Psychiatry

Guest Blog Touching on a Subject That Helped My Recovery From the Stigma of Mental Illness

https://dearava.com/blogs/news/the-art-of-personalized-gift-giving

Hello my good readers. Please click on the link above to have a look at a blog which relates to something I will be discussing below.
Hello Dear Readers, today I have a guest blog from someone who approached me after finding my blog. It is truly amazing some of the reach that I get when I put out these blogs, and I would like to encourage any of my regular or new readers to contact me. As always, you can comment here or write to me at viking3082000@yahoo.com
      One of the things that appealed to me about sharing this article is that I am a bit of a dysfunctional gift giver. When I like people, I buy them things all the time and give them to them without expecting anything in return. This is the positive side of my giving, but there can also be some negative parts of giving too much. The first thing that I realized after reading the article linked above and copied below is that in fact most people get so much more out of experiences than they do possessions. As something of a minimalist, I have tried to do this more and more. But as I make a reasonably good income for a bachelor I often find myself going too far with gifts. One clear example was when I had something of a crush on a woman at work and I would bring her things all the time. Nothing too serious, but I would get her a book or a magazine, trying to seem thoughtful. I think a lot of this had to do with my own insecurities, wanting to make sure she stayed my friend and stayed in my life. Not long after that, I met an incredible person, an author named Richard. He had family roots in the Northern Regions of Canada and also was an indigenous person. Every time I met with him he had a gift for me and I started to reciprocate. This was a very positive experience as we had many common interests and soon became practically best friends as we met for lunch and did different author events together. He has even been so incredibly generous that he had me invited to a Writer’s Festival called Northwords in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and it is a huge chance for me to advance my career. I would call this friendship with Richard healthy as compared to the young woman I knew at work, possibly because there was a lot more equality. I got some good advice once that basically stated that friends had to be equal in paying for things regardless of their income.
     I do a lot of gift giving, especially with my family. A lot of it started with an amazing little book that was recommended to me called “The Richest Man in Babylon.” The book did talk about accumulating wealth, but it also clearly emphasized how Important it is to treat your family well and get them the things they need.
     Well, dear readers, I don’t want to go on too much as the article I am posting below and have linked above is very complete. I basically wanted to tell a bit about how the subject of gift giving affects those with mental illnesses. Of course so many people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and other ailments have very little money. This is a good opportunity to look for a hobby that will not only keep you interested in your day to day activities, but perhaps also allow you to make gifts. My sister does a lot of bead work, a friend I knew for a long time found a lot of joy in making stained glass. You can even write a song or a poem for the person you know who you want to show appreciation to. I often take photos, have them printed for $2 or so, then get a $4 frame for them and give them as gifts. Have a great day all of you!

The Art of Personalized Gift Giving

We can all agree that gift giving isn’t easy. Everyone is unique, and has to develop their own philosophies on how to give meaningfully to friends, family, and loved ones. The pressure to find gifts that suit a person’s needs can be a source of stress, especially during the holidays. How do you develop a gift giving methodology that causes pleasure and joy, without the stress?

Although not everyone may agree with every idea in Marie Kondo’s hit book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, we feel her philosophy on gift-giving is particularly insightful. For instance, she writes, “The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not “things” but a means for conveying someone’s feelings.”

The key concept here places more importance on the act of giving a gift more than simply the gift itself. Of course, if a gift is functional and the recipient requests one, the path is clear and simple. Most of the time, however, it’s not so straightforward. Perhaps with a significant other, you may be so familiar and close that gifting becomes second nature. But would about an aunt, uncle or niece? How do you show your appreciation for them if you don’t always see each other, or aren’t sure about their passions and interests? What about special occasions like a first communion, marriage, or graduation?

With all of the nuances that go into gift giving, each occasion and person are unique and require special attention. In this article, we’re here to help guide you on your path to establishing your very own Art of Personalized Gift Giving.

Long Term Happiness is Rooted in Experiences, Not Things. But Experiences Don’t Always Make the Best Gifts.

Certainly, you may have heard that experiences bring us greater joy than things. In fact, there’s significant research that shows this is a human truth. But how does this translate into gift-giving? It’s not so simple to “gift” someone a vacation, nor is it particularly practical. Imagine if your husband or wife wanted to go to Hawaii and you suddenly surprised him or her with an all-expenses paid trip to Maui, and “we’re leaving in 2 weeks!” That’s hardly enough time to react and reconcile each other’s busy work schedules. Simply put, experiences do bring us greater happiness, but experiences are no replacement for physical gifts. Physical gifts aren’t meant to replace experiences, but rather create and memorialize them, making them an essential and special part of our lives.

