have started out with me getting off a regular schedule, isolating myself, and then literally wanting to go back to the hospital just to ease the loneliness and depression. But instead I was very lucky and I ended up in the group home I live in now. It is run by a company called E4C, or “Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation” and is such a great place to live. I am in a house I share with just two roommates, and it is a 5 bedroom house and I live in the master bedroom. There is a weight set in the basement, we have free digital cable TV, there is a park nearby and the neighbors around us are awesome and we all take turns cooking suppers and the food is actually really good. I have clashes sometimes with the staff or other people living here, but they are soon settled. There is something I really have to watch in myself that was spoken about very well not only in a 12-step group I once attended, but also talked about in a sermon by a TV preacher Dr. Charles Stanley, one of the better ones of that group of preachers. It is called H.A.L.T. basically, you have to be very careful of your actions, and if you want to avoid making poor decisions, watch out for when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I find it is usually under circumstances like these when I get a bit angry at my roommates or staff members. Anyhow, I think I will leave you my dear readers at that. I think the last thing I want to say is that going through the transition of leaving the hospital can be a rough one, but if you can find a place where you feel you belong, where you feel a sense of community and self-worth, either by volunteering or by working with people you like doing things you like, and if you faithfully take your medications, you will get through and hopefully not ever feel so bad that you either want to go back in the hospital or do something drastic. I think I have boiled it down to a few key things: medications-on time. Exercise-a half hour a day so you feel better and sleep better. Meals-healthy and don’t miss any, and also try to eat healthy snacks like fruit if you must snack in between, and try to get eight hours or even a little more sleep than that each day. Best wishes and email any time. firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS PHOTO IS FROM LAST SUMMER AT THE ZOO IN EDMONTON. THOUGH I LOVE TO PHOTOGRAPH ANIMALS, IT OFTEN MAKES ME SAD TO SEE THEM IN CAPTIVITY