I Am Mentally Ill But More Optimist Than Most Normal People

Even though I’ve been house bound because of the recent cold and snow for the last few days, I’ve been in a pretty decent mood.  Too bad it seems like no one else I interact with is.  I have been dealing with people in foul and bitter moods in most my personal interactions lately.  I have, for the last several years, made it a point to find out what is going well in the world.  And I try to tell my friends, neighbors, and family what is actually going well.  Of course my words fall on deaf ears most of the time.  I am more often than not greeted with dead silence, as if I didn’t say anything.  I would rather people tell me how much of a liar I am then be ignored or met with indifference.  I swear to God that most people not only find meaning in their misery, they are actually proud of being angry and miserable.  And it is wearing on me.  It is wearing on me so much that I more or less avoid socializing as much as possible anymore.  What is the point of opening up to people if they are just going to try to drag you and everything else down?

I am not anti social, believe it or not.  And it’s especially painful for me when I try to socialize and I hear nothing but doom, gloom, that humanity is getting dumber with each passing day, the “damn kids” are going to be the death of us all, ad nauseam.  I don’t want to hear it anymore.  I really don’t.  Take that gutter tripe to someone else.  I for one know the world isn’t heading to hell in a hand basket, no matter how bad my neighbors and family want it to.  I have this terrible habit of trying to think for myself and do my own research.  I actually challenge what I hear and even believe. Of course this doesn’t make me popular at all.  But if I have to be shallow, stupid, trendy, and doing what everyone else around me is to be popular, then I want nothing to do with popularity.  I don’t even want to socialize with such people.  I’d rather spend my days alone and interacting through digital means than be forced to listen to panicked and uninformed people gripe and moan all the time.  I want to socialize, but when I do I face primarily irritable and rude people.  No thanks, I’ll just keep to myself while you take your petty grievances and proud to be victim mentality to someone else.

I’ve dealt with pessimists and worriers my entire life.  And I used to be one of these pessimists and worriers.  But once I got out on my own and away from most of the people I knew growing up, I found out that things are actually improving all over.  I certainly didn’t know it from the monopoly on outside information my elders had over me as a child.  Once I ventured out on my own into that “cold cruel world” my elders told me was going to kick my butt every day until I died, I found out that most problems are more manageable and solvable than people realize.  They just got to stop griping and moaning long enough to come up with possible solutions and keep acting until one works.  I not only found the world wasn’t the horrible hellish nightmare my elders and teachers told me it was, but some pretty cool stuff and people are out there.  Too bad the negative gets far more attention than the good.  Once I figured out that civilization was not the kill or be killed jungle people told me it was, I became very angry with my teachers, elders, and even my family for having misled and even outright lied to me my entire youth.

And now I see people my age as parents who gripe about how bad the kids are today when not even twenty years ago, their elders were saying the same tripe about them.  Are people so forgetful and stupid they don’t learn from their past?  I swear for ours being the species that had enough empathy to build the trust in each other to move out of the caves and build a pretty cool civilization that is now on the door step to the stars (we need but open the door and walk in), we certainly despise the less experienced members of our species who are also in their prime physical and breeding years.  Why is that?  Are we fearful of our own mortality that much?  Are we fearful of the fact that someday the world will carry on as if you and I never existed?  Are we fearful of the truth that we are not the center of existence like we too often think we are?  We are dust in the wind, dude to quote Keanu Reeves from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

I am told that socializing is good for my mental health problems.  Is it really when most people I meet are in lousy moods with little hope?  I don’t think so.  I am also told to avoid negative and rude people.  I do that, but most people I meet anymore are negative and rude.  I’ll just stay home and not interact in public for now.  Too many people trying to kill my hope and vibe.  I won’t let that happen.  Just because the people I am around are irritable and worried, I won’t be.  I spent most of my youth being worried and angry because of being misinformed by people I had no choice but to trust.  I was sad and often hopeless as a child.  Now that I’m a grown man, I refuse to go through that again.  I don’t care how irritable and pessimist everyone else is around me.  I refuse to partake.  And if that means living the life of a hermit, so be it.

