Psychiatry

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.

 

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!

Mental Health and Poetry With a Couple of Photographs

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Another Shot From My Day Trip To Jasper With My Dad.  So Beautiful There.

Check out today’s blog entry after today’s poem

First Responders

 

So long as heroes who make sacrifice are given due fame

So long as proud men and women seek the light

The human race will always be a worthwhile game

 

No one in the world is alone to blame

In the end the winners will be in the right

So long as heroes who make sacrifice are given due fame

 

Some evil people count destruction as their only aim

But as long as good people always keep up the fight

The human race will always be a worthwhile game

 

Raise up a cheer for those who carry the flame

By their acts they give the blind new sight

So long as heroes who make sacrifices are given due fame

 

Some feel the only good in life is gain

But our salvation still shines bright

The human race will always be a worthwhile game

 

Each of our heroes may not quite be the same

But on all of them shines a holy light

So long as heroes who make sacrifice are given due fame

The human race will always be a worthwhile game

 

Leif Gregersen

July 23, 2016

     Hello to everyone out there who faithfully keeps up with my blog.  I don’t really have a lot of profound words for you today.  I am lavishing in the memories of London, England from my June trip, it really was amazing.  I have been thinking about the Imperial War Museum which used to be a mental hospital.  I think it is kind of fitting to have such a place to commemorate war, it seems to be such an awful, crazy thing.  I had a near death experience not too long ago and it reminded me of my own mortality.  I fell off my bike on a steep trail and got knocked around pretty badly, even bit a good chunk out of my tongue and got the wind knocked out of me so it was impossible to breathe for a little while.  I wondered at that moment if I would ever breathe again.  I sure didn’t expect life would be this good or that I would be this frail at 44.  I remember as a kid reading about men in their 70’s doing these incredible feats, and I don’t doubt I could still do some things, but there are a lot of things I can’t do.  As a result of taking medications and my hands shaking, just about anything that requires a steady hand is impossible.  The medication also affects my balance and my memory.  My doctor and his staff are aware of all of these side effects, but we also agree that I am much better off with these problems than I would be if I weren’t on a medication that stabilized my mood and kept me from experiencing psychosis.  It is so hard to describe what psychosis is like.  You hear things, you think things, little things that happen seem to have huge significances, and you get a lot of irrational ideas in your head.  It is scary to think of how far gone I was during my last visit to the hospital.  I will never forget experiencing this horrible feeling of depression and restlessness and looking at a tile pattern on the floor and somehow my brain mixed it around and turned it into a vision of Nazi Germany and all the horrors they perpetrated. It may seem really odd, but it would make sense to someone who has experienced such things.

I don’t want to dwell too much on all that, actually this has been a great week.  I participated in a story slam, where you put in $5 and get to go on stage and read a 5 minute story and up to ten people can read and at half time they pass a hat which everyone puts $5 into.  The stories are judged and the highest score gets all the cash in the hat.  I went home the proud winner of $100 which isn’t huge, but enough to make a nice difference in my monthly budget.  It is funny to think of how much effort it took me to write the story, edit the story, prepare myself to read it and all of that.  Then it took tremendous effort just for me to get out of bed and walk the 2 miles to the place where the event was taking place.  I really didn’t want to go, I had no faith in my story or my abilities, and I didn’t want the stress of going there and going up on stage, but somehow I did it.

It was good to win that, but stress is eating a hole in me right now.  I am supposed to be moving this week and I still haven’t gotten word that my suite is ready.  I was really hoping to get out of this place I live in now and be done with it, but I just may have to stay another month which will cause all kinds of problems.  And then, constantly, I am bombarded with these thoughts, memories of my past where I play negative things over and over in my head.  Somehow I muddle through though and get things done.  I am now a paid blogger for healthyplace.com and I wrote my blog and recorded my video today for them.  Next step is just to post my blogs and then invoice them for my pay.  It is kind of cool.  That is what is great about being in your 40’s (I’m 44) there are so many little things you learn to do to cope with life.  I can’t imagine life without all my little jobs here and there.  Anyhow, that is my life for one more week, I appreciate you all following me, and as a token of that appreciation, I am going to post another photo just below.

