Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Variations on a Theme

How's my mental health today?

I feel pretty good. My mood seems more stable even though the music keeps spinning in my head. I'm having fun with this.

When I took violin lessons (many years ago) I was assigned many pieces called 'Variations on a theme' to practice. They were usually the result of a composer taking a theme from another composer's  composition and playing with it. Apparently, many composers accepted this practice as being honoured by their contemporaries.

I've entertained myself  with a lot of more recent 'Variations on a Theme'. Music purists are likely aghast at these 'sacreligios' renditions and distortions of well known, highly valued classical works. I like them; they're creative, intriguing; sometimes brilliant; occasionally hilarious; and at times spell binding.

If you enjoy this kind of thing, or are even a little bit curious, take the time to check out the three links below. The first one is a recording of Mozart's ' Eine Kleine Nacht Musik' followed by Peter Schickele's spoof, 'Eine Kleine Nichtmusik'. The third is a comedic rendition by the Mozart Group, a string quartet from Poland, entitled 'Eine Kleine Weltmusik'. (Click on the tan coloured titles for the link).

I showed these to my kids and they howled with laughter. Maybe your day will be brightened from watching these 3 very different renditions. (Note: this will take a fair bit of time but I think it's worth it!)

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik  (A Little Night Music)

Eine Kleine Nichtmusik  (A Little Not Music)

Eine Kleine Weltmusik  (A Little World Music)

There are no days in life so memorable as those 
which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.   
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Diet Coke

How's my mental health today?

I'm not sure. I feel tired because it was a short night, but I am sleeping better despite a lot of musical stimulation. 

As I continue to explore the world of music that I've avoided for too long, I delve into music from many genres. I've spent a fair bit of time searching for musicians that take well known music and put their own creative spin on it - from comedic to serious. My tastes are eclectic and I enjoy many of these renditions; others not so much, and then there are the musical expressions that I find boring, poorly done, or ridiculous.

As I examine my reaction to the variety of musical interpretations and performances I am reminded of other people's responses to music (genres, recordings & performances) they've heard.

I've met people who dismiss any performance that doesn't strictly abide by the original composition. I remember a piano instructor at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Hanover, Germany. She scoffed at the music of Jacques Loussier and the Play Bach Trio. According to her, Loussier's jazz  renditions of  J S Bach compositions were vastly inferior to the original, 'real' thing; not worth listening to or spending money on. I've met other people who insist that the only worthwhile rendition of a song/musical work is the one performed by their favorite artist.

What do I do with this dominating insistence on the superior value of original interpretation? Are other creative efforts of less value? What about different genres? Do they really have different values? I once worked with a young man who insisted the only music worth listening to was classical music.  His voice and words dripped with derision whenever he heard popular music based on a melody that originated in a classical work. His elitist snobbery very quickly became irritating, especially when he continually filled the shop (we completely rebuilt  and refinished old pianos there) with the sound of (recorded) classical piano music.  His intolerance of other people's musical tastes gradually eroded the atmosphere in the shop. Some guys left when they had enough. (I left when the owner starting bouncing paycheques).

Looking through the comments of people on Youtube it is not unusual to read negative remarks. We all have different tastes and it seems to be OK to express our likes or dislikes when given the opportunity. I'd rather not see or hear demeaning, dismissive, derogatory remarks. They serve no purpose other than to hurt, insult, and enrage.

I wonder; have I ever offended someone when I've expressed my dislike or indifference of their creative efforts? How should I respond to something that I don't care for? Can I set aside my preferences long enough to recognize and value the efforts and gifts of others when I don't like what they've produced? Should I?

Compare music to drinks. 
Some is like a strong brandy. Some is like a fine wine. 
The music you're playing sounds like Diet Coke.
- Pavarotti

Monday, November 28, 2011


How's my mental health today?

I'm not monitoring that very vigilantly. My mind is occupied with so many other ideas, concerns, thoughts and reflections.

This past Friday evening we joined 7 friends to see the movie, The Way. At the center of the story is the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage journey through southern France and northern Spain. The storyline and the walk were of added interest to Heidi and myself because we personally know someone that walked the Camino de Santiago 5 or 6 years ago.

After the movie we went out for 'coffee' and a great discussion. We went around the circle responding to the question, 'what would I walk 800 km for?'

I've been reflecting on that discussion since then and questions have come up for me.

What is a pilgrimage and why would I go on one?

An online  dictionary provided this:
     pilgrimage [ˈpɪlgrɪmɪdʒ]
     1. a journey to a shrine or other sacred place
     2. a journey or long search made for exalted or sentimental reasons

That explains what - now why?

Why would I journey to a shrine or sacred place? Would I benefit from it? Would I experience personal growth? Spiritual growth?

I've made journeys for many reasons. When I was 15 my sister and I travelled to Germany, where we met aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time. We saw places and heard stories that were part of our heritage. I continued that exploration in 3 subsequent trips to Germany. There were certainly a lot of sentimental connections. Were those pilgrimages?

In the mid 1970's I hitchhiked through western Canada for 3 months, spending a lot of time in areas like Vancouver's lower east side. It was something I had thought about doing for a while and when I needed to get away - I went. Was that a pilgrimage? 

I'm blogging to develop my writing skills and discipline. It's been a journey of discovery and hopefully a little growth so far. Is that a pilgrimage?

Is my life a pilgrimage?

Where will this journey take me?

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
- J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings)

Friday, November 25, 2011


How's my mental health today?

I'm not sure. I think I just overdosed on football.

It's not even the weekend and I've watched 3 football games today. I don't usually watch the American Thanksgiving NFL games, but I got a call from my stepson asking if he could come over to watch the games. He's off work these days as a result of a hand injury.

So we watched football.

Menu for the day: beer, wings, chips, pizza, roasted potatoes, sauerkraut and farmer sausage - all in all, pretty much a cliche day. We didn't even get to everything on the menu! (That's probably a good thing).

 And there's more football coming on Sunday, highlighted by the CFL Grey Cup game!

Having a day like this is actually pretty good for my mental health. Just relaxing, letting the brain idle in neutral is beneficial as long as I don't make a habit of this. There's not much of a risk of that happening - I've got other stuff I like to do.

I'll head back to my 'office' in the morning.

You can observe a lot just by watching.
-- Yogi Berra

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deconstructing Johann

How's my mental health today?

The music won't quit!

I'm enjoying the music but it's interfering with my sleep. The music won't stop even when I'm exhausted and lay down, close my eyes, and try to sleep. This is not good!

So what do I do? I need a little wisdom here.

Do I go back to avoiding music? For so many years I believed that God had given me a gift for music. I pursued it as a career. At one time I participated in a lot of musical performances - at my busiest I played in 9 different Christmas concerts in less than 3 weeks. The rehearsal and performance schedule was manic. A handful of times I enjoyed the privilege of being part of  an orchestra consisting primarily of Winnipeg Symphony players. My gifting seemed obvious to me at that time.

Was I wrong? Was the idea of being blessed with a gift for music an illusion? A delusion? If it's not a gift - what is it? If it truly is a gift, how do I use it without putting my health at risk.

