Overall, I am happier and more free than I was in the long term care home. The biggest thing I miss about the long term care home is friends. I made several friends during the eight months I lived at that small town hospital. It was fun seeing people younger than me having successful marriages, careers, and families. I haven’t been around people younger than me much in my entire life. When I was in school, I spent most of my time with people my own age, like most students. In college, most of my friends were a couple years older than me. I didn’t like the socializing part of high school, at least not during school hours. I absolutely loved the socializing in college. My college had less than 600 students, but we had students from a majority of states and a few dozen countries on six continents. In my fraternity (I was in a frat the first two years of college), our president and vice president were foreign students. One was from Netherlands and the other from Japan. My longest dating relationship was with a woman from Iowa, and she was a couple years older than me.
When I applied for disability and moved to low income housing in 2006, I didn’t realize what a hit my social life was going to take. I was the youngest resident when I moved there. Some of the elders didn’t like that I was there. Some thought that I shouldn’t be on disability because of my intellectual pursuits and how well I was managing on my own. That’s the cruelty of invisible disabilities. I’ve been to church several times and out in public a few times since I moved to the suburbs of Oklahoma City three months ago. I’ve noticed that some people are actually more helpful and sympathetic now that I am in a wheelchair, at least when out in public. I no longer get questions about ‘what do you do.’ Even though my mobility is gone, it’s kind of a welcome relief to not have to lie to people about not having a career. Most people, I have found, don’t have the attention span for me to explain that I have a mental illness that prevents me from sustainable employment. Sure, people in general are more sympathetic now than twenty years ago. But I still fear most people don’t entirely get how real mental illness really is.
I still haven’t made any new friends since I moved here. I am starting to put faces to names my parents have been talking about for the last few years. Most adults my age and younger I have met here are married, have families, and careers. My oldest nephew is going to graduate from high school next week. Seeing my brother and his wife’s oldest son grow up is making me realize I missed out on a great deal because of my mental illness. I would have never acknowledged it in my twenties, but I am now convinced I would have made a good father and husband had I never developed mental illness. I think I would have had a pretty cool career too. My brother and his family made me realize just what I lost due to this illness. I imagine it will hurt even more if I live long enough to see my nephews and niece have children and careers of their own. It will hurt seeing my brother and his wife grow elderly together and have decades worth of memories, prestigious careers, their own home, and have lots of loved ones in their elderly years. The big reason I moved down here rather than stayed in Nebraska is that I fear that I will need my brother and his wife to help me out after our parents are dead. Seeing my elderly parents up close every day for the last three months made me realize that they are not the healthy and vibrant people of my teens. These last three months I’ve spent more time with my parents than probably the previous eighteen years combined since I graduated college. Even in college, I didn’t go home very often. I was just too busy enjoying having a decent social life for the first time in my life.
My five years in college was the only time in my entire life I didn’t feel like a complete outsider. I loved being around people who shared my interests and thirst for knowledge. I loved the class discussions. In college, I discovered my love for writing. I discovered my love for economics and investing. Learned some really cool stuff in my chemistry and biology classes. Read a lot of books, many of which are making their ways unto banned book lists (those are the exact kind of books teenagers and college kids should be reading). Read a lot of the classics of philosophy, literature, history, etc. Found out I have a natural talent in picking good stocks. Kind of a pity social security disability puts a cap on how much one can have in savings and remain in the program that’s so low.
In college, I met people who were nerdier than me. I mean, I met dudes who built computers, wrote computer programs, played in garage bands, played trivia games, collected comic books, played Dungeouns and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, etc. I even had friends who did Civil War reenactments and attended Renaissance Fairs during school breaks. I never knew anyone who did any of those things in high school. I would have loved all of that. But, I didn’t have many close friends before I went to college. Most of the guys at my rural high school liked to hunt, fish, drive ATVs, go to beer bashes in cow pastures twenty miles from the nearest cops, etc. The kind of stuff my parents wouldn’t allow me and my brother to do. Looking back on it decades later, I’m glad they never let us do that kind of thing. When I was thirteen, my dad told me that people should be kind to nerds and dorks because they would someday rule the world. Like most thirteen year olds, I thought he was full of it. Turns out he was right. Even as a first grader, I knew my mind was going to be my future. I enjoy being an adult far more than I ever did being a kid, even with heart failure and mental illness.
Even as much as I love about being a wise middle aged man with a few gray hairs and chronically bad knees, I do miss a few things about my youth. I miss my best friend. She and I are in our forties and have been besties since age fifteen. I miss my health. I’m starting to realize that it’s not the ‘good old days’ the elders miss nearly as much as it is the health and vitality. I miss my health and vitality, but I love the knowledge and wisdom I have acquired. I love that I am still in contact with the best friends I ever had. I love that I have adapted to my mental illness and am able to talk about it with a large audience. I hope this blog stays up in one form or another long after I’m dead. Makes me wonder if medical science will eventually find a cure for mental illness. I think eventually it will be cured, just not in my lifetime.