Mid Winter and Push For Spring

It’s been a good weekend and I’m looking forward to the start of this new week.  Got most of the issues from my last post resolved.  Had to focus more than usual and just spend more time than usual resolving things.  Being free to fit and fume helped too. Sometimes I just have to get a good rant off my mind and out of my system.  I’ve been having as many rants as previously but, fortunately, they have turned into breakdowns only once in the last year.  I don’t know if I’m getting calmer in my middle age years or if I’m just getting better at coping with the hang ups of schizophrenia.  Either way it feels much better than even five years ago, certainly more than fifteen years ago when I was still figuring out what limitations the illness placed on me.

Tomorrow, February 12, is the birthday of one of my cousins and one of my best friends.  My father had a birthday earlier in the month and my mother’s is in a few days.  For being the shortest month of the year, I sure know lots of people with February birthdays. I guess birthdays are a good reason to celebrate during the otherwise cold and drawn out days of middle winter.  Baseball spring training games start in a couple weeks, so I look forward to that.  My Rockies made the playoffs the last two years, but lost out early on both times.  Hopefully they can put together something special this year.  I attending one of their World Series games in Denver with a college friend in 2007.  Even though the Rockies lost the Series, seeing that game in person and experiencing that type of atmosphere is one of the highlights of my twenties.

In other reasons to look forward to spring, my best friend is a huge Game of Thrones fan.  The new season will be starting on April 14, ironically the day before tax deadline here in USA.  I don’t watch the series only because I’d rather not pay to get HBO, but I have seen enough highlights on youtube that I do know some of the characters and story lines.  Sometimes I like to give her a little ribbing about GoT fans being as crazy as some of us football and baseball fans, but I mean it all in good fun.  Just from watching highlights on youtube I can understand how people can follow the series like they do.  I play Skyrim a great deal and joke it’s similar to an interactive version of GoT.  I intentionally tried to design the character I’m currently using to look like Jon Snow.  While it kind of does, my character does bare a striking resemblance to Daniel Day-Lewis in the old Last of The Mohicans movie, which is one of my all time favorite movies.

It’s been a long and cold winter it seems.  Have been lucky to avoid the snow amounts most of the country has gotten so far.  But I’m looking forward to warmer and sunny weather again.  I forced myself outside into prolonged sunlight at least once a week no matter how cold it is just to get some Vitamin D.  It seems to help alleviate the boredom of winter.  But spring officially starts in only five weeks.  We’re more than halfway through winter, or summer for my Southern Hemisphere readers.

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Christmas Thoughts and Support of Family and Close Friends

Been feeling more irritable and short tempered the last few days.  Not sure what to make of it.  Hopefully it is just the stress of being so close to end of year holidays.  I won’t be going anywhere for Christmas this year.  My parents are returning to Nebraska for a couple days and will be spending Christmas with a few of my aunts.  If I’m up for guests I might have them over for a few hours myself.

But, as it’s been, I just really haven’t wanted to see anyone lately.  Kind of depressing in that I was doing so well for a long time.  Had a short but tough break down a couple weeks ago.  Fortunately it wasn’t as vicious as many as I’ve had in years past but it was still unpleasant and painful anyway.  I hate that I vent my problems on family when I have breakdowns.  I’m sure it has caused them much grief and fear over the years.

I would love to alter my personality to the point that I would just break down and sob rather than be angry and take my problems out on others.  I don’t know how much of that is the way I was raised in my culture and how much of it is being a man.  But I have never been good at suffering distress by taking it out on myself.  I don’t raise my voice as much as I used to during breakdowns.  Hopefully I’m better at coping with the distress of these flare ups.  After nearly twenty years of mental health problems, I should hope so.  I hope at this point I’ve moved far beyond even the acceptance phase and into the advocacy for those who aren’t as experienced with these problems as I.

The weather has been quite decent, by December standards, for the last ten days in my home state.  It still gets below freezing at night so we still have a few patches of ice.  But the roads are clear and it’s pretty easy to drive around town when I need to.  My family and I recently hired a cleaning person who works with a few elderly people in my complex.  I like her work.  Hopefully I can hold onto her services for a while.  I had a really good cleaner a few years ago who cleaned twice a month, at least until she had heart problems and had to take retirement.  I liked her.