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Sunny Summer Days are on Their Way

DSC_0262Something that is so healing for my mental trials is to go to parks and take pictures of birds with my dad.  Here in Edmonton in the summer we have so many wonderful places, and everything from Bald Eagles to Blue Jays to photograph.

Hello Dear Readers!  What a great picture I found to introduce my blog today.  I have such love for my dad, he is a wonderful guy.  We didn’t always get along that great, there are times when he was grumpy and even times when things he did seemed mean, but the fact is that he had been there and supported and loved me for many years.  I would encourage anyone who is struggling with family relationships or mental health issues or both to take the time to show your family they matter and that you care.  They are the people in this world we know better than any others and are most likely to be by our side when problems come up.

Aside from all that, I wanted to talk a bit today about a growing movement that I am a part of.  It is a thing called the “Wellness Recovery Action Plan” or WRAP.  It is a course, which is used here in Alberta to help people overcome mental health and addictions issues and I think it can be extremely beneficial to anyone who takes it.  There is something that goes along with the course that you can download to a smartphone called “The Wrap App” where you go through a lot of the things the course covers.  Basically you write down all the things you love to do, then you write a list of all the things that stress you out.  Then you go on to make more lists, and the ‘wrap app’ helps you organize these lists.  I recommend taking the course if you can because when you do, and when you make your lists, you become sensitive to things like what stresses you out, what are some indications that you are not as well as you normally are.  You can put down something like: when I get stressed, I tend to lay in bed all day and try and sleep away my problems.  So then, with the help of your wrap plan, you notice you are sleeping a lot and then you look on your list of things you like to do and maybe you go swimming or for a bike ride or watch a movie or play a video game.  It is a great way to get to know yourself, and there are more advanced topics such as who you want to be in charge when you get sick, who you don’t want to be in charge and what hospital you want to go to.  Not all of us will be well forever, medications have this annoying habit of stopping being effective, and other things can go on.  Having a plan puts you so much further ahead.

One thing I am very happy about is that I was recently approved to take the WRAP facilitator’s course, which means I take a 5 day intensive course and then I will be able to be a class leader, after an apprenticeship of sorts.  It really excites me that I can help others to overcome their problems and to use my own illness to help others.  I think that it will also be really cool not only with my current magazine writing about mental health, but also for my future desires to write more non-fiction books about overcoming bipolar and subjects like that.

When I write this blog, I try to think of my readers, and it worries me often that a lot of people who read my work don’t live in such an ideal place as I do (health insurance-wise).  Just to run down things a bit for you, I get a small disability pension that covers my rent and food and other bills, then I get health care provided free of charge, including dental and my medication is paid for.  I can’t even imagine what people go through in places where mental health treatment is hard to come by and medication and treatment (not to mention rent and food) are equally difficult to come by.  For a lot of years I was struggling with some of these issues before I was put on my disability benefits and I was always looking for a job.  I remember being so saddened because a neighbor and friend of mine was running a gas station and wanted me to start work for him and the same day my dad came by and took one look at me and said he was taking me to the hospital.  I wish there were easy answers.  When it comes down to money, I often like to tell people about a short book I once read that really helped me get a handle on my finances, it was called “The Richest Man in Babylon.”  This 100-or-so page book talks about enhancing your skills and setting a budget and putting away no less than 10% of your earnings, and it even gets into simple wisdom about where to invest your money when you have built up a surplus.  One of the things that bothers me as well though is that people who read this blog and people who can read the book are a relatively small, highly intelligent section of the population.  So I would encourage those who read this who have managed to deal with their problems to try and share their knowledge with other psychiatric survivors and help them find a small taste of freedom and self-respect.

Well, dear readers, that is about it for today.  I hope I have given some wisdom to help carry you through.  Of course the greatest wisdom really is that time heals all wounds.  I was near desperation, in a fog of depression and constantly wishing I had money or resources when I was younger and over time I learned a lot of coping strategies and also I had opportunities come to me to earn, learn and live that have put me in a good position to lead a happy life.  I wish all of you a happy life and encourage you to drop me a line any time.  viking3082000@yahoo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Lurks a Darkness

DSC_0080     This is a photo of a building on the grounds of the Provincial Mental Hospital where I spent some quality time about 15 years ago.  The place was so old the toilets used a chain from the ceiling to flush and there were all kinds of weird staircases to nowhere.  It really was spooky and looks even spookier here.

