Nostalgia and Regrets, Or Lack Of

One of my best friends from college died from cancer a few days ago. She was only a couple years older than I and had two teenage kids. I used to play trivia games all the time and she was one of the few who could actually beat me on our campus. After a couple years, she was the only one who would even play against me. Even though I hadn’t seen her in several years, I will always miss her. Easy socializing with people of similar interests is one of the things I miss about not being young anymore.

I’ve been thinking back on my younger years more than usual lately. I’m normally not nostalgic as I think nostalgia glosses over the bad parts of our past, overlooks what is going on that is good today, and leaves no vision for the future. Maybe it’s the time of year when school is back in session and my hometown, home to a small state university of about 8,000 students, comes back to life. Maybe it’s that after over a year and a half of pandemic and the end of two decades of war in the Middle East (at least for my country), I have found myself reflecting on how we got to the point in August 2021 were we currently reside.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand why so many people are nostalgic. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the health they had in their late teens coupled with the knowledge they have in their elder years? But, health is wasted on the young and inexperienced and wisdom and wealth are wasted on the elderly, frail, and cynical. I just hope I never find myself complaining about the younger generations and fantasizing about a past that never existed anywhere outside of my own mind.

I do have a few regrets about my younger years. Most of them are minor, but the big one I have is that I didn’t do more to care for my physical health while I was fighting my mental illness in my twenties. I don’t regret the road trips, the books read, the college degree earned, the dead end jobs abandoned, the toxic people I gave up on, the failed romances, not having gotten married, not having kids, the activities participated in, etc. I certainly don’t regret having survived to middle age with a serious mental illness. I don’t regret trying to make something good out of a bad situation. I don’t regret being involved in many activities in high school and college. I don’t regret the friends I’ve kept over the decades. I don’t regret staying on good terms with most of my family even if we don’t chat very often. I don’t regret the women I’ve asked out on dates in high school and college even if I got rejected by all but a few of them. I don’t regret going a year and a half into a worldwide pandemic without getting sick and spending most of my time isolated. I don’t even regret selling my car and giving up driving. I always thought driving was overrated anyway. The only reason I learned to drive is that my country has had garbage for public transit my entire life.

I don’t regret not socializing with toxic people. I don’t regret cutting rude people out of my life. I don’t regret giving up on my minimum wage career. I don’t regret not letting other people determine what I think of myself. I don’t regret having unpopular opinions. And I certainly don’t regret spotting trends years before most people I know. I guess I’m not as nostalgic as most people my age and older because I have fewer regrets. Sure it meant lots of heat aches, humiliation, failed jobs, being betrayed, and knowing I’ll never be prestigious, rich, or even a respected member of my community. But it was worth it to become the man I am today.

Things I Love About Being An Adult

Going off subject for this post. These are some of the things I enjoy about being an adult.


Things I Love About Being An Adult

Privacy

Being able to vote but realizing that I am far more than what I vote for

Being able to change jobs easier than changing schools

Having locks on my bedroom door

Not feeling guilty for not being like everyone else

Not feeling pressure to date or get married

Not being afraid to ask for help

Not feeling guilty for not wanting to run errands for people

Getting to cook what I want for dinner every night

If I don’t like where I live, I can always move

Being able to save money

Being able to pursue my own interests

Not feeling guilty for pursuing my own interests

Not having to fake interest in things I couldn’t care less about

Not feeling guilty for not tolerating bad treatment from other people

Realizing that people in authority are often clueless

Not having to automatically respect someone because they are old or have money

Realizing there is far more to the world than my tiny farming village

Not being afraid to like diversity

Not being afraid to not voice my opinions if I don’t want to

Not being forced to live in a place where everyone thinks they have a right to know what I’m up to at all times

Realizing there is more to life than just working and making money

Not being an outcast for liking intellectual things

Realizing there is nothing grown up or rebellious about getting drunk or stoned

Not feeling weird for not wanting to date and have sex

Not feeling guilty for just wanting to be left alone

Not feeling guilty for just wanting to be anonymous

Realizing it’s far better to be smart and eccentric than it is to be just as boring and mundane as everyone else

Realizing that yes, nerds really do rule the modern world

Not having to care about gossip

Being free to make friends with whomever I want

Realizing that a bad few days isn’t the end of my life

Realizing that the world isn’t as screwed up as the media or my elders make it out to be

Not feeling stupid for having hope in humanity

Being around long enough to see that what goes around often comes back on people

Being around long enough to see that constantly treating people like garbage comes back to haunt people more often than not

Being around long enough to see stupid and rude people often get to suffer for being stupid and rude

Being around long enough to realize that nothing lasts forever

Did I mention that I actually have some privacy as an adult and I absolutely love it?

