Being Ignored While Reaching Out

Saw my parents a couple times over the last few days.  It was good to have visitors for an extended time.  I hardly get any visitors anymore.  I guess I have hit the age where most of my friends are busy with their careers and families.  Other than a few friends who are divorcees, I have only one close friend right who has never been married.  Unfortunately he is quite busy with work and lives in another country.

I feel like I miss out on a great deal because I don’t have a family and can’t work.  Most of my friends conversations revolve around work, spouses, and children.  And sadly, many of my friends are also depressed and anxious.  I guess with most of my friends being in their late 30s and early 40s, I imagine many are experiencing mid life crisis type things.  That and pretty much everyone is more stressed now anyway.  There are times I am quite stressed too even though I have no job or wife or kids.  I spent most of this spring in a deep depression where I would go entire days without leaving my apartment.  Some days I slept twelve to fifteen hours a day because sleep was the only time I didn’t feel anxious or depressed or irritable.  I was isolating from neighbors and avoiding people because I was depressed and anxious and I was depressed and anxious because I was lonely all the time.  And on it went in a vicious cycle.

I miss my friends and family.  I miss having in depth and meandering conversations that cover many different topics.  About the only person I have those with anymore are my mother.  Everyone else seems to be hung up on work, debts, family, etc.  They have become too busy earning a living that they forgot why they stay alive.  Naturally I can’t talk to any of my friend about this.  Because they are too stressed living paycheck to paycheck to engage in anything besides work and sleep it seems.  And I have been having a great deal of paranoia lately that my friends really don’t like me that much.

This paranoia might spring from that most of my friends don’t reach out to me, at least not lately.  Anytime I try to reach out to friends, I usually get no response.  When I do get responses, they are usually short answers or complaints about how bad their lives are and how lucky I am.  It’s really discouraging and sad.  We tell people in distress to reach out for help all the time.  Yet, what is the point of reaching out when most of time we are ignored or made fun of?  And people wonder why, in spite of our prosperity and having all but conquered absolute poverty, we are unhappy and depressed.  We are unhappy and depressed precisely because we don’t make efforts to connect to people or answer those who are lonely.  We bought into the whole rugged individualism to where we believe we have to just bear it if we can’t solve our own problems.  This is really heartless and stupid.  In our age, we are far more interdependent than any of us as individuals or nations realize.  And until we acknowledge this and adapt accordingly on an individual, civilizational, and species level, we will only see our issues of anxiety, depression, and loneliness become far worse.  We are already seeing epidemic levels of stress related illnesses.  If mental health problems got even a fraction of the attention that physical illnesses like cancer got, we would be well on our way to alleviating these problems.  Yet, we as a society and individuals choose to make them worse in those around us and in ourselves.

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Changes In Interests With Mental Illness

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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.

 

Socializing One on One (We Are Not That Different)

 

I have been trying to figure out normal people for most of my life.  I have tried to find a basic statement to make sense of my fellow man, much like Einstein’s theory of relativity or the equation Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration.  The only real conclusion I have come to can be summed by Tommy Lee Jones in the first Men In Black movie when he said, “The individual is smart, but people as a group are stupid, panicky animals.”  Ever since I was a young child I have found taking my fellow humans one on one much easier and enriching than dealing with crowds, groups, or cliques.  I have always gotten along with most of my school mates and elders when working with them one on one.  Not so much when they were in large groups.  People have always seemed more civil and easy going if I could talk to them one on one or even in small groups. Sadly we seldom ever get to talk with our neighbors, extended family members, coworkers much on a one to one basis.  There are times I’ve had more in depth conversations with people from different nations over Facebook than with people in my apartment complex.  I like the digitized friends I have in some of my interests pages groups on Facebook more than I do my own neighbors.  But I didn’t have much say in who my neighbors were.

Some of my happiest memories from junior high and early high school came from the weekend ‘lock in’ parties that my school and church participated in.  We’d have movies, snacks, board games, card games, and just stay up all night and chat with the fellow school mates.  I used to get into those extremely in depth conversations with my classmates I may have not had much to do with on a regular basis during the course of a school week. I would talk with people I thought I had nothing in common with until my voice was raspy and my throat hurt. Those times made me realize that everyone else has their own problems, fears, and hangups.  We as students, or the community as a whole, may stick us in groups like jocks, nerds, cowboys, preppies, party animals, thugs, basket cases, beauty queens, conservatives, liberals, artists, rich, poor, etc.  All the window dressing and nonsense aside, people actually have far more in common with each other than we are lead to believe by our culture and leaders. One guy at these lock ins told me that he was under constant pressure from his parents to be a great athlete because his father was a great athlete years before.  Another kid told me that even though she came from a devoutly religious family she had her skepticisms and doubts.  A third kid told me even though he came from a wealthy farming family he had little interest in farming once he was done with high school but would probably do so to please his parents and grandparents. One kid told me he was envious of how smart I was and I told him I was envious of how popular and handsome he was.  Who would have ever guessed?  Another kid I was envious of because he got excellent grades, was handsome, and wasn’t lacking in confidence by any measure (not that I could tell at least) that he was envious of me because of my smarts, my not being afraid to take unpopular stands, and because of my friendship with my female best friend.  One way he put it went something like, “Neither of you has to worry about ever finding dates for the weekend.  You can always ask each other.”  Another guy told me about my female best friend, “You two go together so well you get along better than most married couples.” I may not have had a lack of dates in high school, but they were usually with the same girl and always casual.  I had far more dates in high school than college, but most my dates even in high school came before my mental illness took full effect.  But too much stress is placed of finding love and trying to get laid, especially in high school.  I miss those lock ins and opportunities to get to know my classmates on a less structured and formal basis.  It’s about the only thing I miss about junior high, but I definitely would love opportunities to get to know my neighbors better.  Perhaps we in the modern world suffer from too much structure and formality.  Maybe that is why we are more irritable and short tempered than we should be.

