Coping With Limitations and New Expectations

When I was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia I was clueless as to what exactly that entailed.  I knew that I would have to take anti-psychotic medications for a while and go to therapy.  Yet I had absolutely no idea how much my life was going to change.

As a result of my worsening mental illness, my ability to concentrate gradually became less and less.  I also had problems remembering details and paying attention.  It became bad enough that I had to give up on my original career dreams.  I started college as a Pre-Pharmacy student with the intention of becoming a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company.  Because of my worsening mental illness and deepening paranoid this dream became impossible to achieve. 

My grades were declining to where I wasn’t even sure I could stay in college, let alone go after my dream.  A change in course was in order.  Even though I knew very little about the subject I switched over Business courses.  My thinking at the time was I wanted to be employable immediately after college if I did get better.

As my college career progressed in my business classes I never achieved the level of academic success I once had.  This was due to my illness making it impossible to concentrate for long periods of time or pay attention to minute details.  I also had problems prioritizing projects so I often had to rush my college class projects.  As a result I didn’t get as good of grades as I could have had I not been mentally ill.

With all of the effort I was putting into just getting through my classes, I wasn’t even thinking about what jobs I would be good at once I finished college.  I really had no clue what I wanted to do once I was done with school.  I didn’t research potential careers very closely, at least not careers that someone with my particular illness could do.

I was in a really odd place, looking back in retrospect.  I was mentally ill but I had been able to maintain much of my original natural intelligence.  I had always been one of the most intelligent kids in my class in high school and even managed to do well in my classes in college in spite of my paranoid schizophrenia. 

My problem was I had serious stress and paranoia issues concerning other people.  Those issues, along with my problems with anger and depression, made, and still make, holding a regular forty-hour a week job for any length of time impossible.  It was, and still is, frustrating to be sitting on this intelligence but not able to use it, at least not in a job.

After I graduated from college I applied for every business related job I could find.  I didn’t get many responses to my inquiries.  I was sending over twenty resumes a week but was having absolutely no luck in landing an interview.  I was painfully finding out that the “apply for everything out there and hope something hits” tactic to job applications does not work.  It wasn’t until a few years later I learned that it’s far better to focus in what you want and be patient.

I thought that I wanted to work in banking or insurance.  I believed that these were stable industries that would be not too difficult to get into.  Yet I couldn’t get interviews for even these industries.  I was painfully finding out another truth: Job hunts immediately after college take a long time.  The person who finds a job before graduation is not the rule; he or she is the exception.

Finally after three months of living with my parents and futile searching, I changed my expectations.  I decided that I was taking the first thing that came along.   That job came in the form of a minimum wage job as a store clerk, and this was a part time job on top of that.

The first few months weren’t that bad.  The boss liked me and I worked well with the customers.  Yet I had a coworker that was constantly on my case and was very unpleasant to be around.  It finally became bad enough that after four months of this that I decided as soon as something different, not necessarily better, came along I was going to jump on it.  The biggest reason was to be done with this disagreeable coworker.  I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it, but I think this coworker found my quirks of being mentally ill frustrating.  I never said anything negative to this person though inside I was seething angry with this person.

One thing I couldn’t deal with very well in the past because of my illness is work place politics.  I have gotten better about it with age because of better coping methods and being able to better tell when I’m just being paranoid. In my younger years I could never understand work place politics, pecking orders, jockeying, etc.  My thinking as a younger man was we are on the same side and we ought to make an honest attempt to get along.  Now that I’m a few years older and have a few years of work experience, I have just accepted politics in the office as just part of human nature.  Just because they occur does not mean that I am expected to participate whole-heartedly in the gossiping or anything malicious.  But I am expected to do my job to the expectations of my bosses and coworkers, and that is what is ultimately important in keeping a job.

If you are an individual with mental illness and you do seek a job, know that there are personality differences among your coworkers and office politics.  Just know that these are rarely personal, they are just part of human nature that cannot be changed.  It took me a real long time to figure this out.  Until I did figure it out, my working life was often miserable simply because I had misguided expectations.

My expectations have changed so many times over the years since I was eighteen.  My expectations about working alone has gone from where I wanted to be a great research scientist to wanting to work in insurance to hating even part time work to fearing I would never work at all to now I work twenty hours a week as a custodian back to not working right at the moment.  I don’t think I would have become interested in writing had I never become mentally ill.  Maybe something positive has come out of all of this after all. 

I don’t know where this journey is going to end.  But I do know that right now that it is quite exciting and each day brings something different and new.  I wouldn’t have had this if I never become ill or had to change my expectations.



Things I Didn’t Know As A Kid

Things I Didn’t Know As A Kid 


When I was a young kid I, like most kids, thought I knew all that was worth knowing. Of course some of the things I believed to be true, especially about popular culture and such, were often half-truths or out right false. Some of these entries will sound absolutely funny to some people, especially those of my parents generation. Here goes. 

1) I was fourteen years old before I found out that the book ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ wasn’t about baseball. I always thought it was a minor league baseball player from the midwest in the Great Depression Era (like ‘Bull Durham’ meets ‘The Natural’). 

2) I was in college before I figured out that Prince Albert in A Can was a brand of tobacco, not just some screwball adolesent prank phone call joke. 

3) I was twenty seven years old before I figured out that 1960s Political Radical “Abbie” Hoffman wasn’t a woman. His name was really Abbot. But a high school classmate of mine made the same mistake about Pauly Shore back in the late 1990s. 

4) When the movie ‘The Prince of Tides’ came out, I immediately thought it was about surfing. 

5) As a grade school student I was shocked to learn that ancient peoples knew how to make alcohol before they knew how to make soap. Priorities I suppose. 

6) As a teenager I thought it was common knowledge that cholorox bleach (or anything with chlorine), when mixed with ammonia makes a very noxious gas that can quickly burn your lungs and even kill you. I’m surprised even as a grown man how few people know that I encounter in my day job as a maintenance man. 

7) Growing up I never realized just how few places could see the stars in the night sky, let alone as clearly as we can in Nebraska. Heck I could watch the mid Augsut meteor showers in my backyard right in towm and we considered it a bad night if we didn’t see at least 50 meteorites in one night. 

8) When I was in 4th grade and we were discussing eathquakes and the San Andreas lines in California, Mrs. Gruszczynski (probably the best teacher a boy like me could have ever had) mentioned that it was possible with continential drifting that California could break off from the rest of North America. And I just quipped “Then we ought to be buying desert property just outside of Las Vegas. Once California breaks off, and Vegas still there: instant beach and major resorts.” To which Mrs. G responded, “But Zach, that could take thousands of years.” And I said, “Well, I guess start saving my money and will all that land out to many generations ahead.” To which she just smiled and just kind of chuckled like ‘Keep thinking, that’s what your good at, Zach Foster.’ 

I think I’ll rap it up for now. Obviously this is nowhere near the depth of my youthful ignorance. 

“I never met a man so ignorant I could learn nothing from him” Galileo

Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions.