Minimalism, Optimism, and Freedom with Mental Illness

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In the classic movie ‘Forrest Gump’, there was a line that went like “there’s only so much you need and the rest is just for show.”  After a couple of years of practicing minimalism I know that is a fact.  There really is only so much a person needs to really be content in life. I don’t have any music CDs or DVDs because I have all of that held by my computer via my subscriptions to Netflix, Curiosity Stream, and Spotify.  I have my books but I am seriously considering buying a Kindle or another cheap e-reader and putting a bunch of free books on it.  I don’t have a lot of trinkets in my house.  Besides a few art pieces done by friends and my framed World Series ticket stub from when my Rockies made the World Series I don’t have much for decorations.  The only real extravagance  I have for decorations is the world map where I put in push pins in every country I had a visitor from.  I have food in my fridge and pantry.  I have some emergency supplies so I could ride out a blizzard or emergency for a few days without power if need be.  I have my car which I use mainly to buy groceries and run occasional errands.  I’ve gotten to where I usually buy gas only once a month unless I’m making road trips during the summer.  I banked some of my insurance settlement money as another emergency fund.  I already had an emergency fund that I keep outside of the bank.  My medicaid covers my medications and psych doctor visits.  I have learned how to live on what social security pays me.  I have zero for debts.  I have two computers and central heating.  Heck, I dare say that even though I’m on social security disability insurance and officially living under the poverty line for U.S. standards in 2016, I live better than the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts did back in the late 1800s.  Thank God for technology and knowledge.

I’m sorry if I sound like I’m bragging.  But I am happy that I have gotten out of debt, stayed out of debt, didn’t end up in a bad relationship or divorced paying child support for kids I’m hardly ever allowed to see, and avoided a lot of other problems that could have come with being mentally ill.  I’m glad I don’t have kids because I fear passing on genetic tendencies for mental illness and I know with schizophrenia I would have made a lousy father.  I am glad I got out of debt and learned how to have cheap tastes because I don’t have to take a job just for the money.  I don’t work right now because I really don’t need the money.  I also don’t need the headaches of office politics and putting up with whiny and lazy coworkers.  I left my last job because I didn’t need the money and the job was becoming more of a headache than it was worth.  Being in the position where I don’t have to accept a lousy job or put up with coworkers’ nonsense is a sense of power that not many people I know have.

Some of my critics will no doubt say that I can do this only because I am on the government dole.  Years ago with mental illness, I’d be locked up in an insane asylum and probably costing the taxpayers more than I am now with less effective results. With me living in the community on disability, my community was able to get several years of labor and taxes out of me that they wouldn’t have gotten fifty years ago.  The community also received my blog entries, which from messages I have gotten from readers, are making a difference.  Some may think I am spoiled by being able to live in the community and take psych medications at tax payer expense.  What’s wrong with that?  Everybody alive today benefits from inventions and innovations they had nothing to do with.  Everybody with electricity today had little to nothing to do with the research that people like Michael Farraday, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and George Westinghouse did back in the 1800s to make electric power possible.  A significant percentage of the people living today would be dead or never born if it wasn’t for anti biotic drugs.  Surely that doesn’t spoil anyone or make them less productive.

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Because of advances in science and technology along with advances in the social safety nets, I can live pretty well off very little.  I have access to much of history’s music through Spotify for only ten dollars a month.  I have access to the world’s cumulative knowledge and wisdom won through centuries of toil, tears, and blood through a wireless internet collection that costs only one dollar a day.  I don’t need in encyclopedia for research when I have wikipedia and search engines.  I don’t need to write letters to friends when I can just hit them up on Facebook.  I don’t need to buy a newspaper when I can go online to get my news or craigslist.com for classified ads.  I can reach an international audience with this blog for pennies a day in advertising and I have a much further reach than when I started writing a dozen years ago.  Back then I wasn’t known outside of the few people who bought some of my print on demand poetry and essays books.  Much of what I am doing right now would seem like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers type of science fiction magic to my grandparents generation back in the 1950s.  Even the Wal Mart special smart phone I have is more advanced than Captain Kirk’s mobile communicator from the original ‘Star Trek.’  And I have access to all of this and more even though I am a minimalist, on disability insurance, a single man, and living in a smaller town in a largely rural farming state.

