mental health

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

Your Medication Works For Your Psychosis and Bipolar Disorder, But You Still Experience Depression. What Should You Do?

Hello Dear Readers! Before I get into today’s topic, I wanted to mention that soon I will be giving a National Public Reading from one of my memoir books and there will be a chance for you to ask any questions you have live with me. I will provide more details as the date comes closer for the talk.

Depression–it seems to be a problem that just about everyone with mental illness has. When I was a teen, I had such crippling depression that I didn’t have a girlfriend, never went to dances or other social events, and could often be found abusing alcohol as a coping mechanism. I should say right away that if you use alcohol to excess, or any drug, it is important for you to be able to talk about it. I suggest that if you have any of these problems that you find a good 12-step meeting to go to, even if you are at the moment unable to quit.

The next thing I would like to see my readers do if they experience depression is to write about it. It can be a very healing process to keep a journal about your feelings and moods. But don’t just write about it in a private journal you don’t show to anyone, write to your psychiatrist. Write them a note or a letter. If you don’t have an appointment soon, send them the letter (yes I know letters are almost things of the past, but they are a powerful tool for many people). If you write a short note detailing your depression and what you are experiencing, give it to your doctor when you see him or her next. There are many kinds of depression and many kinds of anti-depressants available, it is important that the doctor who treats you to know about your depression, he or she may be able to prescribe you something that could help.

The sad truth is, even if your new medication works, it may take some time. Don’t give up hope, and don’t stop taking the medication if you have some minor side effects. Often medications will have some side effects at first that you can adjust to over time, and during this time, the medication may begin to work.

I have been experiencing a few days of the blues lately. My doctor has looked at my medications and decided that I don’t need to keep taking my anti-depressant, they are actually just meant to be a stop-gap resource in most cases. It worries me that I will slip into my severe, debilitating depression, but there are some things I can still do.

One of the big things you can do if you have depression is simply to try and get more fresh air and exercise. Even though I have a bus pass that allows me unlimited travel, whenever I can, I make it a point to walk. Long walks give you fresh air and exercise, help you sleep better, and can elevate depression. There are many ways to exercise no matter what your current health situation. You can go to the pool and just dog-paddle, moving your arms and legs for fifteen minutes or so, then spending some luxurious time in a steam room or hot tub, alternating with cold showers.

Another thing you can look into (besides the 12-step meetings) is trying to get into therapy. I realize this can be an expense for my friends south of the border, but even though it may be difficult to pay for, a few sessions or even many sessions can help you progress and find ways to cope with thoughts and actions that depress you. Most therapists will work on a sliding scale, and if they won’t go low enough for you, tell them to keep sliding or contact a social services agency like Catholic Social Services who may have free counselling or be able to find you free counselling. And don’t delay, the sooner you start to open up about what bothers you, the sooner you will learn coping skills and feel better. And if you ever start to think of suicide, please pick up the phone.

In Canada help is available at 1(833)456-4566

In the USA, 1(800)784-2433 or 1(800)273-TALK(8255)

In the UK, 0800 689 5652

And of course, you can always reach out to me at my email, viking3082000@yahoo.com

All the best dear readers, stay healthy and know that you are loved!

Travel (Pandemic Allowing) When You Have A Psychiatric Disability and A Tiny Income

Travel is one of life’s great experiences. The hardest thing for me since the Pandemic began has been not to be able to travel. For so many who have mental illnesses, travel can be nearly impossible. I want to show you here how you can still do it.

The first thing I think you most need to be able to do is save. There is a short but information-packed book I have read many times on the subject of saving, investing and earning called “The Richest Man in Babylon.” I can’t guarantee it will make you rich overnight, but if you read it and follow the simple advice in it, you are guaranteed to be better off than if you don’t.

So, first you need to determine where you want to visit. Places that are overseas come with expensive airline tickets. Sometimes you may need to set aside money for your ticket as much as a year in advance. This is something I recommend and it has worked well for me travelling to Hawaii twice and to London, England once. I bought my ticket to London well in advance, keeping an eye on prices and seasons. I just wanted to visit the place, it didn’t matter what was going on so I managed a ticket for less than $1,000.00. By luck my trip turned out to be when England was celebrating the Queen’s 92nd birthday and there were a lot of events going on, a lot of flag waving and flowers being laid all over.

In the time between buying my ticket and leaving on the trip, something I did was watch as many Youtube videos as I could about London. I learned how to read their Underground (subway) map and picked out things I wanted to do, good places to eat and where to visit. I was even able to order my bus pass and a detailed paper map online. One of the other things that was key to me going on this trip was that I had a part-time job. I worked as a security guard for just a few hours a week, which wasn’t much, but it was a very easy job and the little extra money for savings made the difference for me.

When I got to London, instead of staying in a hotel, which could easily have cost $200 a night, I stayed in a Hostel, in a dorm room for I think around $60 a night after the exchange, which gave a free breakfast and had free wifi. Free wifi is key because with it, you can make free calls home. Not only that, but I was able to cook most of my meals in the Hostel and store food there rather than having to spend a fortune on restaurants.

I knew of a lot of the places I wanted to see, but after getting there, there were so many more things I want to get to next time. So many of the amazing sights and experiences in London were free. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, winding down in Trafalgar Square. Even most of the major museums and galleries were free to visit.

One of the key things I did was to restrict my activities to one per day. I also set a rule for myself that I wouldn’t spend more each day than I would at home. This meant returning home with a little extra money and the ability to not worry about working for a couple of days as travelling overseas can be exhausting.

I do want to caution something about customs. They can be a little tricky, especially with people with mental illnesses. During my trip home I was selected for secondary screening and the customs officer actually went through my medications one by one and also googled me, I guess to see if I was lying about my job or anything like that. If this happens to you, stay calm, explain your illness even if you feel it may look bad and above all be totally honest. You can’t get into trouble for having a mental illness, but you can get into trouble for lying and a lot of trouble if you are taking home contraband or more than your legal limit of products such as booze and cigarettes.

Lastly, if you are going to the US, remember that although it is legal in Canada, cannabis is illegal in the United States. Many states have legalized it but the US Federal Government hasn’t, and that is who pays the border guards down there. Don’t even bring a trace of marijuana or other drugs with you, they can turn you back, arrest you or fine you and generally ruin a hard-earned vacation.