medication

A Poem and a Few Words About Mental Health and Walking

I have often wondered if the people who get to run these machines are just older kids at play. Seeing these big machines also makes me think about modern labour and how it changes so rapidly. I often wonder what some of my students do without computer skills-what anyone without computer skills can do. It leaves us so marginalized. But that is a discussion for another day. Please remember to scroll down past today’s poem for today’s blog.

 

The Forgotten Book

 

On my floor forgotten lies a book

Its cover bent all it seems to do is gather dust

The dismal hum of the summer fan

Licks its pages until it seems alive

This book once had been my hopes, my dreams

To take me places I never dared to go

This book was more than mine it was me

It was written by my hand inspired by my soul

I poured everything into its pages

And now at 5:00am as the sky brightens

I haven’t got the energy to pick it up

I should file the thing; get it out of sight

But I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it

There on my floor

I may be a hermit to some

Old books covering my furniture and floors

Old junk filling up the spaces in between

But among all that will be that book

Hopefully long after I am gone

To tell my story

To somehow let me live on

If only on a page that few will read

Leif Gregersen

 

Mental Health and Walking:

I have always been a fan of endurance sports. I suppose it started as far back as the second Rocky Movie which I saw on TV. Everyone knows that Rocky Balboa is going to accomplish his goals when he goes running through the streets, thousands of children run with him as that amazing music plays. One thing I really like about the Rocky Movies is that Rocky doesn’t win all his fights. Like many of us, he does everything he can, fails, reinvents himself or finds new inspiration and then moves on to the next level. Rocky can’t always triumph, but he can always show he has heart, or perhaps more accurately as he says in his movies, he at least proves he is not a bum.

Walking is something that I have been taking up instead of playing difficult sports, jogging, even cycling. There are so many advantages to it. Perhaps the top one for me is just the time I get to spend on my own with my thoughts. Sometimes I will walk up to 2 hours a day and I can work everything out. I watched a video today that quoted some interesting studies on walking that I hope you won’t take at face value from me but research on your own. One of the studies they talked about was one that discovered a marked increase in mood for people with depression who walked 30 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week. I can honestly say that I do feel a lot happier after I walk and that now that I have been doing it for a few years I wouldn’t want to stop for any reason. I may have to slow down or take days off, but walking is so rewarding (in the happiness and in the feeling of fitness) that I hope I can keep it up for a long time to come.

For a while I didn’t like the idea of walking long distances though I often did as a boy. My Mom had lost a good deal of weight one time and looked amazing from walking about 5 miles a day. The problem came in when an incident, possibly connected, hopefully not, happened where she developed a crushed vertebrae in her neck and needed surgery. She gained her weight back soon during her recovery period and never really got back to the same levels of fitness before she passed away.

One interesting thing I have been noticing is that people with mental health issues seem to be at much more risk of diabetes. Perhaps because they are more sedentary, perhaps it has a lot to do with weight gain on psychiatric medications. Many people are told that their medications will cause them to gain weight, but also asked if they would prefer to be in active mental distress or psychosis or would they prefer to be slimmer. Almost anyone would prefer to be mentally healthy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It may be extremely difficult, but there are ways to still lose weight, and I have found walking to be at the epicentre of the solution despite the effects of medications I take.

I have been walking five plus miles five times a week now as well as watching my calorie, sugar and fat intake. I should mention that I was diagnosed with type two diabetes a month ago despite thinking I  was active and fit. What I didn’t realize was that I was obese and I needed to make some changes. Walking was something I already did, so I just tried to ramp it up a bit and find excuses to walk every day like to go for groceries or even just to go to the pool to sit in the hot tub and weigh myself. The other thing I did was try to eliminate red meat, and anything with large amounts of fat or sugar. My Doctor also put me on Metformin, which is a very helpful medication. The results? I feel way better, people say I look slimmer, and since I have started monitoring my blood glucose levels, I seem to be in the healthy range a lot more of the time and I have lost nearly 30 pounds. I hope some of this is inspiring to you. My suggestion if you have a few pounds to lose or if you worry about diabetes is to load the Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger” into your music player of choice, get some good walking shoes (I love my new sketchers!) and go out and enjoy the sun! (Unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere). Best of luck and please post any questions or comments!

