mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strange Thing a Person With Schizophrenia and Bipolar Dreams of While War Rages On in The Ukraine

Be Sure To Read the Last Paragraph to Learn How to Control Your Dreams

Cold War Dreaming:

Good morning readers. It is 5:25 am and I just woke up. As per usual, I had a disturbing dream. This one was interesting though, so I thought I would share it in the hopes that someone with knowledge of dream meanings could give me feedback

First of all, during the Cold War that ended when the Soviet Folded, I used to have a lot of bad dreams. Now, whenever a war flares up that relates to Canada, I get ‘War’ dreams, and this morning was no exception.

I forget how some of the dream started, but it seemed I was in a class of some sort. It was near the now reclaimed land our municipal airport used to sit on. They are building houses there and there is an aviation museum and gathering place for large sales and such. In the dream, for some reason, my teacher was laughing and joking about small planes. I kind of took offence to this having been formerly a student pilot who loved flying small planes. She then said something to the effect that she only thought it was funny because it was so rare to hear them overhead.

So Now the Critical Part of the Dream Came

I dreamed about a jet plane. Not just any jet plane, but an old Korean War era jet. My old Air Cadet Squadron used to have one, or a shell of one as a monument, with our squadron numbers on it. I start to realize I am dreaming when I see jets in my dreams. My Dad told me that when Denmark was enslaved by the Nazis in WWII, the sky went dark with planes overhead. So now when I dream about WWIII, I dream about planes. But now there was just one.

As the teacher or group leader said, it was rare to see a plane there, so I took careful notice of this jet. The pilot flew past where I was, then flew past us really low. I could see that he was missing part of a wing and was in trouble. Still, somehow, the pilot was able to come in for what looked like a smooth landing, and then did a touch and go. This is when your wheels touch the runway, but you add power and take off again. The plane then circled around and crashed right in front of me without exploding.

This is where curiosity got the best of me and, knowing he was dead, I went to look at the pilot. He was still moving a little, but after the way his plane crashed, I knew he was dead. Other people from the class came to look too, and I tried to shoo them away. Then there was my bully from junior high. He was much taller and larger from me and from experience I knew he was mean and aggressive. But I did everything I could to keep him from seeing the body, even locking him in the classroom and running around to make sure he did exit another way.

All this may seem just a little strange, but I am thinking that of course, once again I am afraid of a global war, that is obvious. But I am also thinking I am having problems with self-esteem and the loss of my Mom. I think the dead body was partly a symbol of the last moments I spent with my Mom when she was taken off life support. I didn’t want the bully to see because it was a personal, family thing (even if I still considered him a pilot-pilots are a very cliquish bunch).

Taking Charge of Your Dreaming

I would encourage my readers to write down their dreams and if they have a psychiatrist, to talk about some of the more vivid or upsetting ones. As per usual, I also suggest people keep a journal, which is a great place to keep dream content, and that they write down everything they want to discuss with their doctor when they see them and, if they are unable to talk about anything, at least give your doctor the note. The funny thing is, once I was a formal patient for 6 months in a psych hospital, and one day I went to the computer room, typed up a list of what I wanted from my doctor, then printed it up and the doctor for some reason was very amazed that I was able to use a computer and printer and even asked for a copy of the note to show my nursing staff. Though I had a very tough go of things that hospital visit, after I saw that doctor it was few short weeks until I was able to leave.

I just want to say one last thing about dreaming. I learned once that if you want to control your dreams, fly and all that, all you have to do is ask yourself five times a day, “Am I dreaming?” Soon you will be able to tell whether you are dreaming just by using your senses. As that happens, you will be able to take control of your dreams because asking yourself that will increase your dream awareness.

Write To Change the World

Hello Dear Readers! Not a whole lot to say today. I have been putting some poems and writing on Medium if anyone wants to check it out. I also had kind of a cool thing happen today, I had an article published in “The Ottawa Citizen” I will put a link to my article below, be great if anyone had any questions or comments for me, you can always reach me at viking3082000@yahoo.com

Link to my mental health/refugee article by clicking this text

Friendships, Family and Romantic Relationships When You Have a Diagnosis of Psychosis, Bipolar Disorder or Depression

So this is a photo of me and my best friend, Richard Van Camp. Richard is such an amazing guy, he is a writer as well and his first book was made into a major feature film with Benjamin Bratt (Julia Roberts used to date him) and some amazing young actors. Richard is such a kind and funny guy. During the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet up much but Richard and I keep our friendship strong, me by coming by his place to sit on the cold patio and chat, and him by bringing me things like boxes of books he came across or even a breakfast from a fast food chain which I eat in my parking lot while we talk.

It is such an important thing to have a friend, but when you have an illness, it is almost essential to do your best to have a few friends. Even those we are close to can feel pressured when we call them too much or constantly seem to be in crisis. Something another friend suggested for me was that I get a counsellor and talk with them only about all of my angst and emotions and save the fun times for my friends and family.

