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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Reinventing Myself While Living With Schizophrenia

 

I admit I don’t have good social skills.  Never have and probably never will.  Part of it may have come from growing up in a rural town of less than 500 residents without much in the way of diversity or culture.  That and I didn’t know many people who shared my interests in science, science fiction, and fantasy type stories until I went to college.  To this day I have never bought a comic book.  I was 31 before I played my first D&D game.  I didn’t read any Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark until a couple years ago.  I didn’t sit down and watch an episode of Star Trek start to finish until I was in my thirties.  And besides the D&D, I enjoy all of these things.  I would have loved to discovered this stuff twenty five years ago.  Most people in my childhood hometown were interested in mostly farming, hunting, football, church, and politics.  I can discuss such things but they do get old after even a few minutes and then you’re just rehashing reruns of reruns.  While I didn’t hate my hometown as a child, I was quite bored and always felt like I didn’t fit in.  As a result I didn’t socialize except when I was forced to.  It’s not that I don’t like people.  I love people.  I just have a wide range of interests that growing up where I did just wasn’t able to satisfy.

I suppose in some ways now that I’m on disability insurance and don’t have to work a regular job (not that I could with my depression, paranoia, and anxiety), I feel like I’m getting a second chance at my adolescence.  Sure I’m in my late 30s, don’t have the physical strength I did at age 18, and I’m not interested in trying to get laid, but in some ways I still feel youthful.  I am enjoying my thirties far more than I ever did my teenage years.  In some ways, I feel like my thirties are kind of like my adolescence in that I have different possibilities every day as to how I want to spend my days.  And I don’t have to deal with bullies or irritable elders yammering on about how the ‘cold cruel world’ is going to kick my idealistic butt.  I had my butt kicked many times in my teens and twenties by my mental illness and trying in vain to find a job so I could be considered a ‘productive member of society’ or considered a ‘real man’ by fools and jerks whom I really couldn’t care less about.

My teens and twenties, besides the mainly truly happy times I felt in college because I got to work with smart and interesting people every day, by and large were lousy.  In fact, they sucked.  I pretty much spent my twenties going from one dead end job to another, one ill fitting relationship to another, finding out that the real world doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to all the while having psychotic breakdowns every few months along the way.  By the time I qualified for disability insurance at the age of 28 I realized that there is no set script to life.  I didn’t have to follow anyone’s script for me.  I could feel free to change my script anytime I want.  And I have.

Every one is free to change their life as long as they are willing to make sacrifices here and there.  Anyone who hates their thankless job could stride up their boss tomorrow, quit in a blaze of glory, and live the life of a nomad who answers to no one but their own limitations and nature itself.  But almost no one does because they aren’t willing to sacrifice their incomes, their prestige, their families, their McMansions, etc.

You can do what you like and are good at, it’s just what are you willing to give up to get there?  I have my freedom and I live quite happy in spite being on disability.  But I had to be inflicted with schizophrenia through no misdeeds of my own, give up ever having a traditional career, give up the shot at getting rich (it isn’t just monks and priests that take the vow of poverty), give up any shot of ever having a family or any kind of romance life (again, clergy aren’t the only ones who take vows of celibacy), and it can be quite lonely at times.  But I value my freedom.  I value my intelligence and wisdom.  I strive every day to make myself smarter, better read, better cultured, and wiser.

But it all came at a price.  It was a price that, at age 16 before I started having my problems with schizophrenia, I would have said ‘no way am I paying that price.’  I paid the price for my freedom and wisdom.  And, as it is, I am thankful I took the paths I did.  Statistically speaking, people with my diagnosis usually wound up lifetime institutionalized, homeless, in prison, or dead at a very young age for most of history.  I’m happy I beat the odds.  I’m happy I didn’t become just another statistic.

Everything else from this point in my life is just chicken gravy as far as I’m concerned.  So yes, I am going to be happy.  I am going to share my joy with other people while they gripe and moan about their jobs, their spouses, and humanity in general.  And if people think I’m overly optimistic or a hopeless Pollyanna, well it was one rugged process surviving from age eighteen until my early thirties when I finally learned to say, “screw others expectations, I am doing what I want.”  And I didn’t come to this conclusion all at once.  It was a gradual evolution.  My physical health may be not what it once was, but I am far happier now than I was ten years ago.  And that is mainly because I learned to let go of others’ expectations and a type of regular life that was never going to materialize.  In short, dance like no one’s watching; no one is.  Everyone else is too busy with the petty concerns of their own lives.

August 4, 2018

Even though we still have officially six weeks of summer left, it’s starting to feel like autumn is just around the corner.  I’m seeing back to school sales and getting fliers for said sales in my mail on almost a daily basis.  One of my neighbors has tomato and pepper pants in the back yard of our apartment complex and they are looking almost ready for harvest.  My parents have kept tomato plants as far back as I can remember and we always had fresh tomatoes every August.  A friend of mine from out of state and her husband grow tomatoes and peppers to make fresh salsa.  I should sweet talk them into sending me a jar one of these soon days.  School for my nephews and niece starts in two weeks.  Soon I’ll be spending my Saturday afternoons watching college football.  I guess I always preferred the college game to the pros, if for no other reason, Nebraska isn’t big enough to support pro teams.

Mentally I still feel quite stable.  And I think I’m starting to lose weight again.  I usually eat two large protein rich meals per day and drink mostly only water and coffee.  I don’t even buy bread anymore as I have cut most grains out of my diet.  I don’t eat much for dairy besides Greek yogurt and occasionally cheddar cheese.  But my diet mostly consists of baked and grilled lean meats and fresh vegetables.  I saw an online article featuring a former pro football player who lost over 100 pounds in a year and all he was doing was eating grilled chicken, fresh vegetables, lots of water, and lifting weights three times a week.  While I don’t count on such excellent results, it doesn’t hurt to aim big.  I feel like I’ve made much progress since Independence Day, exactly one month ago today.

I socialize in person more now.  Most days I leave my apartment at least once daily, if to just check the mail or buy a Diet Coke from the ground floor vending machine.  I usually drive my car three times a week just to keep it loose and ready to go.  Still haven’t made any road trips this summer besides going to my parents’ house a couple times.

I am still mentally stable.  I am usually in bed by midnight and awake by nine a.m. most days.  I avoid drama and pointless arguments as much as possible now.  Overall I feel well.  I haven’t felt this well for such a prolonged time period in a few years.  And I love it.

I’m glad that summer is almost over.  I always enjoyed autumn more than summer.  I look forward to the cooler weather, the turning leaves, the farmers’ markets, fall football,  playoff baseball, and the college kids returning to town.  My town really comes to life during the falls and springs when the college is in session.  I can hardly wait.

Changes Over One Lifetime

I’m going off subject for this post.  Today, June 28 2018 would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.  She died of a stroke in 2015 at the age of 97.  Fortunately for our family, she was very sharp mentally right up until her stroke.  She would often talk about the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime.  Grandma Foster could just as easily recall events from her teenage years during the Great Depression as she could events that happened within the last week.  In some ways, she was like having a local historian in our family.

Today I would like to talk about some of the changes that occurred since my grandmother’s birth that early summer day in 1918.  One hundred years isn’t really a long time in terms of our recorded civilizations, let alone on the time frame of the cosmos.  But we have seen many changes.  And I would like to mention some of these.

In 1918, when my Grandma Foster was born, World War I was still going on.  The Spanish Flu Pandemic was at it’s hight.  The old Ottoman Empire was still in existence.  The Russian Revolution was going on.  China was still a very poor country.  India was still a possession of the British Empire.  Much of Africa was divided into European colonies.  Automobiles had been available to the working and middle classes for only a handful of years.  Industrial magnates like John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, etc. were still alive.  It was mostly urban areas in America and Europe that had electricity.  Coal and steam powered almost all industrial processes.

Technologies that my Grandma Foster saw rise during her lifetime included regular radio broadcasts, anti biotic medications, hybrid crops, nitrogen based chemical fertilizers, radar, reliable rockets, nuclear weapons and energy, jet propulsion, reliable airline travel, television, computers, more fuel efficient automobiles, plastics, reliable contraceptive pills, super highway systems, easily available credit cards, lasers, the beginnings of space exploration, organ transplants, test tube children, cellular phones, active searches for alien intelligences beyond our solar system,  high speed railways (granted not so much in America as in Europe and East Asia), the internet, near free information via wikipedia, near free self broadcasting via youtube and podcasting, social media, the beginnings of inexpensive renewable power, the rise of automated drone technology, the rise of robotics, the human genome project, the beginnings of affordable electric automobiles, the discovery of anti matter, and the early research into fusion power, genetic engineering, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.

Cultural changes my Grandma Foster saw witness to involved women’s suffrage, the beginning and end of Prohibition, the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist Russia, World War II, the decline of children in the work force, the increase of women in the work force, the assassination of Gandhi, the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the rise of rock and roll music, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John Kennedy, the turmoil of the 1960s, the rise of cable and satellite television, the first people on the moon, the fears of nuclear war and it’s after effects, the popularization of hip hop music and urban culture, the launch of space probes to almost all of our solar system, the Hubble Telescope, the popularization of science fiction and futurism, the rise of awareness of industrial pollution and the beginnings of the efforts to undo the effects thereof, the AIDS epidemic, the end of colonialization, the rise of China as an industrial and scientific power, the rise of the United Nations and globalization, the beginnings of the decline of nationalist furvor that was the norm for most of civilization, the rise of the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the War on Terrorism, the first black man to be U.S. president, the first women Supreme Court justices, the beginnings of the declines in the marganializations of religious, sexual, cultural, etc. minorities, the beginnings of plans to colonize space, the realizations of the potential benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and the rise of better treatment for the disabled, mentally ill, and pretty much anyone who didn’t conform to the average norm.

All of this I mentioned was just in the lifetime of someone I was blood relation to.  As you could see, the rate of changes only accelerated as time went forward.  I’m sure there are changes I forgot to mention.  My grandmother was old enough to remember people who were Civil War veterans and probably met people who were born into slavery or at least their children.  I write all of this to state that yes, the world changes over time.  People change over time, and not just because older generations die off and younger ones take their places.  I think of some of the changes I’ve seen just in my 38 years living as a human.  I really don’t recognize much of what I saw in the mid 1980s now and some of the attitudes and practices of even my childhood has me wondering “what were we thinking” and even “what was I thinking.”  Change is constant.  Change is inevitable even if not predictable or even in coming.  Or as one science fiction writer put “The future is already here.  It just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Thoughts on Friendships, Working, and the Past

Been more stable than usual for the last couple weeks.  Besides the fact I usually stay up all night, go to bed at sunrise, sleep until early afternoon, and then wake up for good, I don’t have much unusual going on right now.  Perhaps one of the reasons I have stabilized lately is that I have a routine that works for me.  I usually don’t alter it unless necessary.  I had to be up early a few days ago so maintenance could do some work in my place.  Spent a few hours out of my place and socializing with fellow tenants like old times.  Even though I haven’t socialized much over the last several months, I picked up like I never left off.  I was lucky in that I ran into a few of the more interesting tenants and we were able to do more than talk about the weather or complain about other people.  Mundane chit chat really drains me real fast.  That’s why I don’t do well at large social gatherings or Christmas parties.

Been reestablishing a couple of the friendships I had lost contact with over the last few years.  There are more I’d like to get back going.  One of my best friends from childhood I’d love to get back in contact with but I haven’t seen him in almost twelve years.  It’s a sad deal because we were almost like family to each other in junior high and high school.  Very interesting man.  But we just lost contact over the years.  I lost contact with most of my old high school friends besides one or two of them.  In 2019, my twenty year reunion is coming.  I’m probably not going as most of the friends I had as a teenager aren’t the type that go to reunions.  And part of me is afraid to go back after fighting mental illness for my entire adult life and falling apart the way that I have.  One of the reasons I’m not very nostalgic about my youth, or the past in general, is that high school, at least for me, was the toughest four years of my life.  I can’t imagine how tough they would have been had I not had the interesting and stimulating friends that I did.

I had some great times in college.  It was far more fun and stimulating than I experienced anywhere before or since.  It was one of those experiences that, as much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t realize how rare it would be compared to the rest of my life.  I think I’m starting to understand why most people don’t like their jobs and think adulthood sucks.  I might be in the same camp had I not had a mental illness destroy any shot I ever had at a decent career.  I never could adapt to office politics or the thought that mediocrity in the workplace and life in general was acceptable.  I certainly couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that being good at a job meant that I was a threat to my coworkers and bosses. Workplaces really are like living Dilbert cartoons.  I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but Dilbert and The Peter Principle aptly describe my experiences in the American workplace.

Even though I’m fighting a mental illness and don’t have much money, I’m pretty happy overall for the most part.  Not having a career made me realize that we really don’t need a lot of money if just having a happy existence is your main goal.  For years I have heard people say things like “you never hear a dying man say he wishes he worked more or had more possessions”.  And then these same people would work themselves into poor health, excessive stress, and destroy their personal relationships and families pursuing possessions and excessive working.  I think this is stupid.  Learn from the mistakes of the dying generations already.  Stop parroting their thoughts and then doing the exact opposite.  I guess I had to lose a career and my prestige to find my sanity and peace.

I Want To Shake Things Up and Get More Active Again

whybenormal

My back has healed up.  I’m back to essentially a more normal routine.  Because of the colder weather and being housebound for two weeks, I got to do some thinking about changing things in my life.  I have essentially been in a rut for the last couple years where it’s pretty much the same old every day, day in and day out.  I haven’t done any real traveling for almost three years, spending much of my time self educating via youtube and Khan Academy and reading books.  I gained back the weight I lost within two years of my car accident back in 2015.  Now I’m getting more serious about my health again.  I don’t eat fast food anymore.  I’m starting to get out of my apartment more and walk a little every day.  I do arm weights three times a week.  And about the only things I drink anymore are water and coffee.  I feel like I’m beginning to see some results.  I started this new routine shortly after New Year’s.  Because my back slowed me down for two weeks, I just cut back on what I ate.  I’m to where I now eat meat only once a day, usually for breakfast.  The rest of the meals I eat things like spinach leaf salads, soups, peanut butter, and meatless pasta.  I think my routines are starting to work.  I feel like I have more energy.  I feel more mobile.  I’m starting to have fewer aches and pains.  And I am sleeping better too.

I’m also thinking that after I have lost some weight, I’m going to have to get out and about more.  I am in desperate need of shaking up my routines and adding more spice to my life.  A few years ago I said that I would like to do some traveling eventually.  I still have my savings that I built up a few years ago.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to see my old college friends again.  I don’t have a definite time line set just yet as this is still in the dreaming before making plans phase.  I have always wanted to get my passport and travel through Europe and see places like Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, London, etc.  Part of me would, if I get back to the same weight I was in college, love to travel on some of the old Silk Road from eastern Europe to China or vice versa.  When I was in high school I spent a couple weeks in Mexico with my Spanish class.  It was the most enjoyable vacation I had in my entire life.  Now that I am an adult, debt free, committed to getting back into good physical health, and have a little bit of a savings, I’m going to have to do this traveling before I get too old to enjoy it.  Since I am single, have a safety net in my disability pension, and I can do my blog from anywhere that has WiFi internet, I’m starting to hear the faint beckoning call of the open road again.

When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I did a little traveling every year.  My senior year of college, my parents and I went to San Antonio for Christmas.  I got to see The Riverwalk lit up for Christmas, visited the Alamo, got to see one of the Air Force bases my dad was stationed at during the Vietnam War, and got to see my Nebraska Huskers play a post season bowl game.  And an old college friend and I used to go to Denver to see Colorado Rockies baseball games, one of those games being a World Series game.  Spent all winter paying off the cost of that quick weekend trip, and even though the Rockies lost the Series, it was worth the trip.  I visited an old college friend in Minnesota for a week several summers ago.  I was amazed at how beautiful Minnesota is (I wouldn’t care to fight their winters). My friends and I used to go to minor league baseball games every summer.  We were able to get front row seats, a couple hot dogs, and a couple soda pops for less than $25 a person.  Just thinking about these old times while I was house bound for the last two weeks got me to realize just how much I missed travel and seeing different places.

I know that before I can fulfill these dreams of traveling, I have to lose some weight.  I have done it before.  And by God I can do it again.  I know it’s going to take at least a few years before I can get to doing the travel overseas like I dream of doing.  But I have pretty much gotten to where I have played all the computer games and done most of the self study I care to do.  I took a couple years doing that and I have gotten it out of my system.  Now it is time for a different chapter in my life.  It’s time to lose some weight and prepare to hit the road again.

The pains and joys of being a geek with mental illness

I still don’t socialize much.  But that’s because I don’t feel like I need to.  Some of my best friends I can chat with over Facebook or the phone.  Besides, all some people want to chat about are mundane things like the weather or pointless gossip.  Conversations without any real intelligent substance really weigh on me.  They sap my energy and often aggravate me.  And the longer I’ve been out of school, the worse it gets.  Sure there were quite a few people who, when I went to school, thought education was for losers and being ignorant was cool.  But, good grief, now that I’m an adult those people are in the vast majority.  I was always told that more wisdom came with age.  Not necessarily so.  I know people in their sixties and seventies who are less mature and intelligent than some junior high kids.  It’s tiring and sad to see stupidity and ignorance being championed in my culture.  I see it in my daily life and I see it when I log onto the internet or watch my tv: ignorance is praised and wisdom is condemned.

Was it always this way that smart people were ostracized?  Is it this way in other cultures and times?  Since I’ve been out of the USA only once in my life, I really have no first hand experience with other cultures other than my own.  And in my culture, intelligence simply isn’t valued.  I have felt out of place among my own people and culture for as long as I can remember.  People thought it odd that my friends and I liked to talk about history, science, and current events more than school yard gossip and popular culture.  I was good at speech, drama, and knowledge bowl competitions, but I got far more recognition from being a mediocre football player.  And my school was more academically inclined than most schools in my region.

I have always felt like an outsider.  And developing a mental illness in my late teens only made it more pronounced.  But I suppose that being an outsider as a kid made me resilient enough to navigate a serious mental illness.  And it’s this sense of being an outsider that allows me to endure long stretches of time in solitude.  It’s this sense of being an outsider that frees me to go against popular norms and look at problems in different ways.  It’s the sense of being an outsider that took away a lot of old fears that held me back in my younger years.  I don’t fear looking like a fool.  I don’t fear being wrong because I can learn from being wrong more than I can always giving the teachers the “right” answers.  Besides, all grades measure in school is how good a kid can conform to the existing system.  Well, the existing system is becoming obsolete and is going to get changed before too many years.  It is unavoidable.  Why measure fact retention when I can look up any fact on google and wikipedia within a few seconds?  In future generations, kids are going to have to be taught to be problem solvers and deep thinkers. It matters less that, for example, that Sacramento is the capital of California than say, why Sacramento and not Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Or instead of knowing that Columbus sailed for the Americas in 1492, it would be better to explain how he was able to convince the Spanish throne to give him the funds, how he kept his crew motivated when setting off on a potential suicide mission, or what effects there were by the Europeans meeting with the Native Americans.  In the automated future, fact retention and unthinking obedience is going to matter much less than creativity and problem solving or skills that computers can’t master yet.  And it can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, the geeks and nerds won the culture wars.  Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have much more influence and money than even Michael Jordan or David Beckham.  Geeks and nerds coming out in force is probably why there have been so many comic books made into movies the last several years.  Heck, even video gaming is becoming a competitive sport.  But I guess if bowling and poker are, why not video gaming?  Science and tech are gaining in influence and prestige while aspects of our past like war and poverty are going in decline. We are very fortunate that there hasn’t been any major wars between developed nations since the end of World War II.  I fear such wars would go nuclear.  So it’s a great development that we as a species are starting to lose our stomachs for violence, war, and bloodshed.  Practices like human sacrifices and near constant raiding and war used to be the norm not that many generations ago.  Such practices are considered barbaric relics of when our civilizations were less mature.  And it’s largely thanks to the geeky outcasts and their science and tech advances.

I want to end on a positive note.  I am grateful to be a geeky outsider.  I hated it as a teenager, but it was for the better.  It made me better able to deal with mental illness, it made me more self reliant, and it made me study more.  I’m much better read now than I was before I became mentally ill.  I’m glad I’m not normal.  I’m glad I’m not ignorant.  Ignorance and normal are both overrated.  In fact, both ignorance and normal suck.