Helping Friends Through Depression and Burnout While Having a Mental Illness Myself

Other than my parents I haven’t been socializing much lately.  Seems that many of my friends are more depressed and anxious than usual.  Normally I would be annoyed and irritated by people just being in rude and obnoxious moods while I would be sympathetic to those who were depressed and anxious.  I try to connect with these friends but I can’t tell that I’m getting through to them.  Sometimes I feel as though I’m wasting my breath and that my friends really don’t want my company.

Hopefully this is just the illness part of my mind speaking.  But it does concern me that so many of my friends are having issues with depression and burnout.  It didn’t use to be this way.  It use to be that I was the one with the depression and burnout and my friends were the ones doing alright.  Now the tables are turned.  I can tell my friends and family who were probably annoyed with my depression and hangups in my younger years that I appreciate your efforts to keep me in the loop.  I especially appreciate you inviting me to functions that I probably wouldn’t just show up to on my own.  I may secretly begrudge social activities at first but once things get started I’m glad I participated.  But your efforts to include me and encourage me did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.  I may not say it often enough, but I do appreciate my family and friends.  I may not keep in contact as much as I would like.  In some cases, I imagine my friends may be annoyed by how much I try to stay in contact.  But I don’t have many options for decent socializing.

I appreciate my friends and family.   I hurt for them when they are suffering and struggling.  Such is the price of being naturally empathic in a time and place that doesn’t value empathy and connection.  But it is kind of strange helping my friends out with their depression and stress issues now.  I imagine that since many of my friends are in their late 30s and early 40s, this is prime years for the mid life crisis.  I guess I had my major crisis in my teens and twenties while my peers were getting started in their careers and still dating and thinking about marriage.  It’s now my turn to be the support system to those who need it.  I want to believe that my empathy and support of my friends in their struggles is appreciated.  I want to believe that the fears that say my friends would rather I go away are just my illness creeping back in, and I do think that it is.  But there are the moments of weakness still.

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Thoughts on Mental Illness Treatment Side Effects

I’ve been sleeping more than I would prefer lately.  But I have found over the years if I want to sleep more than normal, there is usually a good reason for it.  I’ve learned to listen to my body and give it what is says it needs more often.  Learning to live with mental illness is mainly a trial and error kind of thing.  It wasn’t learned immediately.  Sadly mental illness is one of those tests that is impossible to study for.  I had no idea what having schizophrenia meant when I was first diagnosed almost twenty years ago.  But then, there is no way I could have known just by reading some books and going to a psychiatrist.  Mental illness effects everything about a life it inflicts just by the nature of the illness.  And since the human brain is the most complex piece of biological machinery we have seen (at least unless we discover alien intelligences superior to our own), it is one of those we still don’t know much about.

One of the things that gives me hope, maybe not for myself so much as future generations afflicted with mental illness problems, is that we are learning more about the human brain every day.  I don’t know if I’ll live to see the fruition of much of this research, but I am encouraged that there is now a push to learn this and see if we can design better treatments with fewer side effects.  As much as I am appreciative of what my anti psych treatment has done for my mental state, there has been a price I had and am still having to pay for this stability.

One of the side effects of my psych treatments is that I gained a lot of weight over the years.  I won’t go into exact numbers but I will say I weigh at least one hundred pounds more than I did when I was first diagnosed.  Yet, I was for all purposes not functioning when I was diagnosed.  I was having mental breakdowns two to three times a week, I could sleep only a couple hours a night, I wanted to spend all my time alone and just avoid people, and I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even read a single page of a book.  I guess my options were I could keep my physical health but be completely dysfunctional mentally or I could regain my mental stability but have a weakened body because of it.  Not optimal choices by any means.  But I’m glad I opted for the better mental health.  Otherwise I’d probably be dead or in prison.

Even though my physical health has declined over the years, in part because of the treatment’s side effects and the nature of the illness itself, I consider the price to be worth it.  At least for me the price of losing much of my physical vitality was worth the price of keeping myself together mentally.  I have also lost most interest in sex and socializing in person because of the illness.  I haven’t dated in at least ten years and I don’t like going to social functions much anymore.  But I guess there are always trade offs.  I’m actually glad that I was not as ruled by my hormones as most younger men.  It saved me much headache and heartache, especially in my late twenties and early thirties when it became obvious to me that I would never have a wife or children through no fault of my own.

I am not anti marriage or anti family.  I’m quite the opposite actually.  I see my brother and his wife and children as well as my cousins with their spouses and children and I see that, if done properly, family is the best thing that can happen to a person.  I think it really does have a calming effect on people, young men especially, and forces people to be more long term thinkers than they normally would.  I would have loved to had a wife and a couple kids with the picket fence and apple pie kind of life.  But with the mental illness and the hangups involved, I know I would make a lousy husband and father.  As it was I couldn’t manage a minimum wage job with my mental illness even though I was an honors graduate in high school.  So the next best thing is to write about my experiences with mental illness as my purpose for my work and be a good son to my parents and a good uncle to my brother’s kids.  I’m interested to see where this all leads.

