Dealing With Uncivil Behavior With A Mental Illness

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I absolutely hate any time some fools feel like they are required to spout off and read off a laundry list of transgressions (most of which are exaggerated or imagined) that another group has committed.  I have never understood why ‘normal’ people seem to thrive on interpersonal conflicts and strife.

We see it all the time; liberals vs. conservatives, racial divides, capitalists vs. socialists, men and women calling each other out, religious adherents and atheists unloading on each other, nerds and jocks despising each other on every high school campus, the elderly thinking all young people are lazy and unruly while the young believing the elderly are all parasitizing via social security and not providing adequate guidance, etc.  etc.  Even those of us in the mentally ill community often have our issues with each (namely among the medicate vs. don’t medicate or the work vs. disability insurance routes).  The most ironic part of these interpersonal squabbles is regardless of what side of an argument you are on, each side has at least a few legitimate points.  In spite of our differences we really aren’t that different.  And the way we treat each other over these minor differences is really wrong and petty.

I definitely have my beliefs about many topics that we humans think upon. I will under no circumstances discuss anything of any intellectual weight or contention unless I am for sure that the discussion will remain civil and not devolve into a modern version of two bands of cavemen brandishing sticks and grunting at each other over who gets the last slabs of wooly mammoth meat.  I promise here and now if I ever make it to any kind of fame I will never volunteer to take part in any debate with another person or panel under any circumstances unless I am completely cured of schizophrenia.

To me, listening to debates is the same as watching monkeys at the zoo fling manure at each other. It makes a major mess, the monkeys get riled up for awhile, and nothing is really accomplished.  I may do a TEDx talk if I ever gained any kind of traction, but that is decades away.  I’ve seen too many debates and ‘Crossfire’ type shows to believe that any kind of informing, enlightenment, and mutual respect goes on.  Do not even get me going on politics and voting.  I intentionally lie to pollsters just to throw a small wrench in their numbers.  I know they interview thousands of potential voters, but since politicians have blatantly and knowingly lied to constituents ever since there were politicians and constituents I figure this is my little way of protesting without being labeled like one of these hippies from the 1960s or one of the Occupy Wall Street guys.  I probably shouldn’t lie as it violates the whole Golden Rule (and I don’t mean ‘he who has the most gold has the most rule’).

One of the religious teachings I agree with states ‘let the one lacking in sin (or faults) throw the first stone.’  I have no doubt that every belief system in the world has their own uniquely worded version of this.  It is one that while we do not practice all the time. If we did, at least 90 percent of our interpersonal strife would immediately vanish.  When we are actually intellectually honest we will acknowledge we don’t know everything, we don’t have all the answers, and we have faults in our beliefs.  We are not perfect, no one is, and we would be better off to not expect perfection out of anyone.  We know it is right to treat others with respect.  We know it feels good when we are treated with respect ourselves.  Do to others as you would have done to yourself isn’t just a feel good meme or ancient proverb derived two millennium ago, it is a basic pillar on which civilized life is built on.  The whole idea of I got to get mine and kill or be killed is a relic of pre history that would be best left in a museum, not practiced in our interpersonal, inter business, and inter national relations.

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Anyway, as a mentally ill person I have a hard time dealing with uncivilized behavior and heightened emotions (namely negative ones) without the whole deal feeling like it is becoming a personal attack.  I literally feel physically threatened and scared to the point of anger (anger often is just a mask for fear) during heated discussions.  As a man who is much larger than most, I don’t think it would bode well for anyone if I went Ice Age Neanderthal hunter on an unsuspecting person who is either trying to win a discussion or  just being a troll.

In short, to my mentally ill friends and readers, feeling like melting down on someone in a heated situation may be unavoidable, but never act out on it.  Ever.  Fortunately I haven’t been in a fight since sixth grade, long before I got a mental illness or twice the size of most humans.  Sometimes a person just has to cut their losses and run, especially when dealing with mental illness.  Dealing with people who refuse to act civil and risking an assault charge because you had a mental break is not worth it.

