Thoughts on Changes Since Childhood

I’m currently at my parents’ house for a couple days for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My brother, his wife, and their four kids are here too.  We have seven of us sleeping in the basement but at least I get my old bedroom.  That way I can retreat and regroup if need be.  But my brothers’ kids are well behaved and old enough they shouldn’t give me many problems.

This is the first time in months I have been back to my old childhood home.  A lot has changed in this town since I moved out in 2005.  For one, all of my old high school friends have moved away.  The cousins that stayed have families of their own.  Most of my old teachers have retired or moved to bigger schools.  All my grandparents and a couple of my uncles have died.  My old grade school was torn down.  The retail store I worked in during the summers went out of business.  In many ways this isn’t the same town I grew up in during the 80s and 90s.  I haven’t been getting back to my parents’ place much the last several years as none of my old friends live around here anymore.  In many ways, this is no longer my town.  It doesn’t feel like home and it hasn’t for several years.

I bring up growing up and the changes my parents’ place have gone under because, with my mental illness, those years I grew up here seem like someone else’s life.  I started having problems with depression and anxiety when I was seventeen.  I was doing quite well in school and involved in many different activities.  It seemed like I was on the fast track to a career and life of my dreams, at least that was until the depression and anxiety started.  Twenty years later, my seventeen year old self wouldn’t even recognize the thirty seven year old man I am now.  I imagine my seventeen year old self would have seen who I am today as a failure.  Back then I knew nothing of mental illness and disability.  Like many teenagers, I also didn’t have as much empathy as many adults who have had their ups and downs, wins and losses.

If nothing else, fighting this mental illness for twenty years has taught me how to have more empathy for people different than myself.  It has taught me patience and how to accept things I can’t change.  It has taught me that, contrary to popular belief, life isn’t about keeping up with other people.  Life is mainly about competing with your self and being the best you that you are capable of being.  He who dies with the most toys is just as dead as anyone else in the cemetery.

I haven’t been giving much time to reflecting on the past for the last few years.  I have mainly been focused on the present and future possibilities.  I normally have little use for nostalgic thoughts.  But I’m sure having them now that I’m at my childhood home for the first time in months.  I guess the nostalgia has shown me how much I lost because of this mental illness.  Yet, in spite of the life that never was, I think I still have a great deal to stay alive for.  I’m interested to see what the next twenty years in this life of mental illness will show me.  I can only guess what changes will have come by the time 2037 rolls in.

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Loneliness

I visited with my nephews and niece a few days ago.  I got to see my parents too for the first time since Christmas.  I had a good time with the kids.  They are ages 12, 10, 8, and 5.  They are old enough they don’t get into a lot of trouble and can be quite entertaining.  Seeing those kids grow up and develop interests and personalities of their own is bittersweet.  I am happy that my brother and his wife were able to have several kids, are able to take care of them, and raise them to be respectable and well behaved kids.  But it does make me realize some of what I have lost and will never be able to experience on my own because of my schizophrenia.

I have written a lot in the past about alternating between being sad, angry, and depressed about the career and life opportunities I lost in the name of mental illness.  I have written much less about being sad and depressed about never being able to marry or have kids.  Outside of my best female friend, I really have little experience with dating.  I was turned down every time I ever asked a girl out on a date in high school and most of the time when I was in college.  By the time I was halfway through college I gave up on the idea of ever marrying because it just seemed like a lost cause and wasted effort.  I never could figure out why I did so poorly with women.  But I haven’t really cared for years as I know that ship set sail a real long time ago and that I just as well make the best of being single and lonely for life.

For many years I was making the best of it.  After seeing some of my classmates go through rough divorces or slog through unhappy marriages, I was grateful I never did marry.  But after seeing my brother’s kids mature through the years and come into their own, I am beginning to realize that if children are raised well, they can be the greatest things that ever happened to you.

It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized just how lonely I am most of the time.  I really don’t talk to that many people in person any more.  I almost never socialize outside of close family and friends.  I still sleep ten to twelve hours a day.  I think that is a subconscious way of dealing with the loneliness.  I really am lonely most of the time.  Have been for the last couple years since three of my older friends in my apartment complex died within six months of each other.

