Working With Mental Illness

Being on Social Security Disability Insurance at the age of 37 was not the path in life I hoped for.  Like most people I was raised to respect and honor the value of paid employment.  During the summers I mowed lawns, worked on my uncle’s farm, and occasionally delivered newspapers even in grade school.  I accepted my first “real job” working as a cook at McDonalds the summer before my junior year of high school.  My brother had worked there for a few years so they hired me.  I was fired a few weeks later because I couldn’t work fast enough to satisfy their needs.  I was even yelled at by the owner my first day on the job because I wasn’t working fast enough.  That was my introduction to the work world.

Over the course of the next several years I worked in retail stores and went to school.  By this time my mental illness was taking effect.  Some days I’d get panic attacks so bad I’d vomit before I went into work.  I was on edge at work except for when I was working alone or in a small group.  I just couldn’t work with the public without feeling terrible anxiety.  Because of this anxiety I would frequently make mistakes at my jobs and get yelled at by coworkers and customers.  This only made the anxiety worse as the months and years went by.  Not being able to deal with the public essentially killed any chance I had at a career as most jobs are now service related.  I really had no aptitude for working with my hands so I never considered trade school.

When I was twenty five, after I washed out of the masters’ program in college, I got a job working in a factory.  It was simple enough work that I didn’t really have to think about it.  But it was an overnight shift job and over the course of several weeks I couldn’t adapt to sleeping in the day.  Within a few weeks my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep.  Once again problems with coworkers rose up.  One night when I made a mistake one of my coworkers threatened to kill me.  I made up an excuse that I was sick and walked off the job that night.  I never reported the incident because I feared management wouldn’t take me seriously.  It has been my experience over the course of most of my life that no one took my problems seriously.  To this day I still don’t talk about my problems until they become major issues.

I actually liked what I was doing at the factory.  I even liked when I was doing janitorial work for the county government.  In my county job I worked alone for the first two and a half years I was there.  And I loved it.  I could do my work, not deal with coworker drama, and I had my weekends off.  It was the perfect job for me.  But I was too good at that job.  I got promoted, moved to the courthouse, and was on a staff of a handful of janitors.  It went well for awhile until we hired some people who didn’t want to do good work and wanted to start drama.  I never understood why people always wanted to start drama at a job.  We were there to accomplish a job and make money, nothing more and nothing less.  But some people just aren’t content unless they are causing problems for others.  My coworkers at the factory got on me because my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep well during the day.  My request to go to day shift was denied so I quit.  I could already feel mental health problems building and I knew it was only a matter of time before I had a full breakdown.  As it was a few months later I went to the mental hospital.

My only real complaints about work was dealing with the drama of coworkers and dealing with customers who thought they could treat me like dirt because I was making minimum wage.  It must make some people feel important treating small people poorly.  I wouldn’t know.  I could do just fine when I was working alone and only had to see my boss once or twice a day.  As long as the work was done I had no complaints or issues.  For me working alone is the best kind of job.  I think it runs in my family.  My father was self employed, one grandfather was a farmer and another was self employed.  I just hate dealing with office politics and needless drama.  And of course those are the staples of most modern workplaces.  I couldn’t figure it out.  But then I never could figure out why normal people act the way they do.  I can’t figure out why it’s too tough for some of you to just attempt to put differences aside and compromise.  I certainly can’t figure out why my culture praises ignorance and belligerence.  I am not ignorant and I have never respected ignorant people.  And I never will.

If I were to ever get back into the workplace it would be where I worked alone and didn’t deal with other people’s drama.  I could see doing a work from home job over telecommuting.  I have a friend and a cousin who do such work already.  Many office jobs can already be done this way even today.  But I know that some people don’t want to give up the office environment or give that much freedom to their workers.  Personally I’d love to telecommute.  I never understood the appeal of fighting traffic everyday to deal with people whose motives I can only guess just to do a job and get paid.  I know in the past I have said I never want to work again.  I should say that I don’t want to do any type of the work I have done in the past.  I don’t want to work retail and deal with unruly coworkers and customers.  I don’t want to work in an office and fight office politics.  I don’t want to work in manufacturing that is set up to wash out people who don’t toe the line exactly.  But that’s what my experience is in, even though I was never good at it.  I probably couldn’t make a career out of any of these jobs because many of those jobs are going to get automated within the next ten to twenty years.  My only real possibility of returning to work is doing alone work that allows me to use creativity, kind of like what I do with this blog.  Maybe I should become a professional ghost writer.

