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.

I Enjoy Being An Adult, I Must Be Mentally Ill

I’m taking a bit of a detour with this post and try to be a little more humorous than usual.  Since I’ve been house bound because of a winter storm for a couple days I got to do some thinking.  One of the random thoughts that popped in my head is ‘being an adult beats being a kid.’  Sure I may have had more energy at sixteen than I do at thirty six, but I really didn’t know anything as a teenager.  And ignorance coupled with boundless energy can lead to dangerous and stupid things happening.  After five years of college, a few years of working, almost thirteen years of living on my own, writing a blog for almost four years, and spending five years now with educational videos on youtube university and binge reading wikipedia, I have come to the conclusion that even now I am not as smart as I thought I was at age eighteen.

I enjoy being an adult.  I really do.  I love the fact that if a boss is riding my case at work or my coworkers are being dolts, I always have the option of changing jobs or starting my own business.  I couldn’t transfer to another school in high school so easily to avoid bullies and immature classmates.  I love the fact that I don’t have to go to boring social events because my parents want me to.

As an adult I don’t have to feel guilty about not having legions of fair weather friends.  At the age of thirty six I have come to realize a few true hard core friends and some cool extended family is all a person really needs.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not being class president or not getting straight A’s.  It’s not like I made any money from my popularity or my academic achievements any way.  Even on youtube popular producers can make good money, not so in school.  I also didn’t like how joyless my high school settings were.  A bell rings and we move to change classes but don’t you dare be one second late.  I never did like being treated like one of Pavlov’s dogs as a kid.  Take abuse and scorn from bullies and classmates but don’t fight back because of zero tolerance laws?  At least in the adult world you can run away from an argument or try to plead self defense without losing your entire future.

And I am not intimidated by the fact that as an adult my successes or failures are on me and no one else.  I have a mental illness, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make a decent life regardless.  I’m not married nor do I have kids but that doesn’t stop me from being a good influence and good uncle to my nephews and niece.  I don’t even have to feel shame for not being married or having kids as an adult.  I don’t have a job but that isn’t going to keep me from writing blogs and finding other ways to contribute to my fellow man even if I don’t get money or prestige from it.    I don’t have to associate with people who tell me that I’m not a “real man” for not having a job or a family if I don’t want to.  Shame and guilt have far less influence on me at thirty six than they did at twenty one. As an adult I am allowed to be more creative and I don’t have many of the restrictions I had as a child.  As an adult I don’t have to hit my older brother if he’s irritating me, I just don’t return his calls or avoid him until things calm down.  One of the best things that happened to my relationship with my immediate family was moving out of my parents’ house and setting out on my own.  We get on each other’s nerves less now than we did when I was a teenager now that I have my own place and I’m not expected to always be in a good mood.  If I’m not feeling well, I can just avoid friends and family for a couple days until things blow over.

One thing I enjoy as an adult is watching young people do stupid things.  I enjoy it more than when I was the young fool doing stupid things.  I know the consequences that are coming but the kids usually don’t have a clue.  And I get to chuckle when their schemes come undone.  But the young kids eventually become adults and grow out of their stupidity in spite the complaints of old people about the “damn kids.”  The boomer generation grew out of using drugs and free love, generation X grew out of binging on MTV and video games, and the millennials will grow out of their nonsense. People forget that before the World War II generation became forever known as the “greatest generation”, many of them were drinking bootlegged alcohol in speakeasies and chasing flapper girls throughout Prohibition before World War II carved them into marble men and women for all eternity.  But in spite of my enjoyment of watching young people do stupid things, I don’t hate them for their mistakes.  I refuse to complain about young people because my elders complained about how stupid and ungrateful me and my classmates were the entire time I was growing up.  I am never doing that to anyone.  I know what it is like to be thrown into a group and falsely accused of things I never considered doing.  It really sucks.  If I ever complain about young people as an old man, I hope someone knocks some sense into me.

I never understood the whole “how do I adult” mentality.  Who cares how you adult?  It’s not like there’s a teacher who’s going to hold you back if you don’t know how to get red wine stains out of a carpet or how to change a tire.  With seven and a half billion people in the world and the magic of the internet, I can ask around for any information I could possibly imagine.  Why in the heck should I clutter my mind with mundane information I can easily look up that I may need to know only once or twice in my life?  One of my house guests doesn’t like that I don’t decorate my house all nice, then don’t come visit me in my house.  We’ll meet at a restaurant or pub instead.  You don’t like that I don’t drive fast or sometimes keep fast food trash in my car, no one is holding a gun to your head to make you ride in my car.  There is public transit and taxis even in my small town.  How do you adult, you may ask.  Dude, adult however you dang well please for all I care.  I don’t grade on style points.  And ironically, most adults are too busy with their own lives to knit pick you over yours.

