End of Summer and The Power of Not Screwing Up

Still feeling slightly more irritable and paranoid than I previously had for the last few days.  Having a false fire alarm in my apartment complex over the weekend didn’t help to ease tension much.  All it accomplished was getting me out of the house for a couple hours during the heat of the afternoon.  That was over the weekend and I have essentially kept a low profile since.  It’s been too hot to do much else.  But fall will be here in a few weeks as will cooler days and chilly nights.

Haven’t really kept in contact with friends and family as much as I normally do.  But then, I guess I don’t have much to report.  My life has been uneventful other than trying to avoid drama and keeping the creeping symptoms of the illness at bay.  I pretty much sleep ten hours a day now, not that I want to but I know I need to.  Otherwise I might be having more issues.

I still have another few traditionally tough weeks ahead before things will settle into a more normal and calming routine.  For now I’m taking things day by day and not really looking too far ahead.  I’m just deep into routine on top of routine now.  About the only thing I don’t like about being an adult is that it’s practically impossible to socialize with old friends and family.  And of course good luck making new friends at this point in life.  Everyone I know that would have similar interests are either busy with families or work life.  I’ve lost contact with lots of friends this way.  Some I haven’t heard from for a few years and then the next thing I hear is that they’re divorced and starting over.  Or they got laid off from a job and they still have student loans and kids to raise.  To people like this I feel kind of guilty in that I don’t have that level of drama or issues.  Sometimes I feel like an outcast because I didn’t make decisions like marrying the wrong person, having kids I couldn’t afford, or taking a job that got automated or outsourced.  But if miserly loves company, than wisdom is the loneliest.  And I don’t even consider myself that successful or accomplished.  My only real accomplishments I’ve had are avoiding major life crippling mistakes and making my peace with my life of mental illness.  It’s not like I had several kids, make massive amounts of money, or have a lot of positive influence and prestige.  I just managed to avoid serious screwups.  But I guess there is a great deal of power in freedom in not messing up.

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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.

Thoughts on Different Generations and The Generations Yet to be Born

I’m going off the path of mental illness writing for this entry.  But it is something that has weighed on me for years, especially since I live in low income housing where half of the residents are low income senior citizens and the other half are disabled younger people.

I have never understood why people from the older generations complain about the people from younger generations and why younger generations complain about older generations.  I never have.  I was born in 1980, so that either makes me late Generation X (I’d like to give a beating to whomever coined that stupid term) or early Millennial, at least in terms of generations.  And even in grade school I heard about how sucky my generation did in school compared to kids in countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany, etc.  I was told we were “unruly”, “stupid”, “thieving”, “lazy”, “whores”, “sluts”, etc.  But, the same Baby Boomers (that’s another really stupid term I despise), had their hangups and critics when they were kids too.  I’m sure the World War II generations thought the Rapture was nigh when they saw their kids participating in free love, drug abuse, civil rights protests, draft riots, etc.  Even many soldiers who went to Vietnam abused alcohol and drugs during their tours.  The same Boomers who were rocking out to The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, etc. were horrified when their Gen X kids starting listening to Metallica, NWA, Madonna, etc.  And oddly, said Gen Xers, now that they are parents, are freaking out about their kids listening to Lady Gaga and dubstep music.  I swear, people instantly forget what it was like starting out as soon as they have kids.

I have zero patience for old people who complain about the “idiot kids.”  Likewise, I have zero patience for younger people who complain about senior citizens.  The world is going to fall apart as soon as the current generation in power retires and dies?  Screw you, no it won’t.  Speaking of older generations, I’d love to slap Tom Brokaw for calling the World War II generation “the greatest generation.”  I guarantee that the Hitler Youth generation in Germany and the Japanese soldiers of World War II were considered a disgrace to their nations for years.  It should be known that many of the World War II soldiers spent their teens and twenties drinking bootlegged booze and chasing flapper girls and suffragettes during the 1920s and early 1930s.  I’m sure many of the World War I generation thought their kids were going insane for flaunting the laws of prohibition and promoting such blasphemy as women’s voting rights and wanton promiscuity.  But hate for other generations is nothing new.  People have been complaining about the loss of virtue and honor in their children’s generations for thousands of years.

Every generation has it’s cranks and losers, it is true.  There were war protesters during World War II even.  Youtube has videos of these protests.  But generations are made up of many millions of people.  So to say the “millennials are lazy” or “baby boomers are greedy” isn’t true at all.  Such broad generations are cherry picked nonsense.  I like the World War II guys who beat back nazism and imperialism, pioneered space flight, and saw to it the Civil Rights act was passed.  I also like the Baby Boomers who did much of the early leg work on personal computers, communications tech, produced some really cool music (namely rock and early hip hop), and started breaking down barriers like the Iron Curtain, and pioneered the internet.  I also like the Gen Xers who are making renewable power sources finally financially feasible, pioneering private space flight, making international business easier, and building up e-commerce.  I also like the Millennials who are building social media, starting businesses, fighting terrorism, trying to spread the ideas of freedom, democracy, and self determination in nations that have been authoritarian or theocratic nations for centuries.  And I like people of all generations that see that, regardless our ages or nationalities or creeds, we are all living on the same planet and that what happens in one place doesn’t just stay in one place.

