Being Ignored While Reaching Out

Saw my parents a couple times over the last few days.  It was good to have visitors for an extended time.  I hardly get any visitors anymore.  I guess I have hit the age where most of my friends are busy with their careers and families.  Other than a few friends who are divorcees, I have only one close friend right who has never been married.  Unfortunately he is quite busy with work and lives in another country.

I feel like I miss out on a great deal because I don’t have a family and can’t work.  Most of my friends conversations revolve around work, spouses, and children.  And sadly, many of my friends are also depressed and anxious.  I guess with most of my friends being in their late 30s and early 40s, I imagine many are experiencing mid life crisis type things.  That and pretty much everyone is more stressed now anyway.  There are times I am quite stressed too even though I have no job or wife or kids.  I spent most of this spring in a deep depression where I would go entire days without leaving my apartment.  Some days I slept twelve to fifteen hours a day because sleep was the only time I didn’t feel anxious or depressed or irritable.  I was isolating from neighbors and avoiding people because I was depressed and anxious and I was depressed and anxious because I was lonely all the time.  And on it went in a vicious cycle.

I miss my friends and family.  I miss having in depth and meandering conversations that cover many different topics.  About the only person I have those with anymore are my mother.  Everyone else seems to be hung up on work, debts, family, etc.  They have become too busy earning a living that they forgot why they stay alive.  Naturally I can’t talk to any of my friend about this.  Because they are too stressed living paycheck to paycheck to engage in anything besides work and sleep it seems.  And I have been having a great deal of paranoia lately that my friends really don’t like me that much.

This paranoia might spring from that most of my friends don’t reach out to me, at least not lately.  Anytime I try to reach out to friends, I usually get no response.  When I do get responses, they are usually short answers or complaints about how bad their lives are and how lucky I am.  It’s really discouraging and sad.  We tell people in distress to reach out for help all the time.  Yet, what is the point of reaching out when most of time we are ignored or made fun of?  And people wonder why, in spite of our prosperity and having all but conquered absolute poverty, we are unhappy and depressed.  We are unhappy and depressed precisely because we don’t make efforts to connect to people or answer those who are lonely.  We bought into the whole rugged individualism to where we believe we have to just bear it if we can’t solve our own problems.  This is really heartless and stupid.  In our age, we are far more interdependent than any of us as individuals or nations realize.  And until we acknowledge this and adapt accordingly on an individual, civilizational, and species level, we will only see our issues of anxiety, depression, and loneliness become far worse.  We are already seeing epidemic levels of stress related illnesses.  If mental health problems got even a fraction of the attention that physical illnesses like cancer got, we would be well on our way to alleviating these problems.  Yet, we as a society and individuals choose to make them worse in those around us and in ourselves.

Blasting Mental Illness Stigma and Giving Hope For the Future

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I suppose this could be filed under rant and frustration with normal people. There are times when I feel like I’m making some difference with this blog and that I’m making a positive impact on people.  Then there are times I feel like I just as well be talking to myself because I don’t seem to be getting through to people.  Right now I feel like I’m not making any kind of positive difference.  Most neurotypical people still think it’s alright to shun and discriminate against the mentally ill.  Many still think we are dangerous and to be locked up permanently out of sight and out of mind.  Mental illness is still stigmatized by popular culture and misunderstood by the public at large.  I’m sure I have people in my Facebook friends list who think I’m just dreaming up my problems because they think I’m weak, lazy, and don’t want to do any real work.  I am definitely not making these problems up.  I would gladly give ten years off the end of my life if it meant I never had to suffer from schizophrenia again.  I’ve been fighting this mental illness since age seventeen, so for over half of my life now.  I can’t remember what it’s like not to suffer from delusions, paranoia, depression, easy anger, and excessive fear.  I can’t remember the last time I talked with even close friends about things like politics and religion without fear of having a psychotic breakdown and ruining the friendship.  I can’t remember what it’s like not living in fear and paranoia of authority  figures, whether they were bosses, landlords, or police officers.

I never understood the mentality that nothing can go wrong with the human brain.  We don’t stigmatize people with heart problems, diabetes, blindness, deafness, or cancer.  We as a society accept that things can go wrong with every other organ in the human body.  But as a society we don’t seem to be as accepting that things can go wrong with the human brain, arguably the most complex instrument in the currently known universe.  I am somewhat hopeful with the programs began by the U.S. government and the E.U. that attempt to reverse engineer the human brain.  Maybe we can find out why some brains malfunction and develop mental illness.  I’m not delusional enough to believe I will ever be cured of schizophrenia, but perhaps better treatments can be developed and maybe future generations can find a way to cure mental illness.  As it seems to me, the brain is probably the final true unknown of medical science.

I imagine that my friends and readers get sick of me always writing about science and tech advances being the true benefactors of humanity.  But I get far more encouragement out of seeing science and engineering advances made on what seems a weekly basis now than listening to political debate or religious dogma.  There are cool things happening in science practically every day in this day and age.  I am thrilled to hear that private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin as well as NASA are seriously talking about sending people to colonize Mars within the next twenty years.  I am thrilled that we could soon have a vaccine for HIV, which I believe will be looked upon by future generations with the same horror we now look upon smallpox and bubonic plague.  I am happy that we are finding possible ways to treat anti biotic resistant bugs.  I know some of my farmer friends will want to crucify me for this, but the possibilities of vertical farming in big cities and lab grown meat intrigue me.  Supposedly there are medications in trials that could reverse obesity that have already been tested on lab rats.  Something like that, providing it doesn’t interfere with my psych medications. would be a life saver for me as I’ve been overweight since puberty.  That alone would reduce burdens on the health care system in many developed countries.  I am anxious to see lab grown replacement organs make the organ and tissue donor system obsolete.  I would love to see driverless cars take off and make owning your own car as much of a relic as the horse drawn carriage.

We are living in some of the most exciting times in human history, if not the most exciting times.  Yet these wonders seem to be lost on most people I interact with on a daily basis.  I don’t know why people lost their sense of wonder, creativity, and possibility.  To listen to most people we aren’t advancing at all, as if everything from hear on out is going to be down hill.  I don’t understand why most people are pessimistic and fearful.  I don’t see enough people saying ‘we have problems but we’ve solved problems in the past and we will continue to do so.’  Why is it considered normal and grown up to be worrisome and blind to the beauty and possibility of life?  That is yet another idea you normals seem to be born with that I wasn’t.  If I have to be constantly depressed, anxious, angry, and mopey to be considered an adult, then screw it.  I want no part of it.  I just see too much possibility and good things happening in the world to be consumed by worry.  Even your religious texts tell you to ‘not let your hearts be troubled’ and ‘don’t worry about the future.’  Seems to me these texts need to be spoken from the pulpits more than fear, hate, and wrath.

We are living in cool times with progress being made every hour of every day.  Breakthroughs in science, technology, health, and humanitarian efforts are being made all over the world.  It’s not just the U.S. who has advanced technology, advanced research, and freedom.  The world is not falling apart.  The world is not going to hell in a hand basket.  The past is not better than the present.  And I am saddened and tired of hearing  doom and gloom from people who don’t bother to look at the facts and numbers nor look out how far we’ve come just in the last few generations, let alone since we left the caves.  Make no mistake, we will continue to make progress in spite of your complaints and fears that the world is falling apart.  The doers and achievers of the world ain’t listening to the Chicken Littles of the world.  I may not be a great achiever but I’m not listening to the doomsayers either.  I have had enough.  I have heard doom and gloom my entire life.  I have no idea how many supposed end of the world type predictions I have weathered.  I laugh at such predictions now.  I find it annoying that many people are giving themselves needless grief and sadness simply because they can’t or won’t look up facts.  We have the quasi magic Google machine and Wikipedia that would put the Library of Congress to shame at our finger tips. We just have to use them.  Keep complaining and crying if you wish, but I will continue to look up the facts and the truth.  I will attempt to dispel the myths in this blog.  To paraphrase Jack Palance from the movie ‘City Slickers’, normal people “really do worry about a lot of crap that don’t matter.”

 

Thoughts on Passing A Milestone and Advocating for the Mentally Ill

I had my 10,000th visitor to this blog earlier this week.  I’m also getting my first visitors from China.  In three years of doing this blog on a regular basis I’ve had over 10,000 visitors from over 90 different countries.  Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my musings, ramblings, and rantings.  I hope to keep this blog a regular thing and see what can be made of it.

I think as more stigmas and myths about mental illness are being dispelled and broken more bloggers and podcasters will come forward and tell their stories about their wins and losses with mental illness.  Most stigmas about other traditionally marginalized groups are being broken down all the time.  In 1950 who would ever thought that USA would have a black president?  In 1970 who would have ever thought two of top four candidates for US president would be women?  In 1990 who would have ever thought that rights and protections for the LGBT communities would be pressed for?  And many people now still think mentally ill people should keep quiet and stay on the fringes of society.  Why should we stay stigmatized and dismissed?  Why is it in 2016 and after 20 years of easy internet access that there are people who are still convinced that mental illness is not real?  I don’t suppose I’ll ever convince those people that mental illness is real and that it sucks.  But I will still be writing blogs and essays about it for years to come. I might even start a youtube channel and a podcast about life with a mental illness in the coming years. These critics will move out of influence and die before I stop writing and being open about my mental illness.  Fight to keep mentally ill people marginalized all you want, but you will lose this fight and you will be on the wrong side of history.  People who fought to keep racial and religious minorities marginalized failed.  People who opposed opportunities and freedoms for women lost.  People who aim to keep people of different sexual orientations down are losing their battles.  In the coming years we will see the same thing for mental illness.  Fight us all you want but you will lose.  We will not keep silent anymore.  We are not going away.

 

New Normal verses Old Normal

 

When I was growing up as a precocious child in the rural corn belt of Nebraska, I was frequently asked “Why can’t you be normal”.  My classmates, the adults in my life, and even my own family asked me this frequently. I didn’t have the foresight or the courage then to ask “What defines normal” or even “Who defines normal”.

Looking back on it years later I know I never would have gotten any kind of direct answer simply because what qualifies as normal keeps changing.  In 1750 it was normal for two out of three children born in London, England to die before their fifth birthday.  Now in the developed world (and increasingly so in the developing nations) infant mortality is rare.  It is so rare now that if most of us were to look back five or six generations in our family tree, we would find that our most of our ancestors had more dead children than most of us have children or siblings.  That’s what breakthroughs in medical science can do.  As recently as my parent’s generation, most people were married in their early to mid twenties and had children within a few years.  Now it is quite common for people of my generation to not marry until their thirties or even not marry at all.  Back when my parents were in their twenties, if you weren’t married before thirty you were thought insane or gay.  Now the stigmas on both homosexuality and lifelong bachelorhood are in retreat.  Instances like these create new normals out of old normals that no longer worked.

There are things that go on now most people take for granted that may be looked out in horror by future generations.  Even though wars haven’t really been fought between developed nations since World War II, I can imagine a future where people will look back at their ancestors and wonder how we justified ourselves in fighting wars and proxy wars that went on for years.  Perhaps committing any kind of violence against other people will someday be viewed with the same horror we in 2016 view slavery, inquisitions, and wars of territory expansion.  I can hope, can’t I?  Perhaps in future years it will seem absurd for people to hate others based on their political views.  I can only hope so, otherwise I am forever condemned having to listen to people bicker back on forth about political beliefs on Facebook and Youtube when all I really want to do is chat with a few friends and watch a few videos.  I hope our obsession and splitting hairs over political beliefs will someday seem as absurd as Catholics and Protestants fighting during the Renaissance is to our 21st century sensibilities.  Besides it’s not like politicians ever invented any labor saving devices, cured any deadly diseases, did any serious scientific research, or thought up better and less cruel ways of living.  At most, they provided some funding and got out of the scientists and engineers ways.  Many of the most influential and beneficial people who made a difference in history never held a public office, won a battle, or sat on a throne.  Remember that the next time you take your political beliefs seriously.

Less dogmatic and hateful attitudes about political beliefs would be nice.  What would be even nicer is less stigma and discrimination against those with mental health issues.  Seems to me that having mental illness is one of those few things many people don’t feel bad at all about stigmatizing.  It is essentially stigma’s final frontier.  Every week it seems there are crime drama shows where the accused perpetrator is mentally ill or an introverted loner who doesn’t fit in.  It also seems too common someone with a mental illness committing a violent crime gets far more attention than homeless mentally ill people being beaten by cops or gangs of ‘concerned citizens.’  Funding for mental hospitals has been dramatically cut over the years, often leaving the most afflicted to either the street, prison, or dead.  It seems that prisons have become de facto mental health hospitals for a sizable portion of the mentally ill population.  I know that the stats are a few years old in the link.  But I have little reason to believe that the situation for mentally ill individuals in prisons has gotten much better in recent years.  The treatment of seriously mentally ill individuals, at least in my country, is barbaric and insane.  What did you think was going to happen when funding for mental hospitals was cut?  Did you think the problems of the mentally ill would magically vanish once the hospitals were no longer well funded?  Or did you think mentally ill people like myself are making our illnesses up and don’t need help?  There should be no wonder why I was so quick to self commit myself on two separate occasions.  There should be no wonder why I want to change my medications even after a few mini breakdowns.  I don’t want to wind up in prison or dead for the crime of having a psychotic breakdown in front of the wrong person.  You won’t prosecute the handfuls of crooked bankers who triggered the Great Recession but you will throw thousands of mentally ill people in jail because you don’t know what else to do with them?  Way to stay classy. This is certainly one old normal that is in dire need of a quick death and being replaced by a new normal of more understanding, compassion, and better treatments.  And yes, we can find the funding to do this transition if we care enough to do so.

Speaking of practices some currently on the fringes of normal society abhor, maybe even the age old practice of killing animals for food will seem barbaric to future generations.  If lab grown meat gains traction in future years it could.  Don’t be so quick to scoff.  In 1900, who would have thought Henry Ford and his insane motorized carriage would put the draft horse out of business within several years?  Or who would have thought in 1850 that John Rockefeller would find great and numerous uses for a scummy and sludgy nuisance called petroleum?  These two by themselves got rid of old normals and created a new normal.  The internet is a key example of a new normal.  If I was born even fifteen years earlier I would have never been doing this blog.  Who knows what new normals are on their way?  Stay tuned my friends.  Things are going to be getting more interesting than they already are.

Reflecting on the Past before My Birthday

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On June 14th, I’ll be celebrating another birthday.  I’m getting to the point where I’m almost halfway done with my life, considering normal lifetime expectancy.  I’ve also lived over half of my life with schizophrenia at this point.  The biggest thing I have figured out over these 35 years of living as a human is that the only true certainties in life are change and unfairness.  We can make all the plans we want for our lives, but nothing goes exactly to plan. There will always be snags, problems, opportunities missed (and taken), and changes in direction.

When I was 16, I had the next 30 to 40 years of my life planned already.  I was going to graduate from high school, then college, then medical school, then go on into medical research, get married, have a couple kids, own a house in the suburbs of a large city outside of Nebraska, make well over six figures, and help develop something that would benefit humanity through my research.  Besides graduating from high school and college, none of that happened.  For years I was brutal on myself thinking “It’ll all fall into place when you get your big break” or “People less intelligent and less ethical than you are having good careers, why can’t you get things together”.  I spent my twenties after college going from one remedial job after another, finding out the hard way that my ability to handle stress and interpret social cues and understand social norms were all severely damaged by schizophrenia.

For those years of struggle, I thought I was a failure and not trying hard enough.  I would get panic attacks and bouts of nausea before I had to go to work every morning.  It got so bad I had my stomach scoped to see if I didn’t have some underlying gastro intestinal problems.  I didn’t.  I also had to spend years listening to the whole “all your problems are in your head” nonsense.  Everything we experience is merely electrical signals interpreted by our brains, so no kidding it’s in my head.  It’s in all of our heads.  Telling someone with a mental illness it’s in their heads is cruel and does nothing for them.

I was also told the whole “have faith and it’ll help you” nonsense.  I won’t even address that subject except to state I had more faith than everyone I knew until my early twenties and I still developed a mental illness that destroyed my productive ability.  I still get these feel good memes that oversimplify while not addressing root issues.  I even had someone I thought was a friend tell me, to the effect, I wasn’t a real man because I didn’t have a job or a family.  I still deal with ignorance and cruelty after eighteen years of mental health problems.  Granted it doesn’t ware on me or anger me as much as it did ten years ago, but it still hurts.

Seen and experienced lousy things, horrible hallucinations, and harbored horribly violent thoughts in eighteen years with schizophrenia.  But I did learn to not discount kindness and empathy when it does come.  I also learned the value of real, genuine friends, something that not many people have at all in their circles of friends.  Hopefully the struggles, disappointments, and good friends of the first 35 years will prepare me well for the next 35.

Normal vs. Not-Normal and What Is vs. What Isn’t

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I will readily admit that I would, by no stretch of any neurotypical person’s imagination, be considered ‘normal.’  I don’t, thanks in large part to my mental illness as well as my own individual preferences and tastes, find things that most people would find enjoyable to be to my liking.  I don’t like crowds, I really have a hard time trusting people I’ve just met, I don’t enjoy much of what consists of acceptable socialization (i.e. going to bars, going on dates, small pointless ‘chit-chat’, attending large social gatherings in enclosed spaces, etc.), I certainly don’t like arguments or debates (as I’ve already expounded on in a previous blog entry), and I don’t see why it’s socially acceptable to appear like I’m dumb or lacking knowledge.  I’ve read so many books on ‘socially acceptable behavior’ that flat out states things like ‘the smartest man/woman in the room/group/organization/etc. is putting a bulls eye on their backs and is inviting ridicule and ostracizing themselves to the group.’  

I never understood the tendency of people to treat poorly those who are smarter or stand out from the norm (or average) in anyway.  I use smarter as an example because I’ve always held my smarts/intelligence/wisdom to be not only a source of pride and identity, but even as a child I knew my intelligence would be my way to carve out survival in the world.  Yet most of my classmates, many of my teachers, and even some of my family members didn’t see things this way.  Instead of the kid who read at a  12th grade level as an 11 year old, they saw the kid who was always picked last in softball, didn’t really like socializing with kids (and adults) with whom he had little in common.  Instead of seeing a teenager who did extremely well in classes like history, english, biology, and chemistry, they saw the kid who struggled to pass algebra and didn’t do well in shop class.  Instead of seeing a seeing a kid who absolutely loved speech and drama productions, they saw the kid who played football but didn’t like it and ‘had an attitude problem’ or ‘had problems with authority’ because he was always asking questions and held odd ideas (many of which in later years  proved to be true).  