One workaround here is to use significant life experiences as the basis for the gift or as a means to commemorate an experience. For example, imagine a situation where you grew up with your best friend, staying together over the course of 20 years. Suddenly, they could get married and have to move to the other side of the country. You could give them a gift that truly represents your shared experiences together. Something that allows you to remember the experience and times you shared together.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Practicality

During the holidays of 2017 and 2018, the most popular kitchen accessory was the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. I personally use one of these on a daily basis (and I admit, I received one as a gift from my mother-in-law). It can be tempting to take something that you like since you had a positive experience with it and assume that it will make a good gift for someone else. This is a logical assumption to make.

However, the reason I suggest to be careful with this mindset is because: gift giving shouldn’t be about yourself. Gift giving shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity for you to shill the reasons about why it saved YOU so much time and money. I can hear the rant already starting: “This Instant Pot will save you countless hours in the kitchen! I don’t know how you could live without one! It was life changing for me!”

Perhaps the Instant Pot will truly be life changing for the recipient. Maybe they’ll even end up recommending it to their friends as well in a chain reaction of pressure cooking frenzy. But what if they are the type of person that doesn’t like to cook? What if they prefer their own methods of cooking and feel pressured to use the Instant Pot, even if they don’t want to? It will end up as simply taking up counter space for them.

The exception of this is if they explicitly ask for something like this. However, it’s wise to be mindful of gifts that are overly pragmatic, or based on your own experience rather than being personalized to the recipient’s true needs.

The Trap of Giving Gifts that are Too Expensive

Growing up, my best friend and I used to exchange gifts for Christmas (shoutout to her: we are still best friends to this day). We started off small with small cards, trinkets, and accessories. One year, I had decided to step things up. I knew she wanted a Tiffany necklace so I splurged and bought her one.

When she received it, she was so overwhelmed and happy about it! This made me incredibly happy too! After a few moments of elation she said: “this is too much, you REALLY shouldn’t have.

Fast forward a year, the next Christmas she ended up purchasing me jewelry from Cartier and I merely gave her a card and some home-baked pastries. Now, it made ME feel like I wasn’t worthy!

Looking back, what I ended up doing is elevate the monetary expectation of the gift. I made the pitfall of equating value of her friendship with a price tag, rather than focusing on our shared experiences together.

Luckily, we made a rule and set a price limit for every year going forward. This common practice among close friends and loved ones can be a fun and effective way to ensure that your gift giving experience stays positive and fun for all involved.

Personalization is the Ultimate Gift Giving Hack

How do we get around the many problems associated with gift giving? After countless Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, and more, I established that there’s no true way to solve for what ultimately makes for a good gift, which is personalization.

I went on a personalization binge a few years ago and started to go a bit overboard with this. I would shop only for handcrafted items on Etsy. I would create handwritten cards and painstakingly use my poor calligraphy skills to customize the gift.

Did it work? Absolutely. Was it incredibly stressful for me? Yes.

Finally, I realized that going overboard had the same consequences as when I was giving out the really expensive gifts. Instead of investing money, I was investing too much on my time.

Finding the right balance is ultimately the key to good gift giving. It’s up to you to develop the best personal gift giving philosophy for you and your loved ones.

Getting in Over Your Head When You Suffer From Bipolar, Depression, or Schizophrenia

There can be a lot of ways of getting in over your head when you have a mental illness, but I think when you have bipolar it can be the worst in many ways. I currently am very lucky, I have found a medication that allows me to have stabilized moods, and even more lucky because I have lived long enough to be able to make better choices in life. One of the simpler ways of getting in over my head was by making promises to my dear young niece. I love her so much and want to do nice things for her and a few years back I made a promise that I would take her to Disneyworld, which is still far out of my grasp of things I am able to do. I can recall promises being made to me that never panned out, many of them from a boyfriend my sister had for a number of years. When I was 14 and excited about getting my very own car one day he made a promise that when he was done with it, he would give me his car. What really got to me was that a couple of years down the road, he not only didn’t display any intention at all or apologies for not giving me the car, he actually humiliated me for expecting it. This instability in our family that often left me the target of jokes instead of kept promises left something of a large hole in my character that took a long time for me to resolve.

