mental illness

Isolation: All of us Need Friends and Caring People, Especially People With Schizophrenia, Depression and Bipolar Disorder

This is a photo of me and one of my best friends ever, Glen. This was one of the last times I saw him, Glen was in a nursing home and was in the final stages of MS. When we were kids, Glen was the most athletic guy, we would play tag games where the boundaries of our play area including a school that we would climb from ground level and chase each other like we were on something. When Glen got MS, his wife left him and took his two kids. I can’t imagine what he went through.

In my life I have been blessed with many friends, but not always the best resources to keep them as my friend. I live alone now but I don’t feel lonely. I have developed a lot of strategies to get me through the tough times. I often wonder if I could just cave in and let anyone be my roommate or move in with some love interest. It is a bit scary to think about, but now that I am 50, I am resigned to my present situation.

One of the things I do to cope is that I try not to have too much spare time, and when I do, I like to phone friends and talk for a long time. If I’m on the phone and another friend calls, I patch them all together and have a conference call. I have relied on phoning friends for a long time. In the first months of living on my own (I previously lived in a group home) I called my friend who lives out of town for at least 120 minutes a day. Fortunately the long distance rates were flat for anywhere in Canada.

I have heard of people using a method to combat loneliness and ‘cabin fever’ by writing letters. This isn’t such a bad idea, especially if you have family overseas. You could write emails in rotation to people you know who are on the Internet, and then write letters. It helps brighten a person’s day a lot to get a handwritten letter and emails from friends are always welcome. Another thing I do is that when I have a day when I am home alone, I do a lot of Internet searches for work in my field. I might look up the faculty of a University and write to the Professors to ask if they want me to give a Zoom talk to their students regarding mental health. I add in trying to sell them a few of my books, politely and in a professional manner. I also do searches for magazines or periodicals of any type about ideas I have to write articles. There are many things you can do along the lines of that, let’s say you like making bead jewelry. You could look up videos that will teach you new ways of beading, you could take some time to figure out how to make an online store and then you can find groups on Facebook that focus on beading and spend even more time looking for free ways to advertise, say by putting pictures of what you bead on Instagram and Twitter.

One thing I want to warn my readers about. Living alone can have benefits, but it can also be extremely stressful. I recall a few years ago having an apartment and not working. I wasn’t keeping in touch with anyone and the loneliness really started to get to me. If you ever feel this way, do your best to talk to your doctor, get an appointment for as soon as you can. If you can afford it, try and get set up with telephone counselling over the phone. Anther idea is to creatively use the Internet to find support groups in your area that you can attend as soon as possible. I always recommend The Schizophrenia Society first if you have one in your area because they do so much good and can take a person through the cycle of recovery and stay very supportive. When I was in this bad situation, I ended up calling the psychiatric hospital. The person on the phone was very helpful, she said that I could go to the hospital, but there was no guarantee it would make me any better off than I was then. This really made me pull up my bootstraps and soldier on into dealing with my illness. The main problem was loneliness which was causing depression. It didn’t make sense at the time to just treat the depression, but that was what had to happen until I got feeling better.

Something I want to note here is that it can be very tempting to let someone move into your apartment. In fact, a lot of major cities have roommate services and some ad newspapers like Kijiji have listings for roommates. I want to warn everyone that a bad roommate is worse than even being in the hospital. You need to make sure you know the person, it is best if they are family or someone you went to school with or knew for years. I had a very brief relationship with a young woman once and a few days later she called to ask if I could house her friend for a few days. A few days turned to weeks, and one friend turned into a dozen. Soon they had eaten everything I had and decided that I should continue to feed them. The result was one of the worst experiences of my life. My phone bill got run up to $800. People were doing drugs and drug deals and I found no peace until they left, at which time they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. I never got one penny of rent from any of them and they told something so precious that was a gift from my now-departed mother that I could never forgive them.

So what is the solution? I should mention before I move on here that I saw a situation where some people thought it would be cheaper to co-rent an apartment rather than live in a partially supervised house. The place was carnage. There was some little asshole going around threatening violence to everyone while he wore his hat sideways and made a lot of gestures with his pinkie and thumb. Eventually I think they all got evicted and lost most of their stuff.

