Thankfulness Despite Mental Illness

I’ve spent almost twenty years dealing with mental illness problems.  Even though I have now spent more than half my life dealing with these problems, I am still pretty happy and content with how my life turned out.  Sure I would be better off losing some weight or having more friends in my hometown, but overall I’m enjoying my life even though I have to deal with schizophrenia.  At least I enjoy it the 99 percent of the time that I’m not having problems with hallucinations, delusions, and excessive anxiety.  I think the older I have gotten, the more I have learned how to work around the illness.  I do have to avoid stressful people and situations.  I have to do most of my shopping either online or in early morning hours to avoid crowds.  I won’t have the high paying and prestigious career like my brother has.  I will never have a wife and kids or the big house in a good suburb.  But as I have aged and seen in my own self and others with mental illness, I could be a lot worse.  If I was born in 1920 instead of 1980, I probably would have been living permanently in a mental hospital or homeless.  That is why I am thankful that medications and social safety nets exist that didn’t exist even fifty years ago.  Some of the medications I’m on didn’t exist even ten years ago.

Even though I don’t have a lot of nearby friends and don’t make much money, I’m still pretty happy overall.  I have been able to pursue what makes me happy and content despite being on disability insurance and living in low income housing.  Happiness for me is talking with friends over the phone, or participating in the futurist groups I’m part of on Facebook, or just grilling cheap steaks and watching college football on chilly fall afternoons.  I am fortunate that I have simple tastes.  Even though both my parents were medical professionals and made good money, they didn’t spoil my brother and I.  We were expected to either have after school and summer jobs or be involved in school activities year round.  I wasn’t uncommon for me to play a football game on Friday nights and spend my Saturday afternoons working as a shelf stocker at a general store when I was in high school.  During the summers, my brother usually reported to work at a fast food place every morning by 4 am to provide spending money so he could get his engineering degree.  I didn’t understand why my parents expected so much out of us when we were growing, but now I do.  And I’m glad for it.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  If I were able to raise children, I would be the same way.

If anything, I am thankful for what I have even if it isn’t what it could have been.  I’m glad that I can write about my experiences.  I write for those who can’t speak for themselves and to let others with mental illness know that they are not alone and things can get better.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of time but things can become quite stable even with a mental illness.

Optimism and Mental Illness

Optimism and mental illness are two things that probably don’t normally go together.  Yet after fighting through a mental illness for almost twenty years and still being in one piece and still functional, I think I’ve more than earned the right to be an optimist.  And I think being an optimist is a right that too few people take advantage of.

Why shouldn’t I be an optimist?  I have access to a world wide audience through the technological achievement that is the internet.  Fifteen years ago when I started writing poetry in my spare time, I had never even heard of a blog.  Youtube didn’t exist and neither did Facebook.  Even though I don’t make much money from my writings, I have a much bigger audience now than I could have imagined ten years ago.  From the numerous messages I get from readers, I know I’m making a difference.  That’s more than I thought would happen in 2006 after I lost my job at the university and applied for disability.  Back then I thought I was going to be condemned to a life of poverty and quiet desperation.  I also thought I lost most purpose for my life as it became painfully obvious I could never hold a regular job and support myself.  Yet here I am in 2017 with a decent blog, relatively stable mental state, and I’m still here.  Sure I may die earlier than most people without mental illness, but thanks to the internet, modern medicine, advanced counseling techniques, and social safety nets, I have been able to tell my story about living with a mental illness.  Hopefully I’ve been able to dispel some myths about mental illness and break down some barriers.  I just hope that the conversation about mental illness will continue.  As far as I can tell, the mentally ill are among the last people that it’s socially acceptable to discriminate against.  I hope to be part of changing that nonsense.

After surviving with mental illness for twenty years and still being functional and able to live on my own, I have become more optimistic now at age 36 than I was at age 16.  I have gotten optimistic enough that I have found myself less and less tolerant of pessimist, naysayers, and those who spew doom and gloom.  I have left friendships with people who were incurable pessimists.  Though you wouldn’t know it from the news sites, but we are actually living in some of the most prosperous and peaceful times in history.  Of course you aren’t going to hear this from politicians and news casts because news casts and politicians depend on attention and we humans are naturally more likely to notice bad news and threats.  It served us well when we were ice age hunter gatherers but it’s causing us in the more settled and civilized world undue stress and anxiety.  I can tell you from personal experience that most of what people worry about either never happens or turns out to be more manageable than previously thought.  One of the reasons I refuse to watch the news is that it’s nothing but bad news all the time.  You hear nothing about science advances, humanitarian efforts, or any kind of good news.  But good news isn’t fit to print, now is it?  And I for one am tired of always hearing bad news and doom.  If one were to listen to the “experts”, the world has always been heading for tragedy.  The sky is not falling.  We’ve had problems in the past but we solved them.  We’ll continue to solve our current and future problems.  Mark my words.

After surviving the worst of what schizophrenia has to offer, I have no patience for pessimists and doom sayers.  Sell that snake oil to someone else.  While you worry about problems and do nothing to solve said problems, there are far more people than you will ever know working on solving the world’s problems.  Quit worrying already.

I Enjoy Being An Adult, I Must Be Mentally Ill

I’m taking a bit of a detour with this post and try to be a little more humorous than usual.  Since I’ve been house bound because of a winter storm for a couple days I got to do some thinking.  One of the random thoughts that popped in my head is ‘being an adult beats being a kid.’  Sure I may have had more energy at sixteen than I do at thirty six, but I really didn’t know anything as a teenager.  And ignorance coupled with boundless energy can lead to dangerous and stupid things happening.  After five years of college, a few years of working, almost thirteen years of living on my own, writing a blog for almost four years, and spending five years now with educational videos on youtube university and binge reading wikipedia, I have come to the conclusion that even now I am not as smart as I thought I was at age eighteen.

I enjoy being an adult.  I really do.  I love the fact that if a boss is riding my case at work or my coworkers are being dolts, I always have the option of changing jobs or starting my own business.  I couldn’t transfer to another school in high school so easily to avoid bullies and immature classmates.  I love the fact that I don’t have to go to boring social events because my parents want me to.

As an adult I don’t have to feel guilty about not having legions of fair weather friends.  At the age of thirty six I have come to realize a few true hard core friends and some cool extended family is all a person really needs.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not being class president or not getting straight A’s.  It’s not like I made any money from my popularity or my academic achievements any way.  Even on youtube popular producers can make good money, not so in school.  I also didn’t like how joyless my high school settings were.  A bell rings and we move to change classes but don’t you dare be one second late.  I never did like being treated like one of Pavlov’s dogs as a kid.  Take abuse and scorn from bullies and classmates but don’t fight back because of zero tolerance laws?  At least in the adult world you can run away from an argument or try to plead self defense without losing your entire future.

And I am not intimidated by the fact that as an adult my successes or failures are on me and no one else.  I have a mental illness, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make a decent life regardless.  I’m not married nor do I have kids but that doesn’t stop me from being a good influence and good uncle to my nephews and niece.  I don’t even have to feel shame for not being married or having kids as an adult.  I don’t have a job but that isn’t going to keep me from writing blogs and finding other ways to contribute to my fellow man even if I don’t get money or prestige from it.    I don’t have to associate with people who tell me that I’m not a “real man” for not having a job or a family if I don’t want to.  Shame and guilt have far less influence on me at thirty six than they did at twenty one. As an adult I am allowed to be more creative and I don’t have many of the restrictions I had as a child.  As an adult I don’t have to hit my older brother if he’s irritating me, I just don’t return his calls or avoid him until things calm down.  One of the best things that happened to my relationship with my immediate family was moving out of my parents’ house and setting out on my own.  We get on each other’s nerves less now than we did when I was a teenager now that I have my own place and I’m not expected to always be in a good mood.  If I’m not feeling well, I can just avoid friends and family for a couple days until things blow over.

One thing I enjoy as an adult is watching young people do stupid things.  I enjoy it more than when I was the young fool doing stupid things.  I know the consequences that are coming but the kids usually don’t have a clue.  And I get to chuckle when their schemes come undone.  But the young kids eventually become adults and grow out of their stupidity in spite the complaints of old people about the “damn kids.”  The boomer generation grew out of using drugs and free love, generation X grew out of binging on MTV and video games, and the millennials will grow out of their nonsense. People forget that before the World War II generation became forever known as the “greatest generation”, many of them were drinking bootlegged alcohol in speakeasies and chasing flapper girls throughout Prohibition before World War II carved them into marble men and women for all eternity.  But in spite of my enjoyment of watching young people do stupid things, I don’t hate them for their mistakes.  I refuse to complain about young people because my elders complained about how stupid and ungrateful me and my classmates were the entire time I was growing up.  I am never doing that to anyone.  I know what it is like to be thrown into a group and falsely accused of things I never considered doing.  It really sucks.  If I ever complain about young people as an old man, I hope someone knocks some sense into me.

I never understood the whole “how do I adult” mentality.  Who cares how you adult?  It’s not like there’s a teacher who’s going to hold you back if you don’t know how to get red wine stains out of a carpet or how to change a tire.  With seven and a half billion people in the world and the magic of the internet, I can ask around for any information I could possibly imagine.  Why in the heck should I clutter my mind with mundane information I can easily look up that I may need to know only once or twice in my life?  One of my house guests doesn’t like that I don’t decorate my house all nice, then don’t come visit me in my house.  We’ll meet at a restaurant or pub instead.  You don’t like that I don’t drive fast or sometimes keep fast food trash in my car, no one is holding a gun to your head to make you ride in my car.  There is public transit and taxis even in my small town.  How do you adult, you may ask.  Dude, adult however you dang well please for all I care.  I don’t grade on style points.  And ironically, most adults are too busy with their own lives to knit pick you over yours.

In short, I really do think most adults worry about a lot of junk that doesn’t matter one bit.  Your neighbor has a sports car and you don’t?  So what?  He’s probably having a mid life crisis and up to his eye brows in debt because he listening to everyone else telling him what he should want out of life and not listening to himself.  You got passed over at work for a promotion?  Big deal.  You know you’re not going to spend the extra money for your retirement fund.  You’re worried about being overweight?  No problem.  One third of the entire world’s population is overweight.  Obesity is no longer just an American problem.  Besides you probably weren’t that good looking at age twenty any way.

I should wrap this up.  In summary I love being an adult.  As long as I’m not infringing on the rights of other people, I can pretty much think, say, and write whatever I want. I no longer have a parent or a nanny teacher hanging over my shoulder watching me for every little mistake I make.  In short, make mistakes.  Learn from mistakes.  Go crazy and enjoy the freedoms and responsibility of being a grown up.  I for one enjoy being in my thirties far more than I did my teens and twenties.  At least now I don’t feel like I have to please a lot of people.

Christmas and Mental Health

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I was originally going to do only one article today.  But consider this my two for the price of one sale. Christmas and the other end of year holidays will be upon us soon.  I didn’t put up any decorations and skipped out on the apartment’s Christmas party.  I don’t even do any shopping besides grocery shopping this time of year.  All the lights, bell ringing, too loud music, and too over the top decorations really give me bad cases of sensory overload.  Sometimes I can get sensory overload even driving in rush hour traffic.  Just everything moving too fast, too many sites, and too many noises I suppose.  So you can imagine how bad Christmas can be for me.

I’ll probably go to my parents’ house for a couple days but I doubt I’ll do anything with the extended family.  Once again too much sensory overload and no means to tactfully excuse myself from such overload.  I’m looking forward to the end of the holidays and the end of 2016 in general.  I really haven’t watched that much football this year as it has lost much of it’s appeal for me.  I just no longer enjoy watching it.  I did watch playoff baseball but really haven’t watched any tv outside of netflix and youtube since the end of October.

I enjoy the colder weather.  I’m happy for the longer nights and the decreased expectation that I always have to be going somewhere and spending time with someone outside of my apartment.  I enjoy spending time in my apartment with my books, my internet, my music, and my computer games.  When I want to talk to friends and family I can always call them over the phone or chat online and not have to be embarrassed or shamed if I want to end the conversation in a hurry.  I really have no stomach for small talk or gossip.  I guess I never have.  Sometimes I am my own best company.  I guess I adapted too well to spending most of my life alone.  Anymore I prefer to be alone almost all the time.  I haven’t had a roommate in over twelve years and I don’t see ever having a roommate again.  Whoever invented the rules for human socializing never took mentally ill people into consideration.

Yet, I couldn’t be happier with my current living conditions, especially considering I have to fight a mental illness everyday.  I guess that’s why holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas cause me some sadness in that I’m expected to socialize and engage in small talk against my will.  I really don’t like going to Christmas parties, especially with people who I see in foul moods most of the year.  I don’t like listening to Christmas carols, those songs don’t articulate my memories of Christmas from childhood or my feelings right now.  I don’t like going to the mall and fighting crowds just so I can buy a couple items for myself.  I don’t like being told to be jolly or of good cheer.  I hated being told how to think as a kid and I hate being told how to think even more as an adult.  I’ll feel however I like and just not talk about how I feel or think.

I’ll enjoy the holidays regardless if I do it in traditional ways.  I can socialize, but I can do it for hours on end if I have some intelligent conversation.  If small talk comes up I’ll be ready to leave after twenty minutes.  It can be kind of tricky being mentally ill around the holidays.  It can take a few years to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  It certainly took me several years to figure out what to avoid and what to do to ensure a smooth holiday season.

High Expectations and High Standards

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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.

Exercise Pain, Spring’s Renaissance, and Gradual Improvements

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I enjoy the spring season more than any other.  The weather is turning warm, the trees are blooming, the grass is turning lush green, and everything is brimming over with new life and new possibility.  I even enjoy the rain and occasional storms.  Spring is the annual rebirth of nature.

I live in a small town with several parks and lots of hiking trails.  I have visited a few of these parks on almost a daily basis for the last month.  The trees, bushes, flowers, lakes, and wildlife in these parks offer the added benefit of being able to relax and enjoy a little of the natural world while exercising.

Speaking of exercise, I’ve been doing that for longer times on an almost daily basis.  Walked in the light rain and humidity this morning for twenty minutes.  I was unhappy at first that I had to stop after a short time before the aches and pains came on.  What I didn’t take into account was I had been walking forty to sixty minutes four days a week for the last six weeks.  On the other days I was still doing at least twenty to thirty minutes a day.  I track all my exercise and eating on webmd.com in addition to keeping written logs.  When I reviewed these logs, I didn’t realize just how few days off I had.  I think I’ve had only two or three days of no exercise since April 1st.  Last year I made it a point to take at least one day off per week.  My aches and pains are no doubt from pushing myself harder and taking fewer breaks.

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Fortunately my mental health hasn’t suffered.  I probably should go back to the take one day off per week to stay fresh.  When I started exercising and losing weight, I wanted the project to be sustainable weight loss and small changes enacted every so often as my physical well being increased.  I never intended for this to be temporary or drudge work.  Last spring I started tracking everything I ate.  Last summer, I started keeping tabs on how much I exercised.  Other changes I made included decreasing my carbs intake.  I rarely buy or eat bread anymore because I feel sluggish after eating more than a couple slices. I love things like bread, rice with Chinese food, and spaghetti.  So this was a large transition.  It got easier because I felt better mentally and physically on days I kept the carbs low.

A big change I made starting on New Year’s was light weight lifting.  I did this for three times a week for four months.  I gradually increased the weight involved as well as the repetitions.  Gone easy for the last week as I was beginning to over do it.  My muscles let me know I was going too hard.  But it really helped me keep exercising and eating right during the winter.  Some days the weights would be my only exercise.  In spite of the decreased activity of winter, I still lost an average of one pound a week.

Been going pretty hard on the exercise since the first warm up in early March. I haven’t had many days off from exercise. I’m starting to feel it physically.  A couple days off from the grind are in order.  Need to reset and take a little time to reflect on how much has already been accomplished during the previous year.

College, The World of Work, and The New Reality

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I’m taking a detour from my usual posts about mental illness and related issues. Yet this is still a serious topic I’m writing about. It’s about college, the world of work, and the new career and economic realities of life in the early 21st century. Even though I’ve been out of college and in the dreaded ‘real world’ for the last ten years, I still have yet to find the proverbial ‘well paying, well respected’ job that we were told that a college degree would lead to. I know that we’re living in tough economic times and that we’re transitioning to a service based economy from a manufacturing one. But I can’t help but feel like I was sold a bill of goods. It’s as if the old rules of go to college, get a good job, save your money for retirement, and live the American Dream of a house, a spouse, 2.3 kids, etc. no longer apply.

