mentally ill

Coping With a Sleep Disorder and Bipolar

(scroll down for a look at today’s poem)

 

So, for those of you who don’t know, this is me some years ago. Since then I have gained a few pounds, my hair is not naturally blond anymore and I have quite a bit more money than I did then. This picture shows me wearing faded jeans with holes in them, a leather jacket my brother gave me and a sweater that used to be my Dad’s. Funny how when you look back, in some ways you had everything someone could wish for, but at the same time had nothing.

In this picture I was still a young man yearning to be a writer. Now, I am actually a person who is considered a professional writer. As I did then, I now live alone, but have a lot more supportive and encouraging friends in my life. I think back then I had a condition similar to the one I have now, that is a sense that I’m not really there, that the things going on around me aren’t real.

Anyhow, to get down to brass tacks, once again I have found myself needing to get to sleep for something important and completely unable to sleep. I have even taken some melatonin and a sleeping pill together and can’t even seem to lay still in bed. I often wonder if a day filled with high energy activating does this to me. Yesterday I took a long walk with my dad and then went for an invigorating swim. First thing this morning, I walked about six kilometres to an appointment and back, then walked later to a hospital to visit a sick friend.

I don’t really seem to understand what the solution is to this dependence I seem to be getting for sleep aids. I know that if I go on the ones my doctor will eventually prescribe that they will start to affect my memory. I also know that there are certain rules I am not following regarding my sleep. The first one, is that often I sleep in. The second is that I don’t avoid caffeine after a certain hour, and one of the worst ones is that I often take naps. If I could somehow stop doing these things I am sure I will be able to lick my problem with sleeping pills, but they can be very hard things to do, especially when a person doesn’t work full-time. I don’t know now if I am able to work full-time, though I do feel I am close. It almost scares me that in my life I have never really held down a full-time job for any amount of time. I just end up getting too stressed out, I become unable to sleep as always and walk around work like a zombie. Eventually I just sleep in, unplug the phone and let them fire me as I get the morning rest I feel I desperately need. This is a luxury I am sure is not available to millions of people who have a mental illness and don’t have a disability pension.

Well, that is about all I can type on that subject for now. I think I am going to try and write a poem today, any feedback would be appreciated.

 

Years, Months, and Days All Slip By In a Haze

 

life keeps lingering in the dark wee hours

the joys of youth slip away that once were ours

we long for days when resting simply meant putting down your head

now I begin to fear my next refreshing rest will come when I’m dead

 

To think of times of stuffy bears and being tucked in by dad

the only joy I needed in life was the love my family had

a brother, sister, mom, and dad and a little cat

riding bikes with friends far and wide with my Pittsburg Pirates hat

 

summer came so slowly and slipped away so fast

now it seems that summer only meant happiness far back in the past

I don’t want to reminisce too much and cut open a scar

Because I know when I think of my departed mom my thinking has gone too far

 

So let me dream of the future, accept but forget the past

let me think of conquests and adventures that soon will go by so fast

In honesty it feels so good to live alone and choose my own personal fate

I have everything I wanted now, including freedom for which I no longer have to wait

 

Yes it was hard to lose my mom and one day I will lose my father too

I can’t explain how I will feel on that day or what things I will have to do

I just know that being a grown-up means facing some pretty harsh realities

But it all can be so special because as a grown-up you are free.

 

 

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Don’t Let Even One Day Slip Past You

***Edmontonians  and St.Albertians Please note my books are free at your libraries. The Edmonton Public library even has four of my books as eBooks and Edmonton Public Library cards are free!***

A Lovely Shot of the River Valley, Shortly Before the Snow Came

Well, this was a happy time when I could wander far and wide in Edmonton. One of my favourite newer hobbies is to take ridiculously long walks to keep my thoughts clear and my lungs pumping good oxygen. Just about anyone who knows me well enough will have heard of how my kind old father helped me to recover from a severe bout with mental illness by taking me into this same River Valley each day and going for a long walk with me. My Dad and I still both walk a lot, but since now neither of us has a car we mostly walk on our own. I am a firm believer that if you do some light exercise each day it is good for mind, body and soul.

