Aging With Mental Illness

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As summer fades into fall I think I have passed through the toughest time of year for myself.  Other than a couple problems I have escaped this summer without any kind of serious breakdowns.  I consider this a victory.  Perhaps it means that after fifteen years of dealing with a mental illness diagnosis I’m able to manage even the worst parts well.

I have heard from my psych doctors and other people in the know that problems with schizophrenia often lessen with age.  When I was going through the worst of my illness in the early years I didn’t pay any attention.  I was hurting bad enough with the depression, hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and paranoia that any possible improvements years later seemed a hallow promise.  I was barely able to function for much of my twenties so the prospect that things would start to get better in my late thirties or early forties didn’t matter at all.  All I knew was I had lost every dream I ever had because of schizophrenia and I would be living on the fringes of society for the rest of my life.  It was no consolation that I might get better in twenty years.  I knew that my prospects for a productive and meaningful life were over.

At least that’s what I thought a dozen years ago when it became obvious to me that I would never be able to hold any kind of meaningful full time employment.  I filed for disability insurance through Social Security and moved into HUD housing.  During my stay in HUD housing and my two stints in a mental hospital, I met many people who were in worse shape than I ever was.  I met people who still didn’t want to take their medications even after twenty years of a diagnosis.  These people refused to take their meds even when it was obvious they weren’t functioning at all without them.  I met people who had severe physical health problems because of smoking and drug abuse in addition to their mental health problems.  I met some people who were just angry and irritable all the time and a few of them even had a mental health diagnosis.

Over the years I also met some pretty cool people with mental illness and or living in HUD housing.  I met one lady who had a pretty high end corporate job until her problems started in her forties.  She was quite an artist too.  I met the pastor friend of mine who knew Hebrew and Greek in HUD housing.  While I miss him and haven’t found any friends like him since he died two years ago, I imagine someone just as good will come along in my apartment complex given enough time.  We have had a few jerks and cranks move in during my ten years here.  We have had many move out or get evicted too.  On a long enough time scale the jerks and cranks usually get what they earn.  Even the ones who didn’t get evicted got shunned by the tenants at large.  One way to make a stay in an apartment complex really unpleasant is to always be mean and or act like the rules don’t apply to you.  Fortunately I haven’t had those problems.  I know that some of the older tenants were resentful of me moving in to the complex ten years ago when I was so young. Previously my complex had been reserved for the elderly.  But, seriously, where else was I going to go?  Long term hospitalization isn’t a highly utilized option anymore.

Of course as good as some of these psychiatric medications have gotten over the last couple decades, long term hospitalization isn’t needed for many psychiatric patients.  Of the three medications I am currently prescribed, two of them didn’t exist even five years ago.  And the DNA tests I took earlier this year indicated that these medications would work quite well given my DNA.  Sure enough these tests were right.  Since I can’t process stress and anxiety well enough to hold a full time job anymore, I’m approaching my life much like a retiree.  I am grateful for the time I have.  I am grateful for being able to live a low stress life.  I am grateful to be able to come and go as I please.  I am grateful I have learned to live on not much money.  And I am especially grateful that I am still able to write about my mental illness and be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.  It’s been an up and down last fifteen years with a diagnosis.  But I think I have seen the worst parts of the illness and am settling into middle age.  I can hardly wait to see what the next fifteen years brings me personally and the treatment of mental illness at large.

 

 

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Budgeting While On Disability

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Bought groceries and supplies today.  So I’m set for another couple weeks even if it means the money is going to be tight for awhile.  Such is expected being on disability insurance and having limited funds to work with.  Being able to budget money is a skill everyone needs.  But it’s vitally important being on disability insurance.  Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t designed to make it’s recipients wealthy.  It is usually enough to get you by if you do a little planning and budgeting.

Every time I’m out shopping I hunt for sales and discounts.  I also have a rewards card (not a credit card) through one of the regional grocery store chains that gives discounts on gasoline purchases.  I have planned to where I usually get a 50 cent per gallon discount when I buy fuel.  As I don’t have a SUV or a pickup truck I can usually get by pretty inexpensive with gas.  I had a Ford Explorer for a few years but decided to trade it off once gas got more expensive.  It was good for hauling things around and I even made a little money hauling things around for friends and neighbors.  But it was an excessive expense that wasn’t worth it anymore, at least not for me.  Other luxury things I cut down on was eating out.  I was appalled how much money I was spending on eating out once I sat down and did budgets and reviewed my spending.  I probably eat out now only once a week on average.  And I found out I was a decent cook.  I’m especially good at grilling as I have one of those electric grills that I do almost all my meals on.

I also shop at discount stores, Goodwill (but I don’t buy furniture from Goodwill as I’m concerned about bed bugs), and Salvation Army. I buy most of my clothes out of season when they are on clearance.  You can find some good deals doing this.  I don’t use coupons as much as I should.  I don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines so I don’t get much for coupons.  But I still find deals.

Another key to living on disability insurance is staying out of debt.  Those credit card payments with interest are killers, especially on a fixed income.  All I can say if you are on disability insurance and in debt is find a way to pay those debts off.  I had some debts I could have easily gotten in trouble with.  You may have to ask for help.  You may have to negotiate with your creditors and work out some kind of deal.  You might even get some of your debts forgiven if you keep lines of communication open.  Do not avoid collections.  But do remain calm if collection agents harass you.  Getting out of debt sucks but it is more than worth it once you’re no longer making payments.

Shopping at discount stores, looking for sales, using incentive programs, and staying out of debt are vital for anyone living on fixed income.  I had friends who filed for bankruptcy. I saw how much pain and stress it caused them.  After seeing this I vowed I wouldn’t let it happen to me if I could avoid it.  I don’t have much of a margin of error with as little as I earn.  Since I don’t make much money I have to be real wise with money.  I have to control expenses.