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Measuring Up

Not much has happened in the last few days.  We’re bracing for a snow storm to come in over the next couple days.  I’m still sleeping in my recliner as I’m still nursing my bad back.  Mentally I guess I have been okay even with fighting off the occasional bouts of boredom and anxiety.  I still feel kind of paranoid about people in general.  Since I have pretty good hearing, I can hear everything that goes on in the hallway outside of my apartment.  I don’t like unanticipated visitors as I have always been paranoid about that. I enjoy visiting people, but I can’t stand someone coming over unannounced when I am already self conscious about myself and my place.  My entire life I have had a fear that I don’t measure up in anything and that nothing I do will be good enough.  And since I’ve been fired from a few jobs in the past for things I didn’t know I was doing wrong and have lost friendships over people being annoyed with me being eccentric, many of my paranoias have been confirmed.  At least they are confirmed in my diseased mind but probably not in anyone else’s.  And since I don’t have the ability to read people very well, socializing has become a nightmare I would rather avoid.

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.

I Enjoy Adulthood Even With Mental Illness

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I must admit, I love being an adult.  I love the freedom involved.  I love having my own money and getting to decide how I get to spend it.  I love that I don’t have to answer to authority figures I didn’t choose.  If a boss was giving me static at a job, I could always look for a different job.  If a landlord was giving me a hard time, I always had the option of moving to a different place.  I love that I can do things like vote and go to casinos.  I enjoy that I don’t have to feel guilty for expressing my opinions and having my likes and dislikes.  I like that I can read whatever I want.  I love having privacy.  I enjoy not getting yelled at for trivial things like when I was in school or living with my parents.  I like the fact that I can avoid people who give me too much static.  When you are in school, you just can’t avoid bullies or sadistic teachers.  Sure I’ve had bosses and coworkers who were jerks and whiners, but at least I had the option of finding another job if I didn’t connect with said bosses or coworkers.  Changing schools is a lot tougher.

Even though I have been living with schizophrenia since at least age seventeen, I have found that it is getting easier to work around it the older I get.  The bad periods don’t last nearly as long nor are as intense as they were in my early twenties.  In my late 30s, I have come to the realization that I don’t have to be defined by what job I have or if I have a wife and kids or not.  I am not my job.  I am not less of a human being because I am not married.  Sure I still deal with people that tell me “mental illness is fake” or that “you’re not a real man.”  But as an adult it is much easier to blow those jerks and losers off and ignore them.  You think I’m faking mental illness, then screw you.  It’s not my job to meet your standards.  It is so much easier to not be bothered by criticism as a 36 year old than when I was 21.  I just hope that the older I get, the symptoms will become even less severe and I will care even less about naysayers and idiots.

I still isolate a lot and avoid socializing with my complex mates.  But I think I’m more mentally stable because of said lack of socializing.  When I was a kid people used to tell me I was being “anti-social” and had “attitude problems” because I didn’t like going to high school sporting events and county fairs.  There really wasn’t much to do in my farming village besides school events, church activities, and county fairs.  There was only one movie theatre in a fifty mile radius from my hometown. I didn’t enjoy watching people throw balls around much as a kid.  As an adult I really don’t have to feel guilty for not watching such things.  I do watch some college football and basketball tournaments just to give myself something to talk about with other people.  Most people still don’t like discussing science and technology in casual conversations.  But I haven’t been to any sporting events in person besides minor league baseball games in almost five years.  And I don’t feel the least bit guilty or anti-social because of it.  And as an adult I have these options.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

I don’t really understand people who are nostalgic about their youths or the past.  I might be a little nostalgic about growing up if I had more friends, was bullied less, and wasn’t so much of a social misfit in my school.  I am kind of nostalgic about my college years because I knew lots of smart people, had lots of interesting conversations, could do things at the spur of the moment with no planning, could study what I felt like studying, and had the legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood.  College was much more stimulating and enjoyable than grade school or high school.  Sure I never got to use my degree in a job, but I blame the schizophrenia for that completely.  And I am grateful everyday I can keep in contact with old friends through Facebook.

