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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Good day dear readers! If you would like to contact me, feel free. My email is email@example.com
I don’t know exactly why, but when I think of mental illness, pictures like the above one often come to mind. Sometimes I really envy birds, I have spent a lot of time watching them. As a boy, I don’t know if I was that obsessed with birds, but I certainly loved flying and I started from a young age. I was 12 when I first sat in the cockpit of a glider and I later went on to attend commercial pilot school for a while. It just seems sometimes that birds are so free and happy. They just have relatively simple brains and they constantly display incredible amounts of skill and grace as they cleave the air.
As far as psychosis goes, from what I am understanding, it most often comes on gradually. It starts in something called the prodromal phase where a milder mental illness exists and develops into psychosis. For me, it was both anxiety and depression. Some of this could have had to do with the abuse I was getting at home and at school, but my mom did suffer from severe depression, to the point of needing shock treatments. One of the biggest parts of the early phases of my mental illness was a feeling of not being worthy of happiness added to a severe case of anxiety that made it impossible for me to look people in the eye or talk to anyone without blushing. One of the worst parts of this was that I was very slow to learn how to relate to the opposite sex and never even had a girlfriend until I was 20 something.
At a certain point in my life, I think I was starting to get a handle on the anxiety, and I hadn’t had any severe depression for a while. I didn’t notice it, but I was starting to show signs of both bipolar and schizophrenia. Later as a formal patient in a psychiatric hospital, I recall two very esteemed doctors arguing as to whether I had bipolar or schizophrenia. Funny enough, I had both.
What having those two illnesses meant early on was that I had extreme highs and lows and later developed psychosis, which I will explain in a moment. As far as my bipolar went though, I have a recollection of being able to induce a manic or high phase of my illness by drinking alcohol. I was invited to one party at a friend’s house once and was laughing a little too loud, making a few too many jokes and displaying too much energy for anyone’s liking. One of the things I recall about the times when I didn’t have any friends and thus didn’t do any drinking, was that I thought drinking was the only true joy in my life. It was also a social lubricant and if I had a few drinks, I was much more likely to approach a woman to talk or ask her to dance or even start necking with her.
One of the things about Air Cadets was that, possibly because of what the real military was like, there was a huge drinking culture. I recall having a phase of social development where I went from wallflower to life of the party in a few short months, then after I quit cadets losing all of my chances to interact with and relate to women.
To go past this for a little while, I should talk about my psychosis. It is a funny thing to have and a difficult thing to explain. Basically, psychosis is when a person becomes out of touch with reality. In my own case, and I am sure in many from experience, psychosis starts out with delusions. These are thoughts, ideas and beliefs that kind of appear seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes they can take the form of a running commentary of what the person is doing. My false thoughts didn’t appear to be someone talking to me, everything was from inside my head. The next aspect of psychosis is hallucinations. These are sensory inputs (touch, taste, smell, hearing–they can come in the form of any of the five senses) that are false. Often in my case, my hallucinations backed up what my delusions were telling me. I remember spending a great deal of time once when I was in the psych hospital sitting and listening to the air conditioner. It made a sound like a drum roll and inside my head a dialogue was telling me that I was about to be awarded a medal for bravery, all I had to do was walk out of the TV room and claim it. Sometimes this would go on for hours, I would even sometimes go and look if anything was there.
Another time, I was on the psych ward and experiencing false ideas and sensory input and a group of student nurses came onto the ward. One of them kept telling me, “Your Limo is outside.” I am pretty sure she really said this, not because I really had a Limo, but because she understood a lot about psychosis and wanted to see how much she could mess with me. I found it actually very common to experience this sort of cruelty from staff members.
So we have delusions and hallucinations. The next part is a feeling of paranoia. Certainly not everyone who has schizophrenia experiences all of these or even has all the same symptoms. Even when I was taking my medication though, I sometimes felt like others wanted to harm me. This made it very hard to attend school, go to parties, even have a job or a social life.
