Discouragement

I spent several days at my parents’ place last week.  I was needing the peace and quiet and a little encouragement.  Unfortunately the encouragement left as soon as I got home. I have been convinced for years that the environment a person lives in and the type of people they are forced to associate with on a day to day business can greatly effect a person’s happiness and overall well being.  Most people have thought I was full of it for believing this as the majority of people I know believe you can will yourself out of depression, mental illness, and a bad situation.  You can’t will yourself out of mental illness anymore than an amputee can will his leg back.  In this day and age of advanced medicine and science, the people that think such things think them mainly because they choose to remain ignorant about science, technology, and illness.

I don’t get encouragement from being around my neighbors.  Haven’t for a long time.  I certainly don’t find encouragement when I try to contact even close friends and family online anymore.  Even family and close friends too often act like barbarians online, and don’t even get me started on random strangers and friends of friends.  About the only real intelligent and rational conversation and interactions I have anymore on my tech enthusiasts groups and my parents.  And my parents are both advanced in age and not in great health, so they will probably be dying within twenty years.  When they go, I’ll lose the vast majority of my social outlets and supports.  Tell me again why I want to live to old age?

I’m not sorry for being discouraged and sounding off about it.  Why should I?  Everybody else feels free to gripe and complain and generally drag anyone within ear shot into the cesspool that is socializing.  Even Superman has his kryptonite.  And lately I have been exposed to near lethal doses of it.  I’m tired from fighting and not seeing any results.  I’m tired of trying to encourage people with good news that doesn’t make the press only to be told I am a liar and that I’m a peddler of fake news.  I’m tired of always having to keep my head down in the dirt when we as a species were meant to reach for the stars.  Normal people are discouraging, you really are.

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Letting Go

It has been said, I think it was in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, that “in order to move forward, you have to leave the past behind” or something along the same idea.  I admit to having problems with letting go of what happened in my younger years, especially during times when my mental illness flares up especially bad.  During such times I have a very hard time coming to accept that my life did not turn out how I remotely imagined it would when I was sixteen and looking ahead to the vast expanse of years that was ahead.  At that age, I pictured that I would be doing something in medical research and married with at least a couple of children and living in some large metroplex by the time I turned 35.  Like many intelligent kids that could be classified as somewhat ‘nerdy’, I dreamed of the day I would move out of my hometown of less than 500 people and onto bigger and better things.  Like most of the few close friends I had, I so desperately wanted out of Nebraska.  I figured there was nothing here for me in the science and medicine fields and I would be wasting my life if I stayed behind.  Well, time has a way of making fools of even the smartest of us.

I never left Nebraska while all the friends from high school I stayed in contact with did.  In fact, none of the friends I made in college stayed in state either.  I didn’t end up working in any scientific or medical field for even one day of my life.  I certainly never got married or had kids.  I never even worked in a job that would require me to graduate high school for any real length of time, and I essentially failed at those jobs.  In spite of my illness, I retained almost all of my natural intelligence even though now my ability to work under stress and read anyone ‘between the lines’ was completely gone.  Any of these instances, let alone all of these put together, were serious blows to my pride and ego.

For the first several years of my mental illness, I agonized over where I went wrong.  I retained my natural intelligence yet I couldn’t do well in even minimum wage work.  It was baffling to my caseworkers at Vocational Rehab that I was so smart yet couldn’t handle any real stress.  For a long time, I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough and that work was supposed to suck.  I had spent my entire life hearing adults complain about their jobs as if their misery was something they took pride in.  So I just tried harder and attempted to abandon any idea that I was supposed to enjoy work or even life for that matter.  In time I came to believe I was doomed to be a failure at working a regular job.

For the next couple of years, I threw myself into my writing.  I was working part time at the courthouse as a janitor by this time.  I came to believe that the only way I could ‘make something of myself’ was to write a decent selling book.  I knew that the odds were against me as less than one percent of even published writers would make above poverty level if they relied solely on their writing work.  Well, that didn’t work either.  I self published a couple books of poetry, a book about my experiences as a mentally ill person in a ‘chronically sane world’, and even wrote rough drafts for two novels.  Found out the hard way that I have almost no talent for writing fiction.  I don’t even like reading fiction, especially modern fiction.  Even though I sold a few dozen copies of my mental illness book, the others didn’t sell at all.  So for a few years after that, I felt like a failure as a writer.

