My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

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Reading, Beginning of School Year, Music, and Arguing With Myself

Still reading quite a bit.  I started a couple audiobooks in addition to the hardback I’m currently working on.  For some odd reason I prefer to be reading on at least three books at a time.  I sometimes lose interest in one after awhile and concentrate on the other two for a few days.  Then I’ll go back to the one I put on the back burner.  I spend a good deal of my time anymore either reading or working on my computer.  Haven’t watched much for tv or sports for a couple weeks.  As football will be starting again in a couple weeks, I imagine I’ll be spending some of my Saturday afternoons watching college football again.

It’s starting to feel close to fall again.  School started in my town and the college kids will be moving back in this weekend.  Even though I’m in my late 30s and haven’t been in a college classroom since 2005, I always enjoy when the college students come back.  College was some of the happiest times for me during the course of my “formal” education.  The weather has been cooler than typical August the last few days and it gets cool enough at nights that I have to pull up the blankets while I sleep.  I even wore long sleeves for the first time since early April two nights ago.

Been having occasional flare ups of irritability the last several days.  I’ve been going to bed earlier than usual to try to counteract this.  I’m also avoiding negative and rude people as much as possible too.  So I haven’t been socializing as much as I would like.  Such is the price of preventative maintenance.

Been listening to more music lately.  I don’t have any physical CDs or tapes anymore as I look all my music up online via youtube and pandora.  Why pay for tunes when you don’t need to?  My favorite genres of music are hard rock and jazz.  Strange combination I know.  I listened to a lot of country when I was in college but also mixed in heavy metal when I was reading or studying.  There really isn’t much I won’t listen to.  I do prefer the hip hop of the nineties to much of what is popular in that genre now.  I developed a taste for some of the newer techno and dance music in the last few years.  So I guess I haven’t completely shut myself off the newer music.  When I was a kid I used to get annoyed with adults who complained about the music and clothing styles of the “damn kids.”  I promised myself even before I went to high school that I would never become one of those types when I grew up.  Even today I lose my patience with people my own age complaining about younger people.  Makes me wonder why some people even have kids if they’re just going to complain and moan about them all the time.

Other than the occasional flare ups that are gone after a few minutes of inner dialog with the ‘voices’, I feel quite well overall. I’m glad I have gotten this far into summer without any true problems.  Hope things continue to go well.

Furniture, Futbol, and Feeling Fine For the Future

Picked up some new furniture this weekend.  My mother and father let me have one of their couches and office chairs and I have a heavy duty recliner being delivered to my apartment this afternoon from a local furniture store.  I feel like I have an actual home again.  For the last few weeks I didn’t have much in the way of furniture besides a couple dining room chairs and my bed.  It was extremely odd eating my lunches and dinners sitting on my bed.  I had moved my computer desk to my bedroom so I could do my work from my bed.  I’m glad I got a couch and office chair as it makes my apartment feel more like a permanent residence.  And now that I can write from an office chair or couch, I feel like I’m doing more professional work on my blog and even my computer gaming.

Watched the World Cup finals over the weekend.  I kind of wanted Croatia to win as they were big underdogs.  But I wasn’t going to say much as I have readers from both Croatia and France.  But I think that Killian Mbassa (spelling?) from France is going to be as big a star as David Beckham and Cristian Ronaldo by the time he’s through. And he’s only nineteen.  When I was that age I was a geeky farm kid starting college.  But, living in USA,   I am probably a “Johnny Come Lately” when it comes to understanding soccer and appreciating how tough a game it really is.  When I was in college, my attitude was that I respected the soccer players for being in great physical shape.  But I thought it was “a lot of running for so little scoring.”  USA didn’t even have a professional soccer league until I think the 1990s.  So yes, we are behind most of the world in that regard.  I started following mainly because I have a niece and a nephew who love playing soccer.  When my parents were medical missionaries in Panama, most of the kids down there were kicking around soccer balls in the same way kids in USA play basketball all day.  But I did enjoy this year’s World Cup almost as much as I do the Olympics.  And I’m happy to see that USA will be one of the host countries, along with Mexico and Canada, in 2026.  But World Cup served as my sports fix at least until college football and baseball’s push for the playoffs start in September.  Hard to believe that September is only six weeks away.  Where has the time gone?

I have new furniture and we’re now almost halfway through summer.  And overall I’m feeling alright.  I don’t even feel depressed or paranoid very much anymore.  I feel quite hopeful about my life and society as a whole for the first time in months.  I enjoy this feeling.  I wish I could bottle some of it and save it for the “rainy days” that will eventually come back.  But for now, I’ll ride the happy streak I’m on for all it’s worth.  They don’t come along every day.

Changes Over One Lifetime

I’m going off subject for this post.  Today, June 28 2018 would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.  She died of a stroke in 2015 at the age of 97.  Fortunately for our family, she was very sharp mentally right up until her stroke.  She would often talk about the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime.  Grandma Foster could just as easily recall events from her teenage years during the Great Depression as she could events that happened within the last week.  In some ways, she was like having a local historian in our family.

Today I would like to talk about some of the changes that occurred since my grandmother’s birth that early summer day in 1918.  One hundred years isn’t really a long time in terms of our recorded civilizations, let alone on the time frame of the cosmos.  But we have seen many changes.  And I would like to mention some of these.

In 1918, when my Grandma Foster was born, World War I was still going on.  The Spanish Flu Pandemic was at it’s hight.  The old Ottoman Empire was still in existence.  The Russian Revolution was going on.  China was still a very poor country.  India was still a possession of the British Empire.  Much of Africa was divided into European colonies.  Automobiles had been available to the working and middle classes for only a handful of years.  Industrial magnates like John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, etc. were still alive.  It was mostly urban areas in America and Europe that had electricity.  Coal and steam powered almost all industrial processes.

Technologies that my Grandma Foster saw rise during her lifetime included regular radio broadcasts, anti biotic medications, hybrid crops, nitrogen based chemical fertilizers, radar, reliable rockets, nuclear weapons and energy, jet propulsion, reliable airline travel, television, computers, more fuel efficient automobiles, plastics, reliable contraceptive pills, super highway systems, easily available credit cards, lasers, the beginnings of space exploration, organ transplants, test tube children, cellular phones, active searches for alien intelligences beyond our solar system,  high speed railways (granted not so much in America as in Europe and East Asia), the internet, near free information via wikipedia, near free self broadcasting via youtube and podcasting, social media, the beginnings of inexpensive renewable power, the rise of automated drone technology, the rise of robotics, the human genome project, the beginnings of affordable electric automobiles, the discovery of anti matter, and the early research into fusion power, genetic engineering, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.

Cultural changes my Grandma Foster saw witness to involved women’s suffrage, the beginning and end of Prohibition, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia, World War II, the decline of children in the work force, the increase of women in the work force, the assassination of Gandhi, the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of rock and roll music, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John Kennedy, the turmoil of the 1960s, the rise of cable and satellite television, the first people on the moon, the fears of nuclear war and it’s after effects, the popularization of hip hop music and urban culture, the launch of space probes to almost all of our solar system, the Hubble Telescope, the popularization of science fiction and futurism, the rise of awareness of industrial pollution and the beginnings of the efforts to undo the effects thereof, the AIDS epidemic, the end of colonialization, the rise of China as an industrial and scientific power, the rise of the United Nations and globalization, the beginnings of the decline of nationalist furvor that was the norm for most of civilization, the rise of the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the War on Terrorism, the first black man to be U.S. president, the first women Supreme Court justices, the beginnings of the declines in the marganializations of religious, sexual, cultural, etc. minorities, the beginnings of plans to colonize space, the realizations of the potential benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and the rise of better treatment for the disabled, mentally ill, and pretty much anyone who didn’t conform to the average norm.

All of this I mentioned was just in the lifetime of someone I was blood relation to.  As you could see, the rate of changes only accelerated as time went forward.  I’m sure there are changes I forgot to mention.  My grandmother was old enough to remember people who were Civil War veterans and probably met people who were born into slavery or at least their children.  I write all of this to state that yes, the world changes over time.  People change over time, and not just because older generations die off and younger ones take their places.  I think of some of the changes I’ve seen just in my 38 years living as a human.  I really don’t recognize much of what I saw in the mid 1980s now and some of the attitudes and practices of even my childhood has me wondering “what were we thinking” and even “what was I thinking.”  Change is constant.  Change is inevitable even if not predictable or even in coming.  Or as one science fiction writer put “The future is already here.  It just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Thoughts on Aging With A Mental Illness

Stayed home this weekend and cleaned in my apartment.  I had to take more frequent breaks than I used to in years past.  I’m just not as energetic as I was even two years ago.  I guess this is what I get to look forward to as I continue to age.  I decided I’m hiring a cleaning service to give my place a complete going over as soon as possible and then have them come back regularly.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to have them do it weekly or every two weeks.  It depends on prices.

I wish I didn’t have to go this route.  But then, I wish I wasn’t schizophrenic either.  There are things that I’m not going to be able to do alone, especially as I get older.  The idea that I can’t be as independent in my late 30s as I was even in my mid 30s is the hardest part of aging that I have had to come to accept. I always had an independent streak in me that didn’t want the help of others and wanted to be my own boss.  I think it runs in my family.  My father, my grandfathers, and I think most of my great grandfathers were self employed small business owners or farmers. I am starting to understand that there are things now that I can’t do alone anymore. I now understand why almost all of my friends got married or partnered up by this point in their lives.  Even the people I know in their forties that never married are closer to their extended family then they were in their twenties and thirties.  I suppose that seeing my limitations and losing some of my old physical abilities are a part of myself having to accept my own mortality.

I have heard from older men in my social circles that when they hit their mid to late 30s, that was about when their physical strength and interest in sex started to wane and decline.  That is also about the time when their careers started to take off, they assumed leadership roles in their jobs, social organizations, churches, and communities too.  This is when their careers, family lives, and leadership skills started to show.  Some men also had their ‘mid life crisis’ and life changing events like divorce and or death of parents occur during their thirties.  I guess this is when many people start realizing they are going to lose their physical strength and eventually die.  Traditionally forty represented the middle point of life even in ancient times, barring deaths from accidents, disease, or war.  At about age forty, that is when people traditionally go from rank and file members of society and start assuming more leadership roles.

In my case, I have found myself a home as a mental illness blogger.  It certainly wasn’t my dream job nor what I thought I would be doing when I was twenty one.  Back then, I had changed my college major from pre medicine to business management.  At the time I was really interested in personal finance and investing, so I thought I wanted to be a financial advisor and help people plan for their retirements, etc.  I interviewed at a few of these types of firms my senior year of college, but was never offered any job.  I had to accept that I wouldn’t be using my business training in a traditional job.  I have accepted that and made my peace with it.  I couldn’t say that ten years ago.  As it is, the blog is reaching more people than I thought it would when I started five years ago.  It certainly took me further than traditional publishing would have taken me.  And this means of work didn’t even exist when I was in grade school.  It makes me wonder what new jobs will be springing up in the next twenty to thirty years.

I am starting to come to the acceptance that I am losing my physical strength.  I probably will never be able to do things quite like I did in my early twenties unless some miracle of modern science and medicine comes along, which as much as I love science, I won’t bet my life savings on 🙂  I’m starting to come to the acceptance that I’m not going to as spry as I once was.  I have to be more careful about what I eat and activities I involve myself.  I guess I’m moving into middle age.  Hopefully I can avoid the whole mid life crisis deal as I’ve had to come to accept many hard truths about myself and life in general years ago when the schizophrenia really started.