I love living in the here and now of May 2017.  Sure getting to this point was rough dealing with schizophrenia for almost twenty years.  Sure my physical health took a beating because my mental illness and the side effects of the psych medications.  But after twenty years of schizophrenia I have figured out how to deal with bad days and psychotic breaks.  I have also learned how to enjoy the small things of life more than many of my mentally stable friends and family.  Happiness for me is watching a sunset, or eating chicken wings at a sports bar with college friends, or seeing my niece and nephews for a few hours, or talking with my parents about history or technology, or reading internet sites like futurism.com or bloomberg.com about trends in science and current events.  I had my ups and downs with schizophrenia.  I had many breakdowns when I took a lot of grief out on my parents and friends.  Fortunately those breakdowns are getting less severe and shorter as I age.  I have had to go to the mental hospital twice. But both times I was self committed and my longest stay was one week.  I may not be able to hold a forty hour a week job, but at least I tried several different lines of work before I came to the conclusion that traditional employment wasn’t in my future.  And it’s not shameful to not hold a full time job, especially if you have a disability or find other outlets to give back to people.  I can still drive a car, I can still buy my own groceries, pick up my medications, keep appointments, and more or less live on my own even with mental illness.  Some people can’t claim that.  In short I love being an adult.  And I wouldn’t want to go back to my youth, even though I had more friends and better health in college.  Being an adult rocks.  It really does.

Making and Losing Friends and Mental Illness

Keeping friends over the years while having schizophrenia has always been tough.  Even before I became mentally ill I had a hard time making friends.  But I am convinced that much of this was probably due to the environment I grew up in.  Most people in my hometown were farmers or cowboys.  I never did want to farm and the cowboy life never appealed to me.  So I guess by the time I went to college I was already behind my peers in terms of social skills.  Having schizophrenia hurt my social skills in that the illness could make me standoffish and not understanding normal people humor and activities.  I have always preferred reading and science pursuits over talking about sports, campus gossip, or whatever tv shows were trendy that season.  I am still this way.

As a result of my mental illness and the environment I grew up in, I never really did learn how to make friends easily.  I never did have normal interests so most of the friends I did make wouldn’t be considered normal either.  My best friend from college is a high school history teacher who is an avid sports fan.  He is also an avid reader of history, philosophy, economics, and classic literature.  Even though we haven’t been in college for over a dozen years, I still talk to him about once a week.  It’s not uncommon for our conversations to involve talking about baseball statistics, Austrian economics, medieval battle tactics, and the philosophy of Nietchze all in the same phone call.  He has never made an issue of me having a mental illness or not having traditional employment.  I don’t know if he regularly reads my blogs but he does think I’m doing a good thing with these writings.  He’s even suggested that it’s possible that if I keep writing, some big online blog service like Huffington Post or Breitbart might hire me.  A man can dream, right?  In short, friends like this don’t come along everyday and are worth holding onto.  My best friend from high school, she’s pretty much the same way.  Both of these people I may not get to see very often but I do keep in contact with.

Other people who I have friended over the years haven’t turned out so well.  I had one friend that I’ve been having a falling out with for months over aspects of my mental illness.  This former friend doesn’t seem to respect the fact that I don’t want to date.  I’ve dated before while working through a mental illness.  It sucks.  Dating is supposed to be enjoyable.  What I went through wasn’t.  As far as love goes, that’s what family is for.  As far as sex goes, well I’m not a dog in that I can’t live without sex.  Surprise, surprise; there are men who aren’t interested in having sex all the time.  And the older I get the less interest I have in sex.

This person also doesn’t respect the fact that I don’t hold a regular job.  First of all, when I did work a regular job, there were days I would have panic attacks while on the job and even before I went to work.  Many days these panic attacks were so bad I would vomit from the anxiety.  I would also get physically ill from the stress and anxiety I would feel at work with schizophrenia.  And dealing with office politics, well that was super stressful in itself.  In short, I never want to hold a regular job again considering all the problems it caused me.  I’ll go to prison before I go back to work.

So for any person to even infer that I’m wasting my life not being at some minimum wage drudgery that’s going to get automated in a few years anyway, well that’s not the kind of respect friends show for each other.  I can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t respect me or my decisions.  And I especially can’t respect anyone who thinks I’m not “doing my part” or not “being a productive member of society” just because I don’t hold some nonsense job that a machine can do hundreds of times better.  Let the machines have all the damned jobs as far as I’m concerned.  I spent most of my life listening to people gripe and moan about how much they hated their jobs, as if it was an honor to hate your job, hate your boss, hate your coworkers, and hate your customers.  Any wonder why millions of American jobs got outsourced overseas?  After spending years fighting a mental illness and years trying to work in spite a mental illness, I don’t want to go back into the toxic work environment.  It wrecks havoc on my mental stability.  And if anyone can’t respect my decision, then screw them.  I don’t want people like that in my life.

 

Just Because It’s Not Paid Work Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Valuable Work

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Some of my critics will love to point out that I don’t have a “real job” and that I’m only able to stay alive because I am “leeching” off the taxpayers of my country.  To which I respond, “Let’s see you fight through a mental illness for twenty years that no one can understand and some even deny exists and then you tell me how much of a leech and a cancer on society I am.”  I have had people who I previously thought were my friends tell me I’m “wasting my life” not working some minimum wage drudgery because it’s the “useful”, “honorable”, and “manly” thing to do.  I have had former friends tell me my blogging about mental illness is “a waste of time.”  Needless to say such short sighted jerks I no longer keep in contact with.

Who gets to define what is honorable and useful to begin with?  I don’t remember getting to vote on such ideas.  By what right do now former friends get to tell me I am wasting my life and time blogging about living with a mental illness?  I can illustrate what living with a mental illness is like.  Many who are mentally ill are unable to articulate what living with it is like.  It’s a lonely existence.  It’s a turbulent existence.  It is a horrible feeling knowing I will never be able to attempt to achieve my dreams.  It is terrible knowing I will never have a family.  It sucks knowing that through no fault of my own I’m always going to be on the fringes of society.  And it scares me that I’m always going to be in poor health and probably die at a younger age than most people.  The public at large needs to know what life is like for the forgotten mentally ill people.  Many mentally ill people rotate in and out of jail because they aren’t getting the kind of treatment they need.  Many mentally ill people are homeless and not by choice.  Some, like myself, have to live on the outside of society looking in because we are not accepted by society as a whole.  It can be a very dreary and dark existence.  I don’t wish the ups and downs of mental illness on anyone, not even my worst enemies.

Why is paid drudge work considered honorable yet unpaid volunteer work, such as what I do with this blog, isn’t?  Why do I have to work as a janitor or a convenience store clerk to “earn my keep?”  As easily as we can grow food, build shelters, and harvest energy anymore, we don’t necessarily need what economists call ‘full employment.’  We don’t need several layers of bureaucracy or managers of managers or ‘inspectors of inspectors’ as Buckminister Fuller put it many years ago.

We don’t have 90 percent of our workforce on farms or factories like we did during the Industrial Revolution because we have machines and scientific processes that can grow crops and make goods far better than we could in bygone years.  I am convinced that holding on the antiquated and obsolete idea that everyone has to have a job is actually hurting us as a society and holding us back as a species.  Besides, when I was working I heard my coworkers and bosses complain and whine about how much they hated their jobs.  It seems to me that everyone enjoys complaining about how much they hate their jobs.  Hating your job, it seems to me, is more American than apple pie, the Stars and Stripes, or baseball. I never understood why normal people took pride in their misery and anger.  That doesn’t seem mentally balanced at all to me.

If there is a point to this post, it’s that maybe we as developed nations should seriously consider letting machines and automation take over as much drudgery work as possible, tax the workings of said machines and automations, and just give people a regular stipend just for being citizens of a post industrial nation.  Pretty much just free people up from the idea of having to have a repetitive and boring job just to eat and pay rent.  These boring and repetitive jobs should have been outsourced to machines and automations a long time ago.  And they will be assigned to the machines eventually.  No politician can prevent the automation revolution that is already underway.

How many kids grow up dreaming of being convenience store clerks, working at Wal Mart, or working on an assembly line?  No, kids grow up dreaming of being things like astronauts, artists, scientists, explorers, performers, etc.  It’s when we start telling these kids they need to ‘quit dreaming’ or ‘get a real job’ that they stop striving for the stars and quit fulfilling their potential. And I think that telling these kids to kill their dreams to do something just for the money is immoral and monstrous.

In closing, the next time you hear some supposedly wise grown up tell a kid or young adult that they need to get a real job or work for money, just remember that the most important job in the world doesn’t pay a dime of money to any of it’s workers.  That job is, of course, parenthood.

 

Thoughts On Holding A Job With Schizophrenia

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Being on Social Security Disability Insurance at the age of 36 was not the path in life I hoped for.  Like most people I was raised to respect and honor the value of paid employment.  During the summers I mowed lawns, worked on my uncle’s farm, and occasionally delivered newspapers even in grade school.  I accepted my first “real job” working as a cook at McDonalds the summer before my junior year of high school.  My brother had worked there for a few years so they hired me.  I was fired a few weeks later because I couldn’t work fast enough to satisfy their needs.  I was even yelled at by the owner my first day on the job because I wasn’t working fast enough.  That was my introduction to the work world.

Over the course of the next several years I worked in retail stores and went to school.  By this time my mental illness was taking effect.  Some days I’d get panic attacks so bad I’d vomit before I went into work.  I was on edge at work except for when I was working alone or in a small group.  I just couldn’t work with the public without feeling terrible anxiety.  Because of this anxiety I would frequently make mistakes at my jobs and get yelled at by coworkers and customers.  This only made the anxiety worse as the months and years went by.  Not being able to deal with the public essentially killed any chance I had at a career as most jobs are now service related.  I really had no aptitude for working with my hands so I never considered trade school.

When I was twenty five, after I washed out of the masters’ program in college, I got a job working in a factory.  It was simple enough work that I didn’t really have to think about it.  But it was an overnight shift job and over the course of several weeks I couldn’t adapt to sleeping in the day.  Within a few weeks my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep.  Once again problems with coworkers rose up.  One night when I made a mistake one of my coworkers threatened to kill me.  I made up an excuse that I was sick and walked off the job that night.  I never reported the incident because I feared management wouldn’t take me seriously.  It has been my experience over the course of most of my life that no one took my problems seriously.  To this day I still don’t talk about my problems until they become major issues.

I actually liked what I was doing at the factory.  I even liked when I was doing janitorial work for the county government.  In my county job I worked alone for the first two and a half years I was there.  And I loved it.  I could do my work, not deal with coworker drama, and I had my weekends off.  It was the perfect job for me.  But I was too good at that job.  I got promoted, moved to the courthouse, and was on a staff of a handful of janitors.  It went well for awhile until we hired some people who didn’t want to do good work and wanted to start drama.  I never understood why people always wanted to start drama at a job.  We were there to accomplish a job and make money, nothing more and nothing less.  But some people just aren’t content unless they are causing problems for others.  My coworkers at the factory got on me because my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep well during the day.  My request to go to day shift was denied so I quit.  I could already feel mental health problems building and I knew it was only a matter of time before I had a full breakdown.  As it was a few months later I went to the mental hospital.

My only real complaints about work was dealing with the drama of coworkers and dealing with customers who thought they could treat me like dirt because I was making minimum wage.  It must make some people feel important treating small people poorly.  I wouldn’t know.  I could do just fine when I was working alone and only had to see my boss once or twice a day.  As long as the work was done I had no complaints or issues.  For me working alone is the best kind of job.  I think it runs in my family.  My father was self employed, one grandfather was a farmer and another was self employed.  I just hate dealing with office politics and needless drama.  And of course those are the staples of most modern workplaces.  I couldn’t figure it out.  But then I never could figure out why normal people act the way they do.  I can’t figure out why it’s too tough for some of you to just attempt to put differences aside and compromise.  I certainly can’t figure out why my culture praises ignorance and belligerence.  I am not ignorant and I have never respected ignorant people.  And I never will.

If I were to ever get back into the workplace it would be where I worked alone and didn’t deal with other people’s drama.  I could see doing a work from home job over telecommuting.  I have a friend and a cousin who do such work already.  Many office jobs can already be done this way even today.  But I know that some people don’t want to give up the office environment or give that much freedom to their workers.  Personally I’d love to telecommute.  I never understood the appeal of fighting traffic everyday to deal with people whose motives I can only guess just to do a job and get paid.  I know in the past I have said I never want to work again.  I should say that I don’t want to do any type of the work I have done in the past.  I don’t want to work retail and deal with unruly coworkers and customers.  I don’t want to work in an office and fight office politics.  I don’t want to work in manufacturing that is set up to wash out people who don’t toe the line exactly.  But that’s what my experience is in, even though I was never good at it.  I probably couldn’t make a career out of any of these jobs because many of those jobs are going to get automated within the next ten to twenty years.  My only real possibility of returning to work is doing alone work that allows me to use creativity, kind of like what I do with this blog.  Maybe I should become a professional ghost writer.