Worries About My Friends and Our Near Term Future

I worry sometimes.  Namely I worry about my friends and people younger than I am in general.  I worry about most of my friends struggling in life.  Most of my friends are buried in debts, mostly student loans, that they will be lucky if they ever pay off.  And most of my friends weren’t that dumb with their money or life decisions.  Most of my friends went to college because 1) we were told that was a path to a decent career and 2) we looked around and saw that there were no jobs that paid decently requiring only a high school degree.  Long gone are the days when someone could get a job as a factory hand or farm worker in their early twenties and hold onto that job for over forty years and retire with a paid off home, pension, and health insurance.

I’m seeing my friends struggle in their day to day lives.  Most are working a full time job and a part time job or a side gig.  Almost none of them own houses.  The only one of my close friends who owns a house is a high school teacher in a small town.  And he didn’t buy his house until he was in his late 30s.  They don’t own houses simply because they can’t afford a house and student debts.  I also have friends who have had medical emergencies.  One friend had to file for bankruptcy for medical bills.  One friend is fighting cancer, divorced, lost her children, and is still on the waiting list for disability.  Another friend of mine got a master’s degree only to find the best job she could get in a mid sized city doesn’t pay even 40 grand a year.  Her husband also works a low paying job and moonlights as an Uber driver.  He too has lots of student debt.

Now I know some unsympathetic people will be thinking, “well, that’s what they get for not majoring in STEM or going to the military.”  Well, one of my brother’s best friends pulled straight 4.0 all the way through high school and college and still got rejected for a state medical school at least three times before he was accepted.  As far as I know, he now has a decent career working in a medical lab.  Another of my brother’s friends didn’t finish medical school and residencies until he was in his thirties because of finances and run around from the schools.  Now he works as an emergency search and rescue doctor.  One of my cousins went to trade school for two years to become an electrician.  He worked for a couple railroads, got married, has four kids, and owns a small acreage in rural Nebraska.  But, he is now essentially self employed due to the inconsistent nature of railroad employment and his wife has had medical problems to where I think she had to give up her job as a nurse’s aide.  Another cousin works in web development.  Even though he has had to work for several different firms and sometimes take free lance work, he is doing alright because he has skills that are in demand.  At least for the time being.

Can we really expect most people to become doctors, nurses, webpage designers, computer coders, engineers, tradesmen, etc?  Yet that is all I hear out of “experts” and “business leaders.”  While I think it admirable that people like Mike Rowe want to encourage more people to consider the trades like plumbing, electrician, welding, carpentry, etc, I fear that too much emphasis on the trades will eventually lead the same problem that people who majored in business, law, humanities, liberal arts, etc. are facing now.  Twenty years ago, we were told to go to college and get a degree.  Many of us did only to find that every kid in the developed world was given that advice.  Now the degree doesn’t go nearly as far as it did even forty years ago, primarily because of so many people having degrees.  Then the kids were told “get a masters” or “do unpaid internships”.  Many did only to find that they had six figures in student loans to qualify for jobs that will never pay enough to pay off the loans, let alone pay off a house or even start a family in some cases.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if young people or my friends are angry about this setup.  Because while some jobs have been outsourced to cheaper places, many more were taken over by automation.  I have a friend who works in a call center for a bank.  I fear it’s only a matter of time before his job gets automated.  And, of course, no one in power cares about the twenty and thirty somethings struggling.  They didn’t even care about the  forty something auto or steel workers who lost their jobs to machines and outsourcing.

And it’s no longer just the US or Europe that is outsourcing and automating jobs.  Even China is automating and outsourcing.  Just a few weeks ago I bought some shirts online that were made in a small African country I had to look up on a map.  The US and Europe are just further along in this transition to a highly automated economy.

And of course, the US doesn’t have very good social safety nets or any empathy for those who lost their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet.  My elders like to brag about how well America is doing, how well we take care of our own, and how we are a great Christian nation.  If we cared about our own, than we wouldn’t be having an opioid crisis, mass shootings every day, increasing rates of mental illness, increased suicide rates (especially among middle aged men), and protests in every major city on a daily basis.  For our boasting about being such a Christian nation, we certainly don’t care about those who are misfortunate and had a rough go. Such hypocrisy.

I have no idea how many times I was told “get a job you bum”, “man up”, or “McDonalds and Wal Mart are hiring”.  I, and millions of people in my age bracket and lower did everything we were told.  We still struggle.  And we don’t have any empathy from anyone, not our rulers, not our businesses, not our parents, not our schools, not our churches, and not even from each other.

Unionizing is not an option like it was a hundred years ago because most jobs can or will be outsourced or taken over by machines.  Sure we are on the road to an automated economy where most of the grunt work is done by machines and computers.  But, what is the point if 1) we don’t ditch this idea that everyone has to be defined by what they do for money, 2) most people can’t afford anything beyond the basics because most jobs are done by machines, 3) we have few social safety nets to make up for the fact that most people aren’t able to work in fields that can’t be easily automated.

We may need some things like universal health care, universal basic income, free continuing education, complete overhauls of tax systems, and a general overall shift in public attitudes towards work and compassion for others.  But I don’t see this happening anytime soon, at least not in the US.  I don’t think it will happen in the US in my lifetime simply because most of my countrymen don’t have empathy. Our leaders certainly don’t.

I do believe if our species can survive this transition, which is probably the greatest transition since people settled down and started farming instead of hunting, fishing, and gathering thousands of years ago, our descendants can have a really cool future where creativity and science can bloom.  But, I fear the transition will be a lot tougher than it has to be simply because of many people’s attitudes towards work and their fellow man.  I fear we will lose a few generations and much of their gifts in this transition.  But I guess we as a species lost short term to ultimately be better off when the Industrial Revolution began back in the late 1700s.  I do have great hope for the long term outlook for civilization and our species, but I fear it will be brutal getting there.  And the fact that I won’t live long enough to see the fruits of the seeds being planted today fills me with great sadness.

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My Online Confessions

I’m going off subject for this article.  It has been too long since I wrote a just for fun piece.  For this one, I’m going to disclose some facts about myself.  Some will be funny, some may be unpopular, but all of them are true.  So here goes:

