Improvements and Accepting New Realities

Been sleeping more the last several days than usual.  I had been gone weeks where I slept no more than 3 hours at a time.  Now I’ve been sleeping longer but I don’t wake up as stiff and sore.  Maybe the weight lifting and healthier diet are beginning to pay off.

Overall, I feel decent physically.  I have fewer unexplainable aches and pains and I get better quality sleep than was my normal the last several weeks.  I changed my diet too.  I no longer drink soda pop, not even diet.  I eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.  I occasionally go meatless for a day or two to give my guts a rest.  I lift weights three times a week.  I don’t sleep in my recliner as much these days.  Overall, as the weather has warmed up I have started feeling better physically.

Mentally I’m doing better.  I still occasionally have issues with irritability and depression.  Fortunately they usually pass after a few minutes of ranting to myself.  I still don’t socialize much, as I am still a little paranoid about dealing with rude and angry people.  During the winter, there were days it was bad enough I didn’t even want to socialize with anyone even online or over the phone.  I don’t call my family as often anymore.  But when I do, the conversations usually last longer and go more in depth.  I still call my parents at least once a week.

I’ve been enjoying the warmer days.  I have my windows open most of the time now, except when it rains or we have bad winds.  I leave my drapes open except for when I sleep.  I don’t watch much for tv anymore, haven’t since New Year’s.  I spend much of my free time reading, watching educational videos, listening to audiobooks, messing with my computer, and participating in my tech enthusiasts’ groups on social media.  I don’t socialize with even close friends as much as I normally do.  I still drop in on them every few days.  But it seems like most of my friends have just been having problems lately, whether with work or relationships.  Since most of my friends are in the age range of mid 30s to early 40s, I imagine many are going through mid life problems now.  I have so far managed to avoid the mid life crisis.  I had my crises in my mid to late twenties.  It was in the 2004 to 2008 years that I painfully had to realize my schizophrenia and anxiety would never allow me to hold a long term job, get married, have children, have any kind of prestige, or any kind of money.

At one time, namely 2006, I had the goal of finding my niche and being off disability before 2015.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Here it is in 2019 and I am still on disability.  But I have come to acceptance in that regard.  I had to change a lot of priorities and completely reexamine everything I was taught and believed over the years.  I came to realize that people are defined by their careers only because they allow themselves to be.  We were brainwashed since childhood to believe a human’s worth was in what they did to earn money.  I had to find out the painful way that there is far more to living and life than earning money and working.  It was only then I came to realize the obvious: the most important and influential work in the world is not paid or even respected by many people.  That work is, of course, being a parent.  The second most important job in the world is being a friend and support to other people.  I will never get to be a father, but I can be a friend and support person with the best of them.  And this is alright with me.

Even though I will probably never have much for money or any kind of prestige or be in any kind of romantic relationship, I am alright with all of this.  I made my peace with this several years ago.  Having a mental illness made me face my limitations and accept that I had to adapt.  I will never become the scientist I wanted to be as a child, but I am alright with that.  I have found my niche as a blogger, friend, support person, and confidant.

Rant about Politics, Education, Science, Technology (or PEST)

It’s been a few days since I last wrote.  That’s because I’m beginning to feel some of the anxiety and depression I felt back in late summer and fall again.  I am convinced this is because of most of my friends wanting to only talk about politics.  I am sick of hearing about politics.  Most politicians know less about science and technology advances that are and will impact our world than even I do.  A politician can’t build a power plant or bring back jobs once automation has made those jobs redundant and pointless.  Politicians, at least here in the USA, can’t even update critical infrastructure or balance their own budgets.  And it saddens me that my country is getting to where we don’t lead the world in many areas of science and technology.  Who would have thought twenty years ago that China would be offering to lead the world on developing clean and renewable energy or artificial intelligence or genetics?  I am embarrassed by politicians of both major parties.

I don’t understand normal people.  I don’t understand how masses of people can look at facts and ignore them or even outright deny them because of the person stating said facts.  Facts don’t change because of beliefs.  You can ignore the reality all you want but eventually you won’t be able to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

I have been following politics since the late 1980s.  Since then I have heard the statistics that state that my country has one of the worst overall education systems in the developed world.  We have known this for over a generation.  Yet no major overhauls to the way children in the U.S. are educated has happened. We won’t even consider looking at what other countries do in their educational systems.  My country is going to have to radically overhaul education real soon because the information and automation revolutions will make many of the skills stressed in the current system useless.  We have seen these changes coming for years yet not even the current politicians in power seem too eager to update education for the realities of the 21st century. That’s why I, and many other people in my country, have resorted to self educating ourselves by the internet.  Learning is not boring.  It’s just presented that way in traditional education.