It is pretty much midwinter now and the temperature in Edmonton often drops below minus 20. That doesn’t bother me too much, I can dress for the cold, but what does scare me a bit is falling. A close friend fell and hit her chin and needed stitches and also had a concussion. Falls on the winter ice here can lead to all kinds of injuries. So far I have been very lucky. As a quick bit of trivia, I should state that there is much less chance of slipping on ice when it is very cold, because what causes slips is moisture on the ice. If anyone has been ice skating, the reason skates slide so well is because when they are sharp, they dig into the ice and cause a thin layer of moisture to be created.

So, these past few days have been a bit difficult for me. I should remind everyone, especially this time of the year (in the northern hemisphere) that our low sunlight hours can cause a depression on their own, something known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I was down in the dumps this past week because I got word that a manuscript I submitted to a publisher was declined. For a while I really felt like all of my efforts have been in vain and that I would never see any kind of success as a writer. Then my bestselling author and film producer friend came over and we worked out a plan to rework the manuscript and find another publisher. I also found an email I had been sent about the same manuscript that said it was very good in many ways but needed a couple of things tweaked. I feel a lot better now and have tried to fill the time I would otherwise have been moping with active work writing an promoting my writing. More and more I am thinking I need to focus on making a name for myself over even paying the immediate bills I am responsible for. I can already afford the bills if I am careful, and if I can get my name out there eventually the money will come.

The other point I wanted to make to you, my dear readers, is that when you are down or when you are lonely and nothing seems to be going right (this is starting to sound like the lyrics to  a “Doors” song, I apologize) the best thing you can do is force yourself just to do one little thing. For me it may be reading a short story or picking up a book of poetry. It may involve writing an email to an old friend you miss, some kind of creative or enriching thing. When you start to feel better, do two things, and soon you will have accomplished something. Reading your short stories could add up to having become an expert on the genre. Writing emails could give you many caring friends who you can talk to through your depressions. It’s not always easy, but it always works (so I have found). With that Dear Readers, I bid you a fond farewell. And for Edmontonians, don’t forget to get your free library card and check my books out of the Edmonton or St.Albert libraries. Soon to be also coming to Vancouver Public Library. All the best!

A Bird In Flight, A Poem, and a Short Talk About Sleeping Pills

 All I can do is marvel at animals that are capable of flight, the one thing in the world I have found makes me the most happy and energized

Scroll down past today’s poem for today’s blog entry

 

Winter Poem

By: Leif Gregersen

 

As the days slip by so fast

It often seems that nothing lasts

 

Not our love or our generation’s song

Our time to rejoice and play is gone

 

If things only lasted long enough for me to feel

That the loves I once had were real

 

Just as real as all the days

Sadness came to me in waves

 

I have regrets that my only way to cope and deal

With my pain was to take a pill and just not feel

 

Feel either good or bad just dead

But not trapped inside my own head

 

When I was not quite yet a man

From commitments I always ran

 

Not understanding how love grows like a flower

Gaining beauty, gaining power

 

I wanted so badly to be free

I masked and hid the love inside of me

 

Now I’m both lonely and alone

Never quite feeling like I have a home

 

Deny it, but I say we still can have a chance

As long as there is one more dance

 

Though I think you understand the fact

Time is slipping by for us to act

 

There is also one thing I wish you knew

I hate myself for hurting you

 

I also think something else is true

You get sad and lonely too

 

So take my hand and come with me

Knowing that love still can set us free

 

November 14, 2017

 

Good day dear readers! I have been so encouraged by the increasing support and exposure I am getting for my blog that I have decided to do more entries than I usually do. Either that or I have found that working on this blog is one of the best cures for insomnia I have this side of sleeping pills.

