Worry and Stress

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Worry and stress hinder the mentally ill and the neurotypical alike.  No one can escape it.  It served us as a species well for most of our history when hunter gatherers needed successful hunts and fight other bands.  Otherwise they would die.  Worry and stress are natural to us.  It allowed humans to go from barely surviving to modern civilization.

Yet our natural inclinations to worry are deteriorating our quality of life.  The old fight or flight mentality isn’t serving us as well.  We are seeing more people going through depression, panic attacks, anxiety problems, and physical health problems brought on by mental stress.  We haven’t yet developed the ability to mentally let go of worry.  This skill is not natural to us.  It has to be learned.

Learning how to let go of stress and worry, even with years of practice, won’t be perfect.  I have been taking steps to lessen my worry for several years and I occasionally slip into old habits.  Things I have found helpful include keeping journals, engaging with negative people as little as possible, venting slightly on occasion, and never watching news broadcasts.

When I keep journals, I don’t hold back. I write my frustrations, my anxieties, my annoyances, my fears, and the delusional thoughts that sometimes accompany my mental illness.  I get it out of my mind and onto paper.  But I don’t share these with anyone.  It does me much better to vent on paper rather than hold these worries in and drop them on someone else all at once.  Many of our problems with stress, I am convinced, come from the idea that we aren’t allowed to vent or have to put up a good front at all times.  I can’t change how anyone expects to act in public.  What I can do is vent in the form of pen and paper, get it out of my mind, and then move on.  Once the notebook is full, I throw it away.  Been doing this for at least two years.  It helps.  Sure I occasionally have problems and just dump my frustrations on family members.  But that’s the nature of the beast of mental illness and I do my best to minimize those blow ups.

I vent to my friends and family as needed to.  I used to be one of these people pleasers who listened to and try to solve everyone’s problems.  But I wouldn’t tell my problems to anyone.  It made me resentful and feel like I was being used.  I can’t remember when it was but during a conversation with someone I finally said, “I’ve heard enough of your problems.  Now you’re going to hear about mine.”  Fortunately for this relationship I wasn’t malicious about it.  But being resentful of listening to others problems while I didn’t stand up enough to have others listen to mine cost me at least a couple friendships.  My friends have problems.  I have problems.  We are now more balanced in talking about our issues.  I don’t just do all the giving while not taking some of my own anymore.

I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news broadcasts.  Haven’t for a few years.  Why should I?  I already know there is a lot of trouble and mess out there.  Always has been.  Always will be.  I have no need or desire to know every little bit of trouble going on, whether it’s halfway around the world or halfway across my country.  Seriously, why give myself more stress and anxiety then I already have?  I can’t solve all the world’s problems.  I’m not that good.  Anyone who has any kind of awareness knows that there are serious messes in the world around them.  Just because the world is messed up doesn’t mean I have to be.  Since I learned to let go of things I didn’t personally cause and can’t prevent, my life has had fewer worries and fewer stresses.

Being The Proverbial Black Sheep As A Kid

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Even before I became mentally ill, I had problems with fitting in with others and making friends.  It has caused me so many problems with others over the years.  When I was a child in grade school, I got in so much trouble with teachers, classmates, and family alike whenever I said anything sounding like it had no earthly reason to come from the mouth of a child.  For example, as a seven year old if I joked about how slow someone was speaking, I would try to make a joke because I saw that children and adults enjoyed humor, and say something like “Speak any slower and we could time you with a sun dial,” I would find myself in major trouble.  I was told I had “attitude problems” among other things.  Yet I would see adults joke with each other with similar humor, and worse. I couldn’t figure it out.  I was often told by adults to “grow up” and yet when I tried to act, joke, and talk like the adults I saw I got in trouble.

Even as I child I valued my freedom and privacy.  I would often go into the large backyard of my home and pace and think for hours on end.  I often did this to dream up stories, dream up new twists on old games, make up new slants on old children’s stories, and think of ways to do things better.  My classmates would ridicule me for wanting to be alone all the time and I probably concerned my parents for not wanting to socialize more with family and classmates.  I didn’t do it to be anti-social or draw attention.  I just got a lot more mileage out of socializing for short times than most people.  I didn’t do it for attention because I really didn’t want attention once I became old enough to figure out I was a running joke because I was smart and actually enjoying learning how to do new things.  I might not have spent so much time outside if I had a chemistry set.  I’d probably accidentally burned down the house instead.

My real saving grace as a kid was having two friends just as smart and eccentric as I.  My first true friend, a kid named Ben who moved to my town when we were 11, was as interested in music, dry humor, and history as I was in science.  We would often do inexpensive science experiments in the storage room of his parents’ grocery store.  One time we took some old Micro Machine cars, taped magnets to the bottom of the cars, weighted the top of the cars with pennies and dimes, and got them to run along a track of magnets at least three feet long.  We didn’t realize that we made a very crude version of Mag Lev transportation.  Ben and I also joked that we would eat nothing but meat, cheese, and milk for a month to “protest the wholesale slaughter of defenseless plants.”  Yeah, the Atkins Diet as designed by 12 year olds.  Needless to say our sixth grade classmates didn’t get the humor.

