My Journey To Being An Advocate For The Mentally Ill

My birthday is coming up in a few days.  I’ll be 37 years old this year.  That would have made me a senior citizen in the Stone Age.  Of course if I would have developed schizophrenia at most points in human history, it probably would have been a death sentence.  As it is I have found what works and what doesn’t in my life with mental illness.

I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression in the autumn of 2000.  I was in the second year of my pre med studies in college.  Even though I had been having problems with depression and anxiety for a few years before, I was still able to do well in school and keep up a strong front.  I still don’t know how I did it.  But in my second year of college, it all collapsed.  I couldn’t handle stress anymore.  I was having constant panic attacks.  I would have breakdowns where I called home and yelled at my parents at least once a week.  Looking back on it, I should have gone to the mental hospital right then and there and not tried to gut out college at the same time.  As it was I withdrew from college at midterm of the spring semester and took a few months to adjust the treatments and pull myself together.  After the disaster that my second year of college was, I knew I’d never get into any med school with my grades.  So I switched over to business because, let’s face it, everything involves money and commerce.  I still thought I could be employable in the right situation after college.

During the last few years of college I became interested in economics and finance.  I applied for several jobs like financial planner, insurance sales, insurance underwriter, loan officer at a few banks, etc.  I took the obsession I previously had with science and was able to transfer it to business and economics.  It paid off to be curious for me.  I graduated in spring 2004 but, like many college seniors, I had several job interviews but no offers when I left school.  I didn’t realize just how common that was until I started talking to people over the internet a few years later.

After a few failed attempts at careers in various fields, (retail sales, academia, manufacturing), I applied for disability insurance.  This was in 2006.  I had just lost my job at the university and been forced to leave the masters’ program.  Here I was on a waiting list for disability, on a waiting list for low income housing, with no job, no confidence, and no money.  If it wasn’t for my parents help for the first half of 2006, I would have never made rent on my apartment.  But that wasn’t all for 2006.  My longtime college girlfriend and I broke up and I failed at a couple minimum wage jobs, one of which was at Goodwill.  If you can’t succeed at Goodwill, then you are really screwed up (or so I thought).  In the late summer I checked myself into the mental health hospital.  Stayed there for a week.  By this time I was at my lowest ebb.  I had no job.  My illness wasn’t allowing me to hold a job.  I had no real income.  I was living off food stamps though no mess ups of my own.  I had no idea when social security was coming through. I was on high risk insurance that was costing my parents a lot of money so I could stay on my meds.  I never could have afforded them on my own.  I came to the conclusion I would never hold a career because of my mental illness.  I came to the second conclusion that I would never marry and have a family because of my mental illness.  I was really sad and depressed during this entire time.  I really thought I’d never be happy or amount to anything ever again.  I’m glad I didn’t cross the line into becoming suicidal at this time.

Those rough years of my mid to late twenties when I came to the conclusions I would never hold meaningful employment or have a family really sucked.  But they were also when I was writing a lot, granted not as focused as I am now.  Before I got serious about my blog I wrote hundreds of poems, largely in the style of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and I also did complete rough drafts for two novels.  The novels were nothing really special, just kind of like Jack Kerouac for Millennials.  I was working on notes for a science fiction novel at this time too.  I also read every day to try to help me find a literary voice.  I read dozens of authors, ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Ayn Rand, Chuck Philhanuak to John Grisham, Alexandre Dumas to Mark Twain, Adam Smith to Nietcheze, etc.  I tried to teach myself Spanish at the time as well, but the only Spanish I know is how to ask for directions and order simple meals.  But as my ‘traditional’ side was falling apart, I was finding other ways to find meaning in my life besides work and dating.

I started writing down my thoughts and experiences with mental illness in my late twenties.  I was submitting some of my poems to be published in literary magazines.  I got a few of them published but never made any money.  I eventually wrote a few dozen short essays about life with a mental illness.  I was reading The Federalist Papers at the time and kind of modeled the book of mental health essays on that.  I put the files on a print on demand service.  I sold a few dozen of those books, mostly to friends, family, and interested mental health facilities.  After tasting a little success with those essays, I thought they might make good blog entries.  And my first few blog entries were from that original book.  Since it’s been several years since I updated that book, I probably ought to rewrite it and repost it.  And since I now have a dozens of blog entries on the subject of living with mental illness, I definitely have new material for another edition.

I started blogging through wordpress in 2012 shortly after I left my last ‘traditional’ job.  I didn’t get much for visitors early on because I had no focus for the blog and I wasn’t posting regularly.  In early 2013 I decided to focus the blog specifically on mental illness.  My audiences have grown slowly but steadily over the last few years.  I started a Facebook page to promote the blog.  I also have a patreon account a few months ago and I already have a sponsor through there.  And I’ve also made a little money since I monetized this blog.  I’m not breaking even yet with what I spent on advertising this blog, but it’s getting closer all the time.  I recently broke 14,000 all time visitors from 100 different countries.  And this is with only four years of work, a microscopic advertising budget, a niche topic, and 50 percent of the world’s population still not online.

I’ll be 37 in a few days.  And I already had a larger reach with my writing works than I ever thought possible when I first seriously started writing in 2004.  That’s been only thirteen years.  I think I’m going to keep at this and see what I can develop with this blog and my writings over the next thirteen years.  I say all of this to point out that young people in their late teens and early twenties shouldn’t sell themselves short at all.  At age 23 I would have been content to be a loan officer at a bank or an insurance salesman.  But I know I wouldn’t have been content doing such work.  I wouldn’t be doing what I’m really good at.  And let’s face it, in this day and age a person can make money doing almost anything thanks to the exposure of the internet if they put in the time and lots of effort to get noticed.  I’ve already accomplished more than I thought I could as a writer thanks to the internet, especially when I started out I was just writing poetry out in notebooks.  And now after running this blog for four years and getting some audience and dozens of positive emails, I know I’m only scratching the surface of what can be done.  I never would have thought this possible when I first applied for disability insurance.  Mental illness is one of the few things that is still discriminated against with little to no protest.  I intend to be part of changing that.  I’m not going away.  The mentally ill bloggers and you tubers aren’t going away either.  We will not be silent and suffer needlessly anymore.  Consider this a declaration of war against mental illness stigma.

 

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Socializing, Family, and Facebook

The Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and now the weather will definitely start getting hot soon.  I’ve been feeling stable but on and off depressed for months, especially since the middle of winter.  I think some of this depression comes from just being so lonely all the time.  There are only so many books I can read before I’m burned out.  Fortunately I was able to see a couple cousins and their families for the afternoon over the long weekend.  I hadn’t seen either cousin in a long time.  It was fun catching up with them.  First prolonged intelligent conversations I had in months.

I gets bouts and depression and loneliness more frequently than I used to.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have any friends in my apartment complex anymore.  It also hurts that I had major falling outs with a few old friends that I had known for several years.  One of these friend couldn’t respect the fact that I’m not working a regular job and spending most of my time alone.  This person also thought I’m wasting my time with this blog.  Well, I sent that friend packing.  If a person can’t respect my decisions about work and how I spend my time, then we can’t be friends.

Another friend and I had a falling out over politics.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who can claim that these days.  But I just can’t stand how divisive and hateful modern politics has become.  It didn’t used to be this way.  Besides, political fan boys on all sides seem to be too blind to realize that modern politicians don’t care about the voters unless said voters are lobbyists or big money donors.  The way some of my friends and family post on Facebook, you’d think they were getting paid for every post about politics they put on their sites.  Besides, does anyone change their thinking because of these posts.  It’s like watching monkeys at the zoo fling manure at each other but not nearly as entertaining and far less civilized.  I’d quit Facebook and twitter if they weren’t the only means I had to keep in contact with most of my friends and my key promotional materials for this blog.  Mark Zuckerberg really has a business monopoly that would do any 19th century robber baron proud.

