Thoughts on Friendships, Working, and the Past

Been more stable than usual for the last couple weeks.  Besides the fact I usually stay up all night, go to bed at sunrise, sleep until early afternoon, and then wake up for good, I don’t have much unusual going on right now.  Perhaps one of the reasons I have stabilized lately is that I have a routine that works for me.  I usually don’t alter it unless necessary.  I had to be up early a few days ago so maintenance could do some work in my place.  Spent a few hours out of my place and socializing with fellow tenants like old times.  Even though I haven’t socialized much over the last several months, I picked up like I never left off.  I was lucky in that I ran into a few of the more interesting tenants and we were able to do more than talk about the weather or complain about other people.  Mundane chit chat really drains me real fast.  That’s why I don’t do well at large social gatherings or Christmas parties.

Been reestablishing a couple of the friendships I had lost contact with over the last few years.  There are more I’d like to get back going.  One of my best friends from childhood I’d love to get back in contact with but I haven’t seen him in almost twelve years.  It’s a sad deal because we were almost like family to each other in junior high and high school.  Very interesting man.  But we just lost contact over the years.  I lost contact with most of my old high school friends besides one or two of them.  In 2019, my twenty year reunion is coming.  I’m probably not going as most of the friends I had as a teenager aren’t the type that go to reunions.  And part of me is afraid to go back after fighting mental illness for my entire adult life and falling apart the way that I have.  One of the reasons I’m not very nostalgic about my youth, or the past in general, is that high school, at least for me, was the toughest four years of my life.  I can’t imagine how tough they would have been had I not had the interesting and stimulating friends that I did.

I had some great times in college.  It was far more fun and stimulating than I experienced anywhere before or since.  It was one of those experiences that, as much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t realize how rare it would be compared to the rest of my life.  I think I’m starting to understand why most people don’t like their jobs and think adulthood sucks.  I might be in the same camp had I not had a mental illness destroy any shot I ever had at a decent career.  I never could adapt to office politics or the thought that mediocrity in the workplace and life in general was acceptable.  I certainly couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that being good at a job meant that I was a threat to my coworkers and bosses. Workplaces really are like living Dilbert cartoons.  I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but Dilbert and The Peter Principle aptly describe my experiences in the American workplace.

Even though I’m fighting a mental illness and don’t have much money, I’m pretty happy overall for the most part.  Not having a career made me realize that we really don’t need a lot of money if just having a happy existence is your main goal.  For years I have heard people say things like “you never hear a dying man say he wishes he worked more or had more possessions”.  And then these same people would work themselves into poor health, excessive stress, and destroy their personal relationships and families pursuing possessions and excessive working.  I think this is stupid.  Learn from the mistakes of the dying generations already.  Stop parroting their thoughts and then doing the exact opposite.  I guess I had to lose a career and my prestige to find my sanity and peace.

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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.

The pains and joys of being a geek with mental illness

I still don’t socialize much.  But that’s because I don’t feel like I need to.  Some of my best friends I can chat with over Facebook or the phone.  Besides, all some people want to chat about are mundane things like the weather or pointless gossip.  Conversations without any real intelligent substance really weigh on me.  They sap my energy and often aggravate me.  And the longer I’ve been out of school, the worse it gets.  Sure there were quite a few people who, when I went to school, thought education was for losers and being ignorant was cool.  But, good grief, now that I’m an adult those people are in the vast majority.  I was always told that more wisdom came with age.  Not necessarily so.  I know people in their sixties and seventies who are less mature and intelligent than some junior high kids.  It’s tiring and sad to see stupidity and ignorance being championed in my culture.  I see it in my daily life and I see it when I log onto the internet or watch my tv: ignorance is praised and wisdom is condemned.