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I Am Not Anti Social

For years my family have been on my case trying to get me to socialize more.  Even as a child I preferred to stay home and read my books as opposed to go to the big social activities in my farming village, namely high school sports games and county fairs in the summers.  I never did enjoy such activities as much as most people.  I mean, I enjoyed playing football and running track in high school far more than I did watching them.  And anything I could see at a county fair or Fourth of July parade, I could see any day of the year just by looking around my town.  No, I would have rather spent my time reading about far off places I would probably never get to see, read about a past that most people will never learn, and read about future possibilities (both good and bad) that I would probably not live long enough to see.

And because of my “different” set of interests, I was condemned by my parents, town elders, and even my classmates as being “anti social.”  Yet, this was an absolutely unfair accusation.  I love socializing, I just had different interests than most people I knew growing up.  I was 11 years old before I made a friend who had the same interests in music, history, geopolitics, science, etc. that I did.  And he too was an outcast among my people.  When I was 13, I met the girl who later became the best friend I ever had.  See still is my best friend even 25 years later.  She was even more interested in tech and geopolitics than even I was.  She was also the first person my age I ever met who loved reading even more than I did.  So we wound up spending a great deal of our teenage years at each other’s house.

Naturally, most people in my school thought we were romantically involved even before high school.  No we weren’t.  She was among the handful of people in my hometown who shared my interests and I shared hers.  As a result of being so different from my peers, I always thought there was something defective with myself all the way through my junior high and high school years.

It wasn’t until I spent a little time at college did I realize that I wasn’t defective.  I did much better socially in college than I did as a kid in my hometown.  I made lots of acquaintances, several really cool friends I still hear from via facebook, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t condemned for having nerdy interests or loving to read.  When I was a kid, my classmates would often yank a book I was reading right out of my hands.  They would often steal my textbooks and sheet music in band.  About the only book I never had stolen from me as a teenager was my football playbook and my Bible.  Even though I am almost 40 years old, I still don’t get why people that don’t read much hate those of us that do.  I mean, is wanting knowledge and wisdom such an evil thing?  Why, if it weren’t for acquired knowledge and wisdom being passed down from elders to children, we would have never even survived the Stone Age.  I can’t stand people who are proud of being unread and unknowing and ignorant.  The Dunning – Kruger effect is alive and well in those types.

I guess if there is a point to this post it is this, I am not nearly as anti social as my family and neighbors fear I am.  I can go for hours on end on things that interest me.  About the only things I don’t like talking about are my neighbors, office politics, popular culture, tv shows, stupid stunts going viral on youtube, or engaging in endless and pointless debates on facebook and twitter trying to get points across to people.  Proving people wrong isn’t going to make them like you.  I found this out the hard way.  Now if I am able to win someone to my line of thinking, it is an ongoing and gradual process where there really isn’t one ‘eureka’ moment.  It does get frustrating repeating the same ideas over, and over, and over only to feel like you are not making any difference.  I understand why good teachers burn out before their prime.  Sometimes I feel like I am not making any positive difference.  But we are local and linear thinkers, our species.  And for most of our existence that has served us extremely well.  That’s why it’s so hard to see the large picture or imagine what the future could be, it’s not natural to us.  It is also why visionaries are ridiculed, condemned, and sometimes even killed only for the children of the people that condemned these visionaries to see that the visionary was right all along and it was conventional wisdom that had it wrong.

I am not anti social.  Never have been.  Never will be.  I just have broader range of interests than most people I know.  And talking about neighbors, politics, office going ons, gossip, popular culture, etc. gets old and stale for me real quick.  After about five minutes of such gutter tripe I have gotten the idea and am ready to move onto other topics.

Making a Bachelor Pad a True Home with Mental Illness

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I admit to having been quite lax about taking care of my living quarters during the previous year or so.  Mentally I was stable, but that was mainly because I didn’t leave my apartment much.  I would stay home, read books, read online articles, watch science lectures and videos on youtube and curiosity stream, and ride my exercise bike a few times a week.  Yet I wasn’t taking care of my place like I should have been.  I used the excuse that I didn’t have guests very often and didn’t even really want guests.  But, there are going to be times when people have to visit us even unannounced.

