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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My College Years

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I see that many schools in my part of the United States are starting their school years again.  The college in my hometown starts next week so we will have 18 to 23 year old college students trickling in throughout this week.  I actually enjoy my hometown more when the college students are back.  I used to go up to the 24 hour Wal Mart during the school year just to see what the college students were up to.  Many college age people spent their overnight hours at the Wal Mart just doing goofy college aged stuff.  I know I’m old enough now I wouldn’t pass as a college student but I do find the overnight crowd watching entertaining.  Reminds me of when my friends and I used to do similar things when we were in college.  I’ll probably restart that tradition when school gets going.  My friends and I often went to the all night diners on Halloween to see college people and older in their costumes.  I didn’t go to the bars on Halloween because the music was always too loud and I don’t deal well with drunk people.

I readily admit to being more nostalgic for my college years than my high school years.  For one, most people in college were there because they wanted to be and not because they were legally forced to.  I loved college because I, for the first time in my life, wasn’t penalized for being smart and eccentric.  I met some eccentric and cool people who made me look neurotypical.  One of my friends in college was an incredibly intelligent girl who made me look like I was mentally standing still.  We were in a class together that involved lots of writing and class discussions.  She always made it a point to keep everyone on our toes and sharp.  She had less tolerance for ignorance than I.  I miss her and I regret that we had a falling out.  I had another cool friend in that class that was really sharp and a real pleasant girl to be around.  She had a kind word for everyone regardless.  She had her beliefs but she wasn’t as abrasive about hers as I could be about mine.  Especially before I became diagnosed I tended to be as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face when I thought someone’s ideas weren’t sound.  I never learned the fine art of diplomacy until my college career was almost over.

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I enjoyed the all night conversations in the dorms.  It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to be up until sunrise talking with my roommate, my neighbors, or just random people in the dorm and still be on time for an 8 am class after a couple cups of cowboy coffee.  My best friend in college managed to sweet talk the dorm dad into allowing him to have a coffee maker in his dorm.  I slept a lot in the afternoons so I could be up all night with the rest of my dorm.  I spent a lot of time playing pool and trivia games at the student center.  I got to where I was decent at pool but developed a reputation for being so good at trivia games that no one wanted to play me.  My friends and I played lots of board games.  Trivial Pursuit, Axis and Allies, and Risk were quite common for us.  We didn’t play a lot of card games until I moved off campus for my senior year.  I didn’t go to any wild fraternity parties as I went to a Christian college and we had an officially dry campus.

I did pledge a fraternity in my freshman year and was active for a couple years.  I went independent in my junior year once it became obvious to me that I had to spend more time studying if I wanted to graduate, especially with a mental illness and changing my major.  I didn’t do any sports in college besides intramural softball.  I still managed to do lots of flag football and ultimate frisbee on the campus green when I was in school. Ruined many t-shirts and gym shoes because of playing in the rain and mud too many times. They should make ultimate frisbee an Olympic sport.  It is a real sport.  I knew a couple guys who got broken ankles in those games.  I enjoyed lifting weights in the school fitness center.  I didn’t drive much in college except for road trips.  My roommate and I went to New Mexico over Thanksgiving break one year to visit his long distance girlfriend.  My best friend and I went trout fishing and hiking in the Black Hills a couple times during Spring Break.  Sometimes we’d go to the next college town over and hit the cheap movie theaters.  Since most of my friends weren’t drinkers we didn’t do the bars in college.  Besides the music in bars is far too loud for any kind of conversation.

If there is a point to my ramblings about my college years back in the pre wireless internet ages, it is in spite my problems with mental illness I still had a good time in college.  I made some pretty cool friends I still hear from and have some pleasant memories.  I was able to have a better time in college than high school because we were just more accepting of other people and their quirks.  People accepted me despite my issues and problems and I accepted them too.  I don’t think back on those years often enough.  But I certainly feel good when I do.

Revisiting the ‘Good Ol’ Days’ (They weren’t all that good)

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For years, even before I became mentally ill, I’ve been listening to people complain about how bad the state of the world is and how everything was better in the ‘good ol’ days.’  I’ve done blog posts on it in the past with Why I Am Grateful of Tech And Science Advances, Technology Advances and U.S. Presidents, and Reflections On Being a Recovering Doom Junkie. I don’t believe the nonsense that the past was some golden age were everyone was respectful, no one was stupid, the world was at peace, and wealth gaps between rich and poor didn’t exist.  Folks, the past wasn’t that great for the common man on the street. It was even worse for the common woman in most cases.  In many past civilizations,as many as half the children born didn’t live to see adulthood. ‘Utopia’ was a work of 16th century fiction by Thomas More, not a real place in some to be recaptured past. It’s as if everyone thinks that the entire world was like Mayberry in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ until about the last forty, thirty, twenty years.  But seriously, is our collective amnesia so bad that we think that the times we grew up in were nothing but peaceful and prosperous?  Are we so forgetful that we think that it was only the current younger generation that invented promiscuous sex?  No town in America (or anywhere else) was ever like Mayberry.I have never seen African Americans on Andy Griffith.  Being a town in the southern U.S. in the late 1950s, surely there would have been some.  No towns, besides maybe a few small farming villages in Nebraska and Kansas, were ever that white bread.  The 1950s were an age of purity and good values?  Please.  Does the Korean War, duck and cover drills, The Great Chinese Famine, McCarthyism, the quiz show scandals, western movies and tv shows that were (by today’s standards) blatantly bigoted towards Native Americans, and the Beat Generation culture of excessive drugs and sex as written about by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, etc. ring a bell?  Times weren’t more moral and more peaceful in the old days, they were merely less televised and exposed.