Perhaps the whole idea of sleeping pills is a good issue to discuss today. For the past four days I haven’t taken anything to get me to sleep and I feel better for it, but not 100% yet. I should tell some of the back story, I have a lot of commitments from working for the Schizophrenia society to teaching creative writing and other things and I really need to be rested to do these things well. Lately I have been trying a few different sleep aids to help with this and they seem to do more harm than good. I thought maybe if I talked about them here that people would be able to avoid some of the pitfalls. To start with, I have my Psychiatrist’s approval to use melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that can help balance out a person’s sleeping habits. It has some funny effects though, one of them is that if you (or at least in my case I have, I am sure other people have had different experiences) take it for a while and start to tolerate it, the pills can do something much worse than help you sleep, they can cause extreme restlessness that amounts to a type of seizure of legs and back muscles/bones. It is a very disturbing experience, one I have only ever before had in the psychiatric hospital when injected with a serious tranquilizer because I was “bad”. I still take melatonin now and then, but I am very careful about how frequently I use it. The other problem I have found with it is that it can make you very drowsy the next day and leave you with a desire to sleep a very long time.

The next pill I sometimes take for sleep is one that is called clonazepam or rivotril. I take it in the 0.5 mg orange pill. It looks a lot like the average gravol tablet and is very powerful. It is a tranquilizer along the lines of valium, but without some of valium’s more serious side effects. This is a prescribed medication and I am only given a few every couple of weeks which I use sparingly. This pill seems to be highly addictive because when I take it I feel very relaxed and soon drift off to sleep and feel better for the next day, but if I don’t take it for a few days I start to get edgy.

Those are the major ones. There is a pill called imovane, a blue little football shaped pill that I suggest people avoid. It is extremely addictive. I also want to warn people that sleeping pills in just about any form I have encountered them end up being a crutch and can seriously affect a person’s memory. Time and time again I have found that the best sleep aid is to get out and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. In my own daily routine, if there isn’t something for me to do that requires a long walk, I think of something. I seem to always be able to find a reason to get out of the house like walking to the warehouse grocery store a few miles away or walking to the post office. I used to like to bring and iPod with me when I did this, but lately I have just enjoyed walking as a form of meditation. I have to say that in the past short while I have been getting a bit lax about my walks and exercise in general and I have felt much worse as a result, physically and mentally.

The final thing I wanted to mention today was that if you find yourself sleeping days and staying up nights, there is a cure, which can only really be done in the summer. You need three weeks and not much else. What you do is go out camping, leave behind all of your electronics and get up with the sun each day. In three weeks your biological clock will naturally reset itself.

Best wishes dear readers!

Leif Gregersen

Bipolar People and the Middle of the Night Poetry Musings

Please scroll past today’s poem to read today’s blog post!

Fall

By: Leif Gregersen

 

As I look out my bedroom window

Once stunning massive trees are now bare

And the temperature reads below zero

Dead leaves are everywhere

 

In the happy times

When I was just a little boy

The excitement of the season

Hinted at all the things I most enjoyed

 

Snowball fights in the school grounds

Cold nights bundled in my bed

Making snow forts in the back yard

Dreams of Christmas days in my head

 

Just a while longer

And the snow will fall

Skating, skiing, sledding

Always having such a ball

 

Now that I’m a grown-up

With not so many things to do

Except to keep my focus on

Loving, pleasing, caring for you

 

I’m now in my middle years

Almost past forty-five

There are still things to do and see

Though I admit I don’t feel quite as alive

 

And so I try to grasp onto my youth

By dating lovely girls like you

But the reality is the sad truth

That all the time I wish I could be born anew

 

October 13, 2017

 

Once Again It’s the Middle of the Night and I’m Wide Awake

Hello, dear readers! Well, my struggle continues. Today was actually kind of a great day, when I got up, I had to go to Staples with Taro (the manager of this building who handles my efforts to put on writing workshops). We had an enjoyable time having a quick coffee at Tim Horton’s, then I went to teach my class. I think it went really well. There weren’t too many people there, I think just five in total, but I really felt like I was in my element. I am starting to get better at handling classes with people who have mental health issues. One of the things I have noticed is that often people with these issues may be very confused about directions I give them and I don’t know if this is something cause and effect, but these people have a desire to speak and participate in the class even though it might be off topic. Today (creative writing) and yesterday (Wellness Recovery) I tried just letting them speak for a few minutes and then tried to direct them back to the material or gently encourage them to let others speak. It is actually really cool the way I am learning more about my own mental illness and my own writing skills as I do this. The only part that kind of worries me is that the person who was most supportive of my efforts to do the creative writing classes has been promoted and the new person may not be as supportive or trusting of me. The way I got this job was by going to a writer’s group and basically showing that I had enough knowledge to facilitate my own class.

