Category Archives: Recovery

Community Inclusion

Working imageBy zerom seyoum

Twelve years ago I was in the hospital. Some of us had day leaves and used to go to the Tri-city mental health center at Port Coquitlam. One day the occupational therapist invited the manager of the Home depot at Coquitlam to talk to us.  He introduced himself to us and he said that he has a brother who suffers from mental illness and that he empathizes with us and understands what we were going through. He was passionate speaker. Then he said he would give us an opportunity to work at the Home Depot at Coquitlam that he manages, for three months on trial basis. And if we proved that we were good at it, and prove ourselves to be competitive he would hire us to work there at the same level as the other employees. We were 11-12 patients.

It had different work-areas and we were assigned to our interest areas. The work was doing the same thing over and over and was very repetitive. None involved mental manoeuvring or deep mental thinking. Mine was carrying items up and down the shelves. When customers want something from the shelf I went on the ladder up to the shelves and bring down the item. Some times when we have new arrivals I had to find a place for them on the shelves. The shelves are two to three stories high. The whole day I am carrying up or bringing down appliances. Every day I was covered with sweat.  There was only one person whom I reported to. I approached him only when I had a problem. He never supervised me and never asked what I had been doing during the day. I was on my own. I was surprised to find out that although we were on trial basis we were insured.

After three months I was told if I wanted I would be hired. I had a second thought. One day after working for three to four hours I was lifting an air conditioner to a two story high shelf on the ladder. I reached the last shelf and I was trying to put the air conditioner on the shelf. My face was covered with sweat, my legs were trembling, my hands shaking, all my energy was drained. My hands gave up on me and the air conditioner plummeted down to the ground breaking many expensive items on its way. I didn’t know what to do. After two to three hours I told my supervisor without knowing what he was going to say. He just said “it is good you told me, it will be covered by our insurance. You see I am diabetic on insulin. I need to eat every few hours especially when I am doing such hard work. There was no opportunity to do that. So I declined the opportunity to be employed because of my physical health limitations and not of my mental health short comings. Seven or eight of the patients, were hired and started working there.

The opportunity given to us to work at Home Depot was one of its kind and what I call community inclusion.

Once a patient is stable on his medications s/he can adjust to a routine timetable.. We work with loyalty, honesty devotion and diligence. As long as the job requires doing the same thing over and over we are second to none. Two three weeks ago Tim Horton’s was showing off its support for the mentally ill and how satisfied they were with the work their mentally ill did. The people with mental illness were working as dish washers, mopping the floor and cleaning the tables. This work at Tim Hortons is example of “Community inclusion.”  Experience shows given the opportunity of work as community inclusion, we have proved we are no less workers than anybody else. But we differ in educational background, social background, work experience and cultural back ground. So we are not limited to mopping or wiping tables.

Greetings from the first Canadian National Conference on Peer Support

Hello all,PSW Conference Image

I’ve attended the first two days of the National Conference on Peer Support organized by Peer Support Accreditation and Certification Canada and am looking forward to day three tomorrow.  I’ve been tweeting away about it but wanted to share my experiences on this page also since it feels like such a wonderful privilege to be here.

The keynote address on the first day was delivered by Patricia Deegan, a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia who went on to get a doctorate degree in psychology. She’s written a lot about recovery and I have been a fan for years. This was the first time I got to see her in person.

Her keynote address was called “Peer Staff: Disruptive Innovators”. I won’t attempt to summarize the entire talk, but one of the ways in which she said peer supporters are disruptive to traditional mental health cultures is by blurring the boundaries between health and sickness. Traditionally, in mental health, people saw the well treating the unwell. Peer Supporters challenge these silos and drive home the reality that everyone is really on a continuum.

After the keynote speech I went to a breakout talk that Deegan was delivering titled “Navigating the Dignity of Risk and the Duty to Care”. She talked about the challenge presented when a system that believes in choice and self-determination is confronted with someone making a choice that seems unwise. She gave a detailed example of a person on olanzapine with diabetes who persisted in drinking two litres of sugary Mountain Dew every day despite his team’s efforts to encourage healthier practices.