I’ve seen my psych doctor a couple of times in the last few weeks.  I’m on a newer anti psych medication that’s supposed to help reduce compulsive behavior and serve as kind of a stimulant.  Most of the psych medications I’ve been on have promoted drowsiness.  I’m still getting used to the fact I don’t need as much sleep as I’ve had in past months.  I usually sleep only six to seven hours a night now, with a couple exceptions when I’m feeling really distressed.  I think sleep is one of the ways my mind works against mental health problems.  But I suppose there are worse ways of dealing with mental distress than sleeping ten to twelve hours a day.

I am looking forward to Christmas.  While I don’t have much planned, I should call friends and family and see if I can set up Skype with them.  I have the programs on my computer, I just don’t use them very often so I’m rusty with them.  I have learned over the years, the real value of the holiday seasons is spending time with family and friends. I don’t really remember much of the gifts I got as a child.  I don’t even really remember when I quit believing in Santa Claus and magic elves.  But I do remember the time I spent with friends and family, especially my grandparents and a couple of my uncles who have now passed away.  Those times aren’t coming back.

I’m glad I had a family that, even in our disagreements, we didn’t cut each other out or bring up our grievances during holidays or weddings or funerals.  I didn’t realize how rare that was until I went to a Christian college and found out from friends and classmates that, in some cases, even devoutly religious families can have serious issues.  I’m glad I dodged those bullets.  I never realized how cool my family was growing up.  Like many teenagers, I thought my family was kind of embarrassing and didn’t know what was what.  But now that I’m of the age when most of my friends have children of their own, my family knew their stuff far better than I realized all along.  My parents are now more like good friends and wise confidants than the authority figures I respected and sometimes feared as a child and teenager.

I’m glad I got to this point in my relationship with my family before they went into declining health or died.  I’m glad for all of it, even the discipline and nagging I couldn’t stand as a ten year old child.  But it served it’s purpose.  I may not have a successful career and well adjusted children like my brother and most of my cousins, but  I am managing an otherwise crippling mental illness pretty decent.  From what I have seen when I was inpatient hospitalization and from what I’ve heard from my readers, this thing could be much tougher to manage.

Adapting to Mental Illness and Better Coping

Little by little I’m getting into spring.  I’m starting to spend more time outdoors and I have had my windows open every night for the last several days.  I’m starting to feel like I have more energy.  I’m also sleeping less.  I’m staying awake later now but still keeping occupied.  I’m beginning to socialize more in person again.

Mentally I occasionally have had flare ups the last couple weeks.  Usually these don’t last very long.  Fortunately I don’t act out on these feelings of frustration and paranoia.  I have gotten to where I can feel bad and have bad days but not have complete breakdowns.  It has been this way for the last two months.  It is a confidence boost knowing that I can have a bad day and yet not act out on it.

Things are greening up in my hometown.  The weather is getting nicer with each passing day.  I’ll probably start going to the park again in a few days.  I’m getting to where I want to be outside again.  I have spent a little time outside everyday for the last few days.

Even though I occasionally have feelings of irritability and frustration and paranoia, I have learned to better cope with them.  If at all possible I just let them pass.  I no longer feel guilt for having feelings like this.  One of the things that helps me live better with mental illness is that I don’t have to feel bad for having rough patches.  I really don’t have to feel bad unless I act out in public or become destructive.  It took me a long time to come to this realization.  I don’t have to feel bad for having bad days.  I don’t have to feel bad to have moments of weakness.  I can’t always be at the top of everything at all times. And neither can any nuerotypical person.  And I no longer feel guilt about having moments of weaknesses.  That has helped considerably as I have worked with the mental illness over the course of my life.

Normal vs. Not-Normal and What Is vs. What Isn’t

whybenormal

I will readily admit that I would, by no stretch of any neurotypical person’s imagination, be considered ‘normal.’  I don’t, thanks in large part to my mental illness as well as my own individual preferences and tastes, find things that most people would find enjoyable to be to my liking.  I don’t like crowds, I really have a hard time trusting people I’ve just met, I don’t enjoy much of what consists of acceptable socialization (i.e. going to bars, going on dates, small pointless ‘chit-chat’, attending large social gatherings in enclosed spaces, etc.), I certainly don’t like arguments or debates (as I’ve already expounded on in a previous blog entry), and I don’t see why it’s socially acceptable to appear like I’m dumb or lacking knowledge.  I’ve read so many books on ‘socially acceptable behavior’ that flat out states things like ‘the smartest man/woman in the room/group/organization/etc. is putting a bulls eye on their backs and is inviting ridicule and ostracizing themselves to the group.’  