 

Mental Illness and Friendships

Earlier this week I had one of my best friends from college spend a few days at my apartment.  We went out to eat at a couple of places I had been meaning to try.  We went to Omaha to catch a minor league baseball game, which is a fun way to spend an evening and can be done for less than $25 a person pretty easily.  We had front row seats on the first base line and the seats cost only $13.  I took him to one of the parks I go for walks in and crowd watch.  We also chatted extensively about topics near and dear to us, topics like economics, future tech possibilities, history, our fantasy league baseball teams, dating experiences, etc.  I’m going to see him again in July when I go to the Black Hills of South Dakota as I’m one of the groomsmen in his wedding.  I got remeasured for a suit and, even though the weight loss has slowed for the last couple months, I am actually down a few inches in most of my measurements.  Go figure.

For the few days he was here, I had no problems with the mental illness flaring up.  While I am quite steady most of the time anymore, I still have moments of weakness when the problems come creeping back.  I haven’t completely mastered warding off these flare ups, but have learned not to act on these negative emotions and thoughts.  Even when I have the flare ups, I’ll usually just rant and rave but not actually act out physically.  And my family, to their credit, put up with it and don’t try to argue with me when this occurs.  By now we’ve figured out the best way to get out of a down ward spiral is to often allow me to just burn myself out by ranting for awhile as long as I don’t physically threaten anyone or myself.  The odd thing about having schizophrenia is when I am having these psychotic breakdowns is I am completely aware of what is going on and what I am saying but the impulse controls are not working nearly as well.  Fortunately for all of us involved my bark is far worse than my bite.  And to their credit, my family and friends endure my problems and quirks like champs.  That is why it is important to keep in contact with friends and at least attempt to keep things civil with family members.  They can help smooth things out when things go bad.  They also make living far more interesting.  The most important thing in life is our friendships and relationships with other humans.

Coping With Losing Friends During Mental Illness

 

            When I was in high school I began having problems with what was the beginnings of my mental illness.  I began to act very strange and unusual.  I had developed a very volatile temper because of my mental illness.  Before I became ill I was very easy going and I didn’t get upset very easily.  In grade school I was even one of the class clowns.  All of that changed when my mental illness came into being.

            I would get very angry over anything and everything.  The most meaningless snide comments from a classmate would often be enough to make me very angry.  It also came to be that I hated many of my classmates because I believed that they were out to harm me.  This was, as I learned in retrospect, due to the paranoid aspect of my schizophrenia.  I would often be very defensive and standoffish.  I would rarely open up to anyone with the exception of my best friend.  I never got into any fights in high school but I came close several times.

            Since I was building up walls around myself and not opening up to anyone, my friends gradually disappeared.  I didn’t notice this at first.  It wasn’t until I was almost half way through my senior year of high school I realized that all of my friends were gone.  Looking back I know that was because I had become standoffish, distant, bizarre, paranoid, and very angry.  All of this was occurring for no outside apparent reason, but within my brain I was undergoing massive upheavals.

            I know now that my parents knew that something was severely bothering me.  Yet since I was so paranoid I kept my issues to myself.  This didn’t help at all.  It made things much worse to have to put up a false front and have a developing mental illness at the same time.  I was terrified of what would happen if I let my parents know what was really going on inside of my mind.  It was terrifying enough for me to experience it and not know what was going to happen from one moment to the next.  I had no idea how to tell them I wasn’t all right at all. 

    How do you tell someone what is wrong with you when even you don’t know what’s developing?  We know all about the symptoms of heart problems and cancer.  We have those hammered into our heads by the press and popular culture all of the time.  Yet the public at large is still quite ignorant of the symptoms of mental illness and mental health problems.  I didn’t even know what I was going through had a name or that I wasn’t alone when I first became ill in the late 1990s.  The Internet was still in its infancy and information on mental health and mental illness issues was not very easy to find.  I had no idea what was going on inside my head.  My paranoid aspects of my illness made me reaching out for help from other people almost impossible.

I certainly didn’t seek the help of my school counselor.  I was fearful that talking to the school counselor would be ineffective.  I had my head full of visions of counselors asking questions about my childhood and making me tell them what I saw in large inkblots.  I was also scared of getting labeled because I went to a very small high school with less than one hundred students in the entire high school.  I was paranoid enough that I didn’t want my problems becoming public knowledge.  High school kids are notorious enough for being gossips and cruel.  I just knew, in my paranoid state, that my classmates were already talking behind my back.  I just knew that going to the school counselor would have made things much worse.

Since my classmates knew I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs they had to know that something was really messed up with me.   It’s easy to dismiss someone’s erratic behavior because of drinking or drugs.  But because of the lack of public knowledge and discourse about mental illness, the possibility that someone’s odd actions may be due to an undiagnosed mental illness will almost never occur to someone.  So looking back on my high school days, I can see why my classmates were alienated from me.  It wasn’t because of anything malicious; it was because they had no idea of how to work with a classmate with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I have to attribute that to a lack of knowledge and public discussion about mental illness.

Fortunately I made several friends in college who accepted me in spite of my mental illness.  By then I was being treated and the treatments were quite effective.  Thanks to the Internet and social media like Facebook.com, I have kept in contact with many of my college friends.  I am also now reestablishing contact with my friends from high school that had become alienated because of the onset of my paranoid schizophrenia.

I have had a few friends tell me that because of me they have been able to better understand those with mental illnesses.  I have also been told that simply because of being friends with me they have gotten past many of the stigmas and prejudices that are associated with mental illness.  I’m glad that there have been some positives to come from my mental illness.