Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions. 

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Rooting For A Last Place Baseball Team

Rooting For A Last Place Baseball Team 

A Poem by Zach Foster

 

My hometown baseball team is now forty games out of first

Of the teams in the league, we are the worst.

The pitching staff, so eager and young,

On which our hopes of a dream season hung,

Got lit up early and often and never came around

Sinking our chances for the pennant with only the sound

Of the crack of the other teams’ bats sending the ball

Over our outfield’s walls.

Our bats started luke warm only to go completely cold

When our two best hitters got traded and sold

To better playing teams on the coasts,

From there the team gave up the ghost.

Sitting in the stands of our ballpark on a late September day

With far more empty seats than fans who paid

I’m watching this scorned mut of a team I’ve loved since youth

Fighting desperately nail and tooth

To stay in a meaningless late season game

With nothing but pride to gain.

For those of us few, but faithful, bleacher bums, we have no fear

For our rallying cry is “Wait until next year!” 

The Story of Two Brothers and What Is Still Good About American College

I’m going to be treading off the beaten path again.  This time this blog will be telling the story of two brothers I’ve known from my parents’ church their entire lives.  They’re quite a bit younger than me, but I’ve gotten to know these two pretty well as their parents are family friends of ours and that home community is one of those places that tight knit enough that everyone knows everyone.  I’m very reluctant to share their names as they really don’t like to brag about their accomplishments, but many people I grew up with are the exact same way.  It probably goes with the farming/ranching orientation of my entire home state.

After finishing their high school careers with about every athletic honor, social honor, and I think many of the academic honors their small high school could offer, these two enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  From there they got on the track and field team, with both of them training for multiple events for the Husker track and field team.

These two put in full time classes, long hours of training, as well as the required studying for classes.  I don’t know the exact dollar amount of their scholarships (of if they even qualify for track scholarships as they have been in the program for only one year), but from what I understand, I was getting more on an academic scholarship to a small, private college than most T&F athletes do.  I received $5,000 a year and all I had to do was keep a 3.5 GPA after four semesters.  Well, I couldn’t keep that even though I wasn’t doing a time consuming sport or activity like band or student council or student journalism, etc.  Getting back to these two young men, both of them made the Dean’s List their freshmen year.  One of them even had a perfect 4.0, which I can never claim.  To help pay for college, these two are doing farm work this summer.

These two have been excellent athletes since they were toddlers running wild on the church front lawn every Sunday.  They won state championships in their individual sports as well as football.  Yet they are more than just athletes.  They are also dedicated students.  They have always been active in the church and lived Christian principles to the best of their abilities.  They are hard workers as they’ve grown up on a farm and doing farm work since they were children.  In short, these two brothers are what’s good about a lot of things.

In the last couple weeks alone, we college sports fans have seen a star quarterback get suspended for academic misjudgment from Notre Dame.  We’ve seen, from the same University of Nebraska these two brothers attend and compete for, a football player get arrested for assault.  We’ve seen the p.r. nightmare that has become Rutgers’ athletic department administration.  We’ve just seen the University President at Ohio State carelessly spouting off at a fundraiser.  Now we’re seeing the family of the late former Penn State coach suing the NCAA.  I could go on about conference realignments, tv revenues, money hungry college presidents, athletes cheating in school, the pro leagues using colleges as de facto minor leagues, massively paid coaches, etc. But those stories have been told time and time again to where we think that is all there is to tell about the story of athletics at American colleges.

For every major bad story involving the odd mixture of academia, athletics, money, media, government, and the law, there are other stories that easily get ignored.  Those are the stories of the young men and women who compete/participate/work/study in the athletics, student activities and organizations, jobs, and schools we too often sell out as being corrupt, wastes of time and money, demeaning and low paying, and failing in comparison to our foreign counterparts.  In short, we refuse to see what’s good anymore.

In closing in this story about these two brothers, I think I will mention them by name.  While there are many young men and women like these two at every university in America, their stories never get heard because names never get put to them.  These two are Jed and Guy Fenske; scholars, athletes, model workers, and morally upstanding citizens.

Technology Advances and U.S. Presidents

I decided for today’s post to get off the subject a little bit.  Actually I’m off the beaten path a lot.  A couple of random events have gone into this post.  My grandmother will be turning 95 years of age in a few weeks and she made the off hand comment something to the effect ‘I’ve seen people go from Model T’s to Predator Drones just in my life time.’  I was also reading a history book that came out a few years ago that detailed all the U.S. Presidents from Washington to George W. Bush (it came out before Obama was elected).  As I was reading this book my grandmother’s comments just kept coming back to me.  And doing a little further looking into when some of the wonders of modern living that we take for granted were developed, I put together this list (which is by no means meant to be anything but for fun), of what the some of the leaders of the USA didn’t have even in the White House that you and I have even in our house and communities.  So here goes:

George Washington didn’t even have the White House as Washington D.C. didn’t become the nation’s capital until after his death in 1799.  New York was the capital at the time.

Thomas Jefferson may have wrote the Declaration of Independence, and approved the Louisiana Purchase, but he didn’t do with a ball point ink pin.  He and political rival John Adams (the second U.S. president), also have the distinction of having probably never ridden on a train but having died on the exact same day, July 4 1826.

Andrew Jackson may have won the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and be on the 20 dollar bill, but he never had a flushing toilet in the White House.

Abraham Lincoln never had electric lighting or a telephone but managed to be one for the ages anyway.

Theodore Roosevelt managed to complete the Panama Canal, win a Nobel Peace Prize, break up business monopolies, but never got to “speak softly and carry a big stick” before Hollywood could have filmed him in a color movie.

Woodrow Wilson got the Federal Reserve Bank and the League of Nations (the forerunner to the UN) pushed through, but never owned a black and white television set and probably never owned anything made of plastic.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had the New Deal, the TVA, the REA, the WPA, and was president during World War II but never shopped at a Wal-Mart, ate fast food, or had a credit card.

Dwight Eisenhower got the Interstate Highway System done, organized the Normandy Invasion,  but never owned a hand held calculator or a minivan.

John F. Kennedy may have stopped us from getting in a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis but never so much as nuked a burrito in a microwave oven.

Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act but didn’t live to see the rise of cable television.

Richard Nixon opened relations to China, had his enemies list, and spied on practically everyone including himself but did so without personal computers, Skype, and those eye in the sky cameras you find on practically every intersection in every major city anymore.

Gerald Ford trips on the steps of Air Force One in the 1970s, it makes the 6 o’clock news.  Today it would have probably a hundred million hits on YouTube within a weekend.

Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president born in a hospital (born in 1924).

Ronald Reagan may have been instrumental in bringing down the Iron Curtain, but he couldn’t ‘lol’ about it on Facebook or tweet #toredownberlinwall on twitter at the time they happened.  In fact, he couldn’t so much as receive a quick text message from Margaret Thatcher or anybody else for that matter.

I could list more examples, but these are just some off the top of my head.  I welcome others and discussions.

Coping With Losing Friends During Mental Illness

 

            When I was in high school I began having problems with what was the beginnings of my mental illness.  I began to act very strange and unusual.  I had developed a very volatile temper because of my mental illness.  Before I became ill I was very easy going and I didn’t get upset very easily.  In grade school I was even one of the class clowns.  All of that changed when my mental illness came into being.

            I would get very angry over anything and everything.  The most meaningless snide comments from a classmate would often be enough to make me very angry.  It also came to be that I hated many of my classmates because I believed that they were out to harm me.  This was, as I learned in retrospect, due to the paranoid aspect of my schizophrenia.  I would often be very defensive and standoffish.  I would rarely open up to anyone with the exception of my best friend.  I never got into any fights in high school but I came close several times.

            Since I was building up walls around myself and not opening up to anyone, my friends gradually disappeared.  I didn’t notice this at first.  It wasn’t until I was almost half way through my senior year of high school I realized that all of my friends were gone.  Looking back I know that was because I had become standoffish, distant, bizarre, paranoid, and very angry.  All of this was occurring for no outside apparent reason, but within my brain I was undergoing massive upheavals.

            I know now that my parents knew that something was severely bothering me.  Yet since I was so paranoid I kept my issues to myself.  This didn’t help at all.  It made things much worse to have to put up a false front and have a developing mental illness at the same time.  I was terrified of what would happen if I let my parents know what was really going on inside of my mind.  It was terrifying enough for me to experience it and not know what was going to happen from one moment to the next.  I had no idea how to tell them I wasn’t all right at all. 

    How do you tell someone what is wrong with you when even you don’t know what’s developing?  We know all about the symptoms of heart problems and cancer.  We have those hammered into our heads by the press and popular culture all of the time.  Yet the public at large is still quite ignorant of the symptoms of mental illness and mental health problems.  I didn’t even know what I was going through had a name or that I wasn’t alone when I first became ill in the late 1990s.  The Internet was still in its infancy and information on mental health and mental illness issues was not very easy to find.  I had no idea what was going on inside my head.  My paranoid aspects of my illness made me reaching out for help from other people almost impossible.

I certainly didn’t seek the help of my school counselor.  I was fearful that talking to the school counselor would be ineffective.  I had my head full of visions of counselors asking questions about my childhood and making me tell them what I saw in large inkblots.  I was also scared of getting labeled because I went to a very small high school with less than one hundred students in the entire high school.  I was paranoid enough that I didn’t want my problems becoming public knowledge.  High school kids are notorious enough for being gossips and cruel.  I just knew, in my paranoid state, that my classmates were already talking behind my back.  I just knew that going to the school counselor would have made things much worse.

Since my classmates knew I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs they had to know that something was really messed up with me.   It’s easy to dismiss someone’s erratic behavior because of drinking or drugs.  But because of the lack of public knowledge and discourse about mental illness, the possibility that someone’s odd actions may be due to an undiagnosed mental illness will almost never occur to someone.  So looking back on my high school days, I can see why my classmates were alienated from me.  It wasn’t because of anything malicious; it was because they had no idea of how to work with a classmate with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I have to attribute that to a lack of knowledge and public discussion about mental illness.

Fortunately I made several friends in college who accepted me in spite of my mental illness.  By then I was being treated and the treatments were quite effective.  Thanks to the Internet and social media like Facebook.com, I have kept in contact with many of my college friends.  I am also now reestablishing contact with my friends from high school that had become alienated because of the onset of my paranoid schizophrenia.

I have had a few friends tell me that because of me they have been able to better understand those with mental illnesses.  I have also been told that simply because of being friends with me they have gotten past many of the stigmas and prejudices that are associated with mental illness.  I’m glad that there have been some positives to come from my mental illness.

Struggles With Mental Illness In College

Struggles With Mental Illness In College

By Zach Foster

 

            I wasn’t officially diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia until I was twenty years old.  Yet I started to notice problems when I was seventeen years old.  I was gradually seeing changes in my personality as well as losing interest in my activities and hobbies.  None of this made any sense to me when I was going through it and was quite scary.

            Until I began having problems I was involved in many of the activities my small town high school had to offer.  I was also one the best and smartest students in my class.  I even had an active social life outside of my school activities.  In short, I was a typical teenage male.

            Shortly after I turned seventeen, I began to notice some changes in myself during the fall of my junior year.  I started to become careless in my school activities and eventually became indifferent about them.  I would occasionally skip speech practices.  I would be giving minimum effort in football and track practice as well as arguing with my teammates and ignoring my coaches.  I came to be easily frustrated and angered by my schoolmates.  Things I would have previously dismissed as meaningless jokes and harmless pranks took on a sinister and threatening tone.  I was less interested in school and my grades began to decline. 

I didn’t even try out for the school-play my senior year even though I had the lead role as a junior.  Though I never did cross that line, on many occasion I wanted to physically fight my classmates and even some of my teachers were previously I hadn’t been in a fight with anyone except my brother and my cousins.  I completely gave up on dating as I went my entire senior year without one single date.  I began to gain weight at a fast rate once football ended my senior year, gaining almost thirty pounds in only six months.  I even managed to fail a class the last quarter of my senior year.

            By the time I graduated from high school I lost contact with all of my friends.  I didn’t have a single friend when I finished school because I had neglected to maintain any friendships and strained others as hard as I did.  I was angry and frustrated all the time.  I almost never laughed or smiled.  I never went out socially anymore, instead opting to hide out in my basement bedroom and listen to hard rock music for hours at a time.  Fortunately I was still able to graduate because I had enough credits even with failing a class.  I didn’t care about anyone or anything, especially myself.  My hygiene declined, as did my self-esteem.  I didn’t trust anyone at all, not my teachers, my parents, my old friends, and especially not my classmates.

            I was a total wreck by the time I graduated from high school.  Graduation was not a celebration as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t savor the victory of graduating because, in my diseased mind, I was expected to graduate just as much as I was expected to do my chores at home.  Graduation had no more excitement for me than taking the trash to the curb.  I didn’t see graduating as an accomplishment. I saw it as I survived those last two years of pure torment. 