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More About Relationships and the Mentally Ill: A Focus On Community

DSC_0001A warm winter’s day caused me to grab my camera and head out to capture one of these brave little guys for my blog.

I talked a little yesterday about relationships and what they can mean to a person with a mental illness, and I felt like I left something very significant out.  It seems to me that when we live somewhere or work somewhere, or are part of something larger than ourselves and our roommates or family, we are talking about a community.  A community can really be any group of people, but for the purposes of what I want to discuss I think it is best to think of a community as a group of significant relationships.  There is our neighborhood, my own favorite community.  I live in a section of town where a lot of Italian people settled some time ago and continue to live among those who speak their language, worship at the same churches and share the same culture.  There are many other sub-communities in this area, there are the homeless people which I often try to think of as the ones who are the most special because, as many people may know, Jesus once said that “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do for me.” This is kind of amazing in my mind because we actually have this incredible opportunity to do something for the King of the Universe and gain points in heaven just for helping people who appreciate such small things.  More on that later.

The next level of community includes both the homeless people and the Italian people, it is simply the people who live in this area.  I am a long way from getting to know all of them, but over the course of the past 15 years of me living in this area I have made many friends.  One thing that I really like is that when I publish a new book there are people who will always get a copy from me.  I have to admit to a bit of laziness as to the marketing side of publishing a book, and it means a lot that at least my first few sales are guaranteed when I put out a new book.  Then of course, there is a much smaller segment of the area I live in of people who are my friends, and I like to lump this together with the people who also live in the housing project I live in.  I currently live in a group home of around 20 adults that share common meals, common chores, some entertainment and who are mostly friends. This community is something that perhaps means the most to me because among these adult males who all have a psychiatric issue, there is very little judging, very little stigma and a strong desire to help each other through life’s difficult times.  Even when I first moved here a long time back I was able to borrow money and trust the people here to borrow from me and there were people to play cards and sports and billiards with.  It changed so much because first off I had made my relationship with my family very strained by years of being in and out of hospitals and isolating myself.  Being around these other ‘psychiatric survivors’ was a life-changing, perhaps even life-changing experience.  There is also the slightly larger community there that includes the people who work here at the group home, who are all trained to deal with psychiatric patients and are subject to rules and regulations by the government.  Knowing I am not alone is huge.  I would love to talk about my immediate family, how much it means that I have a cousin here and three in Toronto who are incredible people and inspire me greatly, my brother and sister who I love doing things with and of course my dad who is a tower of strength even now in his declining years, but that may take more space than I have here and I think just about everyone out there understands the importance of family to some degree.

What I wanted to talk about was a situation where I wanted to become a part of a different type of community and succeeded.  I wanted to become a part of a community of people who stay fit, who have regular jobs, who don’t focus everything on a mental illness whether they have one or not.  I found this community at the swimming pool I went to for many years.  It was hard at first.  Of course I knew how to use the facility, I could swim and sit in the hot tub, lift weights and so on, but there were a lot of people who came to the pool on a regular basis and I wanted to get new friends in my life.  I forced myself to go to the same pool at the same time every morning for quite some time, and for the first while I would just sit around and take up space.  After a while though, I was able to strike up conversations with people and I used something called ‘open ended questions’.  I haven’t mastered this ability, but basically what asking open ended questions means is to ask a person a question phrased so that you don’t get a simple one-word answer.  “Where do you like to go for vacation?”  for example, rather than “Do you like to travel?”  I am not very well versed in this method as it has been some time since I took the class that taught me about them, but I have been able to develop the ability to carry on conversations with people and when you can do this in the same place with the same people, over time you will make friends and with friends in your life just about anything is possible.  I can recall making friends with a supervisor while I was working as a security guard and being offered a job that doubled my pay with better working conditions.  Another time a friend I made at the swimming pool turned out to be the owner of a coin shop, coin collecting being one of my favorite hobbies, and I got some great deals from him and lots of usable advice.

