Things I Didn’t Know As A Kid, Part 2

For this entry, I’m taking a break from my regular mental illness writings and writing on something more light hearted.  Growing up, we’ve all had mistaken impressions about what things were really like in the adult world or in popular culture.  I was no exception.

Here is another installment of the depth of my youthful ignorance.  It’s amazing, though.  I’ve been out on my own for ten years and I’m now less intelligent than I thought I was when I was eighteen.  Either the older I get the dumber I was or I just forget what I actually did know.

As a kid growing up in rural Nebraska, I not only had no idea that Minnesotans and Canadians spoke with accents BUT I was ignorant enough to believe that we in Nebraska did not as well.  Way wrong on that one.  Just ask anyone who has ever heard me talk.

Growing up as a hopeless college football junkie, I knew that the Wishbone formation was a football offense long before I knew it was a chicken bone.  Sad but true.  Yet I did know who The President was before I knew who Tom Osborne was.  

As a kid who was an avid reader, the old library in my hometown was a second home to me.  I read so much as a kid that I was well into college before I even imagine why other people just couldn’t get into reading.  Just a matter of practice makes perfect.

When I was in grade school, I found it laughable that kids from the big cities on the coasts thought that kids from the midwest rode horses to school or lived two miles from their nearest neighbors or didn’t have indoor plumbing or such other nonsense as if we were still in the late 1800s.  Yet it didn’t occur to me that the idea of there being drug dealers and pimps on every street corner, mobsters buying off entire state governments, and the ‘valley girl types’ were just as ridiculous.  But that’s stereotypes for you.

Even as a kid I didn’t like Mickey Mouse at all.  I was more partial to Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck.  And I used to have endless debates with my friends about who was the better cartoon character.  Think a grade school version of the deeper debates (i.e. Capitalism vs. Communism, Evolution vs. Creationism, Ford vs. Chevy) if you will.  Of course when I’d be losing my argument I’d bring out the heavy artillery and yell “Yeah, well Donald Duck is such a man that he doesn’t even wear pants!” or “Yeah, well how much money does Mickey Mouse have?  Scrooge McDuck can swim in his cash!” 

 The first time I saw ‘Braveheart’ as a teenager, I unintentionally spent the next 24 hours speaking a Scottish accent.  I’m just glad that I didn’t own a kilt or a massive sword.

 My biggest aspiration as an 8 year old child was to “Be rich enough that me and my friends can play Monopoly with real money.”  Of course I’m well short of this goal right now but I could probably start building houses on Baltic Avenue right now.  

 When I was 13 and first heard about the book ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand, I immediately thought it was about the writing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’  I was a bit off on that one.

When I was in college, I read an email forward titled ‘Jocks vs. Nerds.’  It described how much money Michael Jordan had and how fast he was earning his money and “at that rate it would take over 400 years to have the money Bill Gates has right now.  Nerds win.”  I was telling one of my friends this and he retorted, “Yeah, well how many women would want Bill Gates if it weren’t for his money?”  To which I responded, “Well, at least any paternity suits against him would be automatically false.  So there’s one advantage.”  And I say that typing with a computer program he made famous.


Blog For Mental Health 2014 Pledge




“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

I only recently discovered the Blog For Mental Health Pledge, which is sponsored by and I thought that I would add what I had to offer.  Since I blog about mental health/illness already, this seems a natural fit.

My experiences with mental illness have given me a deeper compassion for those who are suffering.  After a long road of ups, downs, and even sideways movements I believe I have recovered to where I can talk about my personal experiences, offer aid and advice to those who are looking for it, and advocate for those who aren’t able or ready to advocate for themselves.  I also believe that the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness are in serious need of being challenged and completely done away with.  The more we get people advocating for the mentally ill as well as those who are mentally ill sharing our stories, the quicker we can get the tasks at hand accomplished.


Self Advocacy and Speaking Out



There are things that you can do on your own in order to help alleviate problems associated with mental illness.  I made two big mistakes in the early years of my treatment.  One, I relied solely on medications to make things better and Two, I almost never talked about my problems.  Completely relying on the medications meant that I never went to therapy sessions and expected to find that ever elusive all purpose solution in the form of medications.  It doesn’t work that way.  For one, there is no cure all in the forms of pills.  For me, taking the meds was only one part of solving my problems.  I didn’t really start improving until I started talking to therapists, other individuals with mental health problems, and counselors.  And I really started improving once I stopped hiding the fact I had mental illness and quit lying to others and myself.

One thing I never could stand in conversations with people I met for the first time was the inevitable question of “Oh, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  I’m far from old enough to look like I’m retired and from all appearances I am quite healthy.  Since I was frequently between jobs for the first few years after I finished college, I would often lie about having a job or say I was looking when I definitely was not.  I was asked what I did for a living when I met new people practically everywhere I went, whether it was out shopping, at parties, at church, in my apartment complex, etc.  I didn’t enjoy lying at all but I couldn’t explain in ten seconds or less that I was mentally ill and had problems with holding down jobs without committing several social gaffes all at once.  So I resorted to lying for years about my work status and history.  Being asked what I did for a living seriously irritated me.  Now I just mention my writing and my blog.  Though I do all of this for free, I get looked at now like I’m self employed and working out of my home.

Advocation is another thing I do for myself.  I quit lying to myself that I was normal, at least as the world understands normal, and set about sharing my struggles, problems, victories and defeats.  I don’t shy away from people when talking about mental illness anymore.  This was far from easy at first.  It was actually quite terrifying at first.  I was scared of the stigma that I knew would come my way.  Yes, stigma did come my way.  It came namely in the form of being ignored by some, being patronized to by others (I was a frequent recipient of the “We understand how you feel” when they really didn’t and did nothing to try to figure out what goes on with mental illness), and losing friends.  I didn’t mind the losing of some friends because some of these ‘friends’ should have been given up as lost years before.

In closing, talking about my problems and the problems of others with mental illness has helped as much as anything.  It has let me know that people are often not as malicious as my paranoid mind set often made them out to be.  It let me know that there are people who, once they know the problems, are eager to help.  Sure there are malicious and intentionally misunderstanding people out there, but I have found that thankfully they are a small percentage of the population.  Conversations about mental illness, mental health, problems, etc. are not easy, especially at first.  But the stigmas can be broken down.

Being Hospitalized For Mental Illness




This entry is going to be about the two times I was hospitalized for my schizophrenia.  Even though I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2000, I was never hospitalized for it until the fall of 2006.  I was not an Emergency Protective Custody (EPC) case as I self committed voluntarily.  I came to the conclusion I needed help because of severe anxiety and flare ups of my paranoia.  These were caused by job place problems and several stressful occurrences that happened throughout the year 2006.  To start the year 2006, I lost my job at the university and had to leave the MBA program.  I had also applied for Social Security Disability Insurance shortly afterward.  At the time it was a major blow to my ego and self confidence as I thought it was admitting defeat in my pursuit to be self-supportive.  I also had a few failed attempts to hold down employment through the spring and summer of 2006, adding to my already considerable anxiety.  Finally after several months of the anxiety, paranoia, and anger building for several months, I came to where I hadn’t slept in probably two and a half days.  By then I knew I had to do something to stop the deterioration I was going through.  That’s when I checked myself into the local mental health hospital.

With the fact I didn’t wait for the police to take me to the hospital, my stay as an inpatient lasted only one week.  Even though I wasn’t uncooperative and belligerent with the hospital staff and doctors, for the first three days I was confused and couldn’t focus at all.  I was also sleeping probably fourteen hours per day for those first three days as I was trying to regain my bearings.  One thing that I am absolutely convinced helped my recovery and allowed for my relatively short stay at the hospital was that I cooperated with the doctors and nurses even when I secretly didn’t want to.  Despite going through a breakdown, I knew I needed their help if I was going to recover and go home.  I think that I found favor with the doctors, nurses, and counselors because I was willing to cooperate, even if it was begrudgingly.  

Finally after a week in the hospital I was well enough to go home.  Even though I could have left probably any time I wanted as I was a voluntary commitment, I was sick and I knew I was not doing well at all.  After I left in early September 2006, it would be another seven years before I would go back to the hospital.

In September 2013, I went back to the hospital.  Once again I was a volunteer commitment.  I could tell that things were getting bad again like they were in 2006.  Because I took preventative measures to make sure things didn’t escalate completely out of control, I was in the hospital for only three and a half days this time.  This time I was still cooperative with the doctors, nurses, and counselors.  By this time I had been dealing with schizophrenia long enough that prolonged stress and anxiety over the course of weeks and months would ultimately lead to problems.  I also have a seasonal element to my schizophrenia as I tend to do better in winters and springs than I do in summers.  For some reason summers have always been a rough time for me.  Both of my hospitalizations took place in the month of September.

If I were to offer any advice to someone going to the hospital for the first time, it would simply be do what the doctors recommend, be as nice as you can with the nurses, be active in counseling, and at least attempt to get along with the other patients.  Believe me, your stay in the hospital will be much less troublesome.