This can work, but still I find myself telling friends about my tough times. What I feel is important is to circulate through friendships (with Covid-19 all of these seem to be over the phone). I have six or seven friends that I will talk to for ten or twenty minutes here and there, aside from when we get together. During the pandemic, in cold weather, get-togethers can be difficult. I suggest to most people that they should try and involve themselves in winter sports when they can. Skating, ice hockey, skiing, cross-country skiing. These will not only get you out, but if you make an effort and prove to people you can be a trustworthy, solid friend, you can also meet people.

A lot of people with mental health conditions have trouble meeting people. This is such a shame because this can lead to loneliness and depression which can lead to self-harm and hospitalization. Then you are in the hospital and your mood is lifted and some may accuse you of malingering. The other negative part of this is that it really isn’t a good idea to meet friends in the hospital, even though you may have a lot in common with them. I have heard doctors declare this and a nurse say she has seen a lot of people continue friendships outside of the hospital and get ripped off and there is nothing the people in the hospital can do. I am sure there are other reasons. In my own case, I left the hospital, was dating someone from the hospital and she became very ill soon after being discharged and thought that I had stolen from her and that the book I wrote was actually her story that I had taken from her somehow.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do if you are depressed and lonely. First of all, I always will recommend people see their doctor. I had a long bout of depression that only ended when I got onto an anti-depressant that worked for me. When I was feeling better, I was able to get out more and meet more people. The last place I want to meet people would be a bar. So many people in bars have messed up lives either through alcohol or drugs or many horrible things. I suggest getting a volunteer or part-time job. I am so fortunate to be able to work for the Schizophrenia Society and to make a little money which is allowed with my disability pension. Check with a social worker if you are getting benefits, there are often limits on what people are allowed to make.

Another great way to meet people where alcohol or cheap sex isn’t as serious an issue is to go to poetry readings and story slams. I used to read a lot of poetry in cafes and such, and I have actually won cash money in a few story slam competitions. Not only that, I met some pretty amazing people.

While you are in the process of working, try and find a way to either finish school or upgrade to something you feel you may enjoy more than your previous field. You will meet people at your new school and education is never wasted, even if you decide later you want to drop out. I took a series of courses through my library that were free and it allowed me to get jobs writing and teaching writing and it literally changed my life. Before that, I went to finish my high school (30 years ago) I met a young woman who became my other best friend who I have been able to be close to for most of my life.

Relationships take work. Family relationships may not be as difficult, though many people rebel in their teens. I certainly did, but eventually my dad and I found peace and he is such a great listener and support for me. I also have a brother, a sister and a few cousins who I know will be there for me no matter what. Friends are the next level up. We have to cultivate our friendships in many of the same ways we do with romantic relationships. I think one of the big things is that it is important to be equal with regards to money. Try to pay for things you and your friend do at least half the time. Surprise a friend with something you know they like, like a chocolate ice cream cone.

Then we have romantic relationships. I am about the worst person in the world to write about this topic, but it basically starts out trying to meet someone who is intellectually equal, stable and someone you are attracted to and hope you are the same for them. There is no shame at all in trying online dating sites, though many of the free ones are only set up for one-night sexual conquests.

I always used to tell a friend that he was lonely because he didn’t do enough, and I stand by what I said (in his case) I really feel that if you do interesting things, find interesting ways to better yourself like taking extended budget trips or volunteering for Greenpeace, then you will have something to talk to your friends and potential life partner about.

Well Dear Readers. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to click on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge at right to download a copy of my latest book (if you don’t see it on your newsletter, please navigate to the website at www.edmontonwriter.com and do so). I also encourage you to save a copy of the link

You can also visit the page that has the link to my two online public readings by clicking on this text

The Last Barrier We Face: Self-Confidence When You Have a Chronic Mental Illness Like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder Or Social Anxiety Disorder

Hello Dear Readers! Before I get into today’s topic I wanted everyone, especially those of you who get this blog emailed to you, to know that they can download a free copy of my latest book in PDF format by visiting my website www.edmontonwriter.com and clicking on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge. I also want to thank you for taking note of the date and the Zoom link for my upcoming in-person readings online. Details in case you missed them at the below address:

https://bmcnews.org/story/leif-gregersen-to-host-two-online-readings

So, I wanted to talk a little bit about self-confidence. I feel it is a critical topic for people with mental health issues. Lack of self-confidence can lead to isolation, loneliness, putting off career and life goals and generally leave you in a much poorer state than you began. One of the ways self-confidence can be destroyed is through depression. Some years ago, I was put on Prozac and I found it helped with my self-confidence and made me able to do more, but there was still a long ways to go.

Prozac laid a foundation for me to do more, but if I isolated myself (I was not working for a long period of my recovery) I found that my social skills would rapidly decline. I would finally go out say for groceries, and I had a hard time looking people in the eye, I had to stumble and stutter through my sentences, and I only felt a sense of comfort when I was back alone in my apartment.