So, I wanted to give a solution. Many people are lucky enough to have loving, caring parents who are willing to support them and let them live at home, especially if they have a mental illness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, my advice is to volunteer to pay them and do as much work for them around the house as you can. Myself, I had to leave at age 18 and it made it just about impossible for me to get an education or live in a halfway decent neighbourhood. It was so hard to deal with the stress of working and I was still isolated.

So, what I recommend is getting a roommate. Try not to let in anyone under 25 and even then look for a number of red flags and when you see one, terminate the deal. They should only ever drink moderately, it helps if they are in a stable relationship, they should have a regular job even if they have a mental illness and are on disability. A volunteer job is great. Regular meetings and revising of the rules, which you should have written out and posted (no drunk friends, only your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner can stay the night and no long-term house guests). Certain chores will rotate and should be done on particular days. Write everything down. and also be realistic about food and expenses. I once had a roommate move in and he was using my towel after his showers without washing it and he smoked more of my cigarettes than I did. We tried to work out a deal for me to shop and then share the cost of food, but it never worked from day one. Food should be separate if at all possible.

I once had a doctor give me a great idea. She said I should go to the University and put up a posting on a bulletin board for a psychology student to share an apartment. The idea was that they would be free support and possibly even free therapy.

Well dear Readers, I hope you learned a bit from my blog today. Keep in touch!

Leif Gregersen

Help Me: I Have Schizophrenia and I Have Slept Most of My Adult Life Away!

Hello Good Readers! I hope the topic for today grabbed you because it is something that I have encountered a lot and also something that has affected my life personally.

I think back now and then to when I first was diagnosed and felt bad about my situation. I had few friends, many times didn’t even have a phone, and had very little to do because I was constantly broke. It seems such a shame when I look back at how people used to be penalized for working for necessary items like food and clothing, driving them to isolate as I had.

The building I lived in wasn’t the best, and to stop people from buzzing my intercom at all hours of the day and night, I disconnected it. Sometimes I would go for days without leaving the apartment. I am lucky though that through all the worst of it, my parents would still visit. That was what kept me going.

Last night I watched the movie, “Pride and Prejudice” based on the novel by Jane Austen. It was a wonderful throw-back to Victorian times and I greatly enjoyed it. But in some ways I saw how some things haven’t changed. It still seems that for a male to be attractive and a ‘good prospect’ they have to have a large sum of money, and it is better if it is family money. I say this because when I was 21 and living on my own, I wasn’t a bad-looking person by any means, but I sure was down and out when it came to money. Now that I am a lot more financially stable, wear better clothes, have direction and purpose in my life I get a lot more serious offers from females.

All that aside though, I wanted to talk about my sleep patterns. One of the most important things for me in life is to not waste the precious time I have. I was reminded of how much time has gone by the other day looking at a list of people I knew and counting off how many of them have passed away, including every last one of my uncles and aunts and my mom. Considering that in that time I went to only the funeral for one aunt here in Canada and a thing we had for my mom, it really seems like I have let myself get out of synch with the rest of the world, and I blame situations when I let myself sleep for days.

One of the ways I have tried to deal with excessive sleep is to take my medications at their set times of day, every day. I used to just take them when I was tired, sleep all I could, then take the morning ones whenever I got up. This was extremely detrimental to my mental and physical health.

One of the reasons I sleep for days sometimes, even now, is that I find it is one of the best ways I have to deal with stress. What I used to do often was to take vitamin B complex and a multi-vitamin and have a nap. Perhaps because of the daily use of these vitamins, their effect has lessened. Another great thing to do is to take some magnesium, I prefer a powdered kind that you mix up in a glass or mug first with hot water to dissolve the powder, then with cold water so you can drink it.

I find if I can get an early sleep I will almost always wake up on time to take my morning pills, which I have set at 5 o’clock am. My main problem is that after taking these, if I have nothing to do I will go back to sleep until around noon. Today I tried to do things a little differently, I woke up, took my pills, then walked about 5 km to a mall in the North End of the City. When I got back though, I was so tired I passed out and even had to cancel a meet-up with my dad because of it.

