mental health

Stress Management For Those With Mental Health Problems

(Please scroll past photo and poem for today’s blog ūüôā

Love Poem

 

Not one of us will leave this world alive

We must show love to those we care for every day

Think upon all the things for which you strive

 

Do you think too much about the car you drive

Do you care about what others see and say

Not one of us will leave this world alive

 

There is truly just one way to thrive

One must give from deep within in every way

Think upon the things for which you strive

 

Caring, loving, giving is the only way to derive

A life with a special beauty like a grand ballet

Not one of us will leave this world alive

 

Sometimes into dark waters we must dive

Knowing nothing, only being able to pray

Think upon the things for which you strive

 

Give up plotting, planning, please don’t connive

For each thing you take you will be made to pay

Not one of us will leave this world alive

Think upon the things for which you strive

When dealing with a mental health issue, stress can be your worst enemy. I want to write today about some of the ways I deal with stress, which can be all boiled down to setting boundaries.

One of my favourite Canadian authors, Margaret Laurence, mentioned in an interview I watched that she only writes about 2 hours a day and can’t manage more. I don’t know if Margaret ever suffered from a mental illness, but I have found this to be a good rule of thumb. While I feel it is really important to write every day, and that doing so will definitely make you a better writer, I try to maximize my screen time to about 2 hours a day. Sometimes I do less, and often when I am deep in the trance of writing something I enjoy writing, I do more. Of course, again I want to mention that one of the best therapeutic things a person can do is to write in a journal that they don’t let anyone see. It is such a great way to express yourself and to let out things. In a way, I like it that writing in a journal each day gives me a gauge to see how I am improving overall.

The next thing that I feel is good for stress is exercise. For a long time after my last hospital admission, my Dad would drive to where I was staying and take me to the beautiful Edmonton River Valley for a long walk. I was a smoker at the time and couldn’t handle anything much more strenuous than that, but it got me into better shape, a better state of mind, was an outlet for my extra energy, and led to me being able to find a paid job eventually.

Work is definitely something a person has to consider when they are in recovery mode from a mental illness. I honestly think that if you have just gotten out of a hospital or have just made the decision to start looking for work, you really need to take some time to feel 100% before venturing out and getting a job. I started with a job that was very easy, working as a security guard. I had a hard time with some employers either sending me to assignments that were too stressful or asking me to work too many hours, but there are ¬†a lot of jobs out there for those who want to transition back into the workplace. My security guard job kind of sucked, the pay wasn’t very good and it often wasn’t healthy for me to stay up all night drinking coffee and trying to get what sleep I could. Soon though, I found a rhythm and was able to lift weight and swim and also work my job and I was ‘scouted’ to work as a security guard in the film industry and made leaps and bounds more than what I used to make and got into a union that greatly benefitted me over the next few years. Some other jobs that are low stress could be working in a gas station as a cashier, working as a dishwasher, and many others. Just remember you won’t be doing this forever, this is just to get you out of the house and make a little extra money. Better jobs will come your way if you are conscientious about your work.

Another way to make a transition back to the work world is to volunteer. In Edmonton where I live there is a company called the volunteer network and you simply approach them with your skills and they find a place for you. This is a great way to get experience, self-respect, friendships and much more.

The last thing I wanted to mention that I do to deal with stress is keeping my schedule as open as I can, only making firm commitments for a few days a week. I work for the Schizophrenia Society now and give presentations to many different groups about mental illness. I have had the incredible privilege of speaking in front of lecture halls full of students, among many other groups as diverse as junior high schools to Edmonton City Police Recruits. But I only book 2-3 assignments and then keep things open so I am free to go to the pool or the library or for a long walk whenever I want. I guess on a final note, I want to offer the suggestion that you try and live beneath your means, whatever they are and save as much as you can so that you can enrich your life with travel at least once or twice a year. A really good trip can give you a lifetime of memories and a lot of happiness and joy in the present.