She talked about two extreme ends of a continuum that service provider responses can fall on. At one end is over protection. In this example, the team could respond by taking charge of the man’s money so that it would be harder for him to buy Mountain Dew. At the other end of the continuum is neglect. In this example, the team could say “Drinking the Mountain Dew is his choice. Let him live with the consequences.”

Deegan says that recovery oriented practice lies somewhere between the neglect and over-protect extremes of the continuum. She said the concepts that help us navigate the continuum are:

1. Duty to Care – we must remain engaged with people no matter what decisions they are making. We don’t walk away and say “Oh well, his choice”. We continue to explore the issue, offer options, talk about pros and cons, educate – do whatever we need to do to stay engaged. Also, we need to document it all so that we are comfortable with risk.

2. Dignity of Risk – this concept comes out of the broader disability rights movement. Deegan talked about how once you have a diagnosis, there is often a medicalization of your entire life and a sense that others need to protect and make choices for you. She noted that people without a diagnosis get to make poor choices and that overprotection stifles growth. It stifles the discovery of limits and potentiality. It’s a kind of toxic help that hurts in the long run.

Choices that seem unwise are hard to deal with but the Duty to Care and Dignity of Risk concepts are tools that can help us avoid extreme responses and be recovery oriented.

Those are some of the things I’ve found interesting at this conference. There have been many other things also but it’s 12:06 Halifax time and I’m thinking I better get to bed soon. There’s a keynote address by Romeo Dallaire at 9:00 am tomorrow which is 5:00 am Vancouver time. Pretty early morning! But I don’t want to miss it. One of the Peer Support Workers from Vancouver who has also come to the conference has been telling me all about how amazing Dallaire is so I want to be there when he speaks.

Good night all!

Renea Mohammed

QWERTYUIOP: Writing as a Tool of Recovery

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QWERTYUIOP

Writing As a Tool of Recovery

by

Winter Hammell

     The whole kit and caboodle…

A small, milky-green pebble.

A shiny piece of blue glass, edges worn smooth by years in the sea. A grey pin-feather. A purple 5¢ stamp. A lump of amber with inclusions: bubbles, a tiny insect. Even the word caboodle itself is part of my collection.

Tangible objects, these, each infused with my memories and feelings. Each item means something more than what it is. More than just “things”, they are “concepts”, too.

And “recovery” is more than only a “concept”. It is as real, and as tangible as a pebble or a feather. It is quantifiable. It is qualitative—

RECOVERY n. (pl. –ies) 1 the act or an instance of recovering; the process of being recovered. 2 the process of overcoming an addiction to drugs etc. 3 the process of recovering from (mental) illness.

Recovery, to me, is bringing back out of the shadows, and into the light of day, my first great love: the love of working

with words. Writing is such a large, important component of

my recovery that I would not be “in recovery” if I was not writing. It is as important as the carefully-concocted drug cocktails, and the mental health team check-ins, and the talk-therapy, and the cognitive-therapy, and the RT and OT groups, and the caring of others, both professional and layperson.

Writing is about more than just teasing apart the knotted ball of blue yarn that is me. It`s more than artistic self-expression, and rediscovering my creative self. It`s more than an aspect of my physical healing, in tandem with my emotional healing. It`s more than re-hard-wiring my brain, and more than placing my historical suffering in context and learning how to keep from traumatizing myself again.

It`s so much more that I almost don`t have the words to encompass it, and have to work especially hard to achieve my goals, which include communicating with others across the vast gulfs between our incredible one-of-a-kind minds, and our briefly intersecting lives.

The mental process of writing itself is a recovery activity that is compelling and fascinating to me. Using the wingnuts, flanges and bolts of nouns, verbs and adjectives (etc.) to construct phrases, sentences and paragraphs that make sense –it`s like playing with Lego: the possibilities are endless.

Like a well-run RT or OT group, writing is engaging,  enjoyable, challenging, and even self-instructive. And having a tangible “object” in my hands afterwards is incredibly satisfying.

When writing, I feel fulfilled – but never satiated, and always want (need) to create more; to build and carve and cast new work out of the bricks, wood and metal (experiences, feelings, and memories) in my mind`s workshop. Copper, cedar and bronze, for some reason, are my favourite materials.

Participating in this “group” is great fun and serious, hard work. Facilitating it at the same time – even though it`s a group of one, mostly – is even more exciting and adds another layer of complexity to an already confusing, byzantine art.

