Thoughts on Winter and Blogging While Mentally Ill

Been awhile since I wrote.  Haven’t really had too much to report lately.  It’s been too cold and too much snow to really go anywhere or do much of anything.  I’m getting burned out on reading, messing with my computers, and just staying home.  I’m glad to hear it’s supposed to start warming up again, at least by early March standards within a couple days.  I don’t think my town has been above freezing point in three weeks.  It’s one of the toughest cold spells I can recall.  There are times I have gone a few days in a row without even going outside it’s been so cold.  I don’t even know how much snow we still have on the ground except that it’s at least twelve inches.  Looking out my window, I can see one of the parking lots across the street from my house has piles of shoveled snow at least ten feet tall.  I used to go sledding on piles like that growing up.  It’s been one of the snowiest winters I can recall.  I haven’t seen even dried up grass since Christmas.

I write about the weather because I don’t have much else to report.  Been fairly stable overall.  I sleep maybe eight hours a day, but not all at once.  I usually sleep five hours in the night and take a couple naps during the day.  My days normally start around four a.m.   I usually nap for a couple hours in the afternoon, usually for an hour in the evening after dinner, and then I usually take my medications and call the day done around ten p.m.  I like this routine actually more than the all nighters I was pulling as recently as a year ago.  It allows me to do some things in the quiet and dark hours of early morning.  But I can still leave my apartment easily and run errands at four or five a.m. before the crowds get too bad just like I could at midnight or one a.m.  Usually by four a.m. about the only people on the streets are people reporting in for early morning work and city employees.  In the middle of the night it’s mostly eccentrics even odder then myself and the police.  And if I want to get some restaurant food without fighting the crowds, the middle of the afternoon suits me as well as the middle of the night did even as recent as three years ago.

I have settled and stabled more in my late thirties than at any time in my life.  And this blog is starting to attract better than ever audiences, at least on the days I write.  I’ve had at least four days since January 1st when I drew over one hundred visitors for one day.  My first such one hundred plus visitor day was I think last year.  I don’t know if the search engines are starting to pick me up more, more people are interested in mental health issues, or if the persistence is starting to pay off, etc.  But I am getting pretty decent visits now, at least decent for my standards.  When May arrives I will have been doing this blog on a regular basis for six years.  I still have most of my posts from these six years online and on this site.  I should go through them one of these days and see what I can discard and what I should keep so to make my blog more easy to navigate.  I should also take some time to compare and contrast my writings and moods now to those early years.

I have done blogging for six years now.  The longest I ever held a “real job” was four years when I worked as a janitor at the courthouse from 2008 to 2012.  This blog is the most satisfying work I have done in my entire life even if it is the worst paying.  With what I have spent to promote the blog and register my website, I still haven’t made a profit even after six years.  Yet I really don’t care if I do.  Yes, it would be cool to make some more money from my writing.  I wouldn’t refuse it.  But this is more a community service or labor of love than anything.  Being a parent pays nothing but it’s the most influential and important job any person can have.  Just because work doesn’t make money doesn’t mean someone isn’t getting something of value from it.  I may never turn a profit or get bigger audiences than I am now.  But that is alright with me.  I just hope to keep these postings online and in public access for years to come.  Maybe someone can get some benefit from these posts even after I am dead and forgotten.  Of course, if a cure for schizophrenia was discovered at some point in the future, then that would be a major blessing for myself and millions with similar problems.  It would mean I would have to go back to work probably.  But it would be a cool problem to have being cured of schizophrenia and having to find work again.  I wonder if people will still be hiring experienced writers and bloggers by then.

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My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

College Years and How I Became a Blogger

Blogging has turned into a dream come true for me.  I can write about my problems as a mentally ill man, tell what works for me and what doesn’t, and now I’m even making a few dollars a month at it.  I never expected any money from this blog or really any of my writing work.  I enjoy what money can do as much as anyone, but I really don’t need a large bank account or stock portfolio to stroke my ego.  As long as I can keep the rent current, have food in my pantry, my medications stocked up, and stay out of debt, I am fine with what I make just off disability pension.  It may seem kinda boring and dreary life for some as I really can’t afford to travel much anymore or that I don’t have any family of my own.

I travelled a lot in my younger years and I went to a small college with a larger than usual foreign student body.  Since there were less than 600 students in our entire college, we were forced to interact with people of many different backgrounds if we wanted to have any kind of social life.  It was a good college for someone like from rural Nebraska who wasn’t personally exposed to many different cultures.  It was in college that I found that I had some talent for writing.  That’s where I started writing poetry and drafts for novels.  I also read many of the classics of American and European literature while there.  I also dabbled in some Eastern philosophy like Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu.  Granted this was in the early 2000s before youtube and most of social media really connnected people.  I imagine I could learn the same things now on my computer as opposed to spending entire days in the campus library.  But being exposed to different ideas from different eras of time and different nations inspired me to tell my own story.  And apparantly my story of my life with mental illness is resonating with some people.