Even now people don’t always see me as a mentally ill individual who can live on his own, manages what little he receives from Disability with little to no outside help, writes a quite unknown blog about mental illness, manages his friends (most of whom are loyal friends for life) and social life well, and has never been trouble with the law.  Sadly many people see a man who has no ‘permanent job’ (as if there is such a thing in the 21st century), relies on Welfare (and thus is perceived as a drain on society and taxpayers), is somewhat odd because he speaks out on what he believes (especially if it flies in the face of conventional wisdom), is someone to be pitied because he doesn’t have legions of friends and supporters ( I would much rather have a small, but loyal, base of friends and family who overlook my differences and the fact I’m not normal as opposed to have an army of superficial friends who’ll abandon me with any minor shakeup to their normal lives), and someone who is quite overweight (never mind I’ve been making steps to remedy this sad fact and have lost 40 pounds in 4 1/2 months).

 

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In short, I am not normal.  I am not ‘average.’  I am not neurotypical.  I am not popular (nor do I seek to be).  I will not tell anyone just exactly what itching ears wish to hear.  I tell the truth about what it’s like to be mentally ill in a chronically sane world.  Believe me, it isn’t always pretty and I have no doubt lost ‘friends’ and ‘supporters’ over it.  The truth isn’t always pretty.  The truth can be threatening.  I have, since I was 8 years old and discovered I had some unusual intelligence and wasn’t what my classmates and some teachers considered normal, refused to knuckle under and be what I knew I wasn’t.  What I was and what I am is good enough for me.  It is what I was made to be.  It is alright with me that I am what I am.  I don’t understand why it isn’t good enough for most neurotypicals I have met.

Speaking at The Regional Mental Health Center

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It’s been quite some time since I last wrote on this blog.  Too long, in fact.  I think that an update is in order.  Since I last wrote, I was able to do a presentation of my poetry and speak about the therapeutic value of writing to an audience at my home state’s regional mental health center.  It was a fun, exhilarating experience.  I was able to share my work not only with some of the patients, but also with the administration of the hospital.  This experience has made me more thankful for my ability to write and more thankful that I’m doing as well as I am.

I wasn’t very nervous about the talk I gave at all.  It was the first real presentation of any kind I gave since I was in college.  But I received several compliments and was asked many questions.  I suppose that not only did I give encouragement to the patients, but I also shed light on what it was like to be mentally ill from the mentally ill person’s perspective.  It was a trip that was well worthwhile.

I often get down on myself for not having a job and for the bad days that I have.  But this trip to the state hospital put it right in my face that I could be doing much worse.  It has also led me to being more resolved to act as an advocate for others with mental health issues that aren’t able to write or speak for themselves.  I am going to keep writing and addressing for others.  In fact, it may be my main passion in life.

I never knew I had any kind of writing talent until after I became mentally ill.  I had to find out the hard way that writing is my outlet for my frustrations.  I always made up stories on my own as a kid, but never put them on paper.  I may have to try to do that one of these days.  The first two drafts of novels I wrote were not very good.  Yet I found out what I had to work on and what I could do better.  I probably should try to write some of my stories I made up in childhood.  

In closing I’m sharing with you two of the poems I shared with the audience.  I hope it sheds some light on what it’s like to be mentally ill.

 

The Burdens of Mental Illness

By Zach Foster

 

My mental illness is a burden to be born

Around my neck it is sadly worn.

Some days are sunshine without pain

While others are darkness and rain.

My pain is not such the world can see

As it’s just the depressed delusions and me.

My anger, searing white hot, comes and goes

Without any warning or notice to be shown.

The echoing voices rattling in my weary head

Fills my heart with panic and soul with dread.

My mental illness is a burden to be born

It dogs me every night and every morn.

 

Ó Copyright 2014 by Zach Foster

 

Weariness

By Zach Foster

 

Weariness pulls at my weakened bones,

Fresh tears pour from my haggard eyes

Lazy, lethargic, and wanting to give in.

Where are my boosters and rocket fuel

To fly with the eagles

Instead of scratching with chickens,

Not caring they are cackling fools

Drunk from ignorance thicker than rum?

I desire a blast from my more energetic past

To bring me free of this weariness,

To put to end all that is pulling down on me. 

 

Ó Copyright 2014 by Zach Foster