Trying to Maintain Hope Around Negative People

 

I just don’t talk to anyone much anymore.  But then it seems like people have been avoiding me too lately.  I hope this is just my paranoia creeping in.  But it does seem like almost no one has time or energy to just chat lately.  I fear that I’m becoming this way too.  I try to stay optimistic overall but it is tough.  First, I’m not an optimist by nature as I wasn’t raised to be one.  I was almost never told anything positive about the world or life in general from my elders as a kid.  Made me wonder why anyone had kids if the world was falling apart as much as my parents, teachers, and church elders told me it was.  But that was before I got out on my own and came to the realization that most people are more ruled by short term emotion than by long term logic.  As someone who is part artist and part science enthusiast, I find my emotion and logical sides at conflict quite often.  I have spent the better part of the last five years training up the logical part of my mind.  It isn’t easy and it’s often frustrating.  Bill Gates once stated that people tend to overestimate change in the short term but underestimate it in the long term.  Getting to see what cool stuff happens next is one of the things that keeps me going.  It’s the scientist, the engineer, the doctor, the humanitarian that gives me as much hope as most of my friends get out of their political parties.  I try to explain to my friends that politicians can pass budgets, pass favorable laws, and then get out of the way.  That’s about all they can do.  I have never seen a politician build a power plant or figure out how to grow more crops with fewer chemicals.  Many problems of modern civilization are science and engineering issues, not political or even social ones.

I just as well be speaking ancient Sanskrit to my friends in that they’re not coming around and probably never will.  I would love to live in a world where the scientists and doctors were as well known and respected as pro athletes and big shot Hollywood stars.  But I suppose that’s a pipe dream that won’t come true in my lifetime, if ever.  As it is I am a mentally ill unemployed man trying to make sense of the madness in the people around me.  At this point I’m glad I don’t have a regular job in that it would probably drive me to complete break down.  I’m glad for the safety nets I have.  It saddens and sickens me that there are people who want to remove even these.  We live in a post industrial civilization where we can feed everyone, not some Stone Age Darwinian survival of the fittest setup our ancestors already overcame.  Yet, it seems like some people are bent on bringing back the Stone Age.  I hope it’s just my paranoia creeping in but it does seem like there’s too many people losing hope and giving up right before things get real interesting.  As far as any politicians of any country go, they are merely “momentary masters of a fraction of a dot” to quote Carl Sagan.  We would be wise to regain such perspective in our own lives.

Friday in Mid September

I’m still sleeping more than normal.  I usually sleep ten to twelve hours a night now.  But when I’m not asleep I usually want to be outside and chatting with other residents and friends.  I can say, at least for now, I’m not as annoyed by small talk and complaints as I have been in months past.  I don’t know if it’s the healthier diet or getting more sleep that’s helping me feel less easily irritated.

I’m also finding I just don’t play computer games for a few hours at a time anymore.  I’ve recently had entire days I don’t touch the gaming computer.  That’s another positive change I’ve noticed.  Sometimes I’d play games to escape from rude and irritable people.  But I’ve been less irritated and less bothered by rude people lately.

I’m still not going to engage in political discussions or sports fan forums.  I’m on too much of a winning streak to risk jeopardizing it or trivial nonsense and tripe. I mean, does anyone really change their minds on issues because of memes, being name called, being trolled, or even by statistics?  Sounds like pointless posturing and mindless tribalism as far as I’m concerned.  Besides, for as much as these things get reported on, they really don’t make as much of a difference as people would like you to believe.  That’s why I focus on science, tech, and medical advances.  It’s too easy to get discouraged from the news as they only report on a fraction of a fraction of what’s truly going on.

I still read a lot.  Been kind of lazy about my audiobooks.  I’ll pick those up again in time. Things like that come and go in cycles.  But I have been socializing and reading more often.  I let my mind wander more often and just let it go off on tangents and just see what ideas I can come up with.  I’m looking for ideas for new poems or even ideas for novel drafts.  As much as I love nonfiction, I really don’t have the credentials to get published as a nonfiction science or mental health writer.  Besides, I’m having more fun and getting better audiences with this small blog than I ever did the traditional writing route.  We are indeed living in some amazing times my friends.  It’s sometimes too easy to forget this.

Social Life and Depression

Getting out of the apartment several times a day now.  Have been for the last several days.  Catching up on the news of what’s been going on around the complex and meeting some of the new residents who moved in during the summer.  Seems like we have a few really cool people move in lately, and some of them are even in my age bracket and younger.  So I might be rebuilding some of my social safety nets that had fallen apart over the last few years.

