Changes and Introversion

Been going through changes the last several days.  I finally broke my habit of staying up all night and then sleeping much of the day.  Took a few months to break that habit.  Now I’m usually up around 6 am and in bed by 10pm.  And yet my routines don’t feel that different.  I’ve been getting out of the apartment more and spending time outdoors.  It helps that the weather has turned cooler.

Even though I leave my apartment several times a day, I still haven’t been outside of my hometown for several weeks.  While I still have a little phobia about driving, I do drive more than I used to.  It’s just that it’s all in town and stop and go driving.  I really don’t have much choice but to overcome my fear of driving as my hometown doesn’t have good public transit.  Fortunately I can everything I need within city limits.  That’s one of the advantages of living in a college town that the farm village I grew up in never had.  As it is, I have to buy fuel for my car only once a month anymore.  Used to be I had to buy every week when I lived with my parents when I was in high school and college.

Didn’t go out for Halloween.  I stayed home and watched a few supernatural thrillers and  listened to the old ‘War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast on youtube.  Spent most of my nights in October watching playoff baseball.  So I guess I have to find a new way to spend my evenings.

Overall I feel pretty calm and content.  I still have auditory hallucinations a couple times a day, usually hearing footsteps that aren’t there or my phone ringing when no one is calling.  The real odd thing is that most of my hallucinations now come shortly after I wake up and before I get out of bed.  I still get enough sleep.  I think the consistent sleep helps keep me stable.  I still avoid rude, obnoxious, and irritable people as much as I can.  That definitely helps keep me stable even if it does hurt my social life.

At this point of my life, I have come to the conclusion that small talk and casual acquaintances are overrated.  Most people simply don’t have deep and connecting conversations with very many people.  I would rather bond to some family members and a few close friends as opposed to have lots of meaningless casual conversations with legions of fair weather friends.  I love being an introvert.  Most of my friends are deep thinking introverts.  Being a people person is something that does not come natural to me.  On top of that, I think it’s overrated.  It doesn’t bother me that I sometimes spend entire days alone without talking to anyone at all.  I rather enjoy my privacy and freedom to think and explore different ideas.  I really don’t enjoy socializing that much.  Most times, people won’t talk about anything beyond the weather, sports, or how much they hate their job.  To me, it gets boring and mind numbing really quick.  I wouldn’t be much fun at a cocktail party.  Even though I’m not sure I could qualify, I think it’s too bad my hometown doesn’t have a MENSA chapter or some social group similar.  I really crave intelligent conversation and mental exercise.  Learning new things actually gives me joy and makes me feel good physically.  Unfortunately I don’t get this much when socializing with most people.  I have painfully found out that many smart people have lousy social lives.  I am no exception.

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Experiences With Mental Illness Blogging

I’ve been doing this blog for over three years.  And I absolutely enjoy every minute I spend blogging.  I enjoy it more than any traditional job I ever had.  I enjoy it even more than the classes I took in college.  I don’t have to be forced to write about mental illness.  I would do this for free.  I am doing it for free unless I get any kind of advertising revenue or sponsors.  I wouldn’t refuse any money that comes my way even though I am not delusional enough to think I can get off disability pension from blogging.  I have been doing this blog for three years and not made a cent off it.  In my twelve years of overall writing I have probably broke even between selling print on demand books and what I spent advertising my blog through Facebook.  I don’t suppose many people can claim they have a passionate hobby that almost pays for itself.

After spending several years with selling only a few dozen books of mental illness essays and poetry I really had no expectations with this blog.  I didn’t know what kind of a following I would have or even if I would have a following outside my mother and a few friends.  So I set up shop with a free blog site and started writing blogs about what it is like to have schizophrenia to people who can’t imagine it.  This isn’t the first blog I ever did.  A friend and I did a blog several years ago.  It never gained more than a couple hundred views because we were unfocused and not posting regularly.  I did a blog about my poetry for awhile before I found out I wasn’t much of a poet and there really isn’t a great demand for average poetry.

After examining what I liked to read, what I was good at writing, and what I gained good audiences from, I decided three years ago to focus on writing about my experiences with mental illness.  That’s when I gained more than a few readers.  After years of experimenting with styles and genres, I came to the conclusion I do best writing nonfiction essays from the first person point of view.  I had written rough drafts for two coming of age type novels both from first person view.  They didn’t really hold together and I later found out for fiction novels that first person is tougher than third person point of view.

Once I found my niche and style I had a few visitors coming in with every blog post.  After it became a weekly posting I had a few more visitors.  The thing that helped me gain more visitors was posting often.  A blogger simply can’t build any kind of audience by posting only once or twice a month or only when the creative muse moves them.  Most of my favorite individual youtube content creators post several times a week and have for several years.  I’m not at that kind of proficiency, but perhaps I could be if I keep posting material.  I think it helps to get a body of work of several dozen postings at minimum so that search engines can find your work easier.  As of now I have had close to two hundred postings over the last three years and a little over 9,500 visitors from 90 different nations.  There are bloggers (and youtube stars) who get that even on bad days, but I’ve been working at this for only a few years and haven’t done as much advertising as some people.  Being on a limited budget with a disability pension I have to be choosy about what kind of advertising I do as it still costs money to get truly noticed.

Early on in the first several months I got some audience from following other bloggers and leaving positive comments on their articles.  I left nothing but positive comments.  If I didn’t agree with a particular post I just didn’t comment.  I didn’t want to gain the reputation of a troll or troublemaker.  Having a good reputation on the internet is more valuable than gold.  I got some following from following other bloggers and I tried to direct some of my readers to bloggers who helped me out.  But leaving positive comments on other blogs, following other blogs, and trying to refer traffic to other blogs helped me out in the early months.

Even though I have a few years of blogging experience and some following I don’t consider myself established by any means.  I don’t think there can be anything really established as far as the internet and the current information revolution goes.  I was learning as I went when I wrote my first words twelve years ago and I’m still learning new things even today. I was a bit frustrated in the early years when I would get rejection notices in the mail several times a week.  I was also frustrated in the early postings when I wasn’t getting more than a few visitors per post.  But looking back on it, I see how rough and raw most of those writings were.  I’m glad they didn’t get published.  And I’m sure in several more years I’ll look at some of the things I’m writing now as rough and unpolished.  It’s a continuous process that never ends.  I hope to always keep improving as a writer so I can better explain to people what living with a mental illness is really like.

 

 

Reading, Learning, Advances, and Hope

Ever since I changed medications back in March I gradually started reading more.  For several months before I changed my psych medications I had little interest in reading.  I had gotten rid of some of my books.  I still had several hundred ebooks and I kept my books I wanted to reread.  But I hadn’t been reading much for a long time.  I had just lost interest in reading.  I was watching a lot of educational videos on youtube and netflix.

Now it was quite unusual for me to lose interest in reading.  I have known how to read even from my earliest memories.  I didn’t have to be encouraged to read as the village library was a second home to me.  While most of the neighborhood kids were playing basketball or throwing around the football during our summer afternoons, I was spending my time at the library.  I never really did like fantasy books or get too much into fiction.  But I absolutely loved books about different animals, different plants, different nations, and the high achievers of history.  Reading so much nonfiction during my summers off from school really helped me in my classes once school started.  Sometimes I would read ahead in the textbooks because I wanted to know what would be covered next.  I read ahead especially in science and history books.  I didn’t have to be encouraged to read.  I had to be forced to put down the books and get physical activity with the neighborhood kids from even an early age.

I read because I thought learning something new was entertainment.  It actually makes me feel good physically to learn new things.  Reading a good book and learning new ideas gives me a high that no booze, money, or woman could possibly give me.  I know I’m weird for loving learning, at least I’m weird in my culture.  But I certainly wouldn’t want to ever be where I couldn’t read.  That’s why I would prefer to go hard of hearing rather than lose my eye site.  It’s sad that not very many people continue their education after high school or college.  For me that’s when my self education really took off.  I’ve learned more history, economics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, and literature since graduating college than I did when I was in school.  Being in school laid the foundation but my love of reading took it to levels that not many achieve on their own.  I would rather read a book than go to a nightclub.  I have always been that way.

