Have had my days and nights backwards for the last couple weeks. Been getting most of my sleep in the mornings and staying up most of the night. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be negatively effecting my mental stability. If anything this has been the most stable summer I’ve had in years. Granted this sleeping during the days while being up most of the night is putting a cramp on my social life. But I didn’t have much of a social life to start with. So I spend much of my nights listening to audiobooks on youtube. I listen to mostly non fiction science books and some science fiction. I still don’t watch much tv. I’m not even really that excited about football season this year. But I am looking forward to cooler weather. I am glad I have made it through most of the summer with no real problems.
Perhaps I am having fewer problems because I socialize less than I have in previous months and years. I leave my apartment only to run errands and even then I make it a point to run them in the early mornings or late nights to avoid crowds. I have made a point of avoiding angry, irritable, and rude people in person and online. Of course this does limit how many people I hear from or talk to. I really don’t talk to many people anymore, mainly my family and a few friends. Sure it gets kind of lonely but fortunately the loneliness doesn’t last long. I’m glad I don’t have to rely on other people to keep me entertained. Sometimes I am my own best company.
In spite not socializing much I am still optimistic overall. I haven’t been outside of my hometown much this summer. But anymore with the internet, I can still keep in contact with friends and family. And I can keep myself occupied with free audiobooks, free online courses, and free music online. I would have had to spent thousands of dollars for the things I have read or listened to online just fifteen years ago. And I can get all this for a dollar a day in internet service fees. And I love it. I wouldn’t trade living here and now (unless I could be wisked a couple hundred years into the future and be exploring strange new worlds like Star Trek). And I have some of my family members and a few of my friends to be the same way. My best friend from high school (whom I’m still great friends with) loves speculating on future science and social trends when she’s not discussing Game of Thrones. But I guess she gets tired of me talking about baseball and computer games, so that makes us even. My thirteen year old nephew is going to be working with robotics and 3D printers this year in his junior high. And to think I was impressed with the old Apple II GS when I was growing up. I often joke with my niece and nephews that they might not need drivers’ licenses. Now it’s looking like even I might not need a drivers’ license in ten years. Wouldn’t hurt my feelings that much. Sure we don’t have flying cars like Back To The Future said we would, but even that movie didn’t predict the Internet boom, smart phones, or renewable energy starting to become affordable. I wouldn’t even have cable tv except it comes with my apartment.
What I’m getting at is that right now in 2017, despite the bad news we’re constantly hearing on the news channels and our online news feeds, we’re still living in some pretty cool times. It is, in many ways, a good time to be an average person. Sure I may not be able to ever afford a house like my parents or brother. But I don’t need a large house in an affluent suburb with the picket fence and two car garage. I can currently live quite well just in the apartment in the small college town I’m in. I currently don’t need much to live a decent standard of living that even the kings and industrialists of 1900 couldn’t have imagined. It is not, however, a good time to be a control freak or spiteful hate monger. We’re always probably going to have problems like these but, unlike in past eras, the overwhelming general consensus is that being a dictator or hateful person are bad things. For most of civilization’s history, the idea of the ‘divine right of royalty’ or having hatred of people different from your own little group was pretty much unquestioned by the vast majority of people. We have made progress as a species. And we will continue to make progress even if people take it for granted or don’t pay attention to it. The only reason that we don’t hear about the good going on is simply because good news doesn’t sell. Good news doesn’t sell only because we as a species are not wired to pay much attention to good news.
Late summers have traditionally been a tough time for me dealing with mental illness. I usually have to be real careful from late July to early September. So far this year has been different. It could be due to reducing my stress levels and avoiding stressful people and places. It could be due to the medication changes I made a few months ago. And it could be due to changes in my diet. I now don’t eat much wheat or anything that’ll upset my stomach. I have found that I feel better on days I don’t eat bread than on days I do. I have had stomach problems in the past. Stomach issues aren’t uncommon in people with depression and mental health issues. I pretty much limit myself to lots of protein and vegetables anymore. About the only grains I eat on a regular basis anymore are rice based foods. Rice seems to be easier on me than wheat and other grains.
When I do go to restaurants I don’t order things like french fries or most other fried foods. I do occasionally treat myself to chicken strips at KFC. I have pretty much also cut out sugar too. When I do crave caffeine, I usually opt for green tea, coffee, or diet soda. I notice I’m less irritable on days I limit sugar consumption. Easing back on the caffeine was tough the first several days as I would occasionally sleep more than I would like and sometimes experience slight headaches once a day. But I think I have gotten past the worst of the caffeine withdrawal. I used to drink four to six cups of coffee a day, certainly not healthy when dealing with mental health problems.
I have found myself eating more vegetables than usual. Even when I order delivery pizza, I make it a point to get the mostly vegetable pizzas. I don’t feel as weighed down and bloated after a few slices of vegetable pizza as compared to the all meats or cheeses pizzas. Since I’m on a limited budget I have to be careful about buying fresh vegetables that won’t spoil within a couple days. So I usually eat a can of vegetables every days, usually green peas or green beans. I have had some good sweet corn, a Midwest late summer tradition. When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to have sweet corn with dinner three nights a week during the month of August. Most of our meals during late summer involved locally grown sweet corn, tomatoes from our garden, and bacon sandwiches. My parents have introduced my nephews and niece to this August tradition too, even though it will be another few years before the kids develop a taste for tomatoes.
Overall I have felt really decent this summer. I don’t have much drama to report. I’m glad that the push for the playoffs in baseball is starting. I’m also looking forward to the start of football season here in the US in a few weeks. Fall practice has already begun and school will be starting again in a few days. I saw that many countries started their soccer seasons this weekend. I have made a habit of following the US national team since the last World Cup. I hope we make it to the next one coming up in 2018. Since the World Cup will be hosted by Russia next summer, I imagine I’ll be watching soccer at a lot of odd hours to adjust for the time differences. I have kind of gotten into soccer as I have two nephews and a niece who play the game. Even as a kid I was a slow runner but didn’t mind getting hit or hitting others. So that’s why I played football in high school. So that’s why I still watch football in the falls. But we have made it through the long stretch of summer and fall will be here soon. It helps that it has been cooler than usual the last several days in my part of the US. Makes me hopeful for fall and the return of cooler weather.
I see that many schools in my part of the United States are starting their school years again. The college in my hometown starts next week so we will have 18 to 23 year old college students trickling in throughout this week. I actually enjoy my hometown more when the college students are back. I used to go up to the 24 hour Wal Mart during the school year just to see what the college students were up to. Many college age people spent their overnight hours at the Wal Mart just doing goofy college aged stuff. I know I’m old enough now I wouldn’t pass as a college student but I do find the overnight crowd watching entertaining. Reminds me of when my friends and I used to do similar things when we were in college. I’ll probably restart that tradition when school gets going. My friends and I often went to the all night diners on Halloween to see college people and older in their costumes. I didn’t go to the bars on Halloween because the music was always too loud and I don’t deal well with drunk people.
I readily admit to being more nostalgic for my college years than my high school years. For one, most people in college were there because they wanted to be and not because they were legally forced to. I loved college because I, for the first time in my life, wasn’t penalized for being smart and eccentric. I met some eccentric and cool people who made me look neurotypical. One of my friends in college was an incredibly intelligent girl who made me look like I was mentally standing still. We were in a class together that involved lots of writing and class discussions. She always made it a point to keep everyone on our toes and sharp. She had less tolerance for ignorance than I. I miss her and I regret that we had a falling out. I had another cool friend in that class that was really sharp and a real pleasant girl to be around. She had a kind word for everyone regardless. She had her beliefs but she wasn’t as abrasive about hers as I could be about mine. Especially before I became diagnosed I tended to be as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face when I thought someone’s ideas weren’t sound. I never learned the fine art of diplomacy until my college career was almost over.