In short, I really do think most adults worry about a lot of junk that doesn’t matter one bit.  Your neighbor has a sports car and you don’t?  So what?  He’s probably having a mid life crisis and up to his eye brows in debt because he listening to everyone else telling him what he should want out of life and not listening to himself.  You got passed over at work for a promotion?  Big deal.  You know you’re not going to spend the extra money for your retirement fund.  You’re worried about being overweight?  No problem.  One third of the entire world’s population is overweight.  Obesity is no longer just an American problem.  Besides you probably weren’t that good looking at age twenty any way.

I should wrap this up.  In summary I love being an adult.  As long as I’m not infringing on the rights of other people, I can pretty much think, say, and write whatever I want. I no longer have a parent or a nanny teacher hanging over my shoulder watching me for every little mistake I make.  In short, make mistakes.  Learn from mistakes.  Go crazy and enjoy the freedoms and responsibility of being a grown up.  I for one enjoy being in my thirties far more than I did my teens and twenties.  At least now I don’t feel like I have to please a lot of people.

Reflections On Being a Recovering Doom Junkie

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As I’ve been laid up for the last few days with a sore foot that is only now starting to clear up, I have been allowed the opportunity to reflect back on all the changes that have happened over the last several years in my lines of thinking.

I turned 35 years old this summer.  Even after being a college graduate, working for several years, and being on my own for a dozen years, I’m still not as smart as I thought I was at age 18.  But, I enjoy being an adult.  I also have enough years of experience that I’ve survived several supposed “end of the world and collapse” type scenarios that I chuckle every time I see such drivel. After seeing the ’88 Reasons for the Return of Jesus in 1988′, the Branch Davidians, the Hale Bop Comet cult, Y2k, 9/11, the tech bubble, the stock market bust of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession, the Mayan apocalypse of 2012, listening to my grandparents’ stories of the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and World War II, and seeing ‘evidence’ that every U.S. president since at least JFK was supposed to be the Anti-Christ, I’ve developed the attitude of “Meh, let it come.”

I suppose this is an advanced line of thinking, especially since I am prone to unhealthy paranoia.  But the older and wiser I get, the less time I have for doom and gloom nonsense.  I spent a couple years researching some of that doom nonsense myself and even thought some of it possible.  But then, I used to think that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, magical elves, pixie dust, and Disney fairy tales were possible too.  When I was a child I thought and acted as a child.  Now that I am a man I put foolish and childish things aside.  Wise words, St. Paul.

As I’ve experienced changes over the course of my 35 years I’ve come to the conclusion that change is the only constant.  I’ve come to embrace it and actually hope for even more. I’ve also accepted that there are always going to be hustlers and well meaning fools that are convinced that the ends of civilization and humanity are just around the next corner.  If I live long enough I’m probably going to see blogs and youtube videos, or the successors to blogs and youtube, about how the manned missions to Mars are hoaxes, how greedy elites are hoarding the proceeds from asteroid mining for their evil purposes, how we’re all going to die from nanotech and anti-matter experiments gone bad, etc.  I’ve seen enough of this before.  Nothing new.  Since our ancestors survived several ice ages and bubonic plagues I know at least some people will be able to whatever comes our way in the future.  One could make a fortune not betting against humanity.

Thoughts on Employment and Education Options While On Disability

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I live in a small town that hosts a small state university.  School began for the fall session earlier this week.  Even though I haven’t been enrolled as a student at any school for ten years I still enjoy it when the college kids start back.  Since a significant percentage of my town is either enrolled at the college or works for the college, the town is really quiet, almost dead, for most of mid May to late August.

I went to the campus last weekend for the welcome back street fair.  Got some cool freebies and got to see that practically every student organization, fraternity, academic department, and interest group had a booth and was represented.  Surprisingly I got a lot of freebie handout coupons that we exclusively for students.  Now I’m in my mid 30s so I was quite surprised that I got these deals in spite my obviously not being a student.  But I was getting carded every time I went to a pub to see a concert well into my 30s except for a few times when I had a full beard.  I didn’t think I looked that youthful.  There are days I certainly don’t feel it.  But I wasn’t about to pass up free giveaways.

