My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

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A Schizophrenic Country Boy’s Journey to Enlightenment

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Starting to read more traditional books again.  For a couple years I had been lazy, by my standards, about reading.  For most of my life I always had a book I was reading on or re-reading.  I had gotten out of that habit for a little over two years as most of my reading was being done online.  I did listen to a few sci-fi audiobooks on youtube.  My favorites were Foundation by Issac Asimov and a few of Cory Doctrow’s short stories.

But I have recently rediscovered how much I love laying in bed with a book under my nose.  When I was in college, my friends thought I was odd in that I would do most of my homework in bed.  In addition to my homework, I was also reading some of the classics of Western literature from the college library.  Levitt Library was such a second home for me during my college years that I took a job as a tutor there my senior year.  I didn’t really need the money as I lived at home during the summers while working 40 to 50 hours a week and saving my summer money for the school year.

During my ‘self directed study’ program, I sampled philosophy from ancient Greece and Rome, read epic poetry by the ancient masters like Homer and Virgil, read lots of history, sampled some of the philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, read some of the major works of Shakespeare, as well as much of the classic poetry of Europe and 19th and early 20th century America.  The works of Emerson and Nietchze resonated with me.  I still have some of their works on my book shelf.  My favorite classical novelist is probably Alexandre Dumas, I especially loved ‘The Count of Monte Cristo.’  One summer I read ‘War and Peace’, and it took the entire summer to read it.  The summer after I graduated from college, I managed to slog through ‘The Wealth of Nations’, which is essentially the Bible of free market capitalism.

But my tastes have changed over time, when I was in my late twenties I read all the works of Ayn Rand as well as a lot of military history, namely John Keegan, Victor Davis Hanson, and Barbara Tuchman. In my early thirties, I read many economics and business books.  I enjoyed the works of Napoleon Hill, Dave Ramsey, Zig Ziglar, and Robert Kiyosaki the most. In my mid thirties, I became interested in all things science and future tech.  To that end, I read some of the works of Michio Kaku, Ray Kurzweil, Eric Drexler, Ronald Bailey, Kevin Kelly, and Peter Diamandis.

After a couple years of letting all this reading ferment, I am ready to dive back into serious reading again.  Even though I have spent a great deal of my life reading those famous books everyone has heard of but never actually read, there are still some books I haven’t gotten to yet that are still on my bucket list.  There are still major philosophers I haven’t gotten into much yet, namely Marx, Kant, Locke, as well as Lao Tzu and Confucious.

Before the prevalence of the internet, some of the entries on my bucket list were to visit the Library of Congress as well as all of the libraries of Harvard University.  But, as it stands now, I can get many of those rare and hard to find works online.  I have hundreds of e-books about philosophy and history that I may never get to read.  But I have them on my computer and iPod.  Kind of mind blowing to think that I have access to the treasure trove of the collected knowledge of civilization available in a manner that would have been impossible even in my childhood and for the price of only one dollar a day in wireless internet connection.  I have access to information that scholars were too often tortured, imprisoned, and killed for seeking in past eras and I don’t even have to leave my living room to acquire it.  I have access to the wisdom of civilization yet I’ll likely never have the money to buy my own house.  Only in the early 21st Century.

Yet, I enjoy living the life of a self  taught scholar.  I made myself into one primarily because school by itself didn’t completely satisfy my love for reading and learning.  Tragically, for some people, their school years stifled their creativity and killed their love of reading and learning.  Even though I make poverty level wages, I can get by with my books and writings.  I can do this because I have zero debts.  I will never go into debt again, not even to learn.  I can learn almost anything online anymore.

If there is any one thing I can take away from my years of self study, it is that the path to enlightenment is a never ending one.  I don’t want to stop learning, ever.  If I make it to my nineties and have to live in a retirement home and not be able to bathe myself, I hope at least I can still read books or online articles.  Maybe, by the time I’m ninety anyone will be able to create entire fantasy worlds on hyper powerful computers and share those with other people via powerful virtual reality.  I would love to be able to recreate some of the worlds I read about in books.  But that is still a long way down the road.  Until then, I can visit such worlds by my reading.

Night Owl

Been kind of a quiet last few days.  That’s why I haven’t written much; just no real news to report.  I still sleep most mornings after being awake most nights.  Last night was the first time in months I was asleep before midnight.  It was strange to be waking up at sunrise instead of going to bed then.  Even though my schedules are all backward compared to the rest of the world, I’m still feeling quite stable.  I’m sure my friends and family are concerned about my backwards bio clock, but I have more or less been quite stable for months because of it.  Even though my social life has taken a beating because of my schedule, I really don’t want to change it up too much because it has worked for so long.

I usually spend my overnight hours attending YouTube university and messing with computer games.  I like playing strategy games as opposed to shooters or action games.  I guess I like brain building activities even in leisure time.  As far as youtube goes, the topics I watch on change every so often.  For awhile I was researching near future tech we could be seeing in the next few years.  Then I researched early civilizations like Sumeria.  Now I’m currently interested in the old Chinese Silk Road.  Unfortunately, I didn’t study that part of the world’s history much during my formal education.  But then there is only so much time in school that most things I had to learn on my own out of necessity and my own curiousity.  But just because I’m on disability doesn’t mean I have gotten lazy.  Too many people have the idea that all disabled people spend their social security money on booze and drugs.  For most of us, this simply isn’t true.  Sure some people do stupid things with their money, but so do many people regardless their working status.

I usually spend my evenings alone and working on my computers and building my brains.  But I enjoy learning.  It is actually fun for me.  I feel sad that intelligence is no longer valued among most people I know.  But that is just the way things are.  One good thing about the internet is that it is easier to find like minded people than in ages past.  Most of my friends I interact with online.  Many I haven’t met in real life and probably never will.  But that’s going to be the new normal.

Returning to Normal Routines

After several days of colder than average weather, it finally warmed up a little today.  At least it warmed enough for me to run some errands.  It feels good to be able to leave my apartment again without worrying about frostbite.  I had spent several days staying at home, watching college football, playing computer games, but doing little of anything else.  I need to get back into some regular routines.  To that end I started lifting weights again today.  I had been lazy about lifting this summer and fall.  I had been quite lazy about exercise ever since I hurt my back.  Sadly I gained back the weight I had lost a few years ago.  I’m starting over in this regard.  I know I can lose the weight again, it’s just a matter of doing so.

Still not sleeping as much as I used to.  Which is alright with me as I used to sleep twelve hours a day during the summer.  Now I’m getting like six hours a sleep every night.  Yet I still feel quite rested.  And I usually try to take an hour nap in the afternoon.  Even with my reduced sleep, I rarely stay up all night now.  Used to be I stayed up all night three nights per week and then sleep in the mornings.  My sleep is returning to more normal patterns.

Been spending a little more time on social media the last few days, mainly to find out about people’s holidays’ plans.  I don’t know if I’ll be back on facebook and twitter more from now on.  It seems to me that many of my friends have just gotten burnt out on all the drama and fighting that has been so prevalent for the last few years.  I wound up unfollowing many people because of the drama, including family members.  So much for making people more connected.  I think the older I get, the less use I have for drama and nonsense and the more uses I have for logic and intelligence.

Now that the weather is starting to break out of the cold spell and the holidays are over, I am at a crossroads.  I realize I now have more freedom than I used to.  During the holidays I avoid the stores because of the crowds and loud Christmas music and too bright displays.  I’m also at a loss now that I won’t have much going on until spring.  January through April has always been a slow but stable time of year for me.  Mentally I am usually my most stable during the winters.  And I usually get a lot of reading and writing done during the colder parts of year.  I admit I love to read for my own enlightenment more than I do my entertainment.  I consider learning entertainment.  I know I am weird in that regard.  But learning new things gives me joy, I don’t care if being an intellectual makes me a social outcast.

Since the holidays are now over, I can get back to some resemblance of normal routines. I plan on doing many audiobooks on youtube this winter.  I’m thinking about using my Khan Academy account to learn some subjects I wish I had taken when in school.  And I plan on doing more outside my apartment so I can have more material to write about.  Overall I plan on making 2018 an excellent year.

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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