Years ago one person said to me, "You have a gift that you can't control - in fact, it controls you!"

Last night Heidi told me I should try doing things in moderation instead of going overboard and completely immersing myself in the things I choose to do. She's not the first person to tell me to employ the concept of moderation. I'm not sure I've ever done that or even know how. I've been more of an all or nothing kind of person. Does that lie at the root of some of my challenges?

I'll let that idea of moderation percolate for a while.

In the mean time, I'll continue browsing music.

I found another amusingly clever clip this morning. It added some lightness to the beginning of the day for me.

Check it out. It's titled 'Deconstructing Johann' by the King's Singers. (link)

When griping grief the heart doth wound,
and doleful dumps the mind oppresses,
then music, with her silver sound,
with speedy help doth lend redress. 
-  William Shakespeare

Deconstructing Johann Lyrics 
J. S. Bach had a little problem.

J. S. Bach was in a fix.

J.S. Bach couldn’t find an answer.

What to do?

“I’ve written most of a rather fabulous work.

Toccata… it’s in d minor… but now I’m feeling a bit of a jerk.

I can’t think of what should come after it.”

Now said his wife, who was resting up after her thirty third child….

“Johann my dear, you should just go to bed. Something always comes up.”

Don’t be a twit. It’s a real crisis and I’m working to a deadline.

What can I fit? What’d fit after that great Toccata?

Maybe it needs to be something faster?

I haven’t got a clue, and in a week the piece is due.

I’m in a panic and I’m stuck like glue.”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist Johann.

‘Notes are only notes’ you always said.

There’s only twelve so use your head.

How many arrangements of twelve notes can there possibly be?”

That’s a problem I don’t want to deal with.

How many permutations of C and D and E and F and G is a thing that I’ve never heard of.

You can leave that to Arnold Schoenberg.

He is the person to do that twelve-tone thing.

NO! It isn’t the answer… I haven’t the foggiest…

What am I gonna do? I’m all in a panic… 
Aaah! NO! What can I do?

I’ve finished my Toccata but I have no fugue.

(Fugue plays ;-)

aaah…. And now I’ve got a fugue!”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Boundary Line To Art

How's my mental health today?
I don't really care - I'm enjoying exploring the music.

I've been looking through Youtube clips, fascinated by the number of individuals and groups that choose to use music (usually classical) at the core of their comedy routines. Some are brilliant, some are subtle in their ingenuity, some are outrageous, others are mindlessly boring,  a few are feeble attempts at humour, and the odd one is just stupid - tastelessly moronic.

PDQ Bach has been a favorite of mine since I was in High School 40 years ago. There are spoofs of symphonies, operas, madrigals, Greek tragedies, radio broadcasting, and more. Peter Schickele, creator of PDQ Bach is brilliant. Some of his spoofs are surprisingly subtle, others are outrageous mockery.  His comedy is both aural and visual, at times even using plays on words (German & English). Most of his comedy is easy to catch but sometimes it gets lost if the listener has no knowledge of classical music.

As I searched for PDQ Bach clips  on Youtube I found a 2 part clip of Peter Schickele performing with the Boston Pops orchestra and Itzhak Perlman, one of the world's top solo violinists. (Perlman overcame a crippling bout of polio as a child to become a child prodigy and then a very successful concert violinist). The routine is one I had never seen or heard before, and I found amusing to watch classical musicians let their hair down to participate in a silly comedy bit.

If you're interested check out the following links:

Part 1 (link) consists of Schickele's introduction to PDQ Bach

Part 2 (link) is the actual performance.

Hope you enjoy it. I did!

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art. - Charlie "YardBird" Parker

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to Music

How's my mental health today?

I'm been venturing close to the edge again - playing a little "chicken" with my vulnerability.

I took a couple days off from writing this past weekend so I had some time to fill. I plugged in one of my external hard drives to copy a file on it. When I opened the files on the storage drive I found a large folder of music that I hadn't listened to for a few years now. As I browsed through the music files I toyed with the idea of listening to some of it.

My music collection includes a wide range of genres and artists. Very few, if any of the musical titles have ever made a "top ten" list. I like music that is different from the norm; music that reveals the artists' creative quirks and twists. My preference of music has been called 'bad' by one person, 'eclectic' by another. I prefer the 'eclectic' label.

I listened primarily to classical music up until my mid-twenties - after all, I was an aspiring classical musician. Jazz began to creep into my musical preferences when I was invited to a Jazz Club in Hanover, Germany a few months before my 20th birthday. Classical and jazz still remain as the musical genres that I can get the most absorbed in.

Artists that mess with musical forms, adding unique twists to them fascinate me. Especially when they take long existing compositions and incorporate them into a comedic routine. I get a kick out of artists like Victor Borge. My favourite remains PDQ Bach - a creation of Peter Schickele. His cleverly ridiculous and sometimes outrageous mockery of classical music forms and compositions frequently leaves me in stitches.

As I browsed through my music files, I came across my collection of PDQ Bach. I looked over the selections and wondered if I might find some PDQ Bach on Youtube. Lo and behold, I discovered a lot of PDQ Bach and so much more. I went exploring, listening and watching one youtube clip after another.

When Heidi came home from work I was playing an assortment of my music files. She sat down and listened along with me. After 15 or 20 minutes she stated how happy she was to see me listen to music again. She didn't think it would be a problem for me as it had been so often in the past.

She was wrong! I had trouble sleeping that night. Thankfully, the music spinning in my head didn't get out of control. When it does, my mental health suffers.

Do I need to refrain from music completely? Do I want to?

I don't want to answer those questions yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something New

How's my mental health today?

It's a little difficult for me to say. I started on a new medication two weeks ago and I've had a constant headache since. Even 3 extra-strength Advil don't seem to make a difference. I'm beginning to wear down a bit. I can feel the exhaustion catching up to me. I think I'll take a break from blogging for the weekend.

I got some feedback from Heidi on yesterday's post. She said I forgot to mention my responsibilities of keeping our place clean and preparing meals. She told me that is a healthy activity. I have to admit, although it ranks up there on my daily to do list, housework is not my preferred healthy activity.

I went to a book-launch at Chapters Wednesday evening. The book was Journey to Justice: How "Project Angel" Cracked the Candace Derksen Case by Mike McIntyre. I'd never been to an event like this before and I was surprised at how many people were in attendance. I recognized many of the people there including one person with whom I had a rancorous parting of ways almost 15 years ago. I wasn't comfortable with seeking him out to chat, but decided if it happened I could deal with it. He disappeared quickly at the end of the event, which was a relief.

The book launch was an interesting event, although it was a little slow getting started. I was leaning against one of the store book racks waiting for the proceedings to get underway. While waiting I scanned the titles close to me - there were a couple that caught my eye. At the end of the event I bought 2 of the books that had been at my elbow as well as 2 of Mike McIntyre's books - the featured one as well as another.

Are you curious about what I bought? Here's the list.
  1. Journey for Justice by Mike McIntyre
  2. Devil Among Us by Mike McIntyre
  3. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges
  4. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M Twenge, PH.D. and W. Keith Campbell, PH.D.

I wasn't sure how Heidi was going to react. When I left home I told her I'd probably come home with a book - now I was coming home with 4! It almost always costs us money when I go into a bookstore. There's just so much interesting stuff there! ( Is that a healthy or unhealthy temptation?)  Anyway, Heidi wasn't surprised - it seemed like she almost expected it. I guess she knows me quite well.

I'm going to take a break from writing this weekend. I'll be back on Monday.

Now, which book should I open first?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What to do?

How's my mental health today?

I think it's more important for me to ask myself, how is my spiritual health today?

My days are largely unstructured and I have the freedom to make all sorts of choices of what to do. The problem is too many of the options sitting before me are not good for me. They can undermine my spiritual health, which can easily result in a decline in my mental and physical health.

I am surrounded by my computer access to the Internet and a vast range of ebooks, my TV, and piles of books in our office (2nd bedroom). I can choose to spend my time growing my faith through reading, meditation, and prayer. There are programs on TV which could be helpful if only I didn't find them so lame, uninspiring and predictable. I can increase my knowledge and satisfy my interest in history and political developments on the Internet, TV and the reading material I have. I can rot some brain cells by immersing myself in silly, mindless fluff that can easily be found all around me. I can also expose myself to temptations by exploring the enticing world of brain-rotting, titillating websites, movies, books and TV shows. All this without leaving the comfort of my reclining armchair. I can even access books and TV while riding my exercise bike.

Getting out of the apartment also provides me with the opportunity to engage in both healthy and unhealthy activity. It all depends on where I go, what I do, and who I talk to.

Past experience has taught me that the more more time I spend enriching my spiritual life, the less temptations I have to wrestle with; especially if I begin my day spending time with God. I become more engaged with life when I exercise my mind and body with regular, healthy, physical activity, reading, and interacting with other people. These activities lift my spirit, increase my energy, build and maintain strong, healthy relationships and stabilize my mind. Mixing in some recreational and relaxation time enhances my overall sense of well being.Neglecting these things, or having an imbalance in these activities drags me down into sluggishness and unwanted temptations.

I used to spend more time on building my spiritual health. I need to get back to that so that I can bring a more positive balance to my life.

Will I have a better balanced day today? I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Walking the Edge

How's my mental health today?

I see my doc this afternoon. He'll probably ask, How are you doing? Or, How have you been doing?

They are questions I need to consider every day. If I want to keep some balance in my life, I've got to monitor my mental health. If I ignore it, I risk having things go offline, eventually (sometimes rapidly) getting out of control.

As a result I try to stay aware of my stressors and my stress levels. I know what causes me difficulty and what helps me stay grounded. Problem is, some of the things that create a problem for me are far more fun, invigorating, and often more rewarding than that which keeps me grounded.

Heidi and I have often talked about how I like to live on the edge. It reminds me of a time (many years ago) when a friend and I climbed up Mount Rundle in Banff, Alberta. Mountain climbers would say that we walked up the back of the mountain; we didn't work our way up the vertical walls of Mt Rundle. Whatever, there were more than enough heart-pounding moments for me.

If you're not familiar with Mt Rundle, it's a mountain ridge that is roughly 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long, and 2948 meters ( 9672 ft.) high. (I googled it to get those details and learned there is now a hiking trail to the top - we didn't find a trail in 1975 - we just headed straight up the back). While the side we went up was a manageable slope, the other side of the ridge was a vertical drop for a greater distance than we wanted to check out. We were careful not to get too close to the ridge. It was windy up there and we had heard stories of people supposedly blown over the edge by the wind. They didn't survive. Whether the stories were true or not (I can't find any record of them) they were scary enough for us to be a little cautious up there.

Living on the edge is like that mountain top experience for me. My Mt Rundle experience was exhilarating, providing an incredible view of the Bow River valley on one side and so much more. It was scary too. Living on the edge energizes me, excites me, spurs me on and helps me feel engaged with the world around me. Staying safe, well back from the edge can quickly get very boring, it's mundane, I feel like I'm just going through the motions, and I lose my drive. Which would you choose?

Falling off the edge eventually lands me in a depression that sucks the life out of me. Living on the edge requires balance. I still haven't completely mastered the balancing act.
Not sure if I ever will.

Do I really want to? Hmmmm.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ridiculous Reality

How's my mental health today?

I'm not sure how significant that is today. I have other things on my mind.

Primarily, my viola. I'm trying to sell it and am not sure how I want to go about it.

I bought the instrument when I was studying at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Hanover, Germany in 1973-74. It became my major instrument in my pursuit of a career in classical music. That never panned out, due in large part to the instability of my mental health.

Now it's time to sell it.  I can't remember the last time I played the thing. Somebody else might as well have it, especially if they're going to make better use of it than I do. I sold my violin last week because it was also just sitting around collecting dust.

Our church is raising funds to purchase a building. Selling the instruments will give me some funds to contribute to the cause.

I'm trying to decide how to best go about selling the viola. I'm reluctant to sell it myself because my sentimental attachment to it makes pricing a challenge. I also don't know how well it would work trying to sell it because any interested buyer would want to try it out and I don't have a bow for it. Do I let a stranger take it home with them for a few days to see if they like it? Could I trust them with it? Do I contact music stores to see if they would be interested in buying it - I won't get as much  as I might if I sold it myself. Do I go the very easy route of just pawning it? Then I'll really get a low return. This sucks!

I've called a few people to get ideas from them. Now I have to wait for them to call me back. It's a good thing I don't have other plans for the day.

Hopefully I can get rid of the viola very soon.Then I can move on to other things.

I can't believe how much this is stressing me. Maybe my mental health is becoming an issue here?

It's ridiculous, but it's my reality.

Monday, November 14, 2011


How's my mental health today?

``Chill ...... You need to just chill today``

"No writing today!"

With these words (directed at me) Heidi left for work.

For 8 days or so, I had been getting increasingly wound up. I was putting out more energy than I had in a long time. It had been several years since I had focused on one task for more than a couple of hours. The previous day I wrote for more than 6 hours.

I was having trouble sleeping because my mind wouldn't shut down. Then I began second guessing myself. The biggest question was, Had I crossed over the line and done things I shouldn't have?

I know from past experience that when my mind begins racing and my mood elevates too high, I can lose sight of boundaries; of what's appropriate, what's realistic, and the need to slow down.

Now I wasn't sure if I had crossed that line again or not. Both Heidi and I knew that if I didn't take a break and slow right down, I would set myself up for the inevitable crash that always follows such an emotional and mental high.

I settled back in my chair and tried to relax. Today would be a day of rest; a day of doing as little as possible, with minimal mental, physical, and emotional stimulation. I wouldn't even prepare dinner, Heidi would pick something up after work. It was a day to read brain candy, ride the bike a bit, and sleep if I could.

It's what I have to do to protect my sanity.

I had previously scheduled a massage  for 9 a.m., that would help begin the relaxation day. Coincidence? I think not! Someone is looking after me.

I'll see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


"You're a writer - you need to write!"

This writing business has me in its grip.