The next part of psychosis (and I should mention there are a lot of illnesses that can possibly include psychosis, though schizophrenia with 1 in 100 people having it is one of the more common ones) is having a general susceptibility to the false ideas you are receiving. One of the interesting things about symptoms like this is the fact that some ideas that people with schizophrenia get are shared with a great deal of other people with schizophrenia. One is a spy agency planting a computer in your brain to track you and spy on you. Some people with schizophrenia will walk around with tin foil on their heads in public so they don’t transmit radio waves. What I remember is experiencing those false ideas and thoughts, and having hallucinations and tendency to believe them and thinking the most preposterous things. I desperately wanted to make sense of why the CIA wanted me dead and that a super model wanted me to steal a car I saw that supposedly had a million dollars in the trunk (thankfully I didn’t do any of the more extreme things) I made a lot of logical conclusions and reasoned things out and quite often the only explanations that made sense were ideas like aliens were communicating with me or such.
Psychosis sucks. It hurts those who experience it and it puts their family and friends over the brink of never wanting to talk to the sick person again, but it shouldn’t. It isn’t a choice people make, and the goal should be to get the person treatment, not to just get rid of them. When I look back at times when I had psychosis, I am amazed that my doctors were able to bring me back from the brink. I don’t necessarily like all the things I went through in the hospital, but it may have been the only place I could get the help I needed. I will never forget spending five months on the locked ward being thrown into solitary time and time again, weeks, months on end. I honestly feel it exacerbated my psychological health problems, which I believe to be PTSD. But now, 20 years later, my life is on track again. One of the worst things about mental illness is that not a lot of people know enough to help someone they know who is going through depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Seriously. Things. Need. To. Change.
drop me a line with some of your own stories like these or other feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
I remember when I first met the guy who became one of my few friends after I left the hospital. He was incredibly strange, he looked awkward and was very stuck up. One of the things I remember him doing was running up and down the hospital hallways in short bursts. One time, a nurse slighted him and he went on for hours about how he was going to look up the definition of a nurse in the library and photocopy it and put it where she could see it as revenge. Then, when I left the hospital I found out he lived just two blocks away and I ran into him now and then. One time he was carrying a bottle of milk and I asked him if I could have a sip and he gladly handed it over. It turned out that he had saved rotten milk in his fridge so he could fill a bottle with it and then take it back for a refund. I nearly threw up because of his desire to lie and cheat.
I ended up knowing this guy for a long time. It was hard to let go of friends when I was living marginalized and had few people to talk to. At one point I moved in with a roommate and he kept ending up sleeping on our floor, and being in the way most of the morning. If I didn’t give him permission, he would get permission from my roommate who he barely knew. I was soon ready to carry him off and put him in a dumpster. The bad incidents went on and on, and cumulated in him accusing me of backstabbing and cheating him when he was so clearly in the wrong it was obvious.
It wouldn’t be bad if this was an isolated incident, but this situation kept repeating itself. I had to come to realize that people in the hospital are seriously ill and not necessarily capable of forming a normal friendship. There was one guy who I really liked being friends with, I thought he was the end of the world. We had tons in common, had even been in the same Air Cadet Squadron. But he was a pathological liar. And man, did he tell some doozies. Every day I saw him he told me he had just had sex with another beautiful young woman. On and on he would talk about the money he had, from a farm he supposedly owned to millions of dollars he had made one way or another. He even promised me a job when I left the hospital. I left before him and was unable to contact him, which should have been a good thing. A couple of years later I met him at a camping trip sponsored by the building I lived in. All of a sudden, all the good times and good stories were back, and somehow I believed them.
It might not have been so bad that he was always lying about everything, but the problem was that he wanted to use his lies to control me. Near the end of our friendship, he had me convinced that he had gotten a lawyer to seize a vehicle from a guy that owed me money and that if it weren’t for the fact that I had slept in (I hadn’t) I would have been able to get a cheque for the full amount owed. I had no choice, I had to tell him the friendship was over. He actually tried to convince me that I had to go to a counsellor with him so we could talk about how we crossed each other’s boundaries. He actually thought somehow that by being friends with him we were married or that he owned me. The incidents went on.
It can be so hard to get through those long days in the hospital. I don’t disagree that people should have friends, but I think that you really shouldn’t meet people in the hospital that you continue to be friends with when you leave. There are so many better ways to meet people who will become real friends. I met a lot of people volunteering for my community newspaper. I met my best friend because I worked hard on and then sought help with a book I wrote. Another close friend was someone I simply cared a great deal for who I have been close with for 30 years and we talk every day. I also prefer the company of my family most of the time, the people who will really stick with you through tough times.
If you need a way to get through the long, boring days on a psychiatric ward, consider drawing, doing puzzles, playing board games. Fill up the time in any way you can, you will feel better and get better sooner. I was never any good at drawing until one day a fellow patient suggested I try drawing something, a picture of a tiger, and after a few minutes I was transported to a place where it didn’t matter that I was ill and that I didn’t like my surroundings.
Three times while I was in a psychiatric ward I found romantic partners and learned too late that not only were these people in a vulnerable state, but that soon after leaving the hospital they became ill again and it was literally living hell having a relationship with them.
Another thing I think is important to mention here is that your doctors and nurses are not your friends. You may like them a great deal, and there is nothing wrong with that, it actually may help you recover faster if you feel motivated to take professional advice. But you have to remember that these people are professionals who have strict ethics about how far they are allowed to let the doctor/nurse–patient relationship go. Don’t try and make friends with these people either. Friends mostly come from a shared interest in something, a unique ability to communicate with each other and mutual respect, along with good times. Though they may seem to be nice and treat you well, the sad reality is that they have to treat everyone well and a few years down the road these people will likely not even remember you, they just treat so many people.
I have seen exceptions to this rule, I actually really like my present psychiatrist. She has bought books I wrote and I have loaned her Canadian Poetry books as she is from Scotland and hasn’t experienced Canadian Poetry much. And my nurse/therapist I have known for 30 years and he is a truly exceptional and kind person. But this is in an ongoing clinical setting where I continue to see these people and will pretty much keep seeing them until they retire. I recall running into a former psychiatrist of mine who I had for years and who I had deep respect for. I asked him if since he was retired I could call him “Brian” and he simply said no. But at least he was kind enough to buy, read and write an introduction for one of my books. Sadly though, as much as I respect and admire him, we really aren’t friends.
In lieu of a photo (it is too cold in Edmonton to take photos!) please follow the link after today’s blog to read a poem I published in my community newspaper!
21 years ago, I went through an incredibly difficult time in my life. I was living in a tiny 10 foot by 15 foot apartment, full to the ceiling with furniture, books, clothes and the things I tried to save throughout my life and I started to allow more time to go by between Psychiatrist visits. I got him to call in my prescriptions, which I was taking. But it had been such a long time since I was ever ill. More time than I had ever gone before in good mental health since I had been diagnosed. I started thinking, “Well, what if I’m not mentally ill anymore.” and “What if my mental health problem is strictly due to a hormonal imbalance.” I was cautious, though not cautious enough. I decided to try lowering my depekane, which was what kept my moods stable. I thought it was doping me up and that I could reduce it and still stay sane. Over the next weeks and months, I kept getting into brushes with agencies trying to get me help, including the crisis team and the police. I was out of it and my parents knew, and they had been trying to get me help (I found out later that depekane has to reach a certain level in your blood to work properly and I was way below.) The worst part about mental illness is that not matter how sick you may be, you likely won’t realize it. Schizophrenia is odd though, sometimes it taunts you and tortures you with hallucinations and voices and you end up wanting to end it all.
I was so lucky to have family and friends that cared enough to help me even when I was on the verge of being dangerous. In the end, I was in such severe psychosis that I thought someone was trying to kill me and that they had placed a bomb in my apartment building. I screamed and kicked on every door trying to tell people to get out any way they could. The end result of that was that I was evicted and I spent the next 6 months in a psych hospital. I have very little bad to say about the staff there, except for one doctor and one nurse who had huge egos, and the nurse was incredibly cruel. To this day, I suspect that my doctor didn’t give me the medication that would get me better because I called him incompetent and asked for a different doctor.
