Being Hospitalized For Mental Illness

This is a reblog of one of a post I wrote in early 2014. It is about the two times I was hospitalized for my mental illness problems. While I haven’t been back to the hospital since 2013, it is still relevant and will help for those who have problems with mental illness.

A Life Of Mental Illness

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This entry is going to be about the two times I was hospitalized for my schizophrenia.  Even though I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2000, I was never hospitalized for it until the fall of 2006.  I was not an Emergency Protective Custody (EPC) case as I self committed voluntarily.  I came to the conclusion I needed help because of severe anxiety and flare ups of my paranoia.  These were caused by job place problems and several stressful occurrences that happened throughout the year 2006.  To start the year 2006, I lost my job at the university and had to leave the MBA program.  I had also applied for Social Security Disability Insurance shortly afterward.  At the time it was a major blow to my ego and self confidence as I thought it was admitting defeat in my pursuit to be self-supportive.  I also had a few…

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Weight Loss, Exercise, and Mental Health. Winter Edition

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It’s been awhile since I last reported on my ongoing project of losing weight, maintaining mental equilibrium, and working on improving myself overall.  For awhile, from late October through most of November, I wasn’t losing nor gaining weight.  In early December, I had a flare up of the symptoms of schizophrenia and I had a second day of flare ups in mid January.  I met with my psych nurse, readjusted some of my meds, and found out that I had lost 10 pounds since late November.  I’m now down 65 pounds overall.  We had a fairly cold, but dry, December and first half of January.  I wasn’t exercising outdoors much, having moved my routines indoors.  I added small arm weights to my routine an average of twice a week.  I have found if I stretch before and after lifting, I don’t really feel sore the morning after lifting.  I had heard that some football coaches were doing this stretching after practices and games and they were seeing less pulled muscle problems in their players.  I gave it a try and it seems to work.  I still won’t work the same muscles two days in a row no matter how good they feel.

Another indoor exercise I do is just putting on dance music on my iPod, throw on the headphones, and dance to the tunes for about thirty minutes at a time.  I do this usually three days a week on average.  Since I live in a top floor apartment with squeaky floors, I do have to be care where and when I do this.  If I do this at night, I usually have to dance in my living room or kitchen.  No reason to wake up my downstairs neighbors if I do this at 9pm or later.

Even when I walked outdoors during the summer and fall, I did usually thirty minutes per day probably four to five days per week.  I made it a point to have at least one day a week off from exercise entirely, just for recuperating and breaking up the routine mentally.  I didn’t start out walking thirty minutes per day.  When I started this ‘life style overhaul’ I could walk only 1/4 of a mile in one shot without sitting down.  Pretty sad I had let myself slide so bad.  And yes, it was my fault.  I used the idea that my psych meds were promoting my weight gain and I couldn’t do anything about it.  Yes I could do something about it.  I had to reexamine everything I was doing.  I needed to know exactly what I was eating, what I was doing for exercise, how much water I was drinking, and how much I was sleeping.  After looking everything over, I saw what I was doing poorly (almost everything), and had to adjust accordingly.

On March 17, 2014, I began my exercise routine and keeping my day to day health journal. When most people in my hometown were doing the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl (I live in a college town after all), I was doing a different type of crawl because I was sore from my first day of exercise.  I had been sedentary all winter, slept probably 11 to 12 hours most days, so I was out of practice and I was feeling it.  But within a couple of weeks, I stretched that 1/4 mile to 1/3 of a mile.  Within six weeks of beginning, I was doing at least 2/3 of a mile.  By the middle of June I was easily doing one mile without stopping. When Labor Day rolled around I could walk for one hour at a time but I was slightly sore for the next day, but it wasn’t the kind of pain crawl I was doing in March.  By the first of October I found out I was down 50 pounds overall.  The day after Halloween, I was down 55 pounds overall and, unknown to me at the time, I came to my first ‘plateau’.  I went through at least a six week period when I didn’t lose or gain.  I had heard about the possibility of having one of these periods.  I wasn’t terribly surprised that after 55 pounds lost, my body would go through a while of resetting itself.

