Thankfulness Despite Mental Illness

I’ve spent almost twenty years dealing with mental illness problems.  Even though I have now spent more than half my life dealing with these problems, I am still pretty happy and content with how my life turned out.  Sure I would be better off losing some weight or having more friends in my hometown, but overall I’m enjoying my life even though I have to deal with schizophrenia.  At least I enjoy it the 99 percent of the time that I’m not having problems with hallucinations, delusions, and excessive anxiety.  I think the older I have gotten, the more I have learned how to work around the illness.  I do have to avoid stressful people and situations.  I have to do most of my shopping either online or in early morning hours to avoid crowds.  I won’t have the high paying and prestigious career like my brother has.  I will never have a wife and kids or the big house in a good suburb.  But as I have aged and seen in my own self and others with mental illness, I could be a lot worse.  If I was born in 1920 instead of 1980, I probably would have been living permanently in a mental hospital or homeless.  That is why I am thankful that medications and social safety nets exist that didn’t exist even fifty years ago.  Some of the medications I’m on didn’t exist even ten years ago.

Even though I don’t have a lot of nearby friends and don’t make much money, I’m still pretty happy overall.  I have been able to pursue what makes me happy and content despite being on disability insurance and living in low income housing.  Happiness for me is talking with friends over the phone, or participating in the futurist groups I’m part of on Facebook, or just grilling cheap steaks and watching college football on chilly fall afternoons.  I am fortunate that I have simple tastes.  Even though both my parents were medical professionals and made good money, they didn’t spoil my brother and I.  We were expected to either have after school and summer jobs or be involved in school activities year round.  I wasn’t uncommon for me to play a football game on Friday nights and spend my Saturday afternoons working as a shelf stocker at a general store when I was in high school.  During the summers, my brother usually reported to work at a fast food place every morning by 4 am to provide spending money so he could get his engineering degree.  I didn’t understand why my parents expected so much out of us when we were growing, but now I do.  And I’m glad for it.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  If I were able to raise children, I would be the same way.

If anything, I am thankful for what I have even if it isn’t what it could have been.  I’m glad that I can write about my experiences.  I write for those who can’t speak for themselves and to let others with mental illness know that they are not alone and things can get better.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of time but things can become quite stable even with a mental illness.

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The pains and joys of being a geek with mental illness

I still don’t socialize much.  But that’s because I don’t feel like I need to.  Some of my best friends I can chat with over Facebook or the phone.  Besides, all some people want to chat about are mundane things like the weather or pointless gossip.  Conversations without any real intelligent substance really weigh on me.  They sap my energy and often aggravate me.  And the longer I’ve been out of school, the worse it gets.  Sure there were quite a few people who, when I went to school, thought education was for losers and being ignorant was cool.  But, good grief, now that I’m an adult those people are in the vast majority.  I was always told that more wisdom came with age.  Not necessarily so.  I know people in their sixties and seventies who are less mature and intelligent than some junior high kids.  It’s tiring and sad to see stupidity and ignorance being championed in my culture.  I see it in my daily life and I see it when I log onto the internet or watch my tv: ignorance is praised and wisdom is condemned.

Was it always this way that smart people were ostracized?  Is it this way in other cultures and times?  Since I’ve been out of the USA only once in my life, I really have no first hand experience with other cultures other than my own.  And in my culture, intelligence simply isn’t valued.  I have felt out of place among my own people and culture for as long as I can remember.  People thought it odd that my friends and I liked to talk about history, science, and current events more than school yard gossip and popular culture.  I was good at speech, drama, and knowledge bowl competitions, but I got far more recognition from being a mediocre football player.  And my school was more academically inclined than most schools in my region.

