Purpose and Agency

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This blog entry is going to be about the importance of finding a purpose for your life and having agency.  By agency I mean finding something that you can do with your given skill set that gives your life meaning.  We as humans do not exist in a vacuum.  We have to interact with other people and the environment around us.  How we interact can either be beneficial or destructive.  I have found if I just try being neutral and not standing out I become miserable.  I cannot go through life without working toward some goal. I have to have something to work toward or even work against.  I get lost into thinking ‘why am I here’ if I have no purpose.  This is true of all people, especially men.  That is why we throw ourselves into our jobs, our hobbies, our projects, our families, and our beliefs.

Having a purpose can be either good or bad.  Having good, constructive, and beneficial purpose leads people to build businesses, create great works of art, think up great ideas no one else came up with, and strive to better the lives of others.  Bad and destructive purpose, however, can lead people into joining street gains, terrorist groups, crime syndicates, and commiting atrocites.

I think of people as bundles of energy.  Direct them into things that allow them to channel energy into creative endeavors and you’ll ultimately wind up with civilization and means to improve civilization.  Yet do not allow them to channel energy into creative purpose, it will be expressed in destructive acts and chaos.  Part of me fears the reason we are seeing so many heinous acts of violence like the recent shootings in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana is that many people, especially younger men, feel like they have no place or purpose.  Granted not all people are not going to resort to murder or joining groups like ISIS because they don’t have a life mission or they feel they aren’t making a difference.  Others may be using their pent up energy to less obvious destructive means, such as small time hustling, petty crime, or even computer hacking and internet trolling.  It could be possible that one of the reasons that mental illness is becoming prevalent is that many people no longer feel they have a purpose or belong to anything bigger than themselves or no longer feel connected to their communities.

One of the things that gives me agency is writing this blog.  I write to explain mental illness to others who don’t know it personally.  I blog to give advice to others with mental illness who may be recently diagnosed or having serious problems for the first time and not know what is going on or what to expect.  I write to be an encouragement to others who, like myself, have been dealing with mental illness for awhile and still have ups and downs.

As my Definite Chief Aim, to borrow a term from Napoleon Hill, I am seeking to inform and enlighten others as what having a mental illness is like from the mentally ill person’s point of view.  I have always done well at explaining ideas and concepts to others and I have no fear of speaking up in public.  And there is a percentage of the general population who has mental illness, I think close to 5 percent for serious, chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar, autism spectrum, major depression, borderline personality disorder, etc.  Many of these mentally ill individuals are unable to express the issues of their illnesses.  This is where I, and other bloggers come in.

If I were asked what I am working against, it would be ignorance and cruelty.  Too many people don’t know what mental illness is like for us or what a hinderance it can be.  Some people even refuse to acknowledge it even exists.  Yes, it does exist.  I, and others like me, are not making up our problems with crippling anxiety, our problems with alternating between crushing sadness and euphoria, or dealing with delusions to where we have to work to distinguish between what is reality and what is within the constraints of our troubled minds.  We do not make up these problems because we want attention or we are angry about our childhoods.  Our issues are not simplistic type problems that can be overcome only by feel good memes and other quick fixes that try to put a Band Aid on a gushing wound.

It is an understatement to say I do not respect ignorance and cruelty.  We live in an age of nearly unlimited information on any topic imaginable.  I have far more information at my fingertips through a $400 laptop computer and $32 a month wireless internet service than the scholars who set up the Great Library of ancient Alexandria could have imagined even possible.  Medieval scholars would have killed, and sometimes were killed, for having access to a tiny fraction of a fraction of the information I can call up at a whim.  There are no more excuses for being ignorant.  In 2015, ignorance is not a matter of destiny, it is a matter of choice to paraphrase William Jennings Bryan.

In closing, writing and researching for this mental illness blog gives me some sense of agency and purpose.  Ignorance and the resulting cruelty are two of the ‘enemies’ I ‘fight’ against.  We all have things we are passionate about.  We all have things we can do for others and ourselves.  It is a matter of finding those things that give us agency and purpose and then going to work.