One of the worst ways a person can get into trouble when they have bipolar is when they get a credit card or. a line of credit. It seems so easy to project that in the future you will be more able to pay your debts and also think that you deserve some things now, before you are actually able to afford them. When I was 19, I met a guy who I became very good friends with in a short amount of time, and he convinced me that he was well off and that we should travel to California together. I actually had the time of my life going through the US and it often gave me the feeling that my life was really mine, not that of my parents or psychiatrists. Sadly I was being played for a fool and we got to his home town and he simply took off without repaying a cent and leaving me to make my way back to Canada without a cent to my name.

It isn’t nearly as difficult now, but one thing I remember clearly about my first years of being on regular medications was that the bipolar side of my schizoaffective disorder often left me unable to sleep, even though I was taking a heavy dose of pills every day and every night. I started to find that if I started out switching to a light rock radio station, then went to a classical music station, forced myself to not pace, just relax on my sofa as I did progressively calmer things, the medications I was taking became enough to get me to sleep.

Financial problems for a person with a mental illness are rife. It can become very hard to hold down or even just simply find a job that you can handle. I think for a lot of young adults though it is almost always very difficult to learn to manage money, and to even have a stable income. For people with mental health disabilities, I strongly recommend that you volunteer. I have a cousin who I think is really on top of things. He had a job that brought in a little money but he hated it. The job slowed down and he was laid off and so he simply picked out a senior’s activity centre and walked in and offered to volunteer. Not only is he learning many skills, but soon he is going to be hired on, something that can be very difficult to do in the current state of the economy. But most importantly is that his generosity with his time and effort got him into a situation where he will soon have a job that he truly enjoys.

I have a strong memory of being younger and going to a bipolar support group. I often talked about my grand ambitions but this one guy would talk over me and say that I had to learn to accept my low position in society and my lot in life. At the time that may have been good advice, but I didn’t stop working on my writing, I didn’t stop setting goals and learning new things about writing. And now my life is greatly enriched by my ability to write in different genres and to do something I found I really love, which is public speaking and teaching people about mental illness. There honestly were some times though when I was ready to give up. When I had a previous job setting up stages for concerts, the money was incredible but it was taking a huge toll on me. I really had to work hard and compete with the other workers around me to have good standing in my workplace. Finally I decided it was enough and so I wrote a letter to my dispatcher explaining my mental illness and the stress I had been experiencing as well as explaining how detrimental to my health that stress could be. Of course he accepted my resignation but there were some pretty lean times. I had gotten in over my head in that situation as well because I had come to rely on a considerable income from just a part-time job. I also really missed some of the friends I had made in the seven years of working for that union. I decided that I had to conceive of income differently. I stopped taking my dad out for lunch all the time, something I missed doing. I stopped taking trips to different places, especially the far off ones like London, England and Hawaii. I knuckled down and managed to stay out of debt though I did end up selling my car. Then, by studying and by doing talks for the Schizophrenia Society where I was able to market some of the books I have written, slowly I built up a reputation. I first did so with my camera, snagging a part-time job for a really good wage, then I studied and got deeper and deeper into writing. I think if anyone has a hobby that they truly love and that they are able to do despite having a mental illness, they should try and make it so they earn their living from it. A woman who lives downstairs from me is into beading and she makes a great income selling her lovely work at farmer’s markets and other places. Those who love to play the piano or guitar should take a few courses if needed and try to teach these things to others.

It can be really hard to work when you have a mental illness. I use a lot of different techniques to deal with the stress of teaching classes, giving talks and sending out my writing in hopes of having it published. One of the ways I improve as a speaker is I have found a forum for my shorter writing, I regularly go to something called a ‘story slam’ where people get up on a stage in front of a crowd, read a story that is no longer than 5 minutes, then they are judged and money is collected ($5 from each audience member) then the highest scorer of 10 storytellers gets the whole pot. I have won three times now, and it is really an incredible feeling. Most of the time though, I know I won’t win, but I keep doing it because it makes me more comfortable with public speaking. This may seem like an odd thing for a person who suffers from anxiety does, but it works for me and I am really glad to have been recognized as a good writer by winning the odd contest.

Working is less stressful than getting up on stage and reading a story, but that doesn’t mean work is easy for people with mental illnesses. I have dark memories of what it was like to work a job where I had to keep up with others and was on medication that gave a lot of side effects or I just wasn’t used to it. A storm rages inside your head and you just want to go home and hide your head and sleep the day away, but if you do this, soon you will be isolating yourself and that leads to loneliness, depression, and sadly for all too many people who are psychiatric survivors, they try to or succeed in a suicide attempt. This becomes such a vicious cycle where patients want to go in the hospital to ease the loneliness, and they go in, soon feel better because their life is full of interactions and people who seem to care, then they are released with no social supports.