Was it always this way that smart people were ostracized?  Is it this way in other cultures and times?  Since I’ve been out of the USA only once in my life, I really have no first hand experience with other cultures other than my own.  And in my culture, intelligence simply isn’t valued.  I have felt out of place among my own people and culture for as long as I can remember.  People thought it odd that my friends and I liked to talk about history, science, and current events more than school yard gossip and popular culture.  I was good at speech, drama, and knowledge bowl competitions, but I got far more recognition from being a mediocre football player.  And my school was more academically inclined than most schools in my region.

I have always felt like an outsider.  And developing a mental illness in my late teens only made it more pronounced.  But I suppose that being an outsider as a kid made me resilient enough to navigate a serious mental illness.  And it’s this sense of being an outsider that allows me to endure long stretches of time in solitude.  It’s this sense of being an outsider that frees me to go against popular norms and look at problems in different ways.  It’s the sense of being an outsider that took away a lot of old fears that held me back in my younger years.  I don’t fear looking like a fool.  I don’t fear being wrong because I can learn from being wrong more than I can always giving the teachers the “right” answers.  Besides, all grades measure in school is how good a kid can conform to the existing system.  Well, the existing system is becoming obsolete and is going to get changed before too many years.  It is unavoidable.  Why measure fact retention when I can look up any fact on google and wikipedia within a few seconds?  In future generations, kids are going to have to be taught to be problem solvers and deep thinkers. It matters less that, for example, that Sacramento is the capital of California than say, why Sacramento and not Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Or instead of knowing that Columbus sailed for the Americas in 1492, it would be better to explain how he was able to convince the Spanish throne to give him the funds, how he kept his crew motivated when setting off on a potential suicide mission, or what effects there were by the Europeans meeting with the Native Americans.  In the automated future, fact retention and unthinking obedience is going to matter much less than creativity and problem solving or skills that computers can’t master yet.  And it can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, the geeks and nerds won the culture wars.  Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have much more influence and money than even Michael Jordan or David Beckham.  Geeks and nerds coming out in force is probably why there have been so many comic books made into movies the last several years.  Heck, even video gaming is becoming a competitive sport.  But I guess if bowling and poker are, why not video gaming?  Science and tech are gaining in influence and prestige while aspects of our past like war and poverty are going in decline. We are very fortunate that there hasn’t been any major wars between developed nations since the end of World War II.  I fear such wars would go nuclear.  So it’s a great development that we as a species are starting to lose our stomachs for violence, war, and bloodshed.  Practices like human sacrifices and near constant raiding and war used to be the norm not that many generations ago.  Such practices are considered barbaric relics of when our civilizations were less mature.  And it’s largely thanks to the geeky outcasts and their science and tech advances.

I want to end on a positive note.  I am grateful to be a geeky outsider.  I hated it as a teenager, but it was for the better.  It made me better able to deal with mental illness, it made me more self reliant, and it made me study more.  I’m much better read now than I was before I became mentally ill.  I’m glad I’m not normal.  I’m glad I’m not ignorant.  Ignorance and normal are both overrated.  In fact, both ignorance and normal suck.

I Enjoy Adulthood Even With Mental Illness

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I must admit, I love being an adult.  I love the freedom involved.  I love having my own money and getting to decide how I get to spend it.  I love that I don’t have to answer to authority figures I didn’t choose.  If a boss was giving me static at a job, I could always look for a different job.  If a landlord was giving me a hard time, I always had the option of moving to a different place.  I love that I can do things like vote and go to casinos.  I enjoy that I don’t have to feel guilty for expressing my opinions and having my likes and dislikes.  I like that I can read whatever I want.  I love having privacy.  I enjoy not getting yelled at for trivial things like when I was in school or living with my parents.  I like the fact that I can avoid people who give me too much static.  When you are in school, you just can’t avoid bullies or sadistic teachers.  Sure I’ve had bosses and coworkers who were jerks and whiners, but at least I had the option of finding another job if I didn’t connect with said bosses or coworkers.  Changing schools is a lot tougher.