(poem at end of blog today)

     Well Dear readers, it has been some time since I posted.  I haven’t been too involved with poetry lately and I have actually gotten a job with two more magazines.  Both of these new magazines deal with mental health topics and so I have not really had much to say about mental illness that I haven’t been saying already.  In many ways life is going really good.  I am having such a great time just about every week meeting with my friend Richard Van Camp, author of “The Lesser Blessed”, an incredible novel about a young man growing up in the North which is on Netflix if anyone is interested.  He has been doing a lot for me and there have been a number of other opportunities open up.  I guess this is a good time to talk about writing, if anyone who reads this on a regular basis wants to write or writes things and hasn’t published them, I want to encourage you to write as much as you can, re-draft and polish your work, have it edited and send it out to publishers.  This seems all too simple, and the sad fact is that it is very hard to get your work published these days, but after giving it an earnest try to get your stuff published, if you feel in your heart that you really have something to say and that people can benefit from your writing, you should look into self-publishing.  I had the benefit of being able to take writing courses and website development courses through my local library for free, and the rewards have been so huge.  I actually first published a book (Through The Withering Storm) a number of years ago but have now sold enough copies to go past the break-even point.  The good thing is that since I have only self-published and distributed in my own area, there is still a lot of potential for more sales in new areas.  I had a successful few weeks going to school libraries and selling books to them and now I want to try and take some time and do a book tour in Vancouver or Calgary at some point.

The important thing to remember though is that you really need to keep writing, keep getting your name out.  Enter all the contests you can and start a website like this one to promote your work and put it on your email and business cards.  If your writing has merit and you are diligent, opportunities will start to come.  I recall being so frustrated that my book didn’t start to sell right away after I put it online.  It took years before I made the right connections and found my way through the maze, the jungle of writers, editors and those who purchase books and pay you for writing related things.  Writing related things… that deserves a bit more of an explanation.  Of course I wrote two memoirs about mental illness.  After taking a course through them, I found out that the Schizophrenia Society hires people to go to schools and other groups to give talks.  This was an incredible way for me to hone my public speaking and teaching skills and learn more about mental illness as I went.  And one of the cool things was that sometimes I have been able to sell some of my books at these speaking engagements and I have been getting myself known.  There have been a number of other things pop up as a result of me accepting what is kind of a low-paying job but a hugely rewarding and enriching activity.  One of them is that I have been hired as a professional storyteller, those two magazines I mentioned are also paying me and allowing me to advertise my books in their publications.  And I have two awesome events planned in the New Year that are going to make me a fair sum of money.  There are many more things than that, but I just wanted to put that down for anyone who reads this blog for the writing advice.

 

As far as mental health information, I don’t really know what I can share today.  I get a great deal of benefit from talking to my sister who is very caring and down to earth.  I was telling her some fantastic news today and she said that I had stars in my eyes and that I would be disappointed no matter what the outcome of this thing I was telling her about.  This is something that is very important for people with Bipolar to be aware of, slipping into the manic side of your emotional scale.  I only know a few ways to combat it, one of them is to meditate.  When I do this, I simply breathe and try to focus on literally nothing, not allow my mind to chatter or wander, just breathe and be.  I often sit in the lotus position for up to half an hour and it is incredibly soothing.  One of my problems is that I will get into this manic mood and get extremely restless and the first thing I want to do is to go out and spend money.  I almost don’t even care what I buy, I just want the excitement of going to some shopping area or store and pulling out my debit card and purchasing things I often will never use (books I will never read, etc.).  The other way I know how to deal with this problem is to get in touch with my Psychiatrist or Nurse/Therapist and explain that I may need an increase in my medication.  This is never an easy thing to do because medication can take a lot of the fun out of life.  One has to consider though how much they may regret the things they could do while manic or in psychosis and how much better it would be if they could head off the problem before it gets really bad.