Through my writing I focus on what`s happening now in my life, and in my environment, relate it to what`s happened before, add a theme to be explored (usually around a topical nucleus of mental health), and manufacture an artifact “out of airs and mists” and reality for others to experience.

And, if I have used the right washer with the right bolt, and assembled this to that in the way that does not contradict the laws of writing, which, like physics and math, are set (but, unlike them, are infinitely more malleable, and, magically, more unconstrained when used correctly) then I have succeeded.

Short stories. Essays. Fiction. “Faction”. Through these I am finding my way out of my isolation, better managing my (illness) health, connecting, being “real” – more real

than I sometimes am in person, when I`m uncertain of my place.

Writing, I am recovering.

Not a flag-waver, writing is my cri de coeur against being pigeon-holed and labeled as “sick, crazy, lazy, and not contributing to society” simply because I don`t do the “9-to-5 dance” or heave boxes around in a warehouse. Writing is my contribution. It`s “music”, and “painting”, and “flipping burgers”; it`s “selling houses”, “fixing leaky pipes” and “driving a cab”.

Writing is giving back.

It`s still more… It`s an expression of my love and affection for those who know me, and respect for you, who know me only by my craft.

Because I am recovering I was able to write a children`s story full of fun which did not need to include back-themes about mental illness and recovery.

“THE GREAT SWEET BLISS STINK-OFF” was published last year on rainbowrumpus.org.

It was a delight for me to compose. For, in revisiting my childhood, I found something incredible that I thought was lost forever among the shadows and pain: the wonder of childhood itself.

And my love of caboodle.

© 2014 Dale Hammell – 815 words

Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook

sunriseclipartBy Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis is a Certified Peer Specialist living and working in Massachusetts.  He has struggled immensely with mental health issues throughout his life, but he has successfully transformed this into a life of wellness. He has embraced his recovery process, producing remarkably beneficial results. He has discovered that he has innate skills and capabilities for helping others in their recovery, and he has been able to help many people improve the quality of their lives, which is life-affirming for him. He does this by tapping into his lived experience to help others transcend their own struggles. He is sincerely committed to his recovery and helping nurture the recovery and wellness of all with whom he comes into contact. Craig is successfully working as part of an outreach team at a human services agency in Boston, Massachusetts. Craig authored the recently published ‘Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook’ with the hope that the workbook will help those aspiring toward recovery and wellness and also those in recovery, find increased success on their journeys. He also tours the United States and Canada, speaking about his lived experience, sharing his struggles and triumphs to help others.

Below is an excerpt from his book. You can get more information and  purchase the book from the following site:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/craig-lewis/better-days-a-mental-health-recovery-workbook/paperback/product-21185876.html

BOOK EXCERPT:

Sometimes We Struggle

There are days when I feel so bad that I become unable to see things for how they really are. Often my thoughts are twisting and turning throughout a maze of total and brutal negativity. I find myself gasping for air and grasping for a hand to hold onto, yet sometimes it seems that I am very alone.

I ask myself–—is this struggle for wellness and recovery worthy of all my efforts? Why am I dedicating all my hard work and time and effort toward my recovery? What is this recovery that I am fighting so hard for?

It is important for us to think of the big picture. When we work hard to improve our quality of life and strengthen our coping skills, we will experience beneficial results. When we struggle, experience difficulties and question our recovery, we can and will take back our lives and celebrate our progress and accept that sometimes, we will struggle.

Our struggle has meaning and our recovery is here to stay.

Notes: 

Sometimes We Struggle Worksheet

  1. Do you believe that there is meaning and value in your struggling and why?
  1. In your daily life, how do you manage the ups and downs that you face without being thrown off course (give two examples)?
  1. What are three reasons that you are fighting for your recovery? 

Accountability

I have made countless mistakes over the course of my life. I have damaged others and I have damaged myself.

It is said that time heals all wounds. What does this mean? Is this true?

I think that taking responsibility for our actions can be an empowering process. Each of us possesses the ability to liberate ourselves from the chains of our past. The decisions that we make today and tomorrow are our gateway toward a Better Day and a better life.

Notes: 

Accountability Worksheet

  1. List three ways that your life has been affected by decisions that you have made.
  1. Name one mistake that you have made in your life and what you learned because of it.
  1. List three things that you want to improve in your life and what you can do to make them happen. 