Right off the top, it should be apparent that if you let depression go untreated, and isolate on top of it, a tragic thing can happen. You can waste a large chunk of your life. There were about three years that went by for me where I accomplished little. Even when I did have a job it bothered me that I wasn’t helping anyone but myself, I felt bad that my family wasn’t around me and one paycheque I made the disastrous mistake of going out drinking and spending a whole paycheque on something that I shouldn’t do with medication.

Fortunately, over the years, I managed to stop drinking, and with prozac, my depression wasn’t as bad. Part of what I feel I owe my sobriety to was going to AA meetings as often as I possibly could, but after I got through a year I stopped going. Even though I had made some great friends there, I found that all too often the people in the meetings were a bad influence and that talking all the time about drinking wasn’t helping any of my other problems. I felt a lot better when I stopped going, but there was something I missed–the advantages–and there are many–of public speaking.

Fortunately, I got involved with The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta. They had me doing all kinds of public speaking and I also had a chance to set up support groups and wellness classes. A friend got me started on teaching writing and I haven’t looked back. I can proudly say that I now work in the same hospital where I was once a certified patient and the doctor who treated me very poorly sees me do it on a regular basis. 🙂

Finding a way to do public speaking isn’t easy. Public speaking isn’t easy. But it can be important to push your limits a little, and also to motivate yourself a little by taking classes or joining support groups. Even joining a library book club can help you to exercise your social muscles and make friends, and there is also opportunities in most communities to join the board of non-profits. I sat on the board of my community newspaper.

Now, I have a number of hobbies. I love retro video gaming. Photography gives me a chance to exercise my creative muscles and I love to write. So a lot of the things that I do help me socially. Teaching, giving talks about mental health–and this blog even! But that isn’t necessarily what I want my readers to do. What I want them to do is to ask themselves who they really are deep down, what moves them, what they are truly good at. I knew a young man who was struggling–it was a very unfortunate case, his mother was murdered and he had a mental illness. A kind neighbour decided to help him out and gave him a piano that fit in his room at the group home he lived in and when he played, not only would he give joy to the other people in the group home, he felt so much more fulfilled and was able to do so much more.

Again, I will talk about being in a group home. I was in one for nearly 15 years. I didn’t have a huge social circle, but I had the time and space I needed to do some serious healing, and then I started with taking classes in writing for free through my local library, and before I knew it I was on my own and able to partially support myself with my work. Being in the group home gave me friends who were there all the time, who I could talk to or ignore as I wished. There are very few ways to seem strange or be kicked out of a group home meant for people with mental illnesses. It was so great because they had good food, they taught me a lot about cooking and they often had outings to play pool or indoor soccer and they were really supportive. The only real shame is that so few group homes exist like that, but if you make the best of one, any group home can be a great way to transition to living on your own. I am so fortunate that the same agency that owned the group home had a spot in a subsidized apartment. Just as a side note, no matter what housing situation you are in, I strongly suggest you make an application for a subsidized apartment, even if the only ones you know of are a ways away. Most of these places have a waiting list, and if they are set up for people with mental health issues, they may include other supportive services. The group home I am in has an office and they help and support tenants, they have gatherings when the weather is good outside, and when the pandemic subsides (cross your fingers!) they will have coffee and snacks and indoor gatherings.

Just to go on a little further, I wanted to talk about the benefits of having a shower each day and keeping up with your laundry and general hygiene. This is not just so you don’t smell, it rejuvenates a person, gets them up and out of bed and primes them for the day. I also have to say that when your body and clothes are clean your self-confidence goes up, and when that goes up your depression goes down and you are more able to take social risks and make friends with others. Often what I do is have a shower at a nearby pool. If you like to swim or work out or play badminton or other sports, most communities have a YMCA or a city facility where you can get a reduced rate if you are low-income. This can be very beneficial. Another thing I wanted to mention is that I often have a lot of trouble sleeping and I have found that if I take a hot hot bath before bed, then rinse myself off with the shower head, I drift off to sleep so easily and wake up feeling energized.

Another aspect of self-confidence can depend on your medication. It is tragic that many people don’t pursue a partnership romantic relationship with someone because their hands shake or they are unable to perform sexually because of medications. Talk to your doctor about these things, but don’t just stop taking the pills you believe prevent you from those experiences. I don’t really know if I am in any way qualified to talk about relationships as I only have had one girlfriend in my life, but in a way that is a positive thing. I am still friends with this person who I met 30 years ago and it is so important to have someone you can talk to about anything at any time and who will support you unconditionally. A few years back I was in the hospital with severe psychosis and this person called the hospital and said she was my sister–the hospital was only putting through family members–and we talked for a long time. That was the most memorable part of being in the hospital.

Well, good readers–I thank you for staying around this long and reading all this. Maybe I should talk a little more about relationships in coming blogs. I just want to leave you with two things. First, please download and read and share my book “Alert and Oriented x3” I made it for all of you, and please come to my virtual public reading made possible by The Writer’s Union of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. More information here: https://bmcnews.org/story/leif-gregersen-to-host-two-online-readings