I haven’t been as social over the last three years as I had been previously.  I think some of it started when three of my friends in my apartment complex died within six months of each other.  Then we had a few problem residents come in that gave problems to everyone.  So I started isolating to avoid the drama.  Then my grandmother died, which I think I took harder subconsciously than I realized at the time.  My car accident in late 2015 left me scared to drive and not able to trust other drivers on the road for a long time.  2016 is a lost year as far as I’m concerned.  The drama and emotions from the elections caused me so much grief and anxiety.  I also lost some good friends and lost contact with some extended family because of those emotions running hot.

After months of hot emotions and people going insane over the pettiest things, 2017 was another tough year.  I spent most of that year alone.  I rarely visited friends or family.  I went entire days without leaving my apartment.  I more or less lost my ability to see anything decent in other humans, especially people in my immediate life.  I devoted most of 2017 to my writing and self directed scholarly endeavors.  Seeing some of the advances that were rapidly being developed was one of the few things that gave me hope in those dark years.  Like a fool I tried to share this information with people, but almost no one took me seriously.  I had some jerks tell me I was “fake news” and a liar.  “Fake news” is another stupid phrase I despise.  After a few episodes of this, I became real despondent.  I lost myself in computer games and youtube videos and just became annoyed and irritated with people in general.  The less I had to deal with flesh and bone people, the better as far as I was concerned.

But after almost three years of depression imposed exile and hermitage, I am slowly becoming more social.  I actually want to socialize now.  I truly believe that the type of people one surrounds themselves with can effect your mental and even physical health.  I have believed this for years.  But since most people I knew and ran into on a daily basis were in foul and angry moods, it just seemed better to just isolate, stay out of sight, and hope to God that people eventually came back to their senses.  I’m thinking that people, at least the ones I associate with, are starting to come back to their senses.  I certainly hope so.  The last three years were lonely years.  The only years I would rather relive less is my late teens and early twenties before I was being treated for mental illness.

Thoughts on Preventing Relapse and End of Summer

After a few days of preventative maintenance and taking more note of my mental well being, I think the feelings of anxiety, irritability, and depression are starting to dissipate.  Sure I had to isolate for a couple days and I did sleep more than usual, but it seems to have worked.  Overall I’m feeling more stable and I did leave my complex a couple times yesterday just to get some sunshine and make sure my car still runs properly.  I don’t drive as much as I used to.  But then I can do most of my socializing at home via phone calls, social media, and my blog.  I don’t deal with nearly as much negativity as I once did.  Two years ago, it was almost unbearable.  But I have since learned who and what to avoid and I don’t closely follow anyone besides family, close friends, and discussion groups I’m interested in.  Thank goodness for the unfollow buttons.  I lost a few friends before I discovered what useful and tactful tools they could be.  Even though the tempers have cooled some since the darkest days, I’m still kind of afraid to reestablish contact with people I’ve cut out or have cut me out.  Hopefully it’s just the paranoia talking and not hard reality.

As it is anymore I rather enjoy staying home.  I sometimes don’t even mind hosting guests.  I’ve hosted college friends several times over the years.  And I even hosted the previous two Foster family Christmas celebrations.  The only real request I have is give me at bare minimum a few days notice.  I am self conscious about my place and have come to accept that no matter how much I do with it, it isn’t going to please anyone but me.  I never did just subjective crap like that when the goal line wasn’t universal but different for everyone.  Even in high school speech and one act plays, I didn’t care about the awards and trophies.  I mainly wanted to hear the audience laugh and think because of my performances.

I’m glad that summer is all but over.  We have had some cooler and cloudy days lately mixed in the excessive heat typical of a Nebraska August.  Makes me think that fall and winter are on the way.  And I’ve always done my best writing and creative work during the cold weather.  I also like some of the not so over the top Christmas decorations, New Year’s Day college football games, and being able to buy discounted chocolate after Valentine’s Day.  I think that winter and spring are my favorite times of year.  That is one thing I like about living in Nebraska; we get to experience all the seasons.  Sure we don’t have the beautiful foliage of New England, the massive snows of Minnesota, or summer in it’s full hot and humid glory like the Southern states, but we get a little of everything here.  And yes, the conditions of my mental illness do change with the seasons.  But I usually have my worst times in late summer and my best times in late winter and spring.  I do love the changes of the seasons.

Reinventing Myself While Living With Schizophrenia

 

I admit I don’t have good social skills.  Never have and probably never will.  Part of it may have come from growing up in a rural town of less than 500 residents without much in the way of diversity or culture.  That and I didn’t know many people who shared my interests in science, science fiction, and fantasy type stories until I went to college.  To this day I have never bought a comic book.  I was 31 before I played my first D&D game.  I didn’t read any Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark until a couple years ago.  I didn’t sit down and watch an episode of Star Trek start to finish until I was in my thirties.  And besides the D&D, I enjoy all of these things.  I would have loved to discovered this stuff twenty five years ago.  Most people in my childhood hometown were interested in mostly farming, hunting, football, church, and politics.  I can discuss such things but they do get old after even a few minutes and then you’re just rehashing reruns of reruns.  While I didn’t hate my hometown as a child, I was quite bored and always felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a result I didn’t socialize except when I was forced to.  It’s not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  I just have a wide range of interests that growing up where I did just wasn’t able to satisfy.

I suppose in some ways now that I’m on disability insurance and don’t have to work a regular job (not that I could with my depression, paranoia, and anxiety), I feel like I’m getting a second chance at my adolescence.  Sure I’m in my late 30s, don’t have the physical strength I did at age 18, and I’m not interested in trying to get laid, but in some ways I still feel youthful.  I am enjoying my thirties far more than I ever did my teenage years.  In some ways, I feel like my thirties are kind of like my adolescence in that I have different possibilities every day as to how I want to spend my days.  And I don’t have to deal with bullies or irritable elders yammering on about how the ‘cold cruel world’ is going to kick my idealistic butt.  I had my butt kicked many times in my teens and twenties by my mental illness and trying in vain to find a job so I could be considered a ‘productive member of society’ or considered a ‘real man’ by fools and jerks whom I really couldn’t care less about.

My teens and twenties, besides the mainly truly happy times I felt in college because I got to work with smart and interesting people every day, by and large were lousy.  In fact, they sucked.  I pretty much spent my twenties going from one dead end job to another, one ill fitting relationship to another, finding out that the real world doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to all the while having psychotic breakdowns every few months along the way.  By the time I qualified for disability insurance at the age of 28 I realized that there is no set script to life.  I didn’t have to follow anyone’s script for me.  I could feel free to change my script anytime I want.  And I have.

Every one is free to change their life as long as they are willing to make sacrifices here and there.  Anyone who hates their thankless job could stride up their boss tomorrow, quit in a blaze of glory, and live the life of a nomad who answers to no one but their own limitations and nature itself.  But almost no one does because they aren’t willing to sacrifice their incomes, their prestige, their families, their McMansions, etc.

You can do what you like and are good at, it’s just what are you willing to give up to get there?  I have my freedom and I live quite happy in spite being on disability.  But I had to be inflicted with schizophrenia through no misdeeds of my own, give up ever having a traditional career, give up the shot at getting rich (it isn’t just monks and priests that take the vow of poverty), give up any shot of ever having a family or any kind of romance life (again, clergy aren’t the only ones who take vows of celibacy), and it can be quite lonely at times.  But I value my freedom.  I value my intelligence and wisdom.  I strive every day to make myself smarter, better read, better cultured, and wiser.

But it all came at a price.  It was a price that, at age 16 before I started having my problems with schizophrenia, I would have said ‘no way am I paying that price.’  I paid the price for my freedom and wisdom.  And, as it is, I am thankful I took the paths I did.  Statistically speaking, people with my diagnosis usually wound up lifetime institutionalized, homeless, in prison, or dead at a very young age for most of history.  I’m happy I beat the odds.  I’m happy I didn’t become just another statistic.

Everything else from this point in my life is just chicken gravy as far as I’m concerned.  So yes, I am going to be happy.  I am going to share my joy with other people while they gripe and moan about their jobs, their spouses, and humanity in general.  And if people think I’m overly optimistic or a hopeless Pollyanna, well it was one rugged process surviving from age eighteen until my early thirties when I finally learned to say, “screw others expectations, I am doing what I want.”  And I didn’t come to this conclusion all at once.  It was a gradual evolution.  My physical health may be not what it once was, but I am far happier now than I was ten years ago.  And that is mainly because I learned to let go of others’ expectations and a type of regular life that was never going to materialize.  In short, dance like no one’s watching; no one is.  Everyone else is too busy with the petty concerns of their own lives.

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.

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.

Yet More Changes In Sleep Patterns

I’ve been having changes in my sleep patterns again, this time probably for the better overall.  I’m usually wanting to go to bed around 10pm and I’ll sleep for three hours.  Then I’ll wake up and be up for an hour or two.  Then I’ll go back to sleep until 8am.  Now I spend most of my waking time in daylight hours.  Earlier this summer I spent most of my waking life in the overnight hours.  But I do think it’s for the better.

I was feeling a little more short tempered and easily irritated for a few days earlier this month.  I think the changes of sleep may be a way to ward off bigger problems in the future.  But I’m starting to feel better again even if I am sleeping more.  But at least I sleep when most of the world sleeps now.