I have always felt like an outsider.  And developing a mental illness in my late teens only made it more pronounced.  But I suppose that being an outsider as a kid made me resilient enough to navigate a serious mental illness.  And it’s this sense of being an outsider that allows me to endure long stretches of time in solitude.  It’s this sense of being an outsider that frees me to go against popular norms and look at problems in different ways.  It’s the sense of being an outsider that took away a lot of old fears that held me back in my younger years.  I don’t fear looking like a fool.  I don’t fear being wrong because I can learn from being wrong more than I can always giving the teachers the “right” answers.  Besides, all grades measure in school is how good a kid can conform to the existing system.  Well, the existing system is becoming obsolete and is going to get changed before too many years.  It is unavoidable.  Why measure fact retention when I can look up any fact on google and wikipedia within a few seconds?  In future generations, kids are going to have to be taught to be problem solvers and deep thinkers. It matters less that, for example, that Sacramento is the capital of California than say, why Sacramento and not Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Or instead of knowing that Columbus sailed for the Americas in 1492, it would be better to explain how he was able to convince the Spanish throne to give him the funds, how he kept his crew motivated when setting off on a potential suicide mission, or what effects there were by the Europeans meeting with the Native Americans.  In the automated future, fact retention and unthinking obedience is going to matter much less than creativity and problem solving or skills that computers can’t master yet.  And it can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, the geeks and nerds won the culture wars.  Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have much more influence and money than even Michael Jordan or David Beckham.  Geeks and nerds coming out in force is probably why there have been so many comic books made into movies the last several years.  Heck, even video gaming is becoming a competitive sport.  But I guess if bowling and poker are, why not video gaming?  Science and tech are gaining in influence and prestige while aspects of our past like war and poverty are going in decline. We are very fortunate that there hasn’t been any major wars between developed nations since the end of World War II.  I fear such wars would go nuclear.  So it’s a great development that we as a species are starting to lose our stomachs for violence, war, and bloodshed.  Practices like human sacrifices and near constant raiding and war used to be the norm not that many generations ago.  Such practices are considered barbaric relics of when our civilizations were less mature.  And it’s largely thanks to the geeky outcasts and their science and tech advances.

I want to end on a positive note.  I am grateful to be a geeky outsider.  I hated it as a teenager, but it was for the better.  It made me better able to deal with mental illness, it made me more self reliant, and it made me study more.  I’m much better read now than I was before I became mentally ill.  I’m glad I’m not normal.  I’m glad I’m not ignorant.  Ignorance and normal are both overrated.  In fact, both ignorance and normal suck.

Keeping My Mind Occupied

It’s been a few days since I wrote so an update is in order.  I haven’t left my apartment much the last few days.  We’re in the middle of a heat wave and it’s really too hot to be out if you don’t need to be.  I still have some groceries from when I went shopping a week ago, so there’s no need to go out yet.

Even though I’m stuck at home, I have been keeping occupied.  I found a free gaming site online that carries many of the old Apple games I grew up with in the late 80s and early 90s.  So I have spent quite a bit of time there the last few days.  I’m still working on some old computer games as well as having bought a couple cheap games a few days ago.  I’m still calling my family and friends at least once a day.  So I have intelligent and fulfilling conversations even without leaving my couch.  Been playing enough computer games lately that it’s keeping me occupied.  I usually play games while listening to audio books or science lectures on youtube.  Plowed through a few audiobooks already this month.  I got through the first book of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.  It’s a good read.  If you are into any kind of science fiction, I highly recommend it.

I’m also watching old Star Trek reruns on Netflix.  So I’m keeping occupied, entertained, and getting my science fiction fix at the same time.  It’s a shame I didn’t discover my love for good science fiction until I was in my thirties.  I think I would have enjoyed those kinds of things as a teenager.

I haven’t had any bouts of depression or anxiety for weeks.  I’m also no longer hallucinating.  Most of my hallucinations were auditory ones that were doing commentary on everything I was doing, kind of like play by play of a ball game on the radio.  I sometimes felt things on my skin, feeling like bugs crawling on my skin.  When I’d go to look, there would be nothing there.  Other hallucinations I’d have involved hearing foot steps outside my door, hearing my phone vibrate when no one was calling me, and sometimes I’d even hear knocking at my door that was so soft that I could barely hear it.  About the only hallucination set I still have is the feeling of bugs crawling on my skin.  I still get that a couple times a day.

Overall I really don’t have a lot to report.  Been mentally stable for weeks and I really haven’t gone anywhere besides to the convenience store to buy soda pops a few times a week.  I’m now sleeping only eight hours a night.  I’ll usually sleep five hours in the middle of the night, wake up at sunrise, stay up a couple hours, then sleep another two to four hours until late morning.  So  far it’s working out to be a good summer routine.  Fortunately have been able to avoid stressful situations and aggravating people.  Hope I can keep this up for the rest of the summer.

