The Last Barrier We Face: Self-Confidence When You Have a Chronic Mental Illness Like Schizophrenia, Depression, Bipolar
Hello Dear Readers! Before I get into today’s topic I wanted everyone, especially those of you who get this blog emailed to you, to know that they can download a free copy of my latest book in PDF format by visiting my website www.edmontonwriter.com and clicking on the photo of London’s Tower Bridge. I also want to thank you for taking note of the date and the Zoom link for my upcoming in-person readings online. Details in case you missed them at the below address:
So, I wanted to talk a little bit about self-confidence. I feel it is a critical topic for people with mental health issues. Lack of self-confidence can lead to isolation, loneliness, putting off career and life goals and generally leave you in a much poorer state than you began. One of the ways self-confidence can be destroyed is through depression. Some years ago, I was put on Prozac and I found it helped with my self-confidence and made me able to do more, but there was still a long ways to go.
Prozac laid a foundation for me to do more, but if I isolated myself (I was not working for a long period of my recovery) I found that my social skills would rapidly decline. I would finally go out say for groceries, and I had a hard time looking people in the eye, I had to stumble and stutter through my sentences, and I only felt a sense of comfort when I was back alone in my apartment.
Right off the top, it should be apparent that if you let depression go untreated, and isolate on top of it, a tragic thing can happen. You can waste a large chunk of your life. There were about three years that went by for me where I accomplished little. Even when I did have a job it bothered me that I wasn’t helping anyone but myself, I felt bad that my family wasn’t around me and one paycheque I made the disastrous mistake of going out drinking and spending a whole paycheque on something that I shouldn’t do with medication.
Fortunately, over the years, I managed to stop drinking, and with prozac, my depression wasn’t as bad. Part of what I feel I owe my sobriety to was going to AA meetings as often as I possibly could, but after I got through a year I stopped going. Even though I had made some great friends there, I found that all too often the people in the meetings were a bad influence and that talking all the time about drinking wasn’t helping any of my other problems. I felt a lot better when I stopped going, but there was something I missed — the advantages — and there are many — of public speaking.
Fortunately, I got involved with The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta. They had me doing all kinds of public speaking and I also had a chance to set up support groups and wellness classes. A friend got me started on teaching writing and I haven’t looked back. I can proudly say that I now work in the same hospital where I was once a certified patient and the doctor who treated me very poorly sees me do it on a regular basis. :)
Finding a way to do public speaking isn’t easy. Public speaking isn’t easy. But it can be important to push your limits a little, and also to motivate yourself a little by taking classes or joining support groups. Even joining a library book club can help you to exercise your social muscles and make friends, and there is also opportunities in most communities to join the board of non-profits. I sat on the board of my community newspaper.
Now, I have a number of hobbies. I love retro video gaming. Photography gives me a chance to exercise my creative muscles and I love to write. So a lot of the things that I do help me socially. Teaching, giving talks about mental health — and this blog even! But that isn’t necessarily what I want my readers to do. What I want them to do is to ask themselves who they really are deep down, what moves them, what they are truly good at. I knew a young man who was struggling — it was a very unfortunate case, his mother was murdered and he had a mental illness. A kind neighbour decided to help him out and gave him a piano that fit in his room at the group home he lived in and when he played, not only would he give joy to the other people in the group home, he felt so much more fulfilled and was able to do so much more.
Again, I will talk about being in a group home. I was in one for nearly 15 years. I didn’t have a huge social circle, but I had the time and space I needed to do some serious healing, and then I started with taking classes in writing for free through my local library, and before I knew it I was on my own and able to partially support myself with my work. Being in the group home gave me friends who were there all the time, who I could talk to or ignore as I wished. There are very few ways to seem strange or be kicked out of a group home meant for people with mental illnesses. It was so great because they had good food, they taught me a lot about cooking and they often had outings to play pool or indoor soccer and they were really supportive. The only real shame is that so few group homes exist like that, but if you make the best of one, any group home can be a great way to transition to living on your own. I am so fortunate that the same agency that owned the group home had a spot in a subsidized apartment. Just as a side note, no matter what housing situation you are in, I strongly suggest you make an application for a subsidized apartment, even if the only ones you know of are a ways away. Most of these places have a waiting list, and if they are set up for people with mental health issues, they may include other supportive services. The group home I am in has an office and they help and support tenants, they have gatherings when the weather is good outside, and when the pandemic subsides (cross your fingers!) they will have coffee and snacks and indoor gatherings.
Just to go on a little further, I wanted to talk about the benefits of having a shower each day and keeping up with your laundry and general hygiene. This is not just so you don’t smell, it rejuvenates a person, gets them up and out of bed and primes them for the day. I also have to say that when your body and clothes are clean your self-confidence goes up, and when that goes up your depression goes down and you are more able to take social risks and make friends with others. Often what I do is have a shower at a nearby pool. If you like to swim or work out or play badminton or other sports, most communities have a YMCA or a city facility where you can get a reduced rate if you are low-income. This can be very beneficial. Another thing I wanted to mention is that I often have a lot of trouble sleeping and I have found that if I take a hot hot bath before bed, then rinse myself off with the shower head, I drift off to sleep so easily and wake up feeling energized.
Another aspect of self-confidence can depend on your medication. It is tragic that many people don’t pursue a partnership romantic relationship with someone because their hands shake or they are unable to perform sexually because of medications. Talk to your doctor about these things, but don’t just stop taking the pills you believe prevent you from those experiences. I don’t really know if I am in any way qualified to talk about relationships as I only have had one girlfriend in my life, but in a way that is a positive thing. I am still friends with this person who I met 30 years ago and it is so important to have someone you can talk to about anything at any time and who will support you unconditionally. A few years back I was in the hospital with severe psychosis and this person called the hospital and said she was my sister — the hospital was only putting through family members — and we talked for a long time. That was the most memorable part of being in the hospital.
Well, good readers — I thank you for staying around this long and reading all this. Maybe I should talk a little more about relationships in coming blogs. I just want to leave you with two things. First, please download and read and share my book “Alert and Oriented x3” I made it for all of you, and please come to my virtual public reading made possible by The Writer’s Union of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. More information here: https://bmcnews.org/story/leif-gregersen-to-host-two-online-readings