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.

Advertisements

How I Became A Writer

There have always been people who write that have written stories and poetry since they were children.  These types where those who always knew they would want to have writing and creativity be a part of their lives.  I was not among those types who just knew from an early age.  I didn’t stumble on the therapeutic value of writing until I was a senior in college.  By then I was only a year away from graduating with a business degree that deep down I knew I would never use in a career.  I never considered majoring in english and history, two of my three favorite subjects in high school (chemistry was my third favorite) because I believed the whole ‘you can’t find a job with a liberal arts or humanities degree’ nonsense when I was younger.  I didn’t take into consideration that a) my mental illness would probably prevent me from holding much for employment and b) most college graduates don’t end up with a job in their major.  

Yet as it turned out I did have some writing talent.  I was signed up for an honors english class my freshman year simply due to my entrance exam scores.  I certainly would have never volunteered for such a class on my own.  On the first day of class, we were asked what our writing experiences were.  There were a few who kept extensive journals, others who wrote poetry, a ministry student who wrote his own sermons, and then at the end of the line there was me.  I meekly admitted that I wrote only when I had to.  I didn’t have to write extensively in high school as I just took general english classes.  I was about to drop the class after the first day simply because I knew there was no way I would do well in there. To make a long story short, I didn’t drop the class and I found out that I was good at writing.  As it was early in the course of my mental illness still, I also found it to be cheap therapy.  Yet I didn’t seriously start writing even as a hobby until my last year of college.

I’ve now been seriously writing for ten years now.  I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of my writing as therapy.  I’ve also self-published a couple poetry books as well as a non-fiction book that’s part memoir and part advice book for mental health patients and their loved ones.  Heck, I’ve even managed to sell a few copies of those books here and there.  Even though I’m far from being a master of the craft of writing, I’ve had an enjoyable ten years teaching myself the ins and outs of story telling and even learned a little trying to get published.  Without the prompt from a wise academic advisor who saw potential that I couldn’t see, I never would have found out I could write.  And I certainly would have never had the courage to start a blog.