While I was at this street fair I couldn’t help but think ‘Do this kids really know what’s going on in the world off campus’ and ‘What will these kids be doing ten to fifteen years from now.’  In my case when I went to college back in the pre wireless internet days of 1999, I really didn’t pay that much attention to the world outside the ivy walls of my Christian college.  Like most naive college freshmen I thought that I would get my degree and then do well in the workplace.  Little did I realize that unless you’re majoring in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field or went to a two year school for a specific trade, college cannot teach you what you need to know for a work place.  Even my friend the high school teacher told me that little of what he learned in his teacher education classes helped him much.  He said concentrating on his subject matter (history and social sciences) and student teaching helped him more than anything he learned in any classroom.

My problem was while I did well in the classroom, I couldn’t make the transition to the real world of work because of my inability to work through stress, crippling anxiety (I literally used to vomit from panic attacks before I went to work even as a minimum wage retail clerk),  inability to read people, and inability to work around office politics.  Would have been good to known this before I sunk five years of my life into college for a degree I would never use in any way, shape, or form.  I am very fortunate to have escaped college debt free.  Most of my classmates weren’t so lucky.  As much as I enjoyed college I would have been far better off going to a two year trade school to learn something like computer networking, web page design, or computer coding.  I would love to go back to school to learn any and all of these three things, but with being on disability insurance I don’t see how that is possible without losing Medicaid.  As it is, my medications cost over $2,000 a month without insurance.  The only way I could go without medications and not be a danger to myself and others is through long term hospitalization.  That’s not really an option as many long term care hospitals have been shut down over the years due to budget cuts and a general move away from institutionalization of mental health patients.

I would love to get into some computer related field, namely webpage design or computer networking.  If there is a way to learn this without getting thrown off the Medicaid entirely I would love to know how.  I’d probably have to do free online classes (if those are recognized by potential employers) as what I make is below poverty level.  I’m tired of being on disability and having to let my mind go to waste.  If anyone from Social Security Disability is reading, you guys are really missing out if you aren’t encouraging people into online studying for jobs that don’t require traditional education.  Besides most jobs do not require a four year degree if it wasn’t for the artificial barrier to entry it created.  Most employers I talked to said that most jobs could be learned with a year of intense on the job training or less.  If the U.S. Air Force can turn recruits into great pilots in less than two years, then it realistically doesn’t take four years of college to learn data entry or any other entry level office job.

In closing I want to work, especially at something like web page design.  I am definitely open to the idea of working from home (commuting even five minutes to my old courthouse job got old), would prefer it actually.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on disability and squander my mind and creativity.  And I think it’s insane that we, at least here in the USA, have a disability system that makes it confusing, frustrating, and almost impossible to return to productive work without a mountain of paper work and a maze of hoops to jump through.  It shouldn’t take acts of Congress and God both to return people who want to work back.  And frying chicken at KFC for minimum wage is not a viable career option for thirty to forty years of a working life.

Coming To The Acceptance Phase

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My mental health has been quite stable for several months.  I’ve probably come to a point that after 15 years with a diagnosis I know my triggers and problem areas well enough I can avoid these without even thinking about it.  I’ve put in enough practice now I have carved out enough of a niche that I don’t really miss things I would have missed five to ten years ago.  I have now come to accept that I don’t have to be defined by a career or lack of in my case.  In my case a career never really launched but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.  In my twenties I had read about those who had schizophrenia, bi-polar, autism spectrum, etc. that went on to have great careers and families.  I thought ‘if they can do it, why not me?’  So I tried various job fields but never could overcome the anxieties and panic attacks I often had with working and socializing.  I’ve come to the level of acceptance that a traditional career, family, and American Dream type of life isn’t going to happen, but I’m alright with that.  I don’t have a problem with not achieving this even if others I know do.  These others do not live my life for me.

Psychiatrists often talk about levels of grief when something bad happens, like a death of a loved one or the loss of a career.  I think they go something like Shock, Disbelief, Anger, Bargaining or Denial, and Acceptance.  I went through all of these, slipped back between stages at times, and only within the last couple years have I come to accept that I won’t have the great career, great family, picket fence neighborhood type of life I spent my younger years working so hard in school to get.  Yes, it would have been cool and I know I would have done well in that type of environment without a mental illness.  But, mental illness is one of those wild cards that no one can foresee or even plan for.  Back up plans for getting mental illness do not exist.  When things do happen, it will take time to come to a level of acceptance where it’s like ‘Yeah this happened and it sucks.  I didn’t do anything to bring this on. It can’t be changed but I’m alright with it.’  It takes a lot of time and a great deal of hardship, but acceptance of life with mental illness can be possible.  But it’s a very tough road to travel to come to that level of acceptance.