Even though I have been living with schizophrenia since at least age seventeen, I have found that it is getting easier to work around it the older I get.  The bad periods don’t last nearly as long nor are as intense as they were in my early twenties.  In my late 30s, I have come to the realization that I don’t have to be defined by what job I have or if I have a wife and kids or not.  I am not my job.  I am not less of a human being because I am not married.  Sure I still deal with people that tell me “mental illness is fake” or that “you’re not a real man.”  But as an adult it is much easier to blow those jerks and losers off and ignore them.  You think I’m faking mental illness, then screw you.  It’s not my job to meet your standards.  It is so much easier to not be bothered by criticism as a 36 year old than when I was 21.  I just hope that the older I get, the symptoms will become even less severe and I will care even less about naysayers and idiots.

I still isolate a lot and avoid socializing with my complex mates.  But I think I’m more mentally stable because of said lack of socializing.  When I was a kid people used to tell me I was being “anti-social” and had “attitude problems” because I didn’t like going to high school sporting events and county fairs.  There really wasn’t much to do in my farming village besides school events, church activities, and county fairs.  There was only one movie theatre in a fifty mile radius from my hometown. I didn’t enjoy watching people throw balls around much as a kid.  As an adult I really don’t have to feel guilty for not watching such things.  I do watch some college football and basketball tournaments just to give myself something to talk about with other people.  Most people still don’t like discussing science and technology in casual conversations.  But I haven’t been to any sporting events in person besides minor league baseball games in almost five years.  And I don’t feel the least bit guilty or anti-social because of it.  And as an adult I have these options.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

I don’t really understand people who are nostalgic about their youths or the past.  I might be a little nostalgic about growing up if I had more friends, was bullied less, and wasn’t so much of a social misfit in my school.  I am kind of nostalgic about my college years because I knew lots of smart people, had lots of interesting conversations, could do things at the spur of the moment with no planning, could study what I felt like studying, and had the legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood.  College was much more stimulating and enjoyable than grade school or high school.  Sure I never got to use my degree in a job, but I blame the schizophrenia for that completely.  And I am grateful everyday I can keep in contact with old friends through Facebook.

I love living in the here and now of May 2017.  Sure getting to this point was rough dealing with schizophrenia for almost twenty years.  Sure my physical health took a beating because my mental illness and the side effects of the psych medications.  But after twenty years of schizophrenia I have figured out how to deal with bad days and psychotic breaks.  I have also learned how to enjoy the small things of life more than many of my mentally stable friends and family.  Happiness for me is watching a sunset, or eating chicken wings at a sports bar with college friends, or seeing my niece and nephews for a few hours, or talking with my parents about history or technology, or reading internet sites like futurism.com or bloomberg.com about trends in science and current events.  I had my ups and downs with schizophrenia.  I had many breakdowns when I took a lot of grief out on my parents and friends.  Fortunately those breakdowns are getting less severe and shorter as I age.  I have had to go to the mental hospital twice. But both times I was self committed and my longest stay was one week.  I may not be able to hold a forty hour a week job, but at least I tried several different lines of work before I came to the conclusion that traditional employment wasn’t in my future.  And it’s not shameful to not hold a full time job, especially if you have a disability or find other outlets to give back to people.  I can still drive a car, I can still buy my own groceries, pick up my medications, keep appointments, and more or less live on my own even with mental illness.  Some people can’t claim that.  In short I love being an adult.  And I wouldn’t want to go back to my youth, even though I had more friends and better health in college.  Being an adult rocks.  It really does.

Letter to My High School Self

High school graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Many of these kids will be going to college, some to the military, others to work or travel or do missionary work.  It was eighteen years ago, in 1999, that I and my cohorts graduated from high school.  That was half of a lifetime ago.  I’ve been legally an adult now as long as I was a juvenile.  An incredible amount has changed in my life, and the world at large, since that Saturday May afternoon in the farming village of my youth.

