Optimism and Mental Illness

Optimism and mental illness are two things that probably don’t normally go together.  Yet after fighting through a mental illness for almost twenty years and still being in one piece and still functional, I think I’ve more than earned the right to be an optimist.  And I think being an optimist is a right that too few people take advantage of.

Why shouldn’t I be an optimist?  I have access to a world wide audience through the technological achievement that is the internet.  Fifteen years ago when I started writing poetry in my spare time, I had never even heard of a blog.  Youtube didn’t exist and neither did Facebook.  Even though I don’t make much money from my writings, I have a much bigger audience now than I could have imagined ten years ago.  From the numerous messages I get from readers, I know I’m making a difference.  That’s more than I thought would happen in 2006 after I lost my job at the university and applied for disability.  Back then I thought I was going to be condemned to a life of poverty and quiet desperation.  I also thought I lost most purpose for my life as it became painfully obvious I could never hold a regular job and support myself.  Yet here I am in 2017 with a decent blog, relatively stable mental state, and I’m still here.  Sure I may die earlier than most people without mental illness, but thanks to the internet, modern medicine, advanced counseling techniques, and social safety nets, I have been able to tell my story about living with a mental illness.  Hopefully I’ve been able to dispel some myths about mental illness and break down some barriers.  I just hope that the conversation about mental illness will continue.  As far as I can tell, the mentally ill are among the last people that it’s socially acceptable to discriminate against.  I hope to be part of changing that nonsense.

After surviving with mental illness for twenty years and still being functional and able to live on my own, I have become more optimistic now at age 36 than I was at age 16.  I have gotten optimistic enough that I have found myself less and less tolerant of pessimist, naysayers, and those who spew doom and gloom.  I have left friendships with people who were incurable pessimists.  Though you wouldn’t know it from the news sites, but we are actually living in some of the most prosperous and peaceful times in history.  Of course you aren’t going to hear this from politicians and news casts because news casts and politicians depend on attention and we humans are naturally more likely to notice bad news and threats.  It served us well when we were ice age hunter gatherers but it’s causing us in the more settled and civilized world undue stress and anxiety.  I can tell you from personal experience that most of what people worry about either never happens or turns out to be more manageable than previously thought.  One of the reasons I refuse to watch the news is that it’s nothing but bad news all the time.  You hear nothing about science advances, humanitarian efforts, or any kind of good news.  But good news isn’t fit to print, now is it?  And I for one am tired of always hearing bad news and doom.  If one were to listen to the “experts”, the world has always been heading for tragedy.  The sky is not falling.  We’ve had problems in the past but we solved them.  We’ll continue to solve our current and future problems.  Mark my words.

After surviving the worst of what schizophrenia has to offer, I have no patience for pessimists and doom sayers.  Sell that snake oil to someone else.  While you worry about problems and do nothing to solve said problems, there are far more people than you will ever know working on solving the world’s problems.  Quit worrying already.

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Spring Routines

I’m glad that spring is finally back.  I’ve been getting outside a little more often, I’m keeping my place a little cleaner, I’m watching baseball most nights, and I’m even eating less too.  I’m still not as physically active as I would like but I think it’s starting to come back.  After my car accident in October 2015 I gained back most of the weight I had lost in the previous two years.  I think I’m finally back on the right track.  Since I still don’t have a great deal of stamina yet, I’m cutting back on calories as much as I can.  This means I’m giving up most sugar and eating meat only once a day.  I am also doing my best to avoid fried foods.  After several weeks of eating less than usual, I think I’m in a new routine.  I can’t even eat as much as I could last summer.  One of my problems was, after my accident, I got depressed and lost much of my confidence.  From there I just got lazy and ate a lot.  I have made efforts over the last several weeks to break out of this vicious cycle.  And I think I’m starting to see results.

I’ve also noticed my habits are getting better too.  During the winter I had gotten kind of lazy about shaving and cleaning up as there were entire days I didn’t leave my apartment complex.  I’m back into good habits like these again.  I would hate to think I let my personal appearance slide just because I was depressed by lousy weather.  But mental illness can do odd things to a person.

