Love, Romance, and Valentine’s Day With A Mental Illness

Today, February 14, is Valentine’s Day.  I know for some people it’s a reason to buy gifts, go out for dinners, and be romantic.  Others are more depressed about not being in a romantic relationship and feeling left out.  But since it is a day the world at large takes some time and makes efforts to reflect on the value of romantic love, it is a good an opportunity as any to reflect back on my experiences with romance, dating, and love as a man with schizophrenia.

I am currently unmarried and not in a romantic relationship of any kind.  At this point in my life I am content and happy with this setup.  This wasn’t always the case though.  As a teenage male, I had deeper feelings than many people and often showed my emotions more than many people thought appropriate, especially for a boy.  When I was ten years old I broke down crying over a girl I was sweet on who publicly turned me down.  It made matters worse in that it was at a school sponsored event attended by my parents.  Both my parents made it a point to tell me off in public for crying and being emotional.  They told me off again when we got home that night.  I never forgot that.  It was also the first time in my life I got my heart broken over a girl.  Of course it wasn’t the last.  Fortunately it did begin to steel my resolve in that yes it hurts getting rejected and shamed in public, but I survived and became stronger because of it.

I had my heart broke again a couple more times in early puberty by being rejected by girls I was interested in spending time with over the next two years.  Didn’t sting as bad as the first one but they did make me more resilient with each rejection.

When I was thirteen, I met the girl who would ultimately become my best friend in high school.  We hung out a lot, spent time at each other’s houses, traded books and magazines like some kids traded baseball cards, played video games together, and generally did things that friends do together as teenagers.  She was home schooled until high school, so she didn’t have the same day to day experiences in junior high I did.  I was still being rejected by girls I liked over the next three years, but it got to where I just got numb to it and accepted it as a part of living.  Eventually after three years of friendship, I developed romantic feelings for her.  We went on several dates, nothing really more formal than just going to dances and the movies.  But we were never intimate or even affectionate besides the occasional hugs when one of us was feeling down and depressed.  We did kiss a few times.  As good as that felt, we both had an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship.  We just valued the friendship too much.  It was a short term painful decision but one in the long term turned out to be a brilliant move.

She moved out of state when we were eighteen.  I went off to college at age nineteen a more hopeless romantic than ever even though my mental health problems were beginning.  I had a couple slight crushes on a couple girls in my freshman class.  So much so that I didn’t recognize that there were at least two other girls who were sweet on me.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  I thought they were just pleasant and decent people to everyone they met.  There was a third girl who came flat out and told me she had feelings for me that weren’t typical friendship but of a romantic nature.  But I just didn’t feel the same way.  So I explained to her as carefully, tactfully, and honestly as I could that I didn’t feel the same way.  And I refused to insult her by acting like I had feelings for her when I didn’t just so I could have a steady date.  Acting like you have feelings for someone when you don’t just to be in a relationship or not to hurt their feelings is actually a cruel thing to do, especially long term.  Turns out that one girl I had feelings for dated my best friend for a few weeks.  That put a damper on my feelings for her though I never forgot her.

Near the end of my freshman year, I met my college sweetheart and started my only really hardcore romantic relationship.  We had some great times, had some arguments (like all dating couples), broke up and got back together a couple times, over the course of the next two years.  I eventually decided to call off the dating relationship shortly before 9/11 because I could tell my mental illness wasn’t going well with the highs and lows of the dating relationship.  For the last three years of college I didn’t date at all.  I was polite and decent to everyone I met, had lots of acquaintances I could join study groups with or go to sporting events on campus, but I had only a handful of extremely close friends whom I could do and tell everything to.

After I graduated from college I went back home because, like many college graduates, I didn’t have a job lined up by the time I graduated.  I felt embarrassed by this at the time but I would eventually find out I wasn’t alone and this was the new normal.  After a few months of working a dead end job, I had enough of my childhood hometown.  I realized my career was going nowhere, all my old friends moved away, and I had no prospects for friends or a career in my location.  I also didn’t have enough money to move away on my own.  I talked to my parents about moving to a larger town.  I was immediately shot down because they wouldn’t help me if I didn’t have a job offer in another town.  And I previously had several job interviews where I was told they would have hired me if I was local.  Made me very angry.  I couldn’t relocate because I had no job and I was getting rejected for jobs because I didn’t live nearby.

Finally in February 2005, I lied to my parents about a job offer I had in a town that was only a couple hours away from them but had decent opportunities, a state university, and much better health care.  I convinced them to help me move and pay for the deposit on a small apartment.  It was a cheap place I could live in as I had a few months of living expenses saved up so I could find a job.  It was the first time in my entire life I lied for personal gain rather than protection or privacy reasons.  I felt guilty that it had to be that way at the time.  But I am so glad I did looking back on it years later.  Sometimes breaking the rules and disregarding authority has to be done to do the right thing.  Life isn’t as black and white and cut and dry as far too many people make it to be.

For the first couple weeks I was out several hours every day giving my resume and filling out applications to places that would pay me enough to meet my living expenses.  I also applied to the local college to take master’s degree classes.  I had three job offers and a new job within the first three weeks in my new town, compared to only one in my childhood hometown in the several months I was back home.  Location is key, my friends.  You can have all the qualifications there are, yet if you are in a location that doesn’t suit those skills, you have to relocate.  There are no two ways about it.

I still occasionally asked girls out but still got rejected.  I finally had a long distance relationship that went quite well for several months.  I surprised her by driving to her hometown on Valentine’s Day 2006.  I had just gotten offered a decent job after I lost my job at the college because of my bad grades, which were because of my mental illness really beating me up.  The surprise was on me because she had to work a double shift that day.  I had to wait several hours before she got home.  Fortunately her mother took pity on me and kept me company until she got off work.  That was a whirlwind of a relationship.  We called it off that summer because we could tell it would never evolve into a marriage.  We just had different priorities, values, and interests to make a marriage work.  It stung at the time but I’m glad it ended before we got married.

In 2008 I qualified for disability insurance.  I had my safety net finally.  My life settled down and I didn’t have the highs and lows I did in previous years.  I also came to the conclusion I was better off without trying to date or be in a relationship.  I am definitely not anti marriage or anti love.  I just know with my mental illness, my personality, my values, etc. I would make a lousy boyfriend and husband.  I would make a lousy father too and I would feel guilty if I had children who became mentally ill because they inherited it from me.  As far as being lonely, that’s why I keep in contact with old friends and stay on good terms with family.  I have a much better relationship with my mother and father now in my late thirties than I ever did at any point in my life.  Like many children I regarded my parents like superheroes when I was six, clueless buffoons when I was twelve, would be fascist dictators at age seventeen I wanted to be free from, wise counsel and backups at age twenty eight, and now more like myself and close friends now that I am age thirty eight.  It’s been a long and strange journey these thirty eight years as a human and these twenty plus as being a man with mental illness.

Even though I have had a mental illness since my teenage years, and was eccentric my entire life, I was still interested in romance and the love of a good woman.  Sometimes I had that, many times I didn’t.  And as I have aged I have made my peace with what went on in the past.  I accept that I can’t change what went on.  I also wouldn’t change it if I had that power.  I am grateful for my experiences with romance, love, and dating while having a mental illness.  It taught me much about myself, mental illness, human nature, and life.  I wouldn’t trade any of it.  At this point in my life I am content to remain unattached.  I don’t know if this will always be the case and I don’t have to know.  I know not what tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or even years from now will bring or how I will develop.  I’m just staying open to whatever happens and comes my way.

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February 5, 2019

Saw my psych doctor today.  Mentally I’m quite stable and feeling less anxiety.  Haven’t had problems with anxiety or irritability for months now.  Physically I feel better overall.  I don’t need as much sleep and I exercise a little every morning.  I’ve also started stretching every morning too.  That seems to help with the minor and annoying aches and pains in addition to starting my day off right.

Been socializing more than previously.  Even though I sometimes went entire days without leaving my apartment early this winter, I still socialized some.  Granted, socializing online and over the phone isn’t quite the same as connecting to someone in person.  But I do live in a place where not many people share my interests, so I have to make do or fake like I have a serious interest in things I really don’t.  I’m missing my old friends quite a bit these days.  As much as I loved college, I didn’t realize just how special those days were until I was out in the adult world for several years and without much for an in person social network.  Fortunately, thanks to facebook and twitter, it is easier for me to keep in contact with college and even high school friends then even fifteen years ago.

I guess that winter is now half over.  It has been a long time since I spent hours on end outdoors getting lots of sunshine and fresh air.  Even though this has been a long winter, it hasn’t been an unbearable one.  I think it helps that I have learned to manage stress better and keep myself occupied, even if it is as mundane as playing Civilization or Skyrim for a few hours at a time.

I am also listening to audiobooks again.  I’m currently almost done with The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku.  I recently started Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark.  The last ones I finished were Foundation by Issac Asimov and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Hurrari.

Continuing my self directed study too.  I enjoy those ‘What If’ channels on youtube that present alternate histories of what could have happened had even slight changes happened.  Interesting thought exercises to be sure.  Still reading online articles though not as much as I had in previous months.  I guess I’m taking some time to allow my mind to digest and process what I had previously learned.  I imagine the human mind, even as powerful as it is, can only absorb so much over a given period of time before it needs a round or two of rest, recuperation and relaxation.

After a warmup over the weekend, we are back into more winter like weather.  Granted I didn’t get the several feet of snow or the 50 below wind chills that much of the eastern U.S. received.  It was cold enough for me and I avoided most of the cold spell.  An old college friend of mine was telling me that it got almost 30 below zero in her town.

Don’t know much else I suppose.  I haven’t written much the last several days simply because I didn’t have much to report as I was just riding out the cold spell and not doing much.  Sometimes I also don’t write much if I’m feeling more stable.  But I imagine when I am stable is exactly when I should be reflecting on the problems I had in past years.  I look forward to the second half of winter.  I’ll keep everyone posted.

Just Because I Don’t Have Much Money Doesn’t Mean I Am Poor

Middle of the winter now.  Haven’t ventured out of my apartment much the last few days.  Too cold to go anywhere really.  Been immersing myself in computer games and audiobooks more these days.  I have to admit that I really have no desire to socialize in person much, at least not lately.  I guess I have given up on finding anyone in physical proximity who shares my interests and concerns.  I have gotten tired of neighborhood gossip and endless talks about politics and sports ball.  Been tired of it for a long time.  I haven’t even watched live tv since the college football bowl games around New Year’s Day.  I guess I just lost interest in the mundane and normal things my neighbors can discuss for hours on end.

I have to admit that I find most of my social life on social media these days.  I have excellent conversations with people from my tech and futurists groups.  It’s like some of the conversations I had with friends back in college, when you would chat until sunrise and your throat was burning from chatting so much.  During conversations like that, it’s like I could actually feel my brain getting stronger and more nimble.  I loved those years. I can’t imagine how cool they would have been had I not had a mental illness to deal with.  I can understand why many people are nostalgic for their college years, before the spirit crushing and brain numbing realities of having to spend over half your waking life at a job that most people aren’t well suited for just to earn enough money to live an “acceptable” standard of living.

Most people caught up in the day to day working ‘Oh God It’s Monday’ merry go round ride we like to call ‘being a productive member of society’ would argue I don’t live an acceptable standard of living.  Most people would consider me a failure it seems.  It seems that people either pity me or envy me for being on disability pension.  Acceptable by what standards?  Who decided what is and isn’t a productive member of society?  Am I going to hell because I am not working myself into an early grave or not buying the big house and SUV type lifestyle?  Seriously, what will happen if I don’t work myself into an early grave because I didn’t become a cubicle jockey or sell my talents for more money than I need to buy crap I never really wanted to impress jerks that wouldn’t shed a tear if I dropped dead of a heart attack tonight?  Is God going to deny me access into the afterlife because I don’t have a credit history?

Let’s not con ourselves, most people work the jobs they do because they need the money to buy their survival, not because they are passionate about their jobs or their careers are a benefit to humanity and nature.  I think that if money weren’t in issue, many people would find even more productive means to spend their days than sitting in traffic to get to an office to fill out reports that few people read or do work with their hands that, in some cases, could just as easily be done by machines and computers.  Too many people work themselves senseless and joyless because, for whatever reason, they got too deep into debt pursuing the ‘dream life.’  Dream life for whom?  Not me.

I never understood the point of borrowing money for anything besides starting a business, learning a trade, or buying a house.  But with as fast as industries change anymore, owning a house can actually hinder a person’s career.  I know people who have had to turn down very lucrative promotions because they owned a house and couldn’t get that albatross around their neck sold quickly.  I also know people who were making six figures a year simply because they were flexible and could throw all their possessions in the back of a pickup truck and U-Haul trailer and be moved across country in a matter of a few days.  It seems to be in the modern economy that being flexible, not having unmanageable debt, and having skills that can transfer into several different industries is the new security.  To quote Randy Gage, “safe is the new risky.”

I am on disability pension, it is true.  It was the only way I could afford my medications once I couldn’t be covered under my parents’ insurance plans.  My mental illness also made the modern work place unbearable for me.  Even as a teenager I knew I wanted to work in a small group or even alone and not have to deal with strangers for hours on end every day.  Giving up my pre med course of study was one of the most painful things I ever did.  It was essentially me having to kill the dream of having a career in science.  I had wanted to work in as a research scientist since I was five years old.  Even as a child my favorite Disney character was Dr. Ludwig von Drake, an eccentric academic with a German accent loosely based on Werner von Braun, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud.

Even though I went on to study business the last three years in college, deep down I knew I would never use the business degree in a traditional job setting.  But I didn’t know what else to do.  I didn’t want to go back home because there was nothing there for me.  I didn’t attempt to apply for disability when I was diagnosed because I had no idea how bad this illness really was.  I thought it was something that, while chronic, could be easily managed with medication and counseling.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The illness made traditional employment impossible.  Since I don’t come from an uber rich family, I couldn’t live off a trust fund and privately pay for my medications and therapy.  I went on disability because, well, I had no other option.  I stay on disability because blogging and internet research doesn’t pay the bills.

Some people think that because I’m on disability I just sit around, watch porn, drink beer, and vape nicotine all day.  Not so.  Even my parents have no clue how much internet research I do when it comes to science, technology, and other academic topics I always wanted to study in school but simply didn’t have the time to.  Since I have a disability pension, escaped college with one business degree and zero debt, and haven’t had a credit card debt in years, I can afford the life I want.

Right now, at this point in my life, I want to be the independent scholar writing a few blog posts every week and spending my evenings chatting with fellow science and tech enthusiasts.  It wasn’t the kind of life I wanted even ten years ago.  Back then I was working twenty hours a week, writing drafts for novels, making outlines for possible science fiction worlds, writing poetry every day, and studying philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Francis Bacon to Neitchze.  I did the regular work world while on disability because it could be done.  Got that out of my system after a few years and moved onto my current life as a blogger and scholar.