I don’t think that people with mental illnesses are lazy. Actually, I am pretty sure they aren’t. But a lot of them give up on life and stop trying to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and by opposing end them.” -Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, William Shakespeare. But I urge all of you to keep trying. “Do not go gentle in that good night!” -Dylan Thomas from his famous Villanelle of the same title.

One of the best ways to combat laziness is simply to start working out. I don’t suggest you spend a fortune and join an expensive gym. I do suggest that perhaps you could pick up some dumbbells at Walmart that weigh five or ten pounds and do some Youtube research on how to get a good workout out of lower weights. Once you start to feel better, after you have exercised for a few weeks, your whole life will change, you will feel better in every way. What I suggest next is to buy a quality bicycle for as little as you are able to spend and still get a quality machine. You can look through places like Kijiji and Craigslist for these. Start out by finding flat, easy routes to take. Build up to tougher stuff, the important thing is to just find ways to keep your legs moving for 15 minutes or more. The great thing about a bike is that when you get tired you can gear down and just coast, and you get the joy of being out in the fresh air. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat laziness, and the more fresh air, sunshine and exercise you get, the better your quality of sleep will be.

Another thing you can do is to see about getting discount fitness memberships from the city you live in as I do, or to get a membership for the YMCA. Of course, the hardest thing is finding the money, so many people with poor mental health are living on supports or a disability pension. For many, getting into shape can mean feeling healthy enough to get a part-time job. One of the key things to remember is to not waste your time and not waste your money. Some people may say that you should just go out and get any job, which can work sometimes. I used to go out and just get any job then put in resumes to places I would prefer to work at. This worked well, but I think the way things are going I don’t need to recommend people get just any job, what I recommend is that people contact their local volunteer network (or whatever yours is called) and ask for the specific type of job you most want to do. If you want to be a teacher, volunteer to teach English as a Second Language. If you want to program computers, ask to work for a charity that teaches computer literacy.

There is really a lot of wonderful things out there in this world of ours. Beautiful experiences like travel, companionship, music, and so much more. But before many people with mental illnesses can experience these things and see the beauty and joy in their lives, they need to push themselves a little to get up, to do as a good friend once said (Phil- forget his last name) “Face the day or live the night.” Just be sure that whatever you do, that you don’t take on too much. And though it can affect your sleeping pattern all week, sometimes it isn’t a sin to sleep in some on the weekend. Two last things I wanted to mention is, when I am too wired up to sleep, I take a hot, hot bath with lots of Epsom salts in it and when I go to bed after I’m asleep when my head hits the pillow. The other thing is that I try not to drink anything with caffeine in it past about 6:00pm, then I take my medications between 10-11, sleep until 5:00am, take my morning meds then sleep an hour or so and then do whatever it takes to get my moving, including exercise and copious amounts of coffee and tea.

All the best Dear Readers!

Author Interview With University of Alberta Hospital Doctors (Grand Rounds) Regarding Mental Health

Hello good readers. I will most likely make a full, regular blog tomorrow evening, I just wanted to give you all a chance to have a look at a video made of an interview I was in on the 6th of April, 2022. Click the link here: https://youtu.be/J9ocWcunFg0 and I hope you enjoy, even if you just want to see how silly my voice sounds and what my un-tanned, bald talking head looks like. 🙂

The Importance Of Relaxation and Sleep When You Have a Chronic Mental Illness Such As Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder

I thought today’s photo might be relevant, especially since Spring and of course Summer are coming and one of the best ways to feel relaxed is to get out and enjoy some outdoor sports. A psychologist once told me that she was very glad I worked out because our physical selves are such an important part of who we are. When you get regular exercise, including kayaking, you look better, feel better, and are able to deal with stress better. Not to mention that exercise is one of the best insurance policies against getting lazy.

Before I get too much further into today’s blog, I wanted to mention once again (and if you are reading this from my website you will be able to see above this) that I am having a National Public Reading next Wednesday. This is your time to interact with me one on one, listen to stories from my book “Through the Withering Storm” and ask questions, and even order signed books if you like.

Yesterday, I was feeling stressed and had a lot on my mind. One of the things a person can do that is supposed to help with stress is to take B-vitamins. These are supposed to replace what you lose in your body when you are under stress. I recall when I was on just the odd vitamin here and there that taking a B-vitamin and having a nap was a great way to deal with things. Now, I actually take more vitamins than I take medications and it is hard to tell what the B-vitamins are doing. I am considering not taking the B-vitamins for a few weeks to see how I feel.

So, about yesterday–I have been so busy lately, as some of you may know by not getting blogs from me as much as usual. So I poured a hot bath–a hot, hot bath. It was so hot I stepped in and thought I was going to have to cool it down before I sat down in it. I didn’t, and I added in a few handfuls of Epsom salts. These are amazing, my former family doctor recommended them once for haemorrhoids and it has worked better than any other remedy I have used (don’t laugh, those things hurt–you get them from sitting on cold benches in the winter or when you have a lot of diarrhea sometimes. My medications used to give me the diarrhea which I changed by adding more fibre and cheese to my diet). One of the other reasons I wanted to put Epsom salts in my bath, aside from knowing that it was a great help for sore muscles, was that relaxation tanks that people pay big bucks to float in while in darkness, have a ton of the same salts in them.

So anyhow, I had a nice long bath, cleaned myself and then rinsed out the tub and I was still hot and sweaty when I got dressed. I decided to just lay down and the amount of relaxation I experienced was intense. After laying there for just a few minutes, I drifted off into the most relaxing sleep I have ever had and an hour went by with sweet dreams. If I didn’t have dry skin I would take a hot bath like that every night before bed. It works better than any of the pills I take to help me sleep.

One of the problems I have is possibly due to the bipolar disorder part of my schizoaffective disorder illness. I wake up and I have a very hard time not falling back asleep, always have experienced this. It has become an issue in my adulthood, especially back when I used to smoke. I have set more than one mattress on fire waking up and lighting up a cigarette and then falling back asleep. So I strongly urge you if you smoke, not to smoke in bed. I would also really like it if you could somehow quit, and perhaps I should dedicate an upcoming blog to how I was able to quit after an intense 18-year habit. So anyways, now that I don’t smoke, my big problem waking up is that I will make a coffee or tea and bring it back to bed with me and then fall asleep before I can drink it, and when I wake up and am able to drink it, it is sitting at my bedside, cold as anything.

The flip side of it is that by the time the evening comes around, I find it very hard to relax enough to go to sleep. I have tried meditation, self-hypnosis, medication, and so many things. What I have learned is that it is very important to listen to your body’s subtle rhythms. Watch out for any caffeine intake after say 5:30pm. Make sure you have gotten plenty of fresh air and exercise each day. Make sure you always have clean sheets, and wear whatever you consider to be pyjamas. I used to like wearing pyjamas until I found a very comfortable pair of sweat pants/track pants that I use along with a t-shirt. Another thing is that you should keep your bed only for sleeping and sex. For some reason when you bring your tablet or laptop or book to bed and read or work or do anything like that, you forget how to switch off your brain. I have also learned that screen time should be reduced a few hours before bed, not always possible when you are a writer.

There is so much more to relaxation that I want to cover. One thing I think I should make sure and mention is that I don’t think it is good to rely on medications like Ativan to help you relax. When I took it, I found myself getting addicted to it and it left me too groggy. I would often take it and then have a long nap. Naps are great, they feel wonderful, but they should be kept to a bare minimum. The more of a nap you have during the day, the harder it will be to sleep at night.

Well, dear readers, I will leave things off at that. Please feel free to leave a comment, I always love to hear from you folks. If anyone has downloaded and read my book “Alert and Oriented x3” I would really like if you could put a review on Amazon.com for me. Looking forward to meeting some of you in my upcoming reading, please do take care and remember all of you that you are loved.

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!