Taking The Roads Less Travelled to Live A Life Rarely Lived

Feeling quite well overall.  In fact I would say that I’m quite happy overall much of the time.  Yet living alone because of my mental illness, I really have no one to share this happiness with.  Most of my friends, at least the ones in my age bracket, are married with children and in the middle of careers.  I have several friends who are now divorced and struggling with life.  I have a hard time relating to these friends simply because I never married.  Even before I realized how serious my mental illness truly was, I didn’t have much interest in getting married.  Growing up, I saw that many married couples were unhappy and having money troubles.  Three of my best friends’ parents and three sets of my cousins’ parents went through divorces while I was growing up.  It just seemed insane to me that my elders were chastising me for being leery about marriage when I was watching marriages getting picked off on a regular basis.  I’m so glad that my parents didn’t pressure me into getting married or having kids.  Now I’m watching some of my classmates go through divorces or having money problems in their late 30s.  And I don’t have those problems.

I don’t feel guilty about avoiding the problems that many of my friends and family members have or had.  It seems that most of the really good marriages I see out of my friends and family members came when the couple in question didn’t marry until their late 20s or even mid 30s.  People can say that marriages in the “good ol’ days” lasted a lifetime.  But many lifetimes didn’t last that long.  And most people in bad marriages stayed in mainly because they had no choice, especially when mobility was extremely limited and there weren’t many career options, especially for women.  Many people in the old days married more than once, not due to divorce, but because of the death of the spouse.

And let’s not kid ourselves, people change over the years.  People develop different interests over the years.  People develop different values over the years.  I am definitely not the same person now that I was fifteen years ago, let alone five years ago.  And one of the things that keeps me getting out of bed every morning is the idea that I can and will change over time given enough time and effort.  Having said this, the person you marry at age twenty three isn’t going to be the same person ten years later, let alone forty.  I tried to tell this to my classmates when we were in college, but many of them were like ‘love is forever’, or ‘love is all you need’, or ‘who broke your heart’.  But here we are fifteen to twenty years later and some of my friends and classmates are finding out there was some truth in my theories.  I’m not cynical by any means.  I’m actually more optimistic than most people I know.  I just see trends earlier than most people.

Even though I had a few really cool friends in high school, by and large my teenage years were difficult.  In fact, in many ways, they sucked.  I loved scholarly pursuits and I loved to play football at the same time.  That made me an outcast among my teammates by itself.  My best friend in high school was a girl, and most people couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that it was possible to befriend someone you found attractive and not have sex with them.  I suspect the big reason I didn’t get many dates in high school was because my best friend was a girl.  But, looking back on it years later, I’m glad I did it the way I did.  I do regret not keeping in contact with most of my other friends, but these guys aren’t the type to hang out on facebook or go to reunions anyway.  I wanted to get good grades and good test scores in school, so that made me a nerd.  I knew right away I didn’t have the hand coordination to go into the trades, so crushing it in academics was the next best thing.  And I got excellent scholarships because of my dedication to academics.  Sure there were many I didn’t qualify for because of affirmative action and equal opportunity deals.  But rather than complain about what I couldn’t control, I did what I could.  Namely take difficult classes, do well in those, nail the college board exams, and go to a college that would offer me good academic scholarships.

Even though I didn’t graduate in my preferred field of the biological sciences, I did graduate with a business degree with an emphasis on management and economics.  I had no delusions that I was going to be the next Wolf of Wall Street, but I really wanted to teach personal finance and investing classes at the college level.  That was before I realized I would probably need a doctorate in order to even consider having any job security in the academic world.  Well, I didn’t want to go into student debt to do that.  And I could tell my mental illness was getting worse even in my mid twenties.  So I applied for disability insurance and moved to low income housing.  I worked a part time job for a few years, mainly to prove to myself that I could.  In mid 2012, I decided to leave the regular work world to concentrate on my writing and personal scholarly pursuits.  I didn’t need to work as I could live off my disability pension.  I can do this because I have zero debts, zero family obligations, have cheap hobbies, and I am a minimalist.

