Improvements

It’s been a few days since I saw my psych doctor.  We decided to add a third medication.  I think it’s starting to work.  I’m getting a little more active with each passing day, I’m starting to wake up earlier, I’m feeling less depressed, I’m feeling less paranoid, and I’m getting out of my apartment more often.  So I think the psych appointment was a good idea.  I see him again in a week.

I’m surprised at how fast I’m improving.  I haven’t felt this decent in a while.  I hope things keep improving.

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My Journey To Being An Advocate For The Mentally Ill

My birthday is coming up in a few days.  I’ll be 37 years old this year.  That would have made me a senior citizen in the Stone Age.  Of course if I would have developed schizophrenia at most points in human history, it probably would have been a death sentence.  As it is I have found what works and what doesn’t in my life with mental illness.

I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression in the autumn of 2000.  I was in the second year of my pre med studies in college.  Even though I had been having problems with depression and anxiety for a few years before, I was still able to do well in school and keep up a strong front.  I still don’t know how I did it.  But in my second year of college, it all collapsed.  I couldn’t handle stress anymore.  I was having constant panic attacks.  I would have breakdowns where I called home and yelled at my parents at least once a week.  Looking back on it, I should have gone to the mental hospital right then and there and not tried to gut out college at the same time.  As it was I withdrew from college at midterm of the spring semester and took a few months to adjust the treatments and pull myself together.  After the disaster that my second year of college was, I knew I’d never get into any med school with my grades.  So I switched over to business because, let’s face it, everything involves money and commerce.  I still thought I could be employable in the right situation after college.

During the last few years of college I became interested in economics and finance.  I applied for several jobs like financial planner, insurance sales, insurance underwriter, loan officer at a few banks, etc.  I took the obsession I previously had with science and was able to transfer it to business and economics.  It paid off to be curious for me.  I graduated in spring 2004 but, like many college seniors, I had several job interviews but no offers when I left school.  I didn’t realize just how common that was until I started talking to people over the internet a few years later.

After a few failed attempts at careers in various fields, (retail sales, academia, manufacturing), I applied for disability insurance.  This was in 2006.  I had just lost my job at the university and been forced to leave the masters’ program.  Here I was on a waiting list for disability, on a waiting list for low income housing, with no job, no confidence, and no money.  If it wasn’t for my parents help for the first half of 2006, I would have never made rent on my apartment.  But that wasn’t all for 2006.  My longtime college girlfriend and I broke up and I failed at a couple minimum wage jobs, one of which was at Goodwill.  If you can’t succeed at Goodwill, then you are really screwed up (or so I thought).  In the late summer I checked myself into the mental health hospital.  Stayed there for a week.  By this time I was at my lowest ebb.  I had no job.  My illness wasn’t allowing me to hold a job.  I had no real income.  I was living off food stamps though no mess ups of my own.  I had no idea when social security was coming through. I was on high risk insurance that was costing my parents a lot of money so I could stay on my meds.  I never could have afforded them on my own.  I came to the conclusion I would never hold a career because of my mental illness.  I came to the second conclusion that I would never marry and have a family because of my mental illness.  I was really sad and depressed during this entire time.  I really thought I’d never be happy or amount to anything ever again.  I’m glad I didn’t cross the line into becoming suicidal at this time.

Those rough years of my mid to late twenties when I came to the conclusions I would never hold meaningful employment or have a family really sucked.  But they were also when I was writing a lot, granted not as focused as I am now.  Before I got serious about my blog I wrote hundreds of poems, largely in the style of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and I also did complete rough drafts for two novels.  The novels were nothing really special, just kind of like Jack Kerouac for Millennials.  I was working on notes for a science fiction novel at this time too.  I also read every day to try to help me find a literary voice.  I read dozens of authors, ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Ayn Rand, Chuck Philhanuak to John Grisham, Alexandre Dumas to Mark Twain, Adam Smith to Nietcheze, etc.  I tried to teach myself Spanish at the time as well, but the only Spanish I know is how to ask for directions and order simple meals.  But as my ‘traditional’ side was falling apart, I was finding other ways to find meaning in my life besides work and dating.

I started writing down my thoughts and experiences with mental illness in my late twenties.  I was submitting some of my poems to be published in literary magazines.  I got a few of them published but never made any money.  I eventually wrote a few dozen short essays about life with a mental illness.  I was reading The Federalist Papers at the time and kind of modeled the book of mental health essays on that.  I put the files on a print on demand service.  I sold a few dozen of those books, mostly to friends, family, and interested mental health facilities.  After tasting a little success with those essays, I thought they might make good blog entries.  And my first few blog entries were from that original book.  Since it’s been several years since I updated that book, I probably ought to rewrite it and repost it.  And since I now have a dozens of blog entries on the subject of living with mental illness, I definitely have new material for another edition.

