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.

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Things I Didn’t Know As A Kid, Part 2

For this entry, I’m taking a break from my regular mental illness writings and writing on something more light hearted.  Growing up, we’ve all had mistaken impressions about what things were really like in the adult world or in popular culture.  I was no exception.

Here is another installment of the depth of my youthful ignorance.  It’s amazing, though.  I’ve been out on my own for ten years and I’m now less intelligent than I thought I was when I was eighteen.  Either the older I get the dumber I was or I just forget what I actually did know.

As a kid growing up in rural Nebraska, I not only had no idea that Minnesotans and Canadians spoke with accents BUT I was ignorant enough to believe that we in Nebraska did not as well.  Way wrong on that one.  Just ask anyone who has ever heard me talk.

Growing up as a hopeless college football junkie, I knew that the Wishbone formation was a football offense long before I knew it was a chicken bone.  Sad but true.  Yet I did know who The President was before I knew who Tom Osborne was.  

As a kid who was an avid reader, the old library in my hometown was a second home to me.  I read so much as a kid that I was well into college before I even imagine why other people just couldn’t get into reading.  Just a matter of practice makes perfect.

When I was in grade school, I found it laughable that kids from the big cities on the coasts thought that kids from the midwest rode horses to school or lived two miles from their nearest neighbors or didn’t have indoor plumbing or such other nonsense as if we were still in the late 1800s.  Yet it didn’t occur to me that the idea of there being drug dealers and pimps on every street corner, mobsters buying off entire state governments, and the ‘valley girl types’ were just as ridiculous.  But that’s stereotypes for you.

Even as a kid I didn’t like Mickey Mouse at all.  I was more partial to Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck.  And I used to have endless debates with my friends about who was the better cartoon character.  Think a grade school version of the deeper debates (i.e. Capitalism vs. Communism, Evolution vs. Creationism, Ford vs. Chevy) if you will.  Of course when I’d be losing my argument I’d bring out the heavy artillery and yell “Yeah, well Donald Duck is such a man that he doesn’t even wear pants!” or “Yeah, well how much money does Mickey Mouse have?  Scrooge McDuck can swim in his cash!” 

 The first time I saw ‘Braveheart’ as a teenager, I unintentionally spent the next 24 hours speaking a Scottish accent.  I’m just glad that I didn’t own a kilt or a massive sword.

 My biggest aspiration as an 8 year old child was to “Be rich enough that me and my friends can play Monopoly with real money.”  Of course I’m well short of this goal right now but I could probably start building houses on Baltic Avenue right now.  

 When I was 13 and first heard about the book ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand, I immediately thought it was about the writing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’  I was a bit off on that one.

When I was in college, I read an email forward titled ‘Jocks vs. Nerds.’  It described how much money Michael Jordan had and how fast he was earning his money and “at that rate it would take over 400 years to have the money Bill Gates has right now.  Nerds win.”  I was telling one of my friends this and he retorted, “Yeah, well how many women would want Bill Gates if it weren’t for his money?”  To which I responded, “Well, at least any paternity suits against him would be automatically false.  So there’s one advantage.”  And I say that typing with a computer program he made famous.