The human body is quite amazing in that it regulates itself and is very adaptable.  I imagine my body might have thought it was experiencing a period of calorie shortages and was hording as much energy as it could.  Remember, that for most of human history, a person didn’t always have a consistent food supply.  There were the proverbial times of feasts and famines.  So the body adapted to become stingy with it’s on hand calories and to crave sources of easy calories like carbs, sugars, and proteins.  It is only within the last few generations we’ve had such strong food security with so little effort.  And, in western countries like USA, we’re doing this with probably only one percent of the work force actually working in farming and food production.

I’m dead convinced that one of the reasons for such tragic rates of obesity (and I needed to and still need to listen to this as much as anyone) in western nations was that we kept the eating habits our great grandparents had but did only a fraction of the physical labor.  In my own family, as far as I can tell, our entire family worked in farming, sharecropping, etc. as far back as we can trace.  My parents were the first generation of their families to either not grow up on a farm or not work on one.  I tell this aside simply to state many people have lost contact with how much time and work it really takes to grow crops, raise farm animals, hunt, fish, and gather wild food.  So we often eat food, and waste it, with little appreciation of how much work it took to get it from farm to dining room table.  And, as we’ve gone from a farming and manufacturing based economy to a knowledge based and service economy, we are seeing the foolishness of keeping the same eating habits without the corresponding physical activity.  Either the physical activity has to increase, the food consumption has to decline, or ideally both happens.  We saw the bad effects of smoking and excessing alcohol consumption and adjusted accordingly, starting about forty years ago.  I believe we’re now starting to make adjustments as a society to the problems of obesity and associated sicknesses.  Had I not taken steps to address my problems with obesity and physical health problems, then no amount of mental health successes were going to matter.

Sure I still have flare ups of mental illness problems even with as much weight I’ve lost.  I’ll probably be fighting mental illness issues for a long time, barring some major medical breakthroughs in the treatment of brain issues.  I do have hope that major breakthroughs will be happening, especially when I think that there are teams of scientists, researchers, engineers, etc. all over the world just thinking about how to improve what we have and just dreaming up entirely new ways to do things.  Theses are quite exciting times we live in, especially for those of us who pay attention to technology breakthroughs.  A good site I stumbled on that details breakthroughs we as a species have done since 2000 and projected new breakthroughs for many decades to come is futuretimeline.net.  There have to be literally dozens of sites such as this detailing tech breakthroughs.  I often lose sight of the big picture during days of struggle.  We do live in exciting times though challenging times.  But with challenges come opportunities.  Who knows what advances in the treatment of all illness, let alone mental illness, the next few decades and years will bring?

Trying to Understand ‘Normal’ With Mental Illness

This is going to be an open letter from one schizophrenic man to chronically normal people at large.  Or, at least, to the handful of you who happen to read these passages.  It is not meant to be angry or ranting.  Instead, think of it as a few honest questions about why you do what you do.  As a mentally ill man, I want to try to understand you neurotypical people a little better.  Yes, much of this will be tongue and cheek.  But these are questions I have nonetheless.

Dear Mr. and Ms. Normal, If I may be honest with you, as a mentally ill man I do not understand you.  I do not understand how you think or why you act the ways you do.  I do not understand why you socialize the way you do.  I do not come even close to understanding your office politics.  I would love to have at least some insight into mysterious ways of the normal.

The way you think is somehting I don’t understand.  I consider myself relatively intelligent, at least above average.  But there are things about your thought process I don’t get.  I have a hard time understanding why you normals may know what is good for you yet don’t act on it.  It makes sense why I, as a schizophrenic, don’t always know what’s best as I have a few voices in my mind competing for my attention. These voices are often giving contradictory advice.  I have voices in my mind that don’t agree on anything that not only argue with me, but often with each other.  As far as I can tell, you neurotypicals don’t have this disadvantage.  So I can’t figure out why you don’t always act in ways that benefit you and those around you.  You don’t hold several different opinions at the same time, do you?  So what is your excuse for knowing what is good but not acting on it?  You have only one voice within your mind, right?  Or is cognitive dissonance a bigger problem with the chronic normal than with the mentally ill?  I’m hopelessly confused.  Somebody please help me 🙂

The word schizophrenia is derived from a word meaning ‘split mind.’  Not only does my mind have a hard time perceiving the difference between what others say and what they actually mean, but I also have an inability to accurately read and understand a person’s body language and voice inflection.  Body language I simply cannot read.  If someone tries to tell me something with their body language, they just as well be speaking ancient Egyptian.  I also have problems interpreting voice inflections in that my default mode of operation is to assume most people are not happy with me and are actually quite disgusted with me.  It is my experience that when my boss or any authority figure wants to talk with me one on one, they are doing it to tell me what I’m doing wrong and that I am in serious trouble.  I’ve had too many of these less than constructive criticism sessions to believe you have anything but malicious intent when you do call me onto your turf to chat.  It is never for small chit chat or for them to tell me how thrilled they are with my work.  As a result, I don’t trust authority figures of any kind.  I can only guess where they are coming from and what their motives are.

I am unable to get inside someone’s head and try to figure out what they are thinking.  Yet, I feel like my mind’s a completely open children’s picture book for all comers to pick apart and dissect.  So, please understand how paranoid this makes me feel.  I know this is just my mental illness distorted view of looking at things, but I really feel like I am at a severe disadvantage in any social situation because you chronic normals ‘know’ what I am thinking whereas I can only guess what you are thinking.  Imagine what it would be like for you to be interrogated by the police and the cops haven’t yet told you what they are accusing you of.  I feel exactly like this every time an authority figure or coworker wants to talk with me in private and they refuse to tell me what it’s about.  In short, I hate office politics.  My inability to understand the game of office politics  that you chronic normals know by heart is one of the reasons I don’t have a regular job anymore.  It may be just a game to you neurotypicals, but for most of us mentally ill it isn’t fun and games.  And it never will be because you normals are apparently born knowing these rules and we the mentally ill aren’t.

As little as I understand the games of office politics and social interaction, I don’t understand the games of dating at all.  I wasn’t born knowing these rules.  No one bothered to sit me down and explain the rules of dating.  Or maybe it was explained during one of the ten days or so I missed from school between the ages of six and eighteen.  I missed very few days during my school career, but I apparently missed some extremely important material during those days.  Why couldn’t I have missed the days of school when all we discussed was the difference between ameobas and diatoms or when we were discussing anti-trust laws in the gilded age?  I would much rather know how to tell if a woman wanted me to ask her out then who was president when the Standard Oil trust was busted up.  I really have had practically no success with dating.  And it wasn’t just getting a girl to go on a date and then she wouldn’t go on a second date.  If only it was that problem. My problem was getting a girl to say yes to even a first date.  I actually had a girl laugh at me my freshman year of college when I asked her out.  I was thinking ‘I was just asking you to hang out off campus some Friday night.  I didn’t realize it was amateur comedy night at the Apollo.’ That is just one of my stories.  I’ve been shot down by women more than the Luffwaffe got shot down by the Royal Air Force.  I knew my game stunk just from my results.  But I never got told by anyone what I was doing wrong.  Was it some knowledge that I simply wasn’t born with?  Is it my Shrek like physical appearance?  Are people intimidated by physically strong men who are quite intelligent?  I don’t know.  My disappointing failures in the dating game eventually led me to giving up entirely.  The last time I was on even a casual date, a Texan was taking up residence in the White House.  So I’m probably at a severe disadvantage in the dating game anymore I don’t even know where to start. I’m not even sure if I am meant to date, to tell you the truth.

In short, I am living the life of a mentally ill man who’s clueless in the ways of love, socializing, and office politics.  I often feel like I would be better off living as a medieval Catholic monk and I’m not even Catholic.  I already have the vows of poverty, service, and celibacy down pat.  I live those every day.  I don’t think I could do the vow of silence so well.  But I hope you now know a little better why I have problems socializing and dating with neurotypicals.  I hope this explains to you, Mr. and Ms. Normal, why we the mentally ill often seem a bit off socially.  Yours truly, your humble mentally ill correspondent.

