Lack of Activity in Winter with A Mental Illness

With the really cold weather I have had for the last several days, I rarely left my apartment between Christmas and New Year’s.  I started my car a few times and shoveled out the snow so I can now get out if necessary.  I’m going to have to get out within the next few days as I am running low on supplies and groceries.  Being shut up inside has made me a little restless and bored.  But it’s supposed to start warming up within a day or two.  Maybe I can get out more often now.  But it has been a lonely and tedious several days just staying home, watching football, and playing computer games.  I hope to have a new routine started soon.

Haven’t gotten to talk to anyone besides my parents and a couple close friends since Christmas.  I haven’t been on facebook much the last few months.  Seems to me even my friends are starting to avoid social media.  So much for reconnecting people.  It has been kind of a lonely go the last several days.  I did host Christmas but haven’t had guests since.

Even though mentally I have been stable for months, I don’t have much for enthusiasm in anything anymore.  I used to be able to spend hours on end reading online articles or wikipedia in addition to educational programs on youtube and curiosity stream.  I haven’t found much joy in these activities for a few weeks now.  Not sure what the issues are.  For all I know the reduction in doses of some of my psych meds could be the culprit.  I may not have the ups and downs, but I am also losing many of my interests.  I have also become quite lazy now, I’m embarrassed to admit.  I imagine it’s just a matter of readjusting and adapting in order to get my old interests back.  At least I haven’t lost my interests in writing.  I may not post as often as I used to but that is because I have less to report.  Most of this is from lack of flare ups and a lack of socializing.

Fortunately socializing doesn’t make me annoyed anymore.  Now I have the problem of being scared to socialize. I guess the hostility is being edged out by the old paranoia issues.  I am scared to socialize in most instances anymore besides with close friends and family members.  I am not as afraid to drive my car anymore.  I just don’t want to anymore.  Driving just seems kind of pointless anymore.  I haven’t really had much reason to laugh much lately.  I just don’t make a point to watch comedy shows as much as I should.  I just don’t make a point to watch much of anything anymore.  Been a few weeks since I watched anything on netflix and I haven’t done an audiobook for almost a month.  If it wasn’t for football for the last two weeks I wouldn’t have watched much of anything this winter.  And since I need less sleep than I used to, the days and nights seem to stretch out forever.  I hope the rest of winter isn’t this long or bleak.  I hope it warms up a little soon.  I’ve about hit my breaking point with having to stay inside all day because of the snow and cold.

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Midnight Ramblings and Optimism

Have had my days and nights backwards for the last couple weeks.  Been getting most of my sleep in the mornings and staying up most of the night.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to be negatively effecting my mental stability.  If anything this has been the most stable summer I’ve had in years.  Granted this sleeping during the days while being up most of the night is putting a cramp on my social life.  But I didn’t have much of a social life to start with.  So I spend much of my nights listening to audiobooks on youtube.  I listen to mostly non fiction science books and some science fiction.  I still don’t watch much tv.  I’m not even really that excited about football season this year.  But I am looking forward to cooler weather.  I am glad I have made it through most of the summer with no real problems.

Perhaps I am having fewer problems because I socialize less than I have in previous months and years.  I leave my apartment only to run errands and even then I make it a point to run them in the early mornings or late nights to avoid crowds.  I have made a point of avoiding angry, irritable, and rude people in person and online.  Of course this does limit how many people I hear from or talk to.  I really don’t talk to many people anymore, mainly my family and a few friends.  Sure it gets kind of lonely but fortunately the loneliness doesn’t last long.  I’m glad I don’t have to rely on other people to keep me entertained.  Sometimes I am my own best company.

In spite not socializing much I am still optimistic overall.  I haven’t been outside of my hometown much this summer.  But anymore with the internet, I can still keep in contact with friends and family.  And I can keep myself occupied with free audiobooks, free online courses, and free music online.  I would have had to spent thousands of dollars for the things I have read or listened to online just fifteen years ago.  And I can get all this for a dollar a day in internet service fees.  And I love it.  I wouldn’t trade living here and now (unless I could be wisked a couple hundred years into the future and be exploring strange new worlds like Star Trek).  And I have some of my family members and a few of my friends to be the same way.  My best friend from high school (whom I’m still great friends with) loves speculating on future science and social trends when she’s not discussing Game of Thrones.  But I guess she gets tired of me talking about baseball and computer games, so that makes us even.  My thirteen year old nephew is going to be working with robotics and 3D printers this year in his junior high.  And to think I was impressed with the old Apple II GS when I was growing up.  I often joke with my niece and nephews that they might not need drivers’ licenses.  Now it’s looking like even I might not need a drivers’ license in ten years.  Wouldn’t hurt my feelings that much.  Sure we don’t have flying cars like Back To The Future said we would, but even that movie didn’t predict the Internet boom, smart phones, or renewable energy starting to become affordable.  I wouldn’t even have cable tv except it comes with my apartment.

What I’m getting at is that right now in 2017, despite the bad news we’re constantly hearing on the news channels and our online news feeds, we’re still living in some pretty cool times.  It is, in many ways, a good time to be an average person.  Sure I may not be able to ever afford a house like my parents or brother.  But I don’t need a large house in an affluent suburb with the picket fence and two car garage.  I can currently live quite well just in the apartment in the small college town I’m in.  I currently don’t need much to live a decent standard of living that even the kings and industrialists of 1900 couldn’t have imagined.  It is not, however, a good time to be a control freak or spiteful hate monger.  We’re always probably going to have problems like these but, unlike in past eras, the overwhelming general consensus is that being a dictator or hateful person are bad things.  For most of civilization’s history, the idea of the ‘divine right of royalty’ or having hatred of people different from your own little group was pretty much unquestioned by the vast majority of people.  We have made progress as a species.  And we will continue to make progress even if people take it for granted or don’t pay attention to it.  The only reason that we don’t hear about the good going on is simply because good news doesn’t sell.  Good news doesn’t sell only because we as a species are not wired to pay much attention to good news.

Late Summers, Changes in Diet, and Mental Stability

Late summers have traditionally been a tough time for me dealing with mental illness.  I usually have to be real careful from late July to early September.  So far this year has been different.  It could be due to reducing my stress levels and avoiding stressful people and places.  It could be due to the medication changes I made a few months ago.  And it could be due to changes in my diet.  I now don’t eat much wheat or anything that’ll upset my stomach.  I have found that I feel better on days I don’t eat bread than on days I do.  I have had stomach problems in the past.  Stomach issues aren’t uncommon in people with depression and mental health issues.  I pretty much limit myself to lots of protein and vegetables anymore.  About the only grains I eat on a regular basis anymore are rice based foods.  Rice seems to be easier on me than wheat and other grains.

When I do go to restaurants I don’t order things like french fries or most other fried foods.  I do occasionally treat myself to chicken strips at KFC.  I have pretty much also cut out sugar too.  When I do crave caffeine, I usually opt for green tea, coffee, or diet soda.  I notice I’m less irritable on days I limit sugar consumption.  Easing back on the caffeine was tough the first several days as I would occasionally sleep more than I would like and sometimes experience slight headaches once a day.  But I think I have gotten past the worst of the caffeine withdrawal.  I used to drink four to six cups of coffee a day, certainly not healthy when dealing with mental health problems.

I have found myself eating more vegetables than usual.  Even when I order delivery pizza, I make it a point to get the mostly vegetable pizzas.  I don’t feel as weighed down and bloated after a few slices of vegetable pizza as compared to the all meats or cheeses pizzas.  Since I’m on a limited budget I have to be careful about buying fresh vegetables that won’t spoil within a couple days.  So I usually eat a can of vegetables every days, usually green peas or green beans.  I have had some good sweet corn, a Midwest late summer tradition.  When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to have sweet corn with dinner three nights  a week during the month of August.  Most of our meals during late summer involved locally grown sweet corn, tomatoes from our garden, and bacon sandwiches.  My parents have introduced my nephews and niece to this August tradition too, even though it will be another few years before the kids develop a taste for tomatoes.

