Thoughts on Late Summer and My Life’s Work

The time between July 1st and middle September has traditionally been the toughest time of year for me.  I can expect at least one major psychotic break during this time of year every year.  That is the way it has been ever since I was diagnosed with a mental illness in 2000.  The first time my parents witnessed me having a psychotic breakdown was in the summer of 2000.  I committed myself to a mental hospital in September 2006 and again in September 2013.  I had a bad breakdown in August 2014 when I almost committed myself.  If it would have went on for another two hours I would have gone to the hospital.  Late summers have been tough for me my entire adult life.

It’s not uncommon for people with mental health issues to have times of year that are tougher for them than usual.  Many people often feel depressed and sad during the darker winter months.  But my toughest times have always been during the late summers, usually around the time the school year starts.  Where I went to school, we usually started the third week of August rather than wait until early September.  My therapist has suggested maybe the idea of school starting again brings me added anxiety and aggravation.

I really didn’t enjoy school that much even back in grade school.  I hated the social aspects of school from about second grade on.  And sometimes I was bored in class because much of what was covered I had read on my own already.  I was not popular at all in school.  I was essentially the non athlete who was not socially savy enough to hide the fact that he was smart.  I got a real hard time for years because I didn’t like sports and I loved reading.  The close friends I had experienced the same thing.  Since I went to a really small school, I just couldn’t hide out with other nerdy kids.  As a result I never developed traditionally nerdy interests.  I have never bought a comic book. The only real science fiction I like is Star Trek.  I don’t like fantasy novels and movies.  I never played Dungeons and Dragons.  I can’t program or build computers.  I wasn’t socially savy enough to fake interest in popular culture and sports.  I played football only because I was big.  If I wasn’t 6’2″ and 270 pounds  I would have never made the team.  I was usually the slowest man on the team and I couldn’t even bench press my own body weight.

Besides my best friend (who was female) I didn’t date much in high school.  There were rumors that I was homosexual because I did so poorly at dating.  It wasn’t a matter of not getting a second date, it was a matter of not even getting a first one.  Needless to say all of this effected my outlook and probably my personality.  One of the reasons I went to a college where no one from my high school attended was so I could rebuild and start over.  Even though I was going through the worst of my mental illness in college, it was far more bearable socially because I wasn’t the only odd man on campus.  I was in an environment for once in my life I wasn’t penalized for being smart.  I met some people so smart even I couldn’t keep up with them.  I also met people who were C average students in high school suddenly pulling all A’s because they had a purpose for once in their lives.  I met people even quirkier and eccentric than I.  I still didn’t date much but years later I found out there were a few women who wanted me to ask them out.  Had I not been so badly burned in junior high and high school, I might have picked up that these women were interested in me.

As it is now, at age 36, I have lost all interest in dating.  I am more focused on blogging, reading, learning, and my other pet projects.  Having talked to older men in my life, I have found that many of them started having less interest in sex and chasing women and became more focused on their work and outside interests about the time they hit their early to mid 30s.  That’s about right for me.  I started getting really interested in writing for public consumption and became cool with the fact I didn’t have to date or get married about five years ago. In my twenties I was distraught that I wasn’t getting a lot of dates or was attractive to women.  I readily admit I am not attractive.  I look like a cross between Shrek and Tony Soprano 🙂  Never have been  handsome and never will be.  But I’m all right with it.  I’ve accepted while I’ll never get married and have kids, it’s okay.  I’m cool with it.  I’ll throw my efforts into blogging, writing, reading, researching, learning, being a good friend, being a good uncle to my niece and three nephews, being a trustworthy son to my now elderly parents, and becoming the best Skyrim and Civilization player I can possibly be.

I kind of want to be a Most Interesting Man even though I’m not classically handsome or a world traveller.  I may have not travelled the world outside of USA and Mexico, but my writings certainly have.  Earlier this month I added up how many nations I’ve had readers from and it’s around 90 different countries where I’ve had at least one reader.  My parents as health care providers can’t claim to have treated people in that many countries.  My brother the engineer can’t claim to have designed projects in that many. And that’s in only three years, two hundred blog posts, and about $100 in advertising.  Long live the internet.  If I thought I was photogenic at all I’d start a youtube site.  Maybe I could just do voice overs and feature my friends’ artwork 🙂 It’s a few ideas worth kicking around.

