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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Beginning of School Year and Maintaining Stability

It’s been fairly quiet in my complex the last few days.  The highlights of my week were when my cleaning person arrived for the weekly cleaning and the exterminator arrived to do his routine spraying.  Got groceries too so I’m set for the rest of the month.  I have been avoiding going out the last few days as school is starting back up again.  My town is a college town, so the streets are crowded again with several thousand college kids.  Even though I haven’t been a college student since 2005, I always enjoy when they come back.  I do regret that I don’t get out to the college as much as I used to for sporting events or activities.  I enjoyed going to the ‘taste of the world’ festival the college had every spring when the foreign students would make dishes from their home nations and some would even wear traditional clothing from their home nations too.  Even the American kids got in on this, with one group wearing get ups from the 1950s and serving hamburgers and fries.

Overall I’m doing well.  Still in a traditionally tough time of year for myself.  I sometimes have minor flare ups of anxiety and irritability a few times a week.  They don’t last very long and they aren’t as intense as they were in my younger years.  I have found if I avoid high amounts of caffeine and carb rich foods, I do better on those days.  I also avoid certain conversations and topics because some topics often make me irritable or anxious or I just feel probably too strongly about.  If I seem less social the last few weeks than normal, that is why.  It’s nothing personal but I just want to avoid potential problems as much as possible, especially during traditionally tough times.

So far I’ve been doing pretty well and I want to keep it that way.  I can be really tough on family during my bad flare ups.  I’m sorry those have happened.  I think it would be better for all involved if I could just break down sobbing rather than being angry and lashing out.  I don’t know how much of that is my illness, where and when I grew up, being a man, etc.  But it is easier talking about my problems now than even ten years ago.  And when I was first diagnosed almost twenty years ago, I was scared to tell even my college friends.  So yes, progress has been made in those regards.  Often doesn’t feel like it during the day to day grinds.

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.

Learning From Regrets and Mistakes of Others

I was only twelve years old when I heard someone just casually mention something to the effect, a wise man learns from his mistakes but the wisest learn from the mistakes of others.  And those few seconds changed my life for the better.  I then decided I want to live such a life that I would have as few regrets as possible when I came to the end of life’s journey.

I spent my teenage years listening to my elders complain about how much they hated their jobs or how unruly their kids were or how much they and their spouses fought.  Yet I saw almost no one do anything to change these bad circumstances.  I saw almost no one change jobs unless they got laid off or had health problems that prevented them from working.  I saw parents and their kids argue and fight over every little thing to the point the kids abandoned their parents after high school graduation and never looked back.  And the spouses almost never tried to solve their problems and often wound up divorced and bitter.  I looked out at all of this and thought that all of that was stupid. And all I heard from my elders when I asked about this was “Wait until you’re an adult” or “Wait until you have bills to pay”, etc.  All the while I was making notes and planning on how I wouldn’t fall into those traps.

I saw people have bad marriages.  That is why early on I decided I wouldn’t compromise on the woman I would marry.  I admit I was picky about the women I wanted to date.  Granted, not many of them wanted to date me.  Looking back on it, this upfront rejection saved me a lot of heartache down the road.  Why should I spend time with people who don’t want to spend time with me?  I am now thirty nine years old and have never been married.  I don’t have many friends that can say that.  But, I would make a bad husband and father with my mental illness and personality being what they are.  I try not to look back and wonder ‘what if.’  I am not anti marriage or anti family.  I just don’t think either one is right for me.  It is just part of knowing myself.

I have also left dead end jobs.  Everyone probably has worked one of those, especially in their twenties.  My first couple jobs out of college were dead end.  I left my first job out of college when my hours were being cut.  Looking back on it, I was probably being phased out.  So I moved to my current town and found another job within a couple weeks.  That too turned out to be a dead end job in the same industry.  I left after six months to go work at the local university.  I enjoyed the university job, but it was dependent on being a graduate student at the same time.  As it was, I didn’t make good enough grades to keep the job.  And since I didn’t want to go into debt to get a masters’ degree and not be guaranteed a job, I left the program.  Turned out to be a wise move.  My mental illness got worse to the point I couldn’t hold a regular full time job.  I applied for disability in January 2006 and it took almost two years to get approved.  I don’t know how anyone survives while waiting for disability to kick in without family support.  But I went on disability without any student loans.  And while I was working fifteen hours a week as a janitor at the courthouse, I was living quite well.

