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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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.