Where will I be in another five or ten years?  I don’t know.  But I don’t have to know.  I just know I have probably faced the worst of what my schizophrenia has to offer and have survived into middle age.  I have gained a few skills that, while not paying the bills, keep me busy and make me interesting.  I don’t often tell people I’m on disability, but they seem quite envious when I tell them that I’m a freelance writer.  My bank account will never make anyone forget the Rothschild family, but it doesn’t have to.  As long as I can buy food, keep my rent up to date, keep my internet paid for, stay out of debt, and have enough left over to buy some basic clothing every few months, I’m happy with where I am at.  I don’t need a ton of money or a prestigious career or a large family to justify my existence.  If there is a Judgement that the dead have to face for their deeds and misdeeds in life, I doubt the Divine Judge will be looking at anyone’s W-2 forms or 401(k).  He who dies with the most toys is still dead.  He just doesn’t have to witness his kids and grandkids squander the inheritance his decades of toil and stress made possible.  Hard work probably never killed anyone, but neither did taking time to learn things and appreciate nature and human achievement.

The Way A Different Mind Works

mental-health

I confess I have different ways of learning and processing information than most people.  And that has gotten me in much trouble over the years, especially while at a work place. I never could read people’s body language well enough to be good at socializing.  I can’t tell what they think just by watching them.  I can, however, read through the lines of what they write.  I have always been a much better reading learner than a hands on or auditorial learner.  I think one of the reasons I never became as good with my hands as I am with my mind or communications is that I couldn’t see diagrams or in some cases, even what I was doing.  And I never got enough repetition in to get good.  It always frustrated my teachers, bosses, and even family that it took more repetition for me to learn something than most people.  But once I learned the skill, I remember it for life.  I think I was given up on by teachers and employers too early in some cases because it takes me longer to learn through doing than most people.  But once I learned something through doing, I have never forgotten it.

Even though I am pretty intelligent in some ways (though some would argue this), I never did get the top grades in school or most of the accolades at work.  I did well enough that I gave my teachers and bosses that false hope I could be a superstar student or employee.  Yet, because of my mental make up being so much different than the norm, I couldn’t develop my skills fast enough for my employers and teachers to really see my potential.  I never could read a teacher well enough to know what was on a test.  So I had to study the entire subject.  It will make you well grounded in a subject, like biology or history, but it is not conducive to getting good scores on tests.  Likewise at work, I couldn’t read my bosses, coworkers, or customers very well.  I certainly couldn’t the first time I met them or even the first few.  Like I said, it takes me more repetition to learn things than many people.  Yet, once that knowledge is learned, it is learned for life.  Even though I haven’t played football since 1999, I still remember many of the plays we used in games and practice simply because our coaches believed heavily in repetition and details.  I loved that kind of take on sport.  I didn’t want to be fancy or eye catching, I just wanted to win and be good at what I knew and was doing.

Yet because I couldn’t learn in the way my bosses and clients preferred, I didn’t make a very good employee.  For years I was convinced I was defective and was damaged goods. I believed it so much it’s why I went on disability insurance in spite having a college degree and good intelligence test scores.  Sure I may have the natural brain power many employers are looking for.  Yet, the way my mid works and learns is not what gets a person ahead at a job, most of which are service sector jobs.  Attention to details and throughly learning your field was the way to go for a renaissance era craftsman or a high end scholar.

Yet, good luck finding those jobs today.  I have ability.  I have talent.  I have intelligence.  I have the ability to learn new things and remember those new things my entire life.  In many ways I am far smarter now than I was when I graduated college in 2004.  But that is because I found out through trial and much error how I effectively learned.  I learn by reading and by doing many times, not by listening to a lecture or two and doing a few trial runs.  It does take me longer to learn the basics than most people.  But I remember the basics far longer.  And I can build upon those basics to even incorporating some of my own takes on work tasks and ideas.

Sure it is an odd way to learn.  It is also one most teachers and employers especially don’t like.  I lost more jobs than most people have had in a fifty year career simply because my learning style didn’t fit modern corporate or service sector styles.  I may have done extremely well in an old style apprenticeship that took several years.  But, as it stands now, I’m halfway through my life and don’t have the energy or the courage to start over in something that I know will not accept my skill set or way of learning.  And it is a classic Greek tragedy as far as I’m concerned.

