Attempting to Let Go and Move Forward

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It has been said, I think it was in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, that “in order to move forward, you have to leave the past behind” or something along the same idea.  I admit to having problems with letting go of what happened in my younger years, especially during times when my mental illness flares up especially bad.  During such times I have a very hard time coming to accept that my life did not turn out how I remotely imagined it would when I was sixteen and looking ahead to the vast expanse of years that was ahead.  At that age, I pictured that I would be doing something in medical research and married with at least a couple of children and living in some large metroplex by the time I turned 35.  Like many intelligent kids that could be classified as somewhat ‘nerdy’, I dreamed of the day I would move out of my hometown of less than 500 people and onto bigger and better things.  Like most of the few close friends I had, I so desperately wanted out of Nebraska.  I figured there was nothing here for me in the science and medicine fields and I would be wasting my life if I stayed behind.  Well, time has a way of making fools of even the smartest of us.

I never left Nebraska while all the friends from high school I stayed in contact with did.  In fact, none of the friends I made in college stayed in state either.  I didn’t end up working in any scientific or medical field for even one day of my life.  I certainly never got married or had kids.  I never even worked in a job that would require me to graduate high school for any real length of time, and I essentially failed at those jobs.  In spite of my illness, I retained almost all of my natural intelligence even though now my ability to work under stress and read anyone ‘between the lines’ was completely gone.  Any of these instances, let alone all of these put together, were serious blows to my pride and ego.

For the first several years of my mental illness, I agonized over where I went wrong.  I retained my natural intelligence yet I couldn’t do well in even minimum wage work.  It was baffling to my caseworkers at Vocational Rehab that I was so smart yet couldn’t handle any real stress.  For a long time, I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough and that work was supposed to suck.  I had spent my entire life hearing adults complain about their jobs as if their misery was something they took pride in.  So I just tried harder and attempted to abandon any idea that I was supposed to enjoy work or even life for that matter.  In time I came to believe I was doomed to be a failure at working a regular job.

For the next couple of years, I threw myself into my writing.  I was working part time at the courthouse as a janitor by this time.  I came to believe that the only way I could ‘make something of myself’ was to write a decent selling book.  I knew that the odds were against me as less than one percent of even published writers would make above poverty level if they relied solely on their writing work.  Well, that didn’t work either.  I self published a couple books of poetry, a book about my experiences as a mentally ill person in a ‘chronically sane world’, and even wrote rough drafts for two novels.  Found out the hard way that I have almost no talent for writing fiction.  I don’t even like reading fiction, especially modern fiction.  Even though I sold a few dozen copies of my mental illness book, the others didn’t sell at all.  So for a few years after that, I felt like a failure as a writer.

Now that the traditional writer door had been rudely slammed in my face, I became very depressed and angry.  I couldn’t understand what was the point of retaining my intelligence and not being able to use my abilities to even support myself, let alone help others.  I couldn’t figure any of this out.  I just couldn’t let go of what this illness cost me.  Occasionally I still find myself angry over what I lost.  I had the example of what I could have, and should have, been in the person of my older brother.  He is currently working as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, making more money per year in his mid 30s than my parents ever made at any point in their careers, living in a excellent neighborhood in a metroplex outside of our home state, married to an intelligent woman (who also is an engineer), and has four children that he’s absolutely devoted to.

I suppose it’s wrong to be envious of him, though a part of me sometimes is.  I know as kids, I actually got better grades in school and read more books than he did.  When I’m in the grips of my mental illness, I often find myself thinking our lives could have been similar.  When I’m seriously in the grips of the illness and feeling nothing but anger and hostility, I find myself thinking our lives could have been easily reversed with me doing the work of my dreams and him being mentally ill.  Fortunately that doesn’t happen often.

When I’m not caught in the grasp of the illness, I find it very easy to let go of my past and move forward.  I have found an outlet of sorts though blogging.  Sure I don’t have thousands of visitors every day like some blogs here on wordpress.  No I’m not known outside of my family, my current hometown, my handful of friends, and people who follow and/or happen to stumble on these writings.  No, I haven’t made even one cent off these writings on this blog.  Sure, I’m dependent on the government for my medications and even my living.  Yet, when I am doing well, I have completely accepted all the aspects of my mental illness and have moved forward.  It is now only the small minority of times when I’m in the grips of the illness that I have to worry about stumbling and dwelling on everything that has happened over the last seventeen years.

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Losing Weight while on Anti-Psychcotic Medication

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In addition to my problems with mental illness, I’ve been fighting problems with having an unhealthy weight since at least age seventeen.  I spent the first several years of my schizophrenia diagnosis trying to figure out the many aspects of my personal mental health problems.  I was able to figure out that there were seasonal elements, certain situations and stressors that made the illness worse, people and places I needed to avoid as much as possible, and I learned coping skills that made the mental part of my health much more tolerable.