Biting Your Tongue

Today I experienced the emotions of anger and hurt. My hurt feelings have been building up even while I have tried my best to process them. I could feel myself about to boil over like a pot on the stove.

I knew that I had to control myself. I knew that, as bad as I felt at that moment, that in time I would feel relief. I needed to protect myself and manage the intensity of what I was feeling and thinking. I had to do this to protect myself so that I could deal with the issues responsibly once I felt more settled and calm. I had to bite my tongue in order to take care of myself and to protect my life. Only I can do this for me, and only you can do it for you.

Notes:

Biting Your Tongue Worksheet

  1. Name a situation where you had to bite your tongue and how your life benefited from you holding back your words.
  1. What are three healthy ways that you can calm yourself down when you are angry?
  1. When you are upset, hurt or angry, what can you say to those around you so that they can help you deal with your situation in more healthy ways?

What Does Recovery Mean?

Businessman with Cell Phone Jumping

As part of a session on recovery, students in the Vancouver Mental Health & Addiction Peer Support Training wrote what recovery meant to them on post-it notes and put them up on the wall. I asked if I could share them here – so here you go!

Recovery means an opening into opportunities, risk, learning and more successes than I had ever imagined.

I’ve come to believe that recovery is a process, not an end point. I’ve come to accept that recovery is not a life where there is no pain or suffering, but that life has hills and valleys and that’s part of life. Everything is temporary.

Recovery is all in the journey to a better you. It’s about the small steps coming together to make change.

Recovery is breaking through mental fatigue and psychosis in accordance with medication, psychotherapy and is [illegible – sorry]. All is a process which eventually will lead to outcome.

Recovery means body and mind, getting time to heal day by day…take your time to figure out what you believe. A way or path.

Recovery is an ongoing process that seems to get better and better although there are fluctuations along that path.

Recovery is a series of fortunate events.

Recovery is freedom to be me. To be able to separate my mental illness from who I am, and gain control of my life.

To me recovery means accepting one’s strengths, weaknesses and be able to keep on living as happy as one can be no matter what obstacles are ahead of us. We can conquer them.

Recovery to me, means accepting, instead of blaming and judging.

Understanding how important it is to take care of yourself. As we are all connected.

Where mental illness is partially due to not following one’s soul calling, then obligations need to be let go of and the process of listening to one’s intuition must begin.

Recovery is a journey when a person living with mental illness reconnects with the community whether its family or friends.

Recovery for me is a state of balance in my life. Although I may still get the occasional bout of depression or hypomania. Any bads are milder than in the past. I have art, exercise, loving relationships and volunteering to keep me focussed and happy. Life is meaningful and joyous and I appreciate being alive.

Recovery is a self-directed process that has no end and is continual in nature. It is holistic and is a product of hope, personal will and freedom. Individuals in recovery can help and assist others in their direction to a valued life.

Recovery: I really help to learn my mind open more understanding in world “real” life…

To the PSW Students of 2013-14: Thank You!

Through the Withering Storm – Book Review

WitheringHeightsCover

Through The Withering Storm

Author  Leif Gregersen

Review by Margo Robinson

 In this book the author describes his preteen and teen years as a gradual descent into a total mental meltdown.

A troubled child living in a troubled home.  His Mother had been hospitalized several times for her mental illness with at times, suicide attempts.

He didn’t get along with his dad, many angry outbursts and rage defined their relationship.

As many of the mentally ill, we are like square pegs trying to fit into a round hole.

Our behaviours often radical and not conforming to societies norms.

Not fitting in, having few if any friends that stuck with him for any length of time, along with the ensuing loneliness, was a catalyst for strange and unacceptable behaviour.

Leif, describes in great detail his school years and early adult life. Many hospitalizations and medications given with advice to keep taking them.

For one reason or another he stops the medications and eventually his perceptions become askew with delusions and hallucinations, resulting in further hospitalizations.

This book may be of some value, a point of identification to the pubescent teen who suffers from loneliness, relationship and behaviour issues. Those living in a dysfunctional home with abuse could relate as well.

The erratic behaviour of a person sliding down that slope, descending into mental deterioration.

It is great to see that eventually, Leif did come through to the other side and has now made a life for himself.  Not only that but helping those around us, the hurting  the helpless and lonely, offering some ray of hope.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen more about how Leif did climb out of the dark place into light. I see that the turning Point came once he accepted the fact he had a mental illness and he needed to take the medicine the rest of his life.  But what then?  What work exactly did he do to get and stay well?

People are not only looking for someone to identify themselves with but also solutions and resources available to help on their journey of recovery.

Journaling: Following in the Steps of Great Grandmother

GrandmothersJournal

Today’s blog entry is by Amanda Berg, a mental health Peer Support Worker and Coordinator of Peer Led Workshops with Vancouver Mental Health and Addictions Services. One of her recovery tools is journaling. She talks about her approach and about the inspiration she has taken from her great grandmother’s journal. The photo accompanying this article is a photo of that journal.

Journaling: Following in the Steps of Great Grandmother

by Amanda Berg

My great grandmother Ida Nelson was a journal writer.  She was born in 1881 and the first diary I have of hers is from 1917.  It was written in a leather book that is from the Greenbush Bank of Minnesota.  She outlines her everyday life. The weather, washing, ironing, who came to visit.  The writing is simple, boring, and mundane. Most days she washed laundry, baked bread and cooked dinner.  One day she broke her ankle, went to the hospital and had to learn to walk again.  She wrote almost every day, a few lines about the weather, what she did and how she felt in little notebooks.    I opened up a blue leather five year diary with a little lock,   and turned the pages and realized she died after June 23, 1967.  There were no more entries.  And this got me thinking about starting a journal for 2013.

Recording my thoughts on paper has been a powerful tool of recovery for me.  A diary is a friend who is always ready to listen.  My great grandmother’s journals varied from 5 cent notepads to leather bound notebooks with locks turned by tiny keys.  She wrote with a fountain pen and ink bottle and speckles of ink dot some of the pages.

My latest journal was made in China.  It is green vinyl fake leather with a matching elastic band to keep it shut.  It’s about the size of my cellphone and I take them both pretty much everywhere.  I have a big beautiful journal at home I received as a birthday gift but it is too heavy to lug around so I save it for big ideas and short stories.

In the past I wrote on loose leaf paper and stuck the pages in a binder with tab dividers labeled with the month January to December and other dividers marked 1 to 31. At the end of the month I would take every page out and put them in an envelope.  I used this system for a while but found it annoying if I dropped the binder.  Frustration ensued if the binder claws opened up and my paper flew out.

Over time you learn what works for you.  My best technique is cheap notebooks that fit in my purse or pocket.  I start journaling by making something to drink or sit in a coffee shop and start at the page.  I take deep breaths and the important thing is to keep my butt parked in the chair.  I think, “I am going to sit here for five minutes and write.  For five minutes I am not going to move anything except my hands and arm.” 

I pick up my pen and draw an oval shape in the middle of the page.  After pondering a few minutes I think of a word to put in the circle.  I brainstorm and draw lines out of the circle like branches of a tree.  I fill up the page with words.  This is my brainstorming process.  The pen doesn’t leave the page.  If I am stuck I scribble and do calligraphy of a letter until I think of another word.  I can’t do this on a computer.  I write fast.  It is a five minute race for me.  Music, doodling and making scribbles helps get ideas flowing and provides inspiration.  Music helps set the pace so I listen to movie soundtracks.  Right now, Battleship Gallactica is a favourite.    Sometimes, just the sound of a pencil –the graphite sliding on paper is enough to give me an idea.

Messiness isn’t a concern.  Ink flows out of my pen on the page and covers my hand so I prefer pencil.  It is safer and I don’t have to scrub my black fingers after.  I imagine my great grandmother must have washed her hands often after she wrote with Indian ink.

It could be a possibility that my great great granddaughter might one day read my autobiographical scribbling.  And it got me wondering about why I should journal and why I should journal in the same book my great grandmother wrote in and I came up with to inspire myself:

It would keep me on track and give me motivation to write if I had to write every day to see what my grandma was up to.

If she had time to write, I could make time

So I have decided to write in the baby blue leather journal with the broken clasp.  I imagine my Great grandmother Ida would be happy seeing my words beneath hers starting the day after she died.