            Looking back on it years later, I should have sought help immediately when I was in high school.  I certainly should never have attempted college immediately after I finished school.  Mentally I was exhausted and running on fumes.  I could hardly concentrate on my work even that last year in high school.  Socially I was inept and way behind the curve.  I should have sought help sooner than I did.

            My problems went from bad to horrible when I got into college.  I was depressed and sad when I wasn’t full of rage and anger, but never happy about anything.  One moment I would be absolutely enraged by something that was meaningless.  Not even a minute later I would be so depressed and sad over something else that I was inconsolable.  After a few weeks of this in college, I went to a counselor who strongly recommended I go see a psychiatrist, which I finally did after about a year of fighting and struggling through school while having major psychological issues.  I was finally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in October 2000.

            After being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia I was put on a series of anti-depressants and anti-psych medications.  It took several months of trial and error before a combination of medications that worked for me was found.  With this right combination of meds I was once again able to return to college and live an almost normal life.

            I first had problems with being depressed and moody when I was a junior in high school.  At first I thought nothing of it and believed I was merely going through typical teenage mood swings.  I saw what other students in my high school were going through and came to believe that anger, depression, frustration, sadness, and anxiety were normal parts of growing up.  I would find out that my original thinking was wrong and distorted.  My problems were anything but normal and I was going to need some serious help.

            As I moved from high school into college my problems went from bad to worse.    I was rarely happy with anyone or anything.  I easily lost my temper over the smallest things.  I had delusions that people were going through my trash.  I was paranoid that people were listening in on my phone conversations.  Yet I still managed to stay in school.

            I first went to counseling a few weeks into my freshman year.  Before then I was completely on my own.  I was keeping all of my emotions and fears bottled up with no way to safely release them.  I was fearful of telling anyone the true way I felt and what I was really thinking.  I was afraid that no one would understand me and or tell me to ‘suck it up and take it like a man.’  I had been doing just exactly that since high school and I was only getting worse by the day.

            Counseling did some good to help me vent my frustrations.  But it did nothing to get at the root of my problems.  I was still having problems with depression, anxiety, delusions, auditory hallucinations, anger, and extreme irritation.

            My auditory hallucinations were a problem.  Mine didn’t tell me to kill myself or to hurt anyone.  Instead mine always give a running commentary of what I was doing all of the time.  It was sort of like the play-by-play commentary on a ballgame telecast except that it was my life.  The voices were always inside of my head, never outside.  The voices were never complimentary; they were always very critical, occasionally hostile, always annoying, and always occurring at the very worst possible times.  These voices demanded perfection out of everything I did all of the time. 

            Finally in the summer of 2000, I went to see my family practitioner about my depression and anger issues.  I was way too embarrassed to talk about my auditory hallucinations.  Major mistake.  I could have saved myself a great deal of heartache and a lot of recovery time had I pointed those hallucinations out immediately.  But because I was not completely open with my doctor about all of my problems, I wasn’t correctly treated right away.

            I was given a prescription for an anti-depressant that was quite new and popular.  But it didn’t do anything to lessen my problems.  I was well back into college before I figured out that the medication was going to have to be changed.  That was my second major mistake, trying to continue on with my life before I took care of my own sickness. 

            With my illness getting severe enough that every aspect of my life was now suffering real bad, I had no choice but to take a few days off from school.  I went and saw a psychiatrist.  After a several hour session and a complete physical where I was completely honest, I was diagnosed with Major Depression.  Paranoid Schizophrenia would later be added to the diagnosis. 

            Different people handle being diagnosed differently.  Some will be confused as to what it means.  Others will be severely depressed, saddened, and feel that life no longer has any reason for going forward.  Others, like myself, may actually be somewhat relieved to know that there are names for their problems and that they are not alone. 

            I went through several series of medications over the next several months with little success of finding anything that worked well.  The entire time I was trying to find a series of medications that worked I was limping through school, just barely getting by.  At first I thought that quitting school was not an option because I had never quit at anything before in my entire life.  It finally got to be too much and I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to take some time off and regroup. 

            In March 2001 I decided to withdraw from college and take a few months to recover.  My mental illness, juggling medication changes, and trying to pass my classes had finally worn me out.  I would have flunked out had I stayed on for the rest of the year.