Now that the traditional writer door had been rudely slammed in my face, I became very depressed and angry.  I couldn’t understand what was the point of retaining my intelligence and not being able to use my abilities to even support myself, let alone help others.  I couldn’t figure any of this out.  I just couldn’t let go of what this illness cost me.  Occasionally I still find myself angry over what I lost.  I had the example of what I could have, and should have, been in the person of my older brother.  He is currently working as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, making more money per year in his mid 30s than my parents ever made at any point in their careers, living in a excellent neighborhood in a metroplex outside of our home state, married to an intelligent woman (who also is an engineer), and has four children that he’s absolutely devoted to.

I suppose it’s wrong to be envious of him, though a part of me sometimes is.  I know as kids, I actually got better grades in school and read more books than he did.  When I’m in the grips of my mental illness, I often find myself thinking our lives could have been similar.  When I’m seriously in the grips of the illness and feeling nothing but anger and hostility, I find myself thinking our lives could have been easily reversed with me doing the work of my dreams and him being mentally ill.  Fortunately that doesn’t happen often.

When I’m not caught in the grasp of the illness, I find it very easy to let go of my past and move forward.  I have found an outlet of sorts though blogging.  Sure I don’t have thousands of visitors every day like some blogs here on wordpress.  No I’m not known outside of my family, my current hometown, my handful of friends, and people who follow and/or happen to stumble on these writings.  No, I haven’t made even one cent off these writings on this blog.  Sure, I’m dependent on the government for my medications and even my living.  Yet, when I am doing well, I have completely accepted all the aspects of my mental illness and have moved forward.  It is now only the small minority of times when I’m in the grips of the illness that I have to worry about stumbling and dwelling on everything that has happened over the last twenty years.

I Want To Shake Things Up and Get More Active Again

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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.

Pessimism and Optimism

Haven’t been outside of my neighborhood for almost two weeks now, mainly because of the bitter cold, snow, and ice.  I haven’t even gone outside this week because it’s been so cold.  Hopefully it doesn’t stay this bad all winter because I’m beginning to get kind of tired of being housebound all the time.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.  Seems to me that even my family are starting to get short tempered and irritable over the cold weather.  My neighbors are getting short tempered too.  And of course the people on social media have been short tempered and joyless ever since social media was opened to the public at large.  At this point I’m not sure I want to stay in touch with anyone besides family and a few close friends.  It just seems that humans get some kind of sadistic joy out of being angry all the time.  Personally I’m burned out on all the anger and pessimism.  Have been for a long time.

I almost never heard anything good about my fellow man or the world in general from my teachers and elders while in school or even in college.  I had one teacher in junior high who seemed to get joy out of ranting about how the “cold cruel world” was going to kick our thirteen year old butts.  And of course I rarely heard anything good about people in general from the news stations or even church service.  After observing these happenings until I was in my mid twenties, I started taking notice of what was actually happening compared to what I was being told by my elders and bosses.  After the economic crisis of 2008 and hearing that civilization was fixing to collapse any day, I payed attention and took notes.  Of course it didn’t happen and the people who stayed in the stock market and didn’t panic are now making major money.  That is when I came to the conclusion that the crowd is usually wrong. The whole ‘wisdom of crowds’ usually comes to nothing or mob mentality.  The world didn’t end with Y2K, or 9/11, or the housing bust of 2008, or the Mayan calendar of 2012, or when the conservatives were in power, or when the liberals were in power, or when social media became a festering cesspool for people to gladly wallow in negativity and pessimism.  After years of hearing that the world was going to end any day now and that younger people (or older people depending on who you ask) would be the death of us all, that’s when I had enough.  Enough is enough.  I have had it with fear mongering and pessimism about things that never come to pass or turn out to me more manageable than we previously thought.

Many worries are much to do about nothing and come to nothing.  And everything else seems to be more manageable than previously thought.  If our species can survive world wars, crippling famines, plagues that kill off millions of people, ice ages, tyrants, incompetent leaders, and even science used for evil purposes, some people can survive just about anything barring a comet hitting our planet or the sun going out.  I probably wouldn’t survive most major events, primarily because of my mental illness and declining physical health as I age.  But it’s okay as far as I’m concerned.

