Physical Therapy

Completed my first week of chiropractic therapy today.  One week down, eleven more to go.  The x-rays on my back show that my hip and shoulder are slightly out of alignment.  Same x-rays show I have little to no curve to my spine.  The doctor said that the car accident only made things on my lower back worse. In addition to going to the office three days a week, I do neck and back strengthening exercises at home every day.  Getting my back into proper working order is going to be another of my winter projects.

Next Tuesday I am getting my throat and stomach scoped again to see how bad my ulcer problem is.  So it looks like I’m going to be getting real familiar with hospitals and doctor’s offices in the coming weeks.  Talked to nurse this afternoon over the phone.  She took down essentailly my entire medical history.  After I get scoped, who knows where we go from there.  I’m not even sure how ulcers are treated.

Right now it is possible I might not get to settle into the routine I so desperately crave.  Nothing in my life has been routine since at least late spring.

Fifteen Years With A Mental Illness Diagnosis

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I have been having problems with depression, anxiety, delusional thoughts, and excessive anger since I was seventeen.  I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression in October 2000.  I’ve been treated for these mental health problems for fifteen years.  In fact, today as I write this is probably the anniversary of when I was diagnosed.  I’m not exactly sure as those hectic weeks leading up to my diagnosis are a blur.  I do remember that I was having mini psychotic breaks at least twice a week when I was call home and just yell at my family members for no real reason.  Now, I had a good family as a child.  While I had a good family I struggled socially.  I didn’t have many friends or confidants, likely because I was eccentric and one of these really smart kids who was too stubborn to hide the fact I was smart.  That didn’t win many favor points with my school mates.  But, the fact I did have a good family who held me accountable was probably one of the reasons I was able to do well in spite of my mental illness.

I grew up in a very small farming community of less than 500 people in rural Nebraska.  It was one of those places that life changed with the seasons more than anything.  Social activities centered around farming, school activities, and church groups.  It was one of those places where everyone knew at least one thing about everyone.  It was also one of those places that was remote enough that we thought nothing of getting in the car and driving an hour and a half to the nearest Wal-Mart.  Lack of access to proper mental health care is one of the reasons I left my hometown.  Yet I’m only an hour and a half drive from my family, so not terribly far in case of crisis.  But also far enough I’m able to have my own space and my own life.  I currently live in a small college town of less than 50,000 people.  So it’s still one of those places were the pace of life changes with the seasons.

After I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I still wouldn’t withdraw from college until the next spring.  By then the mental health problems were bad enough I left my dorm room only to go to classes and twice a day to go to the dining hall.  Had no social life and I was in danger of flunking out of school entirely.  So I left college and took several weeks to regroup.  I went back to college in the fall of 2001 with a changed major and better treatment for my mental illness.  I originally started as a pre-med student before switching over to business management.  I graduated in May 2004.  Even though I never worked a job requiring my degree, I am glad I had those classes because they taught me budgeting and how economics works.  I probably would have found a job requiring a degree had I left the farm belt of Nebraska.  But with my inconvenient mental illness flare ups I would not have held such a job long enough to support myself.  I ultimately qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance in late 2008.  I have worked since, primarily as a part time evening janitor and maintenance man at the county courthouse.  Held that job for four years.

I haven’t held a “real job” besides doing temporary work here and there for three years.  But I have come to the realization that my self worth as a human is not in the job I work.  Many people forget this, especially men like myself who tend to be obsessive about our pursuits.  Even though I’m living on social security disability money I am also debt free.  Not making payments any more is a good feeling that takes away a good deal of my previous stress and anxiety.  I’ve also been blogging about mental illness issues for two and a half years.  Feel free to look over some of my previous posts.  It’s been a long, hard, and strange trip.  But one that I have survived and learned a great deal from.  Who knows what the next fifteen years will bring.  It’ll be 2030 by then and I’ll be fifty years old.

Return to ‘Normal’ with Schizophrenia

It’s been a week since I was in the emergency room for getting my esophagus scoped.  Had to take it easy for a couple days but I’m back to normal.  At least as normal as things are going to get with schizophrenia.  It’s been two weeks since I had a third anti psychotic medication added.  It appears to be doing the trick as I haven’t had any kind of upsets or flare ups in anxiety or agitation for several days.  I’m even sleeping better now.  I still keep odd hours as I typically do better at night when there are less stimuli and fewer people out and about. I can say things are starting to return to normal again.