I am convinced we, as Americans, been living the high life for too long. Our expectations are out of whack. There very likely is a limit to how much of ‘the good life’ that we can expect before our standing of living goes down. And I think that we in America have hit it. I suppose this simply couldn’t last forever.

I wonder if those who are now entering college are aware of what’s going on in the world. Lord knows that I, and most of my classmates, had no clue as to what was coming. I still would have gone to college. But I wouldn’t have deluded myself into thinking that I was going straight from college to the good life. I suppose it’s what they call ‘paying your dues.’

Anyway, the rules have changed. College by itself will no longer guarentee you much. So my advise anyone who wants to go to college straight out of high school is this: Don’t go in with your eyes closed. Know that college alone will not guarantee you the easy life and happiness. Buyer beware. If you are still determined to go to college, at least study something that can specifically transfer over in a career. I’m talking about majors in any field of engineering, computer informations systems, accounting, teacher education, computer science, anything in the medical fields, and law. I would especially highly recommend trades like plumbing, welding, electrician, auto mechanics, information technology, anything to do with transportation, mining/extraction, renewable energy, and construction. It seemed that many teachers I knew ran down the skilled trades until they needed their cars fixed or carpentry work done on their houses. Most people I know with liberal arts degrees like english, history, etc. are either working low paying jobs, are becoming college instructors, or went on to law school or business school. Now, I love english and history as much as anyone I’ve ever met. I also didn’t want to teach in a traditional classroom setting. So I read as many history, classic literature, and philosophy books as I could on my own time during my five years in college. The school library was my second home. I may not have had much of a social life but with mental health issues, I didn’t have much of a social life anyway.

I’ve been out in the world outside of school for ten years now. I made some mistakes in the course of my college years. Had I the ability to do over again, I’d have probably studied Computer Science or Information Technology in addition to my business training. I use computers all the time just in my blogging and researching. I have a basic business background, but I don’t have anything specific like accounting. I still would have read a great deal of history, classic literature, and philosophy on my own. I am, however, grateful I never majored in such subjects. My basic business background taught me how to manage my personal finances, which is not required learning in American high schools. When I was questioned ‘why business’ after my foray into Pre-Med failed, I answered something like ‘I don’t have any knowledge of how businesses, banks, money, investments, sales, and economics work. I can learn this and perhaps make myself employable once I get a bachelor’s.’ While I haven’t landed the high paying job, I definitely learned how to budget and get as much out of money as I can. These skills made adapting to life on disability insurance and part time work much easier.

The ideas of how an individual has to budget all their expenses, know where their limited money is going, how compounding interest on credit cards and bank loans work, etc. are not exactly mysteries of the universe. But I had to study business in college to learn these things that, in a truly good education system, would have been addressed to kids in high school and even middle school. The level of financial knowledge in my country is truly sad. This lack of knowledge is why we’re having record numbers of people and businesses going bankrupt. Many marriages are strained and fail because of poor money management. Strained families cause stress and anxiety on everyone involved, especially children. It is why most city, state, and federal governments have such atrocious amounts of debt. Most of this could have been avoided had we been taught how money really works. I would liken this lack of instruction of the primary driver of our modern civilization to an ancient farming society not teaching their kids how to plant, raise, and harvest crops or how to care for livestock.

Many devoutly religious people may counter with the ‘love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ from the Bible and other religious teachings. This has nothing to do with lust for money and power. Teaching money management to kids would tell them how the basic tool of survival in our post industrial age society, money, really works and give them a healthy respect for it. Surely it isn’t so bad to teach kids something in middle and high school that would truly benefit them in their adult lives? Any school that doesn’t teach it’s kids basic survival skills in their given society nor gives those kids the ability to learn on their own after the formal education is done, in short, isn’t justifying it’s own existence. I was fortunate to have studied business in college for my own sake. And I had to learn it in college because it wasn’t taught in a safer environment like a local high school or middle school. I am so grateful I didn’t have to learn about it on the mean streets or the ‘school of hard knocks.’