I can say that I have lived a pretty good life considering the circumstances of having a mental illness my entire adulthood.  I have a good relationship with all my family members, I got to know my nephews and niece, I got to know quite a bit of my family history, and preserve it, before my grandparents died, I have cool friends who are willing to at least put up with my eccentric behavior and mental breakdowns, I haven’t been to jail or homeless, the longest I spent in a mental hospital was one week (and I have been working with a mental illness since age seventeen), and until recently was in good physical health in spite of fighting weight problems.  When I was a teenager I was able to go scuba diving and climb an Aztec pyramid when I visited Mexico.  In my early thirties I could walk five miles a day easily in spite weighing over 300 pounds.  I got to hike and camp in the mountains of Colorado.  I got to see B.B. King preform live a couple years before he died.  I got to see country music acts like Brad Paisley, Reba Macintyre, Sarah Evans, etc. preform live before they became big stars.  I have been able to live on my own with a mental illness for almost fifteen years.  And I got to learn about some of the cool things that science and tech are doing that will be coming to fruition within the next ten to twenty years.  My only true regret is that I might not live long enough to see some of the really cool things coming, like colonies on the moon or the first people on Mars or life extension tech or nuclear fusion plants.  But I am convinced that such things are coming in most people’s lifetimes.  And I am not an optimist by nature.  I had to force myself to become this way until eventually it became second nature.

Optimism for The Future in the Face of Constant Pessimism

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I haven’t posted regularly on my facebook or twitter accounts since September.  I just got tired of all the fighting and negativity.  But the thing that bothers me the most about social media is how much of what I try to communicate gets lost in just text.  Most times I don’t wish to come across as snarky or combative, but that’s how so many people interpret what I write.  Maybe facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. wouldn’t be so negative if people had to post video and audio rather than just text.  Put a voice and face to the comments and let the world know they aren’t talking to a machine or subhuman entity.

I gave up on using social media for anything than shamelessly promoting my blog three months ago when I came to the painful conclusion that most people were never going to share my optimism or joyful outlook.  And the weird thing is I am more optimistic than ever even though I almost never convince anyone of reasons to be optimistic.  I am definitely not an optimist by nature or upbringing.  I almost never heard anything positive about the world or the future from my parents, teachers, bosses, or elders while growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.  For quite sometime I was wondering why if most people were so pessimist about the future, then why were they having kids.  I could never figure those kinds of contradictions out.  I know very few people even in December 2017 who don’t have kids because they are worried about the kind of future these kids would have.  Most people that don’t have kids that I know can’t biologically have kids.

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Like I said, I am not an optimist by nature.  I had to make myself into one.  And I did it with little help from mass media, popular culture, or my elders.  Most of what I learned about what was going right in modern civilization I had to actively seek out through secondary sources and rigorous research.  I learned more science, technology, psychology, history, philosophy, literature, and economics on my own with an internet connection and five years of daily youtube viewing than I ever thought possible after spending eighteen years in traditional education.  Then again, it should be noted that is simply impossible for any kind of formal education system to teach everything a person needs to know for living just within the system itself.  With life expectancies going into the eighties in some countries (and even the sixties in some of the poorer developing nations), it is simply impossible to be able to say “You know what you need to know for the next fifty to sixty years once you’re turned out into the world at age eighteen.”  No, the best thing an education system can do in this day and age of long life span and ever changing tech and social norms is to foster the never stop learning attitudes and mentalities.

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In the mid to late 2000s when I was struggling to adapt to my mental illness and working low wage remedial jobs I could have done as a high school dropout, I was quite angry about my time in formal education.  For several years I was convinced that doing well in high school and college was wasted effort if all I was going to do with my life was push a mop in a courthouse or sell carpet for a billion dollar company.  After a few more years of maturity and seasoning, I found out to my pleasant surprise that my years of working hard in school and loving learning weren’t misspent.  The biggest thing my years in formal education did was awaken in me a love for learning and a desire to continue doing so.

Sadly, many people don’t have a love for learning.  Tragically most of those people are going to get left behind in the waves of science, technology, geopolitical, and social changes that have only recently begun to gain momentum.  The old ideas of graduating high school at age eighteen, getting a union membership, getting a job in a factory, getting married at age twenty two to someone from your hometown or college, etc. aren’t feasible anymore.  And sadly, many people can’t or won’t adapt.  But we’ve had changes in the past eras.  I imagine many people didn’t adapt during the Renaissance or Industrial revolutions and got painfully displaced.  Same things are happening now as we move to a more connected, digitalized, fast paced, and informed world.  National borders don’t mean as much now as they did even when I was a child back in the 1980s.

Sure it’s a chaotic time for many people, especially for people and institutions that aren’t adapting to the new realities.  Politicians in my home nation are talking about building walls to keep out illegal immigrants and refugees and bringing back traditional manufacturing jobs to this country.  To which I reply “planes can fly over walls” and “3D printing”.  Sadly, many people want to deny such changes are already here and will resist to the point of being left so far behind they’ll never catch up.  I see it every day just in my own community and circles of friends and family.  I decided that I was going to adapt and welcome the changes regardless of what my friends, family, and neighbors were going to do.  Some cool things are happening and I don’t want to get left behind or wallow in fear and anxiety for the rest of my life.  I deal with fear and anxiety enough in my own mental illness.  I won’t allow external forces to add to these.

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Being Home Alone With Mental Illness Gave Me Time To Ponder Life In General (Or Philosophy From The Sofa)

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Haven’t been writing much lately  but that is mainly because I haven’t had much to report.  I have been quite stable for weeks.  Haven’t had any real bouts of delusion or paranoia.  The excessive anger doesn’t come up very often.  The hallucinations have subsided for the most part.  The ones I do have are more annoying than fear or anger inducing.

I don’t leave my apartment as much as I would like, mainly from the holiday crowds all over the place.  It doesn’t help any that many people I know seem to be in perpetual foul moods all the time.  It seems the older I get, the less tolerance I have for irritable people.  At this point, there is no way I could go back into working in customer service.  I can no longer stomach rude and angry people, even if I get paid for it.  Money is poor compensation for having to deal with uncivilized behavior all the time.

Even though I spend most of my time alone and at home, I still keep occupied.  Been reading a lot of science journals online and watching science programs on youtube and curiosity stream.  It’s too bad that more people aren’t interested in science and tech.  Both fields are fascinating, especially the last few years with as fast as these fields have been advancing.  The sad thing is I wouldn’t know about any of these advances if I didn’t specifically make a point of seeking this information out.  The media, at least easily accessible media, really does a poor job informing people to the current state of science and technology.  As much as people use these things, I would think people would be interested in hearing about these things.  I get that people are naturally drawn to bad news, it’s how we are wired.  I must be weird in that I just got tired of hearing about bad news and tragedy all the time and started seeking out what was going right and well.  I get enough bad news and negativity just from being mentally ill, I just don’t need outside sources adding to this.

In other news, Christmas is only two weeks away.  I readily admit to being tough to shop for as I am a practicing minimalist.  I really don’t require that much to keep me occupied and entertained.  I’m sure my family doesn’t find it very thrilling that I ask for things like clothes and home decorations.  I like electronics, but there are only so many I need as my computers do most of what I need.  I don’t need music CDs as I get most of my music through youtube and spotify anymore.  I don’t need movie DVDs as I can get everything through amazon and netflix.  I have got to say, having a high speed wireless internet connection has really decluttered much of my life.  Besides spending money on food, I just don’t spend as much money on miscellaneous things anymore.  Maybe the Star Trek economy where money doesn’t really matter that much isn’t three hundred years away.  We could be witnessing the early stages of it already.

I may not make much money but I still live what I consider a fulfilled life.  I know that many people of my generation and younger lament that many of us don’t have as much money or material possessions as our parents’ generations, but with much of living being digitalized, do we really need the whole four bedroom house with the picket fence and two automobiles in the garage?  What my computer and smart phone can do would have been worth millions back in the 1970s.  I probably wouldn’t even own a car except for occasional road trips.  As it is, I may not have a lot (not by American standards anyway), but I don’t feel lacking or poor.  It was just a matter of realizing what’s really important and adjusting accordingly.  It’s a pity that it took for myself becoming mentally ill and losing a career to realize all of this.

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.