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.

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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.

A Schizophrenic Country Boy’s Journey to Enlightenment

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Starting to read more traditional books again.  For a couple years I had been lazy, by my standards, about reading.  For most of my life I always had a book I was reading on or re-reading.  I had gotten out of that habit for a little over two years as most of my reading was being done online.  I did listen to a few sci-fi audiobooks on youtube.  My favorites were Foundation by Issac Asimov and a few of Cory Doctrow’s short stories.

But I have recently rediscovered how much I love laying in bed with a book under my nose.  When I was in college, my friends thought I was odd in that I would do most of my homework in bed.  In addition to my homework, I was also reading some of the classics of Western literature from the college library.  Levitt Library was such a second home for me during my college years that I took a job as a tutor there my senior year.  I didn’t really need the money as I lived at home during the summers while working 40 to 50 hours a week and saving my summer money for the school year.

During my ‘self directed study’ program, I sampled philosophy from ancient Greece and Rome, read epic poetry by the ancient masters like Homer and Virgil, read lots of history, sampled some of the philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, read some of the major works of Shakespeare, as well as much of the classic poetry of Europe and 19th and early 20th century America.  The works of Emerson and Nietchze resonated with me.  I still have some of their works on my book shelf.  My favorite classical novelist is probably Alexandre Dumas, I especially loved ‘The Count of Monte Cristo.’  One summer I read ‘War and Peace’, and it took the entire summer to read it.  The summer after I graduated from college, I managed to slog through ‘The Wealth of Nations’, which is essentially the Bible of free market capitalism.

But my tastes have changed over time, when I was in my late twenties I read all the works of Ayn Rand as well as a lot of military history, namely John Keegan, Victor Davis Hanson, and Barbara Tuchman. In my early thirties, I read many economics and business books.  I enjoyed the works of Napoleon Hill, Dave Ramsey, Zig Ziglar, and Robert Kiyosaki the most. In my mid thirties, I became interested in all things science and future tech.  To that end, I read some of the works of Michio Kaku, Ray Kurzweil, Eric Drexler, Ronald Bailey, Kevin Kelly, and Peter Diamandis.

After a couple years of letting all this reading ferment, I am ready to dive back into serious reading again.  Even though I have spent a great deal of my life reading those famous books everyone has heard of but never actually read, there are still some books I haven’t gotten to yet that are still on my bucket list.  There are still major philosophers I haven’t gotten into much yet, namely Marx, Kant, Locke, as well as Lao Tzu and Confucious.

Before the prevalence of the internet, some of the entries on my bucket list were to visit the Library of Congress as well as all of the libraries of Harvard University.  But, as it stands now, I can get many of those rare and hard to find works online.  I have hundreds of e-books about philosophy and history that I may never get to read.  But I have them on my computer and iPod.  Kind of mind blowing to think that I have access to the treasure trove of the collected knowledge of civilization available in a manner that would have been impossible even in my childhood and for the price of only one dollar a day in wireless internet connection.  I have access to information that scholars were too often tortured, imprisoned, and killed for seeking in past eras and I don’t even have to leave my living room to acquire it.  I have access to the wisdom of civilization yet I’ll likely never have the money to buy my own house.  Only in the early 21st Century.

Yet, I enjoy living the life of a self  taught scholar.  I made myself into one primarily because school by itself didn’t completely satisfy my love for reading and learning.  Tragically, for some people, their school years stifled their creativity and killed their love of reading and learning.  Even though I make poverty level wages, I can get by with my books and writings.  I can do this because I have zero debts.  I will never go into debt again, not even to learn.  I can learn almost anything online anymore.

If there is any one thing I can take away from my years of self study, it is that the path to enlightenment is a never ending one.  I don’t want to stop learning, ever.  If I make it to my nineties and have to live in a retirement home and not be able to bathe myself, I hope at least I can still read books or online articles.  Maybe, by the time I’m ninety anyone will be able to create entire fantasy worlds on hyper powerful computers and share those with other people via powerful virtual reality.  I would love to be able to recreate some of the worlds I read about in books.  But that is still a long way down the road.  Until then, I can visit such worlds by my reading.

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.

August 7, 2018

Been uneventful for a few days.  I’m no longer staying awake all night and sleeping most of the day.  Most of my waking time anymore is during daylight hours.  Mentally I feel stable.  I am starting to get a few more aches and pains I can’t really explain.  But I have been more active than usual.  I’m reading more books again.  For awhile most of what I was reading was online articles and audio books.  I’m currently reading ‘The Inevitable’ by Kevin Kelly.  It’s a future tech trends book.

I watch more live tv now, mostly baseball and soccer.  I still don’t watch most news as most of it is just bad news meant to catch our attention.  All the news that fit to be print, right?  I don’t have any regular shows I watch besides some Star Trek reruns on Netflix.  I do watch a lot of history shows on youtube.  I recently watched Crash Course’s entire world history series.  I always did get a kick out of John Green.

While I do get out more often, I still don’t stray too far from my neighborhood.  Haven’t really been outside of my hometown for almost six weeks.  But I am just comfortable and content to stay close to home and did most of my business here.

I think I’m losing weight again.  I notice my clothes fit looser and I can walk a little farther than I could even a few weeks ago.  I think my aches and pains are from more physical activity than usual.  I can also lift more weight than usual.  Weight lifting does make a difference even after a month.

