Reflections Back on Early Years

I live in a small town where the main source of activity and jobs is a local state university.  The university just started classes this week for the fall semester which got me to thinking about my time going through school and the friends I had.

I grew up in a small farming village of about 400 people in rural Nebraska.  Our lives more or less revolved around the changing seasons, crop prices, church activities, and the local school.  Since my town was so small, we actually shared a school with another town about ten miles northwest of us.  The school was a big part of our town’s life.  It didn’t matter if it was Friday Night football, competitive speech meets, the prom, academic bowls, etc., the town supported all of our activities.  I never thought much of it while growing up in the late 1990s, but then most kids don’t think much of their hometowns when their 16 or 17 and are looking to venture out and see what is out there in the world.

I wasn’t Mr. Popular in my high school, but I was far from anonyomous too.  I like to think that most of us in my high school who were involved in some kind of extracirricular activitity (which was probably 85% of our student body in my small school) were somehow embraced and noticed by the people in our town one way or another.  Years ago when I went through (I’m not sure how it is now), our school was more academically inclined then some because we had some really amazing teachers, so there was no embarassment in being in the band or the school play or speech teams.  Though we also had some decent sports teams as our football team did make state finals one year in the mid 1990s. 

Even though we didn’t have many advanced placement classes or any accelerated programs, we still recieved a good well-rounded education at our school.  Sure it may not produce any Rhodes Scholars or Ivy Leaguers or may not make the list of Top 100 High Schools in America.  Sure I had my difficulties because of the beginnings of my mental illness problems, especially late in my academic career.  But I won’t trade my four years of classes, friends, experiences, activities, and times I spent at Anselmo-Merna High School in Merna, Nebraska for anything.

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What Mental Illness Means For Me

I have occasionally been asked to describe what exactly what having a mental illness is like.  Now I don’t get as annoyed with such questions as I used to.  I mean, it is an honest question by people who, for the most part care.  Yet, I am still at a loss to describe my mental illness in a ten to fifteen second sound bite.  I haven’t always been mentally ill, so I can still remember from my childhood and teenage years what it was like not to have to deal with the crippling depression,chronic anxiety, delusions that seem so real (even when I try to convince myself they aren’t), hallucinations that, left unchecked, can be overwhelming by themselves, among other maladies that are associated with paranoid schizoprenia.

The crippling depression can, at times, leave me such that I literally don’t have the motivation to do much of anything.  During the times of depression, I will often alternate between times of intense sadness and intense anger.  I will usually try to isolate myself from physical contact with others during these times.  It’s nothing personal, I just don’t want to have the risk of a confrontation with anyone at these times.  I still can communicate with friends, family, counselors, support people, etc. by means of phone, e-mail, etc. but I don’t risk much personal contact with anyone during these times.  I certainly won’t be driving on the road during such episodes.  Far too risky.

Anxiety is another issue.  In my case, anxiety makes it impossible to hold most kinds of work.  I have tried and failed at several types of jobs, ranging from salesman to factory worker to maintenance man to graduate assistant.  I’ve really lost count of how many jobs I’ve held over the years.  I really have a hard time handling fast paced work where the public is involved.  So that alone eliminates many jobs.  The only job I held for longer than one year was a janitorial job where I primarily worked alone, could set my own priorities within limits, and I wasn’t bothered as long as the job was done well and on time.  Another issue about anxiety and mental illness is old fashioned office politics.  I never could figure those out.  Because of my anxiety, along with my paranoia, I often thought my coworkers and bosses were out to nail me.  Throw in depression about the whole deal and it meant for unpleasent work experiences all around.

The depression and anxiety doesn’t just effect my working life.  It also effects whatever social life I have.  My social life anymore consists of a few really close friends, some casual acquaintances, and my family.  I don’t have any friends from my previous jobs as I’ve lost contact with all of them (or wasn’t at the job long enough to make friends).  I haven’t dated in seven years.  The idea of going out on even a casual date scares me bad.  I just don’t know how to bring up the whole ‘I have a mental illness’ without scaring off a potential date.  There are times that complete solitude is overrated.

I have covered only part of what mental illness means to me.  I’ll have to cover the rest in a future post.