Mental Illness and Friendships

Earlier this week I had one of my best friends from college spend a few days at my apartment.  We went out to eat at a couple of places I had been meaning to try.  We went to Omaha to catch a minor league baseball game, which is a fun way to spend an evening and can be done for less than $25 a person pretty easily.  We had front row seats on the first base line and the seats cost only $13.  I took him to one of the parks I go for walks in and crowd watch.  We also chatted extensively about topics near and dear to us, topics like economics, future tech possibilities, history, our fantasy league baseball teams, dating experiences, etc.  I’m going to see him again in July when I go to the Black Hills of South Dakota as I’m one of the groomsmen in his wedding.  I got remeasured for a suit and, even though the weight loss has slowed for the last couple months, I am actually down a few inches in most of my measurements.  Go figure.

For the few days he was here, I had no problems with the mental illness flaring up.  While I am quite steady most of the time anymore, I still have moments of weakness when the problems come creeping back.  I haven’t completely mastered warding off these flare ups, but have learned not to act on these negative emotions and thoughts.  Even when I have the flare ups, I’ll usually just rant and rave but not actually act out physically.  And my family, to their credit, put up with it and don’t try to argue with me when this occurs.  By now we’ve figured out the best way to get out of a down ward spiral is to often allow me to just burn myself out by ranting for awhile as long as I don’t physically threaten anyone or myself.  The odd thing about having schizophrenia is when I am having these psychotic breakdowns is I am completely aware of what is going on and what I am saying but the impulse controls are not working nearly as well.  Fortunately for all of us involved my bark is far worse than my bite.  And to their credit, my family and friends endure my problems and quirks like champs.  That is why it is important to keep in contact with friends and at least attempt to keep things civil with family members.  They can help smooth things out when things go bad.  They also make living far more interesting.  The most important thing in life is our friendships and relationships with other humans.

Strong Emotions and Mental Illness

I have always been one that’s had problems with hiding my emotions and feelings.  Even before I had mental illness problems I’ve always felt deeply, loved deeply, had strong opinions about things I cared about, etc.  This has often gotten me in trouble at school, in social situations, at jobs, and especially among family and friends.  I have no idea how many friends I have lost, how many jobs I’ve been fired from, how many teachers and potential allies I’ve alienated, and how many arguments I had with family members over the years.  This was all because I felt deeply, wasn’t afraid to go against popular opinions when I felt they made no sense, and was often too stubborn to back down from someone I felt was in the wrong.  Sadly, as a result of these strong feelings, I never really developed strong social skills, learned how the games of socializing and workplace politics were played, or learned until I was well into my early 30s that people would rather a person be polite and wrong than be less than tactful and in the right.  It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I learned that when dealing with groups of neurotypical individuals, it was better to have a good image and weak emotions than it was to have strong character, strong emotions, but a less than good image.  The smartest and most right man in the room is  ignored in favor of the one who acts and looks the best without upsetting people.  It is simply the way most humans are.

As a result of developing a mental illness, my emotions, feelings, and opinions are actually stronger than they were in my youth.  I have learned, despite these stronger emotions, to keep my mouth shut the vast majority of time when in groups larger than two or three people.  This is especially true when dealing with people I don’t know well.  I never could figure out why, but most neurotypical people greatly fear strong shows of emotions.  So I often find myself bottling up my emotions (whether its anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, or even happiness) for fear of upsetting others.  Some would argue that I am a stoic, unfeeling person just by watching my interactions with others.  This is far from the truth.  I feel very deeply, so deeply I try to not show emotion at all when around those I don’t know.  I imagine much of this comes from being raised in a family and rural farming community were strong displays of any emotions were strongly discouraged.

It is very tough for me to bottle up my emotions, especially with a mental illness.  It wasn’t until a few years ago I realized just how threatened and fearful of strong emotions most people (at least here in USA) really were.  I never considered myself a threat or intimidating to anyone.  I was actually a long running joke growing up because I couldn’t physically defend myself from bullies (I never won a fight in my life despite being the biggest kid in my school) or knew when to shut up on issues when I knew I was right and everyone else was wrong.  In my social interactions I am always picking my words and phrases very carefully so not to upset others.  This leads to even more social and work problems because most people assume I’m either not genuine or am a complete liar.  I’m not being a fraud, I’m just trying not to show emotion one way or another.  I often feel like it would be better to be an emotionless robot as opposed to having as strong of emotions I do.

I would love to hear from others who have problems with strong emotions, socializing, and mental illness.  Opinions and stories from readers are always welcomed.

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.