Spring Cleaning and Mental Illness

Currently in the middle of my spring cleaning.  It’s not going as fast as I would like it to though.  My lower back flares up after being on my feet for awhile so I have to go slower than I used to.  I am beginning to fear that lower back pain is something I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life.  One of the reasons this is turning into a bigger than usual job is that I wasn’t keeping up on the cleaning and maintenance this winter like I had in years past.  I didn’t keep up on it because of the back pain and occasional bouts of depression to where I didn’t want to do anything but read and watch youtube videos.  I went through a lot of that last fall and this past winter.  I don’t know if it was the weather that had me depressed or if the illness was flaring up in different ways than previously.  I did go through bad bouts of paranoia when I would sometimes go two to three days in a row without leaving my apartment.  I don’t get the paranoia nearly as bad anymore.  I don’t know if the weather turning warmer or just the natural cycles of my schizophrenia is causing these changes.

It’s not that I was lazy about my upkeep just because I was lazy.  I have lived on my own more or less for fourteen years and I always made a point to keep my place picked up and better looking than most bachelor pads.  I think the mental illness was effecting me more this last fall and winter than I would have cared to admit.  Looking back on some of my winter writings I was really paranoid and too often had delusional feelings of persecution that, in reality, were alive only in my stressed and diseased mind.  I have to admit as my paranoia can flare up worse than in years past and with my physical health not as robust as it once was, I have to bring in outside help.  I am convinced I’ll need to reconfigure my budget and hire a regular cleaning service.  Sometimes I’d be depressed about the apartment looking shabby and the apartment looked shabby because I was too depressed and paranoid to do anything about it.  I know I can get back on top of my current issues.  Living on my own for fourteen years I have proven to myself and others that I can even if it takes me a little longer than many average people.  It’s just a matter of doing so.

I know that sometimes in my blog I probably appear over optimistic about having schizophrenia and being an adult in general.  Sometimes that is be encouraging to the readers, sometimes I write things I need myself to hear.  I imagine I have been overly optimistic when I wasn’t in the grips of paranoia and delusion this winter.

In other news, I think I’m starting to lose weight again.  I can tell my clothes are fitting looser and my back pain isn’t as intense.  As far as my diet goes, I have cut out pasta, rice, and bread.  I eat mostly grilled lean meats and vegetables anymore.  And I think I’m starting to see some results.  I want to get back on top of everything that slid during my fall and winter bouts of depression, paranoia, delusions, and anxiety.  At least I no longer feel anxious when I hear footsteps in the hallway.  So that’s a start.

Wanting To Socialize Again

We got several inches of snow over the weekend.  Of course with it being mid April the weather warmed up again within a day or two and I didn’t have to shovel my car out of the snow.  Hopefully it will warm up for good now.  Been spending too much time indoors and avoiding the cold for the last few months.  And I think I’m finally getting cabin fever because of it.  Took four months but it is finally starting to creep in.

I admit to staying home and not getting out much this winter.  Other than a few days at my parents’ house in February I haven’t been outside of my town this winter.  I’m glad my town is big enough to have everything I need and good delivery service.  Yet it’s small enough it’s easy to navigate around when I’m inclined to want to drive.  After many weeks of not wanting to leave my complex, I am now the total opposite.  I want to get out and about.  I think I’m getting burned out on phone calls, computer games, internet research, keeping in contact via social media, etc.  I am ready to get out and interact in person again.  I’ve spent enough time hibernating in my “cave.”  I need to get out and about again.

 

College Years and How I Became a Blogger

Blogging has turned into a dream come true for me.  I can write about my problems as a mentally ill man, tell what works for me and what doesn’t, and now I’m even making a few dollars a month at it.  I never expected any money from this blog or really any of my writing work.  I enjoy what money can do as much as anyone, but I really don’t need a large bank account or stock portfolio to stroke my ego.  As long as I can keep the rent current, have food in my pantry, my medications stocked up, and stay out of debt, I am fine with what I make just off disability pension.  It may seem kinda boring and dreary life for some as I really can’t afford to travel much anymore or that I don’t have any family of my own.