Experiences With Mental Illness Blogging

I’ve been doing this blog for over three years.  And I absolutely enjoy every minute I spend blogging.  I enjoy it more than any traditional job I ever had.  I enjoy it even more than the classes I took in college.  I don’t have to be forced to write about mental illness.  I would do this for free.  I am doing it for free unless I get any kind of advertising revenue or sponsors.  I wouldn’t refuse any money that comes my way even though I am not delusional enough to think I can get off disability pension from blogging.  I have been doing this blog for three years and not made a cent off it.  In my twelve years of overall writing I have probably broke even between selling print on demand books and what I spent advertising my blog through Facebook.  I don’t suppose many people can claim they have a passionate hobby that almost pays for itself.

After spending several years with selling only a few dozen books of mental illness essays and poetry I really had no expectations with this blog.  I didn’t know what kind of a following I would have or even if I would have a following outside my mother and a few friends.  So I set up shop with a free blog site and started writing blogs about what it is like to have schizophrenia to people who can’t imagine it.  This isn’t the first blog I ever did.  A friend and I did a blog several years ago.  It never gained more than a couple hundred views because we were unfocused and not posting regularly.  I did a blog about my poetry for awhile before I found out I wasn’t much of a poet and there really isn’t a great demand for average poetry.

After examining what I liked to read, what I was good at writing, and what I gained good audiences from, I decided three years ago to focus on writing about my experiences with mental illness.  That’s when I gained more than a few readers.  After years of experimenting with styles and genres, I came to the conclusion I do best writing nonfiction essays from the first person point of view.  I had written rough drafts for two coming of age type novels both from first person view.  They didn’t really hold together and I later found out for fiction novels that first person is tougher than third person point of view.

Once I found my niche and style I had a few visitors coming in with every blog post.  After it became a weekly posting I had a few more visitors.  The thing that helped me gain more visitors was posting often.  A blogger simply can’t build any kind of audience by posting only once or twice a month or only when the creative muse moves them.  Most of my favorite individual youtube content creators post several times a week and have for several years.  I’m not at that kind of proficiency, but perhaps I could be if I keep posting material.  I think it helps to get a body of work of several dozen postings at minimum so that search engines can find your work easier.  As of now I have had close to two hundred postings over the last three years and a little over 9,500 visitors from 90 different nations.  There are bloggers (and youtube stars) who get that even on bad days, but I’ve been working at this for only a few years and haven’t done as much advertising as some people.  Being on a limited budget with a disability pension I have to be choosy about what kind of advertising I do as it still costs money to get truly noticed.

Early on in the first several months I got some audience from following other bloggers and leaving positive comments on their articles.  I left nothing but positive comments.  If I didn’t agree with a particular post I just didn’t comment.  I didn’t want to gain the reputation of a troll or troublemaker.  Having a good reputation on the internet is more valuable than gold.  I got some following from following other bloggers and I tried to direct some of my readers to bloggers who helped me out.  But leaving positive comments on other blogs, following other blogs, and trying to refer traffic to other blogs helped me out in the early months.

Even though I have a few years of blogging experience and some following I don’t consider myself established by any means.  I don’t think there can be anything really established as far as the internet and the current information revolution goes.  I was learning as I went when I wrote my first words twelve years ago and I’m still learning new things even today. I was a bit frustrated in the early years when I would get rejection notices in the mail several times a week.  I was also frustrated in the early postings when I wasn’t getting more than a few visitors per post.  But looking back on it, I see how rough and raw most of those writings were.  I’m glad they didn’t get published.  And I’m sure in several more years I’ll look at some of the things I’m writing now as rough and unpolished.  It’s a continuous process that never ends.  I hope to always keep improving as a writer so I can better explain to people what living with a mental illness is really like.

 

 

Routines, Reflections, Dollars, and Desires

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This summer has been anything but routine for me.  I hurt my back in late May and I was out of commission for six weeks.  I rarely spent any time outside and didn’t travel.  I went to the park maybe three or four times in the six weeks my back was mending.  Normally I go to the park three or four times per week during the summer.  I haven’t done any traveling as I haven’t been outside my hometown since late May.  I haven’t driven much and have actually developed a slight phobia of driving.  I guess I never gained my confidence back from my accident last October.  While I got my car fixed I still haven’t heard anything back from if I can get any kind of settlement.  Progress is insanely slow in some cases.