It has been some time since I was able to have any routine for any length of time.  I had my best friend’s wedding in July.  In addition to the wedding I had the last of my grandparents die.  While I wasn’t completely torn apart by my grandmother’s death, I know it effected me in other ways.  I got out of a regular sleep pattern, which makes mental illness problems worse.  I became especially lazy about watching what I ate and didn’t exercise as much as usual.  I was more irritable and short tempered too.

I had what has essentially become my late summer or early fall mini psychiatric break in early October.  Traditionally I have my break downs in August or early September.  I was hoping to make it through the rough patches and lack of routine without a breakdown.  No such luck.  Fortunately I was able to talk down and burn myself out.  For most people as bad off as I was, going a mental health hospital is the best option.  Since I have such a great support system in my immediate and extended family, I was able to talk my way out of my flare up.  I don’t know how my family is able to deal with my flare ups and break downs without taking them personal.  It has to be hard.  It’s hard enough for me when I’m going through them.  I am concerned for when my family members begin dying off and I have to find different support people.  This is a fear of mine.  Perhaps by then treatments will be developed that are even better then what are available now.  Maybe there will even be a cure.  In the meantime I keep moving on and attempt to keep a since of normal with schizophrenia.

Recovering From Several Rough Days With Mental Illness

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Had several rougher days than normal lately.  One of those days involved a bad episode where I was close to checking myself into the local psych hospital.  Fortunately one way for me to break out of bad episodes is to just talk my way out of them with friends and family, literally allowing myself to speak out of my distress.  It is a tough process for all involved but it does work, at least in my case.  I do not recommend this for most people because there can be many hurt feelings on the part of support people, friends and family.  I think the reason it works for my case is that I grew up in a stable family who would drop everything for one of their own at a moment’s notice.  My family handles these problems like champions and saints.  I don’t know how they do it without taking these episodes personal.  After I’ve burned myself out I make it a point to tell them that it’s nothing personal and I’m sorry for what happened.

Saw my psych doctor on Monday afternoon.  We added a new psych medication and a temporary medication to aid in sleeping.  Haven’t been sleeping terribly well lately either.  The psych issues and the sleep problems just feed on each other no doubt.  But I’m a couple days into a recovery.  Things look promising again.  I hope things keep going better.  I’ll keep you posted as I document these last rough several days and my attempts at recovery.

Managing Anger With Schizophrenia

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Things have been more or less consistent the last several days.  I’m still getting out and exercising as I’m breaking in a new pair of heavy duty hiking boots most days.  Started lifting weights at least 3 times per week again.  Still working through educational programs and khanacademy.org .  Been watching shameless amounts of old tv shows through Netflix.  I’ve plowed through half of season 1 of Star Trek: Enterprise just in the last week.  In short things have been going pretty good and steady for 90 percent of the time.

Sadly, I still have that 10 percent of the time that still causes me problems.  Many of these problems are partly due to a new neighbor in my complex.  This man has been irritable to almost everyone in our complex.  I refuse to go into details but this individual is the angriest and most closed minded man I have ever met.  He doesn’t believe in mental illness at all.  I will say no more.

I haven’t filed any complaints against this tenant because I’ve previously filed complaints against tenants that we’re being uncivil with no results.  Usually problems like these have wound up being solved when these tenants would move or get evicted over violating terms of the lease.  I’ve been at my current apartment for several years and I have had problem neighbors come and I’ve seen problem neighbors go.  Nothing new.

It bothers me at times and sometimes provokes emotions ranging from mild irritability to a nagging sense of anger.  I don’t enjoy having these nagging senses of anger.  I’m not a confrontational or violent man by nature.  And confronting others will only make things worse.  I refuse to get evicted or committed over annoying and irritable people who will, in time, get a massive dose of karma courtesy of their own actions.  As uncomfortable as that nagging sense of anger is, I just allow it to pass in a controlled and limited burn.  I no longer try to force myself to be happy nor do I fear this anger anymore.  What I do instead is allow myself to feel angry without acting on it.  I don’t fear getting angry because I have the good sense to let it go gradually and constructively rather than allow it build up for days.  Just because I feel anger doesn’t mean I’m going to act on it.  I enjoy having the escape valve of free will and self control.

Learning to manage anger with schizophrenia is not a skill that can be learned in one day.  It is a trial and error process that is ongoing and never ending.  I am much better at it now than I was 15 years ago.  And I plan on being much better than I am now with the passing of another 15 years.  Feeling anger is not bad or evil.  It is how anger is channeled or acted on that determines whether anger is constructive or destructive.  It is also important to note that what we do send out will come back on us over a long enough time line.  Or as one of my college friends crassly put it “Karma’s got a large boot and kicks asses harder than we can.”

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.

A Sense of Normal With Mental Illness

This summer has not been a typical summer for me.  I served as a groomsman in a friend’s wedding.  I lost a grandmother who influenced my life for nothing but the better.  I also got kind of lazy about watching what I ate and gained 15 of the almost 70 pounds I had lost overall.  But I also went through the entire summer with only one flare up of the schizophrenia.  This happened back in early July.

Summers are usually tough times for me.  This is when I feel my most irritable and easily agitated.  Some of my worst flare ups occur in July and August every year like clockwork.  I’ve seen research suggesting that a good portion of people have more problems with mental illness during certain times of year.  I think my problems in summer are made worse by the heat of summer.  It’s a dry heat most of the time in my home state of Nebraska.  When it does rain the humidity can be rough.

Things have been settling down and getting back to more typical for the last three weeks.  I’ve gotten serious about dieting and exercise again and have lost 10 pounds since my grandma’s funeral.  My problems with irritability, anger, and anxiety are subsiding again.  We also had a week when it was unseasonably cool in the middle of August.  It was an early preview of the fall that will be starting in a few weeks.  We haven’t had an unbearably hot summer this year but it was hot enough for several weeks just enough to limit outdoor activity more than I would have liked.

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.

Worry and Stress

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Worry and stress hinder the mentally ill and the neurotypical alike.  No one can escape it.  It served us as a species well for most of our history when hunter gatherers needed successful hunts and fight other bands.  Otherwise they would die.  Worry and stress are natural to us.  It allowed humans to go from barely surviving to modern civilization.

Yet our natural inclinations to worry are deteriorating our quality of life.  The old fight or flight mentality isn’t serving us as well.  We are seeing more people going through depression, panic attacks, anxiety problems, and physical health problems brought on by mental stress.  We haven’t yet developed the ability to mentally let go of worry.  This skill is not natural to us.  It has to be learned.

Learning how to let go of stress and worry, even with years of practice, won’t be perfect.  I have been taking steps to lessen my worry for several years and I occasionally slip into old habits.  Things I have found helpful include keeping journals, engaging with negative people as little as possible, venting slightly on occasion, and never watching news broadcasts.

When I keep journals, I don’t hold back. I write my frustrations, my anxieties, my annoyances, my fears, and the delusional thoughts that sometimes accompany my mental illness.  I get it out of my mind and onto paper.  But I don’t share these with anyone.  It does me much better to vent on paper rather than hold these worries in and drop them on someone else all at once.  Many of our problems with stress, I am convinced, come from the idea that we aren’t allowed to vent or have to put up a good front at all times.  I can’t change how anyone expects to act in public.  What I can do is vent in the form of pen and paper, get it out of my mind, and then move on.  Once the notebook is full, I throw it away.  Been doing this for at least two years.  It helps.  Sure I occasionally have problems and just dump my frustrations on family members.  But that’s the nature of the beast of mental illness and I do my best to minimize those blow ups.

I vent to my friends and family as needed to.  I used to be one of these people pleasers who listened to and try to solve everyone’s problems.  But I wouldn’t tell my problems to anyone.  It made me resentful and feel like I was being used.  I can’t remember when it was but during a conversation with someone I finally said, “I’ve heard enough of your problems.  Now you’re going to hear about mine.”  Fortunately for this relationship I wasn’t malicious about it.  But being resentful of listening to others problems while I didn’t stand up enough to have others listen to mine cost me at least a couple friendships.  My friends have problems.  I have problems.  We are now more balanced in talking about our issues.  I don’t just do all the giving while not taking some of my own anymore.

I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news broadcasts.  Haven’t for a few years.  Why should I?  I already know there is a lot of trouble and mess out there.  Always has been.  Always will be.  I have no need or desire to know every little bit of trouble going on, whether it’s halfway around the world or halfway across my country.  Seriously, why give myself more stress and anxiety then I already have?  I can’t solve all the world’s problems.  I’m not that good.  Anyone who has any kind of awareness knows that there are serious messes in the world around them.  Just because the world is messed up doesn’t mean I have to be.  Since I learned to let go of things I didn’t personally cause and can’t prevent, my life has had fewer worries and fewer stresses.

Continuing What Works and Discarding What Doesn’t

Right now I am currently in one of those long periods of stability bordering on normalcy.  Probably why I’ve gotten so much work on this blog done over the last couple weeks.  I’m currently on a hot streak.  To paraphrase Kevin Costner from ‘Bull Durham’, “when you’re on a winning streak, you don’t do anything to mess with it.  Respect the win streak.  They don’t come along very often.”

This overall ability to get things done and not be really phased by what problems arise is no doubt due to more than one factor.  For starters, spring has always been one of my better times.  Even before I had mental health problems I did my best school work, read the most, wrote the most, was the most physically active, and the most socially outgoing in the spring to early summer.  Too bad I can’t bottle this positive mojo juice to carry me though tough spots and darker days.

I don’t have access to ‘hot streak on demand.’  No one does.  Yet with the benefit of several years of accumulated self knowledge and experience, I can have the next best thing.  I have learned how to do great deals of work during good times.  I have learned how to do damage control during bad times.  I have learned how to make winning streaks last longer, feel better, and more productive.  I have learned things that lessen the darkness of bad spells.

The first step to sustainable productivity and happiness is knowing yourself.  Knowing yourself is not knowing what you think you should be.  It is knowing what you do well naturally, accepting it, and acting on it.  I’ve held enough jobs to know that a happy worker isn’t always productive or an irritable one isn’t always unproductive. Vice versa is true.  Some people are productive because they are Pollyanna types and some are productive because they are hard cases.  One is not necessarily better than another.

What is not good is thinking you always have to be one thing at all times, especially when that one thing goes against your core nature.  For myself, I know I am not naturally Mr. Social Hour.  I do better at a job, or any undertaking, when I’m not chatting with others and making small talk every ten minutes.  I can’t stand small talk at all.  Yet because I keep silent when I work and get engrossed in problems, I am have been condemned as anti-social and a poor team player since childhood.  Should it matter if I don’t comment on the weather or don’t know when my coworker’s wife is giving him a hard time?  If I’m doing a good job and providing some value, it really shouldn’t matter.  Likewise, I don’t take offence should a coworker or friend be too busy to talk as long as they are professional and courteous.  I don’t need my ego stroked at all times.  I don’t need to hold hands and play nice at all times to get my work done.  I know myself well enough that I know that is not how I become productive.  My core nature would rather ‘kick ass and take names’ instead of ‘kiss ass and drop names.’

Unfortunately I haven’t found many environments outside of blogging and working alone that allow me the freedom to play to my strengths.  It is far easier for me to research for this blog and my own enlightenment for ten hours straight than do twenty minutes of messaging the egos of others.  Most of these egos wouldn’t need messaged if these people felt free to play to their strengths more and discard what doesn’t work for them.  Kind of crazy how people are usually more productive and happy when they are free to use their individual strengths.  Sure there are social pressures to conform to fit certain types.  Yet we aren’t happier with ourselves and others when we do and compromise our strengths and integrity.

For example, I get annoyed every time I go to my bank to buy quarters for laundry or chat with a banker and the poor clerk or personal banker has to feign interest in my day or chat me up because it’s ‘part of the job’ or it’s ‘being part of the community.’  Who cares how good or bad my weekend was?  Even I don’t care sometimes.  I have a hard time imagining somebody like J.P. Morgan talking about the weather with Thomas Edison or making idle chit chat with an Andrew Carnegie type when he wanted to borrow money to build a new blast furnace.

And it’s not just my bank that does this faking interest because some boss thinks it adds a personal touch.  I get this practically every time I go shopping, especially at the large bookstore I shop at.  Every time I go through a check out line the poor clerk is forced to take interest and comment on what I’m buying and reading.  Just once I should have said, “Thank goodness I’m not buying ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’ or ‘Best of Letters to Penthouse.’ ”  I totally know why online retailers like amazon and eBay are doing so well.  Heaven help us when AI is figured out and my computer is forced to fake interest in my activities.  Hopefully the computer will be intelligent enough to not fake interest because it is illogical and pointless.  Having faux interest and playing nice at all times doesn’t always work and thus should be discarded.