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.

Self Talk and Respecting Ourselves


In one of my earlier posts I wrote about hiring a new counselor.  I’ve been seeing him every two weeks for four months.  The relationship on a professional level has been established.  The large theme we found is that I often have self defeating thoughts.  My counselor thinks we get caught up in negative thinking about ourselves and act on thoughts whether we are aware or not.

At first I thought this was one of those meme type philosophies like ‘what you think about comes about’ that oversimplifies.  For years I thought my mental health problems were mostly the result of a bad draw when it came to genetics.  The more I went into what my counselor was saying, the more I realized I wasn’t being proactive enough in my thinking.  I was allowing bad things and poor thoughts to happen because I thought I was essentially powerless to change what was happening in my mind.  I had fallen into the trap of being too reliant on psych medications and not adjusting my thoughts and behaviors.

While psych medications can knock down some of the immediate anxieties and depression, they are unable to address the issues of behaviors and self image.  A med can’t make anyone think better about themselves.  We still have some control over what we tell ourselves and how we see ourselves.  We are not condemned to a lifetime of failure because we have mental health problems.  I have heard about too many people with issues to think depression and anxiety are death sentences.  Just Google or Wikipedia Famous People With Mental Illness and you’ll see names including Noble Prize winners (John Nash), U.S. Presidents (Abraham Lincoln), musicians (Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd), and so on.  I would argue that famous explorers and inventors like Daniel Boone, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. would have been considered ADHD and problem children by 21st century standards.  Some people simply don’t fit some preordained little box to be ‘normal citizens.’  People like this are the ones who change the world for the better and make life more interesting.  Just because someone is quirky and doesn’t fit in socially doesn’t mean that person is doomed to a life of pain and obscurity.

What we think about and act on has an influence on our lives.  Once I took charge of my health, started dwelling on how I can make myself healthier, started exercising, started to eat healthy, my physical health began improving.  It all started with the idea that I could go against my previous trends and improve my health.  I’m finding the same thing with my mental self image.  As I’m thinking, and acting on, the idea I don’t have to be threatened by feelings of anxiety or depression, things are improving in those regards.  As I think, and act on, the idea I don’t have to believe anything anyone says, my life has changed for the better.

Once I accepted that I don’t have to always be the one giving without receiving good in return, I have found that others respect me more.  I respect myself more now.  Feel free to tell others ‘no’ when you aren’t up to helping them.  Tell others ‘no’ when they keep taking from you without giving anything back to you.  You know what it’s like to be disrespected.  We all do.  Ways to get more respect include respecting yourself, setting boundaries, telling others ‘no’ when they are using you and treating you poorly, and don’t go out of your way to bend to whims of disrespectful people.  If you don’t think you should respect yourself, don’t expect respect out of others.

Talk yourself up.  Start small if you have to.  Do not buy into the idea that you have to be humble and groveling at the feet of others.  Far too many people believe that being humble means thinking poorly of yourself.  Because people think poorly of themselves, they allow themselves to be victims of their circumstances, their diagnoses, and of every hustler and con man who comes along.  Think well of yourself.  Treat yourself with love and respect.  Think good about your ability and accomplishments.  We all have accomplishments and talents.  We just discount them because they are ours.  We, mentally ill and neurotypical alike, need to talk more dignity, honor, and respect into ourselves on a daily basis.  If we don’t hold ourselves with higher regard, we have no reason to be sickened when others won’t treat us with dignity and respect.  What we think about and act about does come about.