Too many people and politicians are ignorant when it comes to science and technology.  We have known for years about the risks of burning carbon based fuels in terms of climate change and unhealthy air to breathe.  Even if climate change isn’t happening, only a fool would deny that people are getting sick and dying from breathing the toxic fumes emitted by coal plants and gasoline powered automobiles.  That alone should have made people pour much more research money into developing alternatives.

I don’t understand some people’s love affair with oil.  Some people seem to think that we never will find anything better than oil and that we can keep using it for thousands of years.  Climate change or not, oil is a limited resource. And some people don’t acknowledge that science can and will find answers to replacing oil whether they like it or not.  I have to think had these people been born in the mid 1800s , they wouldn’t have wanted to give up their kerosene lamps for electric lights or their stagecoaches for railroads. Or if they were born during the Renaissance they wouldn’t have given up their swords for muskets or would have considered the printing press the work of the devil. But there are always going to be people who don’t want to change anything and some who are nostalgic about a past that wasn’t that great to begin with.  I guarantee that in the future there will be people who won’t want to colonize the moon or other planets just because they fear and hate technology.

I don’t understand normal people’s obsession with politics.  And I’m sure most people don’t understand my obsession with learning and science.  Science classes have always been my favorite classes.  I had to take a detour from my desired science career and studied business and economics while I was in college.  As it turned out this study of economics turned out to be a several year diversion from my true passions.  I don’t regret studying economics as it made me much better at budgeting limited money and resources.  But looking back on it I am glad I didn’t find a job in business or economics and especially banking.  I would have hated working in a cubicle and having to wear a suit every day to work.  As much as I enjoy what money can do, I also know that having a great deal of money wouldn’t mean much to me.  It wouldn’t make me feel successful or like more of a man.  Who defines what is a “real man” anyway?  Seems to  me that those goal posts are constantly shifting.  The only winning move seems to me is to not play at all.

If I suddenly had a couple million dollars, I’d probably move to Silicon Valley, rent a small apartment, try to get involved in some small start ups, hang out with really intelligent and science minded people, and essentially live off the interest of my low risk investments.  I wouldn’t buy a sports car, a large house, or even get married.  But I always thought Northern California would be a cool place to live.  Then again I don’t know.  It’s not like I fit in even with people I have lived with my entire life.

If there is a point to these rants I suppose it’s that I simply don’t understand normal people.  I don’t understand why normal fret and stress over things that are trivial but don’t care at all about potential serious problems or opportunities.  Straining at gnats but swallowing camels as far as I’m concerned.  But at this point in my life I am glad that I am not normal.  I don’t desire to be considered normal even if I am somehow cured of schizophrenia.  Normal doesn’t change the world for the better.  I want for my life anyway, for most people that encounter me and my works to be better off for it.  I don’t want to be some political hack or among unthinking crowds.

Changes In Interests With Mental Illness

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Over the years of working with schizophrenia I have had to reinvent myself a few times.  When I was first diagnosed in 2000, I was a wreck.  I pretty much left my dorm room only to go to classes and go to the mess hall twice a day.  I couldn’t concentrate in classes or doing homework for longer than a couple minutes at a time.  I was trying different medications twice a month just hoping to find something that would work.  As a result of these struggles I had to drop out of my pre med major.  I even had to take a semester off from college because I was in danger of flunking out entirely.  After a few months off the academic grind and finally finding some medications that worked well, I was able to return to school be it with a different major.  I decided to do business management because I really knew little about money and business and thought I could find a job in that field once I recovered.  I never did completely recover but I did graduate college with a business degree.

After a year of working in sales I tried my hand at getting a masters’ in business.  At the time my dream was to teach basic economics and personal finance at a small college.  That was before I realized how tough it was to get tenure and that the majority of junior college instructors are not full time.  After two semesters in the program my grades were hurting enough that I lost my graduate assistant job.  I could have stayed in the program but I would have to go deep into debt.  So I left the program.  After my failing to become a college instructor, I got a job in a factory.  It was simple enough work but I couldn’t adapt to the overnight hours and my work suffered as a result.  Two months of this I decided I would put in for a transfer to morning shift.  I was denied so I quit.  It also didn’t help that I was threatened by one of my coworkers with violence because of my mistakes.  A few years later I heard that the factory was shut down.  So many people lost their jobs, probably due to automation.  It made me kind of thankful I didn’t stick it out with that job.