As much as I hated the office politics of a job, at least I was able to find a few moments of joyful interactions everyday with other people.  As much as I didn’t like the social aspects of high school, I still had my friends and some friendly acquaintances.  I don’t have any of that anymore.  I can understand how some people, men especially, lose a lot of joy in their lives and much of their identity when they retire or get laid off from a job.  I would consider going back to work except that mentally I’m too unstable and too discouraged to work a traditional job.  Besides much of what I could do in a traditional job will probably get automated within the next several years anyway.  Perhaps that is why I devote so much time to this blog.  It gives me identity and it could be my legacy since I’ll never be able to get married or have kids.  Things have often been lonely and discouraging the last couple years.  Being mentally ill is a death sentence to anyone’s social life.

 

Routines, Reflections, Dollars, and Desires

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This summer has been anything but routine for me.  I hurt my back in late May and I was out of commission for six weeks.  I rarely spent any time outside and didn’t travel.  I went to the park maybe three or four times in the six weeks my back was mending.  Normally I go to the park three or four times per week during the summer.  I haven’t done any traveling as I haven’t been outside my hometown since late May.  I haven’t driven much and have actually developed a slight phobia of driving.  I guess I never gained my confidence back from my accident last October.  While I got my car fixed I still haven’t heard anything back from if I can get any kind of settlement.  Progress is insanely slow in some cases.

I haven’t been outside around the complex much this summer.  It seems that most of my neighbors have been more short tempered and irritable the last several months.  I don’t know what to make of that.  I still have the one neighbor who always in a foul mood and never has anything nice to say about anyone.  Apparently he won’t be moving out any time soon.  It’s kind of tough living in here anymore.  Three of my most interesting friends in here died in 2014 and 2015.  Since I live in low income housing, who we get as neighbors is luck of the draw.  There are days when I’m depressed I would love to move out and start over.  But I don’t think any where else in my hometown would be any better.  With my mental illness and disability pension I can’t afford to move to a larger city.  I don’t want to move back in with my parents as their hometown has far less to offer than my current town.  I really don’t know if I can move to my brother’s hometown because of my disability pension and transferring to a different state.  If I were to move to another city, I’d love for it to be to a place with reasonable public transit.  I hate driving anymore.  I’d never drive again if I had the choice.

I don’t suppose schizophrenics do well in large cities.  I hear horror stories about people with mental illness ending up homeless or in jail in large cities. My schizophrenia being what it is, it’s not like I can start over with a job that pays enough to give me a decent living if I were to leave disability.  I was anxious working as retail store clerk and factory worker. I used to have panic attacks so bad I’d vomit from the anxiety before I went to work.  I fear the idea of working with the public.  I have been verbally abused enough by customers and coworkers in my previous life as a customer service worker that I never want to experience that again.  And blogging about mental illness will never pay the bills even if I am providing a good service for others.

It’s not the money I care about, it’s what the money can buy that I’m concerned about.  I don’t need the status of a high paying job to satisfy my ego.  I don’t need the large house in the suburbs or the high end penthouse in a skyscraper.  I don’t need the large pickup truck or high end foreign car.  I can get around just fine in a twelve year old four door sedan that is as good on gas mileage as anything besides the really small Japanese cars.  If I need to move something with a pickup truck, that’s why I have friends and family members with pickup trucks.  It’s amazing what one can accomplish with a phone call, a little elbow grease, and offering to buy lunch or a tank of gas.

I really have my basic material needs but I can get by with almost no splurging.  I have learned to live inexpensively on my disability pension without a job.  I am happy wearing t-shirts, sneakers, and pants from K-mart and Wal-Mart. I can get all the music I want for free via youtube or pandora radio. I don’t even have music CDs anymore.  I haven’t even downloaded music from iTunes in over a year. I would rather watch Netflix at home, sit on my own couch, and eat a delivery pizza than go to the movie theatre. I would rather go for a walk in the park or shovel snow in the winter than spend heaven knows how much on a gym membership.