I never did enjoy the toilet and locker room style of humor that my classmates did.  Even in high school, I really liked the comedy of people ranging from George Carlin to Jeff Foxworthy to Bill Hicks.  While most of my classmates were listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and George Strait, my two core friends and I were listening to groups like Metallica, AC/DC, and the Seattle grunge groups that were around in the 90s (much to the chagrin of my parents).

We didn’t win many style points with our classmates because we were contrarian thinkers, often asked questions in class, didn’t just ‘go along to get along’, openly questioned policies and practices of adults that were counter productive and senseless, and we didn’t particularly like sports.

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I was often chided for preferring to spend my weekends and summer days reading books, namely non fiction.  To me, the things that occurred naturally in the world and universe was far more interesting than fairy tales and fantasy books.  To this day I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K Rowling.  Reading books about science, biology, astronomy, chemistry, military history, etc. were interesting enough without the magical Disney nonsense.

I also didn’t do well dating as a kid.  My other quirky best friend, a girl named Shaunna, and I would often hang out on weekends watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on SyFy channel if there weren’t any high school dances nearby.  It wasn’t until the last five years did it dawn on me that the reason I did so poor in the numbers of girls I dated was precisely because of my best friend that was a girl.  I was probably shot down by most other girls because they thought I was a player or swinger.  But as a clueless seventeen year old that thought never once entered my mind.  If only I knew then even half of what I know now.

One thing I do know now is that normal is boring.  Normal is mundane.  Normal does not change the world or even a neighborhood for the better.  Far too many people over the centuries have died fulfilling only a fraction of their potential because they feared being abnormal.  I never had, I still don’t, have a fear of standing out and going against the tide of acceptable public opinion.  As far as I can tell, my old friends Ben and Shaunna are still the same way.   Sure it is frustrating to prove a point and still not sway normal people.  But I don’t want to lose the intelligence, empathy, and creativity that were the tools God gave me to try to make my small mark in my corner of existence.  It causes me frustration but it doesn’t cause me fear.  I got over that a very long time ago.  My older brother, being the typical tormenting brother who’d try to whip his younger sibling back into line, would often ask me things like ‘Why can’t you be normal?’  My answer, years later, is something like ‘I tried being normal once but didn’t like it.’  😀

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Trouble Isn’t New

It’s been quite some time since I last posted.  For that I apologize.  I thought that a repost was in order.

You see it on the news all the time.  In fact, it’s all you see anywhere on TV, the internet, or any kind of media.  Of course I mean absolutely nothing but bad news.  If all you ever saw or experienced was what was being shown on the major networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc., it would be understandable why so many people are sad, depressed, and convinced the world was heading to hell in the proverbial hand basket.  It would be easy to believe that all this trouble and chaos is something new and that the past eras were far more stable and peaceful if all we saw was what was shown on modern media.

Oh how sentimental we are.  As someone who grew up in the 1980s, I remember some of the Cold War and the thought that we Americans and the Russians could start a nuclear holocaust.  Three of the earliest movies I remember seeing were ‘War Games’, ‘The Day After’ and ‘Red Dawn.’  As a child, for awhile I was dead convinced that we would get nuked any day.  That was until my parents explained how they had the same fears growing up in the 1950s.  They even told me about the ‘duck and cover’ drills they used to do in school.  My father and grandfather, on separate occasions with almost the same words, finally told me something that stuck with me ever since.  “Trouble ain’t anything new and the good ol’ days ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

Let that sink in for awhile.  Sure we have problems.  We’ve had problems.  We’re always going to have problems.  Let me tell you about a little about a time in America’s past.  We had an unpopular war going on.  We had a president, who was hated by some and revered by others, get murdered.  We had draft dodgers and race riots. We had magnificent technologies that got going strong.  Which era am I talking about?  If you thought the 1960s, you’re wrong.  I was actually talking about the 1860s.  Simply replace Vietnam with the Civil War, JFK with Abraham Lincoln, and replace Watts with New York City, the Space Program with The Transcontinental Railroad, and we have the same story line but in entirely separate centuries. 

Sure we have our problems with the NSA issues, debt issues (both national and individual), endless wars, poverty, new sicknesses, etc.  But would we rather have the threat of foreign spies in our highest levels of government (like America did in the 1950s) or the KGB  (as communist Russia had)? Or the debt issues that much of the world outside America has? Or the endless wars that were the Crusades, the 100 Years War, or the such long wars of empire building that ancient Greece and Rome had?  Or would we rather deal with Swine Flu or the Bubonic Plague that claimed close to 1/3 of Europe in the Middle Ages or even the Flu Outbreak of 1918?

I don’t write this to demean the problems we have right now.  I simply write to state we’ve found solutions in the past to past problems and the human spirit that resonates in every one of us has, is, and will keep finding solutions to our problems.  Just as there has always been trouble in the world so will there be people at all levels of societies working on the solutions.