Hope After A Mental Breakdown

Had a bad breakdown a few days ago.  I am quite sure, after twenty years with a mental illness, there is a seasonal aspect to my illness.  I regret having breakdowns and I especially regret taking my breakdowns out on people I love.  I had felt it coming on for awhile and then it finally broke a few days ago.  I hope this is the last one for a long time.  I hate the fact that I can’t just sob and cry my way out of a breakdown rather than lash out and be angry.  I don’t know how much of that is just my personal illness, or always being told a man showing emotions is a sign of weakness, etc. But it’s part of the illness and part of the price of admission into adulthood.

In spite of the illness, and the contradictions and nonsense I am fed on a daily basis by society and popular culture, I do my best to not let this crush my spirit or kill my love for my fellow humans.  I know I am often harsh and short tempered with my fellow humans, and my countrymen in particular.  But, contrary to popular belief, I do not hate humans or my countrymen.  It’s the polar opposite actually.  I love humanity and I love my country and my countrymen.  I see the cool things we have accomplished in the past and are accomplishing on a daily basis.  I see the potential for greatness every day.  And yes, it does bother me when I see people not living up to that potential greatness.  I am tough on people, not because I hate them, but because I believe everyone can excel at least one thing and I can’t stand to see a person waste their potential and time.  I am often tough on my family members because I know they are capable of excellence and have often shown it, especially in times of crisis.  I’m sorry but I don’t have much respect for mediocre work and apathy.

A significant portion of the time when I’m reading science journals online or articles on sites like Bloomberg, CNN, Wall Street Journal, etc. I have to remind myself that this isn’t the science fiction it was when I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s.  I saw the movie Fight Club the other night, and even though the movie was popular when I was in college, I was amazed how people still used land based phone lines, phone booths, primitive looking desktop computers, and even how many people smoked in a movie that came out in the late 1990s.  I personally haven’t had a land phone line since 2007 or 2008 I think.  I haven’t had a desktop computer in 10 years.  And even this year, I was able to email my bank statements and tax information and social security information to my landlady to renew my lease.  All I had to do in person was sign a few documents and pass an annual room inspection.  And since I now have a cleaning lady who drops in once a week, spruces the place up, and allows me to chat with her while she works, the whole process took about a half hour of my time.

I sometimes overlook the progress my fellow humans, myself, and civilization in general has made when I’m bogged down in the day to day struggle.  But when I take a step back and look at it over the course of a few years, it’s quite amazing and gives me hope.  I get even more hope and feel in awe when I look back at over what has happened in the life time of our current crop of world leaders and elders in my life.  I know I am often too harsh on my elders.  I know I need to cut them more slack when I look back and think about all the changes they saw since their childhoods in the 1950s and 1960s.  My father can remember his family being one of the first in his hometown to own a black and white television.  And his uncles used to come out to my grandfather’s farm just to watch the test patterns in the evenings.  Both my parents were typing their high school and even college term papers on electric typewriters.  My mother keeps and old style manual typewriter as a decoration in her house and my eight year old nephew is aghast that people used to write on those things.

I also have to remember that, for some of the elders, old Jim Crow laws and criminalization of things like homosexuality, inter racial marriages, and sex outside of marriage were the law of the land in many places until as recently as the 1970s.  Sure, it feels like some people are backsliding at times.  But the forces at work against such backsliding are far more overwhelming than they would have been even forty years ago.

I can’t even begin to imagine what I will see if I make it to age seventy, if I’m privileged enough to make it that far.  That will be in the year 2050.  I’ve seen some scientists predict everything from bases on the moon and Mars, driverless cars being almost everywhere, nuclear fusion based electricity, to where we no longer use oil and gasoline for transport, to even people augmented their physical strength and mental powers through computer based implants and prosthetic and Iron Man type suits.  I guess I don’t know if I want someone rooting around in my skull planting in chips or injecting me full of blood cell sized machines (at least not right now), but I definitely wouldn’t mind something I could wear that would make me smarter or stronger that I could turn off or take off at a moment’s notice.