            In the weeks that followed my withdrawing from school, my psychiatrist and I were able to find a combination of medications that finally worked.  By the summer time I was able to hold a forty-hour a week summer job.  When the fall of 2001 came I re-enrolled in college and was back ready to go.

 

I was officially diagnosed as mentally ill in the year 2000 at the age of twenty.  Before then I was acting strange and thinking paranoid thoughts that no one else was.  I had no idea just how bizarre my thoughts and actions were until I was recommended to a psychiatrist by both my family physician and counselor.

            I now readily admit that I had serious problems in college before I started my treatment.  I was doing well in my classes but my academic achievements were the only things going well for me in my first year of college.  I didn’t make many friends and I didn’t date at all.  I didn’t join many social activities.  I was too paranoid that people knew my thoughts, my secrets, and everything else there was to know about me.  I felt like I could be completely seen though, like everyone knew me better than even I knew myself.           

Yet that wasn’t the end of my troubles.  I was also paranoid that people were intentionally going out of their way to keep me in the dark of what was going on at college.  I was usually the last one to learn the goings on in other peoples’ lives.  I was usually the last to learn of any campus news.  So I was angry that people “intentionally” kept me know knowing about what was going on in my dorm, on campus, and even with my friends and roommate.

            Before I began my treatments, I would go through cycles where I would sleep for only two hours a night for a week at a time.  By my second year of college, I was such a wreck that I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book, listen to a class lecture and take good notes at the same time, or even follow an average conversation.  Once my second year of college was underway, I didn’t have even my academic work to be proud of.  My grades were suffering severely.

            By the time Christmas of 2000 came I was a mess.  I was changing medications every two to four weeks while we were looking for something just to remotely work.  I eventually came to where I would get out of bed for classes and to go to the mess hall to eat twice a day.  That was it.  The rest of my days were spent in bed.  I don’t know what I was thinking to believe I could still attempt to stay in school while being that sick and having that ineffective of treatments.  But that is part of the delusional thinking that comes with mental illness.

            Naturally my social life died a quick death.  The friends I made my freshman year quit coming around and I quit going to see them.  I was no longer participating in any school activities so I no longer had those friends.  I lost my study groups when I quit going to those.  I lost my girlfriend when my behavior became especially bizarre.  I had only two friends by late February 2001 and that was it.

            I finally decided to withdraw from school on March 2, 2001.  The reason I remember that exact date is because that is when I believe that my recovery officially began.  I dropped all of my classes, moved back home with mom and dad, changed my medications again, and caught up on my sleep.  The medication changes finally worked this time after several months of stumbling around in the dark.  After six weeks of being out of college I was feeling well enough that I began working 40 hours per week at a retail job.  By the middle of summer I was feeling well enough that I decided to re-enroll in college.

            After I returned to college I made it a point to be friendly and thoughtful to everyone I came into contact with regardless of how they treated me.  But I decided to keep only a few really close friends that I felt I could tell anything.  Since I was being friendly to everyone that I met, that made it a little easier for me to learn how to trust people again. Little by little I began to open up to more people until I felt that I could carry on a regular, casual conversation with anyone who willing to carry on one with me.

            From being friendly with even strangers and gradually opening myself up more and more I learned that my paranoia about people trying to hurt me was completely wrong.  In fact I found that most people were just as busy with their own lives as I was with my own.  They were too busy to hurt anyone.

             Just because I was under treatment didn’t mean my problems were over.  During the last three years of my collegiate career, I never achieved the quality of grades I had during my first year of college.  I also changed over to a different major.  I originally started college as a pre-pharmacy student.  After a year and a half of struggling with my mental illness as well as my classes, my grades were bad enough that I wasn’t going to pharmacy school.  I needed a change.

            I switched to a business management major, which was a surprise to my family.  I had never taken any business classes in high school.  I didn’t have much of an aptitude for sales, and I was quite an introvert.  To my family and friends the move didn’t make much sense.  But to me it made a great deal of sense.

            In my line of thinking at the time, I wanted to be employable with a good job as soon as I graduated from college.  Even though I was really passionate about literature and history, I always figured I could read all the history books and classics of literature on my own time when I wasn’t studying for my business classes.  With my best friend, Matt Campbell, being a history education student helping me out with history and classical literature books, this is exactly what I did.