I know some people think they were born in the wrong era and would have been happier in medieval times or in the old west.  I don’t look to the past like that even though history was one of my best subjects in high school.  Part of me wonders at what excellent things my five year old nephew will see in his lifetime should he live to be in his late nineties like my grandmother.  I think about some of the changes she saw just in her lifetime.  She went from being in awe of Henry Ford’s automobile to having a Facebook account that she used to keep up with friends and family.  She didn’t even have indoor plumbing in her house until after she was married.  My grandfather used to trade in his car after it had over 50,000 miles because it was wearing out.  Now a car can last much longer even with minimal maintenance.  My five year old nephew will never know a world before the internet or basic automation.  He will never know a world where we didn’t know the human genome.  He will probably never own a music CD.  If self driving cars gain wide spread acceptance, he might not even need to own a car or even have a driver’s license.  I can’t imagine what he will see in his lifetime, let alone his children’s lifetime.  For me things have gotten really interesting just in the last twenty five years.  I wouldn’t want to live in the past.  I would be even more ridiculed in the old west because of my reading.  I would have been burned at the stake as a heretic in medieval times.  I would have been a terrible hunter in the Ice Ages.  My only hope then would have to become the tribal medicine man providing I didn’t kill myself from doing experiments with poisoned plants and mushrooms.  In short I love learning and seeing advances.  I love seeing the advances I have seen just since I was old enough to pay attention thirty years ago.  I can hardly wait to see what advances come by the time even I’m an old man.  It’s things like these advances and seeing people becoming less accepting of violence, sexism, bigotry, and cruelty that give me hope for the future of my species.

 

Inactivity In Winter

Winters have always been an odd time for me.  Not because my mental illness flares up in winter or I have winter depression.  It is because of forced inactivity and longer nights that cold weather always brings.  I’ve always been one of these people who have a hard time sitting still for long.  As a kid I used to pace in our large backyard for hours at a time, just thinking and dreaming up stories and adventures.  I did this some even in the winter.  Yet I would be counting down the days until spring started and things would warm up.  I hated the forced inactivity and being forced to stay indoors then.  I still don’t like it much.  The only ways I can sit still are by reading a book, writing in a journal, playing an intellectually challenging computer game, watching educational and informative videos on youtube and netflix, or chatting with friends over the phone.  Even in my physical downtime I have to be mentally engaged in some activity.

This is even more so in winter.  While my home state doesn’t have the snow falls some places do, we do have bad cold and really bad north winds.  Even when it’s been dry for several days, it’s tough to go outside because of the cold and the howling winds that are common on the Nebraska plains.  This forced inactivity does force me to be more careful about how much I eat since it’ll be tough to burn it off just by walking inside.  I don’t have a gym membership and, since I lost 60 pounds exercising on my own in 2014, I don’t think I need one.  I’ll probably sign up for one for the end of 2015 if I actually gain weight this winter.

One of the ways I’ve worked against boredom in winter in past years was by reading and writing.  I’ve traditionally done more heavy reading in winter months than other months.  I really don’t like much on cable tv anymore. I’m one of those people who feels like a day is wasted if he doesn’t accomplish something physically or learns something mentally.  So just sitting in front of the tv for hours isn’t an option.  I have gotten to where when I’m reading or writing on my computer, I’ll have youtube with a music program playing in one window while I write on another.  I’m also getting into free audiobooks and podcasts through youtube as well.  I figure if I can’t be outside and doing something, I’ll be inside and learning something.

I admit I often learn things merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity that demands to be fed on a daily basis.  It doesn’t make me any more money (obviously) but it does scratch an itch that won’t go away on it’s own.  It also makes for interesting conversation.  I don’t really do well with small talk at social gatherings, probably because of my mental illness and natural introverted nature.  I’m not the center of attention at parties, but I am usually in the corner with a few other people tossing ideas back and forth.

My intellectual pursuit probably seems pointless to some and intellectual vanity to others.  But it is a good way for me to pass the time, especially in winter.  If it makes me a little more knowledgeable and better at carrying an intelligent conversation, I will do it.  Maybe in a few years, after I achieve my health and weight goals, I can then be doing more physical things to add to the intellectual strength.  I’d really like to become my own version of ‘The Most Interesting Man’ from the beer commercials.  I never could understand why anyone would voluntary end their learning once they leave school.  I know school was boring for many people, myself included.  For me, my independent study scratches the itch my formal education didn’t.  I do much of this independent study in winter.

We all have twenty four hours in a day.  We all have our times of forced inactivity.  But forced inactivity can be use for our benefit.  Even ancient societies recognized the importance of down time even if it was forced.  I use my winters to really increase my mental activity, reading, and learning.  It’s either that or allow myself to go as stale and bleak as the winter weather outside.

Washing Out of Graduate School, Having Mental Health Issues, and Chains of Events (Or The Story of My Adult Life)

If I were to meet anyone who has been diagnosed with mental health problems and he/she were looking for advice as to what to do from the diagnosis onward, it would be 1) Don’t Give Up,  2) Look for what you are naturally good at despite your problems, and 3) Get Really Creative. 

In this entry, I’m going to tell some of my personal story from the last several years. It’s a short autobiography of sorts. In February of 2006, after having washed out of the MBA program at a small state university, I decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.  I had recently lost my graduate assistantship due to my grades.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like my classes or hate my work with the university.  Far from it.  I absolutely loved the work of being a research assistant, tutor, seminar presenter, and occasional substitute teacher.  Yet my mental health issues were flaring up during this time.  I would have been allowed to stay in school in hopes that I could raise my grades and get back on track.  But the prospect of going to school without a job and no way but loans to pay for it while taking on my mental health issues just didn’t appeal to me.  I was able to get through undergraduate college without any debt thanks to academic scholarships, working full time during the summers, and the much appreciated assistance of my family.  I was afraid that taking on the burden of continuing graduate school with no guarantee of getting my grades back up, having to go deep into debt to continue said studies, all the while combating mental health problems and being a financial drag on my family (who were already paying through the nose for the high risk health insurance I was on for meds that otherwise would have cost almost $2,000 monthly); all of it would have been major problems that simply were not worth it.

Looking back on it, I believe I could have completed the MBA program had it not been for the mental health burdens.  But, like almost everyone, I simply didn’t have the unlimited funds to cover medications, health insurance, and retaking the two classes I didn’t do well at all in.  Yet, knowing myself better now at age 33 than I did at age 25, I know I would have been unhappy with being another cubicle bum jockeying for dollars.  Even though I appreciate money as much as anyone I know, I also know it isn’t my only motivator or even one of my primary motivators.  I have found, over the last several years of experience and looking for tendencies in my life going back to before I even started elementary school, that I really enjoyed sharing what I learned with others and giving advice.  If I did complete the MBA program and then become something like a financial analyst, I wouldn’t have been meeting my need to share what I learn to others and helping others avoid problems.  I love explaining things to people, assisting people, and looking up things I don’t know.  I always have.   Had I been able to stay on the ‘traditional’ path, I would be miserable at a cubicle job but would still have my personality slants I mentioned above.  I would have probably then gone on to attempt to get a PhD just so I could teach at even a junior college. I probably would have been doing what I loved, but would have had a rough road to get there.  But to quote Eric Church, “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”

Instead, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to become competent in areas besides business and economics.  While I am not an expert on treating mental health problems and issues in others, I have over the years become quite knowledgeable on how to survive with mental health problems and issues.  In the process, I was able to work a part time job for over four years.  I have, thanks to being on Social Security and having the earnings limitations that come with being on Social Security, become knowledgeable on how to survive on what most people in the Western world would consider below poverty level existence.  I have learned how to ‘stretch a dollar’ far further than one could learn in any business school.  Thanks to following my natural love of telling stories, explaining things to people, and reading, I am also a self taught writer.  I have been writing seriously for only ten years as it wasn’t something I acted on until I was almost out of undergraduate college.  Because of my mental health issues, my natural empathy for other people, and my natural desire to share what I learned, I eventually came to write about my experiences with mental health problems and issues.  Many of these writings have found their way onto this blog, The Writing of Life.  I may not have a string of letters behind my last name that ‘qualifies’ me as a trusted expert, at least not in the traditional academic sense.  But with my experiences with my own mental health problems combined with my writing skills and the power of the internet in the Information Age, I can fulfill my natural talents and perhaps help some people in the process.

I have no idea where my life’s journey will go from here.  But this blog will be part of it regardless.  In only seven months of having a definite focus in my blog, I have had over 1,500 visits already.  Though there are bloggers that get that even on a bad day, this is already more than I would have expected when I started. And that’s with sometimes infrequent posts.  Being somewhat risk adverse by nature, I never would have started the process of becoming a mental health advice blogger had I never been forced to change directions.  Yet “Thank God I ain’t what I almost was.”