For years people told me I was crazy for not getting married, not wanting to have kids, not wanting to pursue the regular nine to five grind, not wanting to go bar hopping on the weekends, and not spending my money on crap I didn’t need to impress jerks I didn’t like.  But I’m not even forty yet and I’m already starting to see benefits from being wise and not screwing up.  The only really sad thing about this is that I find myself not having much to talk about with when I’m around my old friends.  I don’t have a job I can’t stand.  I don’t have problems with money.  I don’t have a spouse or girlfriend I have personality clashes with.  I don’t have an ex I’m send alimony to every month.  I’m not making child support payments on kids I never get to see.  I was able to separate the gold nuggets of wisdom tossed my way by my elders from the mountains of b.s. that some people tried to jam down my throat.  I sometimes find I have more in common with members of my science and futurism groups on facebook than I do my classmates and even some of my friends.

People think I’m odd because I get along fabulously well with my parents, at least the ninety nine percent of the time I’m not having flare ups with my schizophrenia.  Sure they were demanding and tough on my brother and I when we were kids.  Sure they told us harsh truths about ourselves, the world at large, and didn’t give us the whole Disney fantasy fairy tale stories kind of childhood.  As a little child in the early 80s I knew who Ronald Reagan was before I did Mickey Mouse.  At age seven I could identify Carl Sagan before I could most movie stars and musicians.  It made no sense to me as a kid as it seemed that some of my school mates were more care free and happy than my brother and I.  We may not have been raised like warriors but we certainly were raised like scholars.

Now that I’m an adult I am grateful for the way I was raised by my parents and extended family.  I am grateful I struggled socially as a teenager as that made me develop skills that some people never had to.  I’m glad I got see what could go wrong in dating relationships and marriages without having to experience these tragedies first hand.  I’m glad my best friend in high school was a girl.  I’m glad that she and I are still good friends twenty years later.  That probably wouldn’t have happened had we tried to force the friendship into a romantic direction.  I’m grateful for the failed relationships and dead end jobs.  I’m thankful I moved out of my hometown.  I’m grateful for the years I lived alone.  I’m grateful I got out of debt.  I’m grateful for loving to read and write.  Reading and writing give me a joy that I never found in any romance, job, etc.  I’m especially thankful for the early struggles in my teens and early twenties with mental illness and bad jobs.  I’m glad those struggles came in my youth rather than my current middle age.  I don’t have a mid life crisis because I had my crises in my teens and twenties, learned from said crises, and adapted accordingly.  I’m glad I didn’t have it easy early on socially, work wise, mental health wise, etc.  I’m grateful for the early struggles.  I’m glad I had to face loss in my early twenties as opposed to my late thirties.

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I Enjoy Being An Adult, I Must Be Mentally Ill

I’m taking a bit of a detour with this post and try to be a little more humorous than usual.  Since I’ve been house bound because of a winter storm for a couple days I got to do some thinking.  One of the random thoughts that popped in my head is ‘being an adult beats being a kid.’  Sure I may have had more energy at sixteen than I do at thirty six, but I really didn’t know anything as a teenager.  And ignorance coupled with boundless energy can lead to dangerous and stupid things happening.  After five years of college, a few years of working, almost thirteen years of living on my own, writing a blog for almost four years, and spending five years now with educational videos on youtube university and binge reading wikipedia, I have come to the conclusion that even now I am not as smart as I thought I was at age eighteen.

I enjoy being an adult.  I really do.  I love the fact that if a boss is riding my case at work or my coworkers are being dolts, I always have the option of changing jobs or starting my own business.  I couldn’t transfer to another school in high school so easily to avoid bullies and immature classmates.  I love the fact that I don’t have to go to boring social events because my parents want me to.

