Worries About My Friends and Our Near Term Future

I worry sometimes.  Namely I worry about my friends and people younger than I am in general.  I worry about most of my friends struggling in life.  Most of my friends are buried in debts, mostly student loans, that they will be lucky if they ever pay off.  And most of my friends weren’t that dumb with their money or life decisions.  Most of my friends went to college because 1) we were told that was a path to a decent career and 2) we looked around and saw that there were no jobs that paid decently requiring only a high school degree.  Long gone are the days when someone could get a job as a factory hand or farm worker in their early twenties and hold onto that job for over forty years and retire with a paid off home, pension, and health insurance.

I’m seeing my friends struggle in their day to day lives.  Most are working a full time job and a part time job or a side gig.  Almost none of them own houses.  The only one of my close friends who owns a house is a high school teacher in a small town.  And he didn’t buy his house until he was in his late 30s.  They don’t own houses simply because they can’t afford a house and student debts.  I also have friends who have had medical emergencies.  One friend had to file for bankruptcy for medical bills.  One friend is fighting cancer, divorced, lost her children, and is still on the waiting list for disability.  Another friend of mine got a master’s degree only to find the best job she could get in a mid sized city doesn’t pay even 40 grand a year.  Her husband also works a low paying job and moonlights as an Uber driver.  He too has lots of student debt.

Now I know some unsympathetic people will be thinking, “well, that’s what they get for not majoring in STEM or going to the military.”  Well, one of my brother’s best friends pulled straight 4.0 all the way through high school and college and still got rejected for a state medical school at least three times before he was accepted.  As far as I know, he now has a decent career working in a medical lab.  Another of my brother’s friends didn’t finish medical school and residencies until he was in his thirties because of finances and run around from the schools.  Now he works as an emergency search and rescue doctor.  One of my cousins went to trade school for two years to become an electrician.  He worked for a couple railroads, got married, has four kids, and owns a small acreage in rural Nebraska.  But, he is now essentially self employed due to the inconsistent nature of railroad employment and his wife has had medical problems to where I think she had to give up her job as a nurse’s aide.  Another cousin works in web development.  Even though he has had to work for several different firms and sometimes take free lance work, he is doing alright because he has skills that are in demand.  At least for the time being.

Can we really expect most people to become doctors, nurses, webpage designers, computer coders, engineers, tradesmen, etc?  Yet that is all I hear out of “experts” and “business leaders.”  While I think it admirable that people like Mike Rowe want to encourage more people to consider the trades like plumbing, electrician, welding, carpentry, etc, I fear that too much emphasis on the trades will eventually lead the same problem that people who majored in business, law, humanities, liberal arts, etc. are facing now.  Twenty years ago, we were told to go to college and get a degree.  Many of us did only to find that every kid in the developed world was given that advice.  Now the degree doesn’t go nearly as far as it did even forty years ago, primarily because of so many people having degrees.  Then the kids were told “get a masters” or “do unpaid internships”.  Many did only to find that they had six figures in student loans to qualify for jobs that will never pay enough to pay off the loans, let alone pay off a house or even start a family in some cases.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if young people or my friends are angry about this setup.  Because while some jobs have been outsourced to cheaper places, many more were taken over by automation.  I have a friend who works in a call center for a bank.  I fear it’s only a matter of time before his job gets automated.  And, of course, no one in power cares about the twenty and thirty somethings struggling.  They didn’t even care about the  forty something auto or steel workers who lost their jobs to machines and outsourcing.

And it’s no longer just the US or Europe that is outsourcing and automating jobs.  Even China is automating and outsourcing.  Just a few weeks ago I bought some shirts online that were made in a small African country I had to look up on a map.  The US and Europe are just further along in this transition to a highly automated economy.

And of course, the US doesn’t have very good social safety nets or any empathy for those who lost their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet.  My elders like to brag about how well America is doing, how well we take care of our own, and how we are a great Christian nation.  If we cared about our own, than we wouldn’t be having an opioid crisis, mass shootings every day, increasing rates of mental illness, increased suicide rates (especially among middle aged men), and protests in every major city on a daily basis.  For our boasting about being such a Christian nation, we certainly don’t care about those who are misfortunate and had a rough go. Such hypocrisy.

I have no idea how many times I was told “get a job you bum”, “man up”, or “McDonalds and Wal Mart are hiring”.  I, and millions of people in my age bracket and lower did everything we were told.  We still struggle.  And we don’t have any empathy from anyone, not our rulers, not our businesses, not our parents, not our schools, not our churches, and not even from each other.

Unionizing is not an option like it was a hundred years ago because most jobs can or will be outsourced or taken over by machines.  Sure we are on the road to an automated economy where most of the grunt work is done by machines and computers.  But, what is the point if 1) we don’t ditch this idea that everyone has to be defined by what they do for money, 2) most people can’t afford anything beyond the basics because most jobs are done by machines, 3) we have few social safety nets to make up for the fact that most people aren’t able to work in fields that can’t be easily automated.

We may need some things like universal health care, universal basic income, free continuing education, complete overhauls of tax systems, and a general overall shift in public attitudes towards work and compassion for others.  But I don’t see this happening anytime soon, at least not in the US.  I don’t think it will happen in the US in my lifetime simply because most of my countrymen don’t have empathy. Our leaders certainly don’t.

I do believe if our species can survive this transition, which is probably the greatest transition since people settled down and started farming instead of hunting, fishing, and gathering thousands of years ago, our descendants can have a really cool future where creativity and science can bloom.  But, I fear the transition will be a lot tougher than it has to be simply because of many people’s attitudes towards work and their fellow man.  I fear we will lose a few generations and much of their gifts in this transition.  But I guess we as a species lost short term to ultimately be better off when the Industrial Revolution began back in the late 1700s.  I do have great hope for the long term outlook for civilization and our species, but I fear it will be brutal getting there.  And the fact that I won’t live long enough to see the fruits of the seeds being planted today fills me with great sadness.

Love, Romance, and Valentine’s Day With A Mental Illness

Today, February 14, is Valentine’s Day.  I know for some people it’s a reason to buy gifts, go out for dinners, and be romantic.  Others are more depressed about not being in a romantic relationship and feeling left out.  But since it is a day the world at large takes some time and makes efforts to reflect on the value of romantic love, it is a good an opportunity as any to reflect back on my experiences with romance, dating, and love as a man with schizophrenia.

I am currently unmarried and not in a romantic relationship of any kind.  At this point in my life I am content and happy with this setup.  This wasn’t always the case though.  As a teenage male, I had deeper feelings than many people and often showed my emotions more than many people thought appropriate, especially for a boy.  When I was ten years old I broke down crying over a girl I was sweet on who publicly turned me down.  It made matters worse in that it was at a school sponsored event attended by my parents.  Both my parents made it a point to tell me off in public for crying and being emotional.  They told me off again when we got home that night.  I never forgot that.  It was also the first time in my life I got my heart broken over a girl.  Of course it wasn’t the last.  Fortunately it did begin to steel my resolve in that yes it hurts getting rejected and shamed in public, but I survived and became stronger because of it.

I had my heart broke again a couple more times in early puberty by being rejected by girls I was interested in spending time with over the next two years.  Didn’t sting as bad as the first one but they did make me more resilient with each rejection.

When I was thirteen, I met the girl who would ultimately become my best friend in high school.  We hung out a lot, spent time at each other’s houses, traded books and magazines like some kids traded baseball cards, played video games together, and generally did things that friends do together as teenagers.  She was home schooled until high school, so she didn’t have the same day to day experiences in junior high I did.  I was still being rejected by girls I liked over the next three years, but it got to where I just got numb to it and accepted it as a part of living.  Eventually after three years of friendship, I developed romantic feelings for her.  We went on several dates, nothing really more formal than just going to dances and the movies.  But we were never intimate or even affectionate besides the occasional hugs when one of us was feeling down and depressed.  We did kiss a few times.  As good as that felt, we both had an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship.  We just valued the friendship too much.  It was a short term painful decision but one in the long term turned out to be a brilliant move.

She moved out of state when we were eighteen.  I went off to college at age nineteen a more hopeless romantic than ever even though my mental health problems were beginning.  I had a couple slight crushes on a couple girls in my freshman class.  So much so that I didn’t recognize that there were at least two other girls who were sweet on me.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  I thought they were just pleasant and decent people to everyone they met.  There was a third girl who came flat out and told me she had feelings for me that weren’t typical friendship but of a romantic nature.  But I just didn’t feel the same way.  So I explained to her as carefully, tactfully, and honestly as I could that I didn’t feel the same way.  And I refused to insult her by acting like I had feelings for her when I didn’t just so I could have a steady date.  Acting like you have feelings for someone when you don’t just to be in a relationship or not to hurt their feelings is actually a cruel thing to do, especially long term.  Turns out that one girl I had feelings for dated my best friend for a few weeks.  That put a damper on my feelings for her though I never forgot her.

