money

The Trap of Mental Illness and Disability Benefits: Do You Want To Risk It?

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               A View of Downtown Edmonton From Outside My New Apartment

     Hi, I wanted to talk a little about disability benefits today.  This is a senstive topic for many reasons.  One of the big ones, as I know a good deal of my readers are from the United States, is that people on Welfare or even Social Security Benefits are looked down upon.  The tax burden on Americans is great, plus the cost of health care and this ends up worsening the problem from both ends.  People with mental illnesses are faced with costs that can’t be managed for medications, hospital treatment, doctors, housing and on and on.  The way the American system seems to be set up to work is that each person is responsible for themselves, and when someone has a severe mental illness, this can be just about impossible.  I can recall being in the US and simply knowing a guy who applied for foodstamps and then discussing it with an older gentleman and he literally stopped talking to me after we had travelled together for 3 days.  It seemed a harsh judgement and pretty ignorant, but this is the way many people down there think and there are valid reasons for this attitude.  I feel very fortunate to live in Canada and to have a disability benefit program plus health care and on top of that I get heavily subsidized housing and free fitness and leisure access.  It almost seems like paradise, but it definitely has its drawbacks.  One of them is that if I do go out and get a job, I have to limit my income to less than a minimum wage job or lose my benefits completely.  With the cost of psychiatric medications this would be a staggering blow.  At the present point I’m at I don’t honestly know if I could hold down a full-time job for any length of time, but I also don’t want to live the rest of my life with no improvements in my standard of living.

Some 27 years ago I found myself in a homeless shelter, mentally ill and penniless due to prolonged hospital admissions.  There were very few options left for me and so I made an application to join the military.  This would have provided me health benefits, an income, and a purpose in my life.  My application process was interrupted by a fight with my dad that sent me to the shelter, and I decided that since I was working towards something that I could do something I thought was unthinkable-I would apply for welfare benefits.  I will never forget the words of the social worker when I applied, as she looked up from the forms she was filling out for me, “Don’t get caught in the trap.”  I think she meant more along the lines of the trap of drug abuse or alcoholism and circle of poverty.  But whatever she meant, due to my mental illness, I was never able to join the military, and I later failed a concerted attempt to complete commercial pilot school, and was unable to hold down a full-time job.  For me the trap wasn’t in getting money for nothing, it was in that every time I tried to do something, either I was told I was ineligible as a person with a mental illness, or that I would try and do a job set before me and the incredible pressure of working up to acceptable standards was simply too much.  I was caught in a trap, and in some ways I still am.

Things are improving in my life though, I have found a part-time job that I am good at and that I enjoy.  I give talks to students about mental illness for the Schizophrenia Society, and I have written a number of books.  The books give me little income, but together I manage to put food on the table.  One thing I often think about is that despite that numerous times I went over the brink into madness, I now have a good life with stable housing and income and something to do, but I have a lot of regret that I have no life partner.  This is another trap that people with mental illnesses have to be aware of, the isolation factor, and it has a lot to do with receiving benefits.  If you don’t have to force yourself to get up and get out and look for work, you may just sit inside and watch TV and never care if you have friends or a significant other, and years will fly past and a person will have nothing but regrets.  One of the reasons that people end up isolated like this besides recieving benefits is that there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness.  One thing with me is that I used to try and hide the fact that I have a diagnosed illness, but now I am very forward about it.  So many people, when you stop trying to hide things, will tell you they suffer, they have a family member or close friend that suffers.

Anyhow, a lot of that is beside the point I was trying to make.  How do you avoid the trap that going on benefits causes?  You may not be able to, but you can make your life as full as possible.  I always like to say that the first thing you need to do with a mentally ill person is get them proper treatment, proper medications.  Then you need to take some therapy that will help you understand yourself.  After that, a life skills course or Wellness Recovery Action Plan course can help a great deal.  From there, even if it just means taking one course, get some school under your belt.  While you are doing this, find ways to keep fit and healthy, in what you do with your body and what you put in it.  Quit smoking if you smoke.  Then, try and find work, even part-time.  Spend as little as possible, and save, and keep taking your medications, work on your mental health on an ongoing basis, and before you know it, you may forget you ever were sick.  It isn’t an easy process, and it isn’t a simple one, but it is one that is worthwhile.  I like to keep telling people that you need to have goals and direction, specific ones.  “I want a bachelor’s degree in six years.” would be an excellent one.  “I want to be stabilized and back working in two years, earning enough to drive a car and rent my own apartment.” is another good one.  Once you have goals, you have a direction to move in, and if you are having a hard time, you can end up feeling so much better about yourself from just working a little bit each day towards your goal.  Take care Dear Readers!

