Month: August 2015

Another Day of Homeless Mental Wanderings

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Good day dear readers.  Well, it is my last full day in Toronto.  Yesterday I went around taking pictures and these three men were kind enough to let me take their picture.  I wanted people to see the real face of homelessness.  I don’t know what brought these men out on the streets like this but there are a thousand valid reasons.  For starters they either have no family or are estranged from their family.  This is something that touches me heart because my family is so important to me.  I like to focus on my niece a lot but I also have a sister and a Dad and a few cousins and an Aunt and Uncle that I really like having in my life.  I guess the easiest way for me to think about these men is to put myself in their shoes.  I can recall being in California and not being able to work (due to no work permit) and not wanting to get in trouble with the Law in case I ever wanted to go back there (which I eventually did when I went to Hawaii).  The first day I was in California the guy I traveled with took off on me and I spent the night sleeping in a ditch.  This was not the first time or the last I had to resort to outside sleeping and it isn’t very pleasant.  I knew a guy who once slept under a bridge and his whole day was about getting enough booze so that he could drink himself to sleep.  He was mentally ill and this cycle of booze and not sleeping is so easy to get caught up in.  Before I was able to hitch rides out of California there were times when I had literally gone 5 days without food or sleep.  It was so bad that if I sat down somewhere I would sleep almost instantly and have extremely vivid and frightening dreams.  I was able to get back to Canada, to get the sleep I needed to get myself functioning again and then I was able to find work but if I hadn’t gotten out of there I don’t know where I would be right now.

One of the sad things about homelessness is that it seems that no matter how well (and things are NOT going well with the economy right now) the economy may be going, there will be people who are poor.  I think this means it is quite obvious that these people are unable to work, and I feel strongly that anyone in that situation should be given benefits enough to have a place to live and means to get food to eat.  I will never forget the words of a Danish friend when he had seen Vancouver, he said the place was very depressing, that it was like there was almost no social welfare.  I see a lot of news about Denmark, how they make 140% of their power needs through wind, how their people are among the happiest.  At one time I could have become a Danish citizen but I have a deep love for this country I live in.  I am very pleased now to see that Alberta for the very first time in its history has a Socialist Government.  There won’t be a lot of drastic changes, I am actually finding that often even Conservatives in Canada are more Socialist than many would think.  They do some things to provide universal health care and one of the best disability programs in the country.  Like Denmark, Alberta is able to afford these things by virtue of having oil in their jurisdiction.  I think one of the ways a person can judge how well the government helps the homeless is how many of them one sees, and in Toronto there is a lot of them.  They sleep right on sidewalk corners, they have sleeping bags and ‘campsites’ staked out under bridges.  I really wish I knew the best thing to do for them.  I often try to give a little change, and people say that if you give them change they will spend their money on booze or drugs but I think a lot about that.  You are almost required to tip waiters and waitresses, but you don’t tell them how they have to spend their money.  I also watched a video recently of a gifted native piano player who had been homeless for a very long time until he got into a supportive housing situation where they would allow him to drink a couple of drinks every few hours just to keep his nerves calm and allow him to function.  I challenge you, dear readers to think of what you can do to help even just one homeless person.  Can you give them an old sleeping bag now that winter is coming?  Can you buy coffee shop gift cards to give for Christmas?  It’s up to you.  I hope you will stick around to read today’s poem, it is another one about a homeless person and I hope you will enjoy it.

 

Please Help Get Me Through The Day
Shuffled off from each and every place
Nowhere I can call my very own space
All the horrid memories I can’t erase
Staring down the devil in the face

Way back when life seemed to be going fine
Then I lost every single little thing I could call mine
My father used to beat me every day
Drove me insane and then they put me away

With any justice in this world he would have been the one
To have had to live through those god-awful years of being on the run
First they decided I was crazy and put me away
Then no one listened to anything I had to say

I was the patient now I could just sit and rot
They listened less and less and then forgot
Forgot I was a human being first
Knowing they felt that way was perhaps the worst

All my childhood days were lived in fear
I was never safe as long as he was near
At fourteen they let me out for a visit and I ran away
There was no hope or future in that place anyway

Soon after that I found solace in booze and drugs
And for a time they replaced my loving mother’s hugs
It felt so good to do it the first few times
But then I needed it so bad I committed crimes

I’m not proud that I ripped so many people off
I’m not happy to sit in the street and hack and cough
Gone are the days of football glory and being cool
No more chances to go back and finish school

I sleep under a bridge and beg for change
Even my old friends from childhood think I’m deranged
Don’t look into my eyes you will see a world of pain
You’ll feel the lonely hurting and learn why I’m insane

I can only dream of the life you live
And it does help a little when you give
But in truth I long for someone just like you
To help me, take me in, let me start anew

I know I could have a life if I just got clean
You have no idea what a chance like that would mean
But sadly none of you could trust me in that way
So if you please, a few coins to get me through the day?

Leif Gregersen
August 25, 2015

Homelessness and The Mentally Ill

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Well, here I am in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and I have been having a great time.  I have spent a lot of my month here just decompressing from the stress I was experiencing in Edmonton.  I have a heart for homeless people, and I am under the strong belief that a lot of them are actually just untreated mentally ill people.  I recall one day while I wasn’t in the best head space myself being in downtown Vancouver and seeing a man with a tinfoil hat and instead of mocking him or giving him change or anything I just stopped and saluted him and he gave me a smile.  I also think though that there are some horrible people out there who understand how delusional thinking works and they say things to make you think your delusions are real.  Sadly I have done it myself, one time in a Psychiatric ward there was a woman who was always causing me grief.  One time she even came up to me and kissed me and said we had already been married.  Another time my Dad came to visit and she walked up to him and told him I was a bad person and that he should spank me.  I got back at her one day by telling her she had just been on TV and that she was going on a rocket ship to space because she had discovered a new planet.  For days she went around introducing herself as an astronaut, which seems a bit funny, but really is terribly cruel.  In Edmonton there was a young man I see a lot, he has red hair and he is homeless and a couple of times I have given him food or money and once I stopped to talk to him and found out that we had gone to the same junior high and had some of the same teachers.  He also told me that he suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  What is kind of scary I think is that I live in a group home that is very beneficial to my mental health and a lot better than any other group homes I have seen, but it is only set up to house 20 men while there are literally thousands out there who need places like this, many of them completely homeless.

I don’t know if I have discussed this much, but I kind of feel that addiction is a form of mental illness.  I was told during an interview I did for a volunteer radio station by one of Edmonton’s top Psychiatrists that a huge mistake people make is to see alcohol and marijuana as benign drugs.  I know my  brother went through hell because of his heavy pot use and that my Dad literally caused himself frontal lobe damage with years of drinking.  I have dodged these two bullets, but I came across something worse, a gambling addiction which nearly destroyed me.  All these things I should say go hand in hand with Bipolar/Manic Depression.  In the care and treatment of your illness, I strongly urge people on psychiatric medications of any kind to be completely abstinent and to be extremely careful about anything that can be addictive.  In a way, I have also had something many people would consider Obsessive Compulsive, namely that just about all through my life I have collected collections.  It began with stuffed animals, then moved to stamps then books, then GI Joe toys, then comic books and on and on up to right now when I still buy more books than I ever have time to read.  And the funny thing is that with a lot of strength and effort I have been able to overcome these addictions but I have to be very much on my guard because often another addiction will come around the corner at me.  I think one of the most important ways to stay psychologically (as opposed to medically, or in a psychiatric sense dealing with body chemistry and all that) is to have a support group, perhaps many of them.  Sometimes I count the people I meet some mornings at the swimming pool as a group but there are many more kinds, addiction support, writing groups and on and on.  These are great ways to make close friends outside the field of mental health treatment, though, as I had done through the schizophrenia society and a program called the Wellness Recovery Action Plan it never hurts to learn more about how to manage and cope with your mental health issue.

 

Homeless

I sit in loneliness hunger and pain
Facing a night out on the streets again
Walking for miles to where I hid my things
Waiting for the cold each night always brings

My thin bony legs ache and my feet are worn and raw
I think back to days when I would sit and dream and draw
I could have been an artist if I tried
But life all fell apart when my mom died

She was a sweet and loving woman and she cared
One night her boyfriend beat her and I got scared
I tried to stop him and he turned his wrath on me
That night my body was broken, my mom’s soul set free

I wish I could be with her on awful days like this
How she would always bring home a candy bar and a kiss
Now I get a bottle one way or another every night
And my inner will is slowly giving up the fight

In foster homes all they gave was more discipline
I learned to drink and hide my pain deep within
Soon the bottle was the only God I knew
I pray you won’t let this happen to you

If I could only have peace and space to draw like I once could
But that rotten jerk my mother loved took that away for good
I’m only in my forties but my joints all ache
I’ve lost every little thing anyone could take

I feel so worthless now I barely get through each day
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say
You can have a future if you make the proper choice
We all have inside of us a very special voice

Please don’t play the judge even when you see
A dirty smelly homeless guy like me
A lot of us have lost so much it’s just day to day
When you’re this far gone there is no other way

For those of you who practice and believe
There is a way to lighten my load and make you free
It was our Lord Jesus who spelled out how it should be
What you do for the least of my brothers you do for me

Leif Gregersen
August 24, 2015

Hard Work and Dilligence Pays Off Every Time

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This is a beautiful picture of a honey bee in a local garden in Scarborough where I am staying

    Many years ago I had been living in beautiful Vancouver, BC and loved every minute of it.  I had a great apartment, a few good friends and a few pretty good prospects at girlfriends.  Then tragedy struck and I became very mentally ill for a time.  I was living in a rooming house and had a bad dream and went for a long walk.  My mind was all over the place and I had delusional thoughts that kept telling me I was on the moon in the future, that I had been carried through time and that I was a robot like in the terminator movies.  I didn’t know how to ask for help so I called the police and told them I thought someone had given me some hallucinogenic drugs.  I went into the hospital and soon lost everything.  No more property, no more friends, no more money.  I thought I could go back to Edmonton and find respite staying with someone I knew, perhaps even my parents but after a long trip across the rocky mountains this was also impossible and I ended up in a shelter.  After the shelter I graduated to a psychiatric ward and there I met a man who changed my life.

He  was a cab driver and he became something of a father figure to me.  He took the time to teach me about spirituality, about living in a community and inspired me to one day try to become a catholic.  He was just a simple, hobbled old man but he was well known, well liked and owned a house and had many friends.  I will never forget how he told me that his life would not be the same if he had still been a drinker.  He told me that years ago he was on skid row drinking lysol to get high and now he had a good life.  I didn’t really take what he said to heart for a long time, but four years ago I decided to get serious about my life.  I started out with a low-end job for minimum wage but it got me places.  It got me here to Toronto and out west to visit Vancouver again, and it led places.  I was looking at things differently and I had a home where I knew people and was supported and before I knew it a lot of things fell into place.  And what it all seemed to come down to was that if I hadn’t taken responsibility for my life, if I hadn’t put my foot down and decided it was time to grow up, get treatment for my illness, and put my life in order it would end in short order.  Now as I write this I have so much.  I just got an offer for a part-time job doing something I love, something I never thought anyone would pay me for, photography.  I have written books and have the support and respect of so many people as a result.  None of these things happened overnight.  15 years ago I was in the mental hospital and wasn’t even trusted with my own money.  I started slow, I got on medications that worked for me, perhaps more through help from a psychiatrist than my own doing, but I kept taking the medication when I got out of the hospital which was my own doing.  It took a long time to adjust to taking pills but I managed it.  I had to ease my way into work so I started riding my bike a lot and going for walks and then I trained my mind by reading and writing as much as I could.  It also took a lot of effort to win back the respect of someone I cared very much for.  It took a lot of long letters and poems and long talks on the phone but eventually she was in my lifef again.  At one point she gave me a stack of papers in a plastic bag and told me I had told her to hold on to it.  This was my life’s work up to that point, the book that became “Through The Withering Storm”.  I kept working on it, kept learning, kept working my jobs and after many failed attempts and a lot of money spent on editors, agents and printing, I got my book out and never looked back.

I think a lot of what I am saying here has been said before, but there are a couple of things that are a bit different I think.  One is that in my younger days I really wanted to come to understand God, perhaps because of the strange and overpowering delusions I had.  I simply felt that there had to be some evil power, and that if there was evil, there must be good and I wanted to be on the good side.  This led to explorations in buddhism and christianity and also just general spirituality that made me a much better, more stable person.  I also want to stress that it can make a huge difference in a person’s life to have an older person as a good influence.  For a long time I didn’t feel my Dad was a great influence because he was a drinker and we didn’t get along for a long time, but that changed too.  The man who helped show me a lot of that stuff and taught me so many things is now gone, he has passed away, but his words still inspire me and I have had an amazing life as a result of things he taught me.  I don’t want to downplay the role my Dad played though, he never gave up on me no matter how bad things got.  There were things he did I didn’t agree with but in the end he cared enough to keep helping me, keep giving me good advice and to eventuallly quit drinking.  I hope some of these words can help people in the way my Dad and this anonymous old man did.  Keep reading for today’s poem!

 

The Prizefighter
I hope you know by now every little bit we lose
Happens because of another choice that we choose
And there will always be some hope, some way
That those little things will come again some day

Sometimes when you are down and out
You want to just give up and shout
Shout out all your fears and doubts
But that isn’t what this life is all about

Living this life is taking all you get
Never being afraid to place a bet
Load the dice by digging deep
Knowing winners train while losers sleep

It’s not about just being number one
Or trying your very best and having fun
It’s about learning how to run a better race
With each new trouble or trial that we face

Sometimes it comes down to doing what is right
Having the guts to stop the fight
When you see someone get beaten bad
If it was you you would wish someone had

Doing the right thing may not seem so cool
But then you’re not just some little fool
You’re a child of God as much as anyone
And let’s face it we’re all under the gun

When you run the race make sure you still have the breath
For the marathon that’s coming up next
You’re going to have to lead the way
You’re going to be the one with something to say

You may have to carry someone and take their load
And it may be a long, long road
But don’t doubt me when I say there will be a reward
It’s not all about just distances and scores

There’s a place that’s waiting for all of us right now
I can tell you I know it’s true but I can’t tell you how
All the good you do will help you make it there
You have to constantly love and forgive and share

All my life I thought just first place wins
But at the end of the race is where the fight begins
We all must grow up and give up some things we love
For the unimagined reward that waits above

All your mistakes will be forgiven there
It will be peaceful and loving unlike anywhere
So don’t give in and lose the fight
Steel yourself and forever do what’s right

A little faith is all the price you pay
When you get there it will be a blessed day
You will know that you are finally home
You will never again be sad or feel alone

Leif Gregersen
August 18, 2015

The Biggest Question of All… Employment!

DSC_0119This is a photo from a park on 97th street in Edmonton near downtown that is dedicated to the sufferring of the homeless.  This is the only park where outside drinking is allowed and is a short walk from where I live

 

Hello Dear Readers!  Well, today is going to be an interesting one, I have a lot of feelings about this topic.  Have any of you had a hard time, say you just got out of the hospital and you feel you are adjusting to your meds and you have been told not to work?  Or maybe you have been sick for some time and you have gotten out of shape or your illness doesn’t allow you much room for stress?  I know of a number of people with schizophrenia who hear voices so badly despite their medications that a job seems impossible, but there are two huge problems associated with unemployment: what do you do for money and what do you do with your time?  I knew a guy who was so worked up about the way working people looked at him that he would tell them bald faced lies.  I recall him telling his Dad that he had a full-time job when I knew he didn’t and it turned out he meant his full time job was protesting the cuts to welfare payments.  Here is another part of the stigma surrounding an illness, people who are ill are seen as lazy or as leeches on the rest of society.  Sometimes all of the stigma surrounding mental illness can get so bad that the person experiencing it can turn to alcohol and drugs as I did for a short time when I was younger.  This puts a huge strain on family members and the person with the illness and is a drain on limited finances as well.

So, I have outlined some of the problems but haven’t offered any solutions.  I do like to try and offer solutions, but I also like to try and put in a disclaimer that your Psychiatrist is your boss, what he or she says you should do is the end of it, and hopefully you have enough health care insurance to have a nurse or support worker you can talk to about more of this.  These people are the experts, they have the access to resources in your local area that can help you.  I know in Edmonton there is a place called DECSA, which helps the disabled find work, but I want to just throw in my opinion.  I also want people to keep in mind that my experience relates to what I have been through, which is to be diagnosed at different times with schizophrenia and other times with Bipolar Disorder/manic depression.  The first and most important thing above everything is to stay off drugs and alcohol and take your meds.  For me getting off alcohol was a huge priority for the first year after I stopped drinking.  I was attending often up to two alcohol abuse meetings a day and I would often walk long distances to these places, summer and winter.  But the cool thing was that eventually I got my life back and could focus on other things.  These meetings kept me busy and made me feel like I was doing something, and when I felt more comfortable with the new drug and alcohol free me, I started to take on more.  One of the first things I did was to cultivate a love of swimming that I once had.  It meant so much to me to get up before anyone else, walk out to take the bus, read a book or newspaper on the bus and then go to the pool where I eventually made a lot of good friends that I would see each day and talk to in the hot tub or sauna and it really felt good.  After a while I made friends with a lifeguard and she was taking pre-med in University and helped me do a lot to train myself up to a healthy level.  All this wasn’t a job, but it was something that gave me activity to do, got me out and meeting people, and it made the time I had to spend between disability pension benefits a lot easier to handle for many reasons.  Then, when it was time to work a difficult and taxing job, I was strong enough and had enough endurance to handle what was put before me.  For a time I made pretty good money and felt really good about myself.  This was one of the peaks of my life and I feel that a lot of people can do the same who have mental illnesses or even are off the employment grid for an extended period of time.  Work your way up slowly, address all the isssues that area barier to employment, get yourself fit and ready to work and possibly volunteer, then put out a few resumes and who knows how far you can go?  There is more to it though, and it is definitely not a simple thing for a lot of people, but I have always been a believer in baby steps.  One small thing each day towards a goal, and as my readers may know, I am a firm believer in written, clear, distinct goals that one can work towards.

Anyhow, when you get all that together and you do find employment, it is important to have savings for a lot of reasons, but factor in a part of your savings for a trip.  Myself when I first got back to work after my most recent stay in the Psychiatric Hospital, I saved up and then asked my sister to pay half and bought a ticket to Toronto where I had never been.  I had the most awesome vacation, going to see Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and all kinds of cool places.  In the past 10 years now I have been to Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Northern British Columbia, Northern Alberta and beautiful Hawaii.  All just a small step at a time, and all of this is from someone who thought he would spend the rest of his life in a tiny room doomed to keep making the same mistakes and ending up in the hospital for them.  There is hope, there is always hope!

Below is a poem I wrote for today’s blog.  It isn’t exactly relevant and it is a style I haven’t used before, but I hope all of you will enjoy it.

 

That Which We Lost We Never Knew

Innocence
Do we lose it all at once?
Our grown up souls
Crying, reaching to get through
When, I beg, I pray to really know
When does it all come apart
Sweet virginity just couldn’t be
Once lost
It just seems to not be it

Is it in
A lie you know will be cutting to the bone
A lie given to
A loved one you once thought you could never hurt
But past innocence
Their feelings matter not
Innocence
Though we don’t know how
Is lost
Lost among the breeze

But do we gain
When we lose our innocence
Sometimes it seems
The loss gives us the upper hand
A little edge
On all who came before
A way to stay
And older, wiser soul

Then there is that one
That one, that very special one
That person whom we all must know
Who has our love
And holds in their hands our self esteem
Who never lost
That which we cherished once
Innocence
It flew away among the wind
Happiness
Was never really ours

Leif Gregersen
August 15, 2015

Medications/Pills: The Tough Questions

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Hello Dear Readers!  Well, I thought I would tackle kind of a large problem for those of us who suffer from disorders that require Psychiatric meds and there is so much I can talk about.  I think that the first question that one should address is,when do you stop taking your pills?  When are side effects so bad that you really should go off of them.  I have so much to say about this I will dive right in.  I think the most simple answer to this question is, you can go off your pills when your Doctor says you can.  Back in 2001, before 9/11 happened and changed the world, I was on about 1000mg of Depekane a day and I was living on my own.  Most people will see the recipe for disaster right there: I was living alone.  You see, I had heard about an apartment that was very small and also very cheap and in a not too bad building.  About this time, I had somehow decided that going to the Psychiatrist was a waste of my time.  This was another serious mistake.  Now, things didn’t happen overnight, I was taking my medications every day but in the process of living in this very tiny, very dirty place with no human contact, I came to decide that I could lower (not stop, but just lower) the dose of my Depekane because it was making me drowsy among other things.  I cut the medication in half, but that was enough to cause the worst mishap of my life which nearly killed me.  I slowly began to get ideas in my head that I owned the buildings in the complex I lived in, I stopped eating almost completely, and went into serious serious depressions where I would cry out loud at things on the TV.  Life had gone from being comfortable with lots of friends to being almost completely unbearable in a short period of time and unluckily enough I had a good credit rating at the time and kept getting more.  I spent mounds of money and eventually ended up in the hospital with no means to pay them off.  But I will stop there, I have likely told this story before and it can also be found in greater and better detail in my book, “Inching Back To Sane”.  The  fact was that I had made some serious mistakes that led to worse and worse things.

I think one of the key aspects of my recovery over the past few years is that I have not lived alone.  By the grace of God, I was let into a very positive group home where I am fed regularly, my health and mental well-being is monitored, I get my medications every day and they throw a kniption fit if I miss a Psychiatrist or Pharmacist appointment.  Living there now for just about 14 years I have seen a lot of guys fail, and it seems just about every time it has to do with properly taking medications and dealing with the side effects of this.  There was this one guy, who was an addict and alcoholic who saw it as a badge of honor to get his Doctor to lower his anti-psychotic.  Then not long after as a result of his alcohol abuse he had to go back in the hospital for a long time.  I went to visit him a couple of times and it seemed so awful that he had to go through all that because when I saw him after his hospital visit, he had gotten no further along than he had been.  Hopefully he was wiser about taking his meds.

I want to mention something about medications.  There is a funny rule that applies a lot of the time, and that is that the longer you stay on medications, the more likely it is that they will work properly for you and that you will adjust to the side effects.  I want to use an extreme example.  I tried Lithium, and it made my hands shake so bad I went off of it.  I got sick.  I tried Tegratol and it made me exceedingly restless and I petitioned my Doctor to put me on something else, the drug I take now for a mood stabilizer, Depekene.  This drug works, but it causes extreme diarrhea.  This is something very hard to deal with, but the fact that now my hands don’t shake and that I can have my concentration back is extremely important to me, so what I do is manage the side effect as best as I can.  If I have to work, I take pills.  If I am going out I make sure I go to the bathroom beforehand and I make sure that I go before I leave a place that has a bathroom for a place that doesn’t.  Having the runs is now a fact of my life, but I haven’t let it ruin me, but I do have to accept that I need my pills, and I need to take precautions so I can live a normal life.  One has to accept that things may get difficult, but stopping medication you need is no option.  I hope this blog is helpful to those who read it, I think a lot of it applies to people who don’t even have a mental illness, because sooner or later if you reach a certain age, you have to get used to facts that aren’t the most convenient.  Some of them can be just as difficult as the problem I was just talking about.  There may be men who can’t get erections, some as a result of meds, some just as a result of getting older and even some because of poor diet or exercise.  The fact is that you need to own your diagnosis, be prepared to live with it and do what needs to be done.  I know from personal experience that it is very hard to go to a Doctor and talk about erections, but sex is something just about essential to a healthy life.  If you can’t be honest with your Doctor though, he can’t help you and you need to find new strategies or a new Doctor.  I found the best advice I have gotten about seeing a Doctor is, if you aren’t up to talking and have things you need to say, write a note and give it directly to your Doctor when you visit.  You can even mail a letter if you find yourself to be a better writer than you are a talker.  With that I will leave you Dear Readers with best wishes for a wonderful day.

 

As Hard As Things May Seem

Sometimes I find it hard to face each new day
But I have to work, I need my pay
And my best shot at happiness will not knock on my door
That’s what pounding the street and making your own way is for

My bed is soft and warm; the world outside is hard and cruel
On days like this I wish I could have stayed in school
But above all my whining I have to say
If I get up I may see her today

Have I not told you of the perfect love I met
She has such a lovely face no one could forget
She has a smile that radiates a glow
Each day my love for her continues to grow

My job makes sense to me when I think of her eyes
And her golden flowing curls all perfect like the sunrise
She gives me so much joy when I can see
The myriad of things she could do and be

She’s lovely, wonderful and she cares so much
So full of love she could heal the blind with just a touch
She fills my whole heart with love and peace
My sister’s daughter, my love, my niece

No matter how much life may beat me down
For her I can get up and take on another round
She is a new creation, but still my own flesh and bone
And because she came to Earth I can face the cruel and the unknown

I suppose I would like one day to have my own child
But there is no way to compare my niece’s smile
To anyone else on Earth or heaven above
She’s my favorite girl, my first experience with perfect love

Leif Gregersen
August 11, 2015

The Question of Goals, The Question of Dreams

143This is an incredible scene from Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park, one of my favorite places on Earth

     Well, I am really fond of quoting a study done on a bunch of Harvard graduates a while back.  They took a graduating class and asked them how many of them had clear, written goals as to where they saw themselves going and what they saw themselves doing and only 3% of them actually had them (please don’t quote me, I am only estimating, it is a while since I read the actual study).  They went back to these students a number of years later, and they found that regardless of whether or not the people had stuck to their plan, the 3% group had made more money than the entire rest of their graduating class.  Lesson?  Know where you are going, be a planner!

But how does that apply to mental health?  In some key ways it applies, especially if you have become part of the growing movement in the WRAP or Wellness Recovery Action Plan course.  I took the course and tried to get everything out of it I could.  I attended every session, which was my main goal at the start of the course and as a result I now have a written plan as to what to do if I get sick, what some of the things are that could make me sick again, and warning signs and much more.  For those that are interested, there is actually a ‘wrap app’ for most smartphones where you can plug in all of these things and come up with a plan to improve your life that applies across many situations.

There is still another thing though, what does planning have to do with someone who suffers, who can’t work.  Well, you could write down a goal as something like I did which was to find a decent part-time job.  As a note here, I strongly recommend that anyone who does get a job that has a mental health issue should be as honest as possible to their employer about it and also try and get a union job.  I am in a union that does so much for me.  I can turn down work if I don’t feel up to it, I have the option of cancelling shifts if I am sick or for no reason if it is 24 hours before, and I am paid well and treated well.  This isn’t the end of the story though, there are many jobs out there that are non-union that can be just as good as mine.  I think the important thing is to try and move towards some kind of employment, staying at home and doing little than posting to forums and chatting on Facebook can be very detrimental to one’s mental health, especially if you are not maintaining a proper sleep schedule.

So, basically, the first goal is to try and get yourself ready to be employed.  There are a number of things that can get you started, but I think the first thing you need is a reason to be employed.  Myself I wanted the extra money and when I had saved enough I bought a laptop and I also took a trip to visit my sister on the other side of the country.  I did this in two stages, one stage was where I simply tried to sleep while the sun was down and stay awake while the sun was up, and then the second stage was that I needed to get physically fit for a job.  I happen to live in a city where bus passes and gym memberships to city facilities are greatly subsidized though I used neither of these things at first, I simply rode my bike as much as I could, and this was something that did me a world of good.  If I hadn’t gotten into good shape I would have never been able to hold down the job I have had for 7 years which has put a lot of money in my pocket.

So baby steps, goals, plans.  They all have their place.  I can’t even begin to describe the mess my life was in when I was back in my 20’s, but a strong commitment to taking my medications, listening to my Doctors, honoring the wishes of my parents to get well and a number of other things came together and a miracle happened.  I have a life now when there was a time when I felt my life had ended.  Try this.  Try sitting down and writing out all the things you want in life.  Do you want a motorcycle?  Write it down.  Do you want a violin and lessons to get back up to snuff?  It might be a great investment if you are good enough to busk in the streets or play for parties or even fancy restaurants.  Write it down!  There really is no limits, this is your mind having fun.  Then, when you have written it down, make a plan.  It may take ten years, it may take two months, but until you figure it out you will be a lot less likely to follow through.  And I want to mention something for the younger people who may read this blog.  A wonderful fact about life is that as you get older, even if you get the same money you will get more money.  How?  Maybe you will be able to quit smoking and put $5 to $10 more in your pocket each and every day.  Maybe you will strengthen your legs and learn the joy of walking and save on taxi fares or learn how to discipline yourself not to eat in restaurants but to prepare your own food.  And another factor that comes into play is that as you get older more jobs will come your way, especially if you are able to overcome depression (perhaps through newer meds, or trying different ones) or other illnesses that can often make you feel like you don’t care about being a good worker.  Anyhow, I hope this leaves my readers with a sense that they have learned something.  Please don’t be afraid to comment and as usual, don’t forget to scroll down for today’s poem which is meant to be themed to this post.  All the best Dear Readers, and if you like my blog posts, please support my efforts to bring them to you and purchase a paperback or eBook of my writing from the ‘purchase books’ link above.

A Beautiful Soul, Loving and True

Does your soul long for things grander than the sky
You know, you can have those things if you really try
I have had many hopes and dreams that I held close
Wonderful things, only those I wanted the most

When I think of these things I see my perfect wife
A spacious home, beautiful car, all that’s good in life
I may never have all that I so deeply desire
But these goals keep my heart on fire

I never understood why some aim low
Never let their dreaming mind thrive and glow
Our time here is so short and it is a beautiful place
So why not run as though to win the race

Just ask your inner mind how you can earn it all
Give yourself a reason to get up each time you fall
Write down on paper all you want to have and be
You can have it all, this land is strong and free

I just want to ask if you do end up with more
Look back behind and hold open the door
There will be someone wanting to get through
Please remember someone held the door for you

We all must share the gifts that life lays at our feet
And when you do this people will say you are kind and sweet
Then who knows perhaps your future mate will see in you
Your beautiful soul, loving and true

Leif Gregersen
August 10, 2015

The Question of Pills

leif-desk     There is so much about pills these days I thought I could write a whole blog entry on the subject.  Above is a picture of me at my desk and you can clearly see that I am not the thinnest person in the world.  The fact is, I weigh 260 pounds right now and I feel awful about it.  As a young adult, I was 18 and could do 7 chin-ups, 30  push-ups and run for 20 miles if I had to, and that was when I smoked.  Now, though I swim, walk long distances, bicycle longer distances and don’t smoke, I don’t know if I could do any of those things and it really comes down to the weight I gained taking the pills I am on.  Of course a tiny pill doesn’t add any weight to a person, but what my pills do is make me so very weak and hungry that I have to be eating just about all the time.  For some years now I have managed to hover around 250-260 which is better than gaining, but I really wish I could get to a healthier weight.  Most of my younger days, including my adult years right up to age 30 I was 170 pounds, a significant difference.  I met a young woman at a support group once who had been on a medication that caused her to gain weight and switched to another called Lamotragene and she lost a lot of weight.  I thought all my dreams had come true but I went to my Doctor and tried out the drug and it left me so tired I could get very little done.  I have to say though that I am very grateful for the pills that do this, they have kept me from having a serious breakdown for more than 14 years which is incredible and unprecedented with me.  I also take a pill called Prozac, and I feel a bit bad, but the fact is I love this pill.  I take it in the morning and often go back to bed for a few hours because after you take it you have the sweetest, happiest, most perfect dreams.  Instead of my usual nightmares, I have dreams of high school crushes and large amounts of money and all kinds of pleasurable things.  Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.  I am very reluctant though to like any kind of a pill because it seems just about all of them create a dependence, a tolerance to the drug and all kinds of side effects no one may know about for a long time to come.  I find myself taking a lot of ibuprophen and acetominophen for headaches and sometimes these drugs help me sleep a little, but I worry if they make me sleep because of a lack of pain or if they make you sleep because they are sedative.  If they are sedative I am of the mind that I shouldn’t take them.  It seems a bit silly to say this, but I have seen a lot of people who have allowed themselves to get addicted to pills, sadly my own mother was very much a saint in many ways but her and my Dad were of the belief that it was perfectly okay for her to be taking more than 10 kinds of pills despite repeated medical advice.  Anyhow, I should stick to my own problems in this blog, I just want to talk about one more pill, something that I find helpful but again somewhat risky.  It is melatonin, a type of sleep hormone that is very effective in helping insomnia, but I have a strange problem when it comes to sleep.  I am very much subject to milder forms of mania, the kind one gets when you just find yourself talking to fast, laughing too hard at your own jokes and being able to forgo sleep as long as you want to.  If I am in one of these states, often brought on by excessive coffee use, there is little melatonin can do for me, and what it and other pills I have tried to help me sleep does is leave me pretty drowsy the next morning.  I should note though, that melatonin has another interesting side effect, it actually enhances sexual pleasure, but I strongly hope no one takes more than a recommended dose of this pill towards that purpose.  I can notice almost right away with melatonin when I take too much, it is a very unpleasant feeling and can come about just by taking a small dose three days in a row.  You feel extremely restless and can’t sit or lay still and you just about have to get up and pace until the feeling goes away, which could take hours.  I personally cleared use of melatonin with my Psychiatrist and only use it when I am desperate for a sleep solution.  I hope some of this helps my readers treat their illnesses with more care, once again feel free to write me any time you like, I will do my best to answer.    viking3082000@yahoo.com   And yes, there will be a poem today, just look below!  (sorry, I will be posting photos of Toronto soon!)

 

I Can Feel It Coming Back

I once thought all the joys of life were done
But in reality they had just begun
After a time of pain life became just drudgery
I felt so sad for all I would never do or see

But step by inch, life built its way back up
I soon drank from the wellspring of God’s loving cup
I took a chance and flew away far from home
And soon I learned no one really wants to be alone

It was hard at first, I had lost a dear true friend
But love triumphed and we reunited in the end
I thought wealth was passed, happy times were done
It was just a different part of life newly begun

I still recall the moment when it all changed so wonderfully
Those simple words my sister said to me
Next time I see you, an Uncle you will be
From that time on life was happiness and glee

I have to also say I owe two precious friends all I achieved
With their support I did more than I could have believed
One friend had kept a forgotten draft of my book
Another angel friend had an editor take a look

Now I feel I am a valued piece of my beloved home
No longer broke and hurting, no longer all alone
It all took just a little step each day
And the odd marathon of effort I have to also say

Now I’m living proof that though things can knock you down
As long as you believe in you there will be another round
But I ask you don’t forget without love, family and friends
Dreams can come true but won’t fulfill you in the end

There is a trinity called love, hope and work you see
That can make all you dream really come to be
Never tell yourself that you can’t succeed, achieve
What occurs in our lives is always what we believe

Leif Gregersen
August 9, 2015

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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

Enter The Metropolis Batman

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Hello my fellow people from far and wide.  I thought I would re-use a photo I took back in Edmonton which is above.  It is such a beautiful candid shot of a raven that I wanted to put it up again.  As many of you know I am currently in Toronto and likely staying for some time.  I would almost like to move here but I feel Edmonton is a better place for me.  It is a funny thing, conservatives are generally associated with less support for the poor and disabled, but in Alberta where we have had a conservative government for a long time I am much better off than most places.  I get a disability benefit there that includes a subsidized bus pass, free world class gym membership good for several pools and other places, free library card (whoo-hoo!  I love the library!) and medication and dental coverage is also included.  I almost feel reluctant to share this because I fear one of my ultra-right friends will learn what I get simply for being disabled and feel offended.  Anyhow, today was truly an incredible day.  I have been wanting to go swimming or do something fun, but I decided to try and get down to business.  I have two books I had a few copies of printed up and sent here to my sister’s place and I am going to try and sell a few, making this a working vacation of sorts, so I spent a good part of the day getting on the phone and seeing what kinds of book sales and all that I can drum up.  I didn’t get too far, but I did a few hours of work and later on in the day I met with my classy cousin Julz downtown.  It is so cool to navigate Toronto with Julz because he has been here since 1999 and really knows the place well.  he showed me a few historical sights and we went to a fish place and had some really good fries.  The only thing I really fault Julz with is that it seems he always wants to improve my life, figure out a way to cure my mental illness, get me off medication and slim again, but the reality is that there is no cure for what I have, it is as much a physical illness as being without an arm and he isn’t even a Psychiatrist.  It is great that he cares, but what I need is a good friend I can talk to, not someone who thinks they can cure something that is genetically in my bones.  I have to admit though, it felt great to see Julz and I had a fantastic time checking out downtown and riding the subway.  I was so amazed at the masses of people out on the street even at 10:00pm on a weeknight.  It really is something to be in a major city.  Even Vancouver wasn’t like this.

One thing did disturb me a lot was that at one point, Julz and I were walking down the street and this slight, probably starving young man was sitting with a hat out to passers-by asking them for change but not making much sense.  I had the strong feeling that this poor dude was an untreated person with schizophrenia.  I wanted at the very least to give him some change, but I didn’t have any.  If I had been by myself I might have gone so far as to get him a hamburger or a coffee and talk to him and see if he is getting help.  Another thing about the incident that scared me was that I could see myself being someone like this, the only real difference is a few months of medications and a proper home that I had and he didn’t.  I guess one person can’t change the world, but I sure hope that if I ever make a success of myself that I don’t forget my debt and my promise to people like this poor soul, to help them as much as I was helped, to do everything to ease their pain and increase their comfort, totally non-judgmentally.  I hope this works as some food for thought.  On a lighter note, I wrote a not-bad poem today about traveling and the meaning of home, I hope you enjoy it as it sits below….

 

Carry Me To A Place Bright And New

Although one may travel far and wide
There really is nowhere you can hide
You can’t let go of what you are inside
We are a part of each other despite our pride

But don’t ever let that stop you from wandering
I know when I explore new places my heart sings
But always in a short while I long for my return
For friends and loved ones my soul burns

In this world there are many things to do and see
Staying locked up at home you will never be free
To taste the wonders of this place
This blue island lost in space

And in a way once you have travelled far
You somehow discover more of who you are
You no longer need two houses and a car
You no longer look for solutions at the bar

If you can bring a person close to you
And then when you see things wonderful and new
You will bond and grow to love each other more
And after both dream of that distant shore

I have been far away in the air and at sea
Where you can just breathe and live and be
But I had to return to my beloved home
If for no other reason than to write this poem

Now I have become a living testament
To glories, sights and sound all heaven sent
And now I hope before my whole life is spent
I will do much more than just work and pay the rent

Of all those places that I went to see
There was one thing they couldn’t be for me
Sure I was happy, tanned and free
But I wasn’t in my own loving home and community

Leif Gregersen

saneHello Dear Readers!  Well, I have to apologize, I don’t have any photos to run so I thought I would just put in a picture of my book.  Things have been going really well with the book, I was on TV the other day in Edmonton promoting it.  It has won an honorable mention in a big contest and right at the moment I am in Toronto trying to promote the book.

The trip really has been wonderful, though the plane ride had its bumps.  The guy sitting next to me seemed to want to try and push me over as far as I could go and I was near the bathrooms so just about anyone, including the flight attendants had to slide past me rubbing themselves on my arm as they went.  Ewwww!

But actually the plane ride was only just over 3 hours which was a cake walk for me since I took another one of my annual trips to New Hazelton (see the blog entry ‘Tommy and Red’) and ended up on the bus or waiting in a bus depot for a total of 22 hours.  Traveling is so awesome though, now that I am at my sister’s place in Toronto I feel great.  I slept most of yesterday but I do feel pretty good.  Tonight we went to a place called The Keg Steakhouse and though the prices were higher than any place I’ve ever eaten, I had a pretty good time.  I ended up ordering an 8 ounce top sirloin and baked potato, and both were beautiful.

As far as my mental health goes, I feel okay.  I don’t know if it really is bad for mental health to sleep a lot, I certainly know that it is a symptom of nearly every major disorder, including schizophrenia and depression.  I often feel I need more than 10 hours a day, especially if I take anything to help me to sleep.

For some reason I find myself saddened by a young man in Edmonton.  Everyone in my neighborhood seems to know him, he has this whole gothic look to him, he has flowing curly blond hair and very masculine features.  He wears a long black trench coat even in the summer and can be seen wandering around talking to himself.  I used to see him a lot at the farmer’s market, walking around, quoting laws and all kinds of stuff.  I think back to some of my sicker days living in Vancouver I would turn my head and yell and then resume walking as if I hadn’t made any sound.  I have run into a lot of people who say things that they themselves don’t want to do but they somehow hope by saying  it out loud someone else will do it, and I suppose there are those who think people are listening to them with a hidden microphone or possibly that aliens are listening to them. What bothers me about this guy in the trench coat is that I saw him the other day sleeping on a park bench and I really hope he isn’t homeless.  I know so little about him even though he is technically a neighbor and I think a lot about how people shun those with mental illness and even get angry or violent towards them.  What can one person do though?  It really sucks.

Anyhow, I think that is all I really feel like sharing today.  I will try and take some photos of around Toronto, it really is a beautiful city with all kinds of trees, lots of natural wildlife like black squirrels and birds and so many new varieties of flowers that I have never seen.  There is also a lot of amazing architecture here, many many high rises and of course the CN Tower and the twin curving towers of city hall.  Below is today’s poem dear readers, hope you enjoy it!

 

Reach Out and Touch The World

 

Strike forth and do not let your heart or mind grow still
your hopes and dreams are what your soul wills
cross the world because all of it is your home
love all the souls on earth and they won’t let you be alone

I left my home when I was still part boy part man
left all that I loved, gave up all my plans
but somehow this path led me to the one
with her, life is now joy and full of love and fun

I try now to move the world with words
and I find so much joy in sunshine and trees and birds
and a dear friend is showing me the way
to love these things and still have it all one day

there is a world out there that longs and waits for you
perhaps even a love so beautiful and true
but it will not find you by breaking down your door
it might just be found in crashing waves by the seashore

we all need to do this, leave home now and then
never worry that you won’t find your way back again
if you don’t go you won’t ever know if there was a better way
or if that perfect love you haven’t found yet will come to you some day

I sit now writing poems of my love
and thank the god that he is our creator up above
because he gave all of us the precious gift of you
you, dear reader, with a heart full of love and peace so true

no, I don’t have to know your name
because the truth is we are all the same
we want to care for and love those that are near
and live our lives without any fear

love and the wish for peace is something we all share
despite the different burdens that everyone bears
work hard, stay humble, experience the happiness
and know that if you are not lonely you are richly blessed

Leif Gregersen
August 2, 2015