What follows is a hypothetical letter to my eighteen year old self, mainly about things I wish I knew in my younger years that would have made my transition to the world of 2017 easier.  Too bad I couldn’t do this for real, I’d tell my younger self to buy stock in Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla when they first came out 🙂

Dear Zach,

You have just graduated from high school and now the world awaits.  I know you are looking forward to college much more than you did high school graduation.  That’s understandable.  For many people, high school is some of the roughest years of their lives.  You definitely had your problems in school, but those are now past.  Some of the people you went to high school with you’ll never have to be around again.  College will be better in many aspects.  You’ll get to pick what you want to study.  You’ll have more say in who your friends are.  The bullies and idiots will be in the minority.  Besides, most people will be too busy with their own lives to harass you like you got it in high school.  You may not think so now, but someday you will be thankful that you’re smart and nerdy.  Within the next fifteen years, you will see so much science and tech advances that you will realize that, yes, nerds really do rule the world.  No one is going to care that you weren’t a star jock or class president in college.

Speaking of sports, I know there were some aspects of high school football and band you hated.  I know you didn’t like the summer practices at six a.m. or the macho atmosphere of the locker room.  But be happy you got to play.  Playing football on Friday nights is the closest you’ll ever get to being like a gladiator or warrior.  Be happy you got to be in the school pep band.  It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to feel like a rock star.  Most thirty year olds don’t get to stand out or preform at anything.  Even though you didn’t have a great social life in high school, be happy you went to a smaller school and had opportunities to be involved in many different activities.  Most of your college friends and coworkers who went to much larger schools won’t be as well rounded as you will become.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t work your dream job out of college.  Most people won’t.  In fact because of the technology advances I talked about earlier, many jobs will be taken over by computers and machines.  So many people will be in that place where they’re working jobs they didn’t train for.  It’s not a failure on your part, it’s just that the world is changing much faster than people even in 1999 could anticipate.

Also, don’t feel guilty if you struggle at dating.  In the future, almost everyone will struggle at dating.  Besides, you will see many of your classmates go through divorces and marriage issues as the years pass.  Almost half of marriages will end in divorce.  And in the future, many adults will forego marriage entirely.  Surprise, so will you.  But being single isn’t bad.  It’s actually quite peaceful at times.  Some really big achievers in world history never married or had children.  You’ll be grateful you never got married.  Trust me.  You always had a hard independent streak in you.  That’s only going to get stronger with age.

Don’t take the opinions of others too seriously.  People in general can be quite dumb at times, so their opinions are almost never right.  The only person you have to answer to at all times is yourself.  Guard your integrity.  Be a man of sound character even if most people around you are liars and cheats.  Yes, cheaters do prosper.  But people will not honor their prosperity as much as they condemn their lack of character.  This was true in the past and will continue to be true.

You will have victories.  You will have struggles and losses.  People will come and go out of your life.  But hold onto your close friends and family.  Be happy you got to know your grandparents.  They won’t be around forever.  Be content and calm no matter what happens or doesn’t happen.  You will change your mind and thinking about almost everything several times over during the next eighteen years.  The only people who have their life philosophy set in stone at age eighteen are fools who are setting themselves up to be obsolete and out of touch with reality.  Like I told you, major changes are coming.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the things you will see before 2017.  You’ll just have to see them for yourself.

Be happy that you traveled and were open to new experiences in your youth.  The older you get, the tougher it will get to just travel or try new things.  Continue to be open to new experiences.  It will put you far ahead of most adults in your life.  Speaking of adults, don’t just think that because someone has gray hair or more money that they are smarter or wiser than you.  Many times they won’t be.  Some of them were just lucky.  And chance does play more of a part in your life than you would like.  You like the thought that you have a lot of say in your own destiny.  But in reality, you really have less control than you would like.  Sometimes things just happen that aren’t your fault or because of your hard work.

Remember to relax and know that life is a competition only against yourself.  Never compare yourself to anyone else.  You can’t live their life and they can’t live yours.

Sincerely,

Your 36 year old self, May 2017.

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.

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.