Why I Actually Like Being An Adult, Disability Insurance, and Other Side Rants

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When I was growing up and going through middle school in the early 1990s (back in the dark ages before we had internet in every house, restaurant, laundromat, etc.), I had this teacher who loved to tell us about the dreaded ‘cold cruel world’ and how much being an adult was going to suck.  As a naive thirteen year old growing up in the farm belt of rural Nebraska (I lived at least 65 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart), I was by no means wise to the ways of the world.  We didn’t even get cable tv in my town until the late 1980s, so all I got to see of the outside world back then was what Ted Turner chose to show us on CNN every night.  As a child I was only vaguely aware there was a world outside of Nebraska and that people went to college for things other than becoming doctors, teachers, and lawyers.  But practically everyone else I ever knew were farmers and had no real need for any real ‘formal education.’  So naturally I blew off my teacher telling me how lousy being an adult was because, quite frankly, my hometown had nothing to offer someone with my natural talents and abilities.  I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to dispute my elders when they warned me ‘wait until you have kids’ or ‘wait until you have a job you hate’ or ‘wait until you have to pay taxes.’  I didn’t complain or dispute because 1) I was just a kid and what do kids know and 2) Starting about age 12 I looked all around me and saw many adults who literally could not think for themselves or long termed.  I saw many adults who complained about living in a rural area, complained about work, complained about their spouses, complained about how their kids acted, complained about the weather (quite common among farmers), complained about politicians, etc. but I never once saw any adult try to do anything to change their situations or improve themselves.  Once, being the curious child I was, I actually asked one of these wise adults why no one tried to do anything to change things.  The angered look on this grown up’s face made me think I had committed some form of blasphemy like saying the Ten Commandments were a lousy idea.  After that I made it a point to never to question an authority figure so blatantly.

Putting all of these observations together I became convinced that I probably wouldn’t like being an adult was as grumpy and unthinking that many of the adults I saw.  But, I also hated being a kid.  Oh did I ever hate it.  I was constantly bullied for being smart and different.  My teachers often didn’t like me because I often could find easier ways to solving problems then what they were teaching us.  My football coaches didn’t like that I wasn’t Joe Rah-Rah.  I didn’t have many friends because I just didn’t ‘go along to get along.’  And I didn’t like the fact that, as a kid, no one took my complaints and problems seriously.  When I said I wasn’t being challenged in school, I was told I had a problem with authority.  When I didn’t bring home straight A’s, I was told I was an underachiever.  I wasn’t told that no one in the work world cared to see your high school report cards.  And I certainly wasn’t told that adults are often as clueless as kids about what’s really going on and what they want out of life.  The adults were just better at hiding it and lying to themselves.

Eventually, like all nightmares, my time as a kid ended.  I went on to college.  While I didn’t leave Nebraska or find the college campus to be completely full of people just as smart and quirky as I was (thank you for getting my hopes up, college recruiters), I did meet some cool and stimulating people.  As it was a small college with people from all over the world as well as the United States in very close proximity, it was quite easy to socialize with many people with different backgrounds.  It was also not so big of a college that international students, in state students, city kids, farm kids, etc. could get by with just socializing with people like them.  To have any hope of a social life a person would have to socialize with many different people.  Leave your biases and stereotypes at the door, I suppose.  I met most of the people I have kept as friends to this day at college.  I learned a good deal about business, economics, personal finance, accounting, writing, etc. that, in all honesty, I should have ideally been taught in college.  I discussed this in an earlier post.

Yet, as much as I liked college, I came to find I enjoyed being an adult even more.  As an adult, you can choose were you want to work.  As a kid, your parents or the local government chooses where you go to school.  We had only one school in our town, the nearest private school was over 65 miles away, and most of the schools within a 50 mile radius were exactly the same as mine.  Home schooling wasn’t really popular back then. My best friend, and occasional dating interest was homeschooled until high school.  Kind of funny, though, when she entered high school the school wanted to put her in remedial education and she wound up being an honor student within a few months.  And for those who say that ‘home school kids have no social skills even if they are book smart’, I will say that two of my best and most stable friends came from home school environments.  But maybe because these two were so well read and treated a nerdy outcast like myself so well makes them ‘have no social skills.’  I couldn’t leave the school I was in.  My family would not have liked having someone with a GED in their family.  It is far easier for me as a grown up to leave a job where the boss and I don’t mesh or if I don’t like that my coworkers hardly work and don’t care about the customers.