Because my hobbies and entertainments don’t cost much I don’t need that much money.  Splurging for me is going to a sports bar with a couple college friends when they come to visit.  Or buying $60 worth of used books on amazon or picking up a couple cheap computer games.  Extravagance for me is going camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota or the mountains of Colorado.  A good time for me is getting to see my nephews and niece. I may not have a large income, a big house, a fancy car, a designer wardrobe, or prestige.  But I have come to realize over the years with a mental illness I don’t need these things to be content and happy.  I need only a fraction of the things I was told I needed to have a decent life when I was growing up.  I really don’t have to make any more major purchases for the foreseeable future.  Other than the ups and downs of my mental illness I am living quite well.  Now that the insanity of the election has passed I may not have to worry about so many ups and downs anymore.  Life is going well for me.

 

Aging With Mental Illness

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As summer fades into fall I think I have passed through the toughest time of year for myself.  Other than a couple problems I have escaped this summer without any kind of serious breakdowns.  I consider this a victory.  Perhaps it means that after fifteen years of dealing with a mental illness diagnosis I’m able to manage even the worst parts well.

I have heard from my psych doctors and other people in the know that problems with schizophrenia often lessen with age.  When I was going through the worst of my illness in the early years I didn’t pay any attention.  I was hurting bad enough with the depression, hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and paranoia that any possible improvements years later seemed a hallow promise.  I was barely able to function for much of my twenties so the prospect that things would start to get better in my late thirties or early forties didn’t matter at all.  All I knew was I had lost every dream I ever had because of schizophrenia and I would be living on the fringes of society for the rest of my life.  It was no consolation that I might get better in twenty years.  I knew that my prospects for a productive and meaningful life were over.

At least that’s what I thought a dozen years ago when it became obvious to me that I would never be able to hold any kind of meaningful full time employment.  I filed for disability insurance through Social Security and moved into HUD housing.  During my stay in HUD housing and my two stints in a mental hospital, I met many people who were in worse shape than I ever was.  I met people who still didn’t want to take their medications even after twenty years of a diagnosis.  These people refused to take their meds even when it was obvious they weren’t functioning at all without them.  I met people who had severe physical health problems because of smoking and drug abuse in addition to their mental health problems.  I met some people who were just angry and irritable all the time and a few of them even had a mental health diagnosis.

Over the years I also met some pretty cool people with mental illness and or living in HUD housing.  I met one lady who had a pretty high end corporate job until her problems started in her forties.  She was quite an artist too.  I met the pastor friend of mine who knew Hebrew and Greek in HUD housing.  While I miss him and haven’t found any friends like him since he died two years ago, I imagine someone just as good will come along in my apartment complex given enough time.  We have had a few jerks and cranks move in during my ten years here.  We have had many move out or get evicted too.  On a long enough time scale the jerks and cranks usually get what they earn.  Even the ones who didn’t get evicted got shunned by the tenants at large.  One way to make a stay in an apartment complex really unpleasant is to always be mean and or act like the rules don’t apply to you.  Fortunately I haven’t had those problems.  I know that some of the older tenants were resentful of me moving in to the complex ten years ago when I was so young. Previously my complex had been reserved for the elderly.  But, seriously, where else was I going to go?  Long term hospitalization isn’t a highly utilized option anymore.

