The Way A Different Mind Works

mental-health

I confess I have different ways of learning and processing information than most people.  And that has gotten me in much trouble over the years, especially while at a work place. I never could read people’s body language well enough to be good at socializing.  I can’t tell what they think just by watching them.  I can, however, read through the lines of what they write.  I have always been a much better reading learner than a hands on or auditorial learner.  I think one of the reasons I never became as good with my hands as I am with my mind or communications is that I couldn’t see diagrams or in some cases, even what I was doing.  And I never got enough repetition in to get good.  It always frustrated my teachers, bosses, and even family that it took more repetition for me to learn something than most people.  But once I learned the skill, I remember it for life.  I think I was given up on by teachers and employers too early in some cases because it takes me longer to learn through doing than most people.  But once I learned something through doing, I have never forgotten it.

Even though I am pretty intelligent in some ways (though some would argue this), I never did get the top grades in school or most of the accolades at work.  I did well enough that I gave my teachers and bosses that false hope I could be a superstar student or employee.  Yet, because of my mental make up being so much different than the norm, I couldn’t develop my skills fast enough for my employers and teachers to really see my potential.  I never could read a teacher well enough to know what was on a test.  So I had to study the entire subject.  It will make you well grounded in a subject, like biology or history, but it is not conducive to getting good scores on tests.  Likewise at work, I couldn’t read my bosses, coworkers, or customers very well.  I certainly couldn’t the first time I met them or even the first few.  Like I said, it takes me more repetition to learn things than many people.  Yet, once that knowledge is learned, it is learned for life.  Even though I haven’t played football since 1999, I still remember many of the plays we used in games and practice simply because our coaches believed heavily in repetition and details.  I loved that kind of take on sport.  I didn’t want to be fancy or eye catching, I just wanted to win and be good at what I knew and was doing.

Yet because I couldn’t learn in the way my bosses and clients preferred, I didn’t make a very good employee.  For years I was convinced I was defective and was damaged goods. I believed it so much it’s why I went on disability insurance in spite having a college degree and good intelligence test scores.  Sure I may have the natural brain power many employers are looking for.  Yet, the way my mid works and learns is not what gets a person ahead at a job, most of which are service sector jobs.  Attention to details and throughly learning your field was the way to go for a renaissance era craftsman or a high end scholar.

Yet, good luck finding those jobs today.  I have ability.  I have talent.  I have intelligence.  I have the ability to learn new things and remember those new things my entire life.  In many ways I am far smarter now than I was when I graduated college in 2004.  But that is because I found out through trial and much error how I effectively learned.  I learn by reading and by doing many times, not by listening to a lecture or two and doing a few trial runs.  It does take me longer to learn the basics than most people.  But I remember the basics far longer.  And I can build upon those basics to even incorporating some of my own takes on work tasks and ideas.

Sure it is an odd way to learn.  It is also one most teachers and employers especially don’t like.  I lost more jobs than most people have had in a fifty year career simply because my learning style didn’t fit modern corporate or service sector styles.  I may have done extremely well in an old style apprenticeship that took several years.  But, as it stands now, I’m halfway through my life and don’t have the energy or the courage to start over in something that I know will not accept my skill set or way of learning.  And it is a classic Greek tragedy as far as I’m concerned.

I have to wonder how many millions of people just in our day and age that live lives of quiet desperation and poverty yet would be model employees, crafts people, or business managers but never get the chance mainly because they learn things in different ways.  I have met only a handful of people in my life that I know was on the Autism spectrum.  Some of them were extremely intelligent, much more than even I am.  Yet most of them struggled socially and especially at work because the learning styles and ways of communication didn’t match up with the culture around them.

I think that things we classify as mental illness like schizophrenia, bi polar, autism, etc. (even homosexuality and bisexuality were considered mental illnesses until quite recently in many places) have always been with our species.  It just wasn’t as much of a disadvantage in a less structured Stone Age civilization.  In fact, I imagine that many of the first medicine men, shamans, astronomers, and priests were men and women who would be considered mentally ill by modern standards.  But they had a different way of learning and looking at the world than most other people in their little tribes and bands.  And it helped to eventually launch civilizations.  It’s the eccentrics and the odd fellows and odd ladies who took our species from only a few thousand scattered wanderers many thousands of years ago to the teeming billions who are actively making plans of colonizing other planets and celestial bodies.  Providing we don’t seriously screw up this transition, who knows what the human species will be capable of given thousands of years scattered across a few star systems.  And it was mainly because of the oddballs and mad men who, while scorned and condemned among their contemporaries, led the way forward out of the Ice Age caves to now standing at the entry way to the cosmos.

It’s been a long and strange journey.  And it’s one I hope is only entering a new phase rather than reaching it’s climax and decline.  The choice is up to us who are currently alive and how much we chose to nurture and value those who don’t think like the norm.  I may never be one of these innovators who profoundly changes the world.  For now, I am content to be among those who appreciate the eccentrics and encourage them onward.  The road to the stars is fraught with great difficulties.  But, because of the odd ones, I believe we are up to this task.

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Thoughts on January 1, 2019

New Year’s Day 2019.  Feels kind of strange to say it’s 2019 already.  It’s been 19 years since the “Y2K” fears didn’t materialize, 18 years since 9/11, 11 years since the Great Recession came close to becoming Great Depression part II,  7 years since the Mayan Apocalypse came and went, etc.  Yet, for me it sometimes doesn’t seem that long ago any of these things happened.  But, when I look at people in my niece and nephew’s generation, they weren’t even born when Y2K or 9/11 or the Great Recession took place or at least not able to remember these events.  Makes me wonder for these youngsters what events will be taking place in their adolescence and early adulthood they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  I was born in 1980, so too late have living memories of Vietnam or Watergate or the Apollo programs but early enough I can remember first hand stories of the Dust Bowl, World War II, and the Civil Rights movements from my grandparents and their friends.  One thing I have learned from surviving my home world making almost 40 laps around the mother star is that the only real constant in our lives is change.

I am 38 years old. As far as life expectancy is concerned, barring any major medical breakthroughs coming, my life as a human is statistically half over.  Having a mental illness, I’m probably closer to the grave than even that.  I can tell there are some changes happening in myself already.  Physically I am beginning to slow down and get unexplainable aches and pains that don’t always clear up as fast as they did even three years ago.  Being overweight makes this only worse, no doubt.  But, as far as signs that I am in middle age, my physical strength gets sapped faster than previously, I no longer have much of an interest in sex, I don’t feel much of a need to compete against anything beyond my personal bests, have come to accept and appreciate who and what I am, etc.

As it is, I am glad to have been able to experience and witness the changes my civilization and my personal self have gone through.  Makes me wonder what changes the next 38 years will bring.  If I’m still around and blogging is still a thing in the 2050s, I hope to be able to write about even these changes.

Voting, Family Time, and Possibly Moving

Got out and voted Tuesday after dinner.  Since I went later in the day, I missed the crowds.  I was able to get in and get out pretty quick.  As I’ve been having lower back problems recently, I was able to get a chair to sit in while I worked the ballot.  All I had to do was ask.  Sometimes I think people in general don’t get the assistance that could make things easier just because they don’t ask for help.  For years I had problems asking for help as I instead preferred to give help instead.  Only within the last year or so have I gotten comfortable asking for help whenever I have a problem I can’t easily solve on my own.  I guess that I, like many men, am a problem solver.  And sometimes it was tough for me to admit I could use an extra set of hands or extra mind working on a problem.