To get back to the whole insomnia thing, I think one of my problems is that I have a few remedies in my cupboard that help me to sleep and I think sometimes I use them more than I should. One of them is melatonin, which works well but isn’t quite as much of a designer drug as some sleeping pills are. One of the problems with it is that it leaves you very drowsy even after a long sleep. When I take melatonin, I will get a good sleep, wake up to do what I must that day, then I have a strong desire to go home and sleep some more, which I often to and then I end up like I am now, wide awake at 2:00 in the morning. There is another side effect to it that I don’t know if everyone experiences, it happens when I take a lower dose than I need to get me to sleep, my lower back gets a restless, edgy feeling that completely prevents me from sleeping. I often have to get up and walk around or do something (like writing in my blog) to stop it from bothering me. My doctor has also said that if I have problems sleeping on occasion it is okay to take a couple of gravol. These anti-nausea pills give a pleasant sleep, but only if you are already tired enough to lay down. Also, I don’t like using them because I worry about dependancy and using a pill that wasn’t meant to help a person sleep. I feel that people with mental health issues walk a very thin line between abusing and carefully using our pills. The funny thing is that I seem to have no problem sleeping in the afternoon, and one of the ways I can sleep at that time is by taking a multi-vitamin which prevents me from having bad dreams.

So, no real solution to anything today. Just a lot of words about some sleep aid alternatives. I use one last method to help me sleep sometimes, what I do is just get up and write here in my blog. I honestly hope I am helping people by putting this out, please feel free to reach out to me if you like anything I have to say or want to chat. My email is as always, viking3082000@yahoo.com all the best!

Definitely a Touch of Mania In My Mind Tonight

This is what is known as the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. They are really beautiful inside, with plants from different climates in each one, made for Edmontonians to appreciate summer while it is winter outside, or to experience other parts of the world while the sun is shining. Scroll past today’s poem for my blog post.

 

Season’s Changes

Summer is past and all at once
The leaves all begin to turn
Soon cooler days will prevail
And marshmallow roasting fires will burn

I love this times of hayrides
Roasted hot dogs out under the stars
Loved ones all around me
And seeing the red twinkling light above of mars

As I change and I grow older
I sometimes let in worries and fears
And as the time goes by so fast
I also shed a few more tears

I think of all the loves I had and lost
And of all the loved ones who passed
I also miss more than a few old friends
From my old school’s graduating class

Look now, the leaves have fallen!
And the trees seem dead and bare
That means that Halloween is coming
Time to teach the little ones how to play and scare

The gutters are filled with crunchy leaves
That will soon be filled with ice and snow
But skiing, sledding, skating
Will still give us a healthy, happy glow

Don’t regret the end of summer
As I give best wishes to you, all of my friends
Just because the weather cycles are shifting
Doesn’t mean the cycles ever end

September 28, 2017
Leif Gregersen

Well, I don’t really know if anyone reads these. Still, it seems to be good therapy for me to write them. I am troubled by a few things tonight, not the least of which is that I can’t get to sleep. I thought it would be easy to sleep tonight, I stayed up all night, went for a swim in the morning and walked a total of at least 11km on top of that. I even played a little street hockey with a couple of kids for a while just for fun. It really was fun too, I got a lot of joy out of it. But now, after taking a pill for a headache, a tranquilizer and ten milligrams of melatonin I am not able to fall asleep and morning is fast approaching. It had been a long day yesterday. I got notice that I had a library book ready for pick-up and so I went and got it (Graphic Novel about Donald Duck) and spent most of the night reading it. I also have gotten myself into two courses online, both of which are writing courses. Basically I had been up all night. I don’t feel like I still can take on the world or even that my thoughts are racing, but I definitely think something is wrong if I can’t rest.