 

Worrying and Self-Doubt

Well, it has been an interesting week. I finally have a few days off to do what I like which is nice. I have a hard time when I get stressed from doing too many things and sometimes I react to it by sleeping way too much. I know this wreaks havoc on my system and makes it very hard to function in line with the world of the normal people. So many good things have been happening to me, but I know that things won’t stay good for me if I can’t do something about my excessive sleeping.

I feel really blessed today because I was contacted by the City of Edmonton and asked if I could come and give a talk about mental health at the Edmonton Public Library. On Monday I will be just finishing up a six-week contract to teach creative writing and there are many other opportunities coming my way. Still, for some reason, I find a need to worry. One of the big things that I worry about is money. Every now and then I work or do some photography and make a few extra bucks, but then it seems that the money just runs away from me. I am at a point now where I have savings to at least get me through one month of difficulties, but I keep thinking about ways I could spend the money on what I deem “more fun” things. There are cameras I would like to buy, I am always thinking of buying a car or taking a trip. It all seems like such a waste and it took so much effort just to have just the small amount of savings I do have.

I also worry sometimes about my ability as a writer. I went to a story slam the other day and really felt outclassed. I was the first reader up and was quickly knocked out of the competition. This is even after winning two story slams last year. Another thing that happened was that I won a contest for a 24-hour short story that got me $300 USD. I took the story and tried to publish it elsewhere but with no luck. I am really feeling the pinch of not having been able to go to University and take creative writing. Fortunately, I have some good friends who help and support me in making my writing as good as I can make it.

One of the things that often gives me comfort when I find myself worrying is doing meditation or taking long walks. I had planned to walk the 2km to the post office today, but the ice and snow and freezing rain was pretty bad so I ended up taking the bus. When I do take the time to meditate, what I often like to do is to read some of my Asian books about spirituality say from the Dalai Lama or ancient writings like Lao Tzu and then just sit, either cross-legged or not, close my eyes and simply try to focus on nothingness, empty space as I count my breath, breathing in and out until a thought comes up that distracts me, then I go back to zero and try to make it to a count of ten. It can be very helpful to take some training in this, I once used to go to a real Tibetan Monk for classes and it was a big help, very healing.

 

When Sensitivity and Ego Collide

Ahh, it has been such a long time since I sat down to write a proper blog entry. So much has been happening to me. For starters, I have some savings right now but I have too many commitments to take any long trips. It’s funny but for the first time in my life, I have the means and cash to go to London and don’t want to. I may want to go back there in the near future, but for the moment I am happy just to stay in Edmonton. It is likely I will go to Toronto in the summer to visit my wonderful sister and sweet little niece, but that is at the back of my thoughts right now.

This past Friday was quite a shindig. The guy who got me work as a creative writing teacher hired me to MC the 20th-anniversary party for the building I live in and it was amazing. I felt really comfortable for most of the time I was up there and people really seemed to respond to my jokes and the poetry I read. I went to sleep that night feeling like my world was spinning and I was trying to hang onto it by spewing out a few choice words into a microphone.

What I am starting to slowly realize is that though my medications deal with a large portion of my symptoms, I still have a mental illness and stress, fatigue, emotion and contact with the outside world can affect it. Tonight was my Humanities 101 course at the University of Alberta and I found myself being hyper-sensitive to others and the things they said and did. I put my hand up a few times to ask questions and I got the impression that the instructor was getting frustrated. Then some guy sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could ‘please’ pull my shirt down. That kind of pissed me off and it felt like it ruined a good night of learning and debate but I thought about things for a while and realized that I was the one wanting to be in control, that I don’t like it when people show their unwholesome body parts in public and that my ego was telling me that this person, though just as valuable as me or any other person had no right to tell me anything. So here I am at home now, playing some relaxing music, sipping a cup of ‘sleepytime’ brand tea and honestly considering an early night and a ‘take as needed’ pill that will help me rest. Well, that’s about it for now, folks. Thanks for tuning in. I will do more VLOGs as time allows. In the meantime, stay real!