Of course as good as some of these psychiatric medications have gotten over the last couple decades, long term hospitalization isn’t needed for many psychiatric patients.  Of the three medications I am currently prescribed, two of them didn’t exist even five years ago.  And the DNA tests I took earlier this year indicated that these medications would work quite well given my DNA.  Sure enough these tests were right.  Since I can’t process stress and anxiety well enough to hold a full time job anymore, I’m approaching my life much like a retiree.  I am grateful for the time I have.  I am grateful for being able to live a low stress life.  I am grateful to be able to come and go as I please.  I am grateful I have learned to live on not much money.  And I am especially grateful that I am still able to write about my mental illness and be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.  It’s been an up and down last fifteen years with a diagnosis.  But I think I have seen the worst parts of the illness and am settling into middle age.  I can hardly wait to see what the next fifteen years brings me personally and the treatment of mental illness at large.

 

 

Cleaning My Apartment, Minimalism, and Tying Up Loose Ends

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Spent the last few days cleaning my apartment and rearranging for when the new carpet is getting installed.  My landlady talked about painting the walls of my apartment while they were at it.  So my apartment is going to be getting some much needed updating pretty soon.  I may have to be out of my apartment for a few days while the work is going on.  But I’m glad that this is going to get done finally.  I’ve been in the same apartment for ten years without any major updates.  This job is going much easier ever since I became a minimalist.

I cleaned up some files on my computer while I was cleaning my apartment.  I got rid of a bunch of my e-clutter and free e-books I was never going to read.  So many books but so little time.  I had to update some programs on my iPod.  So I now have some free space on it and am listening to more music now.  Music has traditionally been therapeutic for me.  But I had gotten out of the habit of listening during the last couple years.  I no longer have any music CDs as it is all on e-files now.  I haven’t bought even e-file music for almost a year.  For the most part anymore when I want to listen to music I use free services like Pandora or You Tube.  It still amazes me how much cool stuff can be found online as long as you are willing to look.  I don’t even have DVDs anymore.  I get all my movie viewing on Netflix and Amazon.  Anymore I have adopted the attitude of let the computer hold my “stuff.”  I have grown to hate clutter as much as I hate cleaning.  And I can reduce clutter by reducing how many things I actually own.  With the exception of my two couches, my dresser, my bookshelf, and my bed, everything I own I can get into my four door sedan within a couple hours.  I am definitely not a hoarder.  With a one bedroom apartment I can’t afford to be.

Not having visual clutter in my apartment does a great deal for reliving stress.  I usually don’t have to clean very often simply because I don’t have much to clutter my place.  It’s great feeling.

 

Getting Back To Stability

It’s been almost three weeks since I threw out my back.  I can get around pretty decent for the most part.  The mornings are the only difficulty, especially the first time I stand up after waking.  In spite of my back issues I’ve been socializing more.  I went to a writers’ support group on Monday night for the first time in over a year.  Told people about my blog.  My blog is the primary writing activity I have right now.  I do occasionally write poetry but there is such a limited market for poetry.  I haven’t written any kind of fiction for almost three years.  But then I’ve always preferred reading nonfiction to fiction.

Mentally I’ve been very stable for quite awhile.  I call at least one person over the phone every day now.  Usually family or close friends.  Things have gotten a little less contentious  at my apartment complex in recent months.  We’ve had a couple problem residents I haven’t seen in weeks so I’m guessing they moved out.  After ten years in the same complex I really don’t pay much attention to who moves in and who moves out.  I just pretty much keep to myself and the handful of friends I have here.  The friend I made back in the winter moved out a month ago.  But I’m kind of used to that by now.

I rejoined my old writers support group.  I’m probably going to rejoin my mental illness support group as soon as my back clears up.  There is a second writers’ support group that meets twice monthly at the local library that I’m joining starting next week.  In short I’m beginning to put myself out there socially.

Been seriously tracking my diet for a week.  I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost.  Probably not as much as I normally would as I’m not yet very active.  I won’t be very active until my back completely heals.  The best I can do right now is put strict limits on what I eat and keep a positive mind set.

Today is also my birthday.  I am now 36 years old.  I don’t have much planned today besides going out to lunch with my family.  Can’t really do a great deal for at least the short term.  But the back has cleared immensely since two weeks ago.  I just have to keep doing things to encourage the healing process until I’m back to full speed.