I travelled a lot in my younger years and I went to a small college with a larger than usual foreign student body.  Since there were less than 600 students in our entire college, we were forced to interact with people of many different backgrounds if we wanted to have any kind of social life.  It was a good college for someone like from rural Nebraska who wasn’t personally exposed to many different cultures.  It was in college that I found that I had some talent for writing.  That’s where I started writing poetry and drafts for novels.  I also read many of the classics of American and European literature while there.  I also dabbled in some Eastern philosophy like Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu.  Granted this was in the early 2000s before youtube and most of social media really connnected people.  I imagine I could learn the same things now on my computer as opposed to spending entire days in the campus library.  But being exposed to different ideas from different eras of time and different nations inspired me to tell my own story.  And apparantly my story of my life with mental illness is resonating with some people.

Changing Over To Spring

Spending a quiet, calm, and uneventful weekend at my apartment.  Haven’t talked to anyone this weekend.  After several days of forcing myself out of my comfort zones trying to be more social and out going, I am needing a quiet weekend to recharge and regroup.  Deciding that I’m spending the weekend binging on computer games and youtube music videos.  Been listening to some of the music I listened to in high school and college the last few days.  I refuse to go as far as to say music was better twenty years ago because anyone will be nostalgic for what they grew up listening to in the formative years of their teens and early twenties.  I imagine in early 1800s Germany there were people complaining about Beethoven.  And I’m sure when the 2030s roll around my nephews’ generation will complain about what their kids listen to, watch and read.

As it is, it’s been a calming and relaxing weekend.  It was overcast, kind of chilly, and raining on and off all day yesterday.  We get those days quite a bit in early spring.  I enjoy those type of days.  Boil some coffee, find a good book, and just enjoy the day.  I also do some of my better writing on days like that.  Days like that are one of the reasons spring is my favorite time of year.

Looks like I made it through another winter without having any major setbacks.  I did have to readjust my life some as I got to where I didn’t like being around people and preferred to sleep as much as possible.  Maybe one of the reasons I stayed stable was I avoided people as much as possible.  But with winter ending I suppose I no longer have the excuse of it being too cold or too much snow to leave my complex.  I have to renew my lease in a few weeks.  So I have to get my paper work together for that.  Too bad I couldn’t do this online and submitting e-files.  My rent is literally the only thing I even write checks for anymore.  I imagine this dream of mine is still a few years away.

Why I Isolate and Don’t Socialize

Even though winter is all but over and the weather is warming up, I’m still spending most of my time alone and isolated.  Just been more irritable and short tempered lately.  Even hearing my neighbors walk down the hallway can irritate me anymore.  And since my neighbors are prone to argue among themselves and make lots of noise during the day, I have intentionally been sleeping during the days and staying up until sunrise for most of the last two weeks.  Why shouldn’t I?  It’s not like I have much of social life anyway.  At least I haven’t had much of a social life for the last few years once even social media stopped being fun.  I mean, do normal people enjoy being angry and argumentative all the time?  It seems to be that way to me.  It didn’t use to be this bad.  In fact, most people used to be pretty cool about petty disagreements.

I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to my nation and my friends over the next few years.  I used to believe that if we made it though these tough times, we’d have a real cool future.  But every time I try to be encouraging or bring up something cool science has done recently, I’m met with either stone cold indifference or fear.  My countrymen didn’t used to fear change nearly as much as we do now.  Hell, we used to force change sometimes out of boredom.  When I look at my elders, leaders, and even people my own age in my hometown and my country in general, I find it hard to believe that these peoples’ parents and grandparents landed on the moon, built personal computers, won major world wars, or even had the courage to immigrate to a new land where they knew no one and had only their dreams and work ethic to keep them going in the dark times.  Whatever pioneer spirit and love of innovation my people once had is dead.  And it’s quite sad.  But no one cares anymore, at least not enough to embrace change.  I know some really cool things are coming within the next ten to twenty years for the people of this world, at least those who are willing to push through their fears of change and adapt accordingly.

But I look around me in my hometown and my family and friends, and I don’t see any adapting.  I see nothing but fear and hate.  In some ways I’m glad I’m not well adjusted to my current reality.  The only people who seem to be are those who are nostalgic for a past that never really existed in the first place.  I no longer see the courage and original thinking that made my nation and it’s people the envy of the world.  And I won’t let us slip away without putting up a fight.