Other things that are cool about being an adult is I get to do cool things like vote, set up my own schedules, read whatever I wan to read, watch whatever educational videos I want, make whatever friends I want without family pressures or social limitations, write my own blogs (we didn’t even have blogging back in the mid 1990s as there was no easy access to internet), I don’t have to date if I don’t want to (whereas in high school I was often ridiculed because I couldn’t get a girl to date me besides my homeschool friend, and even then I was still ridiculed because she came from the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks’), I can form my own beliefs and don’t have to really fear if I share these beliefs or not, I don’t have to think anything I don’t believe or lie just to impress some authority figure who supposedly is wiser than me because he’s old and has more money and prestige.  Shoot, I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.

One thing I would have loved to have known about applying for Disability Insurance was, if I filed before my 22nd birthday, I would have had my monthly benefits determined by my parents’ income.  I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 20, graduated college at age 23, but didn’t file for disability before until age 25.  Financially I shot myself in the foot because I didn’t apply for disability before age 22 since both of my parents were medical professionals.  I would be making much more than I am now had I not tried the John Wayne gut it out until it was obvious the cause was lost routine.  Yet that is in the past.  I still do well because I can choose to live a minimalist style of life as a single adult.

Even though I was set back for several years because I tried to work and be a productive citizen by not dropping out of college and applying for disability at a younger age, I am still free to make the choices in lifestyle to adjust accordingly.  Yes it was hard to learn to live below what most Americans would consider poverty level and I did make some mistakes along the way.  But I learned from those mistakes and adjusted my game plans and lifestyle accordingly.

To be quite honest, I don’t know many people besides myself who can live on less than $15,000 per year, which is $125o per month.  At the average American hourly wage of approximately $13 per hour, that’s only 20 hours of work per week.  I make even less than $1250 a month and I live quite well, especially since I’m debt free.  Some may disdain me for ‘being on the dole’ and say ‘you just live off the government.’  But, you know what, had I never become mentally ill I would have achieved my dream of going into medical research, would probably be making six figures by now, would have gotten married, had kids, owned a McMansion, and been one of those ‘respectable’ types that pays more in taxes than most people.  Not everyone on disability got there because they are lazy and want a free ride.  Believe it or not, there are a few of us who got there because of things we couldn’t control.  Maybe people like me who are smart and on disability in spite doing all the right things are as rare as unicorns but we still exist.  Another great thing about being an adult is I don’t have to try to please people who think I am a leech and lazy for receiving disability.  I hate being on disability, God do I hate it.  But that is essentially the only option for people with mental illnesses in my situation besides homelessness or prison.

In closing, I know this post and rant was quite long winded and had a bit of a sharper edge to it than my regular posts.  For this I don’t apologize because, as an adult without an employer, family, or a social circle I didn’t choose, I really don’t have to apologize for speaking the truth.  As an adult I have far more choices and control of my own life.  That alone is reason enough why I actually like being an adult.

Inactivity In Winter

Winters have always been an odd time for me.  Not because my mental illness flares up in winter or I have winter depression.  It is because of forced inactivity and longer nights that cold weather always brings.  I’ve always been one of these people who have a hard time sitting still for long.  As a kid I used to pace in our large backyard for hours at a time, just thinking and dreaming up stories and adventures.  I did this some even in the winter.  Yet I would be counting down the days until spring started and things would warm up.  I hated the forced inactivity and being forced to stay indoors then.  I still don’t like it much.  The only ways I can sit still are by reading a book, writing in a journal, playing an intellectually challenging computer game, watching educational and informative videos on youtube and netflix, or chatting with friends over the phone.  Even in my physical downtime I have to be mentally engaged in some activity.