Basically what it comes down to I think is of course, you must accept your illness, diagnosis and must be in a situation of proper treatment for this illness.  At this point you are at a crossroads, and I can understand why so many people go off their medications and get sick again because life can really begin to suck if you are alone and taking pills that have a lot of side effects and don’t seem to help.  But if you can establish yourself, settle down into a good place to live and build a life for yourself, there are ways to overcome the difficulties that come with a mental health diagnosis.  Settling into one place has so many advantages.  I don’t see now how I could ever move, I have so many good friends where I live and love the house I am in.  As a small, simple example, when you get a fixed address you can get a library card.  That means you have access to all kinds of books, magazines, courses, and so on.  You also have a place to go where you can attend talks given by guest speakers (in a larger city I should say) and maybe you will also start to meet people.  Maybe you just start to be friends with someone you ride the bus with to get to the library each Tuesday.  They say that a person with one friend is a wealthy person, and I believe it.  But of course, there is much more benefit to be realized from staying in one place.  Most neighborhoods, even in small towns have community leagues, Scout meetings, Toastmasters groups, photography classes.  Some of these may be difficult if you don’t have much money and can’t work or take on too much stress, but even a volunteer job for 2 hours a week can help plug you into something special.

Anyhow, I hope you have enjoyed this blog. I want to thank everyone that has been adding themselves to follow me and invite all of you to comment or email me.  At the moment, I am hard at work on a short story collection but am hoping to fuel the creative fires again soon and start writing more poetry.  Take care friends, and keep in touch!      viking3082000@yahoo.com

Near Midwinter In a Cold Cold Land

IMG_8108

    Here is a photo of a massive cruise ship I saw in Hawaii last time I was there.

          Hello to my many kind followers.  I don’t know really what to talk about much today, the past little while has gotten me a bit down.  Of course I am still taking my anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, so it isn’t really that bad but I think one of my main problems is that I am often sleeping during the day and staying up all night.  In a way this has been a good thing because I have had time to work on my writing, but isolation is something I really have to watch out for.  It hasn’t helped that I was turned down for a low-income swim pass with the city and haven’t been able to work out much.  I have been doing a lot of thinking about not being able to work out.  I know I definitely felt better when I was working out, but I don’t know if I should really go back to swimming every day and lifting weights.  It certainly also helped me when it came time to do my job as a stage hand, but still it was a lot of time, a lot of work and I don’t really think I enjoyed it.  It would be just about impossible for me to stop exercising completely, I love to take my long walks and long bike rides in the summer.  I just don’t know what level of fitness I should pursue.

One of the huge things I think I need to do if I am to stop going for muscle mass is to work on the paranoid/anger side of my illness.  The reason for this is that if I get angry, it will get me into fights, and if I am just some skinny writer nerd type I will really get my butt kicked.  There are a lot of reasons though, I know when I am fit I am more motivated to do things, I feel more confident.  I do tend to eat a lot more though, and this is not only an expense, it adds to my weight which isn’t exactly in the healthy level.

Another fact I want to really face up to is that even if I take all the vitamins recommended, get my exercise and do all these healthy things, it will make a difference, but it will never stave off death permanently.  I have to fact up to the fact that I only have so many days, months, years, minutes, seconds before my time will come, and also that this time may come this very moment.  It is unlikely, but we all really only have the present moment don’t we?  I think what that line of thought tells me is that I have to try and focus on the more important things, the bigger battles.  Who really cares if some guy with a black belt can kick my ass?  I have to find a way to cope with the world that allows me to live among people like this without getting into fights or even arguments.  There really is no such thing as righteous anger, unless of course God communicates with you directly.  There were times when I thought he did, but I am of course wrong about that.