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Setbacks in Weight Loss

I haven’t posted for awhile so an update is in order.  I have been struggling with the diet and exercise routine for the last two months.  I gained around 15 pounds since the middle of May.  I admit I haven’t been as compulsive about tracking what I eat since at least early May.  I’ve been exercising at least 4 to 5 days a week, but it’s apparently not enough exercise to keep the weight loss going.  I work on losing weight as I have a family history of heart and high blood pressure problems.  I refuse to be one of those who dies in their 40s of something they could have prevented.  Overall, I’m still down 55 pounds.  But this summer has been much tougher than the last.  Heck, I was even having much better success losing weight in the winter than I am now.

I want to get back into tracking what I eat again.  That was really working. I became haphazard about it. I even quit tracking for most of this month.  I must be consuming far more than I thought.  In spring 2014, it took only one day of tracking before I figured out I was eating way too much to hope to lose weight.  I’m getting back on that again.

The exercising was going good since I got back from the Black Hills until I pulled a muscle in my lower back this morning.  Looks like heat packs, ibuprofen, and not exercising for the next day or two.  But if I was taking in more than I was burning off, then the exercise was essentially being nullified.  So the day or two away from the exercise will allow me to get reacquainted with tracking my food consumption.

My Buddy’s Wedding

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My college buddy Matt got married over the last weekend.  It was an outdoors wedding but wasn’t terribly hot as July in South Dakota can be.  While I was standing up with Matt I had to keep reminding myself not to lock up my knees so I wouldn’t pass out.  Matt was really nervous the morning of the wedding.  But I made it a point to not ask him if he was.  I must have heard at least ten people ask him about nervousness.  The wedding and reception went off well and there weren’t any true mess ups.  I posted a pic of myself in a suit even if I do look like Tony Soprano.

Mentally I held up better than expected.  Summers have always been a tough time for me so I was concerned going in.  But I just allowed myself to enjoy the few days away from the grind.  Got to catch up with old friends and made a few new ones.  Played multiple games of Jeopardy (I won a couple of those) and had a poker tournament the night before the wedding.  I lasted a couple hours before losing my $20 buy in but good luck getting out of a night club or concert with spending that little.  I think a night at the movies costs almost that much for one person.  Matt ended up making the most money of anyone in our eight person game.  Have fun with our money on the honeymoon Matt 🙂

It was a great few days out of my routine.  The weather was perfect for early July, the Black Hills were as green and beautiful as I’ve seen in years, and we had some great times.

A Wedding For A College Buddy and Ramblings on Getting Older

Starting on Thursday, I’m going on an out of state road trip for my best friend from college Matt’s wedding.  I’m happy for him as he’s in his late 30s and one of these guys I figured would be fine about not marrying.  He didn’t date at all in college for the three years we were in school together.  I was the one who was trying to get dates.  We pretty much spent our time in college playing strategy games, having all night marathons of discussing history, politics, philosophy, sports statistics, economics, spending our Saturday afternoons watching college football games from practically noon to midnight, and going to the all night diner near Interstate 80 for the 99 cent bottomless cup of coffee and greasy chicken fried steaks.  These were the kind of steaks you could hear your arteries clogging after a few bites.  Matt also got me started on my coffee addiction.  We weren’t drinking Starbucks or anything trendy.  He started me on his ‘cowboy coffee’ that if it were any stronger we’d be spitting out the grinds between swallows.  His was the kind of coffee that after a couple cups, you wouldn’t need to sleep for a couple days.   Since neither of us were much for drinking, we didn’t have times good enough that we can’t remember anything.

He’s now in his late 30s and I just turned 35.  It actually isn’t bad being older.  As I’ve gotten older I realize I don’t have to put up with other people’s garbage if they are disrespectful and their disrespect isn’t a reflection on me.  Surprisingly I do not find myself complaining about the “lazy kids” at all.  I often complained about the ignorance and foolish actions of my peers while in high school and college, wondering when my peers would actually grow up and “act like adults.”  But as I’ve gotten older I’ve seen that maturity and age do not always accompany each other.  I’ve seen teenagers who are wise enough they could be in their thirties and I’ve seen people in their seventies gossip and argue like they were still in grade school.

After awhile I came to see we humans really do concern ourselves over trivial nonsense that doesn’t matter at all.  Case in point is the old men who complain about how disrespectful and lazy kids are in 2015 while forgetting that when they were kids in 1955 the old men in 1955 had the same complaints about them.  And I also heard about good the ‘old days’ were and how the world is now heading to hell in a hand basket.  But the old days were never trouble free any more than modern times.  Mayberry may have been peaceful looking on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’, but they never aired the scene with Opie doing ‘Duck and Cover’ drills in school.  And in real life Floyd the Barber may have had a ‘whites only’ sign in his barber shop, especially in the South.  Or go back to the late 1800s with the ‘Irish Catholics Need Not Apply’ signs in businesses.  I could go on but you get the picture.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve seen patterns from history play out more than once just in my lifetime. People complained about kids playing the old Nintendo systems while ignoring how we spent time outdoors too in the 1980s.  Today, people complain about kids playing Xbox while ignoring how they spend time outdoors too.  The Cold War was keeping people busy with fear as movies like Red Dawn (the Patrick Swayze version) and The Day After were big in the 1980s.  Now ISIS and other terrorist groups are keeping people busy with fear as movies like American Sniper are big in the 2010s.  Gotta keep the pot stirred up I suppose.   LGBT freedoms is a social issue now but who knows what it could be 30 to 40 years from now, freedoms and civil rights for AI machines or genetically modified humans?  Could it be in the far future when we colonize the Moon and Mars, could those two places argue for independence from Earth?  I can picture a futuristic version of a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag being flown in a Martian dust storm.  Humanity has been heading to hell in a hand basket long before we had idea of hell or hand baskets.  Yet we still haven’t gotten there.  And some will  continue to nostalgically believe things were better in bygone eras.  Nope, things are in flux enough that the only real constant in our lives is change.  To quote the great philosopher Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise.”

Independence Day, Loud Fireworks, Veterans, and Mental Health

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Indepence Day in USA is only a few days away.  For most of Americans it means being more mindful of veterans living and dead alike.  For my readers in the UK, it probably means the colonials’ celebration of high treason 🙂  Regardless, over the next few days there will be many fireworks displays, barbecues, programs remembering veterans, and so on.  For the large part, these are a few days of celebration and reflection.

Yet, for some it is also a stressful time.  For many veterans the loud booms of fireworks and the pop of firecrackers can bring out bad memories of being in a war.  I didn’t realize how bad this was for many veterans until the last few years when my dad, an Air Force pilot during Vietnam, would make it a point to avoid fireworks displays and sounds by spending the 4th at the family acreage.  And he quickly admits he had it easier than most military members.

I’m beginning to see people of my age bracket and younger who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq avoid fireworks too.  At the lower income apartment I live in shooting off fireworks of any kind is specifically banned right in our lease agreement.  As I’ve lived in this complex for several years, I saw some World War 2 and Korea veterans just stay in their apartments on the 4th.  Now that those men have died it’s the Vietnam era men that are avoiding the fireworks and loud noises.  And I didn’t realize what an issue it was for these veterans until a few of them started talking about their personal experiences.

With my schizophrenia I am mildly irritated by the loud booms of firecrackers but I do love the flashes of colors that the night fireworks have.  And they aren’t that loud.  But I also don’t have the bad memories of being in war that loud booms and explosives can bring back that many of my veteran friends and family have.  I just make myself mindful of  the generations of veterans, those living and those deceased, who too often suffered in silence with bad memories of war brought back by some of the ways we in USA celebrate our country’s beginnings.  I don’t favor banning fireworks, but I would love to see more and more people and public fireworks displays refrain from using the really loud fireworks that sound like gunfire and cannons, if for no other reason out of consideration for the veterans.