After a few years at the courthouse, I decided another change was in order.  I left that job and devoted myself to my blog, my writings, and my self directed scholarship.  It was a good decision, at least for me.  I have learned to live on little money and appreciate the simple things.  I have studied  several different topics over the years, all just either by going to the library or watching educational videos and audiobooks via youtube.  And it didn’t cost me anything other than internet service fees (which are only a dollar per day for my needs).  For the price of two cans of Coca Cola out of a vending machine, I have access to the knowledge of the ages.  That by itself tells me that right now, in 2019, is a very cool time to live in.  Sure we have our problems and issues, but it used to be much worse for most of history.

In short, I have tried to live my life with few regrets.  I have made decisions, while not popular with my friends, family, coworkers, etc., that made a great deal of positive difference for me.  I don’t know how long I will get to live this life.  But whenever my last days come, I don’t want to be wondering ‘what if’ or ‘should have or could have.’  For the most part, I don’t have a lot of regrets.  At least, not many I could have done much different.

August 4 2019

Been a decent last few days overall.  Spent this afternoon cleaning some in my apartment.  I may have a cleaner come in once a week, but I do feel guilty if I don’t bare minimums on my own even with my limited mobility.  Haven’t needed as much sleep lately either.  Been usually going to bed around midnight, sleep three hours or four hours, stay awake until sunrise and then sleep again until ten a.m.  Haven’t been reading or writing as much as I would like this summer.  At least I have reestablished more regular contact with friends and family.  I felt guilty for not going to my family reunion last month.  But I wasn’t feeling the greatest and I didn’t want to have problems around people and scare them.  Sure my family would be more understanding than most families, but I don’t feel right taking out my issues on others.

Haven’t had any real bad meltdowns in months.  I have had a few close calls.  Fortunately, I have managed to not take them out on others.  I have had to avoid contact with people some days just so not to cause problems.  Even after twenty years with a mental illness, I am still afraid to have a meltdown in public.  I fear most people who don’t know me would not understand.  And many people are already more stressed than normal these days.

Found that listening to music helps sooth me.  So I’ve been listening to more music this summer.  I used to listen to music almost every day.  Even though heavy metal and blues were my favorite styles, I really didn’t have a style I didn’t like.  Youtube and Spotify are gold mines of good music, and my Spotify costs like 12 dollars a month for the service without advertisements.  It is not uncommon for me to have music on while I play Civilization or the Total War series.

Haven’t watched as much baseball this summer.  The Rockies are slightly below .500, so they won’t likely make the playoffs.  Haven’t watched much for sports since the U.S. women took the World Cup.  I got to see most of those games.  I have been watching old football highlights on youtube, mostly Nebraska from the 80s and 90s, to get ready for football season.  First college games are in only a few weeks.  Summer is definitely drawing down.

I guess I have been taking it easier than normal this summer.  I still lift weights three times a week and do the exercise bike a few times a week too.  I try to socialize some every day, even if it is just online or over the phone.  Social media isn’t as stressful for me as it was a few years ago now that I have figured out how to better use it.  I have lots of friends on my lists, but only a handful I actively follow on a day to day basis.  I spend a lot of time with small tech enthusiast groups.  I try to avoid the larger groups as they can sometimes become kind of irritable with each other on controversial topics.  I don’t post as much as I previously did, sometimes I’m more content to read linked articles and discussion threads.  I try not to get involved in heated or pointless discussions.  I make efforts not to feed trolls and troublemakers.

I believe that, overall, social media is a good thing. I also believe in free speech.  And when free speech and social media gets combined, it allows me to find out what people are really like quickly.  Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is not.  But if privacy and deception aren’t dead, they are certainly on life support. Social media makes it easy for someone like myself who wants to have friends and be involved but doesn’t have great social skills.  I am a bit socially awkward in person, so that is probably why I didn’t make a lot of friends until I went to college and met people even more awkward and quirky than myself.  I don’t hide the fact I am eccentric and odd.  As a grown man, I don’t feel the need to try to please people I’m probably not going to please to begin with.  It’s too bad I couldn’t tell this to my teenage self.  But it comes only with experience.

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.