Working and Living With a Mental Illness

Working and Living With a Mental Illness blog below today’s photo, beneath that find today’s poem.

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                      This is a little dragonfly I met while on an excursion to Elk Island Park with a friend the other day

      Working and living with a mental illness.  It can be one of the most difficult things a person can do, but in many ways, it can possibly save their lives.  I recall when I was young it never occurred to me that being in a psychiatric hospital would preclude me working.  Towards the end of one of my stays in the hospital, I was withdrawing and spending money like it was going out of style and the staff called me on it.  I told the truth, I had a job waiting for me the day I got out.  Mind you it was a temp labour job, but it was money and I was willing to work.

Many psychiatrists will look at their patients and decide the best thing for them is to put them on Aish, a program here in Alberta that looks after the needs of disabled people.  Myself I was very ill for a long time before the question came up, and I was the one that raised it.  I had been living on $500 a month in a $350 a month apartment and it was getting really difficult to get by.  I found I could work a fair bit in my job as a security guard, but that I would often run out of steam and the pressure would get to me.  Each job seems to have its own kind of pressure.  The difficulty with being a security guard was the long night shifts when I would work and live after work with very little contact with the outside world.  Then there were jobs that just seemed impossible to get through the day doing, like working in factories, especially some of the plastics plants I worked in.

I am often left wondering if one of the major things that happened to me in the psychiatric hospital, and I don’t claim to say this could have been helped, was that I lost my connection to my schedule.  For a long time I had gone to school all day, worked most evenings, did my schoolwork and studying and I could cope.  Then after being in the hospital, it seemed that everything had too much stress to it, that I could no longer handle the rigors of little sleep and long work days.

I thought I had found the perfect job when I got on as a permit holder with the union I worked for most recently.  I did so many fun things from travel to seeing concerts and working on movie sets and theatre and opera houses.  The money was fantastic as well and I could afford to indulge all my whims from having a car to having numerous computers to tinker with and learn about.  But a different kind of stress started coming up.  Part of it was the physical strain of all the hard work and heavy lifting, but another part of it was just the people.  Rotten, cruel, judgemental hardly begins to describe it.  There was this one guy who figured he was pretty tough and so he would be completely rude right to a person’s face, even if they were trying to include him in a joke or tell him something he didn’t know.  There were a lot of older guys who were total dicks about how to do the work or even just how to stay out of their way.  And if you showed any signs of not being able to do the back breaking work, they would humiliate and belittle you to no end.  I finally had to give it up.

I think I have managed to carve out my own niche these days.  I am taking a community-University class, I am doing a great deal of writing.  I even have put my name in for a job as a peer support counsellor for the mental health care system.  Life has gotten really good and in some ways I can see it getting better.  I think one of the key things about working while you have a mental illness is that it is so important to have a future, to lay out plans, to feel as though your life is going in a direction.  It can start very simple.  It can start with just writing a little in a journal each day and building up.  It can start with going to the swimming pool three times a week to get yourself in shape to get a job.  I actually have a friend who has severe schizophrenia who has managed, just with a minimum wage job to save up and buy a BMW motorcycle and a 2-year-old Cadillac.  Setting up goals and dreams of doing something like that can go a long way towards motivating someone to work, and if you do get out there and find something, it will make your whole life so much better.

You Took Me In and Cared So Much

 

I was fighting sickness, tired and all alone

Then McCauley, you gave me a home

It took a while to stake out my place

But soon I learned each name, each face

 

As a child I thought money was the living end

Now money seems just a game of pretend

Pretending happiness from something fake

Never trying to give, only trying to take

 

Here now where I live laugh and sing

I walk the streets like my favorite Danish King

A man who didn’t think himself to be

More than anyone, he was a King who could see

 

See that glory and riches only serve a few needs

And that true joy from giving comes only ultruistically

Thinking about this, I cut through Coboto Park

Walking through lit up trees in the dark

 

I also ponder all of this as I walk past the grafitti wall

Pop culture art freely given to one and all

And how I enjoy my breakfast at Spinellis Café

Then go off to live and love another day

 

This place has been my home for fifteen years

Through births and victories and grief’s salty tears

Now I want to welcome you, neighbor, friend

To live in this little paradise and keep coming back again

 

Old friends, you’ve seen me live near you, you’ve seen me age

And I know enough about all of you to fill many a page

One day I’ll sit down and write out stories of all of our lives

McCauley’s sons and daughters, lovers, husbands, wives.

 

Leif Gregersen

 

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