            I admit with this “Dual Study Program” with my studying business classes officially by day and reading my classical literature and history books late at night and on the weekends, I didn’t have much time for outside socialization.  I had my small core group of friends.  Yet I also made it a point to be friendly as possible to as many fellow students as possible.

            As the last three years of college went on I slowly picked up a few more friends and gradually went to more social activities.  There were a few music bands on campus that occasionally played weekend concerts that I went to.  They were pretty much cover bands that also played some of their own material.   I made a few friends with some of the band members through that.

            I also made a few friends through some of my business clubs like Students In Free Enterprise.  I also went to many of my college’s home baseball and basketball games.  I preferred the baseball games because of the more laid-back atmosphere of baseball and I had a few friends on the team.  I also made a few friends through games of softball, ultimate Frisbee, and flag football.  I wasn’t a fast runner but could be a vicious blocker.

            I bring all of this up to show that I was able to have the average college experience in spite of having a mental illness.  There were a few things I obviously couldn’t do, namely the drinking scene because of my medications.  I wasn’t in college to drink and drug.  I was there to get a degree.

            I didn’t work during the school year because of the stress of going to school full time, having a mental illness, and having a job would have just been too much for me.  So I worked in the summers instead.  It also helped that I had a good academic scholarship based on my grades.  Even though I wasn’t getting straight A’s, I was still managing to do well.  I was enjoying the college experience at the same time. 

            A strange thing happened during my last year of college, I became interested in writing.  I had been reading voraciously the previously two years, so I suppose that writing would only be the next logical step.

            All of the struggles, problems, victories, and defeats of five years of college came to a culmination on May 8, 2004.  That was the day I graduated from college.  Graduating from college meant that I had overcome the problems of mental illness and accomplished my life long goal of finishing college.

            While it’s been several years and I still haven’t found permanent employment in my major, I still won because I was able to finish college. Finishing college by itself is hard enough.  Throwing a mental illness in the mix makes the degree of difficulty pretty steep.  I hope that by finishing college that perhaps someday I can encourage someone with a mental illness to reach for and achieve their dreams.

The Beginnings of My Mental Illness In High School

I have already dealt with what mental illness isn’t.  In this post I will write about what the onset of my mental illness was like.

I was officially diagnosed with major depression and paranoid schizophrenia at the age of twenty.  Yet I started noticing problems at age seventeen.  The onset of these problems were so gradual that my friends noticed something wasn’t right before I did.  I still remember after a biology class in high school when we were discussing the symptoms for bipolar disorder, a friend came up to me and said that those symptoms described me pretty well.  I really didn’t have much of an idea of what she was talking about as I thought all teenagers were moody, flighty, and angst ridden.  I just didn’t realize how bad I had become until this friend mentioned this.

Even though I have always enjoyed my personal alone time I always made a point to be friendly to people no matter what.  It was after I turned seventeen I began to isolate much more to where it became a problem.  After I came home from football practice in the evenings, I’d just sit in my room and listen to hard rock music on my headphones for hours at a time most nights.  It got to where I rarely socialized, never went to school activities I wasn’t directly involved in, and I didn’t date at all my senior year of high school.  

By the time senior year came, I was a wreck.  Yet I didn’t tell anyone I was having serious problems.  I think that people knew yet they were afraid to do anything about it.  This was the late 1990s in rural Nebraska, so there wasn’t much in the way of mental health help in the immediate area.  Since people knew I didn’t drink or do drugs, they must have been really scared of me looking back on it years later.  It probably would have been easier to dismiss my erratic behavior and emotional outbursts to drinking and drug abuse as opposed to coming down with a mental illness that was totally unpreventable that no one wanted to discuss.

Speaking of behavior, I quit the school play my senior year even though I had the lead role as a junior.  In football, I became standoffish with my teammates and ignored my coaches so much so I became very unpopular on our team.  I withdrew from my friends so much so I literally had maybe one or two friends by the time I graduated high school in May 1999.  I became argumentative with classmates.  I even almost hit one of my teachers, which would have not only been instant expulsion, but would have been assault charges since I was eighteen at the time.  Thank God I didn’t act on that impulse.

For most kids graduation from high school is a time of celebration.  It wasn’t for me.  I was just too bewildered and overwhelmed by my ever progressing mental illness to enjoy it.  I didn’t see graduation as a victory.  It was simply a ‘I’ve graduated and I have all these anger and depression problems.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  Now what?’  I’ll cover the problems of my undiagnosed mental illness in college in another post.