There have been a lot of things going on. I am now teaching a Wellness Recovery class for the Schizophrenia Society and it has its trials. There is this one young man (who reads this blog) who I lost a shouting match to over wanting to explain some ways a person can make a hospital stay easier. I had every right to kick him out of the class, but I didn’t want to have him leave disgruntled, I feel that would be simply the result of not teaching him with enough patience. I am reminded of one of the worse memories of my mom from a shortly before she died. She grabbed me by the collars while she was sitting in her wheelchair, wouldn’t let go of me, pulled me down to her face and said, “You are the stupidest…” It really hurt, even though I know my mom’s mind was pretty much gone near the end. I don’t know why negative things have to pop up, there were plenty of good memories.

So at a time like this, one has to stick close to family to get through. My dad and I went to a nice restaurant the other day and had fish and chips. The waitress was really cute but my dad didn’t seem to mind that I wanted to talk to her for a while after we finished eating.

Eating brings up a whole new subject. For the past while I have been trying out a vegan diet, though I stopped it about a week ago. I have to admit I felt better when doing it, didn’t feel so bloated and fat as I do now, but I found myself also feeling pretty weak and I didn’t get a whole lot of exercise in the time I was trying the diet. I have decided I will try the vegetarian/vegan diet again, but I want to consult with a professional nutritionist before I do.

As I look at the clock, I see that my countdown to having to get up is just six hours away and I have barely slept a wink. I see my Psychiatrist in the morning and I think I am going to have to bring this up with him. The bad thing is that I have been told that sleeping pills affect memory but I have been taking them anyway, and I have been finding that my memory is getting much worse. Anyhow dear readers, I hope you were able to wade through all of my complaining today. On the more positive side of things, I published a flash fiction piece, feel free to click below to check it out!

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2017/10/08/first-love-last-hope/

 

Do Bad Memories of Your Mental Illness Haunt You?

 

click here to find a therapist near you

Since they were so popular, I thought I would put links to my two television appearances at the start of this blog:

Click here to see me in an older TV Interview

Click here to see me in a short clip that ran this week

So, I thought I would talk a little about something that maybe doesn’t get a lot of attention but I feel can be extremely important in the lives of a person with a mental illness. I don’t know if anyone  has read my book “Through the Withering Storm” but in it I discuss being a teenager and going through a series of humiliations and negative events that still to this day bother me. One of the things I recall the most was growing up in a house with secrets. It was a secret that my Mom had a mental illness, it was  a secret that my Dad drank quite a bit. It was a secret that my Dad and I fought all the time. It scared me a lot that any of these secrets would come out to the public. None of them ever really did, but I think sometimes that living in that way, inundated with traumatizing events warped me as a youngster. But that wasn’t all. As I first became mentally ill during my teen years, I did a lot of things that I am extremely ashamed of, so ashamed that sometimes my memories can almost paralyze me. For example, there was a time when I was very out of it when I thought I was being told to get in a car with some strange people and I must have scared the hell out of the young girl I sat next to. Once I realized what was happening, I had enough sense to leave the vehicle, but I can’t imagine the fear I must have put this young woman through.

I could dwell on things I did when I was mentally ill all day, but I would rather try and offer my readers some kind of solution to thoughts like this. I am reminded of when I was 17 and there weren’t a lot of ways out there to quit smoking. Smoking wasn’t nearly as taboo as it is now but I wanted to quit. I decided I needed to train my mind to resist the power of smoking. I figured that if I could somehow make myself think of something that moved me more than smoking did, I would be able to quit. Basically what I did was, whenever I had a strong urge to smoke a cigarette, I would instead think about an attractive girl I went to school with and the images of her beauty took over (this specific example may only work for teenagers!) Now, later in life when I want to clear my head of negative thoughts, I have found a somewhat similar but very effective method of quelling thoughts about my past that are extremely negative and even debilitating. I have learned to meditate. It may seem funny that one would have to learn something like that, but there is a lot of learning an effort one must put into meditating to be able to clear their minds and also be able to control their thoughts when they are not meditating. I started out doing a lot of reading on the subject, which will only take you so far. Then I went to an actual Tibetan Monk in Edmonton and studied under him for a few months.

