Making and Losing Friends and Mental Illness

Keeping friends over the years while having schizophrenia has always been tough.  Even before I became mentally ill I had a hard time making friends.  But I am convinced that much of this was probably due to the environment I grew up in.  Most people in my hometown were farmers or cowboys.  I never did want to farm and the cowboy life never appealed to me.  So I guess by the time I went to college I was already behind my peers in terms of social skills.  Having schizophrenia hurt my social skills in that the illness could make me standoffish and not understanding normal people humor and activities.  I have always preferred reading and science pursuits over talking about sports, campus gossip, or whatever tv shows were trendy that season.  I am still this way.

As a result of my mental illness and the environment I grew up in, I never really did learn how to make friends easily.  I never did have normal interests so most of the friends I did make wouldn’t be considered normal either.  My best friend from college is a high school history teacher who is an avid sports fan.  He is also an avid reader of history, philosophy, economics, and classic literature.  Even though we haven’t been in college for over a dozen years, I still talk to him about once a week.  It’s not uncommon for our conversations to involve talking about baseball statistics, Austrian economics, medieval battle tactics, and the philosophy of Nietchze all in the same phone call.  He has never made an issue of me having a mental illness or not having traditional employment.  I don’t know if he regularly reads my blogs but he does think I’m doing a good thing with these writings.  He’s even suggested that it’s possible that if I keep writing, some big online blog service like Huffington Post or Breitbart might hire me.  A man can dream, right?  In short, friends like this don’t come along everyday and are worth holding onto.  My best friend from high school, she’s pretty much the same way.  Both of these people I may not get to see very often but I do keep in contact with.

Other people who I have friended over the years haven’t turned out so well.  I had one friend that I’ve been having a falling out with for months over aspects of my mental illness.  This former friend doesn’t seem to respect the fact that I don’t want to date.  I’ve dated before while working through a mental illness.  It sucks.  Dating is supposed to be enjoyable.  What I went through wasn’t.  As far as love goes, that’s what family is for.  As far as sex goes, well I’m not a dog in that I can’t live without sex.  Surprise, surprise; there are men who aren’t interested in having sex all the time.  And the older I get the less interest I have in sex.

This person also doesn’t respect the fact that I don’t hold a regular job.  First of all, when I did work a regular job, there were days I would have panic attacks while on the job and even before I went to work.  Many days these panic attacks were so bad I would vomit from the anxiety.  I would also get physically ill from the stress and anxiety I would feel at work with schizophrenia.  And dealing with office politics, well that was super stressful in itself.  In short, I never want to hold a regular job again considering all the problems it caused me.  I’ll go to prison before I go back to work.

So for any person to even infer that I’m wasting my life not being at some minimum wage drudgery that’s going to get automated in a few years anyway, well that’s not the kind of respect friends show for each other.  I can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t respect me or my decisions.  And I especially can’t respect anyone who thinks I’m not “doing my part” or not “being a productive member of society” just because I don’t hold some nonsense job that a machine can do hundreds of times better.  Let the machines have all the damned jobs as far as I’m concerned.  I spent most of my life listening to people gripe and moan about how much they hated their jobs, as if it was an honor to hate your job, hate your boss, hate your coworkers, and hate your customers.  Any wonder why millions of American jobs got outsourced overseas?  After spending years fighting a mental illness and years trying to work in spite a mental illness, I don’t want to go back into the toxic work environment.  It wrecks havoc on my mental stability.  And if anyone can’t respect my decision, then screw them.  I don’t want people like that in my life.

 

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Thoughts On Holding A Job With Schizophrenia

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Being on Social Security Disability Insurance at the age of 36 was not the path in life I hoped for.  Like most people I was raised to respect and honor the value of paid employment.  During the summers I mowed lawns, worked on my uncle’s farm, and occasionally delivered newspapers even in grade school.  I accepted my first “real job” working as a cook at McDonalds the summer before my junior year of high school.  My brother had worked there for a few years so they hired me.  I was fired a few weeks later because I couldn’t work fast enough to satisfy their needs.  I was even yelled at by the owner my first day on the job because I wasn’t working fast enough.  That was my introduction to the work world.

Over the course of the next several years I worked in retail stores and went to school.  By this time my mental illness was taking effect.  Some days I’d get panic attacks so bad I’d vomit before I went into work.  I was on edge at work except for when I was working alone or in a small group.  I just couldn’t work with the public without feeling terrible anxiety.  Because of this anxiety I would frequently make mistakes at my jobs and get yelled at by coworkers and customers.  This only made the anxiety worse as the months and years went by.  Not being able to deal with the public essentially killed any chance I had at a career as most jobs are now service related.  I really had no aptitude for working with my hands so I never considered trade school.