 

Being The Proverbial Black Sheep As A Kid

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Even before I became mentally ill, I had problems with fitting in with others and making friends.  It has caused me so many problems with others over the years.  When I was a child in grade school, I got in so much trouble with teachers, classmates, and family alike whenever I said anything sounding like it had no earthly reason to come from the mouth of a child.  For example, as a seven year old if I joked about how slow someone was speaking, I would try to make a joke because I saw that children and adults enjoyed humor, and say something like “Speak any slower and we could time you with a sun dial,” I would find myself in major trouble.  I was told I had “attitude problems” among other things.  Yet I would see adults joke with each other with similar humor, and worse. I couldn’t figure it out.  I was often told by adults to “grow up” and yet when I tried to act, joke, and talk like the adults I saw I got in trouble.

Even as I child I valued my freedom and privacy.  I would often go into the large backyard of my home and pace and think for hours on end.  I often did this to dream up stories, dream up new twists on old games, make up new slants on old children’s stories, and think of ways to do things better.  My classmates would ridicule me for wanting to be alone all the time and I probably concerned my parents for not wanting to socialize more with family and classmates.  I didn’t do it to be anti-social or draw attention.  I just got a lot more mileage out of socializing for short times than most people.  I didn’t do it for attention because I really didn’t want attention once I became old enough to figure out I was a running joke because I was smart and actually enjoying learning how to do new things.  I might not have spent so much time outside if I had a chemistry set.  I’d probably accidentally burned down the house instead.

My real saving grace as a kid was having two friends just as smart and eccentric as I.  My first true friend, a kid named Ben who moved to my town when we were 11, was as interested in music, dry humor, and history as I was in science.  We would often do inexpensive science experiments in the storage room of his parents’ grocery store.  One time we took some old Micro Machine cars, taped magnets to the bottom of the cars, weighted the top of the cars with pennies and dimes, and got them to run along a track of magnets at least three feet long.  We didn’t realize that we made a very crude version of Mag Lev transportation.  Ben and I also joked that we would eat nothing but meat, cheese, and milk for a month to “protest the wholesale slaughter of defenseless plants.”  Yeah, the Atkins Diet as designed by 12 year olds.  Needless to say our sixth grade classmates didn’t get the humor.

I never did enjoy the toilet and locker room style of humor that my classmates did.  Even in high school, I really liked the comedy of people ranging from George Carlin to Jeff Foxworthy to Bill Hicks.  While most of my classmates were listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and George Strait, my two core friends and I were listening to groups like Metallica, AC/DC, and the Seattle grunge groups that were around in the 90s (much to the chagrin of my parents).

We didn’t win many style points with our classmates because we were contrarian thinkers, often asked questions in class, didn’t just ‘go along to get along’, openly questioned policies and practices of adults that were counter productive and senseless, and we didn’t particularly like sports.

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I was often chided for preferring to spend my weekends and summer days reading books, namely non fiction.  To me, the things that occurred naturally in the world and universe was far more interesting than fairy tales and fantasy books.  To this day I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K Rowling.  Reading books about science, biology, astronomy, chemistry, military history, etc. were interesting enough without the magical Disney nonsense.

I also didn’t do well dating as a kid.  My other quirky best friend, a girl named Shaunna, and I would often hang out on weekends watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on SyFy channel if there weren’t any high school dances nearby.  It wasn’t until the last five years did it dawn on me that the reason I did so poor in the numbers of girls I dated was precisely because of my best friend that was a girl.  I was probably shot down by most other girls because they thought I was a player or swinger.  But as a clueless seventeen year old that thought never once entered my mind.  If only I knew then even half of what I know now.