"Drop by for a cup of coffee, and see the changes that have occurred here." "Let's meet for lunch and get caught up." "Haven't heard from you in a long time - let's get together." "What are you doing now?" Invitations to events, conferences, seminars, fundraisers - they all keep trickling in. Emails, friend requests on Facebook, newsletters - they keep finding me!

Since I burnt out and stopped working four years ago I have tried to distance myself from all things mental health. People, places, events, and information - I needed a break from them all. My healing process was inversely related to the level of contact I had with my past work in mental health.

Newsletters kept appearing in our mailbox. Donation requests and phone calls persisted. Invitations to fundraisers trickled in. Unwanted emails arrive in my inbox. I tried to have my name removed from contact lists. That made little difference. I couldn't get away from these tethers to the past I was trying to leave behind. (The newsletters I had tried to cancel don't show up any more because I didn't provide a forwarding address when we sold our house and moved last year. Now they're the new homeowner's problem).

News reports of developments and setbacks in the mental health world never stopped hooking me emotionally and intellectually. Every once in a while a stigmatizing editorial comment or article would set me off. Heidi often asked, "Are you going to write a letter to the editor?" I never did - it required too much energy.

Every once in a while I crossed paths with a former colleague or participant of programs I had facilitated. It felt very awkward. They always had so many questions I didn't want to answer. Attempts were made to drag me back into the turmoil of system, service, and policy issues. What would it take for people to accept that I was done with that? I needed a complete break!

As I was sitting in the coffee shop, working on this post I heard my name called out. It was a former colleague who was on her way to work. She had been walking by when she saw me through the window. She came in, bought a coffee, came over and gave me a big smile, said hello, and asked how I was doing. Thankfully, there was no mention of mental health stuff! It was a very brief conversation, she asked that I pass on greetings to Heidi and then went on her way. I felt no discomfort. That may be because I was frantically trying to remember who she was. She looked familiar, but there was something different. It finally clicked - she had lost a lot of weight. Now I knew who I was talking to. It was a comfortable experience.

I am waiting for a former colleague, who is also a friend. We're getting together over a cup of coffee. We haven't been in touch for over a year. This time I was the one that reached out and initiated the contact. This man had been one of my biggest boosters, he never ceased to promote my work and credibility. He extended invitations to me to participate and contribute on committees for a few years after I stopped working. Whenever we met for lunch he enthusiastically reported on new developments and issues in the mental health industry. He persistently pointed out where I could employ my skills and knowledge. I calmly resisted being drawn back into that world.

Given the developments of the past week I decided it was time to provide him with a glimpse of what I was up to. He's a very passionate man and I'd guess he's getting a little wound up as the time for our meeting draws closer. He gets even more animated than I do when the passion reveals itself. In our email communication he mentioned he wants to tell me about the many changes that have occurred since I withdrew from our local mental health scene. I won't allow myself to get drawn back in. I know what my limits are and what I will and will not do.

I'm surprised how calm I am as I wait for the meeting to occur.

Something has changed!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Glimpse of Passion

"You're a writer - you need to write!"

The writing is happening.

I'm on a roll. I can't believe how much I've written in the last week.

In October 2007 I burnt out and realized the job I had been doing for the last 10 years was done. I had finished what I was supposed to do. Since then I've often asked the question, "now what?"

Over the past 4 years I've felt my passions slowly ebb away. I won't rehash the passion story, I did that a few days ago (see "I'm Back"). Last Saturday evening Heidi and I got a hint that my passions hadn't all died.

A small group of folks had gathered in the home of our friends Wilma and Cliff Derksen. We visited, engaged in Wilma's favorite group activity - going around the circle, taking turns responding to Wilma's 'question du jour'.  (Wilma, if you're reading this, please don't feel embarrassed. We love you and the circles are always interesting. I just couldn't resist a little poke). Near the end of the evening Wilma asked Cliff to read a couple of chapters from Mike McIntyre's soon to be released new book,  JOURNEY FOR JUSTICE: How Project Angel Cracked The Candace Derksen Case. 

I'm looking forward to the book release on Wednesday, November 16, 7:30 p.m. at Chapter's Polo Festival (across from Polo Park and the Stadium).

I need to back up a bit to give some background before I continue. On Thursday, May 26, 2011 Mark Edward Grant, the man convicted of murdering Candace Derksen, was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years. The sentencing hearing was the concluding chapter on the Derksen family's long journey seeking answers and closure to the murder of their daughter so long ago.

That evening a large group of friends and supporters gathered at the Derksen's home to hear Wilma and Cliff's victim impact statements. They had decided not to read them in court and now had the opportunity to share their words in the safety of this circle of friends and supporters. Wilma, as she is wont to do, asked each person present to give her a word, something reflective of each person's feelings or response to the events of that day. I happened to be the third person to give a word and I wasn't prepared. I still hadn't sorted things out in my head. Later that evening I informed Wilma that my word was 'conflicted'. I would send her an email to explain. 

Mike Mcntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press was present in the circle. Mike was not only the Winnipeg Free Press "Justice Reporter" - he too had become a friend of the Derksens. Mike briefly talked about the book he was working on and asked for permission to include people's 'words for Wilma' in his book. The people agreeable to this emailed their 'word(s)' and consent to Mike through Wilma.

Jump forward to last Saturday. The two short chapters Cliff read to us consisted of our words for Wilma. I had forgotten about the explanation of my word (conflicted) that I sent to her, and I had no clear recollection of what I wrote. 

As Cliff read my words, Heidi and I saw a glimpse of the passion I still have for mental illness issues and the people affected by them. Five days later I'm aware of more than just a glimpse of passion. I can no longer hide the reality and intensity of the personal investment I feel about these issues.

Mike and Wilma have graciously consented to my sharing the explanation of 
my 'word' for Wilma here. Thank-you to both.

Here's what I wrote to Wilma:

My word was 'conflicted'.

I have been involved in mental health for more than 20 years - as a patient, a respite worker, an educator and advocate. Much of my work was centered around advocating for better services for people with mental disorders, for more comprehensive services, more opportunities for people to participate fully in our communities, and to reduce the stigma that impacts people living with mental disorders.

Every time I read or hear a news report that mentions the fact that a perpetrator of a crime has a mental disorder, I cringe. I wonder what role, if any, the disorder played in the criminal act. If it wasn't a contributing factor, I wonder why that information was included. Was it just another statement perpetuating the myth that people with mental disorders, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are dangerous, violent, liable to hurt or possibly kill someone at any time. I wonder what the whole story is.

 When I read that Mark Grant had been diagnosed with schizophrenia I cringed again. I wrestled with the question of whether or not I could or even would advocate for Mark especially because I know some of the impact his actions have had on you, your family and many friends. I really questioned whether his illness was a factor in his abduction, torture and murder of Candace. Nothing I had read or heard before and after the trial indicated to me that the schizophrenia played a role in his actions. Although illnesses such as schizophrenia are the primary factor in some tragic and horrific occurrences, I don't see that in Mark's abduction and killing of Candace. All I see, is that a man chose to act in an evil, and twisted way. Illness is not an excuse for intentional bad choices and evil behaviour.