Letting Go

It has been said, I think it was in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, that “in order to move forward, you have to leave the past behind” or something along the same idea.  I admit to having problems with letting go of what happened in my younger years, especially during times when my mental illness flares up especially bad.  During such times I have a very hard time coming to accept that my life did not turn out how I remotely imagined it would when I was sixteen and looking ahead to the vast expanse of years that was ahead.  At that age, I pictured that I would be doing something in medical research and married with at least a couple of children and living in some large metroplex by the time I turned 35.  Like many intelligent kids that could be classified as somewhat ‘nerdy’, I dreamed of the day I would move out of my hometown of less than 500 people and onto bigger and better things.  Like most of the few close friends I had, I so desperately wanted out of Nebraska.  I figured there was nothing here for me in the science and medicine fields and I would be wasting my life if I stayed behind.  Well, time has a way of making fools of even the smartest of us.

I never left Nebraska while all the friends from high school I stayed in contact with did.  In fact, none of the friends I made in college stayed in state either.  I didn’t end up working in any scientific or medical field for even one day of my life.  I certainly never got married or had kids.  I never even worked in a job that would require me to graduate high school for any real length of time, and I essentially failed at those jobs.  In spite of my illness, I retained almost all of my natural intelligence even though now my ability to work under stress and read anyone ‘between the lines’ was completely gone.  Any of these instances, let alone all of these put together, were serious blows to my pride and ego.

For the first several years of my mental illness, I agonized over where I went wrong.  I retained my natural intelligence yet I couldn’t do well in even minimum wage work.  It was baffling to my caseworkers at Vocational Rehab that I was so smart yet couldn’t handle any real stress.  For a long time, I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough and that work was supposed to suck.  I had spent my entire life hearing adults complain about their jobs as if their misery was something they took pride in.  So I just tried harder and attempted to abandon any idea that I was supposed to enjoy work or even life for that matter.  In time I came to believe I was doomed to be a failure at working a regular job.

For the next couple of years, I threw myself into my writing.  I was working part time at the courthouse as a janitor by this time.  I came to believe that the only way I could ‘make something of myself’ was to write a decent selling book.  I knew that the odds were against me as less than one percent of even published writers would make above poverty level if they relied solely on their writing work.  Well, that didn’t work either.  I self published a couple books of poetry, a book about my experiences as a mentally ill person in a ‘chronically sane world’, and even wrote rough drafts for two novels.  Found out the hard way that I have almost no talent for writing fiction.  I don’t even like reading fiction, especially modern fiction.  Even though I sold a few dozen copies of my mental illness book, the others didn’t sell at all.  So for a few years after that, I felt like a failure as a writer.

Now that the traditional writer door had been rudely slammed in my face, I became very depressed and angry.  I couldn’t understand what was the point of retaining my intelligence and not being able to use my abilities to even support myself, let alone help others.  I couldn’t figure any of this out.  I just couldn’t let go of what this illness cost me.  Occasionally I still find myself angry over what I lost.  I had the example of what I could have, and should have, been in the person of my older brother.  He is currently working as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, making more money per year in his mid 30s than my parents ever made at any point in their careers, living in a excellent neighborhood in a metroplex outside of our home state, married to an intelligent woman (who also is an engineer), and has four children that he’s absolutely devoted to.

I suppose it’s wrong to be envious of him, though a part of me sometimes is.  I know as kids, I actually got better grades in school and read more books than he did.  When I’m in the grips of my mental illness, I often find myself thinking our lives could have been similar.  When I’m seriously in the grips of the illness and feeling nothing but anger and hostility, I find myself thinking our lives could have been easily reversed with me doing the work of my dreams and him being mentally ill.  Fortunately that doesn’t happen often.

When I’m not caught in the grasp of the illness, I find it very easy to let go of my past and move forward.  I have found an outlet of sorts though blogging.  Sure I don’t have thousands of visitors every day like some blogs here on wordpress.  No I’m not known outside of my family, my current hometown, my handful of friends, and people who follow and/or happen to stumble on these writings.  No, I haven’t made even one cent off these writings on this blog.  Sure, I’m dependent on the government for my medications and even my living.  Yet, when I am doing well, I have completely accepted all the aspects of my mental illness and have moved forward.  It is now only the small minority of times when I’m in the grips of the illness that I have to worry about stumbling and dwelling on everything that has happened over the last twenty years.