The biggest reason I don’t post about my particular beliefs is that, well, no one group reflects what I value.  When it comes to social issues, it depends on the issue.  When it comes to having a good military, I’m in line with some Reagan era Republicans even if I’m not as interventionist.  When it comes to curbing the abuses and excesses of Wall Street and big business, I’m almost as militant as any Occupy Wall Street guy.  And I definitely won’t support any politician of any stripe that wants to cut science funding.  Science funding is quite small compared to military or social programs.  I don’t have a political home because there isn’t any party that reflects what I value.  And I think many people in the under 40 crowd feel the same way.  And I know it may irritate some of my elders to write this, but I think the last thing our world needs is a senior citizen politician who isn’t familiar with science and modern technology.  My parents generation has been in charge for almost thirty years.  Retire and play with your grandkids already, you earned it 🙂

I guess the biggest reason I have been fighting depression for awhile is that my primary means of socializing and communicating, social media sites, have become so toxic and nasty even among friends and family.  And I think it sucks.  Some days I doubt I really am making any positive difference.  Heck, some days I wonder if people even want positivity and happiness in their lives.

Thoughts on Different Generations and The Generations Yet to be Born

I’m going off the path of mental illness writing for this entry.  But it is something that has weighed on me for years, especially since I live in low income housing where half of the residents are low income senior citizens and the other half are disabled younger people.

I have never understood why people from the older generations complain about the people from younger generations and why younger generations complain about older generations.  I never have.  I was born in 1980, so that either makes me late Generation X (I’d like to give a beating to whomever coined that stupid term) or early Millennial, at least in terms of generations.  And even in grade school I heard about how sucky my generation did in school compared to kids in countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany, etc.  I was told we were “unruly”, “stupid”, “thieving”, “lazy”, “whores”, “sluts”, etc.  But, the same Baby Boomers (that’s another really stupid term I despise), had their hangups and critics when they were kids too.  I’m sure the World War II generations thought the Rapture was nigh when they saw their kids participating in free love, drug abuse, civil rights protests, draft riots, etc.  Even many soldiers who went to Vietnam abused alcohol and drugs during their tours.  The same Boomers who were rocking out to The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, etc. were horrified when their Gen X kids starting listening to Metallica, NWA, Madonna, etc.  And oddly, said Gen Xers, now that they are parents, are freaking out about their kids listening to Lady Gaga and dubstep music.  I swear, people instantly forget what it was like starting out as soon as they have kids.

I have zero patience for old people who complain about the “idiot kids.”  Likewise, I have zero patience for younger people who complain about senior citizens.  The world is going to fall apart as soon as the current generation in power retires and dies?  Screw you, no it won’t.  Speaking of older generations, I’d love to slap Tom Brokaw for calling the World War II generation “the greatest generation.”  I guarantee that the Hitler Youth generation in Germany and the Japanese soldiers of World War II were considered a disgrace to their nations for years.  It should be known that many of the World War II soldiers spent their teens and twenties drinking bootlegged booze and chasing flapper girls and suffragettes during the 1920s and early 1930s.  I’m sure many of the World War I generation thought their kids were going insane for flaunting the laws of prohibition and promoting such blasphemy as women’s voting rights and wanton promiscuity.  But hate for other generations is nothing new.  People have been complaining about the loss of virtue and honor in their children’s generations for thousands of years.

Every generation has it’s cranks and losers, it is true.  There were war protesters during World War II even.  Youtube has videos of these protests.  But generations are made up of many millions of people.  So to say the “millennials are lazy” or “baby boomers are greedy” isn’t true at all.  Such broad generations are cherry picked nonsense.  I like the World War II guys who beat back nazism and imperialism, pioneered space flight, and saw to it the Civil Rights act was passed.  I also like the Baby Boomers who did much of the early leg work on personal computers, communications tech, produced some really cool music (namely rock and early hip hop), and started breaking down barriers like the Iron Curtain, and pioneered the internet.  I also like the Gen Xers who are making renewable power sources finally financially feasible, pioneering private space flight, making international business easier, and building up e-commerce.  I also like the Millennials who are building social media, starting businesses, fighting terrorism, trying to spread the ideas of freedom, democracy, and self determination in nations that have been authoritarian or theocratic nations for centuries.  And I like people of all generations that see that, regardless our ages or nationalities or creeds, we are all living on the same planet and that what happens in one place doesn’t just stay in one place.

Another thing I am tired of is dystopias and pessimist visions for the future.  I never really got into science fiction nearly as much as science nonfiction because most science fiction books and movies depict hopeless and lousy futures and presents such lousy futures as inevitable.  Who is going to fight for a better future with “inspiration” like that?  One of the reasons Star Trek is so popular even after fifty years is that it portrays a future where humanity has overcome many of their past hangups.  It shows what can be possible.  It shows a good future worth fighting for.  Far more scientists were inspired to pursue science by stories like Star Trek then the Terminator series.  As much as people are afraid of Artificial Intelligence turning against humans and killing us all, I would laugh and cry both if AI programs and machines turned out to have more empathy and compassion than humans in general. Besides, we already have millions of AI machines and programs, like every smart phone and computer with internet access.  I don’t foresee these things taking over, but I can see humans and machines merging their intelligences and making humans much, much smarter within a few generations.  I mean, most people already use their smart phones and computers as brain extenders and they haven’t been around that long.   In many ways, people already have the potential to be much smarter and better informed than previous generations simply because of information technology.  And if we get to the point that future generations can augment their brains through surgical implants, then our great grandkids will look back us and pity us for being so unintelligent.  We may seem like cavemen to the citizens of the 22nd century.  I certainly hope so even though I’ll likely never get to see it.

For most of human history, we have made tools to extend our bodies.  Now with computers, internet, and AI, we are making tools to extend and augment our brains.  I don’t fear technology because technology is merely a tool.  Granted, all tools can be used for ill purposes.  Fire cooked our food and kept us warm but it also burned down our villages and cities.  The printing press made knowledge available to the masses but it also made misinformation and propaganda possible too.  I can make friends over the internet I would never otherwise meet but I still have to work around opinionated trolls and trouble makers made more bold by the technology.  I try not to take trolls and trouble makers personally as I know most people wouldn’t be saying such things to a live audience.  And I try not to take my elders personally when they gripe about my generation because they were young once too and had their elders complain about them.  But I wouldn’t mind breaking this pointless and aggravating cycle though.  I try hard to not complain about people younger than me because I remember what it was like to be a kid myself and be ragged on by my elders.  Maybe people rag on younger people just because we forget what it’s like starting out.  And maybe young people don’t like older people because they don’t realize that these elders had many years head start and that someday they could do well themselves given the time and effort.

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.

Problems Socializing

Been a few days since I last wrote.  But that is mainly because I really haven’t had any real ups or downs.  I’ve been quite stable for several days.  Haven’t felt any real anxiety or depression for any true length of time.  I still spend most of my time alone without much for physical interaction.  But I still interact with friends and family via phone calls and Facebook.  I don’t mind being alone as much as I used to.  It’s a routine that doesn’t cause me stress and anxiety.  I just see no need to interact with my neighbors much as I really have no interest in talking about mundane things like weather and complex gossip.  I just have no use for that kind of information I can pick up on my own within seconds.  I don’t have to rehash the same mundane nonsense over and over again.  It bores me and irritates me.  I mean, seriously, please tell me something I don’t already know.  Or better yet, tell me something that is interesting.

Naturally many people I have met over the years have thought I was aloof, arrogant, and anti social.  This is mainly because I have interests outside of my home community, sports, and politics.  It was tough growing up in an era before the internet in an isolated village.  I was annoyed at how everyone in my village thought my business was their business.  This bothered me even in grade school.  I had always heard “If you’re not up to anything bad, it shouldn’t matter who knows”.  No.  Most people I knew and know today are really judgmental of anyone outside of the accepted norm.  I am outside of the norm on just about everything.  Playing football in high school was probably the only thing I did growing up that many people would have thought normal.  No I don’t like mindless chit chat.  No I don’t like chasing women.  No I don’t like most of what is on tv.  There’s a lot of things I like that most people don’t care at all about.  I like discussing the possibilities of future science and technology.  I like discussing history.  I like discussing philosophy.  I like discussing classical literature.  I like writing.  I like reading.  It seems that most people I know haven’t read a book since high school.  And if any of likes or dislikes makes me appear as an elitist intellectual snob, than so be it.  We need more people who try to think rather than just through life sub conscious.

None of these social problems are made easier by having schizophrenia.  But at least having mental illness and problems socializing has taught me who is and who isn’t trustworthy.  I may not have lots of social contacts, but I do have some amazing family and friends.  And in the end, isn’t that what life is all about?

Thoughts on Upcoming Graduations and Future Possibilities

College graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Some days it’s hard to believe that it’s been thirteen years since I finished college.  Other days it seems like it was somebody else’s life.  I am definitely not the same person I was then.  Back then I believed I could still work in spite my mental illness if I found the right situation.  Over the next several years I worked a variety of jobs; retail clerk, sales man, teacher’s aide, factory worker, loading dock worker, cook, dish washer, janitor, and now blogger.  Besides the teacher’s aide job, none of these jobs had anything to do with what I studied in college.

In my younger years, I was kind of resentful that I didn’t find a good paying job in the field I studied.  For awhile I believed that college was a waste because of this.  I really don’t feel that way anymore.  After studying science and tech advances for the last few years, I know now that it’s impossible to spend four to five years in college and expect to have a career in that field for the next forty years.  The science and technology is advancing too fast anymore.  Entire new industries are being creating and being destroyed every year anymore.  It’s foolish to tell an eighteen year old kid fresh out of high school that what they major in has to last them until age sixty five.  Most eighteen year olds don’t know what’s even available, let alone where their true strengths lie.  When I started college I never saw myself becoming a writer and blogger.  There were very few blogs in 1999 when I started college.  There weren’t even social media sites, good search engines, youtube, netflix, etc back then.  And that was just eighteen years ago, not that long ago.  Who knows what will change in the next eighteen years.  I might not even need to use a keyboard to write a blog by 2035.

As far as telling an eighteen year old kid that they have to stay in one career field for their lives, that’s asinine.  These kids graduating high school this spring won’t hit even our current retirement age until the mid 2060s.  We can’t realistically train these kids for lifelong careers when we don’t know what will be available by then.  Maybe some of the kids graduating this year will be working in vertical farming, yet in 2017 this tech is still in development phases.  Maybe some of these kids will be robotics mechanics.  Perhaps some will become technological nomads and just go wherever the work takes them.  Have lap top, will travel much like the hired guns of the Old West.  Maybe some of the kids graduating this spring will work on building moon and Martian colonies.  Maybe some of these kids will be among the first to have their children genetically modified.  I don’t know.  But I doubt few of them, if any, will be able to make careers as truck drivers, fast food workers, retail clerks, telemarketing, book keeping or most manufacturing.  These jobs will be among the first to be automated.

And ironically, no one else knows exactly what the future of work holds for these kids leaving high school either.  Tech gurus like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, etc. can have good ideas but we realistically can’t foresee what will and what won’t happen in the next twenty, thirty, or forty years. And politicians can say they want to revive blue collar manufacturing jobs, but that’s not going to happen in spite their best efforts.  We can’t go back to the past and trying to do so will only make the transitions to a higher tech world civilization even harder and delay the inevitable.  For all I know, by 2065 the basics of life could be cheap enough that working may optional for some people.  Maybe the only real jobs humans can do will be in science research and space exploration.  Of course I could be completely wrong and World War III knocks humanity back to the Stone Age.  What I do know is that as much change as I have seen since graduating high school in 1999, even that change is going to be dwarfed by what’s coming in the next couple generations.

Spring

Since the weather has turned to true spring, I’ve been getting out of my apartment at least a few times per day.  Sometimes I’ll sit outside and listen to the birds and watch the squirrels.  A few times this spring I had Jimmy John’s delivery and had makeshift picnics.  I still don’t drive much simply because I don’t have to, especially since I can do most of my shopping and socializing online or over the phone.  But I’ll drive my car at least once a day just to make sure everything is running all right.

I renewed the lease on my apartment for another year just in case the move out of state doesn’t come through.  The big hang up is whether my parents can get their acreage sold.  Right now they are baby sitting their grandkids for the next several days and looking over a few places in person. I wouldn’t mind moving to a larger city as I have always wanted to live in a city at least once.  I’ve lived in villages and small towns my entire life. I’m not as in love with rural living as most of my family and classmates from high school.  I would love to see what the world has to offer.  Being in spring has me hopeful and thinking about the future.