In other news, my parents are in the process of moving out of state.  They bought a small house in the same town my brother and his family live in.  As all their grandkids are in school now they want to see them grow up and participate in activities and school functions.  I think that once they get settled in permanently in their new house, I’ll look to relocate nearby.  As where they are moving to is in a suburb of a metroplex, I imagine I’ll need to be careful about what kind of low income housing I move to.  My brother has already told me a few neighborhoods that are rougher than others that I should avoid.  As they hope to be relocated by the end of November, I will be hosting them for a Thanksgiving dinner this weekend.  I’ve been spending much of my day after the midterm elections straightening and decluttering my home.  I had been kind of lazy about clutter for the last few weeks.  But I want the place to be presentable as it will probably be our family’s last gathering in Nebraska.

I guess I have mixed emotions about leaving the small farm towns I have known as home my entire life.  I am excited about the possibility of moving to a larger area where I could meet more writers and people with my interests in person.  I am excited about going somewhere that is growing and not so out of the way.  But I am concerned about starting over in my late 30s, especially with mental illness issues.  I am also concerned about fitting in at a different social environment.  I’ve had problems fitting in even among people I grew up with my entire life.  So I am kind of scared of the social aspects as I have problems socializing even in my hometown.

Other than getting to see my nephews and niece more often, I hope my life doesn’t really alter that much.  I do hope I can have a closer friendship with my brother and his wife.  My brother and I weren’t close growing up.  Part of that was traditional sibling rivalries, and another part was that we were such opposites personality and interests wise.  I don’t have any animosity toward him, I just don’t have common interests.  I consider not having a close relationship with my only sibling one of the few regrets I have about my life up to this point.  Sure I regret becoming mentally ill but there isn’t anything I could have personally done to prevent it.  As it is, I have worked around it for twenty years.  I’ve been hospitalized only twice and have avoided trouble with the law.  So I’m doing something alright.

Overall, the last several months of quiet monotony have come to an end.  My parents are relocating and I probably will be too within the next several months.  I am both excited and apprehensive at the same time.  The only true constant if life is change.  But with change comes the possibility of new opportunity.

Changes Within A Lifetime and Reflections on Generational Differences

I have changed in many ways over the years.  I’ve noticed changes in my friends and classmates too.  I’ve even seen changes in the people I knew in my parents’ age bracket over the years.

One of the changes I’ve noticed in myself with age is that I prefer to spend most of my time at home.  When I was a teenager I was rarely at home except to sleep or do homework.  When I wasn’t at school or school activities, I was at friends’ houses.  I preferred going to friends’ houses as my brother usually had his friends over all the time.  I imagine it concerned my parents as I rarely had friends over at the house.  I wasn’t anti social, far from it.  I just liked spending time at places where I wouldn’t be bothered by my older brother and his friends.  When I was in college, I usually spent time in my friends’ dorm rooms or in the student union when I wasn’t at the library or studying for classes.  I was on good terms with everyone at my small college, but had only a handful of confidants I felt I could tell anything.  Looking back on this years later, I know that most of my socializing and trust issues are because of the mental illness.  I probably could have had a larger social network than I did.  Yet I’m happy that I managed to stay on good terms with most people even if I was in emotional turmoil much of the time.  Just goes to show how powerful our minds are in shaping our reality.

Now that I’m my late 30s I prefer to stay at home most of the time.  I would rather host guests now than I would visit them it seems.  Granted, I do like to have at least a couple days notice before I’m hosting anyone.  I’m still self conscious about my place and what people think of me.  Sure, most of the negative vibes I get from others are manufactured by the diseased aspects of my mind.  But I guess I haven’t mastered my mind well enough to easily shake these negative vibes just yet.  I truly believe our minds are powerful enough to make or break our outward reality.

In my friends’ cases, most of my school mates are now in our late 30s or early 40s.  And many of them are having stressful times in recent years.  Some have careers not progressing like they had hoped.  Some have had failed marriages.  Some have had money problems.  Some of them have dealt with the deaths of their parents.  Some have dealt with serious life changing illnesses of their own.  Some of them are dealing with the highs and lows of raising children.  Stress and concern seems to dominate many of my friends’ lives.  Yet no so much for myself.  I guess I had many of my mental illness crisis situations happen to me in my twenties.  It stunk that I never had a career get off the ground because of schizophrenia.  But it did make me resilient and realize there is more to life than working and paying bills.