So, I wanted to write a little about writing.  A lot of great things have been happening in my new chosen profession and it has been making me very happy.  I have been approached about having a co-author help re-write my second memoir, and it would mean some drastic changes would happen in my life.  One of the amazing things about writing is that once you get going, aside from a few times when you may be called out of town or have to speak somewhere, most of the time you can get away with just writing about 2 hours a day and still make a success of yourself.  There have been times for me though when I have been driven to finish a project in a short amount of time and spent marathon sessions at the keyboard.  When I wrote my first novel, “Green Mountain Road”, what I did was go to an all-night burger restaurant and sit and write until I had 3-5,000 words done.  It was often difficult to pick up right from where I left off, so what I would do was to read the chapter I had done the previous day and edit it as I went along and I found that soon I had my creative juices flowing.

I would really like to get feedback from any writers out there, especially in the form of requests for certain topics I can address here in the blog.  If you want to know more about poetry, or journalism or any such topic, please ask and I would love to teach you all I know.

Something I also wanted to put out there for new writers is that, especially when you are starting out, it is so important to make and maintain contacts with writers of works in your genre or even just successful writers in general.  You can write to me, or you can often find emails of your favorite authors listed on the cover of books as I think John Grisham does.  I haven’t tried this, but I have had so many great things happen as a result of connecting with other writers.  There is this co-authoring partnership I may be getting into which will give me so many advantages (the writer I have in mind already has an excellent relationship with a publisher).  Not to mention that I found a real gem of a friend in the well known Canadian writer Richard Van Camp.  Richard has had movies made from his writing and has done so well for himself and is just about totally dedicated to helping me succeed.  Him and I get together over milkshakes at a diner near his house about two times a month and he is a massive help.  They say that what defines the most successful people in any field is having a mentor, and Richard has been this for me.  (If anyone wanted to see a review I wrote of Richard’s latest short story collection, “Night Moves” it is on the front page of the Ottawa Review of Books website.)  And then it takes daily effort, persistence and time.  Sometimes it takes a lot of time.  Most people will write their first book over the course of years and write many drafts before they feel it’s ready.  Then there is the process of finding an agent, getting your work edited and sending it off to publishers or getting it self published.  This can take years more and like any other business, you have to establish your repuation.  One of the best things you can do while waiting out this process is to get in to see a writer in residence at your local library, university or college and they will help guide you.  I hope all of this helps, I am including a poem below, I hope you enjoy it.

 

Midwinter Edmonton Musing

 

The wide Pacific calls out to me

Nowhere else have I felt so free

I would plunge into waters clear and blue

But I just can’t let go of loving you

 

Tropical Islands grab your heart and soul

No better way to make a person feel whole

It’s to escape from this cold place in which I live

And to take a little time to relax, forget and forgive

 

In just one sunny Hawaiian day

Ten years of anger melt away

I no longer see the point of a mad rat race

And soon my wrinkles are erased

 

If you were mine and we both could go

I could teach you things no one else knows

We could spend our nights walking the shore and sand

And feel the tropical night’s cool loving hand

 

Looking deep into each other’s eyes

We would not have to wear any disguise

Just you and me and our love that stood the test of time

Finally I would be fully yours; you would be completely mine

 

But if I have to go alone I will

Even alone there are pleasures still

Oh, I would give up a year here for one day there

And that feeling of lying in the sun without a care

 

I would rent a little car and just explore

It’s like opening up a new dimension’s door

To be so very far away from all of life’s concerns

Just one worry: make sure your skin doesn’t burn

 

Now that I found that place I feel I was born to stay

I just need to find some simple way

To say goodbye to all those I care so much for here

And return to the Islands that I hold so dear

 

 

December 13, 2015

Leif Gregersen

Back Home Most of Our Malls Don’t Have Pirate Ships In ‘Em

DSC00203     The title above is a quote from an extremely hilarious Australian friend I showed our amazing West Edmonton Mall to.  I thought this would be a good photo for today because it is an example of how Edmontonians deal with the extreme weather that this time of year starts to usher in.  It can be very difficult for people living here at these times, partially because of something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a condition where the low sunlight hours actually causes a form of depression to set in that can be quite serious.

Depression is a topic very near to me, when I was just 17 I lost a friend to suicide who I believe must have suffered from it.  Over the years I had serious problems with depression as well, but at first I didn’t understand that it was anything wrong.  I always attributed it to something else and just lived with it, which could have been a very serious and even fatal mistake.  I have a clear memory of going out on a date with a young woman I really liked and then finding out she had no interest in going out with me a second time and really wanting to end it all-over just one date.  Fortunately as time passed and I had other problems, namely my psychosis that caused me to be hospitalized, my Doctors eventually realized that I had severe depressions as well.  I was put on anti-depressants and they helped but it took time.  I think the medication that has made the most difference in me to this date is Prozac.

Right now I am having another kind of difficulty that has to do with my illness and the medications I am on, I have an extreme need for sleep but often I have problems getting to sleep.  I have found some herbal remedies that seem to be working well, including melatonin, skullcap and valerian (anyone with any questions or wanting more information about these please feel free to contact me: viking3082000@yahoo.com).  I don’t know too much about the skullcap and valerian other than that when I take them in combination with each other, always being careful not to build up a tolerance to any one herbal remedy, they seem to work well.  It seems sometimes it has been years since I had a full 8 hour sleep, but lately I have had a few of them.

Melatonin was approved for me by my Psychiatrist, I know that it is a naturally occurring sleep hormone and that it can be pretty powerful.  What I have been finding is that if I take too much or take the melatonin too often, it doesn’t make me sleep, it makes me incredibly restless.  The skullcap and valerian seem to help me get longer and more restful sleep but again if I take any of them every night the effects lessen greatly.

One of the problems I run into is that when I am working a lot or under a lot of pressure I need some serious time to decompress.  This weekend I went to see a movie (Bridge of Spies–awesome film!!) with my Dad and slept fairly well when I got home but it has been a very hectic week.  I woke up and had a bit of a stomach ache and so I took some gravol which put me right back to sleep again and I basically slept away all of Saturday, Saturday evening/Sunday morning and most of Sunday.  I do feel pretty renewed now but I hate to think sometimes that I am wasting my life sleeping.  I suppose it doesn’t just have to do with stress, but also the other medications I take, but everything plays a part.  In lieu of a poem I am going to post a second photo below for everyone.

IMG_8044                                       Beautiful Hawaii

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

DSCF1292One of the things I love about Edmonton so much is that it is home to such wildlife as this furry little critter, even right in the downtown core

     Hello dear readers.  I want to start off by apologizing for posting such a lame post previously.  I suppose the story wasn’t bad, but I feel I was letting down people who wanted to learn about writing or mental health issues.  Let’s see what I can come up with for all of you today.

To start off, I think I am getting fairly advanced in my recovery from Bipolar.  Now, there is a hurdle I have to go over.  I have to be able to keep reminding myself that I am a person with special needs, not the least of which is medication and Psychiatric help.  I can recall a few times I was at this point, where things seemed to be going good and I got complacent.  One such time I had a few different life events happen that very nearly put me in serious danger.  I hadn’t spoken to a young woman I was once very infatuated with, who liked me as a friend but no more.  Sitting in my apartment all alone for weeks and months at a time, I tried to reach out a couple of times, but it is a sad thing to say that there are some people who you can make a mistake with, whether it be something you control or not, and they never forgive you.  One day I got the new phone book for Edmonton and looked up one of these young women and called her.  She even answered.  I said who I was and then when she answered, I replied that it was good that at least she didn’t scream and hang up on me.  I tried to explain to her that I had been going through some rough stuff but had gotten treatment and that basically I kind of needed a friend at the time.  She threw it in my face that I wrote some irrational letters to her that she had kept to use as evidence against me and also that she pretty much didn’t care if I lived or died.  That was really harsh.  I forget if that was the point I stopped taking my prozac or if I had done that earlier.  Either way, it preceded a massive depressive episode in me.  A short time later, I took an overdose of about 100 Tylenol and some Lithium and a few other drugs I had in my medicine cabinet.  For the next two days I slept and then for the two days after that I was sick and couldn’t even hold down water. (this story is paraphrased from my book, “Inching Back To Sane” by a million to one shot, my Dad had come by and slipped some money under my door and this was enough to get me to the hospital.  I was very near death and hurt my family members very badly.

