I Care, That’s Why I Don’t Stay Silent

People are often told to speak up if they are having struggles or problems.  But what is the point of opening up to others if you are met with the whole others have it worse trope.  But, for me, what is even worse than being told others have it worse, or I’m lucky, or that I should quit complaining, is being met with complete silence and indifference.  Being met with silence is by far the worst for me.  I’ve experienced it many times in my life, even from my own family.

I don’t know how to read someone going silent on me when I tell them something.  Do you think I am a liar?  Are you too heartless to say even “I’m sorry you’re hurting”?  Are you too dumb to know how to react?  Do you just not care?  Do you think I am stupid? Or do you not know how to communicate?  Or are you just being rude?  Do you think I’m overblowing the problem?  All of this is going through my head all at the same time when I confess my problems to people and I’m met with a stone wall of silence.  I already suffer in silence for a lot of the struggles with my mental illness.  Have since my teenage years.  When I open up to you, I often do so because I crave feedback.

I know I appear weak in many people’s eyes just for talking about my problems.  But, I have probably appeared weak, odd, eccentric and weird to everyone I have ever met since childhood.  “I am the weirdo” to quote Fairuza Balk from “The Craft.”  Some probably thought I was weird for having emotions other than anger or lust as a man.  Many have thought it weird that I take pride in being well read and active in seeking knowledge.  I never understood why it was cool to be stupid and immature.

Others think I’m weird for caring about others and humanity as a whole.  I cringe every time I see one of these “the importance of not giving a ####” articles, videos, and books.  Apparently it hasn’t occurred to most people that the reason they live mediocre lives, are stuck in dead end jobs, with dead end relationships, have mediocre leaders in government, have mediocre bosses, live paycheck to paycheck, and never getting better is because they don’t care enough, certainly they don’t care enough to attempt to change things.

I’ve tried many times to change myself for the better.  Sure I have failed at most of those attempts, but at least I have gleaned some bits of wisdom and some interesting experiences from those endeavors.  I may still be mentally ill, but I can manage it pretty well, better than the majority of people.  I may not be in good physical health, but at least I’m still fighting to keep some maintenance and stability.  I will probably never be rich, unless by some act of God this blog and my writings get picked up by some group who wants to pay me for work I’ve done, sometimes at great personal expense, for years.  I refuse to give up.  I refuse to stop caring about humanity, nature, my friends, my family, my neighbors, etc.  Asking me to stop caring is the same as asking a fish to stop swimming.  Caring about others and trying to provide insight and assistance through my own personal experiences living as a man with mental illness is what I do.  It’s who I am.  It’s my Definite Chief Aim, according to Napoleon Hill.  Or my Massively Transformative Purpose, according to Peter Diamandis.

Even if by some miracle of medical science I do get cured of mental illness, or at least get the symptoms knocked down enough they no longer affect my lifestyle, I’m still going to find ways to use my mind, my knowledge, and my compassion for others to make life more bearable and meaningful to others.

Random Thought on an idle Friday afternoon

With it being a Friday, I am reminded of posts by friends of how much they love weekends and how much they hate their jobs. Maybe I got lucky by having a severe mental illness and being on disability. Perhaps I did, especially with how much I read about how people hate their jobs and their spouses. I also probably got lucky in that becoming disabled made me not marriage material. Yet, as it were, losing everything civilization told me to value made me fearless and optimistic. Once you lose everything, you are free to do anything it seems.

Optimism for The Future in the Face of Constant Pessimism

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I haven’t posted regularly on my facebook or twitter accounts since September.  I just got tired of all the fighting and negativity.  But the thing that bothers me the most about social media is how much of what I try to communicate gets lost in just text.  Most times I don’t wish to come across as snarky or combative, but that’s how so many people interpret what I write.  Maybe facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. wouldn’t be so negative if people had to post video and audio rather than just text.  Put a voice and face to the comments and let the world know they aren’t talking to a machine or subhuman entity.

I gave up on using social media for anything than shamelessly promoting my blog three months ago when I came to the painful conclusion that most people were never going to share my optimism or joyful outlook.  And the weird thing is I am more optimistic than ever even though I almost never convince anyone of reasons to be optimistic.  I am definitely not an optimist by nature or upbringing.  I almost never heard anything positive about the world or the future from my parents, teachers, bosses, or elders while growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.  For quite sometime I was wondering why if most people were so pessimist about the future, then why were they having kids.  I could never figure those kinds of contradictions out.  I know very few people even in December 2017 who don’t have kids because they are worried about the kind of future these kids would have.  Most people that don’t have kids that I know can’t biologically have kids.

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Like I said, I am not an optimist by nature.  I had to make myself into one.  And I did it with little help from mass media, popular culture, or my elders.  Most of what I learned about what was going right in modern civilization I had to actively seek out through secondary sources and rigorous research.  I learned more science, technology, psychology, history, philosophy, literature, and economics on my own with an internet connection and five years of daily youtube viewing than I ever thought possible after spending eighteen years in traditional education.  Then again, it should be noted that is simply impossible for any kind of formal education system to teach everything a person needs to know for living just within the system itself.  With life expectancies going into the eighties in some countries (and even the sixties in some of the poorer developing nations), it is simply impossible to be able to say “You know what you need to know for the next fifty to sixty years once you’re turned out into the world at age eighteen.”  No, the best thing an education system can do in this day and age of long life span and ever changing tech and social norms is to foster the never stop learning attitudes and mentalities.

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In the mid to late 2000s when I was struggling to adapt to my mental illness and working low wage remedial jobs I could have done as a high school dropout, I was quite angry about my time in formal education.  For several years I was convinced that doing well in high school and college was wasted effort if all I was going to do with my life was push a mop in a courthouse or sell carpet for a billion dollar company.  After a few more years of maturity and seasoning, I found out to my pleasant surprise that my years of working hard in school and loving learning weren’t misspent.  The biggest thing my years in formal education did was awaken in me a love for learning and a desire to continue doing so.

Sadly, many people don’t have a love for learning.  Tragically most of those people are going to get left behind in the waves of science, technology, geopolitical, and social changes that have only recently begun to gain momentum.  The old ideas of graduating high school at age eighteen, getting a union membership, getting a job in a factory, getting married at age twenty two to someone from your hometown or college, etc. aren’t feasible anymore.  And sadly, many people can’t or won’t adapt.  But we’ve had changes in the past eras.  I imagine many people didn’t adapt during the Renaissance or Industrial revolutions and got painfully displaced.  Same things are happening now as we move to a more connected, digitalized, fast paced, and informed world.  National borders don’t mean as much now as they did even when I was a child back in the 1980s.

Sure it’s a chaotic time for many people, especially for people and institutions that aren’t adapting to the new realities.  Politicians in my home nation are talking about building walls to keep out illegal immigrants and refugees and bringing back traditional manufacturing jobs to this country.  To which I reply “planes can fly over walls” and “3D printing”.  Sadly, many people want to deny such changes are already here and will resist to the point of being left so far behind they’ll never catch up.  I see it every day just in my own community and circles of friends and family.  I decided that I was going to adapt and welcome the changes regardless of what my friends, family, and neighbors were going to do.  Some cool things are happening and I don’t want to get left behind or wallow in fear and anxiety for the rest of my life.  I deal with fear and anxiety enough in my own mental illness.  I won’t allow external forces to add to these.

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How I Gave Up Watching The News And Became A Blogger

My parents are 24 hour news junkies.  Have been ever since we got our first cable tv subscription back in the late 1980s.  Memories of my pre teen years involve seeing the Berlin Wall come down, the First Gulf War updates every evening, and the fall of the Soviet Union.  It didn’t become apparent how ridiculous the idea of paying attention to every little thing that came across CNN (or Constantly Negative News as I think of it now) until the O.J. Simpson trial and the President Clinton impeachment hearings during my teen years.  I saw grown adults give up their lunch hours and heard teachers spend entire class periods rehashing everything that was covered in these news programs.  I paid more attention to the Columbine shootings in April 1999 because the killers were my age and I had friends who were as much outcasts as those guys.  But even that was depressing as it wasn’t like my elders already thought kids and young adults were worthless and bad news.

I finally started to free myself of the drug of 24 hour news in the months after 9/11.  I just got tired of seeing the death and devastation replayed all the time.  I was only starting my mental illness treatment at the time, so I was still mentally fragile in the first place.  To replace my usual news watching, I started reading.  I read many of the classics of literature, some philosophy, much history, quite a bit of economics, and many of the greats of poetry.  I didn’t believe in reading summaries or commentaries because I figured I could understand the masters just fine by myself.  I came to believe that some of the ‘experts’ of academia and culture were often way off when I saw a speaker on C-Span and I could have refuted many of his arguments.  I thought to myself ‘I know as much as this guy speaking and he has an audience.’  Shortly afterward I started putting my thoughts into writing.  This was in 2003 to 2004, so right before blogging and youtube really took off.

After a couple years of writing poems and journals, I sat out to write a novel.  It was loosely based on my experiences at a Christian college and some of the people I knew during those years.  I wrote a novel (and thus crossed off one of the items on my ‘bucket list’).  It was during this time I wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about how many of the myths of mental illness are not true.  I was published as a guest columnist and got some positive response to that essay.  After that I wrote a series of essays concerning my life with a mental illness.  I decided to self publish these and actually sold a few dozen copies.  I self published my novel and some poetry too.  My novel wasn’t very good and neither was the second novel I wrote.  Now I know I can’t do good fiction.  Which is reasonable as I really don’t like reading fiction.  That’s why I concentrate on blogging now.

With the fact I spend much of my time online researching for this blog (and to satisfy my mental curiosity), I do pick up on a lot of what goes on in the world.  Needless to say I pick up on lots of negative news as a byproduct of researching.  But, unlike my parents and most of my friends, I do not agonize over the news.  Case in point, the upcoming elections here in the United States.  There isn’t anything I can’t learn about any of the candidates or major issues I couldn’t learn in a few hours of intense internet research.  I do not need to hear everything said at every speech and rally for a year and a half.  All of that is window dressing and background noise.  I do not need to know every detail about every mass shooting and terrorist attack.  If all I did was listen to bad news, I would have given up hope a long time ago.  Your odds of dying from the flu, or a workplace accident, or heart disease are much higher than dying in a terrorist attack or a plane crash.

I know humans are naturally drawn to bad news because it was a good survival strategy when we were still living in caves during the Ice Ages.  If you missed bad news then, you wound up eaten by a saber tooth cat and you were out of the gene pool. Those old habits are tough to break.  Our species grew up when most of what effecting us was within a day’s walk.  If there was an earthquake or volcanic eruption on the other side of the world, you never knew it.  Now we know every calamity that happens anywhere within moments.  And we respond to it like our caveman ancestors responding to an immediate threat.  That is probably the major source of our present day anxiety.

I try to explain to people the good things going on and I don’t get much of a response.  I also tell them that agonizing and worrying about murder and mayhem not in their hometowns are making them miserable and they can’t do anything about it.  Most people look at me like I’m an idiot for telling them to stop agonizing over the news. I used to love 24 hour news and doom as much as anyone.  But when I stopped to see why most of these dire predictions never came true or were more manageable than previously thought, that’s when I came to realize that most of what we hear in our media is heavily distorted.  It may all be true, but it isn’t the entire truth.  Yes there are mass shootings.  But there are also space probes exploring strange worlds in our solar system.  Yes there is political corruption.  But there is also lots of good works being done by common people everyday.  To quote the classic movie ‘Network’ , “Television is the illusion.  You people are the real thing.”  Once I began to see the illusion for only part of the story, I changed my focus on what was going on bad news wise and started focusing on what was going right.  The best changes in history have always started with small groups of committed individuals who had visions and acted on those visions.  I am trying to debunk many of the myths of mental illness and stir in people more empathy and compassion for the problems of the mentally ill with this blog.  It probably won’t change the world or even make me a dollar of revenue.  But I am just one of many.  I will speak to whomever I can get to listen.  And I will not wallow in sorrow because the news told me there was another mass shooting or my political leaders are corrupt lawbreakers.

Why Can’t You Just Be Normal?

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I admit I have never been what most people would consider normal.  I have been much bigger and physically stronger than most people I know most of my life.  I have usually been one of the smartest people in every group I’ve been part of.  Smarts and strength do not ‘normally’ go together, at least not according to popular stereotype.  I have also always been one of those rare kids who never stopped asking ‘why’ to everything.  I just turned thirty six years old and I still ask ‘why’ to everything just like I did when I was eight years old.

I’m sure most of you who are parents and have dealt with grade school children get asked ‘why’ to everything.  Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  Why did my dog die?  Why do people fight wars? Why do people dump toxic sludge into the ocean?  And on it goes.  Tragically most people quit asking why entirely about the time they hit puberty and become interested in sex, sports, and popular culture.  I never developed a strong appetite for any of these three aspects of life.  My friends and I were discussing economics, science, and foreign policy when we were thirteen years old, right about the time most of our peers and elders outcasted us.  I think we were outcasted because we didn’t care about the latest episode of ‘Friends’ or ‘The Simpsons’ or how bad the football team lost on Friday night.