I have to wonder how many millions of people just in our day and age that live lives of quiet desperation and poverty yet would be model employees, crafts people, or business managers but never get the chance mainly because they learn things in different ways.  I have met only a handful of people in my life that I know was on the Autism spectrum.  Some of them were extremely intelligent, much more than even I am.  Yet most of them struggled socially and especially at work because the learning styles and ways of communication didn’t match up with the culture around them.

I think that things we classify as mental illness like schizophrenia, bi polar, autism, etc. (even homosexuality and bisexuality were considered mental illnesses until quite recently in many places) have always been with our species.  It just wasn’t as much of a disadvantage in a less structured Stone Age civilization.  In fact, I imagine that many of the first medicine men, shamans, astronomers, and priests were men and women who would be considered mentally ill by modern standards.  But they had a different way of learning and looking at the world than most other people in their little tribes and bands.  And it helped to eventually launch civilizations.  It’s the eccentrics and the odd fellows and odd ladies who took our species from only a few thousand scattered wanderers many thousands of years ago to the teeming billions who are actively making plans of colonizing other planets and celestial bodies.  Providing we don’t seriously screw up this transition, who knows what the human species will be capable of given thousands of years scattered across a few star systems.  And it was mainly because of the oddballs and mad men who, while scorned and condemned among their contemporaries, led the way forward out of the Ice Age caves to now standing at the entry way to the cosmos.

It’s been a long and strange journey.  And it’s one I hope is only entering a new phase rather than reaching it’s climax and decline.  The choice is up to us who are currently alive and how much we chose to nurture and value those who don’t think like the norm.  I may never be one of these innovators who profoundly changes the world.  For now, I am content to be among those who appreciate the eccentrics and encourage them onward.  The road to the stars is fraught with great difficulties.  But, because of the odd ones, I believe we are up to this task.

How I Learned to Relax and Fall in Love With the Internet

We are still in the middle of winter in my hometown.  Got a couple inches of snow on top of the glaze of ice a couple days ago.  Haven’t really gone anywhere since the snow.  Driving on ice kind of makes me afraid these days, more so than in the past.  I guess since my car accident I have been more afraid to drive.  I think that wreck messed me up more than I cared to admit, especially at first.  Fortunately I don’t have to drive much if I don’t want to anymore.  Most of what I  need I can get here in town in less than a fifteen minute drive or even have it delivered to my house.  I usually get my groceries delivered twice a month.  I still sometimes run to the store if there is something I forgot.  I admit that it’s been over a year since I set foot in a Wal Mart or Target.  If I need something from those places bad enough, I usually order through Amazon or any other service.  I usually special order my clothing via a big and tall men’s online store.  Since I am a large man, sometimes finding a wide variety can be tough.  The store where I previously bought most of my shirts and pants here in town closed a little over a year ago.  In short, I can buy almost everything I need online anymore besides fuel for my car.  The only time I write checks is when I pay my rent at the beginning of the month.

None of this would have been possible when I was in high school back in the 1990s.  I didn’t even have an email address until I was a senior in high school, much to the shock of my nephews and niece.  I rather enjoy shopping online I admit.  Since I am much more  a visual learner than auditorial, it is far easier for me to see the selection presented in an online format or even an old catalog than hearing about the specials over the phone or even talking to sales people in person.  I used to work in sales when I was in my twenties.  It used to be frustrating to me to lose sales because we didn’t have what my clients wanted in stock or it was the wrong color or style.  We were only beginning the special orders online back in the early 2000s.  Now I would feel almost naked in public without these options.  Yet, as much as I enjoy shopping and interacting online, I do understand why some people lament the loss of going shopping, socializing, etc. in person.  I used to do all my banking in person for years.  But, as simple as my finances are, I can easily do every online now.  The only reason I would need to set foot in my local bank is to buy quarters for my coin operated laundry machines in my complex.  And I imagine it won’t be too many years before we go to the scan cards or something similar.  I usually don’t buy much with folding money anymore, which makes me kind of strange in my family and in the small town I live in.  I know some people in big cities have gone all digital money in most cases anymore.  Even my cleaning lady accepts PayPal for her services.

I still read as much as I did in years past.  It’s just now it’s more online articles, ebooks, and audiobooks now.  Currently working on a couple audiobooks and a couple ebooks.  I’m currently reading an English translation of the Quran and the Epic of Gilgamesh.  I have read the King James Bible cover to cover when I was in college as well as some of the works of Sun Tzu and Confucious.  I guess I have recently gotten more interested in foreign cultures than even previously.  I have seen a few documentaries on ancient Egypt and Sumeria as well as some on Native American civilizations before the arrival of the Europeans.  I have always loved learning and reading.  I understand why some things aren’t covered in traditional school, sometimes because there just isn’t enough time to cover everything that could be enlightening and beneficial.  If I were to die an unexpected premature death, I would hope to be found with a book in my hand or in front of a computer with a scientific article on the screen.

I admit to loving learning, sometimes just for my own enlightenment.  Some may consider this intellectual vanity, I don’t know.  But I will say that having easy access to the collected knowledge and wisdom of human civilization via the Internet has helped keep me occupied during my years with mental illness.  Even though I can’t hold a forty hour a week job anymore, I try to make up for it through self directed study and sharing this wisdom with whoever wishes to hear it.  The internet has been a godsend for me with my geeky and scholarly interests.

Friends

I must confess that I never was Mr. Popularity, not as a kid or an adult.   I may have not had legions of acquaintances I considered friends, but I am fortunate to have had a few I felt I could tell anything and not be condemned for my confessions or thoughts.  It was tough for me to make friends as a kid because I had different interests than most people in my town.  I loved reading about science, history, and foreign cultures even as a little child.  This didn’t endear me to the neighbor kids much as I didn’t really like tossing around the football, playing basketball, or any other games grade school kids are supposed to like.  I was usually one of the slowest runners and least coordinated children in my grade school.  Of course this singled me out for some ridicule from school mates.  Being the really smart kid who wasn’t going to hide his smarts didn’t help my social life either.

As a result of not having much for friends as a child in a town that was lacking for choices of friends compared to most places, I spent a lot of time alone.  I would often wander in the back yard or the allies and make up stories in my head.  I often continued these stories and characters for weeks and even months at a time.  I wish I would have written some of these down.  But I was afraid I’d be ridiculed for being creative by my school mates and family members.  Every time I brought home a piece of work from my art class I was proud of, my older brother and even some of my cousins would critique it and tell me how awful it was.  I kept a diary one summer in junior high but my brother found it.  After that I kept my creative streaks to myself.

My saving grace came from two really cool friends I met as a pre teen.  One was an artistic guy who introduced me to some really cool music like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, AC/DC, etc. that I still listen to occasionally even twenty five years later.  He also introduced me to cool artwork.  We admired everything from the Renaissance masters to Andy Warhol.  He taught himself how to play guitar just by listening to rock albums.  He became quite good and even played in a band for awhile.  Like myself, he too had problems fitting in during our school years.  When we were in sixth grade in 1992, he and I would be talking about the news from the presidential election.  While many of our classmates were discussing the latest Denver Broncos game or Michael Jordan commercials, he and I would be critiquing old Ross Perot’s latest television specials with his graphs and pie charts.  Naturally, our school mates thought us kind of odd.

The other really cool friend I had growing up was another artist type.  She and I thought alike.  We liked each other right away.  As she was home schooled until high school, we didn’t have the shared misery that was middle school.  Like myself and my other close friend, she wasn’t really interested in sports or popular culture.  Even in our early teens we spent time discussing art, philosophy, politics, literature, and science.  Her family and mine were among the first to get in home internet back in the mid 1990s.  She also taught me how to get free songs online.  I never did this because the internet was very slow and costly in those years.  And since it was old dial up, it tied up the house phone line whenever I wanted to go online.  Kind of tough to download the latest Green Day or Ice Cube songs when dad was telling me to get off the computer because he was expecting business calls.