Just in the past years I have come to realize how important it is to have close friends. Many who have read my memoirs may know that when I was in elementary school and junior high, I had few friends, and even those people weren’t terribly good friends. Friends are so important, they can cheer you up and do things with you even when you don’t have money. They can look out for you and you look out for them. I am faced with the sad fact that someone I sometimes call my best friend (my dad) is advanced in age and won’t be around forever. Each time I hang up the phone after talking with I try to say, “I love you dad” I am so worried that one day he may pass away not knowing that I do. I consider my brother and sister friends, but outside of my family I have some pretty cool people supporting me, from a fellow writer who helps me more than I could ever express, to a young woman who is so incredible I sometimes wonder why she hangs out with me, to a woman I have known for almost 30 years who lives out of town but gives me so much joy when I do see her or when I talk with her on the phone.

Another thing about how I keep myself sane is when I talk to my dad, my brother, and friends about decisions I make. A while back I really wanted to buy a new car and had money saved up but got a lot of support and interest from family and friends that didn’t want to see me saddled with debt.

So what do you do if you go overboard, if you spend too much, promise too much, don’t like your job? Always, your first line of defence is your medications. See your Doctor and make sure you are on medication that works for your symptoms and doesn’t leave you with unbearable side effects. Then, something I should have mentioned earlier, keep yourself as healthy as you can. Swim laps at the pool, take long walks (another great free thing to do with a friend). Exercise is a huge line of defence over letting stress get to you. When you do feel stressed, there is also the option to do a couple of things I do, which is to try to meditate, even if it is just for five or ten minutes before work when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Closing your eyes, focusing on nothing whatsoever can really make you feel better for a short time investment. Then there is something I have re-started doing recently, I take B vitamins. B vitamins are believed to be what gets depleted when we experience stress. I have found sometimes these give a sedative effect and I can actually take one of these vitamins and have a very pleasant and peaceful sleep. Speaking of sleep, if you are overwhelmed or feel stressed, don’t feel bad about sleeping a lot. Managing a mental illness can be extremely emotionally draining and a person can get just as tired and need sleep from emotional exhaustion as physical exhaustion. Do these things regularly and try not to quit a job unless you are on solid financial footing and have another job to go to. With that, I will leave you with a tip that applies to people with mental health issues and to people who want to be writers. Keep a journal. Get a notebook at the dollar store and some pens and write down each day what your mood is, write the date, and talk about how you feel. This is for your own uses only, and is a powerful tool in finding out how to treat yourself better and how to get better results. As always dear readers, there is so much more to be said about this, but time and space make me confine my words to a short part of my day. I would love to hear from anyone who reads this, and also I am very willing to take on any topics you would like to see covered in this blog. My email is viking3082000@yahoo.com. All the best!

Diagnosed With Bipolar or Schizophrenia? Your Life Is Not Over!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is always time to grow, to change, no matter how

far you may have strayed from the thin thin line we call society. I think a lot about my hospital stay in 2001. I had lost friends, I lost every stitch of my property. I had lost all self-respect, and I think what was worst of all was that I lost hope. I was so conditioned to turn myself off from everything that went on around me. That was survival in the psychiatric hospital. Ignore the injustice, ignore the violence, trust no one and be prepared to be humiliated in every way possible by the staff and the other patients.

I have come a long way now from all that. I am living on my own, doing so many things. I am even working in the hospital that once held me against my will as a patient/inmate. I think a lot of the reason that I have been able to turn things around so far is simply my sense of will. I have always had a strong sense of will, a strong idea in my head that I could picture a goal no matter how abstract or seemingly impossible, and then work out the steps to achieve what I wanted. In 1990 what I wanted was to go to Vancouver and start my life over. Problem was, I didn’t even have money for a bus ticket and I had never been to Vancouver except as a small child with my parents. The whole trip started on a bad note, I had been sleeping in my room and my dad woke me complaining that when I slept during the day I stayed up at night and used his electricity. It all seems so unfair now especially since I had a major mental illness but his reaction was to threaten to call the police and have me put back in the psychiatric hospital. That was my breaking point. I definitely at the time wasn’t displaying any signs of sickness, I just thought it was unfair that he was so cruel to me and reacted with anger. It seemed to me like all my life I had been arguing with him and he would always win because he would end up most likely beating the crap out of me but here and now when this incident happened, I was big enough to fight back so all of a sudden he had to get his power back by lying to the police about my mental state. Granted though, I should have been working or looking for work. I did have a job in a plastics factory but with all the medications I was taking they fired me for being too slow on the assembly line. I had also been turned away from the military because of my history of being on medication. Not to mention that I had offered to pay my dad’s power bill. But he was drunk and that meant he was right and I was wrong and the police would see it that way too. I came very close to punching him in the face as he reached to pick up the phone. All I had time to do was to grab a bag I had stashed that had a raincoat and some sandwiches in it and I headed off. I willed myself all the way to Vancouver. There were some incredibly harsh spots like when I walked from around noon until past dark on the side of the highway. I camped out, covered myself in my raincoat and started a small fire to keep warm. I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare that I was camping in my backyard again like I used to do as a kid but had actually slept for hours and the fire was out. I scrambled to rekindle it and then in the daylight that came soon I hit the highway again and got a ride all the way to Vancouver. But the point was that I set my mind on something and didn’t let anything stop me from achieving it. I could have done a lot of things better, but I did well considering my situation.

Getting to Vancouver was an incredible experience, I loved just about every minute of it, but I was living in denial, which the psychiatric profession calls anosognosia. I didn’t believe I had a mental illness or needed medication, and that was the one limitation I should have accepted before any other. There was no way to will myself to be better when I was facing depression, mania, and psychosis. In Vancouver I ended up getting ill again, went back to stay with my parents after being arrested for hitch-hiking, then in a state of psychosis spent all the money I had gotten from social services/welfare on cab rides to places my illness told me I had to go. The whole fiasco ended in the morning, like I did later in Vancouver, I desperately tried to get help by calling the police and telling them I was poisoned. Once more I was taken back to the psychiatric hospital, and once more I went off medications and ended up in Vancouver.

This time when I got out I laid out some plans and set myself up to go to finish school. I was very determined to get the courses I needed to study further and was actually accepted into a journalism program and found a scholarship for disabled people that would pay the whole bill. A few short weeks before the program started it was cut, and so I kept my goal clear in my mind and began to write short stories and poetry. It is scary now to think of how marginalized I was, how poor and how far off any of my goals were. But I kept reading even when I was given medications that made concentrating nearly impossible, and I started to write short stories and poems, even sent a few off with poor results. I never let those things stop me, I understood that what made a person a writer or a pilot was what they had inside themselves not how far they excel compared to their peers or other irrelevant factors. I pieced together short story after short story about my life and when I had a semblance of a book I made copies and gave one to a close friend for safekeeping. Years passed and I completely forgot about writing until one day after my horrific 6 month stay in the hospital my friend gave me back the manuscript I had her hold for me and I started to work on it like mad. What came of it was likely not much like what my first drafts were, but after editing I had something very worthwhile, something that told the story of mental illness and how I pushed past my limitations and found an incredible job which carried me to the point where I could be a writer full time and make money just off my writing and teaching.

So, dear readers, I want you to ask yourself… where do you see yourself in ten years? What is your ideal picture of a perfect life? For me being in my own large, clean, organized, furnished two bedroom apartment that is very inexpensive to rent and has a perfect spot for me to park my MacBook and write all hours of the day and night is pretty much it. I could go further and say I would like a girlfriend or wife and maybe even a child, but it could be those things just aren’t in the cards for me. Ten years… I will be 58, close to an old age pension. I hope to be still able to write, still able to go for a swim. A trip to Europe once a year would be nice to add into that, maybe even one with my niece. Make a list. How many books do you think you will have written in 10 years, and how many of those do you think will be published? I can’t say enough to young people in Canada about the Registered Disability Saving Plan, where a person under 49 who is registered on their tax forms as a disabled person can start a savings account that the government will match at a rate of 3 of their dollars for each $1 you contribute, if you keep the money in savings for 10 years. Someone who is 21 can practically guarantee themselves to become millionaires by saving $100 a month. But it is hard to think of ten years down the road when you don’t have goals and plans. Maybe you want to run a marathon once a year in ten years. Start now by going for longer and longer walks, then short runs at a track. Consult with a foot doctor and get proper shoes, and you can avoid doing what I did-running on improper shoes and destroying your knees. Plan plan plan. Set goals and reward yourself for achieving them. There is so much more to say dear readers, so please tune in again and as always feel free to send me suggestions on topics you would like to see covered.

Relationships and the Person With Schizophrenia, Bipolar or a Major Mood Disorder

I think that when a person has a mental health disability they have every chance a normal person has to get into a relationship, but there are times and situations to reveal things and times and situations to keep things hidden.