My close friends and I were never popular or considered normal, especially in high school.  While most of my rural school was listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and Alan Jackson, my friends and I were listening to Metallica, AC/DC, Green Day, Marilyn Manson, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and other hard rock groups that were big in the late 1990s.  People thought it was odd that my best friend was a girl.  Most people figured we were having sex (which we never did) just to wrap their minds around the foreign concept that platonic friendships can exist between teenage boys and teenage girls.

I am not what most people would consider normal, mental illness or not. I never have been normal and I certainly don’t care to start being normal now.  I never want to engage in normal behavior, especially with what I have seen out of normal people just from my previous jobs and some of my normal friends’ Facebook postings.  I care about the plight of the poor.  I also do not envy the wealthy.  I believe climate change is real and we  are contributing to it.  But I also believe we will adapt to climate change, manage it, and even solve it.  Our species has survived small pox epidemics, bubonic plagues, malaria, famines, hundreds of wars, the Dark Ages, and several ice ages with only a pittance of the science and knowledge we have even today.  And our knowledge is only continuing to grow with each passing day.  Science and knowledge are not static, don’t fool yourself.  We have knocked problems down for thousands of years.  We are knocking down problems even as you read these passages.  We will continue to knock problems down.  It is what our species does.  Birds can fly, lions can hunt, fish can breathe underwater, we humans see problems and solve them.  One of the most encouraging things I tell myself everyday is “many people much smarter than me are thinking things up.”

I support renewable energy. I don’t buy the whole “drill baby drill” nonsense, climate change or not. I believe we are and will keep advancing and find far better ways of powering civilization and doing things.  If Henry Ford just listened to public opinion, he’d just sold faster and stronger horses.  If Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla would have just listened to public opinion, we would not have gotten electricity when we did. I also believe we would have never gotten to where we could use renewable energy without using fossil fuels first.  But like the use of whale oil and wax candles, we will move beyond oil to even better energy sources.  I believe we will leave the oil age long before we run out of oil, just like we left the bronze age three thousand years ago and yet we still use copper and tin.

I am not afraid of foreigners and immigrants.  Ninety five percent of planet Earth does not come from America already.  I guarantee you my ancestors from Germany weren’t fluent in English (nor were they doctors or engineers) when they first set foot on Ellis Island.  If anthropologists are correct, we’re all immigrants one way or another.  I don’t watch regular news casts because I am convinced the regular news reports only bad news and only a fraction of what could be reported.  But bad news is reported on so much only because that is what we humans are predisposed to notice.  It’s in our genes.  Our minds can only take in so much information and survival is priority number one of all species.

I believe that decades from now, future generations will be amazed that people used to work in manufacturing, farming, and customer service instead of letting machines and computer programs do most of this repetitive work.  It’s an election year in my country and all sides are talking about bringing back jobs to America.  Most low to mid level manufacturing jobs are never coming back to America.  Many manufacturers in China and other countries where we outsourced our manufacturing are replacing their human workers with machines even as we speak.   And this is before 3D printing becomes mainstream, which it will within ten years. The days of people going straight from high school to a manufacturing job for the next forty five years with a pension, union protection, and insurance are just as dead as the days of the blacksmith and wagon maker.  So also are gone the days of a family with eight kids being able to make a living on 40 acres of farmland.  We simply no longer need ninety percent of our population working in farming or manufacturing like we did during the Industrial Revolution.  And these people had really low standard of living by modern standards anyway.  Hans Rosling gives some pretty good TED talks about how standards of living are rising all over the world, not just in North America and Western Europe.

Change is the only real constant.  Trying to hold onto the old tried and true may be normal but it merely delays the inevitable. The US banned stem cell research several years ago only to see that research go to countries like South Korea and China.  Now that stem cell research can be done without aborted fetuses, the US welcomed it back but will be playing catch up in this field for years to come.  Normal people talk about building walls, closing off the national borders, and isolating.  Yeah, that worked miracles during the Cold War and ancient China.  If normal people would have had all the say, we’d have never gotten rid of slavery, we’d be systematically discriminating against women, religious, and racial minorities far more than we are now, children working in mines and mills would be considered ‘character building’,  we’d still have the divine right of kings and emperors, and we would have never entered the Industrial Revolution, let alone our current Information Revolution.  These same people who fear change and machines taking their jobs don’t seem to be rushing to join Amish communities or throw away their smart phones.  But it’s normal to be selective, have cognitive biases, and to overestimate how great the past was while underestimating the possibility for the future.  Normal is common.  Normal does not change the world, especially not for the better.  Normal is boring.  And dare I say normal sucks.