Even as much as I love science and tech, I am still adjusting to what is happening and what can be.  And only the best minds in science fiction would have even imagined such things that we are working on now when my father was a kid and reading Dick Tracy comic books in the 1950s.  I know eventually I will be the old man that has trouble keeping up.  I imagine even now my nephews would think it odd I don’t know how to run a 3D printer or a VR headset machine.  My twelve year old nephew set up a flight simulator game on VR for my father (a licensed pilot and former Air Force man) recently that my father occasionally uses.

I don’t know what the future holds, certainly not in terms of working.  The only advice I give to my nephews and niece is ‘stay flexible.’  No one knows.  Maybe people like Mark Cuban will be proven right and that the humanities and arts degrees we have called ‘useless’ and ‘worthless’ degrees for a couple generations will be in as much demand in ten years as STEM and medical degrees are now.  Even though I majored in business in college, I am grateful I took some time to read a lot of philosophy and classical literature when I was young and had more energy.  And I was able to do it for free via my college’s library.  Levitt Library on the York College campus was a second home for me when I was college.  If I wasn’t at my dorm room studying, I could easily be found in the library or with a few buddies discussing philosophy, football strategies, history, or even medieval military tactics at the all night truck stop over chicken fried steaks and 99 cent unlimited cups of coffee.

In spite of my recent melt down, I am hopeful again.  Zig Ziglar was right when he said that positive attitudes and behavior is like taking baths every day, it requires daily maintenance.  No one gets mad when they are extra dirty some days, they just bathe for a little longer.  And of course, some days are dirtier and tougher than others.

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August 18 2019

Having a decent weekend overall.  Other than feeling a little restless and lonely at the same time, I am doing well.  I haven’t felt restless for weeks so this is kind of a different feeling for me.  I do occasionally get lonely, but usually a few phone calls or chats with friends online will cure me of that.  I’m also noticing the days are getting shorter.  I’m ready for cooler weather and watching football again.  I have done well this summer even if I haven’t gotten out as much as previous summers.  I still keep active with indoor exercise.  I am fortunate in that when my cleaning lady comes to my apartment every week, she will chat with me while she works.  I get some socializing that way.  I also chat up the delivery men when they bring my groceries. I now know why senior citizens get lonely and love it when friends and family drop by for even a few minutes.  I may not be physically as active as years past because of my back and weight problems.  But I am slowly losing weight and regaining some stamina.  I didn’t get out of shape overnight so I can’t expect to remedy this problem quickly either.

August 13 2019

Haven’t had a great deal to report the last several days.  Pretty much been staying home and avoiding the weather.  When it isn’t really hot, it is raining it seems.  Been catching up on my reading physical books though.  Currently working on The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly.  It’s about science and tech trends that will probably be continuing, if not accelerating, over the next thirty years.  Still reading a lot of online tech and science articles.  Haven’t watched much for tv lately.  That will probably change in a couple weeks once football gets going again.

Still lifting arm weights three times a week and doing the exercise bike.  I don’t know if I’m losing much weight, but I do notice improvements in my stamina and ability to recover from aches and pains faster.  When I do get out of breath, I can get it back quicker than even two weeks ago.  I have changed my diet some.  I limit myself to coffee only once a day and usually with breakfast.  Caffeine usually makes me jittery in large doses.  But coffee and water is pretty much all I drink most days.  My sleep patterns have changed some.  I still sleep the same amount of time, but I usually stay up a couple hours later and wake up a couple hours later.  For months I had usually been waking up at sunrise.  Now I’m usually not up until 8am at the earliest.

I keep in contact with friends more.  I make it a point to chat with at least one friend even online once a day, if only for a couple minutes.  I usually call my parents only once a week anymore but talk for a long time when I do.  They have gotten quite busy with grandkids and new friends since they moved to the suburbs of Oklahoma City.  School starts in a few days so they will probably get to go to grandkids activities more often.  I don’t participate as much in my online groups, usually just reading the articles and not commenting much.  And when I do comment I make attempts to keep things civil and upbeat.  I just don’t feel like making other people’s online experiences worse.

