Changes Within A Lifetime and Reflections on Generational Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Years and How I Became a Blogger

Blogging has turned into a dream come true for me.  I can write about my problems as a mentally ill man, tell what works for me and what doesn’t, and now I’m even making a few dollars a month at it.  I never expected any money from this blog or really any of my writing work.  I enjoy what money can do as much as anyone, but I really don’t need a large bank account or stock portfolio to stroke my ego.  As long as I can keep the rent current, have food in my pantry, my medications stocked up, and stay out of debt, I am fine with what I make just off disability pension.  It may seem kinda boring and dreary life for some as I really can’t afford to travel much anymore or that I don’t have any family of my own.

I travelled a lot in my younger years and I went to a small college with a larger than usual foreign student body.  Since there were less than 600 students in our entire college, we were forced to interact with people of many different backgrounds if we wanted to have any kind of social life.  It was a good college for someone like from rural Nebraska who wasn’t personally exposed to many different cultures.  It was in college that I found that I had some talent for writing.  That’s where I started writing poetry and drafts for novels.  I also read many of the classics of American and European literature while there.  I also dabbled in some Eastern philosophy like Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu.  Granted this was in the early 2000s before youtube and most of social media really connnected people.  I imagine I could learn the same things now on my computer as opposed to spending entire days in the campus library.  But being exposed to different ideas from different eras of time and different nations inspired me to tell my own story.  And apparantly my story of my life with mental illness is resonating with some people.

The pains and joys of being a geek with mental illness

I still don’t socialize much.  But that’s because I don’t feel like I need to.  Some of my best friends I can chat with over Facebook or the phone.  Besides, all some people want to chat about are mundane things like the weather or pointless gossip.  Conversations without any real intelligent substance really weigh on me.  They sap my energy and often aggravate me.  And the longer I’ve been out of school, the worse it gets.  Sure there were quite a few people who, when I went to school, thought education was for losers and being ignorant was cool.  But, good grief, now that I’m an adult those people are in the vast majority.  I was always told that more wisdom came with age.  Not necessarily so.  I know people in their sixties and seventies who are less mature and intelligent than some junior high kids.  It’s tiring and sad to see stupidity and ignorance being championed in my culture.  I see it in my daily life and I see it when I log onto the internet or watch my tv: ignorance is praised and wisdom is condemned.

Was it always this way that smart people were ostracized?  Is it this way in other cultures and times?  Since I’ve been out of the USA only once in my life, I really have no first hand experience with other cultures other than my own.  And in my culture, intelligence simply isn’t valued.  I have felt out of place among my own people and culture for as long as I can remember.  People thought it odd that my friends and I liked to talk about history, science, and current events more than school yard gossip and popular culture.  I was good at speech, drama, and knowledge bowl competitions, but I got far more recognition from being a mediocre football player.  And my school was more academically inclined than most schools in my region.

I have always felt like an outsider.  And developing a mental illness in my late teens only made it more pronounced.  But I suppose that being an outsider as a kid made me resilient enough to navigate a serious mental illness.  And it’s this sense of being an outsider that allows me to endure long stretches of time in solitude.  It’s this sense of being an outsider that frees me to go against popular norms and look at problems in different ways.  It’s the sense of being an outsider that took away a lot of old fears that held me back in my younger years.  I don’t fear looking like a fool.  I don’t fear being wrong because I can learn from being wrong more than I can always giving the teachers the “right” answers.  Besides, all grades measure in school is how good a kid can conform to the existing system.  Well, the existing system is becoming obsolete and is going to get changed before too many years.  It is unavoidable.  Why measure fact retention when I can look up any fact on google and wikipedia within a few seconds?  In future generations, kids are going to have to be taught to be problem solvers and deep thinkers. It matters less that, for example, that Sacramento is the capital of California than say, why Sacramento and not Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Or instead of knowing that Columbus sailed for the Americas in 1492, it would be better to explain how he was able to convince the Spanish throne to give him the funds, how he kept his crew motivated when setting off on a potential suicide mission, or what effects there were by the Europeans meeting with the Native Americans.  In the automated future, fact retention and unthinking obedience is going to matter much less than creativity and problem solving or skills that computers can’t master yet.  And it can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, the geeks and nerds won the culture wars.  Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have much more influence and money than even Michael Jordan or David Beckham.  Geeks and nerds coming out in force is probably why there have been so many comic books made into movies the last several years.  Heck, even video gaming is becoming a competitive sport.  But I guess if bowling and poker are, why not video gaming?  Science and tech are gaining in influence and prestige while aspects of our past like war and poverty are going in decline. We are very fortunate that there hasn’t been any major wars between developed nations since the end of World War II.  I fear such wars would go nuclear.  So it’s a great development that we as a species are starting to lose our stomachs for violence, war, and bloodshed.  Practices like human sacrifices and near constant raiding and war used to be the norm not that many generations ago.  Such practices are considered barbaric relics of when our civilizations were less mature.  And it’s largely thanks to the geeky outcasts and their science and tech advances.

I want to end on a positive note.  I am grateful to be a geeky outsider.  I hated it as a teenager, but it was for the better.  It made me better able to deal with mental illness, it made me more self reliant, and it made me study more.  I’m much better read now than I was before I became mentally ill.  I’m glad I’m not normal.  I’m glad I’m not ignorant.  Ignorance and normal are both overrated.  In fact, both ignorance and normal suck.