When I was twenty five, after I washed out of the masters’ program in college, I got a job working in a factory.  It was simple enough work that I didn’t really have to think about it.  But it was an overnight shift job and over the course of several weeks I couldn’t adapt to sleeping in the day.  Within a few weeks my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep.  Once again problems with coworkers rose up.  One night when I made a mistake one of my coworkers threatened to kill me.  I made up an excuse that I was sick and walked off the job that night.  I never reported the incident because I feared management wouldn’t take me seriously.  It has been my experience over the course of most of my life that no one took my problems seriously.  To this day I still don’t talk about my problems until they become major issues.

I actually liked what I was doing at the factory.  I even liked when I was doing janitorial work for the county government.  In my county job I worked alone for the first two and a half years I was there.  And I loved it.  I could do my work, not deal with coworker drama, and I had my weekends off.  It was the perfect job for me.  But I was too good at that job.  I got promoted, moved to the courthouse, and was on a staff of a handful of janitors.  It went well for awhile until we hired some people who didn’t want to do good work and wanted to start drama.  I never understood why people always wanted to start drama at a job.  We were there to accomplish a job and make money, nothing more and nothing less.  But some people just aren’t content unless they are causing problems for others.  My coworkers at the factory got on me because my work was suffering because I couldn’t sleep well during the day.  My request to go to day shift was denied so I quit.  I could already feel mental health problems building and I knew it was only a matter of time before I had a full breakdown.  As it was a few months later I went to the mental hospital.

My only real complaints about work was dealing with the drama of coworkers and dealing with customers who thought they could treat me like dirt because I was making minimum wage.  It must make some people feel important treating small people poorly.  I wouldn’t know.  I could do just fine when I was working alone and only had to see my boss once or twice a day.  As long as the work was done I had no complaints or issues.  For me working alone is the best kind of job.  I think it runs in my family.  My father was self employed, one grandfather was a farmer and another was self employed.  I just hate dealing with office politics and needless drama.  And of course those are the staples of most modern workplaces.  I couldn’t figure it out.  But then I never could figure out why normal people act the way they do.  I can’t figure out why it’s too tough for some of you to just attempt to put differences aside and compromise.  I certainly can’t figure out why my culture praises ignorance and belligerence.  I am not ignorant and I have never respected ignorant people.  And I never will.

If I were to ever get back into the workplace it would be where I worked alone and didn’t deal with other people’s drama.  I could see doing a work from home job over telecommuting.  I have a friend and a cousin who do such work already.  Many office jobs can already be done this way even today.  But I know that some people don’t want to give up the office environment or give that much freedom to their workers.  Personally I’d love to telecommute.  I never understood the appeal of fighting traffic everyday to deal with people whose motives I can only guess just to do a job and get paid.  I know in the past I have said I never want to work again.  I should say that I don’t want to do any type of the work I have done in the past.  I don’t want to work retail and deal with unruly coworkers and customers.  I don’t want to work in an office and fight office politics.  I don’t want to work in manufacturing that is set up to wash out people who don’t toe the line exactly.  But that’s what my experience is in, even though I was never good at it.  I probably couldn’t make a career out of any of these jobs because many of those jobs are going to get automated within the next ten to twenty years.  My only real possibility of returning to work is doing alone work that allows me to use creativity, kind of like what I do with this blog.  Maybe I should become a professional ghost writer.

 

Thoughts on Socializing While At Work

I wanted to originally do this in one post.  But I had to break it into two smaller posts.  Consider this my buy one, get one free promotion. I do enjoy having good conversations one on one or with small groups.  But far too often we are kept apart from people on an individual basis.  We seldom have in depth conversations with our coworkers because there isn’t enough time during the work day to just sit down and chat with your coworkers.  And most people are usually too tired to spend time with coworkers at the end of a shift or they have family obligations.  We work with these people every day, sometimes for years at a time, yet we rarely get to really know them.  The irony about most jobs is that much of what is done during an eight hour work day is redundant busy work, especially in most office jobs.  Most of what is done in an office, from my experience any way, seems could be done in half the time the work shift demands people be at their cubicles and acting busy.  I found the same thing in high school and college.  Some of those classes could have been only half as long and almost all of them could have been more stimulating.  I had a couple friends who were homeschooled for part of their academic careers and they said they usually had only four hours of classes a day while I had at least seven.  And they still did better on tests, and later their careers, than many kids I went to regular school with.  Unless you are working in the trades, working in the medical field, or working in a factory, most jobs could probably easily be done from home via telecommuting or with only four to six hour work days.  Even store clerks have to always look busy.

During the years I worked in retail I was told it was bad and tactless to chat with my coworkers while we were on the clock.  Who decided this?  I wasn’t asked for my opinion. Can’t have coworkers knowing each other and getting along well, now can we?  That might make things awkward when a coworker gets fired or reprimanded for arbitrary reasons. As long as we’re not insulting the bosses, the company, the customers, etc., than screw you.  As long as we are still helping the customers and getting our work done, it shouldn’t matter that coworkers would spend a few minutes talking to each other during slow times.  The same people we sell to in the large chain stores chat with their coworkers in their offices but manage to get their work done, let’s not kid ourselves.  Why should we have to look busy when we have a few free moments?  Why shouldn’t we be allowed to get to know our coworkers?  My coworkers and I didn’t complain when our bosses took half hour cigarette breaks, hid out in their offices for hours at a time claiming they were doing ‘paperwork’, taking longer than allowed lunches, or talked with their friends and family on company time.  And some people wonder why fast food workers are demanding $15 an hour.  I don’t think it’s the money that’s as large of a deal as the lack of respect and accountability that front line workers get from their managers and their companies.

Yes, the money matters.  The money from fast food and service jobs matters more than twenty to thirty years ago simply because there aren’t that many manufacturing jobs left, at least not in America.  We are running out of jobs that people with less than average intelligence can hold.  Those jobs are being outsourced and even those outsourced jobs are being taken over by machines. A buddy of mine works at a caller center for a bank and is sometimes concerned about his bank outsourcing his job to India.  Yet, the man and woman in India may soon be worried about their jobs being taken over by automated programs.  I get my prescription medications refilled by an automated program that calls me when I’m running low already.  The only time I actually deal with a human is when I pick my medications up at the pharmacy.  And in several years when delivery drones get real good, I may not even have to do that.  Dominos Pizza is already experimenting with delivery drones that take your order right to your door in some countries. Sheesh, my five year old nephew might not even need a driver’s license when he turns sixteen in eleven years.

No longer can a kid not smart enough for college move into a factory, farming, or mining job for the next fifty years of his life.  These twenty to thirty somethings working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart would have been doing factory work if they came of age in the 1950s instead of the 1990s or 2000s. They are not lazy and unmotivated like most of the popular culture and elder generations think they are.  People thought the World War II generation were drunkards and fornicators when they were in their teens and twenties during the Roaring Twenties.  The clean shaven 18 year old GI who grew up dirt poor in the 1930s that was a private in World War II probably had a 35 year old commanding officer who drank copious amounts of bootlegged alcohol and had lots promiscuous sex with flapper girls and suffragettes during Prohibition.  I also doubt the World War II generations of Japan and Germany are held in such reverence; they might even be considered an embarrassment.  The world is a stage, we are the actors, and the history books are almost always written by the winners.

If our elders were born in 1980 instead of 1950 they’d be irritated about having only fast food and retail jobs as easily available jobs too.  Bill Gates once said that my grandparents generation would have called making hamburgers an opportunity.  Smug and hypocritical advice coming from someone who outsourced a lot of his company’s work.  It could be that once wages get to $15 an hour, then front line employees will be replaced by machines.  Yet, I have never seen a computer shop at Home Depot or a robot eat at Subway.  Reminds of a story I heard from a TED talk when the CEO of an auto maker in Detroit and the head of the auto workers’ union were talking.  The company president was talking about putting in robots in the factory and jokingly asked the union boss how he would get robots to pay union dues.  The union man jokingly asked the auto exec how is he going to get robots to buy cars.  Just some things to think about.  Things could get ugly in the next couple decades.  Occupy Wall Street could just be the start.

My Thoughts On Working Life

 

It’s now been four years since I last held a regular job.  Even though I don’t need the money from a job as I am debt free, I do miss the daily structure that having a job gave.  I do not miss dealing with office politics.  It seemed that nothing I ever did at a job was good enough for bosses or coworkers.  I would ask questions and I’d get in trouble.  I wouldn’t ask questions and I’d get in trouble.  I would make mistakes because no one explained procedures and I’d get in trouble.  I dealt with coworkers who were in a foul mood most of the time because they hated their jobs.  I never had any kind of real training and then I’d get into trouble because I was doing things wrong.  I was fired from my first job at age seventeen because I wasn’t figuring things out fast enough.  I was sexually harassed by female and male coworkers. Surprise, even men can get sexually harassed.  I even had a coworker threaten to kill me once.  I walked off the job and quit the next day over that.  I didn’t report it because I was too afraid and it’s my experience that no one would take my problems seriously. Eventually I decided I had enough of the work world in general and just left my last job.  I haven’t looked back.  I would have loved to had the structure and something to do everyday.  But the workplace is just absolutely toxic and unhealthy anymore.  I don’t see how you normals can encourage this nonsense.