Isolation

Even though I feel quite a bit less depressed and more energetic since the meds change, I still have a fear of being out in public.  Anymore I do most of my shopping in the early mornings as I can avoid crowds then.  I used to shop in the overnight hours but anymore I’m afraid to be out of my apartment after 11pm.  I just no longer trust the people that are out and about in the overnight anymore.  It’s too bad as I have always been a night person.  So on the nights I can’t fall asleep at a reasonable hour, I just stay up and play computer games while I have a youtube audiobook on in the background.

This isolation even extends to family.  I haven’t been to my parents’ house since April.  I just no longer enjoy traveling.  The older I get, the more content I am to stay home and entertain my friends and family here.  I used to be one of those who would rather go to a friend’s house than have my friends come to my house.  It didn’t help any that my older brother always had his friends over and his friends and my friends didn’t get along.  I would rather host my parents at my place than drive to their house, and they live less than two hours away.

I found out that I would rather have guests at my house over last Christmas after I twisted my knee and couldn’t navigate stairs.  My parents came to my house and we celebrated Christmas here.  I haven’t been to a friend’s house in two years, instead preferring to talk to them over the phone or have them come to my place.  I also lost a few friends over the last couple years because I just can no longer really handle conflict and strife.  And there hasn’t been a shortage of either one lately.  I don’t thrive on conflict or bad vibes and I don’t understand people who do.  Never have.

My family reunion is this weekend.  As much as I would love to visit some of my relatives, I’m not going.  I can’t handle crowds of any kind any more.  Most of the time I’m content to be left alone with my thoughts anymore.  I don’t know if it’s the illness doing it or the illness augmenting the bad experiences I had with people in my younger years.  I just no longer want to be in a crowd.  I’m also content to socialize as little as possible.  Seems to me many people are just angry and negative all the time anymore.  As I practically live on the internet for much of my waking hours, I get an earful of negativity and snark on a daily basis.  If that’s all some people have to offer, then I want no part of it.  I’ll be content to just stay alone and do what I enjoy.  I would rather be lonely than made miserable by other people.  Anymore those seem to be my only options.

Seasonal Aspects of Mental Illness and My Working History With Mental Illness

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I’m adjusting nicely to the summer.  Traditionally summers have been my roughest times of year.  I would usually be more paranoid and irritable than usual this time of year.  I could usually count on at least one psychotic breakdown every summer, usually in late August or early September.  Both times I went to the mental hospital were in early September.  So there is a seasonal aspect to my schizophrenia.  Having dealt with this illness for close to twenty years I have figured out that there are times of year that are worse than others.  July and August are always tough.  The holidays season can be tough unless I avoid crowds and lots of stimulation.  Winters and springs are always pleasant and productive times for me.  I do a great deal of writing and reading in the winters and springs.  Spring has always been a favorite time of year for me.

But this summer so far I’m doing well.  I think it helps that I usually spend a lot of time out of the heat and avoid stressful situations and people.  Granted this means a pretty lonely stretch of the year where I don’t socialize much in person.  Yet, I still keep in contact with family and friends via phone calls and internet.  Facebook is a large means of promotion for this blog.

As it is, I don’t have a regular job.  Haven’t for five years.  Before I decided to devote myself to this blog and being an advocate for the mentally ill who couldn’t speak for themselves, I worked a variety of jobs.  Over the years I have worked as a salesman, a teachers’ aide at a small university, a factory worker, a janitor, a loading dock employee, a fast food cook, a waiter, and a tutor.  Even though this blog doesn’t even break even, I consider it the most rewarding job I ever had.  I have gotten many dozens of comments that have stated that I am helping them or helping them understand loved ones with mental illness problems.  I have been doing this blog for over four years, which is as long as I held my longest job.  Used to be I’d get serious anxiety attacks before I went to work and even while I was at work.  Many of these would be bad enough that I would vomit before I went into work.  After years of fighting these anxiety issues, I decided that working a traditional job wasn’t in my future.  I thought I needed to change course because I was making myself miserable over minimum wage jobs and dealing with rude and unreasonable people.  I have a few horror stories from my time working in retail and fast food.  I’m sure most working in these industries have far more.  As it was, I came to the conclusion that regular work wasn’t worth it anymore.  It it wasn’t for Disability Insurance, I would either be homeless, in prison, or dead.  So it bothers me anytime someone talks about wanting to eliminate these programs.  What kind of “advanced” civilization doesn’t care about the weakest and most vulnerable among their citizens?