  1. My three favorite hobbies are computer games, writing, and weight lifting.
  2. I love nonfiction science books.
  3. I can’t stand dystopic novels or movies (which, unfortunately, is most of tv in recent years).
  4. My favorite pizza toppings are pepperoni and Italian sausage
  5. I can’t stand most fast food.  I haven’t even had a Big Mac in over two years
  6. I get very irritated when people ask me “when are you getting married?”  Sometimes I want to retort to them, especially if they are older than I am, “when are you going to die?”
  7. I don’t like watching sports as much now as I did when I was in my teens and twenties.  But I do mainly so I can have something to talk about with family and friends.
  8. I can’t stand most cable news channels.  I like some business news channels, namely Bloomberg, because they report on things like science and tech breakthroughs more than politics and disaster.
  9. I don’t tolerate rudeness from others in my online interactions.  And I never give second chances to people I don’t personally know.  No exceptions.
  10. I often go out of my way to defend younger people, especially college age and those just starting out in adulthood.  I remember how bad it hurt being stereotyped as a “damn kid” even when I was in grade school.  When I was a teenager I promised myself I would never put anyone else through what I was forced to endure.  Certainly makes me unpopular with my elders and even people my own age.
  11. I don’t understand why it’s popular to be dumb.  Never have and never will.
  12. I don’t understand why it’s evil to be smart.  Never have and never will.
  13. When I write, I find writing in the first person point of view far easier than third person.  Always have.  My best material has always been with myself serving as the narrator.  Even most of my early poems and novel rough drafts were in the first person.
  14. I once had an outline for a science fiction series of novels.  It was mainly about humanity several thousand years with various human settlements declaring independence from an interstellar empire.  Pretty much think Star Trek, Dune, and a touch of the American Civil War.  Sadly I no longer have those notes.
  15. I once had the goal of becoming a best selling writer where half of all my writing and speaking profits would go to philanthropy, namely mental illness research and to the college I graduated from.
  16. High school was some of the toughest years of my life.
  17. College was one of the few places I felt that I wasn’t a complete outcast.  It was one of the only places I met people more eccentric than I am.  I loved college.  Kind of too bad I can’t live in a communal type setting with other researchers, academics, and eccentrics.
  18. One of the few parts I don’t like about being an adult is how tough it is just to spend time with friends.
  19. One thing I absolutely love about being an adult is that I don’t have to act like I care what other people think about me, at least as long as I’m not breaking the law.
  20. I don’t understand the whole ‘Oh God It’s Monday’ and the ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ nonsense.  I never thought it was funny.  Never will.
  21. I don’t understand why it’s funny to hate your in laws or argue with your spouse.  My two best friends I’ve known both for over twenty years.  I can count the number of major arguments I’ve had with the two combined on less than five fingers.  And it certainly doesn’t make our friendships sterile or lifeless or meaningless.  The only time I argue with my parents is during psychotic breakdowns, usually only a couple times per year.
  22. I absolutely despise the phrase “man up.”  I think it’s possibly the stupidest phrase in the English language.  I have never heard anyone tell a woman to “woman up” or an old grandfather to “young down.”  I don’t even hear adults tell kids to “grow up” very often.
  23. I get irritated when I present facts and statistics in a discussion only to be blown off or told I am a lair.
  24. My favorite ice cream is vanilla, simply because it goes good with most toppings and favorings.  It mixes with almost anything.
  25. I like poetry, particularly poems about war, struggle, and overcoming challenges.
  26. I don’t understand why many people can’t see that mental health problems are real.  I mean, the human brain is the most intricate and complex piece of machinery we know about.  Yet, too many people act like nothing can go wrong with it.  Shows a lack of critical thinking on many people’s part.
  27. I am extremely distressed by most education systems not teaching kids how to critically think or be adaptable.  We have known our schools weren’t adapting to the challenges kids would face as adults as far back as the 1980s (at least).  Yet we still teach our kids in 2019 like it was 1919.  I am convinced that is why so many people are anxious and depressed about their lives as adults, simply because they weren’t taught how to adapt to the current realities.  In short, we train kids and teenagers for a local and stable world only to dump them out in a global and rapidly changing world in their early twenties.  And then we have the gall to wonder why they are anxious and struggling in their lives.  We trained them for a world that no longer exists, often to the tune of many thousands of dollars in student debts that will take most of a career to pay off.  If that isn’t child abuse, then nothing is.
  28. I am sometimes lonely.  But I don’t socialize because I don’t want to hear my family and friends endlessly complain.  About the only people in my life who don’t unload their problems on me are my two best friends and my mother.  And it weighs on me and can cause me to be resentful.
  29. I hate being told I’m lucky.  I hate it almost as much as I do being told to “man up.”
  30. I don’t understand why the only manliness most people respect comes out things like war and violence.  Personally, I think Einstein and Newton were every bit as manly as George Patton and Napoleon.  Why is being a thinker considered a sign of weakness?  Hell, if it weren’t for thinkers, there would be no civilization and humanity would probably be extinct.  Think about that the next time you condemn someone for resorting to their brains before their fists or guns.
  31. I don’t understand zero sum thinking.  The idea that someone has to lose for me to gain a benefit is a load of crap.
  32. Don’t discuss politics with me.  Ever.
  33. I have never thought having lots of sex makes a man manly or a woman immoral.  Some people just like sex more than others.
  34. I have lost more jobs and friendships than I can remember because I never gave up on trying to think for myself.  Found out the hard way the world doesn’t respect original thinkers, at least not before they make major breakthroughs.
  35. I am convinced societies love their living tyrants but condemn their living benefactors only to reverse it once their children become the leaders of society.  So maybe there is a sense of justice, even if it’s only in history books and the minds of future generations.
  36. I don’t believe in most conspiracy theories. But I do believe that just enough of them have just enough truth to them to make the entire subject a dark, addictive, and dangerous one.
  37. I believe we live in one of the coolest times in human history, at least as long as you don’t watch the news channels.  News channels report only negative news precisely because that is what we are hard wired to pay attention to.  Good news sites fail, not because they are “fake news”, but because no one pays attention.
  38. I believe we as a human society can solve our problems (or at least adapt so to minimize the impact) and have a really cool future that we, even in 2019, will be jealous of.

Beginning of School Year and Maintaining Stability

It’s been fairly quiet in my complex the last few days.  The highlights of my week were when my cleaning person arrived for the weekly cleaning and the exterminator arrived to do his routine spraying.  Got groceries too so I’m set for the rest of the month.  I have been avoiding going out the last few days as school is starting back up again.  My town is a college town, so the streets are crowded again with several thousand college kids.  Even though I haven’t been a college student since 2005, I always enjoy when they come back.  I do regret that I don’t get out to the college as much as I used to for sporting events or activities.  I enjoyed going to the ‘taste of the world’ festival the college had every spring when the foreign students would make dishes from their home nations and some would even wear traditional clothing from their home nations too.  Even the American kids got in on this, with one group wearing get ups from the 1950s and serving hamburgers and fries.

Overall I’m doing well.  Still in a traditionally tough time of year for myself.  I sometimes have minor flare ups of anxiety and irritability a few times a week.  They don’t last very long and they aren’t as intense as they were in my younger years.  I have found if I avoid high amounts of caffeine and carb rich foods, I do better on those days.  I also avoid certain conversations and topics because some topics often make me irritable or anxious or I just feel probably too strongly about.  If I seem less social the last few weeks than normal, that is why.  It’s nothing personal but I just want to avoid potential problems as much as possible, especially during traditionally tough times.

So far I’ve been doing pretty well and I want to keep it that way.  I can be really tough on family during my bad flare ups.  I’m sorry those have happened.  I think it would be better for all involved if I could just break down sobbing rather than being angry and lashing out.  I don’t know how much of that is my illness, where and when I grew up, being a man, etc.  But it is easier talking about my problems now than even ten years ago.  And when I was first diagnosed almost twenty years ago, I was scared to tell even my college friends.  So yes, progress has been made in those regards.  Often doesn’t feel like it during the day to day grinds.

Graduation and Optimism During Times of Great Change

It is that time of year again, graduations and the end of the school year.  As it’s been chillier and damper then usual this spring, it doesn’t feel like early May yet.  It still feels like early April to me.  This year will mark twenty years since I graduated high school and fifteen since I graduated from college.  My class is having their twenty year reunion this summer.  As I have a family reunion out of state during the same weekend, I won’t be able to do both.  Haven’t decided which one I’m going to yet.  I haven’t been to any of my class reunions besides the five year.

I guess I just don’t have much in common with some of my old classmates or people in my childhood hometown.  Sure I had cool friends and enjoyed school activities like playing football and doing speech.  Yet I never felt like I really fit in back during my younger days.  Could have had problems with paranoia even as a child.  It also didn’t help that I spent the last two years of high school with a developing mental illness and not seeking help for it.  But we didn’t know back then.  We didn’t have the information easily available to us twenty years ago, certainly not like now.  I definately loved college, in part because I was seeking help and getting regular treatments.

I am trying to get out of the habit of offering recent graduates advice other than “stay flexible.”  I don’t tell anyone what career fields to look into anymore.  For beginners, we don’t know what jobs will be in demand in ten years anymore.  Many people can’t afford even going to state university without going into heavy debt anymore.  I’m glad I had good scholarships in college and got help from home.  I graduated debt free and that has saved my hide more than once.

It’s sad that so many people have crushing debts from school before they even begin a career.  I have far too many friends struggling with student debts even in their thirties.  And it’s absolutely asinine and unforgivable that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  I don’t think college is viable for most kids anymore simply because of how out of control the costs have become.  An eighteen year old right out of high school would be better off doing an apprenticeship, going to trade school, or joining the military in most cases it seems.  Some kids might be better off moving overseas and looking for work in East Asia or Europe anymore.  A college friend of mine teaches high school in Netherlands and absolutely loves it as far as I can tell.  A cousin of mine lived in Japan for three years while her husband was stationed over there in the military.  It might not be such a bad idea.  National borders mean less now than they did even twenty years ago.

I try not to offer advice, not because I don’t care.  It’s because we no longer know what the future holds, at least not in terms of in demand careers.  I blog on a regular basis yet that was in it’s early days when I was in high school and college.  Youtube or social media didn’t exist when I was in high school.  Amazon was just getting started in the 1990s.  And of course smart phones didn’t exist and AI was nowhere near as good as it is now.  Renewable energy tech like wind and solar are becoming more affordable and in many cases now competitive with old style fossil fuels.  That wasn’t the case even fifteen years ago.  While many older jobs are definitely going away or getting drastically reduced, there are likely going to be others taking their place.  What if instead of economic Armageddon we were actually heading for one of the biggest industrial and economic booms in history?  What if instead of ecological collapse we solved the problems of air and water pollution?  We have people working on those problems, and many others as I write this.  I once read that in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, more self made millionaires were made in that decade than in any other before that.  Yet we often think it was a hellish time.  For many people, it was. Yet for others, it was a time of opportunity as well.

It seems to me that during times of distress and upheaval (like we are living now) there are also opportunities as well.  I may be mentally ill, but I also have an outlet to talk about it and hopefully offer help others that I didn’t have in my younger years.  I have pretty decent treatments when had I grown up in my grandmother’s generation I would have spent the rest of my life in an institution or prison.  Sure I have gained a lot of weight over the course of this illness and my physical health has declined, yet I still have a sharp mind and am stable in spite the illness.  Overall I’m pretty happy.  Maybe not all the time, but then no one is continually blissful at all times anymore than people are always physically healthy.  I doubt I would have ever become a blogger if I didn’t become mentally ill.

 

Friends

I must confess that I never was Mr. Popularity, not as a kid or an adult.   I may have not had legions of acquaintances I considered friends, but I am fortunate to have had a few I felt I could tell anything and not be condemned for my confessions or thoughts.  It was tough for me to make friends as a kid because I had different interests than most people in my town.  I loved reading about science, history, and foreign cultures even as a little child.  This didn’t endear me to the neighbor kids much as I didn’t really like tossing around the football, playing basketball, or any other games grade school kids are supposed to like.  I was usually one of the slowest runners and least coordinated children in my grade school.  Of course this singled me out for some ridicule from school mates.  Being the really smart kid who wasn’t going to hide his smarts didn’t help my social life either.

As a result of not having much for friends as a child in a town that was lacking for choices of friends compared to most places, I spent a lot of time alone.  I would often wander in the back yard or the allies and make up stories in my head.  I often continued these stories and characters for weeks and even months at a time.  I wish I would have written some of these down.  But I was afraid I’d be ridiculed for being creative by my school mates and family members.  Every time I brought home a piece of work from my art class I was proud of, my older brother and even some of my cousins would critique it and tell me how awful it was.  I kept a diary one summer in junior high but my brother found it.  After that I kept my creative streaks to myself.

My saving grace came from two really cool friends I met as a pre teen.  One was an artistic guy who introduced me to some really cool music like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, AC/DC, etc. that I still listen to occasionally even twenty five years later.  He also introduced me to cool artwork.  We admired everything from the Renaissance masters to Andy Warhol.  He taught himself how to play guitar just by listening to rock albums.  He became quite good and even played in a band for awhile.  Like myself, he too had problems fitting in during our school years.  When we were in sixth grade in 1992, he and I would be talking about the news from the presidential election.  While many of our classmates were discussing the latest Denver Broncos game or Michael Jordan commercials, he and I would be critiquing old Ross Perot’s latest television specials with his graphs and pie charts.  Naturally, our school mates thought us kind of odd.

The other really cool friend I had growing up was another artist type.  She and I thought alike.  We liked each other right away.  As she was home schooled until high school, we didn’t have the shared misery that was middle school.  Like myself and my other close friend, she wasn’t really interested in sports or popular culture.  Even in our early teens we spent time discussing art, philosophy, politics, literature, and science.  Her family and mine were among the first to get in home internet back in the mid 1990s.  She also taught me how to get free songs online.  I never did this because the internet was very slow and costly in those years.  And since it was old dial up, it tied up the house phone line whenever I wanted to go online.  Kind of tough to download the latest Green Day or Ice Cube songs when dad was telling me to get off the computer because he was expecting business calls.

I also had some other cool friends in my church youth group.  But since most of them lived in different towns and went to different schools, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked.  We did spend time together at summer camp for a couple weeks every summer.  But it just wasn’t the same as seeing them everyday in the halls of school.

After I graduated from high school I moved onto college.  Even though I have more friends from college I stay in contact with than high school, the friendships just aren’t quite the same as the ones I managed to save from my middle and high school years.  I loved college.  Even though I was going through the trials of adapting to life with a mental illness, I had some amazing times.  Dated some more in college than I did high school.  But, looking back on high school, I think that my best friend being a girl was what killed my dating life more than anything.  Yet, I wouldn’t trade those experiences at all.  Besides, high school dating is pointless nonsense and too much drama anyway.

My social life dried up once I got into the adult world and many of my friends moved away and got married and had families of their own.  Fortunately, thanks to facebook and easy communications, I can keep in contact with my college friends and high school acquaintances pretty easily.  Even though I wasn’t Mr. Social Life in high school, I made an honest attempt to be polite and considerate to my classmates.  Sure I butted heads with a few kids in my school, but what teenagers don’t experience social drama and strife?  It’s all part of learning how to socialize and be an honorable human being.  And, unfortunately, the only way to learn this is to go through the trials yourself.  It’s not like you can have that knowledge uploaded to your mind, like in The Matrix movies.

Even though I don’t socialize much in person anymore, I still occasionally make new acquaintances online.  Most of these people have similar interests and participate in the same online forums and discussion groups.  Once I figured out how to sort through the various trolls and trouble makers, socializing and making friendships online became a pleasant experience.  Granted, it’s not the same as making friends in middle school, high school, or college.  But, seriously, how many people make their best friends when they are adults?  My biggest regret about my friendships is that I haven’t heard from one of my two best friends (the guitar playing guy) since 2005.  And, sadly, he’s not the type of man to spend time on facebook or going to class reunions.  Haven’t seen him in years but I still miss our conversations.  I don’t know if anyone makes the same kind of friends as adults that they made as teenagers.

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.

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.