I hurt for your loss and pain, I hurt for Candace's loss of life, I hurt for the tragedy of Mark Grant's life, and I am angered that the publication of his diagnosis will perpetuate the stigma of the violent, crazy, dangerous person with an illness like schizophrenia. The reality is that people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

I am glad justice has been served. I am glad this chapter has ended for you.

As I said, I feel conflicted!

Do you feel the passion? 

I do. I can't deny it anymore.


If you're looking for something to do Wednesday, November 16, 2011, head out to Chapter's Polo Festival (across from Polo Park and the Stadium) at 7:30 p.m.

Come support the launch of Mike McIntyre's book:

How Project Angel Cracked The Candace Derksen Case.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Choosing a Direction

"You're a writer - you  need to write."

This theme is becoming entrenched.

I'm sitting in the coffee shop again. This morning I was the first one here and secured a window table. I find that it's easier for me to focus and work on my writing and reading in this environment. I have no access to the distracting and mind numbing TV here. Coming here could be habit forming. A few moments ago a person I hadn't seen in four years stopped at my table and said hello. That was a bonus. 

I've thought more and more about writing over the past 3 or 4 days. I dug out the book I had shelved 5 years ago and printed a copy. I find it easier to review documents on paper rather than just gazing at the computer screen. I'm going to take some time in the next few days to carefully read and review what I've already written and begin sketching out ideas for the changes I need to make and contemplate additions.

I'm also going to blog more consistently. On Tuesday I had coffee with a friend who shared some suggestions for blogging with me. The most significant suggestion for me was the recommendation that I choose a central theme and write about what I'm familiar with. It goes against the name of my blog - 'Tangents' - but it does provide me with a more consistent focus.

When I began the blog I wrote about my reactions and thoughts regarding things that I had recently read and observed. While that was entertaining for me, I was frequently at a loss for a topic to write about.

My intention now is to shift away from my objective reactions to the world around me and delve into more subjective topics. I'm familiar with living with a mental illness, and the challenges and issues in that world. This blog will become my forum to express my thoughts and opinions on circumstances, occurrences, and politics that intersect with the realities of mental health and mental illness. My hope is that this exercise will also assist me in clarifying a vision for my book.

I don't know what this approach to my blog will bring or whether it will flourish or wither away. Yesterday I wrote that I needed to make some choices.

Apparently I just made one.

Where will this journey take me?

Time will tell.


"You're a writer - you need to write".

That statement just won't go away.

Six or seven years ago a co-worker and I developed and facilitated a program helping people with psychiatric disorders develop the necessary tools to write and present their personal journey stories. We practiced writing skills, public speaking skills and how to conduct a successful media interview. We were about 6 weeks into the program when the participants insisted that my co-worker and I also write and present our stories. The presentation was to be no more than 5 minutes long.

Up to that point I had shared bits and pieces of my personal story several hundred times. I had lost count. I told it many different ways, in time spans ranging from a very few minutes to more than twenty minutes. I had been strongly urged to prepare a "canned" presentation, one that could be used over and over again, by a person who had oversight of my work. I chose to ignore that directive. Instead I presented my story in ways that addressed my audiences' self-identified needs and was centered on the key message I wanted to deliver. I don't know how many 'personal story' documents I had saved on my computer. Some were just a story providing specific information. Others were designed to address current mental health issues and more than a few were intended to challenge systemic and political issues.

With the challenge from the program participants I now had to make a choice. What should I write? I wanted to write something fresh, different from what I had ever done before. I wanted it to present information, deliver a targeted message, and illustrate an approach to writing and speaking that would enhance the participants' learning and encourage them to go deeper into their own stories.

I surprised myself. I wrote a piece that was worlds apart from my previous writing. It stirred ideas for further writing within me. The potential of a book began to slowly emerge. After several months I had a working title, an introduction and 3 chapters completed along with very skimpy notes for at least another 6 chapters. Each chapter was a short story that could stand on its own, but was still connected to the other chapters.

I shared what I had written with a few friends and got very positive and excited responses. Everyone stressed that I should continue with an eye on publishing this book.

The idea of writing for publication is exciting, daunting, a little overwhelming, and risky. I was unsure of publishing, especially because I'm uncomfortable with exposing myself to my siblings and extended family. The stories contain details that are intense, sometimes ugly, and have the potential of hurting or offending some people. That's a risk I'm very reluctant to take. Too many people have already been hurt on the chaotic road that my life has taken. I don't want my words to be the cause of more needless pain. I became adamant that this book would remain hidden as long as my mother is alive. Consequently, it has remained largely unwritten.

I spoke to a friend about my dilemma about a year ago. She suggested I fictionalize the story.

I like the suggestion, but I don't have a clue how to go about doing that. I don't want to end up writing some pointless brain candy. How do I proceed? Should I do some research? Read some 'how to' books? Examine what sells and what doesn't? Should I just wing it like I usually do?

Why would I write the book? What purpose, what goal? Do I want to educate the reader? What do I want them to learn? Do I want to entertain? Intrigue the reader? Stimulate discussion? Lobby for change? Address stigma? I know I don't want to write another pitiful "Look at the miserable life I've had and feel sorry for me" book. I don't want to write tabloid sensationalism!

My book file has sat unopened on my hard drive for more than 5 years.

That changed when I agreed to share a bit of my story a week ago. I looked through what I had written and pasted just a few sentences into my new version. As I set the original document aside I began contemplating the question, "What do I do with this book?". It seems like such a long time ago since I put those words to virtual paper. Circumstances have changed. My perspective has changed. I'm older, hopefully a little wiser. Cynicism has crept into my outlook on some issues and the related politics. Pessimism and resignation linger on the periphery of my mind. If I proceed with this project, I will need to review and scrap a significant part of the work already done. I dumped all the files containing my many different story versions a couple of years ago. I kept no copies of any of the work I had done since 1998. I felt the need to make a complete break from those years, hence the deletions. If I proceed with the book I'll be writing only from my current perspective and understanding. That's probably a good thing.

Should I proceed? I must admit that as I sit here, writing these words, I can feel the desire to pick this project up again. The questions and ideas are whirling around in my head.

How do I proceed? Should I take a more structured approach to writing? Develop a plan? An outline?  The only time I did that was for a university paper. I got an A+.  Hmmm.

My writing is mostly by the seat of my pants. I go where my head and heart take me. Will a structured, deliberate approach cramp my creativity? Will a structured, deliberate approach help me find balance? Will it improve my productivity? Can I harness my creativity in this fashion? Should I schedule a designated time every day for writing? I should probably talk this through with someone.

It seems the pilot light of my passion has been reignited.

A little scary; a little exciting.

I have some choices to make!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where's the Balance Point?

"You're a writer - you need to write".

I began my first post with these words. I still hear them in my mind. Some days it's a challenge to come up with something to write. Today is one of those days.

I'm exhausted. I had to push myself to get out of bed this morning. I decided I needed to get out, otherwise I wouldn't get anything done today. So I packed Heidi's laptop (it's easier to transport than mine) and came to the Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe. It was a refreshing walk.