I started blogging through wordpress in 2012 shortly after I left my last ‘traditional’ job.  I didn’t get much for visitors early on because I had no focus for the blog and I wasn’t posting regularly.  In early 2013 I decided to focus the blog specifically on mental illness.  My audiences have grown slowly but steadily over the last few years.  I started a Facebook page to promote the blog.  I also have a patreon account a few months ago and I already have a sponsor through there.  And I’ve also made a little money since I monetized this blog.  I’m not breaking even yet with what I spent on advertising this blog, but it’s getting closer all the time.  I recently broke 14,000 all time visitors from 100 different countries.  And this is with only four years of work, a microscopic advertising budget, a niche topic, and 50 percent of the world’s population still not online.

I’ll be 37 in a few days.  And I already had a larger reach with my writing works than I ever thought possible when I first seriously started writing in 2004.  That’s been only thirteen years.  I think I’m going to keep at this and see what I can develop with this blog and my writings over the next thirteen years.  I say all of this to point out that young people in their late teens and early twenties shouldn’t sell themselves short at all.  At age 23 I would have been content to be a loan officer at a bank or an insurance salesman.  But I know I wouldn’t have been content doing such work.  I wouldn’t be doing what I’m really good at.  And let’s face it, in this day and age a person can make money doing almost anything thanks to the exposure of the internet if they put in the time and lots of effort to get noticed.  I’ve already accomplished more than I thought I could as a writer thanks to the internet, especially when I started out I was just writing poetry out in notebooks.  And now after running this blog for four years and getting some audience and dozens of positive emails, I know I’m only scratching the surface of what can be done.  I never would have thought this possible when I first applied for disability insurance.  Mental illness is one of the few things that is still discriminated against with little to no protest.  I intend to be part of changing that.  I’m not going away.  The mentally ill bloggers and you tubers aren’t going away either.  We will not be silent and suffer needlessly anymore.  Consider this a declaration of war against mental illness stigma.

 

Changes

Been going through a few changes the last couple weeks.  I have finally gotten over the need for 10 to 12 hours a sleep every night.  I now usually get 6 to 8 hours anymore.  This has been going on for a little over a week.  I’m still getting used to the new found extra time.  I was so used to being rushed during the winter as I had only a few hours window of when I could run errands and schedule doctor appointments.  So I think my sleep issues are cured.  And I didn’t even have to take sleep pills for it.  About the only thing I can think of I’m doing different is limiting my caffeine.  When I do have caffeine it’s usually soda pop and only once or twice a day.  I haven’t drank coffee in weeks.  I’ve noticed I’m less jittery too since I reduced the caffeine.

I’m getting more active.  I try to leave the apartment a few times a day just to get out and about.  I’ll get out even for something as simple as going through the drive thru at McDonald’s for a couple cheeseburgers.  I usually keep my windows open until noon.  Since it’s almost summer now, it gets too hot to leave the windows open all day.  We’ve had a nice and long enough spring I was used to leaving windows open most days.  Started lifting arm weights a few days ago.  Too soon to tell any real difference.  Started taking multi vitamins again.  I’ve noticed my aches and pains are not as pronounced now.  I knew vitamin deficiency could lead to problems.  I probably wasn’t getting enough as I tend to eat low carb and high protein diets.

But, not all the changes I’ve experienced have been positive.  Found out my best friend’s mother is on hospice for cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer.  Sad deal.  So we’ve been chatting back and forth via Facebook quite a lot the last few weeks.  She’s understandably sad and shaken by the whole deal.  I wish I could do more for her.  But she lives out of state and there’s only so much I can do over the internet.

As the seasons are changing, so are many aspects of my life.  Besides my best friend soon to be losing her mother, most of these changes are welcomed.  I wish my best friend nothing but the best as she works through the grief of losing her mom.

Physical Pain and Aging with Mental Illness

Knee pains have finally passed.  Felt good enough to go out and buy groceries this morning.  So I’m set for another couple weeks.  I was getting tired of having to eat out and do drive thru because of my bad knee.  I can tell that when I eat fast food regularly my physical and mental health suffer some.  Also started taking some multi vitamin pills a few days ago.  That seems to help with some lingering pain.  Makes me feel a little more energetic.

I’m back to where I’m not sleeping as much as I did over the winter and spring.  Maybe it’s the longer daylight hours.  Maybe losing a few pounds has helped with my sleep patterns.  I still can’t walk as far as I could even two years ago.  But I think if I keep doing the two high protein meals a day, avoid sugar as much as possible, and keep drinking lots of water I can get back into better health.

Since I’m not experiencing knee pains anymore, my mood has improved.  I’m not as depressed as I once was.  I’m getting out of my apartment more.  I’m breaking up some of my in home routines.  I’m trying out some new computer games I bought a few months ago I only dabbled in.  I guess I finally got burned out on Civilization, Sim City, and Skyrim.  I still read a lot, granted mostly online articles, blogs, and science journals.  I trying to get back into more contact with old friends.  And I want to bring some old friends back into the fold I lost contact with over the last few years.

Next week is my birthday.  I’ll be 37 years old.  Mentally I’m more sharp than ever and the mental illness doesn’t have the ups and downs it used to.  Physically I don’t have the endurance I did even a few years ago.  I get unexplainable aches and pains more often.  I wake up more in the middle of the night.  I’m even more cold sensitive then I used to be.  Being a fat man, I could easily go through much of a fall or even winter with just a light jacket unless it was blizzard conditions.  Finding that I can’t do that as well anymore.  I have found that I am sometimes more set in my ways than I would like.  I tend to shop in the same stores, eat in the same four or five restaurants, eat the same things all the time, watch similar types of shows on youtube and netflix, etc.  At least I haven’t yet gotten to where I’m complaining about the kids all the time.  I remember what it was like being ragged on by my elders all the time when I was growing up.  I hated it then and I still hate it when people in my age bracket rag on their kids.  I just hope that as I age and my physical health starts to decline even more that I don’t become one of these bitter and angry old men I see too much of.  I hope I can be an encouragement to people to all ages. I just want my little corner of the world to be a better place because I was alive.

Socializing, Family, and Facebook

The Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and now the weather will definitely start getting hot soon.  I’ve been feeling stable but on and off depressed for months, especially since the middle of winter.  I think some of this depression comes from just being so lonely all the time.  There are only so many books I can read before I’m burned out.  Fortunately I was able to see a couple cousins and their families for the afternoon over the long weekend.  I hadn’t seen either cousin in a long time.  It was fun catching up with them.  First prolonged intelligent conversations I had in months.

I gets bouts and depression and loneliness more frequently than I used to.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have any friends in my apartment complex anymore.  It also hurts that I had major falling outs with a few old friends that I had known for several years.  One of these friend couldn’t respect the fact that I’m not working a regular job and spending most of my time alone.  This person also thought I’m wasting my time with this blog.  Well, I sent that friend packing.  If a person can’t respect my decisions about work and how I spend my time, then we can’t be friends.

Another friend and I had a falling out over politics.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who can claim that these days.  But I just can’t stand how divisive and hateful modern politics has become.  It didn’t used to be this way.  Besides, political fan boys on all sides seem to be too blind to realize that modern politicians don’t care about the voters unless said voters are lobbyists or big money donors.  The way some of my friends and family post on Facebook, you’d think they were getting paid for every post about politics they put on their sites.  Besides, does anyone change their thinking because of these posts.  It’s like watching monkeys at the zoo fling manure at each other but not nearly as entertaining and far less civilized.  I’d quit Facebook and twitter if they weren’t the only means I had to keep in contact with most of my friends and my key promotional materials for this blog.  Mark Zuckerberg really has a business monopoly that would do any 19th century robber baron proud.

The biggest reason I don’t post about my particular beliefs is that, well, no one group reflects what I value.  When it comes to social issues, it depends on the issue.  When it comes to having a good military, I’m in line with some Reagan era Republicans even if I’m not as interventionist.  When it comes to curbing the abuses and excesses of Wall Street and big business, I’m almost as militant as any Occupy Wall Street guy.  And I definitely won’t support any politician of any stripe that wants to cut science funding.  Science funding is quite small compared to military or social programs.  I don’t have a political home because there isn’t any party that reflects what I value.  And I think many people in the under 40 crowd feel the same way.  And I know it may irritate some of my elders to write this, but I think the last thing our world needs is a senior citizen politician who isn’t familiar with science and modern technology.  My parents generation has been in charge for almost thirty years.  Retire and play with your grandkids already, you earned it 🙂

I guess the biggest reason I have been fighting depression for awhile is that my primary means of socializing and communicating, social media sites, have become so toxic and nasty even among friends and family.  And I think it sucks.  Some days I doubt I really am making any positive difference.  Heck, some days I wonder if people even want positivity and happiness in their lives.