So the lesson to be learned is, treat a mental illness as the most important thing in your life. Over time, with taking medications properly and consulting often with my doctors and therapists, eating a good diet and exercising, and above all, challenging myself to keep doing more things that push back anxiety (getting in front of crowds and giving speeches) and keep my brain sharp (puzzles, reading, taking ginkgo biloba) I am able to accomplish more than I ever thought I would have been able to. I wanted to put in this post a poem I wrote that was published in my community newspaper instead of a photo. As always, it would be great to hear from my readers! email@example.com
apologies dear readers, for some reason I was unable to copy and paste my poem into this field. Anyone who would like to read one of my better poems, please click on the link and check it out as it appeared in the Boyle-McCauley News
As I look out at a city full of new things: new cars, new transport trucks, shiny new buildings reaching for the heavens, sometimes I wonder what all this will be like in 100 years. Surprisingly, a lot of it depends on one simple thing, the price and value of oil. If no drastic new technologies take over (even electric cars are powered by energy made from burning coal) there will be thick, greasy smog over my beloved Edmonton. But then if oil takes a downturn and mankind gets over its addiction addiction to fossil fuels, the city would likely be a much poorer one, many of the buildings from this picture would be old, worn, dilapidated. Without oil, the Alberta economy would be in trouble. I feel bad about it, but sometimes when I wonder about the future, I don’t let it bother me or take too much of my time because I am fairly certain I won’t be alive in 100 years, and I don’t have any children. This philosophy can easily be related to mental illness.
Where will my mental health be 20 years from now then? Sometimes I don’t think I want to live even 20 more years, because in that time I may be put on another medication, say one for my heart or as a blood thinner that makes it impossible for my mental health medication to work and I really don’t want to have to go to a hospital, or a care home for the mentally ill.
One thing I can say about the future is that it promises a lot of things, even to those who take psychiatric medications. 32 years ago, when I was first locked in a psychiatric ward and forced to take medications, the state of medication and the conditions in psychiatric hospitals was much worse than it is now. I recall frequent violent acts committed against me while I was in the secure ward and there was no redress, no one to tell that you just had a former wrestler slam your head into a concrete floor. That is changing, at least in this part of the world. I can also say that medications have improved.
As all things have their exceptions, I should mention that two years ago I was put on a medication that was supposed to work better for me and improve my mental health and it actually made me very ill, experiencing psychosis. For a while I was determined that I had the right to sue, but I was later told that it is very difficult to sue a doctor or a hospital in Canada. And suing the pharmaceutical company would have been an exercise in futility. So what I did was write a book about it, which I titled, “Alert and Oriented x3” I started the book out with statements from family members and a close friend, then put in a glossary of psychiatric terms, essays, poetry I wrote in and out of the hospital, commentaries on my work as it appears, and even my actual clinical notes from my doctors and nurses. Anyone reading this can get a free copy by clicking on the photo to the right of this blog (the Tower Bridge photo) which will take you to the page where you can download and share a free PDF copy. Anyone who wants it in paperback can get it from me or from http://www.amazon.ca The big difference if you get it from me will be that you are supporting my efforts to reduce stigma and increase awareness surrounding mental illness.
Sorry, I have gone way off track. What I wanted to write about was ageing and mental illness. Some people say that those who have schizophrenia age well, and I have to say that at 50, I don’t look much different than I did at 35. But it has been a difficult past few years and it is starting to show. I was told that memory loss could be a side effect of taking sleeping pills, and that is the one thing that bothers me the most. The amazing thing though is that a person’s mind and body are so adaptable. I should mention here that I have adjusted to many of the side effects of the medications I take and it has allowed me to live a nearly normal life. Even my memory loss is becoming less of a problem as I continue to ‘work out’ my brain with things like Sudoko puzzles and memorizing my favourite poems. I also have been using lists and my calendar a lot so I don’t forget about appointments and such.
Some people are of the belief that mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar will peter out as they get older, but sadly from my research it doesn’t seem this is the case. What does seem to be the case is that people with these illnesses take poor care of themselves, and by the time they reach old age, there is so much wrong with them that mental health is the least of their worries. Personally I don’t want this to happen. I keep myself fit, mostly with walking and swimming, keep my brain active and make regular visits to an MD. One of the funny truths of the situation I refer to is that as we age, we are more likely to experience poor health if we aren’t married. There is so much to be said for companionship and love, and sharing your life with someone. I am not married, but I have female friends in my life who do care, and one of them, who was my first ever girlfriend some 30 years ago is still one of my best friends.
Well, I hope some of this rambling helps someone out there. For those of you who were awesome enough to follow my blog, expect more entries soon. I have decided that blogging is one of the few joys I have in my life that has the potential to help others. So write, comment, follow. I would love to hear feedback about my book. Connect with me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org