Reflecting on the Past before My Birthday

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On June 14th, I’ll be celebrating another birthday.  I’m getting to the point where I’m almost halfway done with my life, considering normal lifetime expectancy.  I’ve also lived over half of my life with schizophrenia at this point.  The biggest thing I have figured out over these 35 years of living as a human is that the only true certainties in life are change and unfairness.  We can make all the plans we want for our lives, but nothing goes exactly to plan. There will always be snags, problems, opportunities missed (and taken), and changes in direction.

When I was 16, I had the next 30 to 40 years of my life planned already.  I was going to graduate from high school, then college, then medical school, then go on into medical research, get married, have a couple kids, own a house in the suburbs of a large city outside of Nebraska, make well over six figures, and help develop something that would benefit humanity through my research.  Besides graduating from high school and college, none of that happened.  For years I was brutal on myself thinking “It’ll all fall into place when you get your big break” or “People less intelligent and less ethical than you are having good careers, why can’t you get things together”.  I spent my twenties after college going from one remedial job after another, finding out the hard way that my ability to handle stress and interpret social cues and understand social norms were all severely damaged by schizophrenia.

For those years of struggle, I thought I was a failure and not trying hard enough.  I would get panic attacks and bouts of nausea before I had to go to work every morning.  It got so bad I had my stomach scoped to see if I didn’t have some underlying gastro intestinal problems.  I didn’t.  I also had to spend years listening to the whole “all your problems are in your head” nonsense.  Everything we experience is merely electrical signals interpreted by our brains, so no kidding it’s in my head.  It’s in all of our heads.  Telling someone with a mental illness it’s in their heads is cruel and does nothing for them.

I was also told the whole “have faith and it’ll help you” nonsense.  I won’t even address that subject except to state I had more faith than everyone I knew until my early twenties and I still developed a mental illness that destroyed my productive ability.  I still get these feel good memes that oversimplify while not addressing root issues.  I even had someone I thought was a friend tell me, to the effect, I wasn’t a real man because I didn’t have a job or a family.  I still deal with ignorance and cruelty after eighteen years of mental health problems.  Granted it doesn’t ware on me or anger me as much as it did ten years ago, but it still hurts.

Seen and experienced lousy things, horrible hallucinations, and harbored horribly violent thoughts in eighteen years with schizophrenia.  But I did learn to not discount kindness and empathy when it does come.  I also learned the value of real, genuine friends, something that not many people have at all in their circles of friends.  Hopefully the struggles, disappointments, and good friends of the first 35 years will prepare me well for the next 35.

A Letter To My 18 Year Old Self

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High school graduation season is in full swing in my home state.  Some times it’s tough to believe I’ve been out of high school for sixteen years.  So much has happened since I became an adult.  What follows is what I would tell myself if I had a time traveling DeLorean or funky booth like Dr. Who.

Dear Zach

You have just finished high school and your adult life now lays ahead of you shooting off into the unseen distance like the open highway in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.”  You didn’t take any time to appreciate the fact you graduated from high school, looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities of college instead.  You should have appreciated your time being somewhat of an outsider in your high school.  First because the people that struggle socially in high school often are the ones who adapt to the adult world better.  Be happy the highlight of your life wasn’t your last football game or Senior Prom.  You will face far tougher issues than losing the big game. You will have greater thrills than wearing an ill fitting rented suit and dancing among tinsel and paper miche decorations in a basketball gym.  Things like that will be remembered by NO ONE.

The challenges you will face in the coming years will be great and many.  When these challenges and disappointments come, you will be thankful for having developed a strong mind and ability to handle adversity, loss, loneliness and pain.  Because you didn’t have legions of fair weather friends, you will appreciate true friends and confidants.  Because you know what it’s like to be treated poorly, you will have compassion for others.  Because you didn’t allow yourself to concentrate on only academics or football or speech or your weekend retail job, you have made yourself a well rounded and well versed man.  Being well rounded won’t help you in a corporate job, but it will make you more self reliant and more aware of what’s going on around you.  It will make you interesting too.

I see you have your high school annuals.  You’ll be happy you kept them even if you go entire years without looking at them.  In coming years you will be amazed at how much you were involved, how much you accomplished, and how well prepared for college and the ‘fast times and hard knocks’ of the first several years of life in the real world.  Be happy you acted in the school play for two years, you won’t have that back.  Be happy you did three years of competitive speech, you developed courage and an ability to improvise, make split second decisions, and hide your fear from the outside world.  Be happy you played football for three years, even though you were at odds with your teammates. Not many people can say they did athletics in high school.  Millions may watch football from the stands in towns all over America on fall Friday nights, but you were part of the action.  It’s the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like a rock star or Roman gladiator.

