Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken. — Oscar Wilde.
This is my first entry in my new blog. I am announcing the debut of my new book, Song For My Baby and Other Stories, due out in June, 2020. It is a testament to the fact people can live well while mentally ill. They can enjoy family life, the company of close friends, and pass times the envy of many. My family gathered around me when I got ill, my friends stuck by me, and I played handball, downhill skied, duck hunted, and fished until Hell would not have it. Anything to put me out of the misery I was in. Good times replaced bad times. No one is as sick as you are? I’ve been there, when there was no hope, no view except the bottom of a Manhattan glass. I was known hence forth as my sister’s schizophrenic bother. My only claim to fame was I lived well. Today, I compared myself to people who are healthy and have full lives. Once, I compared myself to nutcases and thought I was doing well. And I was! Those days are gone and I entered a new era of fighting it out with everyone else.
With my disease, I was put in the corner as an oddity at family gatherings. This was not always true because my family wanted me to have fun, They knew it was the only social life I got. Because of the severity of my illness, our holidays were sad. My family, broken asunder by my illness, lived on hope. Hope came but too late for my parents to see it. Today, our holidays are joyous. Two years ago I was shot into a fourth dimension by an A.A. workshop and a study at the VA. My immediate family wants me to join them for the holidays. After forty-five years as a black sheep, it’s nice to be popular again.
I was schizophrenic and went back to school for an MBA at the University of Minnesota. I ate, slept, and studied and saw my psychiatrist every week. The stress was terrific and twice my doctor ordered me to drop out for a semester. The competition was cutthroat and I could almost hear the switchblades come out in class, especially when we were graded on participation. It took five years but somehow, I graduated. My father was a successful banker and I tried banking, that was not to my liking. That was my last shot at the respectable job my mother always wanted for me. I bounced around from job to job and now was a cashier at Walgreens. I am proud of my work at Walgreens and intend to stay. I have outgrown my illness and life is good. I attend one class at the university, Introduction to the Short Story, and feel blessed to have such a great professor. College is free at the university, if you are over 62 years old and a resident of Minnesota. I am a returning student and getting the world class education I always wanted.
I am the oldest sibling of my family. When I first became mentally ill, I lost all credibility. I was normally a leader in the family but then my brother took over as head of the family. He and my sister ran the show. They looked at me as someone to consider with my best interests in mind. I became the black sheep of the family, a cement brick, something to be swept under the rug. The whole town knew I was schizophrenic. My brother took me on hundreds of skiing, hunting, and fishing trips. For that I was grateful. He was never my guardian. My treatment was between me and my doctors. I took control of it early on. Every time my family got in the act, no matter how well intentioned, it was disastrous. I am independent by nature and handled my care to the best of my ability. My psychiatrist likes it when I play handball, socialize, go to A.A., and write. Anything else is gravy and cost money, skiing, hunting, and fishing included. Those are things I did in my youth. Part of maturing is letting go of the trappings of youth. Handball and writing are the only things that make me happy. The problem with this argument is my God is the outdoors. I leapt at every chance to partake.
I am a returning college student. The last time I darkened the door of the University of Minnesota was in 1980. I was nuts in those days. Not so now. A lot has happened, from jobs, to life, to health, to growing older. I survived two heart attacks and defeated my mental illness. The young people who surround me in my Introduction to the Short Story class are smarter than we were and more motivated. College is harder. The quality of education is higher. My teacher is better than I remember my old teachers. I walk past the mall that once held 50,000 students protesting the Viet Nam War. Now, students lay in its grass. My improving mental health allows me to go to college a second time. The U is free, since I am over sixty-five and a resident of Minnesota. I glory in what I learn, in class and outside of it. The students teach me much.
I try to work out five days a week, whether I walk or play handball. I am 72 years old and still able to get around the court for an hour or two. I prefer to play doubles because it is not such a workout.. A friend says handball is the only thing that makes me happy. He’s right. When I leave the court, I don’t have a problem in the world. A dietician at the VA said exercise is the most important thing a person can do for their mental health. I agree.. Due to time constraints, I play handball only once a week. I walk up to an hour often and do yoga once a week, too. When I have a problem, I exercise. I eat right. I am in a meal program in my hi-rise and get a healthy meal two times a day with all five food groups. I eat in a dining room because I don’t like eating alone. I stay clean. I shower, shave, and brush my teeth every day. I wear clean clothes, even though they come from the Goodwill. “Look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp.” I like a clean ass. My body is the temple of my soul. People who are actors call it their “instrument.” Personal hygiene is important no matter how bad things get. They’ll be worse, if you’re not clean. You’re mentally ill, not a street person. Take care of yourself.
Bertrand Russel claimed the highest form of human happiness is having sex with someone you love. For myself, the highest form of human happiness is having close friends. I am lucky to have about 7 close friends. I don’t know where I would be without them. My mother, when we put her out to pasture in a nursing home, asked, “Where are my friends?” I find, as my mental health improves, my relationships improve. I may never return to my old popular self, invited to parties, and indispensable at all social gatherings. but I am comfortable with my level of socializing. I go to parties and coffee klatches in my hi-rise, play handball in a league, attend A.A. meetings, and have a job. My social life is adequate. Also, my mental health has improved to the point people no longer shun me socially. That includes waiting in line at a coffee shop. I am never invited to parties outside my hi-rise, including parties held by my family. For some reason, that does not bother me. I was counseled many years ago to avoid A.A. parties. Once, I attended an A.A. New Years Eve dance and had a riot. The addiction therapist who told me this did not have a strong feeling for the fellowship of A.A. My closest relationships are in A.A. That sums up my social interaction and philosophy. I do not know where I would be without my friends.
Song For My Baby and Other Stories, published by Unsolicited Press, is due out in June of 2020. After months of grueling copyediting and proofreading, the manuscript is ready to go to the printer. The book describes the hobbies I enjoyed that gave me a life worth living, while climbing out of the abyss. It tells of the family and friends who made life bearable, while I clung to psychiatry as my only hope . I downhill skied, hunted ducks, and fished. I formed a playwrights’ group and played handball. My family stayed close and my friends did not leave me. I am reasonably healthy now. Song for My Baby and Other Stories shows how I got here. Look for it next year from Unsolicited Press.
I am dual diagnosed. That means I am mentally ill and alcoholic. The two illnesses cannot be separated. What I say about them in A.A. meetings is intertwined. I cannot mention one without the other. My relapse two years ago after twenty five years of sobriety proved that. One day I was happy, the next day I was miserable. The relapse was fun. All the old pleasures I got from drinking Manhattans returned. I had two drinks, weaved out of the bar, and took the bus home. The next day, I was filled with remorse. I checked myself into the nearest A.A. meeting and confessed. Thus began my long road back. I started all over, with one day of sobriety. I acquired a new sponsor and began working the steps again. He suggested a Fourth Step workshop. I found one that met once a week for four hours for seven weeks. Concurrent with that, I enrolled in a vocational study at the VA that met for six hours per week for thirteen weeks. I socialized a lot during this time. Then I attended an A.A. fundraiser with my best friend. I was shot like from a cannon into what Bill Wilson called “a fourth dimension.” I was happy. The woman running our workshop noticed it first. The VA claimed my happiness was permanent. I smile a lot these days. I am still pinching myself to remind myself it’s true. My cravings for alcohol went away three days ago. I pinch myself over that, too. Life is good and is getting better each day. Played handball this morning, which made me happy even in the depths of my despair. Handball is icing on the cake. The cake is unending.
When first I got sick, it was not on my mind. I was profoundly ill and the pain I was in preoccupied me. My first psychiatrist got me on my feet and I returned to school. I was young and had several brief encounters. Then I became an adult and the encounters were fewer between. I moved to a small town in northern Wisconsin to be near my parents. The romantic pickings were slim. I was widely known as a young man with mental illness who clung to his parents for support. I attended their parties but no one else’s. I was not popular in the party scene of the younger crowd. I hung out at the bar. One resident of the town said I did nothing else. That was my life, golf with my parents, a lackluster performance at my father’s lumber yard, and dinner parties at their home. I was protected by my mother. I was 35 years old. I had two or three sexual encounters in the twelve years I lived up north. When I came back to the Cities, after my father’s death, I grew up. Suddenly, I had to love the woman to consummate the relationship. My love life went further to Hell. I had sex once in the last seventeen years. I loved her. Right now, with a book being published, I am too busy for a girlfriend. After two heart attacks, I am no longer the total package. The girl would have to be very understanding.
My family gathered around me when I got sick. My father threw away a lucrative banking career and moved to the north woods to help me. He thought living would be easier for me up there. My mother played golf to keep her sanity and listened to me rage. My brother took me on every downhill skiing, fishing, and duck hunting trip possible. My sister got married five years before she wanted to. My uncle had me to dinner countless times to discuss literature. My cousin took me sailing and included me with his friends at dinner parties. My family saved my bacon. Today, I don’t see them much. My brother and I still fish, hunt, and ski. My sister lives far away. My parents and uncle are gone. My cousin has a family of his own. The rest of my family, when we get together for rare reunions, views me the way they saw me before I got sick. I was the oldest cousin and the head of the family. To some, I was a black sheep. I go to my brother’s house only once a year for Christmas. Our family is close but there have been some fallings out. I have not talked to my sister in two years. We have a long way to go to repair the damage caused by my illness. We are getting on in years. My brother and I enjoy robust health but my sister, I have heard from my aunt, is hurting. Time and work heal everything.