I never understood the tendency of people to treat poorly those who are smarter or stand out from the norm (or average) in anyway.  I use smarter as an example because I’ve always held my smarts/intelligence/wisdom to be not only a source of pride and identity, but even as a child I knew my intelligence would be my way to carve out survival in the world.  Yet most of my classmates, many of my teachers, and even some of my family members didn’t see things this way.  Instead of the kid who read at a  12th grade level as an 11 year old, they saw the kid who was always picked last in softball, didn’t really like socializing with kids (and adults) with whom he had little in common.  Instead of seeing a teenager who did extremely well in classes like history, english, biology, and chemistry, they saw the kid who struggled to pass algebra and didn’t do well in shop class.  Instead of seeing a seeing a kid who absolutely loved speech and drama productions, they saw the kid who played football but didn’t like it and ‘had an attitude problem’ or ‘had problems with authority’ because he was always asking questions and held odd ideas (many of which in later years  proved to be true).  

Even now people don’t always see me as a mentally ill individual who can live on his own, manages what little he receives from Disability with little to no outside help, writes a quite unknown blog about mental illness, manages his friends (most of whom are loyal friends for life) and social life well, and has never been trouble with the law.  Sadly many people see a man who has no ‘permanent job’ (as if there is such a thing in the 21st century), relies on Welfare (and thus is perceived as a drain on society and taxpayers), is somewhat odd because he speaks out on what he believes (especially if it flies in the face of conventional wisdom), is someone to be pitied because he doesn’t have legions of friends and supporters ( I would much rather have a small, but loyal, base of friends and family who overlook my differences and the fact I’m not normal as opposed to have an army of superficial friends who’ll abandon me with any minor shakeup to their normal lives), and someone who is quite overweight (never mind I’ve been making steps to remedy this sad fact and have lost 40 pounds in 4 1/2 months).

 

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In short, I am not normal.  I am not ‘average.’  I am not neurotypical.  I am not popular (nor do I seek to be).  I will not tell anyone just exactly what itching ears wish to hear.  I tell the truth about what it’s like to be mentally ill in a chronically sane world.  Believe me, it isn’t always pretty and I have no doubt lost ‘friends’ and ‘supporters’ over it.  The truth isn’t always pretty.  The truth can be threatening.  I have, since I was 8 years old and discovered I had some unusual intelligence and wasn’t what my classmates and some teachers considered normal, refused to knuckle under and be what I knew I wasn’t.  What I was and what I am is good enough for me.  It is what I was made to be.  It is alright with me that I am what I am.  I don’t understand why it isn’t good enough for most neurotypicals I have met.

Things You Can Do On Your Own For Your Mental Health

This post is going to be about things you can do on your own to help alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety that goes along with mental health problems. There are times that, in spite of all the counseling, therapy,and medications involved, we still have problems. This is when we with mental health issues have to resort to our own resourcefulness. This post is going to be what you can do when you are primarily alone or in a private setting. The issue of avoiding problems in public will be the subject of another post later on.

For myself, there are at least three activities that I have found that help ward off stress, anxiety, and depression. One of these is writing out my frustrations. I have entire notebooks full of the writings I have done in efforts to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. I write in these even when I’m feeling well as a sort of preventative maintenance. I look back over these on occasion just to see if I notice patterns developing, especially over a period of weeks and months. From these writings alone I’ve noticed that my individual illness has a seasonal pattern to it, were I tend to do worse in late summer and around Christmas/end of year holidays than I normally do. My times I do best are in spring, early summer, most of autumn, and surprisingly late winter. I probably wouldn’t have figured out these patterns as soon as I did without my writing about what I was going through. An important factor in my journaling is that I do not censor what I write. I am honest with myself, even sometimes brutally. Of course I’m the only one who sees these writings. I also usually shred my writings after about two to three years as kind of a way to let the past go.

The second activity I do to alleviate stress is listen to music. I absolutely love almost all genres of music and the type I listen to varies even within a given day. Even though I have no musical talent myself, I appreciate those who can play instruments or sing and are not afraid to. To the end of listening to music I have an iPod, a subscription to Pandora internet radio service, and even look up music and music videos on youtube. A good session of listening to music can relax me even when I feel like telling someone off.

Finally, the third activity I do that helps to relax me is just silent time/meditation/prayer. While I’m not going to delve into any religious theology discussions as there are plenty of other blogs that do that, I do know that meditation, prayer, and just taking a few steps back have all worked well for me. As far as these go, I found they become even more effective once I stopped worrying if I was doing these ‘right.’ Even though I grew up in a devout Christian family, we were never required to memorize prayers when I was growing up. We just spoke what was on our hearts and minds at the time. In short, the only advice I give on this type of relaxation is don’t worry about doing it a right or wrong way.

There are plenty of things/activities you can do on your own to help alleviate your mental illness issues. While I have yet to find an activity that will cure all my problems at all times, I have at least found a few that work well for me. I’m interested in hearing from others as to what helps them to relax, calm down, etc.

Stressing on Stress

 

One of the problems that comes up for those of us with mental illness, myself included, is the issue of dealing with everyday stress and anxiety.  Stress about issues like work, money, taking care of family, community activities, running errands, routine housework and maintenance, etc. can be enough to tax even the most ‘normal’ of people at times.  Yet for those of us with mental illness, every day stress can be overwhelming at times, even crippling occasionally.

I have had to made adaptations to my life in order to reduce the amounts of stress in my life.  Over the years I have found the stress situations such as fast paced working environments, social environments where I’m expected to interact with many people I may not know well, and driving in fast paced heavy traffic areas have all been triggers for not only high levels of stress and anxiety, but also have triggered symptoms of my particular mental illness.  In my case, such instances have triggered paranoid thoughts, high levels of agitation and aggression, and even auditory hallucinations.  As a result, I have to be really careful about the jobs I apply for, the social activities I attend, and make it a point to find someone else to drive when I have to go to a major city and just offer to navigate.  I would not be any fun at all at a cocktail party with a hundred strangers I didn’t know.  Even though I scored really high on intelligence tests as both a kid and an adult, I probably couldn’t handle most office jobs simply due to the stress involved.

Stress is tough for even the most grounded people.  But it can be life altering and crippling for the mentally ill.  It can drag down even the most stabilized mental health consumers if left unchecked.  Sometimes even the stepping back and taking deep breaths isn’t going to be enough.  Sometimes a person just has to avoid certain circumstances altogether or even just know when to walk away.

Coping During Difficult Times With Mental Illness

          We all have difficult times when it seems the breaks are beating us and absolutely nothing is going our way.  Sometimes things seem bad enough that no matter what we do, things just get worse.  This is true for even the most sane of people.  Yet this is even tougher for those of us who are mentally ill.  We can become agitated and disoriented even on average days.  On days when things are going especially bad, the situations that arise can become almost too heavy of a burden to bear.

            This is where finding the strength to continue on comes in.  Strength to fight the good fight can come from several different sources.  A source of strength for a mentally ill person can come from a support person.  A support person, whether it is a family member, a friend, a doctor, a counselor, or anyone to hold us accountable can help anyone cope with difficulties.

            Everyone needs friends and family to lean on during tough times.  Human beings are not meant to be alone and isolated.  This is true especially of the mentally ill.  We who are mentally ill need to have support systems in place for when things go wrong.  Believe me, they will go wrong.

            The support system can comfort you, calm your fears, and let you know that these difficult times will not last.  Those of us who have weathered the storms of mental illness and come out stronger because of them are in turn better able to help those who are just starting out.  It is easy to bemoan that we are different or can’t do what we used to.  But that won’t make it any easier for us.  And it certainly won’t make us more able to weather the next round of storms or help someone else in need.  It sometimes takes an honest and loving support person to remind us of this during our times of distress.

            Do not give up.  Giving up is not an option.  Strength can come from many sources, even from within.  Strength to continue on will sometimes be the only thing that carries you through one moment to the next.