As a person who works in mental health, and has written books about it, I have almost no apprehension about disclosing to others that I have a mental illness. I have always felt that if you try and hide it, it will only look worse later on, and letting out the fact that you have a mental illness is something that in a way tests your prospective dating partner or friend, it weeds out those people who are too shallow to see you as a human being under the protective layers of medication and other strategies to treat poor mental health such as putting them on a disability pension and suggesting they not work.

It’s kind of a funny thing, I grew up in a kind of ritzy suburb of Edmonton called St.Albert where everything was clean yards, white picket fences, and people with no problems, at least that was the way it seemed on the surface. When I contact people I used to associate with when I was growing up there, they still seem to be very proud of their suburban advantage. I will admit, it is nice to be in a nice house in a quiet neighbourhood, but that place drove me crazy. One time my mom sent me to mail a cheque to pay a bill and I walked down the street and opened the mailbox just as a schoolboy was going by. I didn’t think much of it until I got home and someone phoned me demanding to know who I just wrote a letter to. I took what money I had, and struck out thumb first for the coast. It was an amazing experience, and the Rocky Mountains between where I live and the coast, (Vancouver, BC) were indescribably beautiful. I got to Vancouver and stayed in a traveller’s hostel in a kind of bad part of town and I was off my medications, but that semblance of a normal life that I had there was so much better than living under the stigma and judgement of all those people in St.Albert

Sadly, I did get sick (mentally) out there eventually, but I did almost spark up a couple of relationships, though nothing lasting or significant. There was a young woman I fancied who I used to hang out with quite a bit some years ago and she told me that she didn’t think someone without a mental health problem could have a relationship with someone who did. I often wonder if I have been banging my head against a wall trying to prove her wrong all these 20+ years after she said it. I do know that I have received some incredibly cruel responses to trying to get a young woman I meet to go for coffee with me or get her phone number. One of them flat out said to me, “I’m not going to call you.” and threw down the pencil she was about to write my number down with. I suppose that was understandable because though she was fully grown she was still in high school (I was around 22 or so at the time) and people that age quite often lack maturity. One of the let-downs that really hurt was when I asked a friend’s sister if she wanted to meet for coffee after her and I had some really great phone conversations and she said, just as though I was asking her to commit a crime, “Are you trying to date me? If you are I’m not interested.) I’m not mad at these people, and I don’t really fault them for what they said, but it is a good example of some of the kinds of things that will get said to a person who is trying to get to know the opposite sex who has a history of mental illness, and you need to end up kind of tough.

Sometimes I can’t believe I am now 48 and am not married or have any kids. It always seemed to me that there would be time, I had to wait until I was financially stable, I had to wait for the perfect intelligent, beautiful woman to come along. Some of them have come along and had real problems with how I would act at times, badly enough that they stopped all contact with me. And it really isn’t an issue of me being unattractive, I work out, I’m very fit, and I have solicited honest opinions from a number of women who place me around 9 out of 10 on the old ‘attractiveness’ scale. I think a lot of what it has to do with is simply living alone and not stepping out of my self-imposed boundaries. One such boundary was that when I was young I would go to dances but I would never dance. Not. One. Dance. In years. I had so much anxiety flowing through my veins that I locked myself inside myself. There were a lot of things I could do, and a lot of those things I did well. I was an exemplary Air Cadet, a good athlete, an honour student and on and on. I had little problems working hard at school or the various jobs I had, I could even ask for help, but for some reason though I was totally straight, I felt it was a bad thing to relax and let your hormones take over. When I really think hard about it, I think about how much my parents meant to me, and how sad it seemed that people had to grow up and take on a life of their own and move away and parents would be left to rot in a senior’s home. I have felt so strongly about the injustice of this situation that I have volunteered to work in pastoral care in extended care hospitals, and I even try and visit a friend’s mom in the lodge she lives in because my friend lives way out of town. I also do a lot of things with my Dad and try and call him at least once a day. One of the funny things about me having this idea in my head is that my parents were very honest and forthcoming about the fact that us kids would grow up and go through puberty and one day meet someone outside of the family we wanted to share our life with. My Dad let my brother and I read playboy when I was I think 14. My mom had ‘the talk’ with us. But there was little taught to me in the way of communication, of respecting the opposite sex, which led to something actually kind of horrible.

It was the summer of 1988 and I had been out of Air Cadets for a whole year. I had a job delivering pizza which kept me in pizza and gas and cigarettes but I was extremely depressed and extremely lonely. One day I got a call from a young woman who used to hang out with some other people we both knew, she wanted to meet me at a make-out spot way on the other end of town. I got there and she was all dressed up like a prostitute and asked me to follow her to a different part of the lake. When we got there I sat down with her and she kept trying to coax me into agreeing to sleep with her, she even was rubbing my thigh. I took her hand away and finally, exasperated at what she was doing, and not wanting to hurt her feelings I said, “Yes, but…” and just as I was about to say why I didn’t want to sleep with her she punched me in the face and a bunch of the people I had known came out of the surrounding trees and were laughing out loud at me. It was the worst possible thing to happen, to this day I don’t fully understand why they did it. Part of it I am assuming was that I had a foul mouth at the age as I was working around adults, most of them oil or construction workers who were temporarily laid off and I often swore a blue streak. Other than that I really don’t know what caused those people to hatch such an elaborate plan. It was a really great way to destroy my confidence for at least another couple of years. Then, when I got to Vancouver those people were no longer around, there was no one to judge, no one to impress, and I started to meet all kinds of young women.

The truth is though, in my life I have only really had one meaningful relationship with a woman, and I still talk to her to this day. When I first met her almost 30 years ago we talked and joked and laughed, ended up studying together and going out for coffee a lot. It actually blossomed to a loving relationship for a while but that part of things broke apart after not too long. She is still one of my dearest friends. I don’t know really what all of this adds up to, what I do know is that one should always respect friends and lovers, always treat them as equals. As a young Air Cadet and later as a Student Pilot I had many chances to have one night stands, but I knew that a one night stand would never help me at all. I would find an attachment towards the person and it would be devastating to start and lose a relationship like that, not to mention several times. So I waited and waited and waited, and finally I met someone who I had a real connection to and it was about a million times more amazing than any experience I ever had, and now, 30 years later I still haven’t had to say any permanent goodbyes. As I am getting pretty tired I will leave things there, as always feel free to write to me with any topic related to mental health you would like me to write about in my next blog and I will do my best to accommodate. My email for responses, and for ordering books is viking3082000@yahoo.com   Thanks so much for joining me!       -LNG               Leif Norgaard Gregersen Senior below:

Working or Volunteering After Psychosis With or Without Bipolar or Schizophrenia

 

For many of us who suffer from a mental illness, one of the most difficult things to do is to return to work, or if you feel you are unable or not ready to get a paid job, finding a volunteer job. One of my first volunteer jobs was extremely rewarding, I worked in an extended care hospital for veterans. The funny thing was that I found out about this place when I was working a paid job. I was with a security outfit that was responsible for patrolling this hospital, and once my supervisor took me along on one of his nightly patrols and I felt really touched by the concept that these were men who sacrificed such a great deal to keep Canada and other countries free. I was looking for a volunteer job because my pastor’s wife had suggested that if youth in my church have free time, there are so many places that they could ‘shine their light’ so to speak. I started out volunteering with the chaplain of the hospital, a man from Holland who had been liberated at the end of World War Two by Canadian troops, who he described as true gentlemen. I would try and find more people to come to his bible study, I would wheel the patients around, and after a while the Chaplain, who we knew as ‘holy Harry’ assigned me some men to visit on a regular basis. It took a lot out of me sometimes to spend time with these men in their last days of their lives, but it felt so incredibly rewarding. I had even for a short time considered working there as a practical nursing attendant.

One of my other volunteer jobs was absolutely incredible. I volunteered for a children’s summer camp, funny enough, something that I once believed I would never be suitable for because of my tough-guy image in Air Cadets and other organizations I was with, but when the director of the camp stood up at a church gathering and asked for volunteers, I thought it would be the perfect vacation. I personally felt a little weak in my abilities and perhaps even my faith (I was still a cigarette smoker at the time) and so when I was assigned a cabin with four or five boys they had another counsellor with me and we would share our duties. I loved working with the kids, but I also loved the fact that the food was great, I met some really nice young women, there was a pool, horses and an archery range there, and on and on. I had no money, I was paid no money, but I had a better time than most of the vacations I took when I had plenty.

I think my biggest concern at the time of the kids camp was that people would find out I had a mental illness. I even hid my medications from them and took them in secret. What scares me is that sometimes I think to some people it may be obvious that I have a mental illness, especially at that time because my bipolar symptoms weren’t very well controlled. I do remember having times when I was moody and clashing with one or two other camp volunteers. But aside from all that it was perhaps one of the most fun times I had in all of my early adult years (20-30)