I’m starting to socialize some again.  Not so much with my neighbors as I am family and old friends.  I still don’t enjoy the fact that many of my neighbors are grumpy and irritable most of the time.  I have been around that kind of negativity for years and I don’t want it dragging me down.  I spent enough of my life being depressed, irritable, and a pessimist.  I just don’t want that anymore.

On Minimalism or Why I’m Not Pessimist Even Though I Don’t Have Money or Job Security

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I have never learned the fine art of being able to let go and no longer care.  Maybe that is another trait neurotypical people are born with that we the mentally ill aren’t. Even though one of my favorite comedians was George Carlin, I have never been able to bring myself to the nihilist thinking of if the world is going to fall apart then I’m going to enjoy the ride down.  I think I’m more of an idealist in that I know we as a species have problems, issues, and baggage but we can compensate for said hangups and move onto something better.  I guess I never quit dreaming and seeing what we can as a species accomplish.  I missed the memo that said I had to be a pessimist and a grump once I became a man.

The scientists, engineers, doctors, and humanitarians of the world have done some really amazing things just since I was old enough to start paying attention twenty five years ago.  And twenty five years is just a blip on the radar of human history.  I would have been life time hospitalized in 1966.  I wouldn’t be blogging in 1986 with the audience I now have (I appreciate all my visitors).  I wouldn’t be able to keep in contact with my college friends in 1996 nearly as easily as I do now.  My father always told me one of his greatest regrets was not keeping in contact with his college and Air Force friends more and taking more photos when he was in school and overseas.  With Facebook I hear from people I was just casual friends with on an almost weekly basis.  I have even had good conversations with people I have never met in person.  But because we have similar interests we can connect quite easily.  With my cell phone I can cheaply talk to friends and family at all hours or call for emergency help.  In the late 1980s about the only people who had cell phones were Wall Street tycoons.  And as good as my $99 Wal Mart cell phone is, I don’t even really need it as much as I used to.  Anymore I can most of my banking, order books through Amazon, order clothing (I have an odd size so I have to special order sometimes), and even get pizza and deli delivery via the internet.  If I were so inclined to get back into the dating game, I’d just go to any one of a number of internet dating sites and let their algorithms match me to a woman with similar interests.  None of this was possible when I was growing up.  It is an excellent time to be alive.

For years I have heard that my generation of Americans was going to be the first that was worse off than their parents.  As far as I’m concerned, we’re worse off only in certain areas.  Sure GenXers and Millenials have higher levels of student loans and more job insecurity than did the Boomers and World War 2 generations.  But what money we do have can go much further than in the past.  You really think Andy Griffith could have accessed an entire encyclopedia of knowledge on his rotary phone in the 1960s?  You think that Archie Bunker would have as good of a chance to survive cancer in the 1970s?  Sure many of the high paying manufacturing jobs have left Europe and North America, but blame technology and automation as much as China or trade deals.  Just Google the monetary worth of manufactured goods in the U.S. or E.U. and compare it to before the beginning of automation.  It’s probably higher now though done with fewer laborers.  Yes you may be discontent with your job as a convince store clerk or a fryer cook at KFC, but with as cheap as many things are getting now, you may not need the $40,000 a year job right out of college to have an alright life.

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I make less than $15,000  per year from all sources.  But I still have two computers, an automobile, a cell phone, a good wireless internet connection, no debts, and I’m not going hungry.  Yet according to the U.S. government statistics I am living in poverty.  But I have pretty much everything I want and definitely everything I need.  I don’t need the four bedroom house with the picket fence (especially not when I have pay home owners’ association fees, property taxes, shovel snow, and fix my own plumbing when the pipes break at 3 am on Sunday morning).  I think the ideas of having a large house in a good neighborhood, a mini van and an SUV, lots of trinkets to impress people I don’t care about, a stressful job that could be automated or outsourced at a moment’s notice, a marriage that is always strained because of not enough time with the wife and kids, are overrated.  I never got the memo that said I had to have all of that to be happy and content.  I don’t have any of those “hallmarks of success” and yet I don’t feel like less of a man because of it.  Some people may think less of me because I don’t have a lot of money, a prestigious job, a trophy wife, children, a big house, or a SUV.  But that is their hangup and a reflection on them, not me.

Sure I make less money than my parents did (and many of my friends can claim the same thing).  But we definitely have more flexibility, more adaptability, more connectivity, better access to knowledge and information, and less of our budgets are going to basics like food and rent.  Even with as little as I make only half of my money goes to food and rent.  And I don’t even get food stamps.  Take heart GenXers and Millenials, even though you may never have the job stability or the money your parents and grandparents had, you definitely have more freedom and flexibility because you are not as tied to one area.  And you GenXers and Millenials will find out that once you get your debts completely knocked out (which will take time and discipline), you will find you can live on much less than you thought and you suddenly have lots of options.  My parents are tied to their small farming village because they would have to sell their house, their acreage, their cars, and most of the trinkets they acquired over the years of being tied down.  Me, besides my bed, my dresser, my book shelf, and my two couches, I can throw everything I own in my car and be moved within a few hours if need be.  And being able to do so much more online now, I can easily transfer to a new bank, new insurance company, and find pretty much whatever I need wherever I wind up.  I wouldn’t give up my freedom and flexability so I could be tied down just because I have a house and some money.  Freedom and flexability are currency in the information age.  I wouldn’t want to live in the past.  I would go nuts from the lack of freedom and lack of options.

 

Dealing With Depression

It’s been a rough last several days for me.  Spent most of the weekend at home and dealing with bouts of intense depression.  Finally had a break down on Sunday night.  Got into serious arguments with two of my best friends.  Sent one of them a really nasty message over Facebook and another I yelled at over the phone and hung up before he could say anything.  Summers are traditionally a tough time for me.  And I think the bad seasonal aspects of my mental illness are beginning again.

It also doesn’t help that most people I know are in foul moods already.  A week’s worth of nothing but news of shootings and violence would put anyone who pays attention in a pessimist view point.  I have spent the last several months trying to get people to be happy about the good things that are going on in the world and in their own lives.  But I don’t think I’m making any difference.  If anything I think telling people the good news going on in science and technology advances and humanitarian endeavors only make people irritable.  I don’t get any encouragement for trying to encourage people.  That’s probably what led to my last meltdown.  I wish I could just shut up from trying to encourage people. But that is not my personality.  Never has been.  Seeking and sharing knowledge is what I do.  It has also gotten me in lots of trouble over the years.

The reason I spend so much time trying to tell people good news is because I heard nothing but bad news the entire time I was growing up.  My teachers told me that acid rain was going to kill all the forests and poison the oceans.  But that never materialized because as some adults were weeping and gnashing teeth over problems, other adults (namely scientists) were actually doing something to solve those problems.  We developed better pollution controls.  The ozone layer depletion was a big deal in the late 1980s.  We got rid of chemicals that were causing said depletion and now the hole in the ozone layer is starting to heal.

The problems that people project into the future too often assume that people aren’t going to adapt.  In the 1960s it was overpopulation and famines that would end civilization.  Now the birth rates in most developed countries are not even replacement rate. I also saw a report that said there are now 2.1 billion people in the world who are overweight.  That’s almost one out of three people who are eating too much. The United States isn’t even the most obese country in the world anymore (at least not by percentage). Then there were the concerns of nuclear war and communist scares.  The first movie I remember watching from start to finish was ‘Red Dawn’ as a five year old.  I was expecting the Russians to invade any day for weeks afterward.  The scare the whole world was going to go communist was at the forefront of my childhood in the 1980s.  Didn’t happen.  People are now worried about terrorist groups abusing their religion and that the world will be completely radicalized in term of religion.  If anything, as the internet continues to spread, people will become less dogmatic about religion.  It happened in Europe, North America, and is happening in East Asia.  I certainly became less dogmatic in my religious, political, and spiritual views since I got easy access to the internet.  And I am not the only one.  This is a trend that isn’t likely to reverse.  The internet is one of those game changers, like the printing press or gunpowder.  We still have only scratched the surface of what this easy access to information can do.  It is one of the reasons I stay optimistic even with schizophrenia.  In fact, except for the flare ups, I am hopeful overall.  It’s that one percent of the time that causes me probably ninety five percent of my problems.  And last night for a few hours was one of those times.  I’m sorry I took out my psychotic break on my friends.  I would prefer if I could just break down and sob uncontrollably.  But that’s not how I’m wired.  I lash out when I’m in pain, sadly at those that care about me the most.

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.

Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions.