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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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.

Night Owl

Been kind of a quiet last few days.  That’s why I haven’t written much; just no real news to report.  I still sleep most mornings after being awake most nights.  Last night was the first time in months I was asleep before midnight.  It was strange to be waking up at sunrise instead of going to bed then.  Even though my schedules are all backward compared to the rest of the world, I’m still feeling quite stable.  I’m sure my friends and family are concerned about my backwards bio clock, but I have more or less been quite stable for months because of it.  Even though my social life has taken a beating because of my schedule, I really don’t want to change it up too much because it has worked for so long.

I usually spend my overnight hours attending YouTube university and messing with computer games.  I like playing strategy games as opposed to shooters or action games.  I guess I like brain building activities even in leisure time.  As far as youtube goes, the topics I watch on change every so often.  For awhile I was researching near future tech we could be seeing in the next few years.  Then I researched early civilizations like Sumeria.  Now I’m currently interested in the old Chinese Silk Road.  Unfortunately, I didn’t study that part of the world’s history much during my formal education.  But then there is only so much time in school that most things I had to learn on my own out of necessity and my own curiousity.  But just because I’m on disability doesn’t mean I have gotten lazy.  Too many people have the idea that all disabled people spend their social security money on booze and drugs.  For most of us, this simply isn’t true.  Sure some people do stupid things with their money, but so do many people regardless their working status.

I usually spend my evenings alone and working on my computers and building my brains.  But I enjoy learning.  It is actually fun for me.  I feel sad that intelligence is no longer valued among most people I know.  But that is just the way things are.  One good thing about the internet is that it is easier to find like minded people than in ages past.  Most of my friends I interact with online.  Many I haven’t met in real life and probably never will.  But that’s going to be the new normal.

All Nighters and End of Winter Plans

I’m back to keeping odd hours again.  I usually sleep in the late mornings and early afternoons while being awake often until sunrise.  I still get enough sleep and I make it a point to get out of my apartment some everyday.  But I have found that at this point in my life I feel less paranoid and irritated in the middle of the night than I do in the mornings.  I never have been a morning person.  Even as a kid I would often stay awake late and read books even on school nights.  I’d be up all night sometimes during the summers and Christmas breaks just reading.  While I don’t do as much serious book reading as I once did, I still do audiobooks and listen to science and history lectures.  That is my form of entertainment.  I have also gotten into learning do it yourself fixes around the house via youtube videos.  I’ve recovered crashed computers, sped up my play station, and done various around the house hacks just by watching a few videos.  I have to find something quiet to do when I’m awake in the overnight hours.  I just as well be exercising my mind.

Winter is practically over in my hometown.  Most of the snow is melted.  Baseball preseason is in full swing and the regular season will be starting in a couple weeks.  During the spring and summer I’ll often have a baseball game on the tv in the background while I’m reading a book or working on a computer.  Live sports is about the extent of my traditional tv viewing anymore and even this I don’t watch as much as I did even five years ago.  If cable didn’t come with my apartment I wouldn’t even have it.

I’m looking forward to spring.  This winter has been harsher than usual.  Other than a few days at my parents’ place in February, I haven’t been outside of my hometown this winter.  But my town, while not a city by any stretch of the imagination, has almost everything I need within driving distance.  What I can’t get in my hometown I can always get delivered via internet orders.  In short I really have no real reason to travel much anymore besides seeing friends and family.  And travel is more stressful for me than it was even a few years ago.  I really no longer enjoy the long road trips like I did in my twenties and early thirties.  I have no real plans to travel this summer.  I guess I really have no immediate plans other than continuing to do the blog and stay stable.  But sometimes staying stable with mental illness is a full time job by itself.

Returning to Normal Routines

After several days of colder than average weather, it finally warmed up a little today.  At least it warmed enough for me to run some errands.  It feels good to be able to leave my apartment again without worrying about frostbite.  I had spent several days staying at home, watching college football, playing computer games, but doing little of anything else.  I need to get back into some regular routines.  To that end I started lifting weights again today.  I had been lazy about lifting this summer and fall.  I had been quite lazy about exercise ever since I hurt my back.  Sadly I gained back the weight I had lost a few years ago.  I’m starting over in this regard.  I know I can lose the weight again, it’s just a matter of doing so.

Still not sleeping as much as I used to.  Which is alright with me as I used to sleep twelve hours a day during the summer.  Now I’m getting like six hours a sleep every night.  Yet I still feel quite rested.  And I usually try to take an hour nap in the afternoon.  Even with my reduced sleep, I rarely stay up all night now.  Used to be I stayed up all night three nights per week and then sleep in the mornings.  My sleep is returning to more normal patterns.

Been spending a little more time on social media the last few days, mainly to find out about people’s holidays’ plans.  I don’t know if I’ll be back on facebook and twitter more from now on.  It seems to me that many of my friends have just gotten burnt out on all the drama and fighting that has been so prevalent for the last few years.  I wound up unfollowing many people because of the drama, including family members.  So much for making people more connected.  I think the older I get, the less use I have for drama and nonsense and the more uses I have for logic and intelligence.

Now that the weather is starting to break out of the cold spell and the holidays are over, I am at a crossroads.  I realize I now have more freedom than I used to.  During the holidays I avoid the stores because of the crowds and loud Christmas music and too bright displays.  I’m also at a loss now that I won’t have much going on until spring.  January through April has always been a slow but stable time of year for me.  Mentally I am usually my most stable during the winters.  And I usually get a lot of reading and writing done during the colder parts of year.  I admit I love to read for my own enlightenment more than I do my entertainment.  I consider learning entertainment.  I know I am weird in that regard.  But learning new things gives me joy, I don’t care if being an intellectual makes me a social outcast.

Since the holidays are now over, I can get back to some resemblance of normal routines. I plan on doing many audiobooks on youtube this winter.  I’m thinking about using my Khan Academy account to learn some subjects I wish I had taken when in school.  And I plan on doing more outside my apartment so I can have more material to write about.  Overall I plan on making 2018 an excellent year.

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.

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.