I enjoyed the all night conversations in the dorms. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to be up until sunrise talking with my roommate, my neighbors, or just random people in the dorm and still be on time for an 8 am class after a couple cups of cowboy coffee. My best friend in college managed to sweet talk the dorm dad into allowing him to have a coffee maker in his dorm. I slept a lot in the afternoons so I could be up all night with the rest of my dorm. I spent a lot of time playing pool and trivia games at the student center. I got to where I was decent at pool but developed a reputation for being so good at trivia games that no one wanted to play me. My friends and I played lots of board games. Trivial Pursuit, Axis and Allies, and Risk were quite common for us. We didn’t play a lot of card games until I moved off campus for my senior year. I didn’t go to any wild fraternity parties as I went to a Christian college and we had an officially dry campus.
I did pledge a fraternity in my freshman year and was active for a couple years. I went independent in my junior year once it became obvious to me that I had to spend more time studying if I wanted to graduate, especially with a mental illness and changing my major. I didn’t do any sports in college besides intramural softball. I still managed to do lots of flag football and ultimate frisbee on the campus green when I was in school. Ruined many t-shirts and gym shoes because of playing in the rain and mud too many times. They should make ultimate frisbee an Olympic sport. It is a real sport. I knew a couple guys who got broken ankles in those games. I enjoyed lifting weights in the school fitness center. I didn’t drive much in college except for road trips. My roommate and I went to New Mexico over Thanksgiving break one year to visit his long distance girlfriend. My best friend and I went trout fishing and hiking in the Black Hills a couple times during Spring Break. Sometimes we’d go to the next college town over and hit the cheap movie theaters. Since most of my friends weren’t drinkers we didn’t do the bars in college. Besides the music in bars is far too loud for any kind of conversation.
If there is a point to my ramblings about my college years back in the pre wireless internet ages, it is in spite my problems with mental illness I still had a good time in college. I made some pretty cool friends I still hear from and have some pleasant memories. I was able to have a better time in college than high school because we were just more accepting of other people and their quirks. People accepted me despite my issues and problems and I accepted them too. I don’t think back on those years often enough. But I certainly feel good when I do.
I have found when I talk to chronically normal people about what life with a mental illness is like, they are often surprised that it mental illness isn’t always the same all the time. They seem to be shocked I have good days, let alone times when I laugh out of happiness. I imagine that even informed normals just think that someone with mental illness problems has nothing but problems. Some just think that because I deal with schizophrenia that I have delusions, paranoia, agitation, and depression all the time. Not so. The Hollywood images of the mentally ill being in a hospital being zombie like or loudly ranting isn’t entirely true. Just because there are those with mental illness who sometimes zone out or act ‘stark raving mad’, that doesn’t mean that even those are like that all the time. No it isn’t all doom and gloom anymore than it is all wine and roses. We have our good days and bad days just like even the most chronically normal individuals.
It may be a jaw dropping shock to some, I do have good days even with a mental illness. I do experience moments of what I understand to be happiness. I have times where I am not depressed. I have times when I am not delusional or paranoid. In fact, most of the time I am not delusional or excessively paranoid. When I do have my problems, sometimes it’s only with depression. Sometimes it’s only with excessive agitation or annoyance. There are some times I deal with depression and paranoia at the same time. I am occasionally depressed and delusional when I do feel that living a life with a mental illness is hopeless and better treatments or, gasp, an actual cure for mental illness will not be coming. Fortunately it is only rare that I deal with agitation, paranoia, and delusions all at the same time. That usually only happens only a handful of times per year, with the worst instances coming in late summers. It is those very rare times that cause me, and my friends and family, the most grief.
Delusions that can’t be shaken for a while, crippling depression, being easily agitated, and excessive paranoia are the worst problems I have as a man with schizophrenia. The hallucinations are taken care of as is the impulsive behavior. Even when I am at my worst, my bark is far worse than my bite. But even then, I can usually be talked down out of it within a couple hours. It can be a lively conversation for those couple hours, and that’s putting it politely. Fortunately I haven’t hurt myself, anyone else, or gotten myself hurt by anyone else during those times. Even with the four major symptoms of my schizophrenia, I usually experience only one or two at a time. That is most of the flare ups I have. The instances where I have three symptoms at once are rare.