But now that I’m gaining an even stronger sense of stability with my schizophrenia, I’m taking steps to remedy these problems.  I recently hired a cleaning person.  She’s been to my place a few times.  I think it’s going to work out well.  I had gotten lazy about keeping on top of the place, especially after my back went bad several months ago.  But I have lost some weight since the autumn and got some maintenance issues cleared up.  I was lazy about clutter and while I could find anything I needed in my place, no one else could.  In my occasionally paranoid state, I thought that by rarely leaving my apartment for any true length of time, I could make the problems manage themselves.  Well, that wasn’t happening.  Problems never take care of themselves.

I’m better able to stay on top of things because I asked for help.  Breaking down and admitting when I need outside assistance is one of the toughest things for me to do.  I imagine part of this is my natural paranoia (I was kind of paranoid even before I developed full schizophrenia), my illness itself, being still relatively young, and being a bachelor man.  Some men are notorious about not asking for outside help until a crisis develops and I am definitely no exception.

My place is feeling more like a true home rather than a mad monk’s chamber in a medieval monastery.  I received frames for the art work I had bought from an old friend for Christmas.  Got those hanged on my walls.  Now the place looks more cheerful and less dreary.  I had forgotten how good wall decorations could make a place look.  For the first several years out of college, I hung posters and pennants of my favorite rock stars, sports teams, and snarky but comical quotes on my walls.  It looked like a frat house except no girly pics or deer antlers wearing hats and Mardi Gras beads. My first bachelor pads out of school had the antlers but my girlfriends probably wouldn’t have liked the girly pictures.

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As far as decorations go, I have some nature artwork done by one of my old high school friends, a painting of an alien landscape inspired by science fiction literature done by an artist acquaintance (sadly lost contact with him when I withdrew from the local arts scene), and a world map with push pins in the countries where I had visitors to this blog from.  The list of my countries I have not had visitors from is now quite short after almost six years of regular blogging.  Even though the place is more decorated now than even this time a year ago, I’m still thinking about adding to my wall art collection.  And yes, I am far beyond the age where things like stolen road signs, snarky posters, and alcohol advertisements are appealing.

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Fighting Battles Against The Pessimism of My Friends and Family

Been isolating for most of the last week or so even though I desire to have conversations and interact with people again.  Yet a paranoid part of me is fearful of socializing.  When I make it a point go out of my apartment and socialize, I am usually met my irritable and angry people.  Many of my fellow tenants are in foul moods, even more so than usual.  That’s why I don’t socialize with my neighbors.  The very few times people make it a point to interact with me, they are usually upset over often trivial tripe.

I admit I wasn’t raised to be an optimist.  I almost never heard anything positive about life or the world in general even while growing up in a prosperous family during the prosperous 1990s.  Now it just seems like everyone is wanting to fight over the pettiest and stupidest nonsense.  I see it in my friends and family social media posts every day.  I hear it almost every time I call friends and even family on the phone.  I hear from my neighbors every time I step out of my apartment to run errands or even pick up my mail.  And I am burned out.  I’m burned out on all socializing.  I just want to stay home, read my books, and mess with my computers anymore.  I have no interest in interaction with rude, angry, and stupid people.  And people think I need to be on anti psychotic medications.  There seem to be plenty of people out there who probably could stand to be too if their rhetoric in public conversation is any indication.

I am not a optimist by nature.  I used to be a real pessimist, especially in junior high and high school.  I had friends and school mates, when fed up with my moaning, would say things like “drink yourself happy like everyone else” or “snap out of it.”  One of my buddies in college, when I was complaining about constantly being rejected when I asked women on dates, had enough and asked, “Zach, do you believe in God?”  I said, “Yeah”. He then answered, “If God wants you to have a woman in your life, he will miracle you one in a way even you can’t mess it up.  If not, well nothing you can do about it.”    Well, I never did have much success with dating, but I am better off on my own most of the time considering the circumstances.

Over the years of observing things happen in the world and in my own life, by the time I hit my early thirties I came to acknowledge a great truth about life in general.  This truth is that most of what we worry about almost never happens or turns out to be more manageable than previously thought.  Even the tragedies of life, like a range fire, can provide nutrient rich soil for new life and possibilities.  I am actively looking for the positives that will come from our current state of affairs in civilization as a whole.  I saw the UN’s report on climate issues stating that we have only a generation or two to start cleaning things up or we’re going to have to deal with serious consequences.  I understand that many of my friends and readers don’t accept the science behind climate change, but they don’t have to.  Most scientists, many business leaders, and people that can and will make a difference do and are making changes as I write this.  We don’t really need even the majority of people to approve of the changes that are being made.  Sheesh, it was only a small percentage of the population in the American colonies who fought in the Revolution against the British.  And I must say, I’m glad they did.  It was only a small portion of the population back in the late 1800s who wanted to enact voting rights for women and get rid of child labor.  It eventually happened.  I’m glad these things happened.  People who fight against scientific, social, humanitarian, tech, etc. progress usually find themselves on the wrong side of history.  Change is happening all around us.  It can be delayed but it is inevitable.