Riding the Wave–“But I get the most work done when I’m manic!”

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            Shot of the moon using my Nikon D3300 and a Nikkor 55-300mm lens, touched up with Lightroom by Adobe

Mania, depression, and delusions. What can pills help, and what do you need to watch out for yourself? (poem to follow this blog)

So it is the worst time of the year for just about everyone. Kids have to go back to school after just a 2-week taste of freedom and being lavished with candy canes and gifts by family. People who work in sectors like trades find that most of their customers spent all their money on Christmas and there is a big slowdown. The worst part? Suicides. Some may think that Christmas is the worst for suicides, but I have uncovered some information that may prove that January is the worst month for suicides. I can see why. I have been doing well in my recovery from mental illness for some time now, I was able to take some college courses, I took a University course last year and actually finished it. I have set up jobs and public appearances and have been working for the schizophrenia society. I sometimes wonder if I’ve been a little manic. I haven’t had delusional thinking much, but I have been finding myself increasingly troubled with sleeping memories of being in the hospital, likely because I now live in an apartment building rather than a house and I never liked the people who used to come around in the hospital and shine a flashlight in your eyes to see if you were sleeping. The flashlight almost always woke me up.

What I have been noticing is the early signs of depression creeping up. I don’t know about other places, but where I live there is only about 8 hours of daylight this time of year and sometimes lately if I have nothing to do or if it is oppressively cold outside (as it almost always is, -22 right now) I will sleep all night and then sleep all day. Then, at times like this when by all rights I should be going back to sleep, I get up and work on my writing. Today I was taken away from this pursuit because I learned the moon was full, and so I hauled out my camera and took the above picture among others. I don’t really know what to do about my depression. It has to do with a lot of things I am sure, including the diminished sunlight, the fact that I have a lot of time on my hands and that I have been isolating myself too much. My doctor has offered to increase my anti-depressant and I think I will call tomorrow to get an appointment and do so.

I am also thinking that with everything that has been happening, it is time to bite the bullet and go and see a counselor. For months I have been looking at the wall in the office of my apartment building and there is a list of free counselors there. What it all comes down to is taking care of myself. If I leave things too long I will pay the consequences. Just like needing a dentist or an optometrist, and going to them before you are in pain or blind, I really want to try therapy. From what I understand, therapy can be very effective for people with mental illnesses, though it is important that one stabilize their condition with proper medication before going to it. One of the things that makes me feel worried about what has been going on is my departed mother. When she died at 63 she still hadn’t gotten a handle on her mental illness and it was very severe. My mom had done so many things, from being a credit union manager to nearly getting a full scholarship to University. She tried so very hard and kept getting beaten down by one thing or another. I can see my mom in my brother and sister and myself in many ways. It really was a sad thing that her life had gone so poorly for her, and even at the end she struggled with her medications, moods and psychosis. One of the things she did back then was to see a psychologist and I learned to my surprise that she often talked about her mother, who had passed away about 20 years before my mom did. In many ways I feel pretty lucky that there are medications that help me deal with my own psychosis and mood swings, and do a pretty good job of it. With that, I will leave you with a poem and wish you all another week or so of good health and happiness, which is about the amount of time that will pass before I blog again.

 

Last Best Chance

My love I am always thinking of you

And how I have feelings that are true

I just don’t know how to say them out loud

 

In the dark deep night my mind begins to race

As I worry, fret and pace

Nothing seems to please me anymore

 

The first time I ever saw your face

Even my loneliness could never erase

The loveliness I saw deep inside your eyes

 

Each day that passes finds me here

With no friends or lover near

The only one I have to blame is me

 

There were many loves in my younger days

And I pursued them in my own weird ways

Never understanding I could ever end up alone

 

Plus I had so many true, close friends

On whom I always thought I could depend

But hard times took most of those away from me

 

I’ve been desperate and depressed

Sought forgiveness and went to be blessed

But found out it came down to not loving you enough

 