Another thing I am tired of is dystopias and pessimist visions for the future.  I never really got into science fiction nearly as much as science nonfiction because most science fiction books and movies depict hopeless and lousy futures and presents such lousy futures as inevitable.  Who is going to fight for a better future with “inspiration” like that?  One of the reasons Star Trek is so popular even after fifty years is that it portrays a future where humanity has overcome many of their past hangups.  It shows what can be possible.  It shows a good future worth fighting for.  Far more scientists were inspired to pursue science by stories like Star Trek then the Terminator series.  As much as people are afraid of Artificial Intelligence turning against humans and killing us all, I would laugh and cry both if AI programs and machines turned out to have more empathy and compassion than humans in general. Besides, we already have millions of AI machines and programs, like every smart phone and computer with internet access.  I don’t foresee these things taking over, but I can see humans and machines merging their intelligences and making humans much, much smarter within a few generations.  I mean, most people already use their smart phones and computers as brain extenders and they haven’t been around that long.   In many ways, people already have the potential to be much smarter and better informed than previous generations simply because of information technology.  And if we get to the point that future generations can augment their brains through surgical implants, then our great grandkids will look back us and pity us for being so unintelligent.  We may seem like cavemen to the citizens of the 22nd century.  I certainly hope so even though I’ll likely never get to see it.

For most of human history, we have made tools to extend our bodies.  Now with computers, internet, and AI, we are making tools to extend and augment our brains.  I don’t fear technology because technology is merely a tool.  Granted, all tools can be used for ill purposes.  Fire cooked our food and kept us warm but it also burned down our villages and cities.  The printing press made knowledge available to the masses but it also made misinformation and propaganda possible too.  I can make friends over the internet I would never otherwise meet but I still have to work around opinionated trolls and trouble makers made more bold by the technology.  I try not to take trolls and trouble makers personally as I know most people wouldn’t be saying such things to a live audience.  And I try not to take my elders personally when they gripe about my generation because they were young once too and had their elders complain about them.  But I wouldn’t mind breaking this pointless and aggravating cycle though.  I try hard to not complain about people younger than me because I remember what it was like to be a kid myself and be ragged on by my elders.  Maybe people rag on younger people just because we forget what it’s like starting out.  And maybe young people don’t like older people because they don’t realize that these elders had many years head start and that someday they could do well themselves given the time and effort.

Social Mistakes

We’ve all had those times when we committed ‘social mistakes.’  These are also called ‘faux paus’ and ‘social gaffes.’  It can be that moment when someone takes what we’ve said wrong.  It can also be that moment when we said something without completely thinking through the consequences.  It is also that moment when we fail to properly acknowledge our thanks and appreciation for what someone close to us means to us (think the spouse who forgets an anniversary or the boss who doesn’t always acknowledge the hard work his/her employees put in everyday).  We often do these without thinking or intending any harm.

For those of us with mental health differences from the ‘norm’, socializing can be really tough and even daunting.  This is often because we don’t always pick up on social ques such as body language, inflection and tone of voice, or are as aware of social situations as the ‘chronic normal’ or neurotypical people do with such seeming ease.  I have committed numerous social mistakes over the years without even knowing what I was doing.  I have lost friendships, alienated myself from coworkers and bosses, thought things about others that were not true, and made myself to look like a fool many times as I had no awareness of social rules and norms that I was breaking.

I never broke these norms or unspoken rules just to make life difficult for myself or others.  I was simply unaware of the boundaries I was crossing.  Maybe these boundaries are always known for most people, but I never picked up on them to a degree to make myself an extrovert.  As the years went by and I was committing more and more social mistakes, with the price of such social mistakes going higher and higher as I became an adult, I had no idea why I was offending people that I had no intention of offending.  I had no idea why I was reading people wrong.  I had no idea why I wasn’t advancing in my former work or why I wasn’t making lots of friends.  The reason was, because of my mental health issues, I simply was missing many unspoken and unconscious social signals that most people take for granted as being ingrained from birth.  I didn’t understand how the social game was played by everyone else.  I still don’t to a degree.

As I was losing ground socially, I gradually withdrew from most people and most social situations.  That was a mistake.  I thought that people simply didn’t me because I was different from everyone else.  That was not only part of my natural paranoia, but also because I hadn’t sufficiently learned to socialize on a level where most people could.  What resulted from me isolating with the exception of family and close friends was my not learning the social skills that are needed to adequately socialize as an adult.  So I was falling even more behind than I normally would have had I ignored my paranoia and kept socializing.

I have now had an official diagnosis for over thirteen years.  I have made many mistakes in my life with the diagnosis and being different than most people.  I have, and continue to, pay for the mistakes I have made socially.  Yet I am optimistic about right now and the future. I know the mistakes I have made as I have made them plenty of times.  I can now advance in my life and see what’s next to be learned.  If I, or anyone else, had everything learned and completely figured out, then there would be no point to keep going and striving.