Month: September 2016

Poetry, Bipolar, and Coping Skills: Becoming an Advocate

Poetry, bipolar and coping skills: These are what started out as my therapy and what made me become a public speaker and author, advocating for mental health awareness and mental illness understanding.  I hope all of you enjoy today’s blog, I am writing it after having the extreme honor of being asked to speak at the U of A medical school as someone with life experience with mental illness and the treatment of my disorders in the hospital.

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The Rushing Waters of Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Today’s Poem:  (please scroll past for today’s blog entry)

This Time Means So Much

 

Now in the darkness

Combing through my life

Now in the starlight

Moment by moment

 

I fear there were things

I could have completed

I fear there were things

I must have done wrong

 

Here in the darkness

I try to replay the madness

Here in the nighttime

I try to forgive myself

 

What did she mean

When she asked me to leave

What did it mean

When she never called back

 

Here in the moonlight

I don’t know if she even liked me

But here in the darkness

I can make it all make sense

 

Here in the dim light

My thoughts torture me

Here in the night light

I hope to lay all the past to rest

 

It helps me a little

To meditate on the cinch points

It helps me I think

To not make those mistakes once again

 

Here in the cool night

Staring up at the stars

Watching the moon’s glory

I find strength to move on

 

Leif Gregersen

September 19, 2016

     Well, I would like to talk a little about how I became something of an advocate for mental health awareness.  I owe a great deal of what I have become to a young woman named Jillian Jones who worked at the Schizophrenia Society and supported and instructed me to the point where I could go to schools, training classes, community organizations, including colleges and universities and talk about how mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder affected me and why it is so important to have an understanding of mental illness.  Of course, there were many other people, one of them being an old friend named Donna who one day said she could help me get the book I had written published and referred me to an excellent editor.  Without my book, I don’t know if I would have gone on to give talks and promote mental health awareness like I have.

There are a lot of people and organizations I would like to acknowledge, but the fact is that mental illness is something so insidious that it takes a lot of help from a lot of people over the whole course of a person’s life to overcome it.   Sometimes I feel bad that it takes so many of society’s resources to keep me going, but the fact is if you look at things honestly, I would be costing society a lot more if I either was a permanent patient in a hospital or if I were homeless and insane.  Many people like to shy away from the word insane, but the cold fact is that without my medication and treatment team, I would soon be insane.  Psychosis would slowly creep up on me, I would get grandiose and delusional thoughts, and I may even act on them.  I am so lucky that it has been fifteen years since those things have happened, but I constantly have to remind myself that the dark specter of mental illness is just under the surface of my psyche.

I don’t want to just write about the negative side of mental illness, though, I would like to write about some coping strategies I have learned.  One of them, of course, is goal setting.  I recall first getting out of the hospital and being asked by an occupational therapist what I wanted to do for a career.  Some may have said they didn’t think they would ever work again, and I have to be honest, I had some doubts, but I said that I wanted to be a writer.  She asked how I would go about this and I said I would train myself over the next five years.  It actually took ten, but I think if I didn’t have that goal in mind in leaving the hospital it would have never happened.  When a person has a life affected by mental illness, there is a long chain of things that should happen.  First, they need to be put on medications, which could mean, but not always, that the person has to go into a hospital.  Somehow they need to be made to understand that they must trust their treatment team and take their advice.  After they get more stable, I think it is important to take a lot of life skills training.  These classes can teach a person how to interact with others, communicate, control anger, and many more things.  Life skills training in things like cooking and managing a household are goo too, but that isn’t the life skills I mean right now.  After that, no matter what age the person is, unless they are able to resume working a job they had before, is to get some kind of education.  Personally, I took a lot of free courses through the public library which not only allowed me to learn how to use this website, but also taught me magazine writing, poetry writing, and many other skills that have helped me support myself with the aid of a disability pension.  The next step after educational training is to get a job, even if you have to start as a volunteer.  Volunteering can be so rewarding, I used to visit seniors and talk with them and read to them.  The great thing about volunteering is that you can pick what you want to do and get real world experience in something that you never dreamed you would be able to do.  I have a friend who volunteered for a long time at a community police station, another friend who was a welder in an aviation museum.

Well, that will be about the whole shebang for today.  It would be great if people could comment or give feedback to me about what they feel about my website.  I can be reached at the email viking3082000@yahoo.com if anyone wants to discuss things privately.  Mental health to all!

Leif Gregersen

 

 

Making the Transition: Living Alone After Hospitalization

 

Living alone after a hospitalization can be difficult.  It took me 15 years!  I started out in a group home where I was supported, and everyone in the home had been hospitalized at one point for a mental illness of some type.  This made for less stigma regarding my illness (bipolar/anxiety/schizoaffective disorder) and forced me to learn a lot of skills that are helping me thrive in my first self-contained apartment in yes, 15 years!  Of course, there are my books which I feel are the most important part of my recovery.

(apologies: Today’s introduction and photo ran a bit long.  Please enjoy today’s poem and scroll aaaalllllllll the way down to the bottom to read today’s actual post!)

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This photo on the right is a picture I took while visiting my sister in Toronto.  it is three tiers of a wing of the Ontario Provincial Parliament building.  I really love to explore and photograph lavish art like this, especially when it draws on the architecture of the ancient Greeks as does a lot of ornate government buildings.  I don’t really know that period in history that well, but I think this trend is because of the fact that Greece is credited as the birthplace of Democracy.  One of the things that keeps me going, having a lot of fun and experiencing new things is travel, which I think is essential in my quest to be more independent.  I always try to get the most out of my travel dollar, booking my own flights, staying with friends or in Hostels.  One of the best things to do is to learn the local public transportation system as I did in Toronto and London.  Please see below the poem underneath this text for the rest of today’s blog, and if you like my poetry or other writing, please support me by buying a book off amazon!

 

A Madman Who Was King

  

The air is cool, the night is dark

I’m lost among my books

Pages of pictures of people

Through the ages

Their eyes all seem so stark

 

I dreamed about one of these before

Perhaps I was just a child

He’s the only one with just a little more

A look a little wild

 

Gazing into the picture neatly framed

Trying to see the soul it represented

One that is long forgotten perhaps because

Into madness this man had descended

 

It is said he had a particular madness

That warped the most brilliant of all thoughts

And hence all in his life he ever accomplished

Was to be left tied in leather knots

 

I lose myself in this portrait

In the image on the page

Wondering if in a time like now

This poor soul could even draw a living wage

 

It may be over 200 years

It maybe be an ocean or two away

But when I look in this man’s eyes

I think if he were well he would have something to say

 

But they would just fill him up with pills

Until he had no more independent thought

Until he no longer cared to chase

Any hope of the dreams that he once sought

 

It was said he was a happy man

Until they took all he had

But that taking his writing away

Was the only thing that made him sad

 

You see this man had dreams

And could express them like no other

But when he showed the slightest sign of madness

They locked him up and gave his kingdom to his brother

 

It is such a funny thing to me

This ancient man a king in a far off land

Because despite high birth and massive wealth

No one wept for him or tried to understand

 

Living Alone After a Hospitalization:

Well, when you get out of the hospital you are going to need to look at a number of things.  The first time I was out of the hospital 15 years ago I had become such a wreck that things were done for me.  This was extremely difficult for me to face, but I had to accept that I had a real illness, and honestly, let’s take a look at the difference between a physical illness and a mental one–is there really a difference?  Is there something about the brain that is separate from the body?  The fact is, the brain had mass, is an organ, needs blood, and can go haywire just like a bladder or liver or heart.  No one should be ashamed or feel they have to make excuses about having a mental illness, it isn’t something a person chooses to do.  Just like they are doing with drugs in some countries, instead of shuffling people off and stigmatising them, we need to look at harm reduction and community involvement.

So, the first thing I really started to do when I left the hospital was to write.  I had a computer though I had no printer or Internet connection but I would play games and write.  I would write poems, journals.  I didn’t send any of them out like I do now, but I needed to start somewhere.  I had a goal and I was willing to work towards it no matter how long it took.  Before that time I had written some stories, some poems.  Things were very different then, to write a book you kind of had to lock yourself away and then send it to a publisher or agent, pay all kinds of fees, you often got ripped off and even if you had good news come back it would take years.  Now people are using SEO to write books that come up on all kinds of search engines, self-publishing them and sending them out, and they are garbage.  Not to say writing was never crap before, but it seemed that people spent a lot more time polishing and perfecting their work.

So let’s break down what we have so far.  You’re in the hospital, you get out and you don’t know if you can cope and worry you may go back in a few months.  First of all, take some time no matter how hard it is and take your medications.  You have a physical illness that can almost 75% of the time be corrected with medications.  That number goes up when you add in group therapy and counselling.  So get the treatment you need.  It truly sucks that some people in the US live without a health plan to get themselves these things, but you have to do everything you can to get better.  No one thought I would get better when I first got out, but here I am now supporting myself with writing work and book sales and I’m travelling and I have all kinds of great opportunities come my way.  If you live in the US, why not try and contact a pharmaceutical company about getting discounted or even free medication because of hardship?  This is a tax write-off and also a major Public Relations step that the big companies often do.  You may see a Psychiatrist at a free clinic who isn’t helping you, but you can look into getting a more effective doctor that you can work with by paying on a sliding scale.  I knew one guy who was seeing a Psychiatrist for $1 a visit, and he helped him a lot.

The next thing that is very important is to have a goal, to have something to work towards.  It could be a new computer, it could be a reliable car, it could be anything.  For me, it was having a girlfriend and getting out of the cycle of living on disability benefits.  I haven’t accomplished these totally, but I have female friends in my life who I really care for, and my disability benefits are now reduced because I work and I get benefits from another program that I paid into.  Again and again I will say that you need goals because without them you are just floating, you can’t look at the past year or years and figure out what was working and what wasn’t, you aren’t going in a direction.

So I hope at this point you have goals and you have found a way to optimize your medication and can afford it.  I don’t want to bore you with too much reading today, but I think the next thing to think about is relationships.  Mostly family, but friends and life partners too.  Work hard on making these as strong and loving as you can.  Work hard to build trust and look for ways to show people you care, talk with them about their feelings and your feelings and invest in them.  They are the ones who are really going to help you as time goes by.  That’s all for today Dear Readers, I am going to post a picture below, I hope you all are benefitting from my words.

Leif Gregersen

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