It's quiet here at the moment; there are only 3 other people in the shop; reading, writing, studying. The staff keep busy with whatever. The coffee is fresh, hot and strong - the way I like it. The $.050/book shelf just inside the door of the shop has been restocked. A quick first glance revealed a few titles that interest me. I'll go check them out later.

This is a great place to sit, think, study, write, browse and visit with friends. No one tries to rush you out the door. I've been here less than 1/2 an hour and I already have more energy than I had when I left home. I'm not sure where the energy came from. Was it the walk; the sunshine; the fresh, nippy air; the dark roast coffee; all of the above? It doesn't really matter at this point. Point is, I'm able to keep my eyes open and put some thoughts together.

I'm still tired; I feel it in my body. The past week has taxed my reservoir of energy more than I had anticipated. I'm not able to sustain the high level of strength and activity I employed a few years ago. Is my age catching up to me? My poor physical fitness level? Insufficient exercise? My medications? My fragile mental health? I suspect it's a combination of all of the above.

I know that when I get wound up and immersed in pursuing my passions I use up a lot of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. Now it seems that I am unable to sustain that driven activity anywhere near as long as I used to. My recovery time has grown much longer. The down times feel more intense and they gnaw at my confidence and courage to get up and try again.

There was a time when I refused to let the reality of my mental health challenges slow me down. I charged ahead, driven and carried by my passion for whatever I was doing. I didn't stop until my body cried "enough!" and shut down. I can't do that anymore. My body surrenders so much quicker now.  I know that's  a major factor in my reluctance to engage my passions.

I've been told there's a book in my experience, that I need to write it. I sense that too. I just don't know where to start, or how. I thought blogging would help me organize my thoughts and ideas, and help me develop the discipline of writing every day. it hasn't worked so far, although I must admit that I've been able to write more than I believed I could. And more frequently.

I'll keep trying.  But I ask myself how hard do I push myself? If I push myself too hard will I burn the energy tank completely dry? If I don't push hard enough will I just sink into lethargy? Where is the balance point?

As I reflect on my life I realize that in 57 years I have yet to find a balance. My psychiatric issues have added to the turbulence. Running with my passions has exacted a price. Can I still pay it? Do I want to?

My days have no structure. Maybe some structure would help (although I do like the free-flow of my days)?
Maybe coming to this cafe to write and study everyday for 3 or 4 hours would give me enough structure for now? I don't want it to feel like a job that I have to drag myself to. That balance thing again!

Engaging my passions is risky business with a high price. It costs me, my wife, my kids, family, friends. Is it fair for me to inflict that risk and burden on them?

I have a lot of questions and concerns and very few answers. Are the questions legitimate or are they an easily justified form of procrastination?

I don't know.

Do I want to?

Let me meditate on that a bit. I'll get back to you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where Did My Passion Go?

It's been two weeks since I last posted here.

I didn't know what to say or write. I've been wrestling with questions relating to my passions.

What am I passionate about?

What's happened to my passions?

Have they faded away? Dried up?

Has someone or something extinguished my passions?

My passions seem to have disappeared. At the very least they aren't the driving force they were a few years ago. I know my many years of dealing with unstable mental health have a lot to do with that.

Who, what why, how? Can I do something to reignite my passions?

I was passionate about many things: Music, Mental Health, My Faith, My Marriage, My Kids, Sports, Reading, Learning. I was driven by them all.

Four years ago I burnt out at work. Some of my passions were overwhelmed by depression and anxiety. But where are they now?

On October 13, 2011 I blogged about my passion for music. (see: Where Did The Music Go?). Two weeks ago Heidi asked me if the passion might return if I started listening to my music again. I didn't respond, nor have I dug out my library of CDs and MP3s. (I've even got some vinyl in the storage room.) I've thought about it... a lot! But something holds me back. I think it's fear; fear of losing control again, fear of opening the door to the return of chaos.

I still feel nudged to fill the silence with music again. About a month ago Heidi and I began watching the TV show The Singoff. What an awesome show with incredible musicians. I especially enjoy the groups that push the creative edge in their interpretations of popular songs and artists. Last week I shared this TV show with my daughter and a good friend. We watched a number of clips on You Tube. My daughter introduced me to another group that does music differently. I marveled at their gifts and musical style.

Astonishingly, I was able to sleep afterwards. The music did not keep spinning and growing, pushing my mind into racing faster and faster. Is it safe for me to open the music box further or will it be a Pandora's box?

The flames of my faith have died down to a few small tongues of flame and glowing embers. I want to and need to refuel the fire, but I wonder do I have enough energy to maintain and grow the fire? I need a lot of help here, Lord!

I love our kids. I'm proud of them and the way they are striking out on their own adult paths. I still worry about them and pray God's protection and blessing on them. I'd like to have more regular contact with them, but I don't want to be an irritant to them. I like getting together with them, but I'm also glad they have their own homes to go to. How do I balance this?

I used to be nuts about sports. I enjoyed participating in unstructured games of football, baseball, ball hockey, volleyball, basketball, and on rare occasions tin can cricket. I really liked golfing even though I'm horrible at it. I cycled a lot. If there was any kind of sports on TV, I watched it. Now the only thing I do is ride my bicycle, and I have to be careful that I don't push it too hard because my knees complain and then give out on me. I still watch sports on TV but it's usually just CFL and bits and pieces of NFL games. The occasional soccer game and Australian rules football are also interesting in small doses. The rest usually just puts me to sleep. I need to do more regular walking and cycling to improve my fitness level, but my lack of discipline is a serious issue here.

I have a great marriage - at least I think so. I couldn't ask for a better wife and I make sure I tell Heidi that regularly. I wonder and hope that I'm doing enough to keep Heidi as happy and content as I am. I certainly want to do that. I want to show her my love. Sometimes the depression drains me of so much energy that it becomes very difficult to do my share in our relationship and home. I don't like that.

I love to read. For too many years I was unable to focus and concentrate so my reading dropped off. Now I read a lot again. I can even read as I'm riding my stationary bike. I just have to make sure my perspiration doesn't drop on the page. (TMI?)

Mental Health? God gave me a passion for making a difference in people's lives. He put me in job where I could do just that. I was an advocate, educator, resource developer and public speaker. I challenged systems, services, and individuals to do things differently and better. I corrected a Senator that was heading up the Mental Health Commission of Canada at a stakeholders forum even though one person told me that was a no-no; I corrected the Minister of Health at a fund raising banquet. I even challenged the man who signed my paycheque when I felt it was necessary. My job took me coast to coast, into the U.S. and to every health region here in Manitoba except Churchill. I gave lectures at the University of Manitoba, The University of Brandon, and the University of Winnipeg. I presented a seminar/workshop at the Winnipeg Police Cadet training program for several years. God opened those doors for me even though I only have a High School education.

Then the job changed. The program I was responsible for was moved to a different organization. I was restricted in what I did, I was told I could not participate in challenging some organizations that weren't fulfilling their provincially funded mandate because it would cause political problems for my employer. I was told that my highest priority was to help build the organization. That's not what I signed on for. That was not what God had sent me to do. I pushed on for another 3 years, then I burnt out. I was done, my energy and passion tank was bone dry.