Splurging for me is grilling bratwursts and spending cool and overcast autumn Saturday afternoons watching Nebraska Husker college football games on my flat screen tv.  Splurging for me is buying a bucket of KFC and a couple side dishes instead of eating off the dollar menu.  When I need new furniture I talk to friends and family who are moving or having estate sales.  I got my couch, lamps, and recliner after my grandfather died.  I got my bed and dresser after my grandmother died.  I got my house plants from helping my mother.  All I had to do was help my family clean out their places for a weekend.  The most I gave for a piece of furniture was $50 for my all purpose heavy duty table I eat from and use my computer on.  So a person can live quite inexpensively if you use your family and friends’ connections and help people out once in awhile.  The only time I go to restaurants that aren’t fast food is when I’m entertaining out of town family and friends. I have stayed out of debt for two years even without a job.  I managed to save up some emergency money that could fund my life for a couple months even without a disability pension.

So I’m not concerned about getting rich.  For the first few years I was serious about writing, I was hoping to make some money as a writer, travel on the speaking circuit, and donate a bunch of money to my college as some of my happiest memories are from my four and a half years at York College in York, Nebraska.  Now that I know how to live on less than I thought I could and I see how much stress my brother is under with his job, I know it’s not the high paying job or successful business that I need or even want.  The big thing that I want now is for my experiences and writings to make a positive difference for whomever happens to read these entires.  I have no delusions I’ll make much money writing a mental illness blog.  Schizophrenia my involve delusions but that’s not one of my delusions.  I don’t care if I make money off  my writings and blogging.  I really don’t even care if I make above poverty level wages.  I just want to make a positive difference in the lives of whomever reads my blogs, whether you be a mental health patient, support person, or just someone who cares about the problems of the mentally ill.  I don’t desire riches.  I desire to make a positive difference in at least a few lives.

Things I DO NOT Believe In

 

This post is going to be off the beaten path of a life of mental illness.  This is meant to be both kind of fun and as a way to get to know your mentally ill corespondent a little better.  So here is a list of things that I don’t believe in.

 

Santa Claus

The Easter Bunny

The Tooth Fairy

Divine Intervention

Love at First Sight

Love is Forever

The Cops Are My Friends

The Cops Are Jack Booted Thugs

Nostalgia for the Past

UFOs

Faith Healers

Most Homeopathic Medicine

Vaccinations Cause Autism

Network Marketing Companies

The Power of Positive Thinking

The World Is A Terrible Place

We Live In Excessively Violent Times

Kids Today are Lazy and Worthless

Politicians Were Honest and Noble in the Past

Adults Know What’s Really Going On

Old People Are Always A Source of Wisdom

Young People Are Idiots

Money Back Guarentees

Shape Shifting Aliens

The Illuminati

Cryptic Messages On The Dollar Bill

Elvis Never Did Drugs

Music Died With John Lennon

Hip Hop Died With Tupac and Biggie

I Would Be Happier If I Was A Millionaire

The Novels of Dan Brown

Rock Music Promotes Devil Worship

Hip Hop Promotes Violence

Country Music Promotes Alcoholism

Jerry Springer Isn’t Staged

Reality TV is Really Real

Cable News Reports All The News That’s Worth Reporting

Property Values Always Go Up

Anything On Late Night Infomercials

Pick Up Artists

TV Evangelists

You Too Can Make Money On Youtube

Being A Writer Is Glamorous

Celebrity Worship

The Past Was A Golden Age That Was Friendlier

The Future Is Going To Be Terrible

People Are Less Moral Now Than In The Past

Anything Said By Alex Jones

The Lunar Lander Was A Hoax

The Two Party System Is The Only Way To Go

The War on Drugs

Politics Is More Important Than Science and Engineering

The World Is Falling Apart

Being A Kid Is Great

Being An Adult Sucks

Journalists Always Tell The Truth

Teachers Are Always Noble

Worrying Makes Things Better

Complaining Makes Things Better

Being A Pessimist Makes You Right

Being An Optimist Makes You Stupid

Most Talk Radio

Guru Worship

Hollywood Remakes

Everybody Always Gets What They Deserve

Cheaters Never Prosper

Honesty Is A Sucker’s Bet

Jocks Are Better Than Nerds

Video Games and Comic Books Are Just For Kids

Computer Hackers Are Fat Geeks Living In Mom’s Basement

The End Times Are Upon Us

Trusting Anything Completely

Bacon Makes Everything Taste Better

 

This isn’t a complete list of my entire philosophy on life but it is a start.  After making this list I realized that, in spite having a serious mental illness, I’m not as crazy as I thought.

Happiness, Love, and Mental Illness

Happiness, Love, and Mental Illness are rather difficult topics for me to write about.  Not just because they bring up emotionally difficult concepts, but because it is often tough to explain to other people, neurotypical or not, what these things mean to someone like myself.  While I cannot obviously attempt to speak for everyone with a serious mental illness diagnosis, I simply was never mentally hard wired to have a universally accepted definition of happiness.  My personal definitions of happiness is “a sense of calmness and peace about myself and my surroundings” and “a state where depression, sadness, anxiety, anger, and stress are not my dominant emotions for any set period of time.”  I cannot obviously comment on what happiness means or is interpreted by others, simply because it is impossible for me to get into someone else’s mind and see the world exactly as they see it. I was not made in such a manner as to know what constituted most pleasant emotions such as love, happiness, joy, etc.

Some will no doubt think that my stated definitions of happiness are very odd. Others may even think I am a liar when I state that I literally don’t know what others feel when they are happy. In fact, I usually cannot tell when others are happy. I especially cannot tell when others are happy or pleased with me unless they specifically say so. Even though I have the ability to know how others are likely to act in certain situations, I simply cannot tell what others are feeling. It is impossible for me to read any non verbal queue. The only way I can tell for sure is through their actions. I have a very hard time telling when someone is being deceptive, manipulative, or when a person is being sincere and honest just by their non verbal queues. As I tend to feel paranoid and threatened even on a good day, my usual default mode when dealing with people is the assumption that others are malicious and untrustworthy unless they prove otherwise through their actions and reassurances. The only people I know I am in good standing with no matter what are the handful of people that I’ve been confidants with for more than several years. Growing up with the early stages of schizophrenia that had not made themselves manifest, I never knew with any kind of certainty where I stood with friends, classmates, teachers, adults, and especially my own family unless I was specifically told where I stood. To this day, I just assume I’m out of favor with someone unless I am assured otherwise. To me, that is just as natural as the sky being blue and the sun rising in the east.

As tough as happiness was in writing about, talking about an emotion that is a very tough one for even neurotypicals like love is like climbing Mt. Everest without supplies or a guide. I simply do not understand the neurotypical ideas that are entailed when they state the word ‘love.’ I have no real basis or understanding of the word love. I don’t know how to interpret it from others, I have no built in way to tell if someone loves me (especially if it’s a member of the opposite sex that peeks my interest) and I don’t think I even know how to send out the idea that I love someone. In fact, there really is no hard definition in the English language of the word love. I like how the ancient Greeks had several different words for different types of love. The Greeks had separate words for love between a husband and wife (eros), love for a nation or group of similar people (philios), and unmerrited or Divine love (agape). Having something like that would make things easier for people like me who have difficulties understanding cliches, vague ideas, and things that lack a hard definition.

We live in a civilization that is obsessed with the idea of finding true love and how to preserve such love. Yet there is really no hard and accepted definition of what love truly is. To someone like myself, it is aggravating that there is no hard set definition. It is especially aggravating to me that when I do feel something special for a woman, I have absolutely no sure fire way or instructions as to how to let someone like that know exactly how I feel about her. In the vast majority of cases, what I felt for a girl and what she felt for me where nowhere near close to the same feelings. As a result, I have been on very few dates over the course of my life. With my mental make up being what it is, even though I assume the worst about other people I really don’t know well, the rejection I get from others is still painful deal with. I simply am unable to read non verbal queues. The verbalized ones I do receive, I often interpret in my mind as very likely being far worse then what the person talking with me ever intended. Thus the idea of even casual dating, let alone marriage, scares me so much I won’t even attempt it anymore. It is not within my definition of love or friendship to be in any kind of relationship or partnership where there is any real strife.

People think I’m lying when I say I’ve had friendships that have lasted for around 20 years where I have not even had a real argument with the friend. Others may argue that this a sterile friendship that lacks any substance and character. That is far from the truth. The best friend I currently have, who is by the way a woman I have known since my junior high years, we probably have a better, more fulfilling friendship than most friendships or even marriages could imagine as possible. The only serviceable definition of love I know of in the English language comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the early church in Corinth (2 Corinthians, Chapter 13 I think). Even that wasn’t originally written in English (it was originally ancient Greek) and it was written almost two thousand years ago.