Overall I have felt really decent this summer.  I don’t have much drama to report.  I’m glad that the push for the playoffs in baseball is starting.  I’m also looking forward to the start of football season here in the US in a few weeks.  Fall practice has already begun and school will be starting again in a few days.  I saw that many countries started their soccer seasons this weekend.  I have made a habit of following the US national team since the last World Cup.  I hope we make it to the next one coming up in 2018.  Since the World Cup will be hosted by Russia next summer, I imagine I’ll be watching soccer at a lot of odd hours to adjust for the time differences.  I have kind of gotten into soccer as I have two nephews and a niece who play the game.  Even as a kid I was a slow runner but  didn’t mind getting hit or hitting others.  So that’s why I played football in high school. So that’s why I still watch football in the falls.  But we have made it through the long stretch of summer and fall will be here soon.  It helps that it has been cooler than usual the last several days in my part of the US.  Makes me hopeful for fall and the return of cooler weather.

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.

I Enjoy Adulthood Even With Mental Illness

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I must admit, I love being an adult.  I love the freedom involved.  I love having my own money and getting to decide how I get to spend it.  I love that I don’t have to answer to authority figures I didn’t choose.  If a boss was giving me static at a job, I could always look for a different job.  If a landlord was giving me a hard time, I always had the option of moving to a different place.  I love that I can do things like vote and go to casinos.  I enjoy that I don’t have to feel guilty for expressing my opinions and having my likes and dislikes.  I like that I can read whatever I want.  I love having privacy.  I enjoy not getting yelled at for trivial things like when I was in school or living with my parents.  I like the fact that I can avoid people who give me too much static.  When you are in school, you just can’t avoid bullies or sadistic teachers.  Sure I’ve had bosses and coworkers who were jerks and whiners, but at least I had the option of finding another job if I didn’t connect with said bosses or coworkers.  Changing schools is a lot tougher.

Even though I have been living with schizophrenia since at least age seventeen, I have found that it is getting easier to work around it the older I get.  The bad periods don’t last nearly as long nor are as intense as they were in my early twenties.  In my late 30s, I have come to the realization that I don’t have to be defined by what job I have or if I have a wife and kids or not.  I am not my job.  I am not less of a human being because I am not married.  Sure I still deal with people that tell me “mental illness is fake” or that “you’re not a real man.”  But as an adult it is much easier to blow those jerks and losers off and ignore them.  You think I’m faking mental illness, then screw you.  It’s not my job to meet your standards.  It is so much easier to not be bothered by criticism as a 36 year old than when I was 21.  I just hope that the older I get, the symptoms will become even less severe and I will care even less about naysayers and idiots.

I still isolate a lot and avoid socializing with my complex mates.  But I think I’m more mentally stable because of said lack of socializing.  When I was a kid people used to tell me I was being “anti-social” and had “attitude problems” because I didn’t like going to high school sporting events and county fairs.  There really wasn’t much to do in my farming village besides school events, church activities, and county fairs.  There was only one movie theatre in a fifty mile radius from my hometown. I didn’t enjoy watching people throw balls around much as a kid.  As an adult I really don’t have to feel guilty for not watching such things.  I do watch some college football and basketball tournaments just to give myself something to talk about with other people.  Most people still don’t like discussing science and technology in casual conversations.  But I haven’t been to any sporting events in person besides minor league baseball games in almost five years.  And I don’t feel the least bit guilty or anti-social because of it.  And as an adult I have these options.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

I don’t really understand people who are nostalgic about their youths or the past.  I might be a little nostalgic about growing up if I had more friends, was bullied less, and wasn’t so much of a social misfit in my school.  I am kind of nostalgic about my college years because I knew lots of smart people, had lots of interesting conversations, could do things at the spur of the moment with no planning, could study what I felt like studying, and had the legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood.  College was much more stimulating and enjoyable than grade school or high school.  Sure I never got to use my degree in a job, but I blame the schizophrenia for that completely.  And I am grateful everyday I can keep in contact with old friends through Facebook.