Of course my critics think I’m just weak for not being able to deal with toxic work environments.  Some probably think me stupid for not being able to make sense of workplace politics.  I can’t make sense of the work world.  It makes no sense to me why you normals would rather look good but not be productive and not take chances to go for greatness.  Why do you complain about your bosses and coworkers?  Why do you complain about your customers?  I can’t make sense of your workplace, at least not the American workplace.  Surely it couldn’t have always been this toxic and counter productive.  As far as I’m concerned let the robots and automation take most of the jobs.  Most people don’t do their jobs because they love what they do or are even good at it.  Most people work their jobs just for the money.  I think in time people would be happier if they didn’t have to deal with toxic work environments and were at work because they wanted to be not because they had to be.  But with automation set to come in a large way, people may not have to work full time to have a decent life.  If automation makes food and products cheaply, then many people could get by on a low wage job or even a disability pension.

I used to work in customer service.  It seems to be the most abundant set of jobs as fewer people are needed for agriculture and manufacturing in the early 21st century.  And I never could figure out why people are verbally abusive to store clerks and fast food workers.  Most of these workers that get the abuse are front line workers making barely over minimum wage.  I don’t mean this to sound like an insult but if we expected great deals from these front line workers, then we would be paying them more than minimum wage.  And I saw in article last week that Wendy’s, one of the largest fast food chains here in America, is planning on having self ordering kiosks at all of their restaurants by the end of 2016. So you normals are yelling at people whose work can be done by machines now.  Someday your job could be too.

I yelled at a store clerk last summer when I was going through a mini psychotic breakdown.  It was the only time in my life I was mean with a store clerk.  I felt so rotten about it I immediately apologized and I voluntarily stayed out of that store for a month.  I felt so ashamed of myself for yelling at this college aged clerk and he did’t even do anything wrong.  I feel embarrassed writing about it almost a year later.  I used to get verbally abused by customers and coworkers all the time when I worked retail and restaurants.  And I promised myself I would never do that to another person.  It felt terrible being on the receiving end of the abuse and I didn’t feel powerful for being the abuser that one time.  So I ask, why do you normals feel it’s your God given right to be abusive to those in low positions?  We outlawed slavery and serfdom generations ago.  Just because you are in a position of power does not give you the right to be abusive.

I am thankful everyday that I have my disability pension to fall back on.  It wasn’t my first choice when I was growing up. I was a top student as a child and I wanted to be a research scientist since I was five years old.  I knew I wanted to go to college by the time I was in second grade.  I was in a gifted and talented program where I took the college board exams as a thirteen year old.  I was a member of National Honor Society.  I went to college initially as a Pre Med major.  After a year and a half of college, I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and I could no longer do the tough science and math classes. I continued to go to college and work after I was diagnosed because I really wanted to be a good productive member of society.  But my mental illness destroyed my ability to process stress, read people, and navigate work place politics.  I wouldn’t be so negative about the work place if I could process stress better and read people. I probably could have done some kind of trades work but I am not very good with my hands.  All my talents were in the mental realms. But I’ve had enough bad experiences with the kinds of work I can do with a mental illness that I don’t even want to go back to work ever again.  With more and more lower and even medium level jobs being primed to get taken over by machines and automation within the next several years, working may not even be an option for me and many other people.

I never could understand the mentality that you are only valued for what you do, especially what you do for money.  Most farm work is done with machines now.  Many manufacturing jobs are done by machines with a handful of people in support roles.  Automation is coming to telemarketing, fast food, retail, banking, stock brokering, etc.  We have computers that can beat grandmasters at chess, beat any human at trivia games, store and recall more information than any organic brain could possibly. We are developing automobiles and trucks that can drive themselves, so there goes truck drivers.  Airplanes essentially fly themselves anymore with human pilots there mainly to take over in case of emergencies. We have machines that we send to other planets and explore essentially on their own.  Most of the physical and clerical work a human can do can already be exceeded by machines.  Even the military is using robots and drones, so there’s less need for human soldiers in many developed countries.  Unless you’re in a career that involves a great deal of independent thought, personal touch, and creativity, your job very likely is at risk of being automated.  Then what of that identity you’ve built around your job for most your adult life?

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In closing we as humans are more than what we do for money.  I was always more than my remedial job or small bank account.  We are not the cars we drive, the houses we live in, or the clothing we wear.  With machines being primed to do many jobs better than humans and make high quality products for quite cheap, we humans are going to have to find different measures of distinction.  And I probably would have never gotten to this level of acceptance had I never developed a mental illness.  Many people will be blind sided by the levels of change that are going to hit the workplace and society in general.  It will be interesting and scary at the same time for the next fifteen to twenty years.