Normal vs. Not-Normal and What Is vs. What Isn’t

whybenormal

I will readily admit that I would, by no stretch of any neurotypical person’s imagination, be considered ‘normal.’  I don’t, thanks in large part to my mental illness as well as my own individual preferences and tastes, find things that most people would find enjoyable to be to my liking.  I don’t like crowds, I really have a hard time trusting people I’ve just met, I don’t enjoy much of what consists of acceptable socialization (i.e. going to bars, going on dates, small pointless ‘chit-chat’, attending large social gatherings in enclosed spaces, etc.), I certainly don’t like arguments or debates (as I’ve already expounded on in a previous blog entry), and I don’t see why it’s socially acceptable to appear like I’m dumb or lacking knowledge.  I’ve read so many books on ‘socially acceptable behavior’ that flat out states things like ‘the smartest man/woman in the room/group/organization/etc. is putting a bulls eye on their backs and is inviting ridicule and ostracizing themselves to the group.’  

I never understood the tendency of people to treat poorly those who are smarter or stand out from the norm (or average) in anyway.  I use smarter as an example because I’ve always held my smarts/intelligence/wisdom to be not only a source of pride and identity, but even as a child I knew my intelligence would be my way to carve out survival in the world.  Yet most of my classmates, many of my teachers, and even some of my family members didn’t see things this way.  Instead of the kid who read at a  12th grade level as an 11 year old, they saw the kid who was always picked last in softball, didn’t really like socializing with kids (and adults) with whom he had little in common.  Instead of seeing a teenager who did extremely well in classes like history, english, biology, and chemistry, they saw the kid who struggled to pass algebra and didn’t do well in shop class.  Instead of seeing a seeing a kid who absolutely loved speech and drama productions, they saw the kid who played football but didn’t like it and ‘had an attitude problem’ or ‘had problems with authority’ because he was always asking questions and held odd ideas (many of which in later years  proved to be true).  

Even now people don’t always see me as a mentally ill individual who can live on his own, manages what little he receives from Disability with little to no outside help, writes a quite unknown blog about mental illness, manages his friends (most of whom are loyal friends for life) and social life well, and has never been trouble with the law.  Sadly many people see a man who has no ‘permanent job’ (as if there is such a thing in the 21st century), relies on Welfare (and thus is perceived as a drain on society and taxpayers), is somewhat odd because he speaks out on what he believes (especially if it flies in the face of conventional wisdom), is someone to be pitied because he doesn’t have legions of friends and supporters ( I would much rather have a small, but loyal, base of friends and family who overlook my differences and the fact I’m not normal as opposed to have an army of superficial friends who’ll abandon me with any minor shakeup to their normal lives), and someone who is quite overweight (never mind I’ve been making steps to remedy this sad fact and have lost 40 pounds in 4 1/2 months).

 

tridebeingnormaldintwork

 

In short, I am not normal.  I am not ‘average.’  I am not neurotypical.  I am not popular (nor do I seek to be).  I will not tell anyone just exactly what itching ears wish to hear.  I tell the truth about what it’s like to be mentally ill in a chronically sane world.  Believe me, it isn’t always pretty and I have no doubt lost ‘friends’ and ‘supporters’ over it.  The truth isn’t always pretty.  The truth can be threatening.  I have, since I was 8 years old and discovered I had some unusual intelligence and wasn’t what my classmates and some teachers considered normal, refused to knuckle under and be what I knew I wasn’t.  What I was and what I am is good enough for me.  It is what I was made to be.  It is alright with me that I am what I am.  I don’t understand why it isn’t good enough for most neurotypicals I have met.

Coping With Losing Friends During Mental Illness

 

            When I was in high school I began having problems with what was the beginnings of my mental illness.  I began to act very strange and unusual.  I had developed a very volatile temper because of my mental illness.  Before I became ill I was very easy going and I didn’t get upset very easily.  In grade school I was even one of the class clowns.  All of that changed when my mental illness came into being.

            I would get very angry over anything and everything.  The most meaningless snide comments from a classmate would often be enough to make me very angry.  It also came to be that I hated many of my classmates because I believed that they were out to harm me.  This was, as I learned in retrospect, due to the paranoid aspect of my schizophrenia.  I would often be very defensive and standoffish.  I would rarely open up to anyone with the exception of my best friend.  I never got into any fights in high school but I came close several times.

            Since I was building up walls around myself and not opening up to anyone, my friends gradually disappeared.  I didn’t notice this at first.  It wasn’t until I was almost half way through my senior year of high school I realized that all of my friends were gone.  Looking back I know that was because I had become standoffish, distant, bizarre, paranoid, and very angry.  All of this was occurring for no outside apparent reason, but within my brain I was undergoing massive upheavals.

            I know now that my parents knew that something was severely bothering me.  Yet since I was so paranoid I kept my issues to myself.  This didn’t help at all.  It made things much worse to have to put up a false front and have a developing mental illness at the same time.  I was terrified of what would happen if I let my parents know what was really going on inside of my mind.  It was terrifying enough for me to experience it and not know what was going to happen from one moment to the next.  I had no idea how to tell them I wasn’t all right at all. 