I love living in the here and now of May 2017.  Sure getting to this point was rough dealing with schizophrenia for almost twenty years.  Sure my physical health took a beating because my mental illness and the side effects of the psych medications.  But after twenty years of schizophrenia I have figured out how to deal with bad days and psychotic breaks.  I have also learned how to enjoy the small things of life more than many of my mentally stable friends and family.  Happiness for me is watching a sunset, or eating chicken wings at a sports bar with college friends, or seeing my niece and nephews for a few hours, or talking with my parents about history or technology, or reading internet sites like futurism.com or bloomberg.com about trends in science and current events.  I had my ups and downs with schizophrenia.  I had many breakdowns when I took a lot of grief out on my parents and friends.  Fortunately those breakdowns are getting less severe and shorter as I age.  I have had to go to the mental hospital twice. But both times I was self committed and my longest stay was one week.  I may not be able to hold a forty hour a week job, but at least I tried several different lines of work before I came to the conclusion that traditional employment wasn’t in my future.  And it’s not shameful to not hold a full time job, especially if you have a disability or find other outlets to give back to people.  I can still drive a car, I can still buy my own groceries, pick up my medications, keep appointments, and more or less live on my own even with mental illness.  Some people can’t claim that.  In short I love being an adult.  And I wouldn’t want to go back to my youth, even though I had more friends and better health in college.  Being an adult rocks.  It really does.

Letter to My High School Self

High school graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Many of these kids will be going to college, some to the military, others to work or travel or do missionary work.  It was eighteen years ago, in 1999, that I and my cohorts graduated from high school.  That was half of a lifetime ago.  I’ve been legally an adult now as long as I was a juvenile.  An incredible amount has changed in my life, and the world at large, since that Saturday May afternoon in the farming village of my youth.

What follows is a hypothetical letter to my eighteen year old self, mainly about things I wish I knew in my younger years that would have made my transition to the world of 2017 easier.  Too bad I couldn’t do this for real, I’d tell my younger self to buy stock in Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla when they first came out 🙂

Dear Zach,

You have just graduated from high school and now the world awaits.  I know you are looking forward to college much more than you did high school graduation.  That’s understandable.  For many people, high school is some of the roughest years of their lives.  You definitely had your problems in school, but those are now past.  Some of the people you went to high school with you’ll never have to be around again.  College will be better in many aspects.  You’ll get to pick what you want to study.  You’ll have more say in who your friends are.  The bullies and idiots will be in the minority.  Besides, most people will be too busy with their own lives to harass you like you got it in high school.  You may not think so now, but someday you will be thankful that you’re smart and nerdy.  Within the next fifteen years, you will see so much science and tech advances that you will realize that, yes, nerds really do rule the world.  No one is going to care that you weren’t a star jock or class president in college.

Speaking of sports, I know there were some aspects of high school football and band you hated.  I know you didn’t like the summer practices at six a.m. or the macho atmosphere of the locker room.  But be happy you got to play.  Playing football on Friday nights is the closest you’ll ever get to being like a gladiator or warrior.  Be happy you got to be in the school pep band.  It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to feel like a rock star.  Most thirty year olds don’t get to stand out or preform at anything.  Even though you didn’t have a great social life in high school, be happy you went to a smaller school and had opportunities to be involved in many different activities.  Most of your college friends and coworkers who went to much larger schools won’t be as well rounded as you will become.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t work your dream job out of college.  Most people won’t.  In fact because of the technology advances I talked about earlier, many jobs will be taken over by computers and machines.  So many people will be in that place where they’re working jobs they didn’t train for.  It’s not a failure on your part, it’s just that the world is changing much faster than people even in 1999 could anticipate.

Also, don’t feel guilty if you struggle at dating.  In the future, almost everyone will struggle at dating.  Besides, you will see many of your classmates go through divorces and marriage issues as the years pass.  Almost half of marriages will end in divorce.  And in the future, many adults will forego marriage entirely.  Surprise, so will you.  But being single isn’t bad.  It’s actually quite peaceful at times.  Some really big achievers in world history never married or had children.  You’ll be grateful you never got married.  Trust me.  You always had a hard independent streak in you.  That’s only going to get stronger with age.

Don’t take the opinions of others too seriously.  People in general can be quite dumb at times, so their opinions are almost never right.  The only person you have to answer to at all times is yourself.  Guard your integrity.  Be a man of sound character even if most people around you are liars and cheats.  Yes, cheaters do prosper.  But people will not honor their prosperity as much as they condemn their lack of character.  This was true in the past and will continue to be true.

You will have victories.  You will have struggles and losses.  People will come and go out of your life.  But hold onto your close friends and family.  Be happy you got to know your grandparents.  They won’t be around forever.  Be content and calm no matter what happens or doesn’t happen.  You will change your mind and thinking about almost everything several times over during the next eighteen years.  The only people who have their life philosophy set in stone at age eighteen are fools who are setting themselves up to be obsolete and out of touch with reality.  Like I told you, major changes are coming.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the things you will see before 2017.  You’ll just have to see them for yourself.

Be happy that you traveled and were open to new experiences in your youth.  The older you get, the tougher it will get to just travel or try new things.  Continue to be open to new experiences.  It will put you far ahead of most adults in your life.  Speaking of adults, don’t just think that because someone has gray hair or more money that they are smarter or wiser than you.  Many times they won’t be.  Some of them were just lucky.  And chance does play more of a part in your life than you would like.  You like the thought that you have a lot of say in your own destiny.  But in reality, you really have less control than you would like.  Sometimes things just happen that aren’t your fault or because of your hard work.

Remember to relax and know that life is a competition only against yourself.  Never compare yourself to anyone else.  You can’t live their life and they can’t live yours.

Sincerely,

Your 36 year old self, May 2017.

Winter Routines and Down Time

 

Aurora lights up sky over log cabin

My life has been essentially quiet and uneventful since Christmas.  We had a pretty cold January and early February so I didn’t really go anywhere except to pick up groceries and house supplies for the last two months.  We had our traditional mid winter thaw the last week or so.  So I’ve been spending some time outside watching the squirrels and birds.  I see the cranes and Canadian geese are starting to migrate back.  They are usually quite thick near my town from the last week in February until middle March.  I’m going to take a few hours sometime next week and just watch the birds along the Platte River just outside my town like I do every March.

I traditionally love to travel and see new places.  But I haven’t been outside of Nebraska since my friend Matt’s wedding almost two years ago.  And I can tell that the lack of travel and new experiences are making me stale and itchy.  Believe it or not, I really don’t like the sedentary lifestyle.  When I still held traditional jobs, I usually did my best at jobs where I was moving a lot and it didn’t matter if I got sweaty or dirty.  I admit that since I had the sedentary lifestyle forced on me, first by my car accident and then spending a summer with a messed up back, I have gotten lazy.  And by getting lazy I can tell I have lost much of my stamina and enjoyment of just doing simple things like walking around the park or going to the all night deli to pick up some Chinese food.  I have recently started going back to the all night deli more often, especially if I’m going to be up late.

I am still not as active as I would like to be, but I can tell that it is beginning to come back.  I am traditionally not very active during winters, at least not physically.  I usually read a lot and have traditionally done some of my best writing work during the winter.  Most of the books I read this winter were about future technology trends and popular science.  I also listen to a lot of audiobooks and current events type lectures on youtube.  I tend to utilize youtube and my books more in winter than the spring or fall.  Traditionally during the summers I do most of my errands in the morning than spend the hottest parts of the afternoon reading and writing.  But I still do the bulk of my brain work during the winter.

I can tell that the lack of physical activity and travel is making me easily bored.  It is also tough in that I haven’t seen my close friends or family at all since Christmas.  I fear that I’m losing my social skills.  I don’t socialize much with my neighbors in my complex as I have little in common with them.  Most of my neighbors are senior citizens or people with physical disabilities that can’t do much of anything.  I don’t know many people in here with mental health issues who are still in reasonably good physical health.  It is kind of lonely in here as far as socializing goes.  I can also tell that the lack of socializing and physical activity has taken a toll on my physical health.  I just hope that once spring sets in a few weeks from now, I’ll be able to get more active again.