I haven’t been outside around the complex much this summer.  It seems that most of my neighbors have been more short tempered and irritable the last several months.  I don’t know what to make of that.  I still have the one neighbor who always in a foul mood and never has anything nice to say about anyone.  Apparently he won’t be moving out any time soon.  It’s kind of tough living in here anymore.  Three of my most interesting friends in here died in 2014 and 2015.  Since I live in low income housing, who we get as neighbors is luck of the draw.  There are days when I’m depressed I would love to move out and start over.  But I don’t think any where else in my hometown would be any better.  With my mental illness and disability pension I can’t afford to move to a larger city.  I don’t want to move back in with my parents as their hometown has far less to offer than my current town.  I really don’t know if I can move to my brother’s hometown because of my disability pension and transferring to a different state.  If I were to move to another city, I’d love for it to be to a place with reasonable public transit.  I hate driving anymore.  I’d never drive again if I had the choice.

I don’t suppose schizophrenics do well in large cities.  I hear horror stories about people with mental illness ending up homeless or in jail in large cities. My schizophrenia being what it is, it’s not like I can start over with a job that pays enough to give me a decent living if I were to leave disability.  I was anxious working as retail store clerk and factory worker. I used to have panic attacks so bad I’d vomit from the anxiety before I went to work.  I fear the idea of working with the public.  I have been verbally abused enough by customers and coworkers in my previous life as a customer service worker that I never want to experience that again.  And blogging about mental illness will never pay the bills even if I am providing a good service for others.

It’s not the money I care about, it’s what the money can buy that I’m concerned about.  I don’t need the status of a high paying job to satisfy my ego.  I don’t need the large house in the suburbs or the high end penthouse in a skyscraper.  I don’t need the large pickup truck or high end foreign car.  I can get around just fine in a twelve year old four door sedan that is as good on gas mileage as anything besides the really small Japanese cars.  If I need to move something with a pickup truck, that’s why I have friends and family members with pickup trucks.  It’s amazing what one can accomplish with a phone call, a little elbow grease, and offering to buy lunch or a tank of gas.

I really have my basic material needs but I can get by with almost no splurging.  I have learned to live inexpensively on my disability pension without a job.  I am happy wearing t-shirts, sneakers, and pants from K-mart and Wal-Mart. I can get all the music I want for free via youtube or pandora radio. I don’t even have music CDs anymore.  I haven’t even downloaded music from iTunes in over a year. I would rather watch Netflix at home, sit on my own couch, and eat a delivery pizza than go to the movie theatre. I would rather go for a walk in the park or shovel snow in the winter than spend heaven knows how much on a gym membership.

Splurging for me is grilling bratwursts and spending cool and overcast autumn Saturday afternoons watching Nebraska Husker college football games on my flat screen tv.  Splurging for me is buying a bucket of KFC and a couple side dishes instead of eating off the dollar menu.  When I need new furniture I talk to friends and family who are moving or having estate sales.  I got my couch, lamps, and recliner after my grandfather died.  I got my bed and dresser after my grandmother died.  I got my house plants from helping my mother.  All I had to do was help my family clean out their places for a weekend.  The most I gave for a piece of furniture was $50 for my all purpose heavy duty table I eat from and use my computer on.  So a person can live quite inexpensively if you use your family and friends’ connections and help people out once in awhile.  The only time I go to restaurants that aren’t fast food is when I’m entertaining out of town family and friends. I have stayed out of debt for two years even without a job.  I managed to save up some emergency money that could fund my life for a couple months even without a disability pension.

So I’m not concerned about getting rich.  For the first few years I was serious about writing, I was hoping to make some money as a writer, travel on the speaking circuit, and donate a bunch of money to my college as some of my happiest memories are from my four and a half years at York College in York, Nebraska.  Now that I know how to live on less than I thought I could and I see how much stress my brother is under with his job, I know it’s not the high paying job or successful business that I need or even want.  The big thing that I want now is for my experiences and writings to make a positive difference for whomever happens to read these entires.  I have no delusions I’ll make much money writing a mental illness blog.  Schizophrenia my involve delusions but that’s not one of my delusions.  I don’t care if I make money off  my writings and blogging.  I really don’t even care if I make above poverty level wages.  I just want to make a positive difference in the lives of whomever reads my blogs, whether you be a mental health patient, support person, or just someone who cares about the problems of the mentally ill.  I don’t desire riches.  I desire to make a positive difference in at least a few lives.

Getting Back To Stability

It’s been almost three weeks since I threw out my back.  I can get around pretty decent for the most part.  The mornings are the only difficulty, especially the first time I stand up after waking.  In spite of my back issues I’ve been socializing more.  I went to a writers’ support group on Monday night for the first time in over a year.  Told people about my blog.  My blog is the primary writing activity I have right now.  I do occasionally write poetry but there is such a limited market for poetry.  I haven’t written any kind of fiction for almost three years.  But then I’ve always preferred reading nonfiction to fiction.

Mentally I’ve been very stable for quite awhile.  I call at least one person over the phone every day now.  Usually family or close friends.  Things have gotten a little less contentious  at my apartment complex in recent months.  We’ve had a couple problem residents I haven’t seen in weeks so I’m guessing they moved out.  After ten years in the same complex I really don’t pay much attention to who moves in and who moves out.  I just pretty much keep to myself and the handful of friends I have here.  The friend I made back in the winter moved out a month ago.  But I’m kind of used to that by now.

I rejoined my old writers support group.  I’m probably going to rejoin my mental illness support group as soon as my back clears up.  There is a second writers’ support group that meets twice monthly at the local library that I’m joining starting next week.  In short I’m beginning to put myself out there socially.

Been seriously tracking my diet for a week.  I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost.  Probably not as much as I normally would as I’m not yet very active.  I won’t be very active until my back completely heals.  The best I can do right now is put strict limits on what I eat and keep a positive mind set.

Today is also my birthday.  I am now 36 years old.  I don’t have much planned today besides going out to lunch with my family.  Can’t really do a great deal for at least the short term.  But the back has cleared immensely since two weeks ago.  I just have to keep doing things to encourage the healing process until I’m back to full speed.

Ongoing Readjustments

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I’ve now been working through medication changes for over three weeks.  I see my psych doctor again next week to see if there are any other adjustments that need to be made.  With the newer setup I am noticing changes that are requiring adjustments to the life I had carved out for myself over the previous two to three years.

I now don’t need as much sleep.  Most nights I can get by on six to seven hours and I’m more likely to sleep through an entire night.  I used to wake up at least once in the middle of the night every night.  Even before I became mentally ill I didn’t sleep all the way through a night.  While I am a little slower to get going in the morning I have no other problems with my morning routine.

I read much more again.  For over a year the books on my shelf were gathering dust simply because I wasn’t reading.  For me not to read means something isn’t right.  I haven’t ever needed encouragement to read.  Instead I had to be encouraged to put down the book and socialize.  But I ordered three books through amazon this month and read one of them already.  I have read parts of several other books too in the last few weeks.  For months before this current medication change I would do only audiobooks or educational programs on youtube.  But I’m getting to where I want to read again.  I even went to the library today for the first time in almost a year.  Kind of odd being a writer and not spending time in a library, but that was my reality for most of the last year.

I’m even watching more tv but playing fewer computer games.  Normally I wouldn’t celebrate watching tv.  But for months I found most tv mind numbing and stupid.  I found it so annoying I couldn’t stand to have it on even as background noise.  I still find most tv shows dumb but I don’t find them irritating.  I still haven’t brought myself to try to watch cable news.  But the press only presents bad news because that is what we as humans are drawn toward.  I think we pay more attention to bad news or threats because it is hard wired into our genes.  I don’t watch the news, haven’t for years.  If there is anything I really need to know I’m going to find out, cable news or not.  Besides almost no one I know under age 40 gets their news from traditional sources.

I’m to where I actually want to socialize again.  I am finding myself leaving my apartment more often during the day and for longer periods of time.  I have found a writers’ group that meets twice a month at my local library.  I’ll go check that out next week.  I’m even toying with the thoughts of getting involved in my old writers’ group and mental illness support group again.  I haven’t been involved in either one for two years so most of those contacts are rusty and dusty.  But I don’t suppose it would take too much to get back in.

I’m also on the lookout for writers’ conventions in my home state.  I used to belong to the Nebraska Writers’ Guild.  But I let that membership lapse about two years ago.  Looking back on things, it seems like most my socializing and extra activities fell apart around two to three years ago.  I had my last round of medications changes in early 2014.  The meds I went on then may have helped me lose weight but I lost a lot of social skills and mental stability.

I have not worked on a regular basis for a few years.  I’ve done jobs for the family and temporary work but nothing I had to regularly go in for awhile.  At this point in my life my confidence in my ability to do good work and navigate workplace politics is gone.  If I could navigate the workplace I would be open to going back to work fifteen to twenty hours a week.  It is definitely a blow to your pride and ego to know you did extremely well in school only to get mental illness that won’t allow you to hold even a minimum wage job.  I wouldn’t mind going back to work if I thought I could handle it mentally.  It does get boring at times not having a routine and not feeling connected to anything.  That is why I have zero patience for any one who complains about their job.  Not having a job is worse than having a bad one and not being able to support yourself is even worse.

I actually get bored not having anywhere to go and not having many friends nearby.  I didn’t used to get this way for months.  There would be days I was just content to not leave my apartment at all, especially in the winter.  But I actually want to socialize and be out among people again.  I might even have to go to the movies again just to be among large groups of people again.  I have almost forgotten what that was like.

Being more easily bored, wanting to socialize, wanting to join a writers’ group, reading a lot more, and even toying with the thought of finding a part time job are some of the changes I am trying to manage after three weeks of a medications change.  These are adjustments to my previous lifestyle and they are good adjustments to have to make.