If I were to just cut things down to basics, Meditation is about trying to clear your mind, to declutter your thought process, which you train yourself to do, and to focus on something like your breathing to keep yourself centred. I have a virtual reality headset that I bought a meditation app for and it is amazing. You choose the relaxing setting and what type of meditation you want (I always choose Zen Meditation) and a narrator will talk you through a session of clearing your mind, breathing, focusing your thoughts. I even have an app on my watch that I often use to meditate for five minutes or so when it is convenient. When you can learn to control your thoughts, declutter your mind, you will be able to set aside negative thoughts and memories quite easily. I will try and write more on this topic in the next little while, for now, thanks for making yesterday a new record of views and all the best to you my dear readers!

 

 

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!

Mental Health Mind Reading

Scroll down for today’s blog if you want to skip today’s photo and poem. the photo below is a black and white I took of a bedsheet after throwing it up in the air

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January One, 2017; 5:15am

  

Outside is still and dark, silence fills the land

On this day hope begins anew with New Year plans

We gathered in the cold to greet this year

With promises to set aside unhappiness, anger and fear

 

As the new day dawns, I promise to all of you

That there is not one thing that I promise to do

Other than put my friends and family always first

Through the lazy easy happy times and through the worst

 

I do know that many challenges will come to us

I just ask that you do your best and always trust

That our good times will greatly overwhelm the bad

And that you must call me any time you’re feeling sad

 

This day is also set aside to recall the past

None of our futures are singularly cast

Each of us together or apart can change our fate

If we just let go of all that bitterness and hate

 

Anger and anxiety consumes us from within

Worse than not receiving forgiveness for our sins

It hurts us as it drives those we love away

It can cause us to end up alone one day

 

Family is so very necessary for us all

Please don’t forget those great words, “divided we fall”

And please care for the elders in your community

One day we’ll be among them, you and me

 

A love still dwells in my heart for everyone

Not just at year’s end but with each setting sun

For all the friends and lovers who shared my hurts and joys

For those who taught me love, gentleness and poise

 

And I could not pass without saying something for

The teachers who opened so many doors

From my little niece who taught me how to care

To the instructors who wisdom followed me everywhere

 

I now vow to all of you to never stop

Looking past the little challenges, striving for the top

And also, I give a special word to those who wear a uniform and fight

I want to thank you all for risking your lives for what we know is right

 

Leif Gregersen

     Well, I haven’t got a lot to say regarding mental health. I have been experiencing anxiety lately and it has been working negatively on my stomach. As a result, I felt nausea last night and took a couple of gravol which helped the bad feeling and helped me sleep and even relax a bit. I got up and wrote a long letter to a friend I have been relying on way too much for our own good. She is this very kind and caring young woman and we have met for lunch a few times and I actually started to think we might go out, but I discovered she had no such intentions. She is so nice though that she has decided to keep me as a friend which I am very glad of. The problem that’s been happening lately is that she has been busy and I have been short of things to do since everything is shut down for the holidays and I live alone (yes, big mistake for someone with a mental illness!) I contacted her a couple of times and my anxiety started making up all these ideas. First I thought I was bothering her, then I wrote back hoping to make her less worried about me, then she sent me a quick text and I thought that she was ‘weirded’ out about me doing that. I keep stumbling over my words and it isn’t helping that my social skills and confidence are diminished from living alone. I still have a good friend in my life who I talk to a lot, but I would hate to lose this other person as a friend. I am kind of wondering if I need to up my dose of anti-anxiety medication despite the possible dependancy and side effects. I hope someone out there can identify with this and maybe take something out of it they can use. I wish there was a support group out there that was free and ongoing for neurotics like me.

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!

Another Day of Homeless Mental Wanderings

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leif Gregersen
August 25, 2015