One of the reasons it is difficult to get a job soon after leaving a hospital, or even years after, is that a person’s life skills and employment skills atrophy from lack of use. I know that if I spend too many days in my apartment not contacting the outside world, I will become shy and nervous all over again. There are two things that I feel most help with my social anxiety, one is prozac (but no, I am not recommending it, it just works well for me, every person is different) and challenging myself to do more things that require a person to feel comfortable around others. The Schizophrenia Society has been great in helping me push my limits because it is very common that I will speak to a class or organization, large or small, and I have become so comfortable with public speaking that I greatly enjoy it. For anyone who feels they could use a similar confidence boost, try looking up an organization that hires or accepts volunteers that is like the schizophrenia society in that they give presentations to increase awareness and decrease the stigma of mental illness. If these aren’t available, an excellent thing to try that will benefit you for the rest of your life is to check out Toastmasters. They help people learn public speaking and leadership skills. I took their course at 15 and it has benefitted me so many times over.

When you are in a hospital or psychiatric ward for an extended period of time, there are ways that you can keep up your Life and employment skills. There will be a time when you don’t feel up to it, but push yourself, and try to get into group therapy, or even one on one therapy with a psychologist, and look into occupational therapy that is offered. In the institution I was in, there were a lot of choices of occupational therapy. You could work in a wood shop building things for yourself or for Charity, you could work in a recycling shop like I did once where you take apart old electrical meters so the parts can be recycled. Occupational Therapy covers a broad range of things, it can even include (as it did for the seniors in the extended care hospital I mentioned) simply reading the newspaper and discussing it. I would recommend trying to read the newspaper (once you feel up to it) every day to keep in gear with the outside world, even if all it benefits you is by giving you a reason to know what date it is (which used to be one of the first questions you were asked for a competency test by a psychiatrist). It can also be very useful to try and get computer time if possible. Newspapers and computers have so much information about things you may need to buy when you leave the hospital (say like a new dresser) they also have listings for things such as jobs, apartments, even movies and other events.

The other side of keeping your Life and Employment skills up is to participate in sports as much as you can. I almost never get a chance to play tennis, but a few years ago I got to play all I wanted and it kept me feeling better, thinking better, and having a more positive outlook. Sports can do so much, and it isn’t such a bad idea to connect with a YMCA/YWCA or city facility where you can swim or play drop-in badminton or just about anything that keeps you moving and fit. Even desk jobs require a certain level of fitness to be bearable.

One thing I do know is that I am a very lucky person. I work 2-5 hours a week and my disability benefits allow me to keep that much without being deducted. Here is another reason why you may want to consider volunteering. In my case, as part of my benefits, I not only get a swim pass worth about $400 a year, I also get a bus pass at 1/3 the regular price, plus it pays my dental, medical and prescription expenses. Not everyone will have these expenses, but I am sure that anyone who experiences mental illness knows that medications can become extremely expensive. I’m in a situation where I would just about have to have a full-time job that doubles what I get now in disability benefits to maintain the same income as I get now when you consider I will have to pay for my medicine. That is also just half the story because I would also lose my apartment because it is a subsidized place that is geared to income, and if I had a full time job instead of working part-time and getting disability, my rent would triple. The largest issue? I really don’t think I could handle a full-time job for very long. And so I work as much as I can, and try to live simply and continue to write and hope that one day I will get a letter from a publisher that isn’t rejection letter number 3,567.

As a person who works hard but is only partly employed, I end up having a lot of time on my hands, and this can be a lethal thing for people with mental health issues. Loneliness can sneak its way into a person’s life, people with mental illnesses tend to isolate and sometimes either stop their medication or simply become extremely depressed. This leads to something that I find so awful it is almost hard to write about it. A person who is ill, who, if properly cared for could live a great life, becomes so depressed and lonely because their life lacks purpose, that going to the hospital seems like a better option than staying in their home. Not only this happens, but sometimes these people who want to go back in the hospital find that the hospital will only admit them if they make a serious attempt to take their own lives, and sadly a lot of people either attempt or die by suicide. This is something that is kind of close to my heart because one of my duties with the Schizophrenia Society has been to call people who need support, most often people isolated by their illness. These are wonderful people, kind, intelligent and capable people who could do so much, but they seem to have been forgotten by just about every level of society.

 

Well, dear readers, that blog went on a little longer than I expected, and I didn’t cover all the points I wanted to cover. As usual, if you would like me to speak about a topic you are interested in, please do email me, I can be reached at viking3082000@yahoo.com If you would like to help keep this blog going and support me, please consider heading over to the books page and either emailing me to order a book or use the link to buy a copy on amazon. The two books (of eleven I have in print) are “Through the Withering Storm” and “Inching Back to Sane” and they deal with my experiences suffering from and being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and anxiety. Have a great day!

Leif Gregersen