As an adult I don’t have to feel guilty about not having legions of fair weather friends.  At the age of thirty six I have come to realize a few true hard core friends and some cool extended family is all a person really needs.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not being class president or not getting straight A’s.  It’s not like I made any money from my popularity or my academic achievements any way.  Even on youtube popular producers can make good money, not so in school.  I also didn’t like how joyless my high school settings were.  A bell rings and we move to change classes but don’t you dare be one second late.  I never did like being treated like one of Pavlov’s dogs as a kid.  Take abuse and scorn from bullies and classmates but don’t fight back because of zero tolerance laws?  At least in the adult world you can run away from an argument or try to plead self defense without losing your entire future.

And I am not intimidated by the fact that as an adult my successes or failures are on me and no one else.  I have a mental illness, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make a decent life regardless.  I’m not married nor do I have kids but that doesn’t stop me from being a good influence and good uncle to my nephews and niece.  I don’t even have to feel shame for not being married or having kids as an adult.  I don’t have a job but that isn’t going to keep me from writing blogs and finding other ways to contribute to my fellow man even if I don’t get money or prestige from it.    I don’t have to associate with people who tell me that I’m not a “real man” for not having a job or a family if I don’t want to.  Shame and guilt have far less influence on me at thirty six than they did at twenty one. As an adult I am allowed to be more creative and I don’t have many of the restrictions I had as a child.  As an adult I don’t have to hit my older brother if he’s irritating me, I just don’t return his calls or avoid him until things calm down.  One of the best things that happened to my relationship with my immediate family was moving out of my parents’ house and setting out on my own.  We get on each other’s nerves less now than we did when I was a teenager now that I have my own place and I’m not expected to always be in a good mood.  If I’m not feeling well, I can just avoid friends and family for a couple days until things blow over.

One thing I enjoy as an adult is watching young people do stupid things.  I enjoy it more than when I was the young fool doing stupid things.  I know the consequences that are coming but the kids usually don’t have a clue.  And I get to chuckle when their schemes come undone.  But the young kids eventually become adults and grow out of their stupidity in spite the complaints of old people about the “damn kids.”  The boomer generation grew out of using drugs and free love, generation X grew out of binging on MTV and video games, and the millennials will grow out of their nonsense. People forget that before the World War II generation became forever known as the “greatest generation”, many of them were drinking bootlegged alcohol in speakeasies and chasing flapper girls throughout Prohibition before World War II carved them into marble men and women for all eternity.  But in spite of my enjoyment of watching young people do stupid things, I don’t hate them for their mistakes.  I refuse to complain about young people because my elders complained about how stupid and ungrateful me and my classmates were the entire time I was growing up.  I am never doing that to anyone.  I know what it is like to be thrown into a group and falsely accused of things I never considered doing.  It really sucks.  If I ever complain about young people as an old man, I hope someone knocks some sense into me.

I never understood the whole “how do I adult” mentality.  Who cares how you adult?  It’s not like there’s a teacher who’s going to hold you back if you don’t know how to get red wine stains out of a carpet or how to change a tire.  With seven and a half billion people in the world and the magic of the internet, I can ask around for any information I could possibly imagine.  Why in the heck should I clutter my mind with mundane information I can easily look up that I may need to know only once or twice in my life?  One of my house guests doesn’t like that I don’t decorate my house all nice, then don’t come visit me in my house.  We’ll meet at a restaurant or pub instead.  You don’t like that I don’t drive fast or sometimes keep fast food trash in my car, no one is holding a gun to your head to make you ride in my car.  There is public transit and taxis even in my small town.  How do you adult, you may ask.  Dude, adult however you dang well please for all I care.  I don’t grade on style points.  And ironically, most adults are too busy with their own lives to knit pick you over yours.

In short, I really do think most adults worry about a lot of junk that doesn’t matter one bit.  Your neighbor has a sports car and you don’t?  So what?  He’s probably having a mid life crisis and up to his eye brows in debt because he listening to everyone else telling him what he should want out of life and not listening to himself.  You got passed over at work for a promotion?  Big deal.  You know you’re not going to spend the extra money for your retirement fund.  You’re worried about being overweight?  No problem.  One third of the entire world’s population is overweight.  Obesity is no longer just an American problem.  Besides you probably weren’t that good looking at age twenty any way.