August 4, 2018

Even though we still have officially six weeks of summer left, it’s starting to feel like autumn is just around the corner.  I’m seeing back to school sales and getting fliers for said sales in my mail on almost a daily basis.  One of my neighbors has tomato and pepper pants in the back yard of our apartment complex and they are looking almost ready for harvest.  My parents have kept tomato plants as far back as I can remember and we always had fresh tomatoes every August.  A friend of mine from out of state and her husband grow tomatoes and peppers to make fresh salsa.  I should sweet talk them into sending me a jar one of these soon days.  School for my nephews and niece starts in two weeks.  Soon I’ll be spending my Saturday afternoons watching college football.  I guess I always preferred the college game to the pros, if for no other reason, Nebraska isn’t big enough to support pro teams.

Mentally I still feel quite stable.  And I think I’m starting to lose weight again.  I usually eat two large protein rich meals per day and drink mostly only water and coffee.  I don’t even buy bread anymore as I have cut most grains out of my diet.  I don’t eat much for dairy besides Greek yogurt and occasionally cheddar cheese.  But my diet mostly consists of baked and grilled lean meats and fresh vegetables.  I saw an online article featuring a former pro football player who lost over 100 pounds in a year and all he was doing was eating grilled chicken, fresh vegetables, lots of water, and lifting weights three times a week.  While I don’t count on such excellent results, it doesn’t hurt to aim big.  I feel like I’ve made much progress since Independence Day, exactly one month ago today.

I socialize in person more now.  Most days I leave my apartment at least once daily, if to just check the mail or buy a Diet Coke from the ground floor vending machine.  I usually drive my car three times a week just to keep it loose and ready to go.  Still haven’t made any road trips this summer besides going to my parents’ house a couple times.

I am still mentally stable.  I am usually in bed by midnight and awake by nine a.m. most days.  I avoid drama and pointless arguments as much as possible now.  Overall I feel well.  I haven’t felt this well for such a prolonged time period in a few years.  And I love it.

I’m glad that summer is almost over.  I always enjoyed autumn more than summer.  I look forward to the cooler weather, the turning leaves, the farmers’ markets, fall football,  playoff baseball, and the college kids returning to town.  My town really comes to life during the falls and springs when the college is in session.  I can hardly wait.

Changes in Personality and Mental Illness Symptoms with Age

Currently going through a prolonged period of stability.  My levels of depression and anxiety have been quite low lately.  When I do have such issues, they don’t last long and aren’t very bad.  I haven’t had a breakdown of any kind in months.  Haven’t been hospitalized for almost five years now.  I was having feelings of depression and paranoia earlier this year but I wasn’t overly concerned about it as I wasn’t having the anger or aggression issues that traditionally went with it.  Sure I would go days without leaving my apartment, but I wasn’t excessively angry or looking for arguments.  So I wasn’t as worried as I should have been.  Not wanting to socialize for long stretches of time isn’t normal for me.  Sure I have had stretches when I wanted to be left alone for several hours or a day at most.  But I was going sometimes entire weeks when I’d leave my apartment only two or three times the entire week.

Naturally some of my neighbors became concerned.  I may have never been Mr. Popular but I made it a point to be polite and thoughtful to everyone I met.  Yet as I wasn’t even socializing, nor did I want to, that wasn’t normal for me.  I have never been one to just bunker down for days.  I had gotten to that point, particularly during the winter.  It wasn’t my traditional problem with mental illness, but it was a different one.

People do tend to change some with age.  I imagine mental illness issues are probably not much different.  Aspects of my personality and habits have altered over the years.  I’m not as hot tempered as I was even five years ago.  I laugh more often now than I did in my twenties.  I enjoy the little things of life more.  Overall, I’m happier now in my late 30s than I was in my late 20s.  And this is despite my physical health not being as good as it was ten years ago or my being more social than I am now.  I think I have gotten happier and more calm with age.  And I quite enjoy it.

July 25, 2018

It’s been pretty quiet and uneventful the last few days.  I’ve been on my new medication routine for almost a month now.  I think things are working out quite well.  I’ve been getting out of my apartment and socializing in person more, so I haven’t been online as much for the last week or so.  I’m now usually going to bed by midnight and waking up by 8 am.  I’m apparently back to normal hours.  I think the weather being cooler than usual the last two weeks has helped.  It hasn’t been an unbareably hot July in my town this year.  I can tell the days are getting dark sooner.  Won’t be too long and school will be starting again.  Haven’t been watching as much baseball this summer.  I guess I got hooked on World Cup soccer this year.

I think I’m starting to lose weight again.  Changed my diet and started lifting weights three weeks ago.  I eat mostly high protein foods, keep carbs to a minimum, and have cut out most sugar.  I even need less sleep too.

Summers are usually a tough time of year for me.  But I have been able to avoid real problems this summer so far.  I guess we have about another five to six weeks of warm weather before things start cooling off.  And the foliage will start turning as well.  Summer is winding down.  I can hardly wait for cooler weather and longer nights.

July 22, 2018

Have had my new furniture for a week.  And I must say my apartment is now feeling more like a home again instead of a hide out.  I’m also a month into my new medication routine.  I’m now back to regular sleep patterns again as I usually wake up around 7 am now.  I don’t stay up all night like I used to, even after a few cups of coffee.  Mentally I feel more than stable, I actually feel calm and at peace.  Haven’t felt peace like this for an extended time in years.  And I think I’m starting to lose weight again.  I have more energy, I recover quicker from aches and pains, and my clothing is starting to fit looser.

I haven’t had much to report for the last few days as my days have been uneventful.  Fortunately it hasn’t been so hot the last several days, so I’ve been getting outside more often and for longer stretches.  Typically late July is our hottest time of year.  But people are already talking about school starting again and fall football practice starts in a week or two.  I’m avoiding the mall and box stores so as to not fight the back to school shopping crowds.

It’s been a quiet June and July for me.  That’s not normally the case as summers are usually tough times for me.  No doubt I’m on a good luck streak right now.  And I plan to ride it as long as I can.