From the first day my life had begun

Fate made you the only one

I could have ever asked to be my true soul mate

 

So I ask if you could read these simple words

And not feel sad, scared or disturbed

I know you care for me just as I care for you

 

Things happen to each and every one

But you were always so loving and fun

Please forgive and take me in your arms again

 

I won’t make any promises to you

Except that each day will feel happy, fresh and new

Please tell me if you will, I just can’t wait

 

Too many years have already passed

You’ve always been the first and last

Give your love to me we’re each other’s last best chance

 

The Trap of Mental Illness and Disability Benefits: Do You Want To Risk It?

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               A View of Downtown Edmonton From Outside My New Apartment

¬† ¬† ¬†Hi, I wanted to talk a little about disability benefits today. ¬†This is a senstive topic for many reasons. ¬†One of the big ones, as I know a good deal of my readers are from the United States, is that people on Welfare or even Social Security Benefits are looked down upon. ¬†The tax burden on Americans is great, plus the cost of health care and this ends up worsening the problem from both ends. ¬†People with mental illnesses are faced with costs that can’t be managed for medications, hospital treatment, doctors, housing and on and on. ¬†The way the American system seems to be set up to work is that each person is responsible for themselves, and when someone has a severe mental illness, this can be just about impossible. ¬†I can recall being in the US and simply knowing a guy who applied for foodstamps and then discussing it with an older gentleman and he literally stopped talking to me after we had travelled together for 3 days. ¬†It seemed a harsh judgement and pretty ignorant, but this is the way many people down there think and there are valid reasons for this attitude. ¬†I feel very fortunate to live in Canada and to have a disability benefit program plus health care and on top of that I get heavily subsidized housing and free fitness and leisure access. ¬†It almost seems like paradise, but it definitely has its drawbacks. ¬†One of them is that if I do go out and get a job, I have to limit my income to less than a minimum wage job or lose my benefits completely. ¬†With the cost of psychiatric medications this would be a staggering blow. ¬†At the present point I’m at I don’t honestly know if I could hold down a full-time job for any length of time, but I also don’t want to live the rest of my life with no improvements in my standard of living.

Some 27 years ago I found myself in a homeless shelter, mentally ill and penniless due to prolonged hospital admissions. ¬†There were very few options left for me and so I made an application to join the military. ¬†This would have provided me health benefits, an income, and a purpose in my life. ¬†My application process was interrupted by a fight with my dad that sent me to the shelter, and I decided that since I was working towards something that I could do something I thought was unthinkable-I would apply for welfare benefits. ¬†I will never forget the words of the social worker when I applied, as she looked up from the forms she was filling out for me, “Don’t get caught in the trap.” ¬†I think she meant more along the lines of the trap of drug abuse or alcoholism and circle of poverty. ¬†But whatever she meant, due to my mental illness, I was never able to join the military, and I later failed a concerted attempt to complete commercial pilot school, and was unable to hold down a full-time job. ¬†For me the trap wasn’t in getting money for nothing, it was in that every time I tried to do something, either I was told I was ineligible as a person with a mental illness, or that I would try and do a job set before me and the incredible pressure of working up to acceptable standards was simply too much. ¬†I was caught in a trap, and in some ways I still am.

Things are improving in my life though, I have found a part-time job that I am good at and that I enjoy. ¬†I give talks to students about mental illness for the Schizophrenia Society, and I have written a number of books. ¬†The books give me little income, but together I manage to put food on the table. ¬†One thing I often think about is that despite that numerous times I went over the brink into madness, I now have a good life with stable housing and income and something to do, but I have a lot of regret that I have no life partner. ¬†This is another trap that people with mental illnesses have to be aware of, the isolation factor, and it has a lot to do with receiving benefits. ¬†If you don’t have to force yourself to get up and get out and look for work, you may just sit inside and watch TV and never care if you have friends or a significant other, and years will fly past and a person will have nothing but regrets. ¬†One of the reasons that people end up isolated like this besides recieving benefits is that there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. ¬†One thing with me is that I used to try and hide the fact that I have a diagnosed illness, but now I am very forward about it. ¬†So many people, when you stop trying to hide things, will tell you they suffer, they have a family member or close friend that suffers.