Sadly, many people don’t realize this until they are retired or get laid off from a job.  As a result of my friends having stress in their lives, many of them are more pessimistic about life in general than I am.  I remember how pessimistic my parents and their friends were when they were in their thirties and early forties when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.  I guess it’s my generation’s turn to be pessimists and overworked parents.  No wonder some jokers suggest that life doesn’t truly start until age forty.  Well, I’m about there 🙂  And as much as my twenties stunk, I managed to enjoy my thirties enough to make up for it.  Maybe it’s because being on disability pension I don’t have to worry about working a regular job as long as I stay out of debt and live within my means.  I can only hope my friends in my age bracket can someday find the joy and peace in their lives that I have experienced for myself in recent years.

I’ve also noticed changes in my parents and people in their age bracket.  Seems to me that many people tend to either become more calm in their senior years or more grouchy.  Fortunately for me, my grandparents were quite calm in their senior years.  In many ways, they were more accepting of my eccentric qualities and questions than even my parents.  But, after my parents became grandparents, they started mellowing too.  I almost don’t recognize the my parents in their senior years when I compare them to what I grew up with as a kid in the 1980s and 1990s.  They are more patient with their grandkids then they ever were my brother and I and our cohorts.  But I guess grandkids are nature’s reward for not killing your children when they were teenagers.  Many of the people I knew in my parents age bracket when I was a kid are now more calm in their sixties and seventies then they were in their thirties or forties.  Of course, there are few who are more sour than ever.  Fortunately they aren’t very common.

And the kids with their iPads and smart phones?  Well, they’ll eventually turn into productive members of civilization themselves.  People complained about my cohorts in the 1990s playing our Nintendo games and listening to our Tupac and Marilyn Manson music.  We turned out alright.  Back in the 1960s, people complained about the kids watching too much television and listening to The Doors and Elvis.  Even my grandparents generation were unloaded on for listening to radio programs, jazz music, and reading comic books.  And now we call them ‘The Greatest Generation.’  All young people do stupid things and the parents fear the end of civilization because of their tastes and tech. The best thing that happens to kids is they get out in the world in their twenties and work a few lousy jobs and date a few losers before they find their calling (or at least career) and their spouse or soul mates.  And then they have kids of their own and fret over them.  Makes me wonder what the teenagers of 2018 will fret about concerning their own kids come 2040 or so.  Maybe brain boosting implants will be their iPads or Ninetendo games or radio.  Stay tuned, my friends.  It is always interesting.

Last Days of Summer

Spent some time outdoors enjoying one of the last few days of summer.  Also doing some cleaning in my apartment and rearranging furniture.  It’s now a little easier to maneuver around, especially in the living room.  Previously I had my computer desk in the middle of the room so I could watch ballgames and work on my computers at the same time.  I now have a better setup as I won’t be tripping over power cords and wires as much now that I’ve moved my desk to a corner.  I have my computers set up so I can watch them like a television from my recliner.  I moved my couch so I watch tv from the couch.  Previously I had used my recliner for everything.  I use my regular tv mainly for play station games and live ballgames.  Playoff baseball starts in a couple weeks and my Rockies have a shot of making the playoffs again this fall.  We lost out in the first round last year.

After three months of changed eating patterns I think I’m seeing some positive differences.  I am actually wanting to be active now rather than just spend entire days reading online articles or books.  I socialize more often.  I make it a point to now chat with other tenants at least three times a week.  I rarely stay awake all night anymore.  I am not as paranoid and anxious about my neighbors as I was this spring.  I have fewer aches and pains.  I still get winded sometimes when moving heavy furniture but I recover faster now.  I still sometimes get stiff after sleeping, but it usually takes only a couple minutes of sitting up to be back to normal.  And my clothing fits better.

Previously, from spring 2014 to summer 2015 I had lost slightly over 70 pounds in that time.  I stagnated for a few months and then I had my car accident in fall 2015.  After that I gained it all back.  Oddly it took over two years to gain it all back, so it took longer to gain it than it did to lose it in the first place.  I don’t really have any set goals as of right now.

I still sleep more than I would like.  But so far it has helped me from having relapses.  This has been a more pleasant than usual summer.  Now the leaves are beginning to change and the weather will start cooling off any day.  In Nebraska we usually get our first frost in mid October, so in three to four weeks if the averages hold out.  I really don’t want to change much of my routine as it seems to be working.  Sure I would like to travel more, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Reinventing Myself While Living With Schizophrenia

 

I admit I don’t have good social skills.  Never have and probably never will.  Part of it may have come from growing up in a rural town of less than 500 residents without much in the way of diversity or culture.  That and I didn’t know many people who shared my interests in science, science fiction, and fantasy type stories until I went to college.  To this day I have never bought a comic book.  I was 31 before I played my first D&D game.  I didn’t read any Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark until a couple years ago.  I didn’t sit down and watch an episode of Star Trek start to finish until I was in my thirties.  And besides the D&D, I enjoy all of these things.  I would have loved to discovered this stuff twenty five years ago.  Most people in my childhood hometown were interested in mostly farming, hunting, football, church, and politics.  I can discuss such things but they do get old after even a few minutes and then you’re just rehashing reruns of reruns.  While I didn’t hate my hometown as a child, I was quite bored and always felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a result I didn’t socialize except when I was forced to.  It’s not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  I just have a wide range of interests that growing up where I did just wasn’t able to satisfy.

I suppose in some ways now that I’m on disability insurance and don’t have to work a regular job (not that I could with my depression, paranoia, and anxiety), I feel like I’m getting a second chance at my adolescence.  Sure I’m in my late 30s, don’t have the physical strength I did at age 18, and I’m not interested in trying to get laid, but in some ways I still feel youthful.  I am enjoying my thirties far more than I ever did my teenage years.  In some ways, I feel like my thirties are kind of like my adolescence in that I have different possibilities every day as to how I want to spend my days.  And I don’t have to deal with bullies or irritable elders yammering on about how the ‘cold cruel world’ is going to kick my idealistic butt.  I had my butt kicked many times in my teens and twenties by my mental illness and trying in vain to find a job so I could be considered a ‘productive member of society’ or considered a ‘real man’ by fools and jerks whom I really couldn’t care less about.

My teens and twenties, besides the mainly truly happy times I felt in college because I got to work with smart and interesting people every day, by and large were lousy.  In fact, they sucked.  I pretty much spent my twenties going from one dead end job to another, one ill fitting relationship to another, finding out that the real world doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to all the while having psychotic breakdowns every few months along the way.  By the time I qualified for disability insurance at the age of 28 I realized that there is no set script to life.  I didn’t have to follow anyone’s script for me.  I could feel free to change my script anytime I want.  And I have.

Every one is free to change their life as long as they are willing to make sacrifices here and there.  Anyone who hates their thankless job could stride up their boss tomorrow, quit in a blaze of glory, and live the life of a nomad who answers to no one but their own limitations and nature itself.  But almost no one does because they aren’t willing to sacrifice their incomes, their prestige, their families, their McMansions, etc.

You can do what you like and are good at, it’s just what are you willing to give up to get there?  I have my freedom and I live quite happy in spite being on disability.  But I had to be inflicted with schizophrenia through no misdeeds of my own, give up ever having a traditional career, give up the shot at getting rich (it isn’t just monks and priests that take the vow of poverty), give up any shot of ever having a family or any kind of romance life (again, clergy aren’t the only ones who take vows of celibacy), and it can be quite lonely at times.  But I value my freedom.  I value my intelligence and wisdom.  I strive every day to make myself smarter, better read, better cultured, and wiser.