About the same time I failed at the factory, I applied for disability pension.  It took two years to get approved for it, and that was even after I hired an attorney to fast track the process.  Here I was with a mental illness that clearly ruined my ability to work and I was getting to where I was running out of money.  Shortly after I gave up on the factory, I moved into low income housing because that was all I could afford.  I could have moved back with my parents but the mental health care in that rural of an area was quite primitive.  And I was too embarrassed to face the people of my hometown with a mental illness.  Ten years ago there was even less understanding about mental illness than there is now.  Small town gossip is vicious and unavoidable.  I didn’t like living in my parents’ town as a kid because I never fit in and my skills sets weren’t conducive to a farming dominated economy.  I may live in a town of about 40,000 people (which isn’t big compared to many places) but it has far more to offer than my parents’ town of less than 500 people.  I just didn’t want to go back home, admit defeat, and face the scorn of the people of my hometown.  To this day I still won’t go back for class reunions or alumni events.  Too many people just don’t want to accept that mental illness is real.

As a result of having to abandon my childhood hometown, I had to find other means of socializing.  That’s about the time I signed up for a Facebook account.  The majority of my contacts on Facebook are with people I met in college.  I don’t have that many friends from my old grade school and high school days.  I hear from really only one of my friends from my high school days on a regular basis anymore.  One of my best friends from junior high I haven’t talked to in over ten years.  Some of my classmates I haven’t seen since graduation.  But I did enjoy college much more than high school, even if it was a religious school and I was beginning to question the teachings and dogmas of the religion grew up with even back then.  The majority of my friends from college are still in the same denomination I grew up in, but they seem to be understanding on why I don’t attend church anymore.  I haven’t been a regular in church in almost ten years.  It just seems ineffective and pointless.  People have been praying for cures for illnesses and deliverance from  danger for centuries.  Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they don’t with no rhyme or reason behind it.  I guarantee the early Christians being fed to lions in Roman coliseums were praying like mad, just like the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, or the people killed in every other crisis.  I gave up on organized religion once I came to realize that if there is a God (and let’s be honest, no one knows for exactly sure), than God was hap hazard in spreading the blessings and curses around.  If my friends and family want to continue going to church and believing what they do, I refuse to stand in the way.  I just won’t partake.

Once I left religion and made up my mind I would never marry, I had to find other outlets for socializing.  I joined writers’ groups, I took part in mental illness support groups, I volunteered at a museum for a summer, I started writing seriously, I worked on a blog with an old high school friend of mine, I wrote the rough outline for what would be this blog, I wrote rough drafts for two novels, I wrote hundreds of poems and even got a few of them published, I self published my mental illness writings and poems and sold a few dozen copies of those through local bookstores, I made friends with fellow artists and writers, I made friends with a few smart and eccentric people even in Section 8 housing.

Sadly several of my old friends in my apartment complex died in the last couple years.  I left my job at the county courthouse once I found out I could live on my disability pension and could get serious about writing.  Several months after I left my job at the courthouse I started this blog.  As the months went on I started getting a bit of an audience.  I found out I have a talent for putting ideas and words into written form.  At first I did this blog only every two weeks.  I was getting a few readers that way.  After a year I decided to post once a week.  I started getting more readers and some feedback.  Found out I was fulfilling a niche in the writing market that many people don’t know exists.

Mental illness is a problem that isn’t going to be swept under the rug anymore.  With more people feeling stressed about possibly losing their jobs to automation and globalization, people my age bracket and younger realizing that in spite their best efforts they won’t have as nice of a house or the job security of their parents and grandparents, and people just being depressed and stressed about the changes and crisises going on that we hear all about because of mass communications, mental health issues are going to be affecting more people.  And I’m writing about life with mental health issues, not having traditional employment, and having to make meaning and purpose in my life inspite all that has happened in the last twenty years.  And I will continue to post these blogs.  I don’t care if I make a dime off my writing anymore.  Most writers don’t make anything off their writings anyway.  I just want these writings to stick around for a long time and maybe make a positive difference for those affliceted with mental illness and their loved ones.

 

Coming To The Acceptance Phase

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My mental health has been quite stable for several months.  I’ve probably come to a point that after 15 years with a diagnosis I know my triggers and problem areas well enough I can avoid these without even thinking about it.  I’ve put in enough practice now I have carved out enough of a niche that I don’t really miss things I would have missed five to ten years ago.  I have now come to accept that I don’t have to be defined by a career or lack of in my case.  In my case a career never really launched but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.  In my twenties I had read about those who had schizophrenia, bi-polar, autism spectrum, etc. that went on to have great careers and families.  I thought ‘if they can do it, why not me?’  So I tried various job fields but never could overcome the anxieties and panic attacks I often had with working and socializing.  I’ve come to the level of acceptance that a traditional career, family, and American Dream type of life isn’t going to happen, but I’m alright with that.  I don’t have a problem with not achieving this even if others I know do.  These others do not live my life for me.

Psychiatrists often talk about levels of grief when something bad happens, like a death of a loved one or the loss of a career.  I think they go something like Shock, Disbelief, Anger, Bargaining or Denial, and Acceptance.  I went through all of these, slipped back between stages at times, and only within the last couple years have I come to accept that I won’t have the great career, great family, picket fence neighborhood type of life I spent my younger years working so hard in school to get.  Yes, it would have been cool and I know I would have done well in that type of environment without a mental illness.  But, mental illness is one of those wild cards that no one can foresee or even plan for.  Back up plans for getting mental illness do not exist.  When things do happen, it will take time to come to a level of acceptance where it’s like ‘Yeah this happened and it sucks.  I didn’t do anything to bring this on. It can’t be changed but I’m alright with it.’  It takes a lot of time and a great deal of hardship, but acceptance of life with mental illness can be possible.  But it’s a very tough road to travel to come to that level of acceptance.

Struggles With Mental Illness in College, Part 2

            In a previous blog entry, I wrote about my struggles during the first year and a half of college before I began treatment.  This entry will be about my struggles after my treatment began.  Just because I was under treatment didn’t mean my problems were over.

            During the last three years of my collegiate career, I never achieved the quality of grades I had during my first year of college.  I also changed over to a different major.  I originally started college as a pre-pharmacy student.  After a year and a half of struggling with my mental illness as well as my classes, my grades were bad enough that I wasn’t going to be getting into pharmacy school.  I needed a change.

            I switched to a business management major, which was a surprise to my family.  I had never taken any business classes in high school.  I didn’t have much of an aptitude for sales, and I was quite an introvert.  So to my family and friends the move didn’t make much sense.  But to me it made a great deal of sense.

            In my line of thinking at the time, I wanted to be able to be employable with a good job as soon as I graduated from college.  Even though I was really passionate about literature and history, I always figured I could read all the history books and classics of literature on my own time when I wasn’t studying for my business classes.  With my best friend being a history education student helping me out with history and classical literature books, which is exactly what I did.

            I admit with this “Dual Study Program” with my studying business classes officially by day and reading my classical literature and history books late at night and on the weekends, I didn’t have much time for outside socialization.  I had my small core group of friends, and I also made it a point to be friendly as possible to as many fellow students as possible.

            As the last three years of college went on I slowly picked up a few more friends and gradually went to more social activities.  There were a few music bands on campus that occasionally played weekend concerts that I went to.  They were pretty much cover bands that also played some of their own material.   I made a few friends with some of the band members through that.

            I also made a few friends through some of my business clubs like Students In Free Enterprise.  I also went to many of my college’s home baseball and basketball games.  I preferred the baseball games because of the more laid-back atmosphere of baseball and I had a few friends on the team.  I also made a few friends through games of softball, ultimate Frisbee, and flag football.  I wasn’t a fast runner but could be a vicious blocker.

            I bring all of this up to show that I was able to have the average college experience in spite of having a mental illness.  There were a few things I obviously couldn’t do, namely the drinking scene because of my medications.  But I wasn’t in college to drink and drug.  I was there to get a degree.

            I didn’t work during the school year because of the stress of going to school full time, having a mental illness, and having a job would have just been too much.  So I worked in the summers instead.  It also helped that I had a good academic scholarship based on my grades.  Even though I wasn’t getting straight A’s, I was still managing to do well.  And I was enjoying the college experience at the same time. 

            A strange thing happened during my last year of college, I became interested in writing.  I had been reading voraciously the previously two years, so I suppose that writing would only be the next logical step.

            All of the struggles, problems, victories, and defeats of five years of college came to a culmination on May 8, 2004.  That was the day I graduated from college.  Graduating from college meant that I had overcome the problems of mental illness and accomplished my life long goal of finishing college.

            While it’s been several years and I still haven’t found permanent employment in my major, I still won because I was able to finish college.  I thank God that I was able to finish in spite of my illness.  Finishing college by itself is hard enough.  Throwing a mental illness in the mix makes the degree of difficulty pretty steep.  I hope that by finishing college that perhaps someday I can encourage someone with a mental illness to reach for and achieve their dreams.