Anyhow, a lot of that is beside the point I was trying to make. ¬†How do you avoid the trap that going on benefits causes? ¬†You may not be able to, but you can make your life as full as possible. ¬†I always like to say that the first thing you need to do with a mentally ill person is get them proper treatment, proper medications. ¬†Then you need to take some therapy that will help you understand yourself. ¬†After that, a life skills course or Wellness Recovery Action Plan course can help a great deal. ¬†From there, even if it just means taking one course, get some school under your belt. ¬†While you are doing this, find ways to keep fit and healthy, in what you do with your body and what you put in it. ¬†Quit smoking if you smoke. ¬†Then, try and find work, even part-time. ¬†Spend as little as possible, and save, and keep taking your medications, work on your mental health on an ongoing basis, and before you know it, you may forget you ever were sick. ¬†It isn’t an easy process, and it isn’t a simple one, but it is one that is worthwhile. ¬†I like to keep telling people that you need to have goals and direction, specific ones. ¬†“I want a bachelor’s degree in six years.” would be an excellent one. ¬†“I want to be stabilized and back working in two years, earning enough to drive a car and rent my own apartment.” is another good one. ¬†Once you have goals, you have a direction to move in, and if you are having a hard time, you can end up feeling so much better about yourself from just working a little bit each day towards your goal. ¬†Take care Dear Readers!

Coping With Isolation While Suffering From a Mental Illness

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Photograph of an Edmonton Morning From the Tip of the River Valley

Well, I have been trying to keep busy lately, and seem to be doing well. ¬†As many may know, I moved into my own apartment from a group home three months ago. ¬†There are a lot of things that seem to be going really well. ¬†I have just about finished my very first University course, Humanities 101 which has been great. ¬†We have gone over a lot of different information from a visit to the University’s Observatory to a special class with a drama instructor. ¬†In many ways, I feel it has helped me not only get back into the groove that I used to enjoy so much about school, but it has also helped me to sharpen my critical thinking skills. ¬†The main problem right now is that I am feeling a little isolated not having roommates around to talk to or bounce ideas off.

There have been a lot of really good things going on, though.  My friend Richard Van Camp, who is a bestselling author and film producer seems to have found me a publisher for my latest short story collection.  After a few final edits, I will be sending my manuscript off likely early next week.  There are a few other really great pieces of news in my life, one is that the Edmonton Public Library has chosen to spotlight me as a writer in 2017 for three months, likely in the second or third quarter of the year.  They will have me plan two events and advertise me on their website among other cool stuff.  And then I will also be facilitating a writing class in the New Year, possibly more than one of them.  I think that will be just about all I will be able to handle.

At the moment I am nursing a sore back, and I took some muscle relaxants to help me deal with it. ¬†I had hoped the pills would help me sleep but they don’t seem to be working that way. ¬†I am having so much trouble sleeping that I am near to the point of asking for sleeping pills, but I have found that sleeping pills affect a person’s memory and that is something that is just about essential to my writing. ¬†There are more options, I have tried to exercise more but it seems that can make me sleep less. ¬†Among the other options is to eliminate naps and cut off caffeine at a certain time. ¬†These strategies have worked for me before, but when you live alone it can be difficult to follow routines. ¬†I guess I am a bit worried that moving out was a mistake, but there really were a lot of useless rules in the place I came from. ¬†I still get a little support day to day from the staff at the building I moved into, it often becomes easy though to fall into the trap of just not leaving the house. ¬†I have been combatting that by taking extended long walks for groceries or to malls and other errands. ¬†The result is that I feel better in general, but my feet and back seem to be taking kind of a pounding. ¬†I thought I would like to walk to a medical clinic in the morning to see about getting something for my back and maybe some advice on sleep remedies but walking four miles for something like that seems almost self-defeating.

One thing that is good is that I seem to have been getting out enough to keep my social skills in order.  Yesterday I gave a presentation for the Schizophrenia Society and it seemed to go really well.  I enjoy that job a lot, it is just about the perfect thing for me.  I go out to a school or meeting place, talk for half an hour and get paid for three hours.  It is hard to have been used to the money I made setting up stages but that job was taking a toll on me.

Something that has been on my mind is my brother, the musician/chef/philosopher.  He had a herniated disc in his back that needed surgery and is in terrible pain and now a doctor has told him he may have another herniated disc.  The first surgery was awful, he had to wait six months and could do almost nothing the whole time, it really kills me to see him in so much pain.  Sometimes all a person can do is keep a smile on their face and pray, though.

So I don’t really know what coping skills I gave any of you today. ¬†I have been finding that meditation has been pretty helpful in me keeping my head screwed on straight. ¬†I would like to go back to going to mass, I don’t know what has been keeping me from it. ¬†All in all, actually, things are as good as could be expected. ¬†I have a birthday coming next week and I am going to spend it with friends, I don’t really need to worry much about having things to do or money for food or anything. ¬†I still find myself a little worried and a little sad at times. ¬†I suppose nothing can ever be perfect. ¬†I apologize that there is no poem for today, I haven’t felt much like writing poetry. ¬†I should get down to some though since I will be teaching how to write it again soon. ¬†Take care dear readers, and say a prayer for my brother if you have the strength.

Employment: How Much Can You Handle, How Much is Too Much?

Employment and Stress Blog With Poem at the End of Post

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                   How Much Employment is Too Much?  How Do You Know When You Reach Your Limit?

Please Scroll Past Today’s Blog if You Want To Just Read The Poem of the day!

     Well, I would like to talk about our limitations with regards to employment.  This is a very difficult question for me because I was raised in a family of people who worked very hard.  As you may have figured from my picture above as well, in my formative years (12-15) I was in an Air Cadet Squadron and there was a strong emphasis on work ethic and conservatism.  I did well in Cadets, I loved that I was rewarded for working hard, and often out-working my peers if I could.  But time and stress started to hit me and when I got a little older I was influenced by someone a little more left-wing.  It was a person who did believe in hard work, he just hated it.

When I was younger, I had a lot of jobs despite that I was likely a young person suffering from a mental illness. ¬†Even before I was very old I worked in my dad’s shop, I delivered papers, I got my sister to pay me to do her chores (she had a job and made good money as a waitress in a steak house). ¬†My plan was to have a huge comic book collection that I would use to finance my University Education. ¬†I was 10. ¬†Later in life I wore myself down to where I would spend most of the money I made from successive jobs on things like stereos, computer games, cars, motorcycles. ¬†I think it was a mistake. ¬†There is no way to tell how things may have worked out for me, but if I had taken the energy I put into buying those things and put them into my studies, I could have easily gotten scholarships. ¬†One of my big problems was that I didn’t know anything about scholarships or University, having no family members who had gone there, and that I was digging an early grave for myself surviving on pizza and coca-cola and getting so little sleep I turned sleeping in class to an art form.

At the age of 18 I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what to tell you. ¬†It had been a long and difficult winter, I had been fighting with my dad almost daily, he had tried a couple of times to kick me out of the house and no one seemed to care at all about me, and I was soon to have nowhere to live meaning I would lose all my property (including the comic books). ¬†Added to that, a close friend committed suicide which devastated me, and for some reason I began to think that I could develop a new way of thinking and acting that would make people like me and turn me into some kind of hero. ¬†This was the point when I started to slip away from reality. ¬†Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I was working a job where I was getting screwed over for a promotion among mostly men twice my age. ¬†This is where the word ‘psychosis’ comes in handy. ¬†‘Psychosis’ involves a loss of contact with reality. ¬†Slowly I slipped into it, and soon all kinds of crazy ideas went through my head. ¬†I ended up in the hospital and when I got out, all there was to help me to live was social services/welfare. ¬†I felt so wronged by society, I took out my anger on employers, on my family. ¬†It was a mess.

There is much more to talk about on this topic, but basically, I want to say that if I had seen the signs of stress coming, if I had been able to quit school and my job and be honest with my family about what was going on in my head and get help, there is a real likelihood I could have avoided numerous hospital stays. ¬†But I don’t want to think like that. ¬†I do want to think like my life has ended up well. ¬†I have some incredible friends and an amazing life. ¬†I just kind of wish that I can write these blogs and that someone out there can see some of these signs in themselves and be able to avoid some of the terrible things that happened to me. ¬†It really is no fun having a breakdown and ending up in the hospital. ¬†Most of the time you go through it, then recover and just get sick again, often whether you take your medication or not. ¬†I see it often, and it is incredibly sad. ¬†Some of the best advice I heard a person in this situation get was to a former employer, Bill MacPhee, who was told, “If you don’t find something to do you’re going to be in and out of the hospital the rest of your life.” ¬†Bill wrote a book, he speaks at conferences all over the place and he has a couple of companies that serve people with mental health issues. ¬†I hope you enjoy the poem below!

Edmonton, Fall 2016

 

The days of cold and wet have come to be

We will soon lost upon a snowy white frozen sea

Although the summer this year was a little longer

The power of the frozen north is stronger

 

I can’t tell you why I love this place, my home

I know that it appears I’m always alone

Up here the icy cold cleanses clean it all

And up here I haven’t got quite so far to fall

 

On the rainy coast out West I get sick and cough

In the desert heat of Arizona I would be lost

It comes down to being free, and what is best for me

I love this crisp cold place can’t you see

 

Not long ago, it’s true, I flew very far away

And to be honest, a part of me wanted to stay

But here I have those I love and my simple life

And a best friend who once could have been my wife

 

Maybe it is wrong of me to be afraid of letting go

But I’m happy here, and happy to let life unfold this slow

I also want to be here for my dad who soon may pass away

Because I know it shall be my turn one day

 

There is something special when you live somewhere a while

I feel re-energized with each kind hello and smile

I also like being able to volunteer and serve the poor

There is no other way my life could possibly mean more

 

And so I spend my days with those I care for near

And spend my nights writing my poetry right here

When life is lived to the fullest there is no more fear

That when I’m gone no one will shed a tear

 

And perhaps if what the bible says is true

When I am forever gone I will be born anew

In a place that was meant for a poet like me

Floating on a cloud in a perfect joyful sea

 

Leif Gregersen

Mental Health: Is Holding On and Waiting Enough?

When have you done too much waiting for your mental health to get better?  When is the time to throw in the towel and stop holding on?  I hope you never give in or give up.

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¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† I am so fascinated by these little creatures in so many ways. ¬†Took this on the front steps of my sister’s house in Toronto this past summer.

Please scroll past today’s poem for a very important blog post

Younger Days

 

 I was feeling trapped by loneliness and pain

I never thought life would get any good again

As a young man, I was scared of growing old

I didn’t like the stories about old age my elders told

 

And now I’ve made it all the way to middle age

Trying to make my way with words upon a page

And I have to tell you things really aren’t that bad

I have all the toys and friends to keep me from being sad

 

In fact, when I look back now upon my youth

I kind of wish someone had told me the honest truth

That there may be some pretty hard times when you are young

But if you dig in and hold on life can get so very fun

 

When I think of all the joy my little niece has given me

I can’t deny her arrival set my soul free

I love that little girl more than anything

I can’t describe the joy a young child can bring

 

When she was growing up I was born all over again

And I didn’t ever have to lie, be fake, or pretend

I could just be the Uncle who loved her so

I hope that these are things you already know

 

Now I have so many friends I truly love

True friendships are a gift from up above

So stand fast and don’t worry about being a child

I promise you that life will get so wonderful and wild

 

 

Leif Gregersen

October 15, 2016

   Have you ever sat and watched a spider spin their web?  It is a mind-numbingly tedious process.  But in order to eat and to survive, they must do it.  Spiders have to start at one side of where they want their trap to be, then climb back and forth, back and forth, spinning their tiny web enough times for the most amazing geometric structure, then spin the inner circles that connect those lines.  If someone comes along and wipes out their work, they start right over at the beginning.  I hope that this is the way you see overcoming your mental illness or other difficulties in your life.  Never, never, never, never give up.

¬† ¬† ¬†I don’t know how much I can handle sharing with you, my dear readers, but at a time I was very messed up and didn’t understand what was happening. ¬†It amazes me that I got through all of that and now am a successful writer with many friends, a past of many wonderful trips and experiences and a genuinely happy life. ¬†Twenty-six years ago I was a far ways from it and maybe if I can share a little of my story with you it might help you to help yourself or your loved ones from going through the same thing. ¬†First and foremost, I had no understanding of mental illness, and it crept up on me. ¬†The illness manifested itself while I was in school and I did a lot of irrational things that got me in trouble. ¬†I was taken to a secure ward in a mental hospital which was absolutely the worst experience of my life. ¬†It felt as though my brains were scrambled, but still there were a lot of people at the hospital who really were trying hard to help me. ¬†The thing was, because no one I knew had ever talked about mental illness, my opinion was that if I told these people about the thoughts and problems I was having they would simply lock me up longer. ¬†The miracle of it was that in short order medications were found that had me back in excellent shape in a surprisingly short time.

Of course, I didn’t continue to take treatment. ¬†Over the years, I was in and out of hospitals a lot, and I came to a point where I just wanted the pain to end. ¬†I took a serious overdose of acetaminophen and came very near to ending my life. ¬†When I saw the pain and difficulties I caused my family, I decided I would never attempt suicide again. ¬†I had to have some kind of hope in my life though. ¬†It was excruciatingly difficult, but I kept trying to find a doctor and medications that worked for me and I forced myself to get a job and at least try and make my own way in the world. ¬†I found a lot of help going to church and some 12-step meetings, though for years it almost felt like my whole life was just about going through the motions.

One of the things I needed to do perhaps the most was to get my life on a schedule, even if I was occasionally sleeping all day or staying up all night.  My method of doing this was to start going to the swimming pool.  By the grace of God, the city of Edmonton started a plan where people who were disabled or impoverished could get a free pass to use city facilities.  It was very hard at first, but I forced myself to go and forced myself to fit into the groups that went there at the same time as me and before I knew it, I had friends that went there and worked there and lifeguards were helping me train and it was fantastic overall.  This exertion made me sleep better, made me feel better, and improved my life in so many ways.  In a lot of ways I thought I would never participate in sports again after knee injuries as a youth, but now I was getting very fit and it was helping nearly every part of my life.

Being in shape led me to be able to work more, and eventually just by the sheer fact that I got along with people and was helpful, I was given a job working security on movie sets in Edmonton.  This led to other work as a stagehand for concerts and life just kept on improving.  As time went past, I started to use my free time to work on my writing, and basically just took things one step at a time until I had built a body of work that I was proud of.  Meanwhile, my niece was born and my purpose in life soon became all about spending time with her and trying to be the best Uncle I could be.  None of this would have ever happened if when I was younger I decided life sucked now and would suck forever and stopped trying.  If you have a goal or a dream, sit down and make a plan.  Keep a success journal to record yourself moving towards that goal each and every day.  It can be something as simple as taking a walk to a community college and looking at courses that you could take.  It could be as simple as just taking a walk.  But please, never, never, never, never, never give up!  Life can take you so many amazing places and I honestly believe that our Creator will never give you more than you can handle.  Joy and happiness to all of you!

Leif Gregersen

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