But it all came at a price.  It was a price that, at age 16 before I started having my problems with schizophrenia, I would have said ‘no way am I paying that price.’  I paid the price for my freedom and wisdom.  And, as it is, I am thankful I took the paths I did.  Statistically speaking, people with my diagnosis usually wound up lifetime institutionalized, homeless, in prison, or dead at a very young age for most of history.  I’m happy I beat the odds.  I’m happy I didn’t become just another statistic.

Everything else from this point in my life is just chicken gravy as far as I’m concerned.  So yes, I am going to be happy.  I am going to share my joy with other people while they gripe and moan about their jobs, their spouses, and humanity in general.  And if people think I’m overly optimistic or a hopeless Pollyanna, well it was one rugged process surviving from age eighteen until my early thirties when I finally learned to say, “screw others expectations, I am doing what I want.”  And I didn’t come to this conclusion all at once.  It was a gradual evolution.  My physical health may be not what it once was, but I am far happier now than I was ten years ago.  And that is mainly because I learned to let go of others’ expectations and a type of regular life that was never going to materialize.  In short, dance like no one’s watching; no one is.  Everyone else is too busy with the petty concerns of their own lives.

Recovering From Rough Patches

Spent the last couple days out of my hometown while visiting family.  It was pleasant to unplug and unwind while enjoying the company of my parents.  Didn’t get much done on this trip other than unwind and touch base with family.  I was needing at least a couple days of different surroundings.  I visited my family at the acreage.  It was good to be back around nature and less rush.  While I am a self admitted city slicker even though I grew up in a rural area, it was still fun to be outside again for a couple hours at a time without being paranoid of being watched by nosy neighbors.

I sometimes get paranoid around even individual people nearby, especially when I want to be alone.  When I was in college, I used to take my trash to a dumpster on the other side of town because I was afraid that people where going through my trash.  I used to be afraid that neighbors and even family were listening in on my conversations.  But the real paranoia I am working against now is that I fear that I am losing favor with my neighbors and fellow tenants in my complex.  I may not be the greatest tenant in my complex, but I still try hard to be friendly with people and just avoid arguments as much as possible.  Fortunately in my over ten years at my current address, I have had real arguments with only three tenants that I can think of right off hand.  Fortunately those cleared up really quick and the problems were resolved shortly afterwards.

Paranoia is indeed strange.  I know in the reasonable part of my mind that my paranoias aren’t real and that I’m essentially worrying over nothing that can’t be easily resolved.  But, the irrational part of my mind keeps replaying these paranoid thoughts on an endless loop.  Drowning out the paranoid thinking process with positive news that is actually happening helps. Positive thoughts help, especially if they can be shown to be true.   That’s why I spend a lot of time researching science advances and medical news. Yet, even then, occasionally the paranoia gets the better of my reasonable side.  The problems I had over the last few days, fortunately, tend to get more rare and even less intense than even a few years ago.  I was happy that I was able to go through this last round of problems without yelling and acting out.  I’ve notice the breakdowns I do have anymore don’t seem to be as intense.  I hope I have gotten better with letting off a little at a time rather than holding it in for a major meltdown.

I was more depressed and weary than angry and irritated these last few days.  I guess that depression and weariness are becoming stronger than irritation and anger at this stage in my life.  I’m glad that it takes more to anger me than in years past.  I no longer avoid driving because of fears of going into road rage; I avoid driving now partly because I find it kind of boring and I don’t like being on the lookout for people who just aren’t paying as much attention to the road as they should. It doesn’t make me angry, but it does make me think ‘how bad do I really want to go out tonight when I can still contact friends from home.’ I used to love to travel.  But I don’t enjoy the travel as much now.  I enjoy the company of friends and family more now.