Sunny Summer Days are on Their Way

DSC_0262Something that is so healing for my mental trials is to go to parks and take pictures of birds with my dad.  Here in Edmonton in the summer we have so many wonderful places, and everything from Bald Eagles to Blue Jays to photograph.

Hello Dear Readers!  What a great picture I found to introduce my blog today.  I have such love for my dad, he is a wonderful guy.  We didn’t always get along that great, there are times when he was grumpy and even times when things he did seemed mean, but the fact is that he had been there and supported and loved me for many years.  I would encourage anyone who is struggling with family relationships or mental health issues or both to take the time to show your family they matter and that you care.  They are the people in this world we know better than any others and are most likely to be by our side when problems come up.

Aside from all that, I wanted to talk a bit today about a growing movement that I am a part of.  It is a thing called the “Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP.  It is a course, which is used here in Alberta to help people overcome mental health and addictions issues and I think it can be extremely beneficial to anyone who takes it.  There is something that goes along with the course that you can download to a smartphone called “The Wrap App” where you go through a lot of the things the course covers.  Basically you write down all the things you love to do, then you write a list of all the things that stress you out.  Then you go on to make more lists, and the ‘wrap app’ helps you organize these lists.  I recommend taking the course if you can because when you do, and when you make your lists, you become sensitive to things like what stresses you out, what are some indications that you are not as well as you normally are.  You can put down something like: when I get stressed, I tend to lay in bed all day and try and sleep away my problems.  So then, with the help of your wrap plan, you notice you are sleeping a lot and then you look on your list of things you like to do and maybe you go swimming or for a bike ride or watch a movie or play a video game.  It is a great way to get to know yourself, and there are more advanced topics such as who you want to be in charge when you get sick, who you don’t want to be in charge and what hospital you want to go to.  Not all of us will be well forever, medications have this annoying habit of stopping being effective, and other things can go on.  Having a plan puts you so much further ahead.

One thing I am very happy about is that I was recently approved to take the WRAP facilitator’s course, which means I take a 5 day intensive course and then I will be able to be a class leader, after an apprenticeship of sorts.  It really excites me that I can help others to overcome their problems and to use my own illness to help others.  I think that it will also be really cool not only with my current magazine writing about mental health, but also for my future desires to write more non-fiction books about overcoming bipolar and subjects like that.

When I write this blog, I try to think of my readers, and it worries me often that a lot of people who read my work don’t live in such an ideal place as I do (health insurance-wise).  Just to run down things a bit for you, I get a small disability pension that covers my rent and food and other bills, then I get health care provided free of charge, including dental and my medication is paid for.  I can’t even imagine what people go through in places where mental health treatment is hard to come by and medication and treatment (not to mention rent and food) are equally difficult to come by.  For a lot of years I was struggling with some of these issues before I was put on my disability benefits and I was always looking for a job.  I remember being so saddened because a neighbor and friend of mine was running a gas station and wanted me to start work for him and the same day my dad came by and took one look at me and said he was taking me to the hospital.  I wish there were easy answers.  When it comes down to money, I often like to tell people about a short book I once read that really helped me get a handle on my finances, it was called “The Richest Man in Babylon.”  This 100-or-so page book talks about enhancing your skills and setting a budget and putting away no less than 10% of your earnings, and it even gets into simple wisdom about where to invest your money when you have built up a surplus.  One of the things that bothers me as well though is that people who read this blog and people who can read the book are a relatively small, highly intelligent section of the population.  So I would encourage those who read this who have managed to deal with their problems to try and share their knowledge with other psychiatric survivors and help them find a small taste of freedom and self-respect.

Well, dear readers, that is about it for today.  I hope I have given some wisdom to help carry you through.  Of course the greatest wisdom really is that time heals all wounds.  I was near desperation, in a fog of depression and constantly wishing I had money or resources when I was younger and over time I learned a lot of coping strategies and also I had opportunities come to me to earn, learn and live that have put me in a good position to lead a happy life.  I wish all of you a happy life and encourage you to drop me a line any time.  viking3082000@yahoo.com

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Hello Dear Readers!  Well, if anyone is interested, I am now participating in two blogs.  The other one is on a site called ‘Goodreads’ and I am maintaining that one so I can blog about books, especially books that were influential in my life.  Today I wrote some stuff in it about “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, which I thought was pretty good.  I want to keep this blog going though, I kind of want to make it about mental health and other issues.

So, I don’t know exactly who all of my readers are.  If any of you get a chance, pick up a copy of one of my books from the ‘purchase books’ page, in kindle eBook or paperback and let me know what you think of my longer works.  Two of my books, “Inching Back To Sane” and “Through The Withering Storm” are memoirs about my lived experiences with mental illness, and I feel have a lot to say to people about how to deal with and manage and all things to do with mental health.  I would love it if more people would come forward and tell me what they think, possibly these sorts of things could make me a better writer.

So today I wanted to talk about a subject a lot of people, especially those who feel they are ‘sane’ don’t like much to talk about-I want to talk about the mental hospital.  I’m going to attach a video I made of Alberta Hospital where I spent a lot of time just below this and then after I will continue writing.

 

So, this was the place I spent 6 months in back in the year 2001.  I only remember the year because it was the same year the twin towers were hit by planes.  All that seems so surreal to me now because I was just getting over being very sick at the time and was actually still in the hospital.

The mental hospital can be a very unpleasant and frightening place.  I think because of extended worrying and poor treatment there I developed a digestive condition that I still deal with 14 years later.  I wonder though if the place had anything to do with it.  There were people that made my life difficult, including my Doctor and most of the nursing staff and a lot of the patients, but I wonder if that would have been an issue if I hadn’t been so sick.

One of the main reasons I had to be there had to do with my own mistake.  I had been on a dosage of 1000mg of a certain pill and I thought it was doping me up too much and cut it in half.  Just that small change was enough to make me very sick.  The fact is though, that the staff there do a lot to try and accommodate people in the hospital.  There was one staff member who would often take me out for walks, there was people there simply to talk to and play cards with (staff) but all I seemed to be able to do was worry.  It really scared me that after that hospital visit I would be unable to have any kind of relationship with a female, that I would never travel, that a lot of my life was over.  What is a bit scary is that those things may have happened if my Doctor had gotten his way and kept me for 2 years as he had wanted.  But my medication was brought back to the old level, I got a lot better and even quit smoking.  I can also recall a fun day when we went bowling and I got the top score.  And when I got out, life improved.  I used a tactic to do this that I have worked into my life for a very long time.  The way it goes is, no matter what, no matter how bad things get, you should have goals to reach for and try to accomplish at least one of them each day.  Now I have traveled, I am back in touch with a lifelong female friend, I have a great job and my writing is becoming known all over North America.  I started out with very little, but I pushed myself and got a job as a security guard, saved up my money and bought a nice computer, eventually a used car and by luck got an even better job for way more pay working as a security guard on movie sets.  Who made all this happen?  I couldn’t tell you, but I did have to keep working harder, doing more, taking all of my medications and keeping up with my responsibilities in my home and at work.  Will this work for anyone?  I couldn’t say really, I just know that my life is very blessed.

But, in the middle of that ramble, I will leave things so I will have more to write next time.  Thanks so much for reading this far, scroll down just a little further for today’s poem, and keep checking back because I brought my camera with me and Toronto is a beautiful city to photograph.  All the best!

 

Throughout My Days I Need You

My dear friends I dedicate this poem to you
Because I have come to learn it is true
Without your devotion and love I never could write

Though sometimes words do come through
Words that are fresh, sweet and new
Like now deep inside the night

But I often think of dear friends I have lost
And the terrible cost
Of wanting to seem too tough to care

I pray that once more our paths will cross
And that I never again casually toss
Away the beautiful love that we shared

As I sit and remember fondly the times
When true friendship was mine
I wish those I hurt back in my life

But it can be hard when in the past one was unkind
To change all those minds
Of those you turned away because of deep down strife

Always, forever hold onto those who are dear
Don’t be left shedding a tear
Because the worst thing is to be alone

Keep your loves and your family near
Be always ready to lend an ear
That is the only way to truly have a home

And when you have people to care for
You’ll find you don’t need much more
I’ve learned as I write out my words

And always be ready to walk out the door
Life will indeed give you much more
And feel the joy of knowing your soul’s longing was heard

Leif Gregersen

As The Days Go By Take Time to Watch The Skies

DSCF1046                This is a photo of my good friend James who is working his very last day ever on Friday the 15th of May, 2015!!!!!

 

Hello Readers and fans.  Well, it has been an interesting week to say the least.  I apologize that I haven’t been producing as many blog posts as I could have, there has been so much for me to get done.  Some of the things I have been doing may be of benefit to you my readers, one of them is that I have been attending a class called “WRAP” or Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and I am learning a lot of new things about mental health and recovery from it.  I would encourage everyone who can get access to a WRAP class to take the 10 week course.  When you complete it, there is a possibility of becoming a WRAP facilitator for pay as a peer counselor after you take another advanced course for those of you who have mental health issues and want to earn some extra money.

All the monetary stuff aside though, I wanted to share some of what I have been learning with my readers.  Yesterday in the class, we watched a very interesting Ted Talk from a woman named I believe McGonigal through YouTube about stress that I would recommend you look into.  It talked of a study that was done where people were surveyed as to whether or not they felt stress was bad for them and man of them thought stress and anxiety and all that is very bad, but some felt stress could be a good thing.  The ones that thought it was bad had a seriously skewed mortality rate and the ones that thought it was good a much lower one.  These are oversimplified of course.   Actually, I think I will put a link to the video right here:

 

 

watch it and see about stress for yourself, the video is a great tool for people who want to get out and do more, feel better about themselves and challenge themselves.

Aside from that, I thought I would share a bit about my week.  As some of you know, I am a writer and I have written and published about 8 or 9 books and I have also been writing for magazines and publishing poetry as well as newspaper articles.  All my hard work seems to be paying off because I have been offered a job as a writing teacher for a community writing class.  I will start work in June and give three classes, get paid a small amount and hopefully feel very pleased about myself as a result.  Add that to the possibility of becoming a WRAP facilitator and the presentations I have been giving for the Schizophrenia Society and I will soon be doing well for myself.  The most important thing I feel is to keep busy, and keep my creative energies flowing.  I have been discovering new ways of doing this from simply having a car to get me around to taking correspondence courses, volunteering, studying Spanish, this blog and other things.  The amazing thing is that if you do something you like, you will get good at it.  Then, if you get good at something eventually you will get paid for it except in extreme exceptions.  Then, before you know it you have a full and rewarding life.

An awesome example of this is a book I have just finished reading by a disabled Edmonton Journalist named Cam Tait.  He wrote a book called “Disabled?  Hell No, I’m a Sit-Down Comedian!” and it was very inspiring and emotional.  Cam has Cerebral Palsy and had to go through extensive treatments to function from a very early age and has broken incredible boundaries to become a very well loved and well known writer.  His Edmonton Sun Newspaper author page is here:  http://www.edmontonsun.com/author/cam-tait

I was so inspired by the book I want to help promote the sale of it and will be putting up links to the amazon page when I find the time.  I have spoken to Cam, he graciously tweeted about a book signing I had at a local independent bookstore (Audrey’s Books-Edmonton’s last independent book store) and he is planning to do a write up in the Edmonton Sun about me.

Anyhow, I don’t seem to really be able to say much without getting side tracked today.  I am taking the WRAP class, I am getting set up to teach a writing class, I am taking writing.  It all seems to indicate that I am on the manic side of my illness and need to slow down.  Anyhow, maybe instead of getting carried away by the wave of energy, I can possibly surf it to the beach instead.  All I want to really say though, is that anyone who reads this who is having a struggle finding meaning in life or has been in and out of hospitals, things really can get better.  You definitely can get to a point where life is fun again, medication doesn’t have to take everything away from you.  Sometimes it comes down to having a plan, writing down your thoughts each day, writing out what sets you off and laying out how you want to deal with your ‘triggers’ as they call them in my new class.  I am really looking forward to taking more of these classes, and the advanced class.  For a good part of my life I wanted to be a Psychologist and I think this is about as close as I’m going to get.  Anyhow, I want to end things there.  No poem for today, but I have one I wrote that is fairly good and really new that I will put in with the next entry, most likely on Sunday.  Hope you enjoy the photos, I encourage you to follow the links to the video and to learn more about Cam Tait.  Both will be of benefit to you, and as always I welcome you to email me directly, viking3082000@yahoo.com

DSC_0100this is a shot of the Brownlee building (left) and the Stovell Block (right) in downtown Edmonton.  I have friends who live or have lived in the Stovell Block and no one can really avoid the Brownlee Building.  Luckily I have managed to avoid the Remand Centre (far left) which is now being used as a Homeless Shelter.

How To Succeed in Life When You Have Bipolar

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Well, today’s title suggests a tall order.  In fact, I really don’t know how to succeed in life despite my Bipolar because I haven’t sat down and written out what I think I need to do to succeed in life.  Maybe that could be a good topic to consider-goals.  I really like to quote a study that was once undertaken where a graduating group was asked if they had clear, concise, written goals for themselves and when the same people were checked years later, the three percent or so that had written goals had made more money than the entire rest of the graduating class.  What this tells me is that writing has power.