I should wrap this up.  In summary I love being an adult.  As long as I’m not infringing on the rights of other people, I can pretty much think, say, and write whatever I want. I no longer have a parent or a nanny teacher hanging over my shoulder watching me for every little mistake I make.  In short, make mistakes.  Learn from mistakes.  Go crazy and enjoy the freedoms and responsibility of being a grown up.  I for one enjoy being in my thirties far more than I did my teens and twenties.  At least now I don’t feel like I have to please a lot of people.

Visiting my Brother’s Kids

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Last week my brother’s kids had Spring Break and came to Nebraska to spend a few days to visit their grandparents and their Uncle Zach.  These kids, three nephews and a niece, are ages 10, 8, 6, and 3.  They’re old enough to be real fun yet not old enough they’ve become moody and angsty like many teenagers.  As far as kids go they are quite well behaved compared to some kids I’ve seen.  Like most kids, they ask a lot of questions and get quite wound up when they sit still too long.  This used to cause me anxiety when they were younger as, with my mental illness, I prefer calm and stability as opposed to the semi controlled chaos that occurs with raising children.  After a few years of this, I just developed the attitude of ‘take ’em to the park and let ’em run it off.’  As their uncle, it’s not my job to keep them entertained.  They do that quite well by themselves.  All parents have figured out, but it took me a few years to learn, the time to be concerned is not when they’re hollering and running around.  It’s when things suddenly become too quiet is when they’re up to something they shouldn’t be.

I myself am not a parent.  It’s not because I don’t like children, I enjoy those four kids a lot.  It’s because not only do they take a lot of work, they also take a lot of money and time.  I simply can’t afford to raise any kid on social security and part time menial labor salary.  Since I’m not a Don Juan type, in fact my dating track record is absolutely terrible, I don’t think I can attract a woman to marry and/or have kids with in the first place.  Some people have a problem where they attract or are attracted to people who cause them grief and headaches.  My problem was I could never get anyone to even agree to something as simple as a drink or two at a bar or even a walk in the park.  Financial reasons aside, I couldn’t have kids even if I ever got to where I thought I could handle it.  Having a mental illness, for me anyway, puts me at a large disadvantage with how well I can attract a spouse and raise kids.  So I’ll just stick to being content with being Uncle Zach.

Finding the Motivation and Places to Exercise in Winter

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In the middle of winter it can be difficult to find the motivation and places to exercise.  There are ways around this.  One of the things I do to exercise in winter is to walk in places like malls and large stores.  Since I tend to be a night person I sometimes go to the all night Wal-Mart or supermarket and just walk the isles for twenty to thirty minutes at a time.  I like to walk in these places, often between 9 pm and 7 am, because they are well lighted and I can often find if things are going on sale.  It is also easier to find things during slower hours since I’m not going against crowds.  It can also be fun to chat with the night clerks and cashiers as overnight shifts tend to be less formal.  Get to exercise, find bargains, and get good conversation in cases like these.  While it wouldn’t work for those with family and work responsibilities to be doing exercises at night, it works well for me.  I’m merely throwing a few ideas out.

I also sometimes dance in my apartment.  I use an iPod and headphones as to not disturb my neighbors.  A good half hour of dance can burn calories, often better than just walking. If you are concerned about being seen through your windows, you can always close the drapes.  Yet, even if you are seen dancing in your own home, dance like no one is watching because no one really cares.  Other people are quite busy with their own concerns as to pay much attention to what may cause paranoia and embarrassment to us who have mental health problems.

Another thing I do is just simple arm weights.  The weight shouldn’t be so heavy that you have to strain at lifting it.  I’m quite strong and the most weight I do for my arms on basic curls is 10 pounds.  I mainly go for numbers of reps as opposed to weight.  I also don’t do it every day.  I do it only twice to three times per week.  I also stretch before and after each session.  Most sessions last only five to ten minutes.  I do mine when I’m watching tv, often during commercials.  If you do decide to go this route, start small and throughly stretch before and after the sessions.  I have found stretching after a lifting session lessens muscle pain the next day. I have also heard of football coaches and trainers using this method of stretching to lower muscle pains and injuries in their players and students. Never work the same muscles two days in a row.  Right now I’m just doing arm muscles as I don’t have any real fancy equipment or a gym membership.