As far as having more moral and competent leaders in the old days, think again.  People today think it was shameful that President Clinton was getting sex from one of his interns or President Bush exaggerating to get a war in Iraq, etc.  But politicians and rulers have always fornicated and lied to their subjects.  Thomas Jefferson probably had an affair with at least one of his slaves.  Charlemagne had at least four wives and was almost constantly at war during the 8th and 9th centuries.  Even the Bible said King Solomon of Israel had seven hundred wives and yet praised him for being a man of great wisdom.  And this was before Viagra and Barry White albums. Abraham Lincoln, as a young man, accepted a challenge to a duel and set the rules of the contest to the death so that he would have won had not his friends talked him out of it. Pope Urban II exaggerated the abuse Christians received at the hands of the Turks to garner support for the First Crusade.  William Randolph Hearst was spinning news stories and outright lying long before anyone even thought of inventing cable news or alternative media.  As far as businesses like Microsoft, Facebook, Monsanto, BP, Google (who made most of the research for my blogs possible), Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs, Home Depot, the defense contractors, etc. being favorite whipping boys for anyone against the abuses that can be perpetrated by big companies, then heaven help you if you ever knew about Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, the East India Company, the Potosi Silver Mines, etc.  So not even was our business practices always ‘an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.’  These are but a few examples to show that, in many ways, things were actually worse and less civil in the past then they are today.

Be careful about wishing for life to be like it was in the past.  Because it often wasn’t that good at all, unless you were a lord, noble, sultan, robber baron, or chieftain.  Yet in many ways I live better today, have better access to health care, better access to information, better entertainment, better fitting clothing, and better sanitation than the richest men of one hundred years ago and better than most middle class people in the 1960s.  It’s getting late as I write this so I should think about going to bed.  Yep, tonight I’m sleeping on a spring mattress (something no king or sultan of Medieval times had) wearing comfortable sleep clothes made of manufactured fabrics and processes that didn’t exist two hundred years ago, and with the warmth of central heating (something not even the richest man in the world had in 1900).  Yes life is good.  And should you try to think that things can’t possibly get any better or that we are on ‘the eve of destruction’, well every generation has thought it was the last one or that these were for sure ‘the end times.’

 

 

A Wedding For A College Buddy and Ramblings on Getting Older

Starting on Thursday, I’m going on an out of state road trip for my best friend from college Matt’s wedding.  I’m happy for him as he’s in his late 30s and one of these guys I figured would be fine about not marrying.  He didn’t date at all in college for the three years we were in school together.  I was the one who was trying to get dates.  We pretty much spent our time in college playing strategy games, having all night marathons of discussing history, politics, philosophy, sports statistics, economics, spending our Saturday afternoons watching college football games from practically noon to midnight, and going to the all night diner near Interstate 80 for the 99 cent bottomless cup of coffee and greasy chicken fried steaks.  These were the kind of steaks you could hear your arteries clogging after a few bites.  Matt also got me started on my coffee addiction.  We weren’t drinking Starbucks or anything trendy.  He started me on his ‘cowboy coffee’ that if it were any stronger we’d be spitting out the grinds between swallows.  His was the kind of coffee that after a couple cups, you wouldn’t need to sleep for a couple days.   Since neither of us were much for drinking, we didn’t have times good enough that we can’t remember anything.

He’s now in his late 30s and I just turned 35.  It actually isn’t bad being older.  As I’ve gotten older I realize I don’t have to put up with other people’s garbage if they are disrespectful and their disrespect isn’t a reflection on me.  Surprisingly I do not find myself complaining about the “lazy kids” at all.  I often complained about the ignorance and foolish actions of my peers while in high school and college, wondering when my peers would actually grow up and “act like adults.”  But as I’ve gotten older I’ve seen that maturity and age do not always accompany each other.  I’ve seen teenagers who are wise enough they could be in their thirties and I’ve seen people in their seventies gossip and argue like they were still in grade school.

After awhile I came to see we humans really do concern ourselves over trivial nonsense that doesn’t matter at all.  Case in point is the old men who complain about how disrespectful and lazy kids are in 2015 while forgetting that when they were kids in 1955 the old men in 1955 had the same complaints about them.  And I also heard about good the ‘old days’ were and how the world is now heading to hell in a hand basket.  But the old days were never trouble free any more than modern times.  Mayberry may have been peaceful looking on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’, but they never aired the scene with Opie doing ‘Duck and Cover’ drills in school.  And in real life Floyd the Barber may have had a ‘whites only’ sign in his barber shop, especially in the South.  Or go back to the late 1800s with the ‘Irish Catholics Need Not Apply’ signs in businesses.  I could go on but you get the picture.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve seen patterns from history play out more than once just in my lifetime. People complained about kids playing the old Nintendo systems while ignoring how we spent time outdoors too in the 1980s.  Today, people complain about kids playing Xbox while ignoring how they spend time outdoors too.  The Cold War was keeping people busy with fear as movies like Red Dawn (the Patrick Swayze version) and The Day After were big in the 1980s.  Now ISIS and other terrorist groups are keeping people busy with fear as movies like American Sniper are big in the 2010s.  Gotta keep the pot stirred up I suppose.   LGBT freedoms is a social issue now but who knows what it could be 30 to 40 years from now, freedoms and civil rights for AI machines or genetically modified humans?  Could it be in the far future when we colonize the Moon and Mars, could those two places argue for independence from Earth?  I can picture a futuristic version of a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag being flown in a Martian dust storm.  Humanity has been heading to hell in a hand basket long before we had idea of hell or hand baskets.  Yet we still haven’t gotten there.  And some will  continue to nostalgically believe things were better in bygone eras.  Nope, things are in flux enough that the only real constant in our lives is change.  To quote the great philosopher Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise.”