When I was younger, one of my goals was to write books and I had written down these goals.  I had other goals I didn’t write down like learn 3 or four languages, get my pilot’s license and become a military officer.  None of these came true, but my goal of writing-that really went a long way.  One of the reasons I think this is was because I worked at it a tiny bit each day for a very long time.  I regret to say that for a period of time I did nothing but chat in various chat rooms and pursue relationships with people I would never meet, but I kept returning to my writing goal knowing that if I failed at it I would be losing something very important in my life and it came true.  One of the reasons for that could be the power of keeping  a journal.  One day soon I want to head down to the basement and read some of the journals I wrote when I was just starting out as a writer and see how my thinking has progressed.  I do know that now as it has been a long time since I drank alcohol, a long time since I gambled, and a very long time since I was without proper medications that my thoughts have cleared up a great deal.  Years ago I had some thoughts in my head that I had a very hard time letting go of, everything from resentments to imagined relationships with females, and I think for these reasons they have gotten a lot better.  I also would like to thank the power of meditation for clearing up my thinking.  I haven’t done it in a while, but meditation is a powerful tool for freeing the mind from negative thinking.  You can actually train yourself to push away negative thoughts and embrace positive ones through meditation.

One of my favorite forms of meditation is simply snorkeling at the swimming pool.  I start out my workout by sitting in the hot tub to get my joints moving and then strap on flippers and mask and snorkel and propel myself through the water, enjoying the silence and freedom from the outside world.  It is so relaxing and renewing.

Another huge part of being a success, aside from sitting down and getting a clear idea of what you want to accomplish to succeed, is to become a part of a community.  I have lived in the neighborhood I now live in for 14 years and it is simply wonderful.  It took some time, but now when I walk down the street I know my neighbors and am always glad to stop to talk with them.  It started out with me volunteering at the local community newspaper, something that looks great on a resume and it grew so that now I have many friends living near me and many opportunities as a result of knowing these people.  The editor of the paper, Paula, edits my short stories and other writing for free and gave me a great deal on this website.  My neighbor Gary down the street is an accomplished writer himself and is a great guy to go to poetry readings and other events with.  There is also a community in the people that live in the group home I’m in which is perhaps the most important one in my life right now.  There are around 20 people who I can call at any time, who I can talk to each day, borrow from or lend to.  There is also staff, but there is something very important about having other people around who have mental illnesses because I need to feel comfortable as a person with a mental illness and when people around you are going through the same thing, you can feel so much more free to be yourself.

I often wonder about some of the people from the US who read this, especially the ones that suffer from Bipolar Disorder or other mental illnesses, not to mention some of the people from far off countries.  I had a person read my blog from a place called Qutar the other day and I wonder about what it must be like to live in a more judgemental type of atmosphere and have a child who suffers or be someone who suffers.  As usual, I am always more than ready to talk to anyone who wants help in understanding what they may be going through, viking3082000@yahoo.com

So when you boil it all down, what does it take?  First, you need a plan, you need to brainstorm what success is to you.  It can be owning a motorbike or a car, it can be having a job or having a better job.  Details count.  Then you need to find people who will be your friend and support you in your quest to accomplish these things.  Many people out there don’t want to see you succeed but quite often if you talk with them and perhaps even impart some of these principles to them they will not only support you, they will learn how to succeed themselves.  Then, once you have got your list, you need to make realistic and achievable steps to get to these goals.  If you want to know more languages, start with a free course from the library.  If you want to make more more money, read the book I talked about “The Richest Man in Babylon” and take the advice of carefully putting away 10-30% of your income after all of your expenses and learn how to make more money.  If you want to simply have more friends and a better social life, seek out organizations in your community where you can meet people your age.  It can be a political party, it can be a writer’s group, it can be a mental health organization.  If you want to write, commit to filling a page each day with your journal entries and writing about each movie you see, each book you read.  I am a firm believer in the library, I think a lot of things can be found there like book clubs, books on making more money in your chosen profession, books you can read to help you write better.  A lot of larger libraries will also have a writer in residence you can talk to about your writing goals totally free.  So you have to know when you will consider yourself a success, you need to take small steps, take advantage of resources out there, and make friends that will support your efforts.  I have taken these steps and life has gotten incredibly good for me over time.  Bipolar?  Take your medications, see your Doctor, work on your life issues with counselors and psychologists and in group therapy and then just baby step yourself back up.  If you are interested in seeing the choices I made and the things I went through, order a copy of “Through The Withering Storm” or “Inching Back to Sane” from the ‘books’ section of this website and let me know how things go.  All the best to all my readers!

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