You actually don’t really need metal weights. I had a grandfather who, rather than buying arm weights, used empty milk jugs filled with sand and/or cat litter.  Did this for years until he was at least eighty.  Push ups and stomach crunches can be done anywhere with some open floor space.  It simply doesn’t take a lot of cool equipment if you have the desire to get into better health and are on a tight budget.  It does take some creative thinking and a good fitting pair of walking shoes.

Why I Actually Like Being An Adult, Disability Insurance, and Other Side Rants

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When I was growing up and going through middle school in the early 1990s (back in the dark ages before we had internet in every house, restaurant, laundromat, etc.), I had this teacher who loved to tell us about the dreaded ‘cold cruel world’ and how much being an adult was going to suck.  As a naive thirteen year old growing up in the farm belt of rural Nebraska (I lived at least 65 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart), I was by no means wise to the ways of the world.  We didn’t even get cable tv in my town until the late 1980s, so all I got to see of the outside world back then was what Ted Turner chose to show us on CNN every night.  As a child I was only vaguely aware there was a world outside of Nebraska and that people went to college for things other than becoming doctors, teachers, and lawyers.  But practically everyone else I ever knew were farmers and had no real need for any real ‘formal education.’  So naturally I blew off my teacher telling me how lousy being an adult was because, quite frankly, my hometown had nothing to offer someone with my natural talents and abilities.  I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to dispute my elders when they warned me ‘wait until you have kids’ or ‘wait until you have a job you hate’ or ‘wait until you have to pay taxes.’  I didn’t complain or dispute because 1) I was just a kid and what do kids know and 2) Starting about age 12 I looked all around me and saw many adults who literally could not think for themselves or long termed.  I saw many adults who complained about living in a rural area, complained about work, complained about their spouses, complained about how their kids acted, complained about the weather (quite common among farmers), complained about politicians, etc. but I never once saw any adult try to do anything to change their situations or improve themselves.  Once, being the curious child I was, I actually asked one of these wise adults why no one tried to do anything to change things.  The angered look on this grown up’s face made me think I had committed some form of blasphemy like saying the Ten Commandments were a lousy idea.  After that I made it a point to never to question an authority figure so blatantly.

Putting all of these observations together I became convinced that I probably wouldn’t like being an adult was as grumpy and unthinking that many of the adults I saw.  But, I also hated being a kid.  Oh did I ever hate it.  I was constantly bullied for being smart and different.  My teachers often didn’t like me because I often could find easier ways to solving problems then what they were teaching us.  My football coaches didn’t like that I wasn’t Joe Rah-Rah.  I didn’t have many friends because I just didn’t ‘go along to get along.’  And I didn’t like the fact that, as a kid, no one took my complaints and problems seriously.  When I said I wasn’t being challenged in school, I was told I had a problem with authority.  When I didn’t bring home straight A’s, I was told I was an underachiever.  I wasn’t told that no one in the work world cared to see your high school report cards.  And I certainly wasn’t told that adults are often as clueless as kids about what’s really going on and what they want out of life.  The adults were just better at hiding it and lying to themselves.

Eventually, like all nightmares, my time as a kid ended.  I went on to college.  While I didn’t leave Nebraska or find the college campus to be completely full of people just as smart and quirky as I was (thank you for getting my hopes up, college recruiters), I did meet some cool and stimulating people.  As it was a small college with people from all over the world as well as the United States in very close proximity, it was quite easy to socialize with many people with different backgrounds.  It was also not so big of a college that international students, in state students, city kids, farm kids, etc. could get by with just socializing with people like them.  To have any hope of a social life a person would have to socialize with many different people.  Leave your biases and stereotypes at the door, I suppose.  I met most of the people I have kept as friends to this day at college.  I learned a good deal about business, economics, personal finance, accounting, writing, etc. that, in all honesty, I should have ideally been taught in college.  I discussed this in an earlier post.

Yet, as much as I liked college, I came to find I enjoyed being an adult even more.  As an adult, you can choose were you want to work.  As a kid, your parents or the local government chooses where you go to school.  We had only one school in our town, the nearest private school was over 65 miles away, and most of the schools within a 50 mile radius were exactly the same as mine.  Home schooling wasn’t really popular back then. My best friend, and occasional dating interest was homeschooled until high school.  Kind of funny, though, when she entered high school the school wanted to put her in remedial education and she wound up being an honor student within a few months.  And for those who say that ‘home school kids have no social skills even if they are book smart’, I will say that two of my best and most stable friends came from home school environments.  But maybe because these two were so well read and treated a nerdy outcast like myself so well makes them ‘have no social skills.’  I couldn’t leave the school I was in.  My family would not have liked having someone with a GED in their family.  It is far easier for me as a grown up to leave a job where the boss and I don’t mesh or if I don’t like that my coworkers hardly work and don’t care about the customers.

Other things that are cool about being an adult is I get to do cool things like vote, set up my own schedules, read whatever I wan to read, watch whatever educational videos I want, make whatever friends I want without family pressures or social limitations, write my own blogs (we didn’t even have blogging back in the mid 1990s as there was no easy access to internet), I don’t have to date if I don’t want to (whereas in high school I was often ridiculed because I couldn’t get a girl to date me besides my homeschool friend, and even then I was still ridiculed because she came from the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks’), I can form my own beliefs and don’t have to really fear if I share these beliefs or not, I don’t have to think anything I don’t believe or lie just to impress some authority figure who supposedly is wiser than me because he’s old and has more money and prestige.  Shoot, I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.

One thing I would have loved to have known about applying for Disability Insurance was, if I filed before my 22nd birthday, I would have had my monthly benefits determined by my parents’ income.  I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 20, graduated college at age 23, but didn’t file for disability before until age 25.  Financially I shot myself in the foot because I didn’t apply for disability before age 22 since both of my parents were medical professionals.  I would be making much more than I am now had I not tried the John Wayne gut it out until it was obvious the cause was lost routine.  Yet that is in the past.  I still do well because I can choose to live a minimalist style of life as a single adult.

Even though I was set back for several years because I tried to work and be a productive citizen by not dropping out of college and applying for disability at a younger age, I am still free to make the choices in lifestyle to adjust accordingly.  Yes it was hard to learn to live below what most Americans would consider poverty level and I did make some mistakes along the way.  But I learned from those mistakes and adjusted my game plans and lifestyle accordingly.

To be quite honest, I don’t know many people besides myself who can live on less than $15,000 per year, which is $125o per month.  At the average American hourly wage of approximately $13 per hour, that’s only 20 hours of work per week.  I make even less than $1250 a month and I live quite well, especially since I’m debt free.  Some may disdain me for ‘being on the dole’ and say ‘you just live off the government.’  But, you know what, had I never become mentally ill I would have achieved my dream of going into medical research, would probably be making six figures by now, would have gotten married, had kids, owned a McMansion, and been one of those ‘respectable’ types that pays more in taxes than most people.  Not everyone on disability got there because they are lazy and want a free ride.  Believe it or not, there are a few of us who got there because of things we couldn’t control.  Maybe people like me who are smart and on disability in spite doing all the right things are as rare as unicorns but we still exist.  Another great thing about being an adult is I don’t have to try to please people who think I am a leech and lazy for receiving disability.  I hate being on disability, God do I hate it.  But that is essentially the only option for people with mental illnesses in my situation besides homelessness or prison.

In closing, I know this post and rant was quite long winded and had a bit of a sharper edge to it than my regular posts.  For this I don’t apologize because, as an adult without an employer, family, or a social circle I didn’t choose, I really don’t have to apologize for speaking the truth.  As an adult I have far more choices and control of my own life.  That alone is reason enough why I actually like being an adult.