One thing I do know now is that normal is boring.  Normal is mundane.  Normal does not change the world or even a neighborhood for the better.  Far too many people over the centuries have died fulfilling only a fraction of their potential because they feared being abnormal.  I never had, I still don’t, have a fear of standing out and going against the tide of acceptable public opinion.  As far as I can tell, my old friends Ben and Shaunna are still the same way.   Sure it is frustrating to prove a point and still not sway normal people.  But I don’t want to lose the intelligence, empathy, and creativity that were the tools God gave me to try to make my small mark in my corner of existence.  It causes me frustration but it doesn’t cause me fear.  I got over that a very long time ago.  My older brother, being the typical tormenting brother who’d try to whip his younger sibling back into line, would often ask me things like ‘Why can’t you be normal?’  My answer, years later, is something like ‘I tried being normal once but didn’t like it.’  😀

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Why I Actually Like Being An Adult, Disability Insurance, and Other Side Rants

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When I was growing up and going through middle school in the early 1990s (back in the dark ages before we had internet in every house, restaurant, laundromat, etc.), I had this teacher who loved to tell us about the dreaded ‘cold cruel world’ and how much being an adult was going to suck.  As a naive thirteen year old growing up in the farm belt of rural Nebraska (I lived at least 65 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart), I was by no means wise to the ways of the world.  We didn’t even get cable tv in my town until the late 1980s, so all I got to see of the outside world back then was what Ted Turner chose to show us on CNN every night.  As a child I was only vaguely aware there was a world outside of Nebraska and that people went to college for things other than becoming doctors, teachers, and lawyers.  But practically everyone else I ever knew were farmers and had no real need for any real ‘formal education.’  So naturally I blew off my teacher telling me how lousy being an adult was because, quite frankly, my hometown had nothing to offer someone with my natural talents and abilities.  I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to dispute my elders when they warned me ‘wait until you have kids’ or ‘wait until you have a job you hate’ or ‘wait until you have to pay taxes.’  I didn’t complain or dispute because 1) I was just a kid and what do kids know and 2) Starting about age 12 I looked all around me and saw many adults who literally could not think for themselves or long termed.  I saw many adults who complained about living in a rural area, complained about work, complained about their spouses, complained about how their kids acted, complained about the weather (quite common among farmers), complained about politicians, etc. but I never once saw any adult try to do anything to change their situations or improve themselves.  Once, being the curious child I was, I actually asked one of these wise adults why no one tried to do anything to change things.  The angered look on this grown up’s face made me think I had committed some form of blasphemy like saying the Ten Commandments were a lousy idea.  After that I made it a point to never to question an authority figure so blatantly.

Putting all of these observations together I became convinced that I probably wouldn’t like being an adult was as grumpy and unthinking that many of the adults I saw.  But, I also hated being a kid.  Oh did I ever hate it.  I was constantly bullied for being smart and different.  My teachers often didn’t like me because I often could find easier ways to solving problems then what they were teaching us.  My football coaches didn’t like that I wasn’t Joe Rah-Rah.  I didn’t have many friends because I just didn’t ‘go along to get along.’  And I didn’t like the fact that, as a kid, no one took my complaints and problems seriously.  When I said I wasn’t being challenged in school, I was told I had a problem with authority.  When I didn’t bring home straight A’s, I was told I was an underachiever.  I wasn’t told that no one in the work world cared to see your high school report cards.  And I certainly wasn’t told that adults are often as clueless as kids about what’s really going on and what they want out of life.  The adults were just better at hiding it and lying to themselves.

Eventually, like all nightmares, my time as a kid ended.  I went on to college.  While I didn’t leave Nebraska or find the college campus to be completely full of people just as smart and quirky as I was (thank you for getting my hopes up, college recruiters), I did meet some cool and stimulating people.  As it was a small college with people from all over the world as well as the United States in very close proximity, it was quite easy to socialize with many people with different backgrounds.  It was also not so big of a college that international students, in state students, city kids, farm kids, etc. could get by with just socializing with people like them.  To have any hope of a social life a person would have to socialize with many different people.  Leave your biases and stereotypes at the door, I suppose.  I met most of the people I have kept as friends to this day at college.  I learned a good deal about business, economics, personal finance, accounting, writing, etc. that, in all honesty, I should have ideally been taught in college.  I discussed this in an earlier post.