As for the other situation, it was the one that preceded my worst ever stay in hospital, which was also my last stay in hospital (when I say ‘hospital’ I mean the Psychiatric Hospital, Alberta Hospital Edmonton) again I was doing well.  I had work, I had friends, I even had a car and a credit card.  Then I decided to lower the dose of my mood stabililzer.  Not eliminate, just lower.  At this point I had stopped seeing a Doctor, I was just getting one of my old Doctors to refill my prescriptions and not having my regular blood tests done that were required of me, and which could have prevented the disaster that followed.  I ended up in a state of severe psychosis and though I was on medications that had worked for me, the new Doctor assumed either I wasn’t taking my meds or the ones I was taking weren’t working, so he changed them around and I ended up much worse off.  This began a hellish nightmare of 5 long months, a large part of them spent in solitary confinement with just a plastic mattress, an uncomfortable blanket and a plastic bottle for a toilet.  Lesson learned: don’t get complacent.  Get to see your Doctor, take all of your required medications.  Talk to your mental health workers if you have them and find some if you don’t.  I am very lucky to be a part of something called ‘the Community Living Program’ or ‘clip’ where I see a nurse on a regular basis who gives me part of my medication by time-release injection and then also see a Doctor who she consults with at least once a month.  For anyone who is a family member of someone with a mental illness, I think this is something you constantly have to remind your loved one about.  I was interested to learn that Schizophrenia as an example, will get worse over time.  Even if you take your full required medication every day it is highly likely that you will need an increase in your dosage of anti-psychotic (please don’t mix psychotic up with psychopath) or you will get ill again.

Let me just say a few quick things about writing here, I feel that writing, for me, and for a lot of people in my community, is something not only that I feel everyone should do, but I also feel that it goes hand in hand with mental health.  The first thing I did as I am sure I mentioned, was to keep a journal.  If you want to keep one, but have problems getting started, think of it as a scrapbook.  My sister saves movie receipts in hers from movies she liked and my Dad used to save all kinds of things like old cigarette packages that listed a price of 10c and candy bars and all sorts of things.  My journal was like that in a way as well.  I would write about movies I saw, make my own reviews, write about books I read or was reading.  Basically, your journal is your best friend and some of the best advice I can give to start journaling is to write down what you would tell your best friend at the end of the day.  So, I hope everyone feels a bit enlightened after reading this.  Today I wrote a poem about sitting in elementary school watching the clock and watching the alley beside the school to see my dear sister coming home from the bus.  I got my inspiration from a ‘poetry workshop book’ that I bought off of amazon.com.  I get so many great writing resources from amazon, they simply have everything.  Even my local 1,000,000 book public library can’t compare to what I can find on amazon, and quite often the book is as low in price as 1 cent plus a $6.49 fee for shipping.  As an added bonus, it is really a neat feeling to come home to a package of some new goodie waiting for you.  I do this for other people as well, I sent my ex-gf who is also one of my best friends a complete set of the original twilight zone series, I sent my niece a Karaoke machine.  Credit cards can be fun.  And they can be a disaster for the mentally ill, but I will talk about that in another blog.  Perhaps tomorrow I will write a bit about my knowledge of personal finance, I am sure many of you out there could benefit from some of the books I have read and experiences I have had.

DSC_0119This is a statue in a special park made solely for the homeless people in Edmonton.  In this small park, there is no closing time and you can drink alcohol without fear of police intervention.  It is sad sometimes to see such symbols of suffering, but also very necessary