This is even more so in winter.  While my home state doesn’t have the snow falls some places do, we do have bad cold and really bad north winds.  Even when it’s been dry for several days, it’s tough to go outside because of the cold and the howling winds that are common on the Nebraska plains.  This forced inactivity does force me to be more careful about how much I eat since it’ll be tough to burn it off just by walking inside.  I don’t have a gym membership and, since I lost 60 pounds exercising on my own in 2014, I don’t think I need one.  I’ll probably sign up for one for the end of 2015 if I actually gain weight this winter.

One of the ways I’ve worked against boredom in winter in past years was by reading and writing.  I’ve traditionally done more heavy reading in winter months than other months.  I really don’t like much on cable tv anymore. I’m one of those people who feels like a day is wasted if he doesn’t accomplish something physically or learns something mentally.  So just sitting in front of the tv for hours isn’t an option.  I have gotten to where when I’m reading or writing on my computer, I’ll have youtube with a music program playing in one window while I write on another.  I’m also getting into free audiobooks and podcasts through youtube as well.  I figure if I can’t be outside and doing something, I’ll be inside and learning something.

I admit I often learn things merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity that demands to be fed on a daily basis.  It doesn’t make me any more money (obviously) but it does scratch an itch that won’t go away on it’s own.  It also makes for interesting conversation.  I don’t really do well with small talk at social gatherings, probably because of my mental illness and natural introverted nature.  I’m not the center of attention at parties, but I am usually in the corner with a few other people tossing ideas back and forth.

My intellectual pursuit probably seems pointless to some and intellectual vanity to others.  But it is a good way for me to pass the time, especially in winter.  If it makes me a little more knowledgeable and better at carrying an intelligent conversation, I will do it.  Maybe in a few years, after I achieve my health and weight goals, I can then be doing more physical things to add to the intellectual strength.  I’d really like to become my own version of ‘The Most Interesting Man’ from the beer commercials.  I never could understand why anyone would voluntary end their learning once they leave school.  I know school was boring for many people, myself included.  For me, my independent study scratches the itch my formal education didn’t.  I do much of this independent study in winter.

We all have twenty four hours in a day.  We all have our times of forced inactivity.  But forced inactivity can be use for our benefit.  Even ancient societies recognized the importance of down time even if it was forced.  I use my winters to really increase my mental activity, reading, and learning.  It’s either that or allow myself to go as stale and bleak as the winter weather outside.

Being Physically Sick With A Mental Illness

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I’ve been fighting off a real bad cold for the last several days.  While not as bad as some sicknesses more common in the winter months, it has taken a lot of strength out of me.  Since I also have mental illness issues, the decreased physical wellness has effected the mental health some.  I imagine many people with a mental illness diagnosis have flare ups of their problems when they are also physically sick.  I am no exception as my physical health impacts my mental health.

As a result of the constant coughing, sneezing, hacking, muscle aches, and general all around feeling of blah, I have made it a point to keep isolated.  Not just so I don’t get anyone else sick, but I am also prone to easier mental irritability and sensory overload.  I get sensory overload even on a good day, especially when I go to large public places like a shopping center, a ballgame, a concert, or even watching tv programs.  My family members can’t believe how low I keep the volumes on my tv, my iPod, etc. while I have a hard time trying to figure out how most people can have such dulled senses and notice almost nothing that goes on around them.  Some think I’m being hyper vigilant, but I just easily notice things that few can.  But when I’m sick, I really do get easily overloaded, notice even more of what goes on around me, as well as more observant of my own physical health.

It is my observation with schizophrenia are that many of the problems (namely short temper, depression, and a sense of being overwhelmed) become more easily triggered while I have a cold, a flu virus, strep throat, or any kind of infection.  Oddly, I don’t get these problems when I have abnormal physical pain.  But I rarely feel abnormal physical pain as I do have a higher tolerance for physical pain than most people I personally know, which from what I’ve researched isn’t uncommon for people with a schizophrenia diagnosis.

I am interested to hear from others with mental health issues, and it doesn’t have to be an actual diagnosis, whether or not having physical illnesses can make mental issues worse.  In my case, being sick makes it easier for me to be prone to irritability and depression.  Yet it has yet to lead to a complete psychiatric break.  I think being physically ill takes enough out of me mentally and physically to get one of those going, thank goodness.  Any thoughts on physical illness mixed with mental health issues?