Near the end of my freshman year, I met my college sweetheart and started my only really hardcore romantic relationship.  We had some great times, had some arguments (like all dating couples), broke up and got back together a couple times, over the course of the next two years.  I eventually decided to call off the dating relationship shortly before 9/11 because I could tell my mental illness wasn’t going well with the highs and lows of the dating relationship.  For the last three years of college I didn’t date at all.  I was polite and decent to everyone I met, had lots of acquaintances I could join study groups with or go to sporting events on campus, but I had only a handful of extremely close friends whom I could do and tell everything to.

After I graduated from college I went back home because, like many college graduates, I didn’t have a job lined up by the time I graduated.  I felt embarrassed by this at the time but I would eventually find out I wasn’t alone and this was the new normal.  After a few months of working a dead end job, I had enough of my childhood hometown.  I realized my career was going nowhere, all my old friends moved away, and I had no prospects for friends or a career in my location.  I also didn’t have enough money to move away on my own.  I talked to my parents about moving to a larger town.  I was immediately shot down because they wouldn’t help me if I didn’t have a job offer in another town.  And I previously had several job interviews where I was told they would have hired me if I was local.  Made me very angry.  I couldn’t relocate because I had no job and I was getting rejected for jobs because I didn’t live nearby.

Finally in February 2005, I lied to my parents about a job offer I had in a town that was only a couple hours away from them but had decent opportunities, a state university, and much better health care.  I convinced them to help me move and pay for the deposit on a small apartment.  It was a cheap place I could live in as I had a few months of living expenses saved up so I could find a job.  It was the first time in my entire life I lied for personal gain rather than protection or privacy reasons.  I felt guilty that it had to be that way at the time.  But I am so glad I did looking back on it years later.  Sometimes breaking the rules and disregarding authority has to be done to do the right thing.  Life isn’t as black and white and cut and dry as far too many people make it to be.

For the first couple weeks I was out several hours every day giving my resume and filling out applications to places that would pay me enough to meet my living expenses.  I also applied to the local college to take master’s degree classes.  I had three job offers and a new job within the first three weeks in my new town, compared to only one in my childhood hometown in the several months I was back home.  Location is key, my friends.  You can have all the qualifications there are, yet if you are in a location that doesn’t suit those skills, you have to relocate.  There are no two ways about it.

I still occasionally asked girls out but still got rejected.  I finally had a long distance relationship that went quite well for several months.  I surprised her by driving to her hometown on Valentine’s Day 2006.  I had just gotten offered a decent job after I lost my job at the college because of my bad grades, which were because of my mental illness really beating me up.  The surprise was on me because she had to work a double shift that day.  I had to wait several hours before she got home.  Fortunately her mother took pity on me and kept me company until she got off work.  That was a whirlwind of a relationship.  We called it off that summer because we could tell it would never evolve into a marriage.  We just had different priorities, values, and interests to make a marriage work.  It stung at the time but I’m glad it ended before we got married.

In 2008 I qualified for disability insurance.  I had my safety net finally.  My life settled down and I didn’t have the highs and lows I did in previous years.  I also came to the conclusion I was better off without trying to date or be in a relationship.  I am definitely not anti marriage or anti love.  I just know with my mental illness, my personality, my values, etc. I would make a lousy boyfriend and husband.  I would make a lousy father too and I would feel guilty if I had children who became mentally ill because they inherited it from me.  As far as being lonely, that’s why I keep in contact with old friends and stay on good terms with family.  I have a much better relationship with my mother and father now in my late thirties than I ever did at any point in my life.  Like many children I regarded my parents like superheroes when I was six, clueless buffoons when I was twelve, would be fascist dictators at age seventeen I wanted to be free from, wise counsel and backups at age twenty eight, and now more like myself and close friends now that I am age thirty eight.  It’s been a long and strange journey these thirty eight years as a human and these twenty plus as being a man with mental illness.

Even though I have had a mental illness since my teenage years, and was eccentric my entire life, I was still interested in romance and the love of a good woman.  Sometimes I had that, many times I didn’t.  And as I have aged I have made my peace with what went on in the past.  I accept that I can’t change what went on.  I also wouldn’t change it if I had that power.  I am grateful for my experiences with romance, love, and dating while having a mental illness.  It taught me much about myself, mental illness, human nature, and life.  I wouldn’t trade any of it.  At this point in my life I am content to remain unattached.  I don’t know if this will always be the case and I don’t have to know.  I know not what tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or even years from now will bring or how I will develop.  I’m just staying open to whatever happens and comes my way.