In closing I have much chaos in my mind due to my mental illness. That is why I crave stability and absolutes in my outer life and when dealing with others. Yet, I have rarely found any lasting stability in my relations with other humans. I have certainly never found any stability and absolutes when trying, and failing miserably, when trying to secure the affections of a woman I have feelings for. I have failed so miserably in looking for stability and reason in my dealings with other humans that I have essentially accepted this as a futile and pointless task. And that continues to cause me a great deal of stress, sadness, anger, and strife to this day. As I stated earlier, having such feelings dominate my mental outlook is my standard mode of operation because of my mental illness. By my own definition, I am typically not sensing what I understand to be happiness and certainly I don’t know what it is to feel loved.

Thoughts on the Death of a Close Friend

I’m going off my usual mental illness topics for this post.  Something like what I’m currently writing has been weighing on me for quite some time.  Yet it finally crystalized into actual thoughts within the last twenty four hours before this writing with the death of one of my best friends.  This man died in his early 80s and was a retired Lutheran minister.  Pastor Vern, as this man was known to everyone living in my apartment complex, was probably the wisest, wittiest, well read, and compassionate individual I met in my entire life. I knew him for eight years but I don’t believe I ever heard him say anything derogative or hurtful about anyone.  I know I can’t go even eight days without at least thinking something hurtful directed at others, but hopefully most of this is due to the aspects of my illness.

Being a career Lutheran minister, Pastor Vern no doubt had his views on religion and God.   Yet he was not as caught up in rituals, creeds, and beliefs when talking with me as he was on the basic principles of Christianity and other religious beliefs.  Those core beliefs, the ones he lived by everyday were simply 1) Love God, 2) Care About Others, and 3) Respect Yourself.  I suppose if one were to substitute or supplement  the world ‘God’ with nature or the earth, even the most convinced atheists would be hard pressed to deny that loving nature, caring about others, and respecting yourself are good principles to attempt to live by.

Pastor Vern, being one with a wide array of interests and knowledge, was a perfect friend for someone like myself.  He and I could easily talk about history, classical literature, philosophy, among numerous other topics for quite a long time.  We would usually be sitting outside, him smoking his pipe, and just discuss whatever happened to come up regardless of whether it had any logical order or direction or not.  Some of our neighbors who listened to our conversations no doubt thought us a little odd for rarely discussing such mundane things as weather, current events, or gossiping about others.  For myself and Pastor Vern, hardly any topic was not subject matter to be discussed.  We had an unspoken agreement that no matter how much we disagreed on any one topic, we would never become angry or speak harshly to each other.  I suppose this falls under the care about others and respect yourself principles.

He and I have both studied the basic teachings and principles of most religions with significant followings.  We both came to the conclusion that in spite of the differing rituals, social practices and customs, sets of creeds and beliefs, etc. that one thing they all believed were the ideas that a person would be better off in their own lives and dealings with others if the basics of ‘Loving God (or your creator/giver of life/etc.)’, ‘Caring About Other People and Living Things’, and ‘Respecting Yourself’ were principles that a person attempted to live by.

Yes, these are simple principles to the point that any six year old child can grasp these are important.  Sadly, most of us as adults severely complicate these and often don’t live by these ideas at all.  How much less strife and division would we have in our work places and places of business if managers, workers, and customers alike lived by even the caring about others and respecting ourselves?  How much less war, famine, disease, poverty would we have if even individuals, let alone the governments of the world, operated with these guides?  How much less needless destruction of our most valuable forests, farmlands, waters and wasting of finite natural resources would we have if we lived by even the ‘Love God/Nature/Earth’ idea?  How much less conflict and needless grief would we have in our personal lives if we cared about others and respected ourselves more?

I apologize for the mini rant in the previous paragraph.  I wrote that to try to apply to our own lives the principles that my recently deceased friend Pastor Vern lived by every day.  These are principles I attempt to live by though often inconsistently.  In closing I’m glad to have had a friend like Pastor Vern for the eight years I knew him.  I wish that everyone could attempt to live by such principles, or at least become acquainted with those who do.