Washing Out of Graduate School, Having Mental Health Issues, and Chains of Events (Or The Story of My Adult Life)

If I were to meet anyone who has been diagnosed with mental health problems and he/she were looking for advice as to what to do from the diagnosis onward, it would be 1) Don’t Give Up,  2) Look for what you are naturally good at despite your problems, and 3) Get Really Creative. 

In this entry, I’m going to tell some of my personal story from the last several years. It’s a short autobiography of sorts. In February of 2006, after having washed out of the MBA program at a small state university, I decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.  I had recently lost my graduate assistantship due to my grades.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like my classes or hate my work with the university.  Far from it.  I absolutely loved the work of being a research assistant, tutor, seminar presenter, and occasional substitute teacher.  Yet my mental health issues were flaring up during this time.  I would have been allowed to stay in school in hopes that I could raise my grades and get back on track.  But the prospect of going to school without a job and no way but loans to pay for it while taking on my mental health issues just didn’t appeal to me.  I was able to get through undergraduate college without any debt thanks to academic scholarships, working full time during the summers, and the much appreciated assistance of my family.  I was afraid that taking on the burden of continuing graduate school with no guarantee of getting my grades back up, having to go deep into debt to continue said studies, all the while combating mental health problems and being a financial drag on my family (who were already paying through the nose for the high risk health insurance I was on for meds that otherwise would have cost almost $2,000 monthly); all of it would have been major problems that simply were not worth it.

Looking back on it, I believe I could have completed the MBA program had it not been for the mental health burdens.  But, like almost everyone, I simply didn’t have the unlimited funds to cover medications, health insurance, and retaking the two classes I didn’t do well at all in.  Yet, knowing myself better now at age 33 than I did at age 25, I know I would have been unhappy with being another cubicle bum jockeying for dollars.  Even though I appreciate money as much as anyone I know, I also know it isn’t my only motivator or even one of my primary motivators.  I have found, over the last several years of experience and looking for tendencies in my life going back to before I even started elementary school, that I really enjoyed sharing what I learned with others and giving advice.  If I did complete the MBA program and then become something like a financial analyst, I wouldn’t have been meeting my need to share what I learn to others and helping others avoid problems.  I love explaining things to people, assisting people, and looking up things I don’t know.  I always have.   Had I been able to stay on the ‘traditional’ path, I would be miserable at a cubicle job but would still have my personality slants I mentioned above.  I would have probably then gone on to attempt to get a PhD just so I could teach at even a junior college. I probably would have been doing what I loved, but would have had a rough road to get there.  But to quote Eric Church, “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”

Instead, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to become competent in areas besides business and economics.  While I am not an expert on treating mental health problems and issues in others, I have over the years become quite knowledgeable on how to survive with mental health problems and issues.  In the process, I was able to work a part time job for over four years.  I have, thanks to being on Social Security and having the earnings limitations that come with being on Social Security, become knowledgeable on how to survive on what most people in the Western world would consider below poverty level existence.  I have learned how to ‘stretch a dollar’ far further than one could learn in any business school.  Thanks to following my natural love of telling stories, explaining things to people, and reading, I am also a self taught writer.  I have been writing seriously for only ten years as it wasn’t something I acted on until I was almost out of undergraduate college.  Because of my mental health issues, my natural empathy for other people, and my natural desire to share what I learned, I eventually came to write about my experiences with mental health problems and issues.  Many of these writings have found their way onto this blog, The Writing of Life.  I may not have a string of letters behind my last name that ‘qualifies’ me as a trusted expert, at least not in the traditional academic sense.  But with my experiences with my own mental health problems combined with my writing skills and the power of the internet in the Information Age, I can fulfill my natural talents and perhaps help some people in the process.

I have no idea where my life’s journey will go from here.  But this blog will be part of it regardless.  In only seven months of having a definite focus in my blog, I have had over 1,500 visits already.  Though there are bloggers that get that even on a bad day, this is already more than I would have expected when I started. And that’s with sometimes infrequent posts.  Being somewhat risk adverse by nature, I never would have started the process of becoming a mental health advice blogger had I never been forced to change directions.  Yet “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”

What If Our Favorite Fictional Characters Aged and/or Kept Up With The Times


I’m going to take a break from my regular writings and post something just for fun this time.  I always wondered what would happen if cartoon characters aged.  So I’m just going to do some speculating and take a few wild guesses.  Here goes:

1) The ‘Peanuts’ characters would all be grandparents by now.  Snoopy would definitely be dead, but his descendants would still be acting like flying aces, except the doghouses would be probably F-14 Tomcats in Operation Desert Storm instead of Sopwith Camels in World War I.  Charlie Brown’s grandson probably wouldn’t be as wishy-washy as Charlie Brown would have no doubt married Lucy or Peppermint Patty.  About the only difference would be Charlie Brown the third would be able to kick a football.  