I really feel for people with Schizophrenia at this point because a lot of people with this illness still hear voices no matter how much medication they may be on.  I wish I could spend more time on the topic, but I think I would just like to ask that anyone who reads this takes a moment to consider what people may be going through that have any kind of mental illness, and maybe even take things one step further and think about helping by volunteering, fundraising, or even just being a part of an organization like the Schizophrenia Society.  I have felt so good about the work that I have been doing because it happens on a regular basis that when I give talks for the Schizophrenia Society I run across people old and young that are either dealing with a mental health issue themselves that they don’t understand or have a family member or friend that needs help and I really like to think that I can make a difference.  I always used to think as a kid that if I could really make a difference in just one life my own life wouldn’t be wasted.  Have a great day and Happy Holidays!!

 

Midwinter 2015

 

These days of gentle longing feed the darkness in my soul

I wonder if it was my journey here that left me less than fully whole

 

My years of paper wanderings have given me one thing

A longing to be near you and to feel the joy that your love brings

 

Never in my yearning did I ever think that life could be

Less of myself and the cold cruel world and more of you and me

 

Poems gave me reasons to seek the love that my soul needs

I just never knew that loving someone grips your heart until it bleeds

 

When we met you were always near me, now you live so very far

It’s a long journey now to meet you but it soon becomes a voyage on a star

 

Love is never simple and life is almost never kind

And your perfect loving touch is something I thought I would never find

 

Run with me in the moonlight, let’s dance beneath darkened skies

Give me those stolen moments that gold or money doesn’t buy

 

Love me through the evening, love me when we awake

These precious vivid memories is something no hard times can ever take

 

I want to walk in cool grass barefoot with you and simply hold your hand

I want to take you far away from here and walk in the sun and sand

 

Before it is too late for us I want to share a child with you

You are my perfect dream girl and I never thought this could all come true

 

Somewhere in the deepest parts I keep something from you

It’s about that darkness that I spoke of that often makes me blue

 

I fear that I’m not good enough, that I’m destined to be alone

I’ve tried to bury it deep within me since my love for you has grown

 

To hear your voice and touch your hand is medicine for me

Hug me, hold me tightly now, let our love set the demon free

 

 

Leif Gregersen

December 10, 2015

 

Hard Work and Dilligence Pays Off Every Time

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This is a beautiful picture of a honey bee in a local garden in Scarborough where I am staying

    Many years ago I had been living in beautiful Vancouver, BC and loved every minute of it.  I had a great apartment, a few good friends and a few pretty good prospects at girlfriends.  Then tragedy struck and I became very mentally ill for a time.  I was living in a rooming house and had a bad dream and went for a long walk.  My mind was all over the place and I had delusional thoughts that kept telling me I was on the moon in the future, that I had been carried through time and that I was a robot like in the terminator movies.  I didn’t know how to ask for help so I called the police and told them I thought someone had given me some hallucinogenic drugs.  I went into the hospital and soon lost everything.  No more property, no more friends, no more money.  I thought I could go back to Edmonton and find respite staying with someone I knew, perhaps even my parents but after a long trip across the rocky mountains this was also impossible and I ended up in a shelter.  After the shelter I graduated to a psychiatric ward and there I met a man who changed my life.

He  was a cab driver and he became something of a father figure to me.  He took the time to teach me about spirituality, about living in a community and inspired me to one day try to become a catholic.  He was just a simple, hobbled old man but he was well known, well liked and owned a house and had many friends.  I will never forget how he told me that his life would not be the same if he had still been a drinker.  He told me that years ago he was on skid row drinking lysol to get high and now he had a good life.  I didn’t really take what he said to heart for a long time, but four years ago I decided to get serious about my life.  I started out with a low-end job for minimum wage but it got me places.  It got me here to Toronto and out west to visit Vancouver again, and it led places.  I was looking at things differently and I had a home where I knew people and was supported and before I knew it a lot of things fell into place.  And what it all seemed to come down to was that if I hadn’t taken responsibility for my life, if I hadn’t put my foot down and decided it was time to grow up, get treatment for my illness, and put my life in order it would end in short order.  Now as I write this I have so much.  I just got an offer for a part-time job doing something I love, something I never thought anyone would pay me for, photography.  I have written books and have the support and respect of so many people as a result.  None of these things happened overnight.  15 years ago I was in the mental hospital and wasn’t even trusted with my own money.  I started slow, I got on medications that worked for me, perhaps more through help from a psychiatrist than my own doing, but I kept taking the medication when I got out of the hospital which was my own doing.  It took a long time to adjust to taking pills but I managed it.  I had to ease my way into work so I started riding my bike a lot and going for walks and then I trained my mind by reading and writing as much as I could.  It also took a lot of effort to win back the respect of someone I cared very much for.  It took a lot of long letters and poems and long talks on the phone but eventually she was in my lifef again.  At one point she gave me a stack of papers in a plastic bag and told me I had told her to hold on to it.  This was my life’s work up to that point, the book that became “Through The Withering Storm”.  I kept working on it, kept learning, kept working my jobs and after many failed attempts and a lot of money spent on editors, agents and printing, I got my book out and never looked back.

I think a lot of what I am saying here has been said before, but there are a couple of things that are a bit different I think.  One is that in my younger days I really wanted to come to understand God, perhaps because of the strange and overpowering delusions I had.  I simply felt that there had to be some evil power, and that if there was evil, there must be good and I wanted to be on the good side.  This led to explorations in buddhism and christianity and also just general spirituality that made me a much better, more stable person.  I also want to stress that it can make a huge difference in a person’s life to have an older person as a good influence.  For a long time I didn’t feel my Dad was a great influence because he was a drinker and we didn’t get along for a long time, but that changed too.  The man who helped show me a lot of that stuff and taught me so many things is now gone, he has passed away, but his words still inspire me and I have had an amazing life as a result of things he taught me.  I don’t want to downplay the role my Dad played though, he never gave up on me no matter how bad things got.  There were things he did I didn’t agree with but in the end he cared enough to keep helping me, keep giving me good advice and to eventuallly quit drinking.  I hope some of these words can help people in the way my Dad and this anonymous old man did.  Keep reading for today’s poem!

 

The Prizefighter
I hope you know by now every little bit we lose
Happens because of another choice that we choose
And there will always be some hope, some way
That those little things will come again some day

Sometimes when you are down and out
You want to just give up and shout
Shout out all your fears and doubts
But that isn’t what this life is all about

Living this life is taking all you get
Never being afraid to place a bet
Load the dice by digging deep
Knowing winners train while losers sleep

It’s not about just being number one
Or trying your very best and having fun
It’s about learning how to run a better race
With each new trouble or trial that we face

Sometimes it comes down to doing what is right
Having the guts to stop the fight
When you see someone get beaten bad
If it was you you would wish someone had

Doing the right thing may not seem so cool
But then you’re not just some little fool
You’re a child of God as much as anyone
And let’s face it we’re all under the gun

When you run the race make sure you still have the breath
For the marathon that’s coming up next
You’re going to have to lead the way
You’re going to be the one with something to say

You may have to carry someone and take their load
And it may be a long, long road
But don’t doubt me when I say there will be a reward
It’s not all about just distances and scores

There’s a place that’s waiting for all of us right now
I can tell you I know it’s true but I can’t tell you how
All the good you do will help you make it there
You have to constantly love and forgive and share

All my life I thought just first place wins
But at the end of the race is where the fight begins
We all must grow up and give up some things we love
For the unimagined reward that waits above

All your mistakes will be forgiven there
It will be peaceful and loving unlike anywhere
So don’t give in and lose the fight
Steel yourself and forever do what’s right

A little faith is all the price you pay
When you get there it will be a blessed day
You will know that you are finally home
You will never again be sad or feel alone

Leif Gregersen
August 18, 2015

Dealing With Anger For Those With or Without a Mental Illness

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Well, anger is something that I am sure a lot of people deal with.  I would suppose even people who seem happy and nice all the time must have the problem and somehow suppress it.  One thing I know is that I do, and I wanted to share with you, my dear readers, how I have come to deal with it.