    How do you tell someone what is wrong with you when even you don’t know what’s developing?  We know all about the symptoms of heart problems and cancer.  We have those hammered into our heads by the press and popular culture all of the time.  Yet the public at large is still quite ignorant of the symptoms of mental illness and mental health problems.  I didn’t even know what I was going through had a name or that I wasn’t alone when I first became ill in the late 1990s.  The Internet was still in its infancy and information on mental health and mental illness issues was not very easy to find.  I had no idea what was going on inside my head.  My paranoid aspects of my illness made me reaching out for help from other people almost impossible.

I certainly didn’t seek the help of my school counselor.  I was fearful that talking to the school counselor would be ineffective.  I had my head full of visions of counselors asking questions about my childhood and making me tell them what I saw in large inkblots.  I was also scared of getting labeled because I went to a very small high school with less than one hundred students in the entire high school.  I was paranoid enough that I didn’t want my problems becoming public knowledge.  High school kids are notorious enough for being gossips and cruel.  I just knew, in my paranoid state, that my classmates were already talking behind my back.  I just knew that going to the school counselor would have made things much worse.

Since my classmates knew I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs they had to know that something was really messed up with me.   It’s easy to dismiss someone’s erratic behavior because of drinking or drugs.  But because of the lack of public knowledge and discourse about mental illness, the possibility that someone’s odd actions may be due to an undiagnosed mental illness will almost never occur to someone.  So looking back on my high school days, I can see why my classmates were alienated from me.  It wasn’t because of anything malicious; it was because they had no idea of how to work with a classmate with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I have to attribute that to a lack of knowledge and public discussion about mental illness.

Fortunately I made several friends in college who accepted me in spite of my mental illness.  By then I was being treated and the treatments were quite effective.  Thanks to the Internet and social media like Facebook.com, I have kept in contact with many of my college friends.  I am also now reestablishing contact with my friends from high school that had become alienated because of the onset of my paranoid schizophrenia.

I have had a few friends tell me that because of me they have been able to better understand those with mental illnesses.  I have also been told that simply because of being friends with me they have gotten past many of the stigmas and prejudices that are associated with mental illness.  I’m glad that there have been some positives to come from my mental illness.

The Beginnings of My Mental Illness In High School

I have already dealt with what mental illness isn’t.  In this post I will write about what the onset of my mental illness was like.

I was officially diagnosed with major depression and paranoid schizophrenia at the age of twenty.  Yet I started noticing problems at age seventeen.  The onset of these problems were so gradual that my friends noticed something wasn’t right before I did.  I still remember after a biology class in high school when we were discussing the symptoms for bipolar disorder, a friend came up to me and said that those symptoms described me pretty well.  I really didn’t have much of an idea of what she was talking about as I thought all teenagers were moody, flighty, and angst ridden.  I just didn’t realize how bad I had become until this friend mentioned this.

Even though I have always enjoyed my personal alone time I always made a point to be friendly to people no matter what.  It was after I turned seventeen I began to isolate much more to where it became a problem.  After I came home from football practice in the evenings, I’d just sit in my room and listen to hard rock music on my headphones for hours at a time most nights.  It got to where I rarely socialized, never went to school activities I wasn’t directly involved in, and I didn’t date at all my senior year of high school.  

By the time senior year came, I was a wreck.  Yet I didn’t tell anyone I was having serious problems.  I think that people knew yet they were afraid to do anything about it.  This was the late 1990s in rural Nebraska, so there wasn’t much in the way of mental health help in the immediate area.  Since people knew I didn’t drink or do drugs, they must have been really scared of me looking back on it years later.  It probably would have been easier to dismiss my erratic behavior and emotional outbursts to drinking and drug abuse as opposed to coming down with a mental illness that was totally unpreventable that no one wanted to discuss.

Speaking of behavior, I quit the school play my senior year even though I had the lead role as a junior.  In football, I became standoffish with my teammates and ignored my coaches so much so I became very unpopular on our team.  I withdrew from my friends so much so I literally had maybe one or two friends by the time I graduated high school in May 1999.  I became argumentative with classmates.  I even almost hit one of my teachers, which would have not only been instant expulsion, but would have been assault charges since I was eighteen at the time.  Thank God I didn’t act on that impulse.

For most kids graduation from high school is a time of celebration.  It wasn’t for me.  I was just too bewildered and overwhelmed by my ever progressing mental illness to enjoy it.  I didn’t see graduation as a victory.  It was simply a ‘I’ve graduated and I have all these anger and depression problems.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  Now what?’  I’ll cover the problems of my undiagnosed mental illness in college in another post.