2) In Looney Tunes, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam would probably be in jail for hunting endangered species like talking rabbits and Tasmanian Devils.  In the Road Runner and Coyote, the Coyote would probably be using Acme Predator Drones to try and catch the Road Runner.  Sadly, Foghorn Leghorn would probably be living on a factory farm in a small cage.

3) In ‘Superman’, Clark Kent/Superman would have recently celebrated his 100th birthday and probably have a 75th anniversary party with Lois Lane.

4) In ‘Batman’, Bruce Wayne would probably be long since retired.  The Joker and Riddler would have long since been given life sentences in prison.  And Bruce Wayne would probably be a trillionaire by now.  With inflation being what it is, a single billionaire won’t go as far as he could fifty to sixty years ago.

5) ‘Sherlock Holmes’ would no doubt be much like modern day CSI shows.  But he’d still be on Scotland Yard’s hit list even in 2014.

6) In ‘The Simpsons’, Bart and Lisa would be in their early to mid thirties.  Bart would probably be finishing up a five to ten year stint in Springfield State Prison or beginning a career in politics.  Lisa would probably have 2 or 3 PhD’s and well on to a Nobel Prize winning career. 

7) The ‘South Park’ kids would be in their mid 20s.  Stan would go on to be a star college quarterback and married to Wendy Testaburger.  Kyle would probably have become a lawyer.  Cartman would probably be in prison or running ponzi schemes.  Kenny would have either gotten out of poverty or died for the 500th time.

8) Futurama hasn’t happened yet as it takes place in the 31st century.  So it could face the most changes of any cartoon between now and the year 3000.

This list was only meant for fun.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten many other popular cartoons or fictional characters.  I hope it was enjoyed.

Social Mistakes

We’ve all had those times when we committed ‘social mistakes.’  These are also called ‘faux paus’ and ‘social gaffes.’  It can be that moment when someone takes what we’ve said wrong.  It can also be that moment when we said something without completely thinking through the consequences.  It is also that moment when we fail to properly acknowledge our thanks and appreciation for what someone close to us means to us (think the spouse who forgets an anniversary or the boss who doesn’t always acknowledge the hard work his/her employees put in everyday).  We often do these without thinking or intending any harm.

For those of us with mental health differences from the ‘norm’, socializing can be really tough and even daunting.  This is often because we don’t always pick up on social ques such as body language, inflection and tone of voice, or are as aware of social situations as the ‘chronic normal’ or neurotypical people do with such seeming ease.  I have committed numerous social mistakes over the years without even knowing what I was doing.  I have lost friendships, alienated myself from coworkers and bosses, thought things about others that were not true, and made myself to look like a fool many times as I had no awareness of social rules and norms that I was breaking.

I never broke these norms or unspoken rules just to make life difficult for myself or others.  I was simply unaware of the boundaries I was crossing.  Maybe these boundaries are always known for most people, but I never picked up on them to a degree to make myself an extrovert.  As the years went by and I was committing more and more social mistakes, with the price of such social mistakes going higher and higher as I became an adult, I had no idea why I was offending people that I had no intention of offending.  I had no idea why I was reading people wrong.  I had no idea why I wasn’t advancing in my former work or why I wasn’t making lots of friends.  The reason was, because of my mental health issues, I simply was missing many unspoken and unconscious social signals that most people take for granted as being ingrained from birth.  I didn’t understand how the social game was played by everyone else.  I still don’t to a degree.

As I was losing ground socially, I gradually withdrew from most people and most social situations.  That was a mistake.  I thought that people simply didn’t me because I was different from everyone else.  That was not only part of my natural paranoia, but also because I hadn’t sufficiently learned to socialize on a level where most people could.  What resulted from me isolating with the exception of family and close friends was my not learning the social skills that are needed to adequately socialize as an adult.  So I was falling even more behind than I normally would have had I ignored my paranoia and kept socializing.

I have now had an official diagnosis for over thirteen years.  I have made many mistakes in my life with the diagnosis and being different than most people.  I have, and continue to, pay for the mistakes I have made socially.  Yet I am optimistic about right now and the future. I know the mistakes I have made as I have made them plenty of times.  I can now advance in my life and see what’s next to be learned.  If I, or anyone else, had everything learned and completely figured out, then there would be no point to keep going and striving.