Take joy in the fact you went to a small high school.  You may not have had dozens of Advanced Placement classes or a program for gifted students, but it will drive you to read and study on your own.  Be grateful you were unable to disappear in the crowd when you were harassed and annoyed by other students, it forced you to face your fear because you couldn’t run away.  Things like that develop courage and fortitude, running away from your problems or hiding in a clique won’t.  Be happy you couldn’t spend your days reading comic books or playing D&D.  Later on you’ll have friends whose only out of school activities were just that.  While they are good guys, be happy you had to rely on your own imagination to develop your own stories and got to draw upon real people and real experiences to find inspiration.  That, and most girls don’t find D&D and comic books fantasies very sexy.

Speaking of girls, don’t believe the nonsense you’ll date, party, and sleep around several nights a week in college.  “Animal House” has nothing to do with real college.  John Belusi won’t be your roommate.  You can go hang out, get a little crazy, etc. at times.  But you’ll be far ahead of 80 percent of your classmates when you keep things like that in moderation.  The few who do nothing but study won’t have the friends or the experiences.  You will be shot down and have girls stand you up even more in college than in high school.  You will have bad breakups, you will have terrible dates with girls, you will be frustrated, and you will have heartaches.  You will also realize that there are worse things than not having a girl in your life.  When you see high school and college classmates go through divorces and unhappy marriages, you might even be grateful for loneliness.

As far as your classes go, don’t get tough on yourself for not making Dean’s List or not graduating with honors.  Most people that get those honors studied easier subjects than Pre-Med or Business Management.  Spoiler alert, Zach, you won’t get the dream job you gunned for all the way through high school.  You will experience pains and horrors that make Dante’s “Inferno” look like an Adam Sandler comedy.  I won’t go into details because you won’t believe such things could happen to someone who worked as hard and was as ethical as you.  Just believe me when I say bad things happen to even good people.  That and no employer will ask to see your college diploma.

Zach, be grateful for the challenges ahead. They will teach you that you don’t need a prestigious job or lots of money to live a happy and content life.  You will learn the best things in life are other people and your experiences.  Be happy you went to the small college you did.  You got to make friends from all over America and the world.  Most people that go to large, prestigious universities don’t get to have the variety of friends you will.  Be happy when you get to learn early on that life isn’t about working most of your waking moments at a mind numbing job, chasing money to buy junk you don’t need to impress people who don’t care.  All I will tell you is every day you wake up, be thankful if aren’t a cubicle jockey or a serf in a designer suit racking up debts on meaningless trinkets and thrills.

In closing, Zach, always remember the words of the late Bill Hicks: “It’s just a ride.  And you can change it anytime you want.”  Be happy that you can and will.

Yours truly,

Your older self.

Minimalism and The Schizophrenic Mind

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Years ago at one of my first jobs my supervisor made a remark about how disorganized my work space was.  I replied something to the effect “My work space is immaculate compared to Einstein’s.”  My supervisor replied “Can you imagine how much more he would have accomplished if he was half way decluttered?”  My boss had a point.

I am not a neat freak by nature, but I haven’t let my apartment get college frat house cluttered for several years. I found a middle ground.  If I say so myself, my place looks pretty good compared to some of the bachelor (and even bachelorette) pads I’ve seen.  Since I live in a complex with dozens of units, there is a minimum standard I have to keep at all times.  I’m not about to get evicted over something preventable.

One thing I have noticed since I became serious about health and exercise is that every aspect of my life has improved.  Everything from my finances, my appearance, my mental stability, and the cleanliness of my apartment have improved.  I have achieved a cleaner apartment through practicing minimalism.  Minimalism is really just getting rid of clutter and things I don’t absolutely need.  Last summer I took an inventory of everything I had in my apartment and looked at everything I hadn’t used in the last twelve months.  If it had been longer than that since it was used, it immediately went away.  It may have been given away to neighbors or it may have gone to Salvation Army, but it was gone.

I got rid of a lot of clutter immediately.  Books I hadn’t read, clothes I hadn’t worn, DVDs I could watch on Netflix or Youtube, CDs were backed up on my computer and thumb drives (I literally do not own any music CDs), decorations for holidays, all furniture except a dresser, a night stand, a couple chairs, a couple small couches, and light weight computer desk were gotten rid of.  Most of my ‘stuff’ was given away.  Some things like worn out shoes, flip flops, and socks went to the dumpster.  After this first round, my books with sentimental value, my classic literature books, and history books were kept on two tall book shelves.  I have gotten to where most of my reading materials are on my iBooks files.  I do have a short book shelf that serves as a stand for my printer and computer programs.