Anger comes into my life in many ways.  One of the worst ways it comes on is when I find myself dwelling on the past, replaying old memories in my head and thinking about how I was somehow wronged.  This is a very unhealthy practice, and should be avoided at all costs.  But how can a person stop what their mind is doing?  I have found that the only way to control what thoughts I think is to cultivate a strong mind, by meditating in the way I learned from a Tibetan Monk here in Edmonton.  It is kind of a simple process.  You set up your body in a way that you don’t have to continue to think about what it is doing, you could be walking or swimming (I love to snorkel in this instance) or you could sit cross-legged or even just lay on your back, and then you simply try to keep your head clear of thoughts.  Clear of chatter, clear of judging, clear of everything.  At first it is nearly impossible, but if you practice each day it becomes easier, and your mind grows stronger.  You will soon find that you can chart the course of your sleeping dreams and control what you think about.  It is amazing what you can do when you cultivate the ability to control your mind chatter.  I want to add a link below to something I found on YouTube simply by typing in the words, ‘guided meditation’.  Check out the video if you are interested.

I found this to be a particularly calming and relaxing one, but there are many.  What I liked about it was the sound of waves and the emphasis that the waves had something of a healing sound.  Last year I spent some time in Hawaii and went snorkeling on a couple of beaches and I can’t even begin to describe what this experience was like.  The water was clear, clean and healing.  The waved felt like they were cleansing my very soul.  There were tropical fish around that I took pictures of, it was simply paradise on earth.

There is more to anger though, there is the kind of anger that a person can often develop when they have been through a lot (I think) or possibly have a chemical imbalance in their brain.  I can recall being younger and experiencing depression and having extreme anger towards people in traffic, at the laces on my shoes when I was unable to tie them, at anything that seemed to upset what I thought was my right.  People ticked me off at every corner.  I want to share another video by an incredible young man who offers a great way to put yourself in other people’s shoes and conquer your anger.  It is below:

This young man, Noah Elkrief, really seems to understand what makes people, for want of a better term, pissed off at the world.  I think he has a number of videos that are geared towards mental health that I strongly recommend.

Then of course there comes a type of anger that you can’t really control by talking, or you can’t manage at first by talking.  One example is of a person I know who was once on steroids.  He apparently beat up someone just because he didn’t like the way they looked.  There are many types of this, one of them happens in some people when they abuse alcohol.  My Dad seemed to have this problem and we used to fight a great deal, though I have to say my own rebellious spirit and my own anger didn’t help the situation at all.  Many times in life we have to sacrifice being the one who is deemed right or deemed the bigger man to avoid situations that can harm ourselves or others, or even just spark off an argument.  I kind of wish I had been able to do this at a younger age.

This type of anger, especially when it involves alcohol or other drugs, needs to be addressed first by detoxification, then by treatment to deal with a person’s addiction or abuse and then it may be necessary for the person to be put on medications.  I know in my case a good deal of my anger was taken away by the use of an anti-depressant, but I also needed to be put on an anti-psychotic medication (once again, I want to stress that psychotic is a state where a person perceives a false reality and isn’t a violent or hateful person while psychopathic is something that is more along the lines of people who don’t care who they hurt or damage in their pursuit of their own goals).  This anti-psychotic medication helped a great deal, but if there are people out there who suffer, I want to note that quite often these medications need to be increased over time, and even need to be changed.  Thanks to modern medicine, new and more effective medications come out, and there is also the factor that your body can become more tolerant of the medication and need more of it to do the same job.

Well, that seems like a lot of doom and gloom.  I hope anyone who has read this will take the time to watch the videos, they are simply incredible I feel.  On a lighter note I have been quite happy because I have been hired to teach a creative writing workshop for the month of June, which may work out to be a permanent job.  Some of the people in the group will be community members who suffer from mental health issues but I am very happy that somehow I will be able to help people better express themselves and possibly create something they can be proud of.  I think I will pass on writing a poem for today but expect one soon, thanks for reading, feel free to contact me as always at: viking3082000@yahoo.com

*** I changed my mind and wrote a poem tonight, look for it below this photo***

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A Poem For Those Who Matter Most

 

It seems despite some troubles that my life has become

Perfect in many ways, easy to live and also fun

As a boy hard work never seemed to end

And for a while it had driven me around the bend

 

I wanted so badly then to find that special other

A partner to give my life meaning, help me to recover

From all the crap that life had thrown at me

I thought a relationship would set me free

 

I had to learn the hard way that for love to blossom and grow

You need two people and you need both of them to be whole

But how I longed to find that one to complete my soul

It seemed important enough that I sidelined all my goals

 

And then all at once it seemed that there was one who cared

The first time I talked to her it was so hard not to stare

I dreamed of her and the passion that I thought would never be

Such love never seemed to come real for me

 

At the time I had depression and I was also very shy

It was as though I didn’t like myself and didn’t know why

I seemed to sabotage any relationship that might have been

And when that was over loneliness and pain would set in

 

During a time when I was still trying to make sense of life

I met a sweet beautiful lover who could have been my wife

She taught me that with love and faith there is always a chance

And no matter what your age or problems there can be romance

 

Now that I am whole and I am older I see that life is what you make of it

Despite that fact that losing love and getting older can still ache a bit

I have been through a lot but I’m still ready to reach out

Happiness is out there somewhere I have no doubt

 

When you tally up your totals and all is said and done

The winners are judged only by what they have overcome

I may not have gone so far or earned as much as others have

But for a while I was loved and happy and for that I am glad

 

And it will not matter at the gates of heaven or hell

If my investments and savings had done well

It will only matter that I loved and cared for those I knew

And you my family and friends I truly care for all of you

 

Leif Gregersen

May 29, 2015

What The Creator Gave Us All

DSC00035                SCROLL DOWN PAST TODAY’S POEM FOR MY BLOG ENTRY FOR TODAY

The Children, The Garden and The Pets We Love

 

We seem to have messed around with the creator’s plan

He gave us all to share and nurture life in this sacred land

Most don’t seem to care that we poison our mother earth

Each day that we live starting at our very birth

 

Many people have said many times to me

You will go crazy living in the North Country

But this is the only place I know that I can see

Clean air and water, this is the place I need to be

 

This is our precious home to walk and gather as we sit

I worry so much about what man’s hand does to it

Don’t people know there is room for all to fit

If not here then in the deepest recesses of the fiery pit

 

That is where we all will go if we take this place

And destroy it collectively, the whole human race

It was given to all of us by the creator’s grace

And one day our creator we will all have to face

 

Each blade of grass, each tiny bird

Was bequeathed to man in God’s word

Yet species die off every single day

And mankind’s hope slips further away

 

We frack for oil and leave the waste behind

Are these fat cat oil billionaires blind?

All they seem to see in the land is dollar signs

To pull one strand of the web will make the web unwind

 

It makes me feel so sad that soon there will be no hope

When we lose all our plants and animals how will we cope?

All these precious creations given to us all

Soon will be no more and mankind will truly fall

 

In a far off place one tired old medicine man

Was the only one who could truly understand

No matter the reward, this was a lousy plan

To refuse to change, though we know we can

 

I ask you all to be a good steward of our planetary gift

The creator will reward us if we make something of it

The earth, the air, the water and all the life

Avoid the pain, avoid the deep and searing strife

 

It is all so simple, yet so many have it oh so wrong

You need to hear the medicine man there was a solution all along

You can’t walk in peace by covering the world in leather

Cover just your feet and in harmony walk this land together

 

Leif Gregersen

April 1, 2015

THE PLACE OF RELIGION IN THE LIFE OF A PSYCHIATRIC PATIENT

Well, this is a difficult topic.  I remember that one of the very first times in my life that I went to a church of my own accord I was in Alberta Hospital, a Psychiatric hospital near Edmonton.  My mind was ablaze with delusions and so were the minds of several other people in the room.  It was a Catholic service, but I had no idea about different religions or services.  All I could really remember was that when I was about 12 or 13 my brother and sister would take me to church and one time my brother pointed out a particularly cute young woman and told me that girls like that were half the reason he went to church.  My reason for going to church was that I was having delusions that some very wealthy people were conspiring to either bestow great riches and rewards on me or to kill me or thwart my efforts to control the world, etc., etc., etc.  It was actually a bit, no a lot–scary.  I somehow believed that in order to be the world or business leader that this mental hospital was somehow trying to convince me I wasn’t, I had to go to church.

All this must seem very confusing, and I am sure I am not telling the story all that well, so I will try to go back a few notches.  In my 18th year, back in 1990, almost a year after I should have graduated high school, I was still going to high school and had been under a great deal of stress.  Add to that I had yet to have any kind of girlfriend and then the fact that I was genetically prone to mental illness, and you have a real mess.  Over the course of a month or so I was in and out of hospital Psychiatric wards and had also spent some time in a Psychiatric Hospital.  One of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital was start drinking beer, a very bad idea with any medication, and I got a little drunk and called up a young woman I was very fond of who brushed me off but said she would still be my friend.  Over the next while, I suffered from psychotic delusions so real and so intense about a number of things that even now I marvel at how the human mind can come up with such false ideas and somehow tailor every day experiences to make them even more confusing.  My only idea was that there really was a God.  But that isn’t always the healthiest thing to convince a mental patient.

As time passed, my thoughts slowly returned to normal, but not until after I went through quite a bit.  One of the things that stands out for me is that when I was at my sickest, a hospital chaplain would come and visit me, a very kind and wise man from the Anglican church.  Later on in my mental health journey, I was in the University Hospital and I went to a service there and, while having a hard time with delusions, had another chaplain explain to me that the bible had predicted the end of the world and some of the things in it were really happening in the world despite that it was written thousands of years ago.  This was extremely disturbing, but somehow I tried to learn more and after a lot of mishaps, I found a church that makes a lot of sense to me with a priest I really like and respect, and on some Sundays I actually make it out to mass.  The problem though is that there were times in between where I was obsessed with reading the bible, times when I thought I had special status because I read the bible and prayed and went to church, and even times when I had delusions about Jesus.  So what is the solution, what is my grand answer to what people should believe if they are sick and hurting and want the comfort of religion or even spirituality?  I don’t think a loving God, and I believe he is a loving God, will hold anything against a person who has made mistakes because of an illness.  My priest even told me once that when you are mentally ill and deep into a depression, though it is not exactly giving permission, it is a forgivable sin to commit suicide.  In no way do I want to condone suicide though, it is a horrible thing, but often people who are in a depression are not in true control of their actions.  This gave me comfort because I lost an aunt and a very close friend to suicide, both from depression and I would like to think I will see them in heaven.  Aside from the forgiveness part of it though, I want to try and explain here that suicide is something that hurts so many people, something that is never beneficial.  One of the sad facts is that unless you make a serious suicide attempt, a lot of hospitals won’t admit you for help you may feel you need for other things.  I am so lucky because I have found a home that gives me structure and enforces medication compliance and regular Doctor and Pharmacist visits.  I myself have lived on my own and fallen away from those things and let myself get isolated and been near wanting to kill myself.  One of the few things that helped me through those times was having the ability to go to church and bible studies.

Now, I just want to say a few words about when religion can be a bad thing.  Some mentally ill people get obsessed with reading the bible, some of them misinterpret or have delusions about things in the bible.  This can be very unhealthy, but I don’t know what the solution is.  I know one lady who has Schizophrenia who had a breakdown as a result of reading the bible too much and needed help, needed her Doctor to step in and tell her to stop reading the bible and increase her medication.  Regular visits to your Psychiatrist and counselors are your best bet in watching out for things like this to happen.  Regular visits where you are as honest and comfortable as you can be with these people.  In my life, and I feel like I have a pretty good life, I sometimes use Yoga for exercise and flexibility, I sometimes use techniques I learned from Buddhist teachers to meditate and clear my thoughts, and I also attend a Catholic church.  In the end, I feel it is most important that I’m a Catholic because the church has a lot to offer me and the people seem so kind and helpful there to everyone.  It doesn’t stop me from finding comfort in other religious practices though, I just kind of feel that people need to follow the wisdom from an old Frank Capra movie, I believe it was called “The Snows of Kilamunjaro” in which an old monk summed up his philosophy in one sentence:  “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  Take care and keep commenting!!

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