While I was covering the mental aspects of my health, I completely ignored my physical health.  I gained a lot of weight during the first ten years of my diagnosis.  One reason I neglected my physical health was I often lacked motivation to stay with an exercise program.  I would do fine the first few days.  When the inevitable aches and discomfort set in, I’d take a day or two off.  I felt terrible for taking days off and would in time drop the program.

A second reason I gained weight was I fell into the trap of believing I couldn’t lose weight while on anti-psych medication.  Many anti-psych medications have weight gain as one of their most prominent side effects.  Noticing I was at a very unhealthy weight even as far back as early 2007, I went off my medications in an attempt to lose weight.  Real bad idea. I had a relapse after being off medications for three months.  Whatever weight I lost in that time off the medications was gained back and more.

Finally about the summer of 2013, I’m guessing, my general practitioner  told me that I would have major health problems, including diabetes, heart issues, and probably even early death if I didn’t do a complete change of my eating habits and physical activity.  That gave me an incentive to at least attempt to lose weight while on anti-psych medications.  My options at that point were to either keep blaming the weight gain on my psych meds and wait for an inevitable disaster perhaps only a few years in the future, or I could get more active and accept responsibility for my physical health with the same dedication I took to getting my mental health managed.  I guess my decision to lose weight came down to the persistent thought that my well managed mental health conditions would not matter if my physical health deteriorated.

My first efforts to lose weight were not entirely successful.  Beginning to exercise wasn’t much of a problem as I had the idea of dealing with diabetes, heart disease, and a mental illness all at the same time to keep me walking at least four to five days per week.  It was the adjusting my eating habits that was the major issue.  I would lose weight some weeks.  Other weeks I would not lose and often actually gain.  This went on until about April 2014.

After several months of exercise and learning all I could find about good nutrition on a small budget, I reexamined everything I was doing.  Every thing checked out just fine.  I even changed some of my psych medications at my psych doctor’s recommendation.  I finally decided to track everything I was eating for at least a few days.  It took only one day to figure out exactly how much I was eating on an average day.  That was an attention grabber.  I figured out how much I was eating and how much I was burning off through physical activity.  I could see that on even average days I was taking in more calories than I was burning off.  I found out why I wasn’t losing weight as easily as I wanted.  It wasn’t the psych medications causing it all alone.  It was that I had no idea how much I was actually eating.

Once I figured this out, I committed to tracking everything I ate every day.  I was able to do this though tools and trackers with a free account at wedmd.com.  I just type in what I eat, how much of a food I eat, and how much exercise I do.  I had to do this everyday for at least the first two to three months every day.  Once I knew how much I was eating everyday as well as how much I was exercising everyday and was recording it, that is when the weight starting coming off.  Since I started tracking everything I ate and all exercise I did I’ve lost over 45 pounds.  I’ve been doing this tracking since the middle of April 2014, so I’ve been doing this for right at five months.  I’m sure that for those who wish to have a diet and exercise tracking app for a SmartPhone or an iPod there are several good apps available that don’t cost anything.

Weight loss while on anti-psychcotic medications is possible.  It can be done.  Like anyone else trying to lose weight, it takes a lot of work, a lot of discipline, and it takes time.  I suppose I have the thoughts of where I once was, where I’m at now, how much better I feel now than even six months ago, and where I can and want to be as motivators.

Seasonal Aspects of Mental Illness

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It’s been awhile since I last posted anything of my own doing on this blog.  For that I apologize.  Sadly, it has been a rougher last few weeks than normal.  Yet this was expected as late summer, especially the month of August and early September, have traditionally been the toughest times of year for flare ups of my mental illness.  There is in my case seasonal aspects to my mental illness problems.  Both times I committed myself to a mental health facility have been early in September after weeks of buildups of problems that usually began about late July.  After having these mental illness problems and seasonal flareups for going on seventeen years now, I have come to see that there are times of the year when my illness is often far worse than normal.

Even though I know and acknowledge that there is a seasonal aspect of my mental illness, I still haven’t pinned down an exact why it is in late summer.  Often, people with seasonal aspects of mental health problems tend to have their problems in the winter or during times of the year when they experienced at least personal tragedy.  I doubt in my case that my seasonal aspects are due to personal tragedy as people who have died that were personally close to me have almost without exception died in the winter months.  It could be that my seasonal problems have to do with weather as late summers in my home state of Nebraska are typically very hot, occasionally humid, and often suddenly changing.  I personally always enjoyed cooler weather as my favorite times of year are autumn and spring.  I don’t really mind winters that much except that I personally don’t like driving on snow packed and ice covered roads that are the norm in my part of the USA.  Regardless of my appreciation for the change of seasons, don’t sign me up for summers in Texas or winters in Minnesota.  I have college friends from both places and I’ve heard their ‘horror’ stories about the weather.

I no doubt have times of the year when my mental illness is worse than others.  Unlike many people, my problems are often in the summers instead of the winters.  I still haven’t figured out the why as to this.  I simply know after having these problems for at least seventeen years that there are trouble times in the course of the year.  I’ve come to understand this and plan accordingly.