Jack Bragen
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:35:00 PM

In my teens and twenties I was dysfunctional, and didn't have any idea of how to behave around people. It has been a very difficult and lengthy uphill climb for me to attain a scrap of wisdom.  

In my mid-thirties, I began to think a bit more clearly about life, and this improvement continues to the present day. It is hard to know if my hard knocks created my illness, or if my illness created my hard knocks.  

Being ostracized by a large portion of the students where I attended high school may have been a contributing factor to my becoming ill about a year-and-a-half after leaving the school. The verbal taunts, the harassment, and being the butt of people's jokes, were an everyday thing, and I am sure it affected me.  

The argument that mental illness is caused by heredity seems to have a lot of truth to it. Even though there was a lot in my environment that probably contributed toward getting ill, a lot of the things in my environment were created by me.  

Yet, it is not that I brought my problems on myself. I refuse to take the blame for other people's actions toward me. The fact that I didn't stand up for myself enough when young was taken as an invitation to be bullied. I didn't learn how to defend myself until years later, and by then I had already developed mental illness.  

I dislike people who can't compete by proper means and who resort to physical intimidation or assault. I have dealt with numerous people being physically threatening over the past fifty years, because they lacked the brainpower to compete intellectually or the self-value to keep it on a nonviolent level.  

When people feel threatened on a psychological level, they deploy the best weapons they believe they possess. This could be sabotage, fists, intimidation, and behaving spitefully, or it could be words and thought. What about using your brain a little bit, and attempting to come to a peaceful solution to your problems?  

If I could rewrite my past, I would do so. As it is, I am salvaging my life, similarly to someone doing a salvage retention on a car after it is totaled in an accident. The pink slip, in prominent letters, says, "salvaged."  

However, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. My body is relatively healthy and intact, something not everyone can say. I am not going to bed hungry every night. I live in a decent neighborhood in a heated, air-conditioned apartment. I have a wife who has stuck by me, and who provides me with a lot of help. I don't have to work to survive, something about which I am incredibly grateful. I have a writing career--this is something a lot of people would find enviable.  

Things could be a lot worse. I am fifty years old. Many people with my diagnosis, and some without, haven't made it to this age. The mere fact that I haven't had a gigantic "crash-and-burn" (at least, within the last couple of decades) is an accomplishment. 

Do I have sour grapes? Not that much. Do I have lingering resentments? Probably no more than does an average fifty-year-old without a disability.  

Many of the hard knocks I have experienced in life have taught me things. Not everyone with a severe mental illness is able to learn and thus benefit from difficult experiences. Some people may say "poor me" and may blame the world for perceived injustices. Some may pursue revenge. That seems to be the pattern of sociopaths we see in the news who have committed atrocious acts.  

It is important to keep in mind that there are people who have had picket-fence upbringings in which they have had everything they've wanted and needed and haven’t experienced any abuse, who have yet developed bipolar or schizophrenia. While there are others who have had lives far more difficult than mine, who have not developed a mental illness, and who, in fact, have been very successful in their lives.  

Have my hard knocks created my illness or has my illness created my hard knocks? It is a question I may never be able to answer. (And the answer might in fact be "none of the above.") Have I learned something? Yes, I have.