I Enjoy Adulthood Even With Mental Illness

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I must admit, I love being an adult.  I love the freedom involved.  I love having my own money and getting to decide how I get to spend it.  I love that I don’t have to answer to authority figures I didn’t choose.  If a boss was giving me static at a job, I could always look for a different job.  If a landlord was giving me a hard time, I always had the option of moving to a different place.  I love that I can do things like vote and go to casinos.  I enjoy that I don’t have to feel guilty for expressing my opinions and having my likes and dislikes.  I like that I can read whatever I want.  I love having privacy.  I enjoy not getting yelled at for trivial things like when I was in school or living with my parents.  I like the fact that I can avoid people who give me too much static.  When you are in school, you just can’t avoid bullies or sadistic teachers.  Sure I’ve had bosses and coworkers who were jerks and whiners, but at least I had the option of finding another job if I didn’t connect with said bosses or coworkers.  Changing schools is a lot tougher.

Even though I have been living with schizophrenia since at least age seventeen, I have found that it is getting easier to work around it the older I get.  The bad periods don’t last nearly as long nor are as intense as they were in my early twenties.  In my late 30s, I have come to the realization that I don’t have to be defined by what job I have or if I have a wife and kids or not.  I am not my job.  I am not less of a human being because I am not married.  Sure I still deal with people that tell me “mental illness is fake” or that “you’re not a real man.”  But as an adult it is much easier to blow those jerks and losers off and ignore them.  You think I’m faking mental illness, then screw you.  It’s not my job to meet your standards.  It is so much easier to not be bothered by criticism as a 36 year old than when I was 21.  I just hope that the older I get, the symptoms will become even less severe and I will care even less about naysayers and idiots.

I still isolate a lot and avoid socializing with my complex mates.  But I think I’m more mentally stable because of said lack of socializing.  When I was a kid people used to tell me I was being “anti-social” and had “attitude problems” because I didn’t like going to high school sporting events and county fairs.  There really wasn’t much to do in my farming village besides school events, church activities, and county fairs.  There was only one movie theatre in a fifty mile radius from my hometown. I didn’t enjoy watching people throw balls around much as a kid.  As an adult I really don’t have to feel guilty for not watching such things.  I do watch some college football and basketball tournaments just to give myself something to talk about with other people.  Most people still don’t like discussing science and technology in casual conversations.  But I haven’t been to any sporting events in person besides minor league baseball games in almost five years.  And I don’t feel the least bit guilty or anti-social because of it.  And as an adult I have these options.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

I don’t really understand people who are nostalgic about their youths or the past.  I might be a little nostalgic about growing up if I had more friends, was bullied less, and wasn’t so much of a social misfit in my school.  I am kind of nostalgic about my college years because I knew lots of smart people, had lots of interesting conversations, could do things at the spur of the moment with no planning, could study what I felt like studying, and had the legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood.  College was much more stimulating and enjoyable than grade school or high school.  Sure I never got to use my degree in a job, but I blame the schizophrenia for that completely.  And I am grateful everyday I can keep in contact with old friends through Facebook.

I love living in the here and now of May 2017.  Sure getting to this point was rough dealing with schizophrenia for almost twenty years.  Sure my physical health took a beating because my mental illness and the side effects of the psych medications.  But after twenty years of schizophrenia I have figured out how to deal with bad days and psychotic breaks.  I have also learned how to enjoy the small things of life more than many of my mentally stable friends and family.  Happiness for me is watching a sunset, or eating chicken wings at a sports bar with college friends, or seeing my niece and nephews for a few hours, or talking with my parents about history or technology, or reading internet sites like futurism.com or bloomberg.com about trends in science and current events.  I had my ups and downs with schizophrenia.  I had many breakdowns when I took a lot of grief out on my parents and friends.  Fortunately those breakdowns are getting less severe and shorter as I age.  I have had to go to the mental hospital twice. But both times I was self committed and my longest stay was one week.  I may not be able to hold a forty hour a week job, but at least I tried several different lines of work before I came to the conclusion that traditional employment wasn’t in my future.  And it’s not shameful to not hold a full time job, especially if you have a disability or find other outlets to give back to people.  I can still drive a car, I can still buy my own groceries, pick up my medications, keep appointments, and more or less live on my own even with mental illness.  Some people can’t claim that.  In short I love being an adult.  And I wouldn’t want to go back to my youth, even though I had more friends and better health in college.  Being an adult rocks.  It really does.