I did not end up on disability by my own doing or choice.  I originally went to college with the idea of going to medical school and becoming a medical research scientist.  But my problems with mental illness got so severe in college that I had to change paths and even take a semester long break.  I finally graduated with a business degree.  The reason I chose business was that I wanted to be employable as soon as I left college.  Even though I love writing and reading, I had heard horror stories about liberal arts majors working minimum wage jobs because they couldn’t find work in their fields.

It turned out that I’m grateful I didn’t succeed in sales or find a banking job like I thought I would after graduation.  I know now that I would be miserable wearing a suit and dealing with people day after day.  At least with a blog I don’t even have to leave my living room.  No shirt, no shoes, no problems I suppose in my chosen field.

In closing I’m doing well despite it being a traditionally rough time of year for me.  I think the medications changes I undertook a few weeks ago are working.  And after twenty years of mental illness, I have figured out that there are some things that can make even tough situations much more bearable.

Postive Changes, Independence Day, and Diet Changes

After two weeks of a medication change, I’m beginning to notice differences already.  Normally with psych medication, it’ll take a month at least to see any real effects.  I’ve noticed that I’m sleeping less, I’m listening to more audiobooks, I’m less quick to anger and anxiety, I’m less depressed, I’m a little more active, and I think I’m eating less.  For months I would eat two really large protein rich meals a day.  I’m now eating three smaller meals per day.  I’m also taking probiotics and multivitamins.  I’m noticing fewer unexplainable aches and pains.  I still sleep in my recliner because I’m just used to it now.  My father slept in his recliner for years because of back problems.

I don’t have any plans for Independence Day at the moment.  But I’ll probably stay near my apartment and watch the night fireworks from my apartment window.  I’m probably going to keep my windows closed and my fans running during the days to block out the sounds of firecrackers.  I no longer like the booming fireworks or the ones that sound like gunfire.  There are a few Vietnam war veterans living in my complex who do the same things to try to block out the fireworks that sound too much like gunfire.  My father is a Vietnam veteran himself and he tries to avoid loud fireworks too.  I feel bad for these guys being spooked by fireworks that remind them too much of war.  I imagine there are many people of my generation and younger now coming back from the Middle East who are starting to feel the same way too.  It’s sad that in celebration of my nation’s beginnings that we often stress the ones who were in the military in the process.

I’m thinking about grilling some steaks on my electric grill that day too.  I’ve gotten to where I dine out only once a week.  I’m a decent cook and have come to the point where I prefer my own cooking over fast food.  But it’s not like I can afford to eat in restaurants every day anyway.  But I am eating my own cooking more and I think I feel better because of it.  At least my diet now is a little more balanced.  I still eat a lot of grilled meats, but I’ve also added some more vegetables and far more water.

I feel quite decent overall.  I hope that by changing my medication routine that I am able to avoid the summer problems I have had in the past.  August is usually the roughest time of year for me.  But after twenty years of mental illness, I have figured out what to avoid and what to look for.  I hope this summer goes better than previous summers.  So far it is.

Starting New Routines

A few days ago my family came to visit me.  We spent the day cleaning my apartment.  Once that was done I went to see my psych doctor.  We decided to add a third medication and I’m supposed to see him again in two weeks.

Other routines that have changed is I’m waking up earlier and not staying awake all night like I used to.  Since I’ve been having pains in my lower back again I’ve been sleeping in my recliner more.  I still spend the bulk of my days in my apartment and alone.  I still don’t want to leave my place very often.  Even though I’m sleeping less I find myself wanting to sleep at the oddest times.  I want to sleep but fortunately I can’t fall asleep whenever I want.

I’m still keeping in contact with old friends and family.  At least that hasn’t fallen apart.  But other than that I still don’t socialize much.  I guess I’m only now starting to realize how far I have declined in the last year and a half.