Death of Family Members While Being Mentally Ill and Thoughts on My Own Mortality

Besides my family and one college friend, I haven’t kept in strong contact with most of my friends the last couple weeks.  My best friend’s mother died a few weeks ago and I haven’t talked to her much.  I decided to let her do what was needed and not bother her much.  She probably wasn’t much in the mood for talking the last few weeks.  I haven’t had a parent die yet.  All of my grandparents and a couple uncles have died.  But I wasn’t really torn up by their deaths as I was just happy that such people had lived.  At my grandparents’ funerals, the immediate family was mostly spending the time retelling stories of the cool and funny things they did during their lives.  We weren’t crying that much but instead were celebrating their lives.  There was almost as much laughter as crying at my grandfather’s funeral as the immediate family were retelling stories of my grandfather’s jokes and funny things he did during his life.  And my last grandmother to pass away was quite sharp and aware until she had a stroke about two weeks before she died.  But she was in her late nineties and had real bad arthritis to where she could barely walk.  She had said for the last few years of her life that she wasn’t afraid of dying and that she was ready at any time.  I think that maybe she was sad seeing most of her friends and family die over the years.  Fortunately I was able to handle the grandparents’ funerals without any flare ups of my mental illness.  I was a pall bearer for both my grandmothers.

I guess that as I have now crossed into my late thirties, I’m beginning to think about my own mortality a little.  This has been especially true the last few months as I’m getting more unexplainable aches and pains and I can’t lift as heavy as items as I could previously.  It also doesn’t help that schizophrenics, statistically speaking, have shorter life spans than mentally healthy people.  If I were to die prematurely, I think I want to donate my body to science.  I figure that something good should come from my having schizophrenia effect my mind and destroy my career.

I’m sorry for sounding morbid with this entry.  But I have been thinking about how several people who have influenced me in my young years are now dying off.  Even my own parents aren’t in the greatest health.  But I guess they are in their late sixties.  I’m thirty seven and that would have made me an elderly person in the Stone Age. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter how long you live as long as you make the most of the days you have.

 

Advertisements

Changes

Been going through a few changes the last couple weeks.  I have finally gotten over the need for 10 to 12 hours a sleep every night.  I now usually get 6 to 8 hours anymore.  This has been going on for a little over a week.  I’m still getting used to the new found extra time.  I was so used to being rushed during the winter as I had only a few hours window of when I could run errands and schedule doctor appointments.  So I think my sleep issues are cured.  And I didn’t even have to take sleep pills for it.  About the only thing I can think of I’m doing different is limiting my caffeine.  When I do have caffeine it’s usually soda pop and only once or twice a day.  I haven’t drank coffee in weeks.  I’ve noticed I’m less jittery too since I reduced the caffeine.

I’m getting more active.  I try to leave the apartment a few times a day just to get out and about.  I’ll get out even for something as simple as going through the drive thru at McDonald’s for a couple cheeseburgers.  I usually keep my windows open until noon.  Since it’s almost summer now, it gets too hot to leave the windows open all day.  We’ve had a nice and long enough spring I was used to leaving windows open most days.  Started lifting arm weights a few days ago.  Too soon to tell any real difference.  Started taking multi vitamins again.  I’ve noticed my aches and pains are not as pronounced now.  I knew vitamin deficiency could lead to problems.  I probably wasn’t getting enough as I tend to eat low carb and high protein diets.

But, not all the changes I’ve experienced have been positive.  Found out my best friend’s mother is on hospice for cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer.  Sad deal.  So we’ve been chatting back and forth via Facebook quite a lot the last few weeks.  She’s understandably sad and shaken by the whole deal.  I wish I could do more for her.  But she lives out of state and there’s only so much I can do over the internet.

As the seasons are changing, so are many aspects of my life.  Besides my best friend soon to be losing her mother, most of these changes are welcomed.  I wish my best friend nothing but the best as she works through the grief of losing her mom.