The second wave of the minimalist project involved giving away all canned food in my pantries I wasn’t going to eat.  I will not buy anything I know I won’t eat.  I don’t care if it is on sale.  I’ll pay a little extra if I know it will be eaten.  I had to get rid of most of my old clothing as I had lost a lot of weight.  I now have only ten shirts, three pairs of gym shorts, a couple pairs of sweat pants, a couple pairs of jeans, a couple dress shirts, a couple winter coats, and a couple light fleece coats for clothing.  That’s about it.  I also have only four pairs of shoes, a couple walking shoes, a pair of dress shoes, and a pair of steel toed boots.  I own four lamps.  Put in brighter energy saver bulbs and use more natural sunlight.  I got rid of most of my dishes.  I literally have maybe three plates, three bowls, four cups, and a half dozen spoons, forks, and knives.  I don’t even have a toaster or electric skillet.  If I want toast and pancakes, I go to the all night diner.

This sounds drastic, but it has simplified my apartment and my life. It has led to less stress, less anxiety, more peace, more contentment, and even better finances.  I no longer feel a need to buy stuff I don’t need to impress anyone.  No need to keep up with the neighbors.  The neighbors are probably more broke than I am even if they make more.  It’s because I don’t buy anything I don’t absolutely need.

I’m not done even yet.  I would like to eventually get all my books to fit onto one book shelf and get rid of the other shelf.  For those wondering how I entertain guests, there are literally dozens of restaurants, sports bars, parks, etc. in my small town that have furniture, food, HD televisions, and wifi.  I got to where I saw no point in having things I would use only a few times.

One thing I didn’t minimize was my emergency preparedness materials.  I still have first aid kits, flash lights, a crank up radio, etc.  If we get snowed in or flooded in for a few days I’m the guy who remembered toe nail clippers and a Swiss Army Knife.  Some things I don’t shirk on.

My mental well being and money situation really improved once I got rid of most of my clutter and quit looking for contentment in owning things.  It is such a good feeling to see how little clutter I have in my closets and on my floors now.  It’s a good feeling to have some emergency money.  It all gives peace of mind to an otherwise anxious and distressed schizophrenic brain.  If I can’t be organized in my mind, I’ll do it in my outer surroundings.

Being The Proverbial Black Sheep As A Kid

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Even before I became mentally ill, I had problems with fitting in with others and making friends.  It has caused me so many problems with others over the years.  When I was a child in grade school, I got in so much trouble with teachers, classmates, and family alike whenever I said anything sounding like it had no earthly reason to come from the mouth of a child.  For example, as a seven year old if I joked about how slow someone was speaking, I would try to make a joke because I saw that children and adults enjoyed humor, and say something like “Speak any slower and we could time you with a sun dial,” I would find myself in major trouble.  I was told I had “attitude problems” among other things.  Yet I would see adults joke with each other with similar humor, and worse. I couldn’t figure it out.  I was often told by adults to “grow up” and yet when I tried to act, joke, and talk like the adults I saw I got in trouble.

Even as I child I valued my freedom and privacy.  I would often go into the large backyard of my home and pace and think for hours on end.  I often did this to dream up stories, dream up new twists on old games, make up new slants on old children’s stories, and think of ways to do things better.  My classmates would ridicule me for wanting to be alone all the time and I probably concerned my parents for not wanting to socialize more with family and classmates.  I didn’t do it to be anti-social or draw attention.  I just got a lot more mileage out of socializing for short times than most people.  I didn’t do it for attention because I really didn’t want attention once I became old enough to figure out I was a running joke because I was smart and actually enjoying learning how to do new things.  I might not have spent so much time outside if I had a chemistry set.  I’d probably accidentally burned down the house instead.

My real saving grace as a kid was having two friends just as smart and eccentric as I.  My first true friend, a kid named Ben who moved to my town when we were 11, was as interested in music, dry humor, and history as I was in science.  We would often do inexpensive science experiments in the storage room of his parents’ grocery store.  One time we took some old Micro Machine cars, taped magnets to the bottom of the cars, weighted the top of the cars with pennies and dimes, and got them to run along a track of magnets at least three feet long.  We didn’t realize that we made a very crude version of Mag Lev transportation.  Ben and I also joked that we would eat nothing but meat, cheese, and milk for a month to “protest the wholesale slaughter of defenseless plants.”  Yeah, the Atkins Diet as designed by 12 year olds.  Needless to say our sixth grade classmates didn’t get the humor.

I never did enjoy the toilet and locker room style of humor that my classmates did.  Even in high school, I really liked the comedy of people ranging from George Carlin to Jeff Foxworthy to Bill Hicks.  While most of my classmates were listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and George Strait, my two core friends and I were listening to groups like Metallica, AC/DC, and the Seattle grunge groups that were around in the 90s (much to the chagrin of my parents).