I no longer feel called to tackle mental health system and service issues like I once did. I don't have the energy to provide support and assistance to struggling people as a full time job. I can and still do it on occasion, but I am disinclined to maintain that support if the other person is not willing to do their share and take responsibilty for their own healing. I don't have the energy.

I thought my passion for mental health had withered away.

I may have been mistaken.

Last Tuesday I got a phone call from our pastor. He's doing another series of God In The Movies and the next one was A Beautiful Mind. He wanted to focus on mental illness and the church's role and responsibility to people struggling with these disorders. Would I share a bit of my story? I could have 10 minutes, maximum 15, then I was going to get cut off. I told the pastor I'd get back to him. Heidi and I discussed it and then I phoned back and said I'd do it.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about what to say in such a short time frame. Heidi would periodically try to help me out with suggestions, but my responses may have been a little gruff. Although her intentions were good, she was interfering with my process of organizing my thoughts. She went to bed at 10:30 p.m., and then I was able to start writing. I finished my first draft at about 2:30 a.m. and fired it off to the pastor in an email. Then I went to bed but I couldn't sleep. My mind wouldn't slow down, I reviewed what I had written as I lay there in the dark. I realized I had missed a few important pieces. I got up and booted my computer up again. I needed to add these pieces before I forgot them again. But making additions required deletions of what I had already written so that I would stay within the time frame. I finished my 2nd draft and fired off another email. As I clicked 'send' I heard the alarm go off signalling that it was time for me to get up, shower and head off to my Wednesday morning coffee and Bible study. It was 4:45 a.m. I was quite wound up. Heidi suggested I take an extra pill so that the other guys would have a chance to speak. I declined.

I told the guys I hadn't slept at all and struggled to keep from yawning and falling asleep. Then I heard one of the guys say something mental health related that was incorrect. I woke up and spoke up. I started teaching, way more than was necessary. The guys started laughing because I was so animated. Ok, maybe there is a remnant of passion here.

I stayed awake the rest of the day, occasionally going back to what I had written, tinkering with a word here and there. All day long I questioned whether or not I was saying the right things. Heidi went to the church that evening to take care of a volunteer task she had committed herself to. She came home and told me that she had bumped into our pastor there and they had a brief chat. He was apparently pleased with what I had prepared. Ok - it was a relief to hear that.

The rest of the week I felt a steady increase in my level of anxiety. Thursday afternoon I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. After listening to my description of what was going on and my up and down cycles of depression and anxiety, he raised the possibility that I might be dealing with a form of bipolar disorder instead of cycles of depression and anxiety. This was not the first time I had heard that. I had considered that very same diagnosis in the mid 1990s and mentioned it to the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time. The idea was dismissed, after all, he was the psychiatrist, not me.

So here it was again. Maybe I'm dealing with bipolar disorder. I started on a new medication. We'll see if that makes a difference once the dosage gets high enough.

But what do I do with my story that I had prepared for Sunday morning? Do I rewrite it to include this new development? Does it really make a difference to the message I'm trying to convey? I could use up more than 15 minutes just taking about this new development.

I decided to leave my story as I had written it except for one small change. I corrected one piece of information based on what I had learned in this latest appointment.

I knew what I had written was good. I knew I was a good public speaker, I had spoken on at least 500 occasions in the years on my last job. Heidi kept affirming me and boosting me. Nevertheless, the anxiety kept rising. Heidi asked me what I was worried about. I couldn't answer her question because there was no logical explanation. That's the nature of an anxiety disorder.

Saturday evening we went to visit some dear friends. There were 10 of us at this little gathering. We had a wonderful evening and it was a great distraction for me. I had shared that I was speaking in church the following morning, but it remained as a side note throughout our visit. Near the end of the evening a couple of chapters of a soon to be published book were read. Among other things I heard words that I had written months ago. The words conveyed a little passion for mental health stuff. The evening was closed with prayer including prayer for myself and what I had to say.

I slept right through the night - an unusual occurence for me. That's a lie. I got up once for a bathroom break but then I went right back to sleep. It was a better sleep than I had experienced in a long time.

Sunday morning. I considered not having coffee but decided that since I was already shaking, caffeine couldn't make it worse. Heidi wanted me to eat something. I declined. Adding food to a very nervous stomach never strikes me as a wise thing to do. We prayed. Prayer is always good.

We took my mother along. She had never heard me speak and she had never heard me share my story. It was time. One of my brothers and sisters-in-law as well as one of their daughters was also there. They too had never heard me speak.

It was an incredible morning. The pastor delivered a message on the church and mental illness that should be heard in every church. I got through my story and sensed the audience's responsiveness. I was glad when it was over.

People came up to me and thanked me, affirmed me. Two people asked me if I would email them a copy of what I had just shared. A special friend was there and he gave me a big hug. This friend also happens to be my psychiatrist. His wife was with him and she also affirmed the message.

My family affirmed me. My mother said I was a very good speaker.

Sitting in my chair at home I still felt on edge. I was used to debriefing after speaking in public. Heidi was there, willing to talk, but she couldn't provide what I needed. She's too nice, too affirming, too positively biased.

I had so many questions. Yes, the personal affirmations were very nice. They are wonderful strokes to my ego and provide a warm, fuzzy glow. I'll never turn them down. But they don't address my purpose.

Did my words have an impact? Did they encourage the people that needed encouragement? Did they educate people that needed to be educated? Did they challenge the people that needed to be challenged? Did they offend anyone? Did they need to be offended? Did I make the people that don't 'give-a-damn' squirm a bit?

How many people remembered what was said once they got to their cars and started driving home?

I usually like to have some quiet 'down time' following a time where I shared like I did. It lets the adrenaline dissipate, my mind slows back down, and I rest from the tremendous output of energy that speaking like this is for me.I couldn't do it yesterday. Our sons came over in the afternoon to celebrate my son's birthday. We watched a little football, drank a couple beers, ate too much Chinese food, shot some pool, watched a little hockey while eating birthday cake and then the boys went home.

I was spinning, unsettled. Heidi and I watched a little TV, I read a couple wonderfully affirming emails, and then we went to bed. Heidi rubbed my feet to get me out of my head. I slept.

This morning I read more emails. More affirmations.

One wonderful, caring friend suggested I blog this experience. Thank-you. This has helped.

For those who are curious or interested, here's what I said yesterday. (with minor editing).

Heidi & I have both personally experienced mental illness on 3 levels; as someone who lives with a mental illness; as a family member of someone with a mental illness; and as someone that has worked in the mental health system.

Over the decades of my life I have gone through mind numbing depression, terrifying anxiety and heart-stopping panic, but also euphoria, and dreams and ideas that raced along keeping me awake for days on end. On one occasion I experienced some disturbing visual hallucinations. For many years I had no idea how to make sense of what I was going through and the confusion, anger, embarrassment, guilt, shame, and humiliation connected with the consequences of the chaos was spirit-crushing; it only served to further undermine my already fragile mental and emotional health.

I love to laugh, to be challenged, dream, and pursue opportunities to learn, grow, and try new things. However, I have no control over when or where the waves of depression and panic assault me and roll over me. Despite knowing that life is good, depression drains me of energy; all sense of joy vanishes and is replaced by the darkness of gloom and misery. In the grips of depression I am easily frustrated, always on the edge of anger, my thoughts race all over the place, I can’t focus or concentrate, I lose interest in everything, I isolate myself, and sleep days away without feeling rested. My passion for life is displaced by a debilitating apathy, hopelessness, helplessness and despair. The last line of Psalm 88 describes it so well: Darkness was my only companion. (Book of Common Prayer. 1979)

The havoc cost me many opportunities, tens of thousands of dollars, friendships, and was a significant factor in the breakdown of my first marriage. My goal of becoming a classical violinist gradually disintegrated in this repetition of high and low cycles. I lost my independence and spent 3 years on welfare, living in a group home.   

Suicide! I spent years living with a tape running on continuous loop in the back of my mind. These never-ending thoughts reminded me of how miserable I was, what a complete failure I was as a man and human being, what a disappointment I was to everyone that cared about me. Even when things were going well, they did not cease. The darkness constantly stressed that the good times were not going to last, that everything was going to fall apart, just like it always did. I should just give up and kill myself. It took a lot of energy and determination to choose to stay alive just one more day.

I’ve been on anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety, and anti-side effect medications; sometimes all of the above at the same time. Some are dangerously addictive. The first medication I got permanently damaged my kidneys. Some meds caused severe weight gain. Others have caused a severe allergy to sunlight and heat. I have gaps in my memory due to medication side effects. I developed Parkinsons like symptoms which ceased when my meds were changed. An anti-psychotic medication left me unable to think clearly, blurred my memory, and damaged my eyesight. I completely understand why some people refuse to take their meds.

Things did get better - slowly. In April 1991, 3 months before my 37th birthday, I was finally diagnosed with depression. Although the diagnosis has changed, getting a diagnosis was a relief. Now I knew that there was a reason for all the devastation. It wasn’t because of a character flaw or personal weakness. It wasn’t the guilt of sin or a lack of faith. I wasn’t crazy.  

So what helped?

·       The diagnosis was a good beginning. It gave the doctor a place to start with treatment and gave me the opportunity to educate myself about my illness and what I needed to do to get better.

·       Medications. It took a little over 4 years, but eventually the doc found the right combination and dosage of meds that made a difference.

·       Counseling helped me sort out issues and come up with solutions.

·       I have a psychiatrist whom I trust and who trusts me and we work well together. He's also my friend.

·       Friends reached out to me, supported me, listened to me, believed in me and encouraged me.

·       Family – even though they didn’t all understand my struggles, I was never rejected or ostracized like too many people are. Doors were always open.

·       My church community accepted me and included me as a valued member of the body.

·       My skills, abilities and experiences were recognized and I was provided opportunities to develop a new career.

·       Meaningful employment. I was able to harness my passion and work in a career that made a difference in other people’s lives.

·       My faith. Even in the darkest days there was no doubt in my mind that God had a plan and purpose for me – that he was going to use me and my experiences in a powerful and meaningful way.

·       Best of all - Heidi. God has blessed me with an amazing, beautiful, loving, giving, supporting, understanding, patient, encouraging, faithful wife.

I could go on for a long time, but Gerry will throw me off this stage if I don’t end soon.

Let me finish with this.

If you have a mental illness your life is not over. Mental illness can be overcome! I personally know people with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and other mental disorders that have Master’s Degrees and PhDs. They are doctors, social workers, lawyers, teachers, business owners, artists, and so on.

If you’re struggling, get help. Don’t let fear and shame trap you in misery.

Educate yourself about your illness, medications, and what you can do to help your healing.

Work with your doctor. Good, open, honest communication is essential to the healing process.

If you are prescribed meds, take them. If you don’t like them, negotiate with your doc for something different.

Familiarize yourself with the resources available in our community and use them!

Connect with other people experiencing the same thing as you. You won’t feel so alone.

As far as possible, take responsibility for your own life and behaviour. Remember, having a mental illness is not a licence for deliberate poor choices and behaviour.

Talk to God! Even if you can’t focus enough to read your Bible, keep talking to Him. You can cry to him, yell at him; express whatever is on your heart. He can handle it. He understands.

Now - if you are trying to help someone like me that’s struggling -

Be patient! Mental illness is tough and healing is a slow process.

Educate yourself about my illness and how you can help. Don’t hound me with questions. It’s possible that I can’t explain what is going on or what I’m feeling because I’m still trying to make sense of it. Don’t ask me to do your homework for you! I don’t have the energy.

There are a number of mental health self-help groups and a provincial mental health resource library at #4 Fort St. These are freely accessible to all Manitobans. Use them.

Do not judge me! Do not condemn me! Do not make assumptions about me! Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you cannot know what this is like.

Do not treat me like a child. I may be ill, but I’m still an adult. Don’t take away my dignity.

Don’t try to fix me. Don’t give advice. Don’t direct me or try to manage me. Just be there and listen.

Don’t avoid me because you don’t know what to say to me. It’s ok to tell me that you care but you don’t know what to say.

When you greet me don’t ask me how I’m doing unless you really care and are prepared to take the time to listen to me. If you don’t want to hear my tale of woe, DON'T ASK. A simple greeting of “it’s good to see you” works quite well and you can quickly go on your way.

Get comfortable with silence. It’s peaceful and comforting to just sit quietly.

Remember that mental illness is exhausting. If I spend the whole day on the couch in my pajamas you need to know that it probably took every bit of energy I had just to get out of bed. If you’re visiting – keep it short. It’s ok to leave after 10 or 15 minutes. Or sooner.

Don’t give up on me. Don’t coerce or pressure me into doing things. Invite me to participate. If I decline, accept it and try again another time.

Don’t quote Romans 8:28 to me, especially in the midst of my spirit crushing emotional and mental pain. It’s not helpful and will likely only tick me off. (I was going to use a more colorful word, but I restrained myself.)

Pray. If I ask for prayer don’t say yes unless you’re going to follow through. If I don’t ask for prayer, please pray. Just don’t tell me you’re praying for me. Telling me what you’re doing for me only adds to my burden of guilt and shame. Remember, this is not about you.

Send flowers, cards, gifts; come visit. Did you know that it is extremely rare for a psychiatric patient to receive flowers, cards or visitors, especially while they’re in hospital? Why is that?

Take care of yourself. Talk to someone. You need support and encouragement too. Just do it away from me. If you make me aware of your own pain caused by my struggles, you just pile it on top of the overwhelming burden I am already carrying.

Read the Psalms. So many of them express the pain and anger that people with mental illness go through. They also express the hope, comfort, and confidence we can only find in God.

I could go on and on. If you want to talk to Heidi or me, call Gerry – he’ll connect us. I rarely turn down an opportunity to chat over a good cup of coffee.

After this experience I fully believe I am no longer called to do what I used to do in mental health. That task is done. I still have things to say, and God will direct me to where and when I'm to say them.