I readily admit that I am often hard on normal people who don’t understand mental illness. I also confess to being really tough on people who don’t think before they speak or write something on Facebook or twitter. But please do understand people were really hard on me for years and always held me to high standards. My parents were quite demanding perfectionists because they knew their sons were really sharp and talented. Neither my brother or I remember a time when we didn’t know how to read. And we essentially taught ourselves. Because they new we had a lot to offer even at a very young age, they never tolerated us not making the honor roll, causing problems for the other kids at school, talking back to anyone, not being involved in school activities, not being involved in church activities, not having a summer job, and being in trouble with school officials and definitely not the law. I couldn’t stand it when I was growing up, seeing my friends who weren’t pushed hard in school, who weren’t pushed into school activities, who were allowed to voice dissenting opinions from their parents, who weren’t punished for causing problems in school, or who weren’t encouraged to study hard subjects. My brother and I may not have been raised like warriors, but we were raised like scholars.
And that really didn’t make us very popular with our classmates or town elders when we were growing up. Our classmates didn’t understand why my brother and I worked so hard in class and not so much in sports. Our classmates thought us odd that we didn’t attend their beer parties or try to get laid. Some of the town elders didn’t like us because my brother and I had aspirations of moving out of our village and seeking our fortunes in greener pastures. I don’t have any animosity toward my hometown as I made a few cool friends I still hear from and became a much better rounded man than had I lived in a large suburb. I just don’t back there very often because most of my friends (and all of my brother’s friends) no longer live there. My parents didn’t care if I made the varsity in football as long as I didn’t give the coaches and my teammates any problems. My parents didn’t care that my brother was the slowest runner in his class because he was doing well in his classes and had aspirations of going on to do something good with his life. And he did. He’s an engineer making excellent money, married to a brilliant woman who also is an engineer, and they have four extremely smart kids. My brother and his wife are making sure those kids are held accountable and have high standards too. And I can tell it’s starting to pay off for those kids and they aren’t even teenagers yet.
Expectations and accountability can make all the difference in the world. For the first few years of my mental illness diagnosis, I was a little bitter at times that I was held to such high standards, did everything right, and still wound up with a severe mental illness that destroyed my ability to hold a career or raise a family. For the first few years I was tormented by stories of people like John Nash, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, etc. that achieved great deals in spite of their problems and handicaps. I used to think if they can do it, why can’t I? But I now acknowledge that I don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist, or a great teacher, or a great difference maker who completely changed history to live a decent life as a man with schizophrenia. From statistics I’ve seen, anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of people with schizophrenia attempt suicide at least once. I haven’t gotten to that point even after having problems since age seventeen. A significant percentage of homeless people are mentally ill people, so I’m probably doing something right because I have my own apartment and have never missed a rent payment. Some of the normals I’m tough with on occasion can’t claim even that. I held employment for several years, if for no other reason just to prove I could even with schizophrenia. Many schizophrenics can’t claim that.
I am convinced the reason I am doing alright with my schizophrenia is that I was held accountable and held to a high standard even as a little child. I have to think that carried over into adulthood even with a mental illness. Perhaps that is why I am so active with this blog, because I have expectations that won’t allow me to not communicate to others when I obviously can tell people about my experiences with schizophrenia. I have the expectation that I won’t allow my mind go to rot, mental illness or no. I have the expectation that I won’t allow my mental illness, as tragic as it is, to be pointless and meaningless. That’s the joy and glory of having expectations and standards. And I confess it is sometimes a little annoying when others don’t hold themselves to similar standards. But I was held to standards and I am grateful every day because of it. It might have even saved my life without me ever knowing it.