I been doing some maintenance on some of my electronics over the last several days.  Recently dusted out my PS3, deleted all my unused files, and reset the system.  It had been running quite slow for awhile because I had been neglecting to clean out the files.  Even computer software can become cluttered and sluggish without proper maintenance.  Did the same for my two laptop computers.  I recently changed my music streaming service from a pay service to a free service.  I still get my music even if I have to listen to ads every couple songs.  Not much different from old style radio, granted with much more for variety.  I’m also probably going to cancel other pay services I’m not using much.  Most of what I need anymore I can get on youtube for free or with cheap Netflix.

That’s about all for now.  I’ll keep everyone posted.  Usually August is the toughest time of year for me with the mental illness.  I just do better in the cold than I do the heat.  Haven’t had any major flare ups lately, and I hope whatever ones I do happen to have will be short lived.

My Social Activity and Dietary Habits

Another month is off to a decent start.  Got the bills and rent paid, my fridge and pantry is restocked, and I’m now set for awhile.  I don’t have much planned for this week.  I probably won’t be having guests until my cleaning person arrives in a few days.  Since my parents and most of my friends now live out of state, I don’t get much for company anymore.  But then, most of my friends are married and have families of their own.  They have families and careers.  Whereas with a mental illness, I was forced into early retirement I guess.  But even though I don’t have a paying job, I still try to stay busy.

I usually do this blog an average of twice a week.  It has been a regular thing for over five years now.  While I have no delusion I will ever earn enough to get off disability from my writing, I still write.  At this point I don’t really care if I do get discovered and make money.  I enjoy having creative freedom and having a niche audience.  I suppose I write this, in part, as cheap therapy and as a public journal.  It probably isn’t much more than the day to day struggles and victories of a rather ordinary man with schizophrenia.  Even after living with this illness since my late teens, I still don’t have it all figured out.  Some things change over the years.  I don’t do much driving or going out in public as I used to.  But I have less desire to wander and am less restless.  I find it easier to concentrate on mental tasks than even a few years ago.  I have also found I have lost some of my physical strength and endurance now I am almost forty.  But I don’t get sick as often anymore.  It’s been something like four years since I had a cold.  Haven’t had to take anti biotic medication in at least ten years.  Haven’t been to a mental hospital in six years.  Haven’t been an overnight patient in the hospital in almost ten years.  So I must be doing some things right.  As I have lost some strengths and abilities, I have also picked up others.

I guess I’m not bothered by the fact I am entering middle age as much as I thought I would be.  When I was in college, I found it easier to imagine myself as a seventy year old than a forty year old.  I guess the only thing about getting older that bothers me is how aches and pains can come up for no apparent reason.  I am now planning my days and activities with pains in mind.  Sometimes certain foods can make pain worse.  I have found too much caffeine can make my muscles tight and sore.  I found that eating too much grain based food can leave me lethargic and weighed down.  Too much sugar can make me jittery.  Lots of leafy green vegetables make me feel pretty decent as do most fresh vegetables and less sugary fruits.  Greek yogurt and cheddar cheese are about the only dairy products I like anymore.  And I don’t eat much for salty foods.  I occasionally get a craving for Doritos chips, but after a bag or two that craving will be satisfied for weeks.

 

July 25 2019

Feeling pretty decent overall the last several days.  Got some errands done I had been pointlessly putting off for a while.  Our apartment inspections were last week and as far as I know we did alright.  I think we would heard if we didn’t do well by now.  So things are starting to settle down again.  My neighbors and the complex staff seem to be less on edge this week than the last few months.  I still usually spend much of my time at home even though I make it a point to leave the apartment at least once a day, if for no other reason to check my mail or buy a snack out of the vending machine.

I think I’m losing weight.  I notice my clothes feel looser and when I do get winded, I recover quite a bit faster than even three months ago.  The big things I’m doing are I have cut out most sugar and carbs, lift weights three times a week, and do a stationary exercise bike a few times a week.  I usually eat only twice a day, usually protein rich lunches with water and fresh vegetables.  I don’t do fast food or fried food anymore.  I think I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in almost a year.  The only caffeine I have most days is a cup of coffee when I wake up for the day.  I usually go to bed around 11pm and wake for good around 6 am.  Most days I’ll take a nap in the afternoon.

As far as restaurant food goes, if I’m going to spend the money on restaurant food, it’s usually delivery pizza and Chinese when they are on specials.  I haven’t eaten at a buffet for probably over two years now.  I just enjoy doing my own cooking and eating at home anymore.  Most of the time now, I’d rather host friends and family than go out to their places.  I’ve hosted Christmas for my family for three years now.  I have to admit I don’t drive much anymore.  I still run my car every few days just to keep it current in case of emergencies.  But, with as good as delivery services have become in the last few years, some public transit in my town, and now that my town has a few Uber drivers, I really have little need for my own car.  Which isn’t tragic for me as I sometimes get overwhelmed with sensory overload when I drive, especially in heavy traffic or bad weather.

Been reconnecting with old friends again.  For awhile I didn’t get to talk to anyone outside of family much.  Some of my friends been having problems with being overwhelmed and anxious too.  Seems like most of my friends are struggling one way or another, whether it is job security or relationship problems or money issues or all three.  Even though I get lonely occasionally, I am glad I don’t date.  Mostly because my mental illness makes me a lousy boyfriend.  But the occasional loneliness is why I keep in contact with the friends I had in college, even though I’ll probably never see some of them again.  I love social media in that aspect.  And I have noticed that people don’t seem to be as short tempered with each other now, at least not like they were 3 to 4 years ago.

Overall I’m enjoying the summer and looking forward to fall.  School starts in my town in about three weeks and the days are getting noticeably shorter.  Winter and spring have always been my favorite times of year, a close second is mid October to Thanksgiving.  I’m even beginning to enjoy Christmas more now that I can shop from home and not have to deal with so much sensory overload in the mall.  Summers can still be tough for me, especially from early July to mid September.

Dealing With Self Doubt

There are times when I am in the grip of a mental illness flareup that I fear that I make no difference.  I sometimes fear I make no difference in anything I do.  I fear I make no difference to my friends, family, neighbors, peers, etc.  I certainly fear that I make no difference with this blog even though I’ve poured my heart, soul, and life into it for years.

One of the things that makes me doubt myself and fear I don’t make a difference is that I constantly repeat myself.  As much as I repeat myself, especially when trying to share some positive news of what is going right, I get convinced my words and actions fall on only deaf ears and blind eyes.  I get burned out on telling people what is actually going right and that most of the doom and gloom that is the accepted spirit of our times are really temporary setbacks and not the end of the cosmos.  But no one outside of a handful of people are listening and what I say means nothing.  At least that is the impression my disease infested mind keeps giving.

Most times I can’t read a person or what they are thinking at any given moment.  I can’t easily gage the moment the moment thoughts even if I can easily trace long term trends and possibilities.  I suppose it’s similar to a military general who isn’t good at winning individual battles yet ends up winning an entire war simply because they are excellent long term planners.  Even as a child I was a much better long term thinker than I was on a short term.  And it used to irritate my friends, teachers, bosses, and parents real bad.  Anytime I tired to explain that they were sweating the small things while losing sight of the entire picture, well I was condemned for having problems with authority and being a hopeless dreamer.  Very few appreciated the fact that I was a long term thinker outside of a few cool teachers, my two best friends in high school, and my grandparents.

Of course this learned apprehension about not making any difference, at least not short term, has been made even worse by the mental illness.  I try my best to remind myself that I am making a difference and I am making people think and question why the status quo is the way it is.  And when I am not in the grips of the illness I know I am.  Sadly, when the illness wins out, I seriously doubt my own abilities and if I am making a difference.  I suppose it’s like a rapid version of the change of seasons or even high tide and low tide.  The human mind is that powerful in that it can make false or distorted perceptions into an individual’s reality.  We think, therefore we are I suppose.

I try telling people about the struggles involved in mental illness.  But during moments of weakness I fear I make no difference.  I know it’s not considered manly to express or feel fear or express and feel anything for that matter.  But I no longer care about the expectations of others.  Haven’t since I figured out at age seventeen that nothing I did would be considered good enough for some people.  Some people will never be satisfied with what I do simply because that is the way they are.  Such people are lost causes not worth even talking to or thinking about as far as I am concerned.  I deal with such people only when absolutely unavoidable.

I try telling people about the advances in science, tech, humanitarian efforts, etc.  But it makes no difference to most people.  I remember a line in The Matrix were an AI named Agent Smith stated to the effect that humans find definition and meaning in misery and suffering and are incapable of accepting happiness and peace.  I find this to be true in many of my day to day interactions with others, even with close friends and family.  I hope it’s the blinders cast by the illness that makes me think this way.  I really do.  Maybe we vastly overestimate how much can be done on the short term but vastly underestimate the changes that can be done medium to long term.

Perhaps that is why the days at a dead end job or raising small children drag on forever but the years and decades pass rapidly.  One day you’re 27 years old and get a bad annual review and a demotion from your boss or your two year old is screaming like he’s demon possessed because you won’t buy him a candy bar in the Wal Mart check out.  Those days feel like a torment right out of Dante’s Inferno.  But, wake up and you’re in your fifties and you’re the boss giving out bad annual reviews or you’re an elderly man on your death bed looking out at four generations of offspring from your marriage and feeling kind of bittersweet for not taking more time to appreciate your kids when they were asking endless questions or for foregoing summer vacations and weekends to work a thankless job that, not only didn’t miss you when you retired or got laid off, but can probably be done by a machine or algorithm better and cheaper.

Every cemetery in the world is full of people who never could imagine a world where their labor or delusional self importance wasn’t needed.  We are living in that said world.  Billions of dead people who couldn’t imagine a world as it is now and getting along just fine without them.  Our descendants will live in such a world that won’t remember us for what work we did or what stupid arguments we were part of or anything for that matter.  Because of genealogy, some people might get their names remembered for centuries.  But no one will remember or care what they believed, how they worked, how they treated their kids and spouse, how they voted, etc.

Rather than being saddened by this fact of life, I am actually encouraged by it.  I don’t have to save the world by myself.  I am not the center of the cosmos (thank God).  I am not responsible for the short sightedness and ignorance of others, only my own.  And I needlessly worry about how others live their lives, especially if it doesn’t directly harm me or those I care about.  I am not a superhero who has to save the world.  I’m essentially an independent scholar with numerous interests trying to encourage those I encounter in this adventure we call life.  Yet, because of my illness, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that I am just one man among billions of humans and that I don’t have to win all battles or save the cosmos on my own.

Asking For Assistance While Mentally Ill or Thank You Facebook

Unfortunately my cell phone malfunctioned and quit working a couple days ago.  But thanks to email and social media, I was able to get in touch with my family and tell them what happened and see if I can get a replacement.  After several messages back and forth, I am able to get a replacement sent to my house within a few days.  I still have a bit of a fear of large crowds and driving, so that is why I am unable to get this done in person.  But, I had back ups via email and social media to get in touch with people who can help me out in this problem.  And the kicker is my family wasn’t at their house at the time.  They were able to arrange all of this via their own phones while at a family reunion in a small Colorado town hundreds of miles from their home.  Quite amazing what be accomplished, not only just by asking trusted family and friends, but when you tie support in with modern communication tech.  Thanks dad, mom, and everyone else who made this possible.  There is no why I can pay you back.  So I have to “pay it forward” and help others out when they are in distress.  In short, it pays to have a good support system, whether they are understanding family, close friends, counselors, social workers, home health aides, etc.  We as humans were never meant to be everything to ourselves.  That was true in the Stone Age and it’s even more true now in the early 21st century.  I guess this could be marked up to a positive story about how good social media and communication tech can be when used properly.  Thank you Mr. Zuckerberg 🙂