I also had some other cool friends in my church youth group.  But since most of them lived in different towns and went to different schools, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked.  We did spend time together at summer camp for a couple weeks every summer.  But it just wasn’t the same as seeing them everyday in the halls of school.

After I graduated from high school I moved onto college.  Even though I have more friends from college I stay in contact with than high school, the friendships just aren’t quite the same as the ones I managed to save from my middle and high school years.  I loved college.  Even though I was going through the trials of adapting to life with a mental illness, I had some amazing times.  Dated some more in college than I did high school.  But, looking back on high school, I think that my best friend being a girl was what killed my dating life more than anything.  Yet, I wouldn’t trade those experiences at all.  Besides, high school dating is pointless nonsense and too much drama anyway.

My social life dried up once I got into the adult world and many of my friends moved away and got married and had families of their own.  Fortunately, thanks to facebook and easy communications, I can keep in contact with my college friends and high school acquaintances pretty easily.  Even though I wasn’t Mr. Social Life in high school, I made an honest attempt to be polite and considerate to my classmates.  Sure I butted heads with a few kids in my school, but what teenagers don’t experience social drama and strife?  It’s all part of learning how to socialize and be an honorable human being.  And, unfortunately, the only way to learn this is to go through the trials yourself.  It’s not like you can have that knowledge uploaded to your mind, like in The Matrix movies.

Even though I don’t socialize much in person anymore, I still occasionally make new acquaintances online.  Most of these people have similar interests and participate in the same online forums and discussion groups.  Once I figured out how to sort through the various trolls and trouble makers, socializing and making friendships online became a pleasant experience.  Granted, it’s not the same as making friends in middle school, high school, or college.  But, seriously, how many people make their best friends when they are adults?  My biggest regret about my friendships is that I haven’t heard from one of my two best friends (the guitar playing guy) since 2005.  And, sadly, he’s not the type of man to spend time on facebook or going to class reunions.  Haven’t seen him in years but I still miss our conversations.  I don’t know if anyone makes the same kind of friends as adults that they made as teenagers.

How Facebook Saved My Social Life

 

I have to admit that I am grateful for social media outlets like facebook and even twitter. Made some new friends through these even if I will never meet these people in person.  For the first few years of being active on social media, I felt some sadness in finding out that there were lots of people scattered all over the world who shared my passions, interests, and mental pursuits but none of them lived within driving distance of me.  My closest friends to me now live in Omaha.  Most of my really good confidants live out of state.  And many of my newer friends live in other countries.  It is bittersweet in knowing that I am not as abnormal or damaged as I feared in my younger years.  Besides the few years I was in college, I have never fit in with the people I lived near.  There’s nothing bad or good in that either way, it just is a fact.  It has caused me much grief over the years knowing that I would never have the same interests or pursuits as most people nearing in my hometown or even my own family.  I didn’t have many friends as a kid, but that forced me to develop my own interests and ways of keeping myself occupied.  Had I been Mr. Popular in my teenage years, I may have never developed my mental muscles to the extent that I did.  I certainly wouldn’t be as self reliant or resourceful or resilient.  All of these attributes have helped me immensely in my life as a mentally ill man.

As an adult, I have been able to expand my social circles even though I don’t have a regular job.  This is because of facebook and twitter.  Sure I have had to deal with jerks and irritable people online.  But at least online, I have the unfollow and block buttons.  I don’t have such near God like powers in person.  If I have nosy neighbors or annoying people I see everyday, I just have to deal with it and smile.  If someone is giving me static online, I send them to the unfollow and block list.  It’s my personal version of digital purgatory I suppose.  Facebook has actually made me more social than I was as a child before internet.  It has also shown me that I am not the only person out there who feels isolated and alone because he/she doesn’t conform to the norms of his location.  And now that I have filtered out the garbage that can come through social media, it is a social bonanza for me that I have never experienced in the real world.  It’s rather amazing.