We didn’t win many style points with our classmates because we were contrarian thinkers, often asked questions in class, didn’t just ‘go along to get along’, openly questioned policies and practices of adults that were counter productive and senseless, and we didn’t particularly like sports.

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I was often chided for preferring to spend my weekends and summer days reading books, namely non fiction.  To me, the things that occurred naturally in the world and universe was far more interesting than fairy tales and fantasy books.  To this day I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K Rowling.  Reading books about science, biology, astronomy, chemistry, military history, etc. were interesting enough without the magical Disney nonsense.

I also didn’t do well dating as a kid.  My other quirky best friend, a girl named Shaunna, and I would often hang out on weekends watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on SyFy channel if there weren’t any high school dances nearby.  It wasn’t until the last five years did it dawn on me that the reason I did so poor in the numbers of girls I dated was precisely because of my best friend that was a girl.  I was probably shot down by most other girls because they thought I was a player or swinger.  But as a clueless seventeen year old that thought never once entered my mind.  If only I knew then even half of what I know now.

One thing I do know now is that normal is boring.  Normal is mundane.  Normal does not change the world or even a neighborhood for the better.  Far too many people over the centuries have died fulfilling only a fraction of their potential because they feared being abnormal.  I never had, I still don’t, have a fear of standing out and going against the tide of acceptable public opinion.  As far as I can tell, my old friends Ben and Shaunna are still the same way.   Sure it is frustrating to prove a point and still not sway normal people.  But I don’t want to lose the intelligence, empathy, and creativity that were the tools God gave me to try to make my small mark in my corner of existence.  It causes me frustration but it doesn’t cause me fear.  I got over that a very long time ago.  My older brother, being the typical tormenting brother who’d try to whip his younger sibling back into line, would often ask me things like ‘Why can’t you be normal?’  My answer, years later, is something like ‘I tried being normal once but didn’t like it.’  😀

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Why I Actually Like Being An Adult, Disability Insurance, and Other Side Rants

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When I was growing up and going through middle school in the early 1990s (back in the dark ages before we had internet in every house, restaurant, laundromat, etc.), I had this teacher who loved to tell us about the dreaded ‘cold cruel world’ and how much being an adult was going to suck.  As a naive thirteen year old growing up in the farm belt of rural Nebraska (I lived at least 65 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart), I was by no means wise to the ways of the world.  We didn’t even get cable tv in my town until the late 1980s, so all I got to see of the outside world back then was what Ted Turner chose to show us on CNN every night.  As a child I was only vaguely aware there was a world outside of Nebraska and that people went to college for things other than becoming doctors, teachers, and lawyers.  But practically everyone else I ever knew were farmers and had no real need for any real ‘formal education.’  So naturally I blew off my teacher telling me how lousy being an adult was because, quite frankly, my hometown had nothing to offer someone with my natural talents and abilities.  I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to dispute my elders when they warned me ‘wait until you have kids’ or ‘wait until you have a job you hate’ or ‘wait until you have to pay taxes.’  I didn’t complain or dispute because 1) I was just a kid and what do kids know and 2) Starting about age 12 I looked all around me and saw many adults who literally could not think for themselves or long termed.  I saw many adults who complained about living in a rural area, complained about work, complained about their spouses, complained about how their kids acted, complained about the weather (quite common among farmers), complained about politicians, etc. but I never once saw any adult try to do anything to change their situations or improve themselves.  Once, being the curious child I was, I actually asked one of these wise adults why no one tried to do anything to change things.  The angered look on this grown up’s face made me think I had committed some form of blasphemy like saying the Ten Commandments were a lousy idea.  After that I made it a point to never to question an authority figure so blatantly.

Putting all of these observations together I became convinced that I probably wouldn’t like being an adult was as grumpy and unthinking that many of the adults I saw.  But, I also hated being a kid.  Oh did I ever hate it.  I was constantly bullied for being smart and different.  My teachers often didn’t like me because I often could find easier ways to solving problems then what they were teaching us.  My football coaches didn’t like that I wasn’t Joe Rah-Rah.  I didn’t have many friends because I just didn’t ‘go along to get along.’  And I didn’t like the fact that, as a kid, no one took my complaints and problems seriously.  When I said I wasn’t being challenged in school, I was told I had a problem with authority.  When I didn’t bring home straight A’s, I was told I was an underachiever.  I wasn’t told that no one in the work world cared to see your high school report cards.  And I certainly wasn’t told that adults are often as clueless as kids about what’s really going on and what they want out of life.  The adults were just better at hiding it and lying to themselves.

Eventually, like all nightmares, my time as a kid ended.  I went on to college.  While I didn’t leave Nebraska or find the college campus to be completely full of people just as smart and quirky as I was (thank you for getting my hopes up, college recruiters), I did meet some cool and stimulating people.  As it was a small college with people from all over the world as well as the United States in very close proximity, it was quite easy to socialize with many people with different backgrounds.  It was also not so big of a college that international students, in state students, city kids, farm kids, etc. could get by with just socializing with people like them.  To have any hope of a social life a person would have to socialize with many different people.  Leave your biases and stereotypes at the door, I suppose.  I met most of the people I have kept as friends to this day at college.  I learned a good deal about business, economics, personal finance, accounting, writing, etc. that, in all honesty, I should have ideally been taught in college.  I discussed this in an earlier post.

Yet, as much as I liked college, I came to find I enjoyed being an adult even more.  As an adult, you can choose were you want to work.  As a kid, your parents or the local government chooses where you go to school.  We had only one school in our town, the nearest private school was over 65 miles away, and most of the schools within a 50 mile radius were exactly the same as mine.  Home schooling wasn’t really popular back then. My best friend, and occasional dating interest was homeschooled until high school.  Kind of funny, though, when she entered high school the school wanted to put her in remedial education and she wound up being an honor student within a few months.  And for those who say that ‘home school kids have no social skills even if they are book smart’, I will say that two of my best and most stable friends came from home school environments.  But maybe because these two were so well read and treated a nerdy outcast like myself so well makes them ‘have no social skills.’  I couldn’t leave the school I was in.  My family would not have liked having someone with a GED in their family.  It is far easier for me as a grown up to leave a job where the boss and I don’t mesh or if I don’t like that my coworkers hardly work and don’t care about the customers.

Other things that are cool about being an adult is I get to do cool things like vote, set up my own schedules, read whatever I wan to read, watch whatever educational videos I want, make whatever friends I want without family pressures or social limitations, write my own blogs (we didn’t even have blogging back in the mid 1990s as there was no easy access to internet), I don’t have to date if I don’t want to (whereas in high school I was often ridiculed because I couldn’t get a girl to date me besides my homeschool friend, and even then I was still ridiculed because she came from the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks’), I can form my own beliefs and don’t have to really fear if I share these beliefs or not, I don’t have to think anything I don’t believe or lie just to impress some authority figure who supposedly is wiser than me because he’s old and has more money and prestige.  Shoot, I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.

One thing I would have loved to have known about applying for Disability Insurance was, if I filed before my 22nd birthday, I would have had my monthly benefits determined by my parents’ income.  I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 20, graduated college at age 23, but didn’t file for disability before until age 25.  Financially I shot myself in the foot because I didn’t apply for disability before age 22 since both of my parents were medical professionals.  I would be making much more than I am now had I not tried the John Wayne gut it out until it was obvious the cause was lost routine.  Yet that is in the past.  I still do well because I can choose to live a minimalist style of life as a single adult.

Even though I was set back for several years because I tried to work and be a productive citizen by not dropping out of college and applying for disability at a younger age, I am still free to make the choices in lifestyle to adjust accordingly.  Yes it was hard to learn to live below what most Americans would consider poverty level and I did make some mistakes along the way.  But I learned from those mistakes and adjusted my game plans and lifestyle accordingly.

To be quite honest, I don’t know many people besides myself who can live on less than $15,000 per year, which is $125o per month.  At the average American hourly wage of approximately $13 per hour, that’s only 20 hours of work per week.  I make even less than $1250 a month and I live quite well, especially since I’m debt free.  Some may disdain me for ‘being on the dole’ and say ‘you just live off the government.’  But, you know what, had I never become mentally ill I would have achieved my dream of going into medical research, would probably be making six figures by now, would have gotten married, had kids, owned a McMansion, and been one of those ‘respectable’ types that pays more in taxes than most people.  Not everyone on disability got there because they are lazy and want a free ride.  Believe it or not, there are a few of us who got there because of things we couldn’t control.  Maybe people like me who are smart and on disability in spite doing all the right things are as rare as unicorns but we still exist.  Another great thing about being an adult is I don’t have to try to please people who think I am a leech and lazy for receiving disability.  I hate being on disability, God do I hate it.  But that is essentially the only option for people with mental illnesses in my situation besides homelessness or prison.

In closing, I know this post and rant was quite long winded and had a bit of a sharper edge to it than my regular posts.  For this I don’t apologize because, as an adult without an employer, family, or a social circle I didn’t choose, I really don’t have to apologize for speaking the truth.  As an adult I have far more choices and control of my own life.  That alone is reason enough why I actually like being an adult.