I’m tired of pessimists in general.  I’ve been surrounded by them my entire life.  I was forced to listen to them growing up because we had no internet to expose the facts and because, well, I had no choice in the matter of who I socialized with growing up in such a small village.  Before the internet, all I knew about of the outside world was what CNN and Fox News bothered to tell my naive Nebraska farm boy ears.  And once I started looking around and seeing most of the predictions of hell on earth not coming to fruition, I became quite angry.  I had spent years not being told what was going right.  I could have made different plans had I had all sides of what was actually going on, not just the bad.  I essentially wasted my teens and most of my twenties, the years of my physical prime, making decisions made from one sided information.  And due to this righteous indignation, I started searching out what was actually going right.

It is tough trying to break my friends and family’s myths about how bad life sucks.  I am almost always met with thunderous silence or told outright that I am a liar.  And it’s tough to remain optimist when few others even try to.  But, let’s face it, the crowds are almost always wrong.  The best thing to do in most cases is the opposite of what everyone else is doing.  Wisdom of crowds my foot.  But I will continue to attempt to break the myths my friends and family cling to, at least the myths that say life sucks.

Reinventing Myself While Living With Schizophrenia

 

I admit I don’t have good social skills.  Never have and probably never will.  Part of it may have come from growing up in a rural town of less than 500 residents without much in the way of diversity or culture.  That and I didn’t know many people who shared my interests in science, science fiction, and fantasy type stories until I went to college.  To this day I have never bought a comic book.  I was 31 before I played my first D&D game.  I didn’t read any Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark until a couple years ago.  I didn’t sit down and watch an episode of Star Trek start to finish until I was in my thirties.  And besides the D&D, I enjoy all of these things.  I would have loved to discovered this stuff twenty five years ago.  Most people in my childhood hometown were interested in mostly farming, hunting, football, church, and politics.  I can discuss such things but they do get old after even a few minutes and then you’re just rehashing reruns of reruns.  While I didn’t hate my hometown as a child, I was quite bored and always felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a result I didn’t socialize except when I was forced to.  It’s not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  I just have a wide range of interests that growing up where I did just wasn’t able to satisfy.

I suppose in some ways now that I’m on disability insurance and don’t have to work a regular job (not that I could with my depression, paranoia, and anxiety), I feel like I’m getting a second chance at my adolescence.  Sure I’m in my late 30s, don’t have the physical strength I did at age 18, and I’m not interested in trying to get laid, but in some ways I still feel youthful.  I am enjoying my thirties far more than I ever did my teenage years.  In some ways, I feel like my thirties are kind of like my adolescence in that I have different possibilities every day as to how I want to spend my days.  And I don’t have to deal with bullies or irritable elders yammering on about how the ‘cold cruel world’ is going to kick my idealistic butt.  I had my butt kicked many times in my teens and twenties by my mental illness and trying in vain to find a job so I could be considered a ‘productive member of society’ or considered a ‘real man’ by fools and jerks whom I really couldn’t care less about.

My teens and twenties, besides the mainly truly happy times I felt in college because I got to work with smart and interesting people every day, by and large were lousy.  In fact, they sucked.  I pretty much spent my twenties going from one dead end job to another, one ill fitting relationship to another, finding out that the real world doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to all the while having psychotic breakdowns every few months along the way.  By the time I qualified for disability insurance at the age of 28 I realized that there is no set script to life.  I didn’t have to follow anyone’s script for me.  I could feel free to change my script anytime I want.  And I have.

Every one is free to change their life as long as they are willing to make sacrifices here and there.  Anyone who hates their thankless job could stride up their boss tomorrow, quit in a blaze of glory, and live the life of a nomad who answers to no one but their own limitations and nature itself.  But almost no one does because they aren’t willing to sacrifice their incomes, their prestige, their families, their McMansions, etc.

