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.
Take biology and psychology that developed over many thousands of years in the Stone Age, throw in Bronze Age spirituality and religions, mix in legal, finance, and government institutions developed in the Renaissance, toss in jobs, consumerism, work ethic, and education developed in the Industrial Revolution, add mass media and instant communications of the early 21st century, and possibly add machine automation that will make the work force far smaller and resources far easier to get as icing on the cake. Stand back and watch mayhem and chaos ensue or work toward bringing about the Star Trek future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m adjusting nicely to the summer. Traditionally summers have been my roughest times of year. I would usually be more paranoid and irritable than usual this time of year. I could usually count on at least one psychotic breakdown every summer, usually in late August or early September. Both times I went to the mental hospital were in early September. So there is a seasonal aspect to my schizophrenia. Having dealt with this illness for close to twenty years I have figured out that there are times of year that are worse than others. July and August are always tough. The holidays season can be tough unless I avoid crowds and lots of stimulation. Winters and springs are always pleasant and productive times for me. I do a great deal of writing and reading in the winters and springs. Spring has always been a favorite time of year for me.
But this summer so far I’m doing well. I think it helps that I usually spend a lot of time out of the heat and avoid stressful situations and people. Granted this means a pretty lonely stretch of the year where I don’t socialize much in person. Yet, I still keep in contact with family and friends via phone calls and internet. Facebook is a large means of promotion for this blog.
As it is, I don’t have a regular job. Haven’t for five years. Before I decided to devote myself to this blog and being an advocate for the mentally ill who couldn’t speak for themselves, I worked a variety of jobs. Over the years I have worked as a salesman, a teachers’ aide at a small university, a factory worker, a janitor, a loading dock employee, a fast food cook, a waiter, and a tutor. Even though this blog doesn’t even break even, I consider it the most rewarding job I ever had. I have gotten many dozens of comments that have stated that I am helping them or helping them understand loved ones with mental illness problems. I have been doing this blog for over four years, which is as long as I held my longest job. Used to be I’d get serious anxiety attacks before I went to work and even while I was at work. Many of these would be bad enough that I would vomit before I went into work. After years of fighting these anxiety issues, I decided that working a traditional job wasn’t in my future. I thought I needed to change course because I was making myself miserable over minimum wage jobs and dealing with rude and unreasonable people. I have a few horror stories from my time working in retail and fast food. I’m sure most working in these industries have far more. As it was, I came to the conclusion that regular work wasn’t worth it anymore. It it wasn’t for Disability Insurance, I would either be homeless, in prison, or dead. So it bothers me anytime someone talks about wanting to eliminate these programs. What kind of “advanced” civilization doesn’t care about the weakest and most vulnerable among their citizens?
I did not end up on disability by my own doing or choice. I originally went to college with the idea of going to medical school and becoming a medical research scientist. But my problems with mental illness got so severe in college that I had to change paths and even take a semester long break. I finally graduated with a business degree. The reason I chose business was that I wanted to be employable as soon as I left college. Even though I love writing and reading, I had heard horror stories about liberal arts majors working minimum wage jobs because they couldn’t find work in their fields.
It turned out that I’m grateful I didn’t succeed in sales or find a banking job like I thought I would after graduation. I know now that I would be miserable wearing a suit and dealing with people day after day. At least with a blog I don’t even have to leave my living room. No shirt, no shoes, no problems I suppose in my chosen field.
In closing I’m doing well despite it being a traditionally rough time of year for me. I think the medications changes I undertook a few weeks ago are working. And after twenty years of mental illness, I have figured out that there are some things that can make even tough situations much more bearable.
This blog entry is going to be about the importance of finding a purpose for your life and having agency. By agency I mean finding something that you can do with your given skill set that gives your life meaning. We as humans do not exist in a vacuum. We have to interact with other people and the environment around us. How we interact can either be beneficial or destructive. I have found if I just try being neutral and not standing out I become miserable. I cannot go through life without working toward some goal. I have to have something to work toward or even work against. I get lost into thinking ‘why am I here’ if I have no purpose. This is true of all people, especially men. That is why we throw ourselves into our jobs, our hobbies, our projects, our families, and our beliefs.
Having a purpose can be either good or bad. Having good, constructive, and beneficial purpose leads people to build businesses, create great works of art, think up great ideas no one else came up with, and strive to better the lives of others. Bad and destructive purpose, however, can lead people into joining street gains, terrorist groups, crime syndicates, and commiting atrocites.
I think of people as bundles of energy. Direct them into things that allow them to channel energy into creative endeavors and you’ll ultimately wind up with civilization and means to improve civilization. Yet do not allow them to channel energy into creative purpose, it will be expressed in destructive acts and chaos. Part of me fears the reason we are seeing so many heinous acts of violence like the recent shootings in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana is that many people, especially younger men, feel like they have no place or purpose. Granted not all people are not going to resort to murder or joining groups like ISIS because they don’t have a life mission or they feel they aren’t making a difference. Others may be using their pent up energy to less obvious destructive means, such as small time hustling, petty crime, or even computer hacking and internet trolling. It could be possible that one of the reasons that mental illness is becoming prevalent is that many people no longer feel they have a purpose or belong to anything bigger than themselves or no longer feel connected to their communities.
One of the things that gives me agency is writing this blog. I write to explain mental illness to others who don’t know it personally. I blog to give advice to others with mental illness who may be recently diagnosed or having serious problems for the first time and not know what is going on or what to expect. I write to be an encouragement to others who, like myself, have been dealing with mental illness for awhile and still have ups and downs.
As my Definite Chief Aim, to borrow a term from Napoleon Hill, I am seeking to inform and enlighten others as what having a mental illness is like from the mentally ill person’s point of view. I have always done well at explaining ideas and concepts to others and I have no fear of speaking up in public. And there is a percentage of the general population who has mental illness, I think close to 5 percent for serious, chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar, autism spectrum, major depression, borderline personality disorder, etc. Many of these mentally ill individuals are unable to express the issues of their illnesses. This is where I, and other bloggers come in.
If I were asked what I am working against, it would be ignorance and cruelty. Too many people don’t know what mental illness is like for us or what a hinderance it can be. Some people even refuse to acknowledge it even exists. Yes, it does exist. I, and others like me, are not making up our problems with crippling anxiety, our problems with alternating between crushing sadness and euphoria, or dealing with delusions to where we have to work to distinguish between what is reality and what is within the constraints of our troubled minds. We do not make up these problems because we want attention or we are angry about our childhoods. Our issues are not simplistic type problems that can be overcome only by feel good memes and other quick fixes that try to put a Band Aid on a gushing wound.
It is an understatement to say I do not respect ignorance and cruelty. We live in an age of nearly unlimited information on any topic imaginable. I have far more information at my fingertips through a $400 laptop computer and $32 a month wireless internet service than the scholars who set up the Great Library of ancient Alexandria could have imagined even possible. Medieval scholars would have killed, and sometimes were killed, for having access to a tiny fraction of a fraction of the information I can call up at a whim. There are no more excuses for being ignorant. In 2015, ignorance is not a matter of destiny, it is a matter of choice to paraphrase William Jennings Bryan.
In closing, writing and researching for this mental illness blog gives me some sense of agency and purpose. Ignorance and the resulting cruelty are two of the ‘enemies’ I ‘fight’ against. We all have things we are passionate about. We all have things we can do for others and ourselves. It is a matter of finding those things that give us agency and purpose and then going to work.