Yet, as much as I liked college, I came to find I enjoyed being an adult even more.  As an adult, you can choose were you want to work.  As a kid, your parents or the local government chooses where you go to school.  We had only one school in our town, the nearest private school was over 65 miles away, and most of the schools within a 50 mile radius were exactly the same as mine.  Home schooling wasn’t really popular back then. My best friend, and occasional dating interest was homeschooled until high school.  Kind of funny, though, when she entered high school the school wanted to put her in remedial education and she wound up being an honor student within a few months.  And for those who say that ‘home school kids have no social skills even if they are book smart’, I will say that two of my best and most stable friends came from home school environments.  But maybe because these two were so well read and treated a nerdy outcast like myself so well makes them ‘have no social skills.’  I couldn’t leave the school I was in.  My family would not have liked having someone with a GED in their family.  It is far easier for me as a grown up to leave a job where the boss and I don’t mesh or if I don’t like that my coworkers hardly work and don’t care about the customers.

Other things that are cool about being an adult is I get to do cool things like vote, set up my own schedules, read whatever I wan to read, watch whatever educational videos I want, make whatever friends I want without family pressures or social limitations, write my own blogs (we didn’t even have blogging back in the mid 1990s as there was no easy access to internet), I don’t have to date if I don’t want to (whereas in high school I was often ridiculed because I couldn’t get a girl to date me besides my homeschool friend, and even then I was still ridiculed because she came from the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks’), I can form my own beliefs and don’t have to really fear if I share these beliefs or not, I don’t have to think anything I don’t believe or lie just to impress some authority figure who supposedly is wiser than me because he’s old and has more money and prestige.  Shoot, I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.

One thing I would have loved to have known about applying for Disability Insurance was, if I filed before my 22nd birthday, I would have had my monthly benefits determined by my parents’ income.  I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 20, graduated college at age 23, but didn’t file for disability before until age 25.  Financially I shot myself in the foot because I didn’t apply for disability before age 22 since both of my parents were medical professionals.  I would be making much more than I am now had I not tried the John Wayne gut it out until it was obvious the cause was lost routine.  Yet that is in the past.  I still do well because I can choose to live a minimalist style of life as a single adult.

Even though I was set back for several years because I tried to work and be a productive citizen by not dropping out of college and applying for disability at a younger age, I am still free to make the choices in lifestyle to adjust accordingly.  Yes it was hard to learn to live below what most Americans would consider poverty level and I did make some mistakes along the way.  But I learned from those mistakes and adjusted my game plans and lifestyle accordingly.

To be quite honest, I don’t know many people besides myself who can live on less than $15,000 per year, which is $125o per month.  At the average American hourly wage of approximately $13 per hour, that’s only 20 hours of work per week.  I make even less than $1250 a month and I live quite well, especially since I’m debt free.  Some may disdain me for ‘being on the dole’ and say ‘you just live off the government.’  But, you know what, had I never become mentally ill I would have achieved my dream of going into medical research, would probably be making six figures by now, would have gotten married, had kids, owned a McMansion, and been one of those ‘respectable’ types that pays more in taxes than most people.  Not everyone on disability got there because they are lazy and want a free ride.  Believe it or not, there are a few of us who got there because of things we couldn’t control.  Maybe people like me who are smart and on disability in spite doing all the right things are as rare as unicorns but we still exist.  Another great thing about being an adult is I don’t have to try to please people who think I am a leech and lazy for receiving disability.  I hate being on disability, God do I hate it.  But that is essentially the only option for people with mental illnesses in my situation besides homelessness or prison.

In closing, I know this post and rant was quite long winded and had a bit of a sharper edge to it than my regular posts.  For this I don’t apologize because, as an adult without an employer, family, or a social circle I didn’t choose, I really don’t have to apologize for speaking the truth.  As an adult I have far more choices and control of my own life.  That alone is reason enough why I actually like being an adult.