Letter to My High School Self

High school graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Many of these kids will be going to college, some to the military, others to work or travel or do missionary work.  It was eighteen years ago, in 1999, that I and my cohorts graduated from high school.  That was half of a lifetime ago.  I’ve been legally an adult now as long as I was a juvenile.  An incredible amount has changed in my life, and the world at large, since that Saturday May afternoon in the farming village of my youth.

What follows is a hypothetical letter to my eighteen year old self, mainly about things I wish I knew in my younger years that would have made my transition to the world of 2017 easier.  Too bad I couldn’t do this for real, I’d tell my younger self to buy stock in Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla when they first came out 🙂

Dear Zach,

You have just graduated from high school and now the world awaits.  I know you are looking forward to college much more than you did high school graduation.  That’s understandable.  For many people, high school is some of the roughest years of their lives.  You definitely had your problems in school, but those are now past.  Some of the people you went to high school with you’ll never have to be around again.  College will be better in many aspects.  You’ll get to pick what you want to study.  You’ll have more say in who your friends are.  The bullies and idiots will be in the minority.  Besides, most people will be too busy with their own lives to harass you like you got it in high school.  You may not think so now, but someday you will be thankful that you’re smart and nerdy.  Within the next fifteen years, you will see so much science and tech advances that you will realize that, yes, nerds really do rule the world.  No one is going to care that you weren’t a star jock or class president in college.

Speaking of sports, I know there were some aspects of high school football and band you hated.  I know you didn’t like the summer practices at six a.m. or the macho atmosphere of the locker room.  But be happy you got to play.  Playing football on Friday nights is the closest you’ll ever get to being like a gladiator or warrior.  Be happy you got to be in the school pep band.  It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to feel like a rock star.  Most thirty year olds don’t get to stand out or preform at anything.  Even though you didn’t have a great social life in high school, be happy you went to a smaller school and had opportunities to be involved in many different activities.  Most of your college friends and coworkers who went to much larger schools won’t be as well rounded as you will become.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t work your dream job out of college.  Most people won’t.  In fact because of the technology advances I talked about earlier, many jobs will be taken over by computers and machines.  So many people will be in that place where they’re working jobs they didn’t train for.  It’s not a failure on your part, it’s just that the world is changing much faster than people even in 1999 could anticipate.

Also, don’t feel guilty if you struggle at dating.  In the future, almost everyone will struggle at dating.  Besides, you will see many of your classmates go through divorces and marriage issues as the years pass.  Almost half of marriages will end in divorce.  And in the future, many adults will forego marriage entirely.  Surprise, so will you.  But being single isn’t bad.  It’s actually quite peaceful at times.  Some really big achievers in world history never married or had children.  You’ll be grateful you never got married.  Trust me.  You always had a hard independent streak in you.  That’s only going to get stronger with age.

Don’t take the opinions of others too seriously.  People in general can be quite dumb at times, so their opinions are almost never right.  The only person you have to answer to at all times is yourself.  Guard your integrity.  Be a man of sound character even if most people around you are liars and cheats.  Yes, cheaters do prosper.  But people will not honor their prosperity as much as they condemn their lack of character.  This was true in the past and will continue to be true.

You will have victories.  You will have struggles and losses.  People will come and go out of your life.  But hold onto your close friends and family.  Be happy you got to know your grandparents.  They won’t be around forever.  Be content and calm no matter what happens or doesn’t happen.  You will change your mind and thinking about almost everything several times over during the next eighteen years.  The only people who have their life philosophy set in stone at age eighteen are fools who are setting themselves up to be obsolete and out of touch with reality.  Like I told you, major changes are coming.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the things you will see before 2017.  You’ll just have to see them for yourself.

Be happy that you traveled and were open to new experiences in your youth.  The older you get, the tougher it will get to just travel or try new things.  Continue to be open to new experiences.  It will put you far ahead of most adults in your life.  Speaking of adults, don’t just think that because someone has gray hair or more money that they are smarter or wiser than you.  Many times they won’t be.  Some of them were just lucky.  And chance does play more of a part in your life than you would like.  You like the thought that you have a lot of say in your own destiny.  But in reality, you really have less control than you would like.  Sometimes things just happen that aren’t your fault or because of your hard work.

Remember to relax and know that life is a competition only against yourself.  Never compare yourself to anyone else.  You can’t live their life and they can’t live yours.

Sincerely,

Your 36 year old self, May 2017.