Coming To The Acceptance Phase

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My mental health has been quite stable for several months.  I’ve probably come to a point that after 15 years with a diagnosis I know my triggers and problem areas well enough I can avoid these without even thinking about it.  I’ve put in enough practice now I have carved out enough of a niche that I don’t really miss things I would have missed five to ten years ago.  I have now come to accept that I don’t have to be defined by a career or lack of in my case.  In my case a career never really launched but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.  In my twenties I had read about those who had schizophrenia, bi-polar, autism spectrum, etc. that went on to have great careers and families.  I thought ‘if they can do it, why not me?’  So I tried various job fields but never could overcome the anxieties and panic attacks I often had with working and socializing.  I’ve come to the level of acceptance that a traditional career, family, and American Dream type of life isn’t going to happen, but I’m alright with that.  I don’t have a problem with not achieving this even if others I know do.  These others do not live my life for me.

Psychiatrists often talk about levels of grief when something bad happens, like a death of a loved one or the loss of a career.  I think they go something like Shock, Disbelief, Anger, Bargaining or Denial, and Acceptance.  I went through all of these, slipped back between stages at times, and only within the last couple years have I come to accept that I won’t have the great career, great family, picket fence neighborhood type of life I spent my younger years working so hard in school to get.  Yes, it would have been cool and I know I would have done well in that type of environment without a mental illness.  But, mental illness is one of those wild cards that no one can foresee or even plan for.  Back up plans for getting mental illness do not exist.  When things do happen, it will take time to come to a level of acceptance where it’s like ‘Yeah this happened and it sucks.  I didn’t do anything to bring this on. It can’t be changed but I’m alright with it.’  It takes a lot of time and a great deal of hardship, but acceptance of life with mental illness can be possible.  But it’s a very tough road to travel to come to that level of acceptance.

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Mental Illness and Friendships

Earlier this week I had one of my best friends from college spend a few days at my apartment.  We went out to eat at a couple of places I had been meaning to try.  We went to Omaha to catch a minor league baseball game, which is a fun way to spend an evening and can be done for less than $25 a person pretty easily.  We had front row seats on the first base line and the seats cost only $13.  I took him to one of the parks I go for walks in and crowd watch.  We also chatted extensively about topics near and dear to us, topics like economics, future tech possibilities, history, our fantasy league baseball teams, dating experiences, etc.  I’m going to see him again in July when I go to the Black Hills of South Dakota as I’m one of the groomsmen in his wedding.  I got remeasured for a suit and, even though the weight loss has slowed for the last couple months, I am actually down a few inches in most of my measurements.  Go figure.

For the few days he was here, I had no problems with the mental illness flaring up.  While I am quite steady most of the time anymore, I still have moments of weakness when the problems come creeping back.  I haven’t completely mastered warding off these flare ups, but have learned not to act on these negative emotions and thoughts.  Even when I have the flare ups, I’ll usually just rant and rave but not actually act out physically.  And my family, to their credit, put up with it and don’t try to argue with me when this occurs.  By now we’ve figured out the best way to get out of a down ward spiral is to often allow me to just burn myself out by ranting for awhile as long as I don’t physically threaten anyone or myself.  The odd thing about having schizophrenia is when I am having these psychotic breakdowns is I am completely aware of what is going on and what I am saying but the impulse controls are not working nearly as well.  Fortunately for all of us involved my bark is far worse than my bite.  And to their credit, my family and friends endure my problems and quirks like champs.  That is why it is important to keep in contact with friends and at least attempt to keep things civil with family members.  They can help smooth things out when things go bad.  They also make living far more interesting.  The most important thing in life is our friendships and relationships with other humans.

Reflecting on the Past before My Birthday

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On June 14th, I’ll be celebrating another birthday.  I’m getting to the point where I’m almost halfway done with my life, considering normal lifetime expectancy.  I’ve also lived over half of my life with schizophrenia at this point.  The biggest thing I have figured out over these 35 years of living as a human is that the only true certainties in life are change and unfairness.  We can make all the plans we want for our lives, but nothing goes exactly to plan. There will always be snags, problems, opportunities missed (and taken), and changes in direction.

When I was 16, I had the next 30 to 40 years of my life planned already.  I was going to graduate from high school, then college, then medical school, then go on into medical research, get married, have a couple kids, own a house in the suburbs of a large city outside of Nebraska, make well over six figures, and help develop something that would benefit humanity through my research.  Besides graduating from high school and college, none of that happened.  For years I was brutal on myself thinking “It’ll all fall into place when you get your big break” or “People less intelligent and less ethical than you are having good careers, why can’t you get things together”.  I spent my twenties after college going from one remedial job after another, finding out the hard way that my ability to handle stress and interpret social cues and understand social norms were all severely damaged by schizophrenia.

For those years of struggle, I thought I was a failure and not trying hard enough.  I would get panic attacks and bouts of nausea before I had to go to work every morning.  It got so bad I had my stomach scoped to see if I didn’t have some underlying gastro intestinal problems.  I didn’t.  I also had to spend years listening to the whole “all your problems are in your head” nonsense.  Everything we experience is merely electrical signals interpreted by our brains, so no kidding it’s in my head.  It’s in all of our heads.  Telling someone with a mental illness it’s in their heads is cruel and does nothing for them.

I was also told the whole “have faith and it’ll help you” nonsense.  I won’t even address that subject except to state I had more faith than everyone I knew until my early twenties and I still developed a mental illness that destroyed my productive ability.  I still get these feel good memes that oversimplify while not addressing root issues.  I even had someone I thought was a friend tell me, to the effect, I wasn’t a real man because I didn’t have a job or a family.  I still deal with ignorance and cruelty after eighteen years of mental health problems.  Granted it doesn’t ware on me or anger me as much as it did ten years ago, but it still hurts.

Seen and experienced lousy things, horrible hallucinations, and harbored horribly violent thoughts in eighteen years with schizophrenia.  But I did learn to not discount kindness and empathy when it does come.  I also learned the value of real, genuine friends, something that not many people have at all in their circles of friends.  Hopefully the struggles, disappointments, and good friends of the first 35 years will prepare me well for the next 35.

Highs and Lows of Losing Weight With Mental Illness

I’ve been working on losing weight since spring of 2014.  In that time I’ve lost at least 70 pounds.  But I’ve hit a plateau lately where it seems like nothing I do is making the weight go even lower.  It’s essentially ground to a halt for the last two to three months.  I still exercise at least 5 to 6 days a week.  I still lift weights 3 days a week.  I still track what I eat.  I’m cutting how much I eat to even less than what I ate during the winter.  Yet, oddly, I still haven’t lost hardly any weight since the end of winter.  And I’m more active now than I was in the winter months.  I know what I’m doing is right and has worked in the past.  But, it is taxing to not see much in the way of results.

I am a numbers man to the point everyone I’ve met considers me a statistics and measurements geek.  Which is odd considering how bad I struggled in high school calculus.  I really go by what I can see, what I can measure, what I can quantify, and not much on how I feel.  Yes, I feel so much better now than I did this time one year ago.  But I look at all the medical statistics and facts that state, considering my weight, age, and body build, I am severely out of shape even after dropping 75 pounds.  I haven’t seen my general practice doctor since I started losing weight.  Last time I saw him he pretty much told be ‘get busy losing weight or get busy dying.’  Granted, he was more tactful than that but the message got through anyway.  So I’ve been working myself senseless losing weight and tracking what I eat to the point that most people think I went overboard.  But desperate problems need drastic solutions.  I won’t die before I’m 45 as long as I have any control over it.

While I am doing what needs to be done to get back into good health, it is still frustrating to see that the results aren’t coming as quickly as they once were.  I’m sure I probably hit a plateau or a point where the body is readjusting to the new normal for me.  I know I get lost in the day to day grind, especially when the results aren’t coming like they once were.  I have to remind myself every day that I haven’t been this is the healthiest and ‘lightest’ I’ve been since 2008.  I started having problems with sleep apnea in 2007, so when I finally do break through this current reset point it probably won’t be long before I stop having problems with sleep apnea.

This also isn’t the first reset point I’ve had in this project.  I had my first reset last autumn after having lost 45 pounds.  And that reset took over two months.  It should be noted, especially for myself, that exercise and the human body are more like chemistry sets and less like math problems.  In a chemistry set reactions happen often slowly or not at all until a given threshold or tipping point is crossed.  It isn’t just as simple as eliminate ‘x’ number of calories or burn ‘y’ number of calories in exercise.  The human body has built in survival processes that kick in if the calories or activity it was getting changes for long enough periods of time.  This worked well for most of the human experience as food sources weren’t secure and physical activity was part of every day existence.  Those age old processes are what make weight loss tough, but fortunately we can see this and compensate for our biology.  It takes daily work and it takes a lot of time.  Time is what I have in abundance as I’m semi retired at this point in time.  I’m just going to keep doing what I have been and I’ll break through this reset.  It’s just a matter of when.

No News Is Often Good News With A Mental Illness

Things have been quiet for me in regards to my schizophrenia for the last several weeks.  Spring and early summer have traditionally been the best times of year for me.  This year is no exception.  Still exercising six days a week on average.  I’m still getting out of the apartment and going to the parks or the mall to people watch and be out and about more days than not.  Haven’t had any real problems with depression, anxiety, or agitation for at least a couple months.  Haven’t really been anywhere besides visiting family for several months.  It’s been a stable and drama free go for a long time.

I can attribute this stretch of no news to a few things.  For one, I’ve learned over fifteen years with a diagnosis what causes problems and how to avoid them.  I traditionally haven’t done well in large crowds and fast paced environments.  So I usually do most of my shopping errands in the early morning or late night to avoid crowds.  I typically avoid driving during high traffic times.  I couldn’t get away with this living in a large metroplex.  But there are some advantages to living in smaller towns for those with mental illness, less stress and slower pace being among those.

While I don’t tell complete strangers I have a mental illness, I have found there is less stigma and less uneasiness when I do discuss it with others then there was fifteen years ago.  When I was in college I never told anyone outside of a few close friends I had a mental illness.  But seems that people are not as ill at ease as they once were.  As stress and anxiety become bigger issues afflicting more people, the stigmas of mental illness will break down even faster.

I’ve never been one that thrived on drama and instability in my personal or work life.  It’s been pretty uneventful with my mental illness for quite some time.  And I’m liking it just fine.  No news is often good news, especially with a mental illness.