You can do what you like and are good at, it’s just what are you willing to give up to get there?  I have my freedom and I live quite happy in spite being on disability.  But I had to be inflicted with schizophrenia through no misdeeds of my own, give up ever having a traditional career, give up the shot at getting rich (it isn’t just monks and priests that take the vow of poverty), give up any shot of ever having a family or any kind of romance life (again, clergy aren’t the only ones who take vows of celibacy), and it can be quite lonely at times.  But I value my freedom.  I value my intelligence and wisdom.  I strive every day to make myself smarter, better read, better cultured, and wiser.

But it all came at a price.  It was a price that, at age 16 before I started having my problems with schizophrenia, I would have said ‘no way am I paying that price.’  I paid the price for my freedom and wisdom.  And, as it is, I am thankful I took the paths I did.  Statistically speaking, people with my diagnosis usually wound up lifetime institutionalized, homeless, in prison, or dead at a very young age for most of history.  I’m happy I beat the odds.  I’m happy I didn’t become just another statistic.

Everything else from this point in my life is just chicken gravy as far as I’m concerned.  So yes, I am going to be happy.  I am going to share my joy with other people while they gripe and moan about their jobs, their spouses, and humanity in general.  And if people think I’m overly optimistic or a hopeless Pollyanna, well it was one rugged process surviving from age eighteen until my early thirties when I finally learned to say, “screw others expectations, I am doing what I want.”  And I didn’t come to this conclusion all at once.  It was a gradual evolution.  My physical health may be not what it once was, but I am far happier now than I was ten years ago.  And that is mainly because I learned to let go of others’ expectations and a type of regular life that was never going to materialize.  In short, dance like no one’s watching; no one is.  Everyone else is too busy with the petty concerns of their own lives.

My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

Thoughts on Changes Since Childhood

I’m currently at my parents’ house for a couple days for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My brother, his wife, and their four kids are here too.  We have seven of us sleeping in the basement but at least I get my old bedroom.  That way I can retreat and regroup if need be.  But my brothers’ kids are well behaved and old enough they shouldn’t give me many problems.

This is the first time in months I have been back to my old childhood home.  A lot has changed in this town since I moved out in 2005.  For one, all of my old high school friends have moved away.  The cousins that stayed have families of their own.  Most of my old teachers have retired or moved to bigger schools.  All my grandparents and a couple of my uncles have died.  My old grade school was torn down.  The retail store I worked in during the summers went out of business.  In many ways this isn’t the same town I grew up in during the 80s and 90s.  I haven’t been getting back to my parents’ place much the last several years as none of my old friends live around here anymore.  In many ways, this is no longer my town.  It doesn’t feel like home and it hasn’t for several years.

I bring up growing up and the changes my parents’ place have gone under because, with my mental illness, those years I grew up here seem like someone else’s life.  I started having problems with depression and anxiety when I was seventeen.  I was doing quite well in school and involved in many different activities.  It seemed like I was on the fast track to a career and life of my dreams, at least that was until the depression and anxiety started.  Twenty years later, my seventeen year old self wouldn’t even recognize the thirty seven year old man I am now.  I imagine my seventeen year old self would have seen who I am today as a failure.  Back then I knew nothing of mental illness and disability.  Like many teenagers, I also didn’t have as much empathy as many adults who have had their ups and downs, wins and losses.

If nothing else, fighting this mental illness for twenty years has taught me how to have more empathy for people different than myself.  It has taught me patience and how to accept things I can’t change.  It has taught me that, contrary to popular belief, life isn’t about keeping up with other people.  Life is mainly about competing with your self and being the best you that you are capable of being.  He who dies with the most toys is just as dead as anyone else in the cemetery.

I haven’t been giving much time to reflecting on the past for the last few years.  I have mainly been focused on the present and future possibilities.  I normally have little use for nostalgic thoughts.  But I’m sure having them now that I’m at my childhood home for the first time in months.  I guess the nostalgia has shown me how much I lost because of this mental illness.  Yet, in spite of the life that never was, I think I still have a great deal to stay alive for.  I’m interested to see what the next twenty years in this life of mental illness will show me.  I can only guess what changes will have come by the time 2037 rolls in.