Changes In Interests With Mental Illness

school201

Over the years of working with schizophrenia I have had to reinvent myself a few times.  When I was first diagnosed in 2000, I was a wreck.  I pretty much left my dorm room only to go to classes and go to the mess hall twice a day.  I couldn’t concentrate in classes or doing homework for longer than a couple minutes at a time.  I was trying different medications twice a month just hoping to find something that would work.  As a result of these struggles I had to drop out of my pre med major.  I even had to take a semester off from college because I was in danger of flunking out entirely.  After a few months off the academic grind and finally finding some medications that worked well, I was able to return to school be it with a different major.  I decided to do business management because I really knew little about money and business and thought I could find a job in that field once I recovered.  I never did completely recover but I did graduate college with a business degree.

After a year of working in sales I tried my hand at getting a masters’ in business.  At the time my dream was to teach basic economics and personal finance at a small college.  That was before I realized how tough it was to get tenure and that the majority of junior college instructors are not full time.  After two semesters in the program my grades were hurting enough that I lost my graduate assistant job.  I could have stayed in the program but I would have to go deep into debt.  So I left the program.  After my failing to become a college instructor, I got a job in a factory.  It was simple enough work but I couldn’t adapt to the overnight hours and my work suffered as a result.  Two months of this I decided I would put in for a transfer to morning shift.  I was denied so I quit.  It also didn’t help that I was threatened by one of my coworkers with violence because of my mistakes.  A few years later I heard that the factory was shut down.  So many people lost their jobs, probably due to automation.  It made me kind of thankful I didn’t stick it out with that job.

About the same time I failed at the factory, I applied for disability pension.  It took two years to get approved for it, and that was even after I hired an attorney to fast track the process.  Here I was with a mental illness that clearly ruined my ability to work and I was getting to where I was running out of money.  Shortly after I gave up on the factory, I moved into low income housing because that was all I could afford.  I could have moved back with my parents but the mental health care in that rural of an area was quite primitive.  And I was too embarrassed to face the people of my hometown with a mental illness.  Ten years ago there was even less understanding about mental illness than there is now.  Small town gossip is vicious and unavoidable.  I didn’t like living in my parents’ town as a kid because I never fit in and my skills sets weren’t conducive to a farming dominated economy.  I may live in a town of about 40,000 people (which isn’t big compared to many places) but it has far more to offer than my parents’ town of less than 500 people.  I just didn’t want to go back home, admit defeat, and face the scorn of the people of my hometown.  To this day I still won’t go back for class reunions or alumni events.  Too many people just don’t want to accept that mental illness is real.

As a result of having to abandon my childhood hometown, I had to find other means of socializing.  That’s about the time I signed up for a Facebook account.  The majority of my contacts on Facebook are with people I met in college.  I don’t have that many friends from my old grade school and high school days.  I hear from really only one of my friends from my high school days on a regular basis anymore.  One of my best friends from junior high I haven’t talked to in over ten years.  Some of my classmates I haven’t seen since graduation.  But I did enjoy college much more than high school, even if it was a religious school and I was beginning to question the teachings and dogmas of the religion grew up with even back then.  The majority of my friends from college are still in the same denomination I grew up in, but they seem to be understanding on why I don’t attend church anymore.  I haven’t been a regular in church in almost ten years.  It just seems ineffective and pointless.  People have been praying for cures for illnesses and deliverance from  danger for centuries.  Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they don’t with no rhyme or reason behind it.  I guarantee the early Christians being fed to lions in Roman coliseums were praying like mad, just like the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, or the people killed in every other crisis.  I gave up on organized religion once I came to realize that if there is a God (and let’s be honest, no one knows for exactly sure), than God was hap hazard in spreading the blessings and curses around.  If my friends and family want to continue going to church and believing what they do, I refuse to stand in the way.  I just won’t partake.

Once I left religion and made up my mind I would never marry, I had to find other outlets for socializing.  I joined writers’ groups, I took part in mental illness support groups, I volunteered at a museum for a summer, I started writing seriously, I worked on a blog with an old high school friend of mine, I wrote the rough outline for what would be this blog, I wrote rough drafts for two novels, I wrote hundreds of poems and even got a few of them published, I self published my mental illness writings and poems and sold a few dozen copies of those through local bookstores, I made friends with fellow artists and writers, I made friends with a few smart and eccentric people even in Section 8 housing.

Sadly several of my old friends in my apartment complex died in the last couple years.  I left my job at the county courthouse once I found out I could live on my disability pension and could get serious about writing.  Several months after I left my job at the courthouse I started this blog.  As the months went on I started getting a bit of an audience.  I found out I have a talent for putting ideas and words into written form.  At first I did this blog only every two weeks.  I was getting a few readers that way.  After a year I decided to post once a week.  I started getting more readers and some feedback.  Found out I was fulfilling a niche in the writing market that many people don’t know exists.

Mental illness is a problem that isn’t going to be swept under the rug anymore.  With more people feeling stressed about possibly losing their jobs to automation and globalization, people my age bracket and younger realizing that in spite their best efforts they won’t have as nice of a house or the job security of their parents and grandparents, and people just being depressed and stressed about the changes and crisises going on that we hear all about because of mass communications, mental health issues are going to be affecting more people.  And I’m writing about life with mental health issues, not having traditional employment, and having to make meaning and purpose in my life inspite all that has happened in the last twenty years.  And I will continue to post these blogs.  I don’t care if I make a dime off my writing anymore.  Most writers don’t make anything off their writings anyway.  I just want these writings to stick around for a long time and maybe make a positive difference for those affliceted with mental illness and their loved ones.

 

Dealing With A Death In The Family While Having Mental Illness

On Tuesday, August 4th my paternal grandmother died in her sleep a few days after having a major stroke.  She was 97 years old.  Grandma Foster was one of these people who was always looking out for other people almost like they were her own kids.  I can imagine as the oldest of eight siblings growing up on a farm in Nebraska during the Great Depression she would have developed those skills of caring for others and making that a huge part of her life at an early age.

Every summer my brother and I would spend a few days with her in her hometown.  After my Grandpa Foster died of a heart attack at their farmstead in the early 1980s she moved into town.  While I can’t remember the farmstead she, grandpa, and my dad lived on, she and my dad both used to tell us stories about life on their farm.  Grandma was one of these farmers’ wives who could do a little bit of everything.  She said she could have taken a chicken from the henhouse and cooked on the dining room table in about an hour.  She also did quite a bit of the same farm work my grandpa was doing during the first few years of their marriage right alongside him out in the field.  This was back in the late 1930s when  the corn crops where still being harvested by hand well into the winter.

During World War II, after my grandfather couldn’t qualify for the army as in enlisted soldier because of his age, grandma and grandpa went to Wichita, Kansas to work in an aircraft factory.  They both worked in that factory for the duration of the war.  A few years after the war ended the family moved back to Nebraska.  My grandpa farmed for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that grandpa and grandma never owned their own land and instead farmed for others.  In addition to being a farm wife and a worker in a aircraft factory, Grandma Foster worked for a number of years as a payroll clerk in an automotive parts plant.  In the 1960s and 1970s she was filling out those payrolls by hand, doing several hundred of those every two weeks.  She didn’t have much time to enjoy retirement before grandpa had his heart attack but she did enjoy having her grandkids and the kids of her extended family around as much as possible.

Even though I have been fighting a mental illness for my entire adult life I’m not as distraught by her death as I thought I would be.  That might be changing soon as my dad, my brother, and I will be spending the weekend cleaning out her apartment.  I’m also going to be one of the pall bearers.  I was a pall bearer at my maternal grandmother’s funeral too.  But as I have been working with a mental illness for quite some time I know myself well enough that often anticipating some bad event will not only lead me into a downward spiral, the anticipation will be worse than the event itself.

So as of right now I’m not thinking about cleaning out the apartment or the funeral or being a pall bearer or the visitation the night before the funeral.  It helps that we had a small birthday bash for her a couple of months ago and she was as mentally sharp as ever then.  She had been hampered by arthritis for the last several years that made walking without a walker or a cane very tough.  As much of an extrovert as my grandmother was this had to be tough.  But she managed to stay in contact with her many friends and family members through Facebook and phone calls.  She was one of these who wasn’t afraid to use new technologies while not losing the old style compassion and empathy for others.  Grandma used her Facebook account to show her caring and to keep others aware of what went on in their social circles.  A couple years ago she said that she went from being in awe of the Ford Model T to looking at flying drones just in her lifetime.  Who knows what my nephews and niece will see in theirs.

At this moment I’m not completely torn up that this compassionate sweet lady has died and is leaving a void that will have to be filled by others.  In time that void will be filled by others in our family and among her friends as it is natural for others to step into rolls that others filled after a death.  Rather than being distraught about her death, I’m grateful that she and those like her lived and impacted as many people as they did.

Thoughts on the Death of a Close Friend

I’m going off my usual mental illness topics for this post.  Something like what I’m currently writing has been weighing on me for quite some time.  Yet it finally crystalized into actual thoughts within the last twenty four hours before this writing with the death of one of my best friends.  This man died in his early 80s and was a retired Lutheran minister.  Pastor Vern, as this man was known to everyone living in my apartment complex, was probably the wisest, wittiest, well read, and compassionate individual I met in my entire life. I knew him for eight years but I don’t believe I ever heard him say anything derogative or hurtful about anyone.  I know I can’t go even eight days without at least thinking something hurtful directed at others, but hopefully most of this is due to the aspects of my illness.

Being a career Lutheran minister, Pastor Vern no doubt had his views on religion and God.   Yet he was not as caught up in rituals, creeds, and beliefs when talking with me as he was on the basic principles of Christianity and other religious beliefs.  Those core beliefs, the ones he lived by everyday were simply 1) Love God, 2) Care About Others, and 3) Respect Yourself.  I suppose if one were to substitute or supplement  the world ‘God’ with nature or the earth, even the most convinced atheists would be hard pressed to deny that loving nature, caring about others, and respecting yourself are good principles to attempt to live by.

Pastor Vern, being one with a wide array of interests and knowledge, was a perfect friend for someone like myself.  He and I could easily talk about history, classical literature, philosophy, among numerous other topics for quite a long time.  We would usually be sitting outside, him smoking his pipe, and just discuss whatever happened to come up regardless of whether it had any logical order or direction or not.  Some of our neighbors who listened to our conversations no doubt thought us a little odd for rarely discussing such mundane things as weather, current events, or gossiping about others.  For myself and Pastor Vern, hardly any topic was not subject matter to be discussed.  We had an unspoken agreement that no matter how much we disagreed on any one topic, we would never become angry or speak harshly to each other.  I suppose this falls under the care about others and respect yourself principles.

He and I have both studied the basic teachings and principles of most religions with significant followings.  We both came to the conclusion that in spite of the differing rituals, social practices and customs, sets of creeds and beliefs, etc. that one thing they all believed were the ideas that a person would be better off in their own lives and dealings with others if the basics of ‘Loving God (or your creator/giver of life/etc.)’, ‘Caring About Other People and Living Things’, and ‘Respecting Yourself’ were principles that a person attempted to live by.

Yes, these are simple principles to the point that any six year old child can grasp these are important.  Sadly, most of us as adults severely complicate these and often don’t live by these ideas at all.  How much less strife and division would we have in our work places and places of business if managers, workers, and customers alike lived by even the caring about others and respecting ourselves?  How much less war, famine, disease, poverty would we have if even individuals, let alone the governments of the world, operated with these guides?  How much less needless destruction of our most valuable forests, farmlands, waters and wasting of finite natural resources would we have if we lived by even the ‘Love God/Nature/Earth’ idea?  How much less conflict and needless grief would we have in our personal lives if we cared about others and respected ourselves more?

I apologize for the mini rant in the previous paragraph.  I wrote that to try to apply to our own lives the principles that my recently deceased friend Pastor Vern lived by every day.  These are principles I attempt to live by though often inconsistently.  In closing I’m glad to have had a friend like Pastor Vern for the eight years I knew him.  I wish that everyone could attempt to live by such principles, or at least become acquainted with those who do.

Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions.