Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Having Fun With Mental Illnesses

       I have collected so much research on ways to improve mental health that it is hard for me to contain my excitement. I want to get the information out in an easily digestible way, as quickly as possible. Before I forge ahead, however, it is time to cover the WHY of my efforts and actions.

       I have been encouraged by those closest to me to write this post for quite some time now. They’ve pointed out that I haven’t written enough about, what they see as, two of the most powerful things I do for my mental health. I always strive to have fun and not to take myself too seriously. Before anyone feels the need to inform me how serious mental illnesses are, please realize that I understand. I have been to more funerals of people who have lost their battle with mental illnesses than I care to remember (I don’t like the phrase “committed suicide.” It makes their loss sound criminal). One of the reasons I do my best to keep things light is because mental illnesses are inherently serious.  If I allow myself to get overwhelmed with the seriousness of my situation, then I can lose sight of my goal in life, which is to enjoy it.

       I work extremely hard to find solutions and incorporate them into my life. The reason is simple. I want to live life to the fullest while having fun. Hunter S. Thomson summed up my philosophy nicely when he wrote, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a Ride!'” To do that, I have to put my mental health first, yes, but the reason is so that I can truly live, and not just survive.
       Ultimately, I dig through all these studies and research so that I can have a good time. I pride myself on having fun. I’m loud and flamboyant. I go out of my way to make even the most mundane things in life joyful. I like who I am. Some people don’t. That’s okay. Often, before I meet new people my friends and family give them a warning about me. That warning usually consists of them telling the person that I’m crazy but absolutely lovable--cue GASP! Yes, I am okay with people calling me crazy. What do I care? By society’s standards, I certainly am. I decided long ago to live in defiance of stigmas. Besides, when they describe me as crazy, they do so lovingly. Most people actually enjoy the fact that I’m abnormal, and that I embrace it. I love the way Bernard M. Baruch put it, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.” It is probably obvious with a self-ascribed name like The Mental Runner that I'm okay with good-natured ribbing. In short, I like who I am. I’m not going to start apologizing for being me.

       I am well aware of the strange looks I get when I talk about this. It seems that many feel that I should be upset, downtrodden, or, at the very least, want a different life. I don’t. A suicide attempt, rehabs, mental wards and tragic mistakes have made me who I am. I wouldn’t wish these things on anyone, but I wouldn’t change them in my life if I could. I love who I have become and what I do. I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without the struggle. I don’t want an easier life. I want to continue to find ways to enjoy my life.

       Surely I want an easier life for my wife and daughters, right? No. We have a blast, and they wouldn’t have me any other way. When I experience symptoms, they know what is happening. We like to joke about it. They have been known to come and drag me out of bed when I have been overcome with symptoms. Besides, my wife was a finalist for teacher of the state last year, and both my kids have made straight A's their entire lives while being in advanced classes. They're doing just fine. We are all stronger, more compassionate and determined because of what we have been through. I wouldn’t want to take that away from any of us.

       Keeping things light, and having fun, has been instrumental in us being able to achieve these things. A good example of how I have decided to keep things light, and how I view my life, is the way I have come to view the sleeve of artwork I had tattooed up my right arm. I had the work done during a psychotic break that lasted for three weeks. In the beginning, I was somehow able to function in a coherent enough manner that people didn’t realize what was happening, and so they weren't terribly concerned. I'm told that, at first, I was acting very strange but not completely out of it. I don't know how. I can't remember anything but little green men dancing around me and flying through the cosmos.  Before anyone realized that I had truly lost touch with reality, I went and had a thousand dollars worth of artwork tattooed from my wrist to my elbow. Apparently, I came home and announced to everyone that I had needed a little extra beauty in my life. Every time I look at my arm, I could be terrorized by thinking of a time when I was unable to keep it together. I choose, instead, to see it as a victory stamp. I pulled through. I got out of another mental ward. I triumphed, and I have the scars to prove it! 

       I love to tell that story. It makes me laugh. What sober human being gets tattoos all up his arm, announces it was done because he needed a little more beauty in his life and then doesn't remember it? Me. That's hilarious! It is true that what I look at is of small consequence compared to what I decide to see. It isn't a permanent mark of defeat; it is a permanent mark of victory.

       My attitude towards life and my insistence on having fun may seem absurd but think of the alternatives. Lying around feeling sorry for myself, looking for someone to blame, living in constant fear or being morose is not my style. I decided to play with my weaknesses; it takes away their power over me. I'll take my mental health seriously, so I don’t have to take the rest of my life seriously.

       The way I do that is by giving my best effort each day. That’s all I can ask of myself. Once I’ve done everything I can, then the pressure is off. If I can truly say I did my best, then the results are irrelevant, because I can only control my actions. I cannot control outcomes. Realizing that simple truth has allowed me to poke fun at myself and be silly. Why not? If I hadn't learned to laugh at myself, I would be in real trouble. My life is often absurd, so I will be too. Making myself, and others, laugh is powerful medicine. No one is making it out of this alive. So, I decided I might as well lighten up and enjoy myself.

       My daughters are always trying to capture my silliness on their phones without me knowing it. Here are a two they have insisted I add and one that I took while recently riding the world's tallest and fastest Giga Coaster. I AM GOING TO HAVE FUN AND ENJOY MY LIFE IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO!

(I hope as I grow older I never grow up. There's magic in silliness!)

(Dance! Who cares if someone cares?)

(Fun on the crazy coaster. We only live once!)

       I realize that I’m not quite right in the head. I'm okay with that, and so are the people I love. We enjoy each other for who we are. Speaking of which, if you ever see me at a race with a superhero shirt on, a partial mohawk that I decided to dye blue for the day and my multicolored piercings in, I hope you come and introduce yourself. I bet we’ll have some laughs and be friends before you know it.

       After reading this, it will probably come as no shock that the following clip of Maya Angelou quickly talking about, and then reciting her poem Still I Rise is my most viewed video on YouTube. It moves me, inspires me and gives me courage. I hope that it helps others as much as it helps me.

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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people.
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