#616 – Time to Get Real (Again)

So it looks like I last posted in this blog back in July. There’s been an awful lot that has happened since then, and one day I might catch you up, but I want to talk about what’s going on with me now. I’ve been seriously contemplating getting a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, ideally from Texas State University. But recently I’ve been having doubts about it, for two reasons.

First, I’m 52. Despite my extremely high GPA at Austin Community College, I was not awarded any scholarships for 2021-2022. I’m not active enough in the community, I would gather. But, again, I’m 52, and at high risk for COVID, even though I’m vaccinated. I can’t safely get out of the apartment for anything more than the necessities and the very occasional social event. Being active in the community means taking a chance on becoming a breakthrough case, and my general health just doesn’t allow me to risk it. This means that I cannot reliably count on receiving any scholarship money once I reach a four-year university, leaving me dependent on the possibility of a grant and, more reliably, student loans. My mental illnesses have prevented me from having a job history that is in any way conducive to retirement planning, so I will eventually be on a fixed income. The problem is, student loans won’t care that they’ll be taking half or more of what I get through Social Security and won’t be able to afford to live. So as much as I want to get that bachelor’s degree, I have to accept that it would not be financially wise for me to pursue it.

The other reason also has to do with my mental illnesses, this time more directly. I’ve been in school since August 2017 and in those four years, I’ve had to take an almost total break from my primary hobby. I share that hobby with the vast majority of my circle of local and regional friends and acquaintances, and not attending events has meant that I haven’t seen these people more than once or twice in four-plus years, long before the pandemic put everything on hold for over a year. This was a decision I knew I would have to make when I started at ACC, but I was unprepared for just what a detrimental effect it would have on my mental health. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree would mean at least another two years away from these people, and I really don’t know how I would handle feeling that alone for that long. Right now, I am very uncertain that I want to find out.

In those four-plus years, I have isolated myself to the point that I no longer feel like a part of that circle of friends and, in fact, often feel I’m not welcome around the hobby anymore. But it’s also something that I habitually neglect to take into consideration at this point. Last weekend there was an event put on partially by my local group, and it didn’t even dawn on me that there was an event until around 2:00 on the afternoon of the event. So as much as I would like to be active again, I don’t feel I can and nowadays don’t even think about the possibility. Tack onto that the fact that my spouse and I are financially dependent on family to keep a roof over our heads right now, and attending this event wasn’t financially possible even if we had wanted to make plans to be there. So the bottom line is that there are several reasons why I’m not participating, some within my control and some not, and they don’t help me to feel like part of the group at all.

I want to take a moment to address why I’ve been so absent from this blog for so long. I used to write regularly, on a daily basis for long periods of time, even. This blog was one of my primary coping mechanisms and my best tool to fight my mental illnesses for a long, long time. But in May 2017, I finished a long-term project that my therapist and I had been working on, and right around the same time had a change in my psychiatric medications that was pretty much the last piece of the puzzle falling into place after decades of hit and miss medication regimens. I went from being agoraphobic to taking classes in person within a few months. But as I began to feel better than I had in years and years, I started to step away from writing. I didn’t have the time for the first few semesters and I just … fell out of the habit.

But mental illnesses never go away, and over the years I’ve been in school my mental health has deteriorated slowly. When the pandemic hit, that escalated quickly as I stayed homebound more and more, until the isolation that the pandemic forced me into started to make me feel just like I did during the agoraphobia I had experienced years before, with every trip out of the apartment an anxiety-riddled ordeal.

I felt like I couldn’t talk about this giant setback publicly because I’d come so far and didn’t want to let anyone down. But a book that I was reading lately sparked a conversation today with my spouse, and I had to admit that I need this blog right now. I need the positive feedback that I was receiving from writing about my everyday obstacles and challenges, and I need my racing thoughts organized in a way that I can make sense of them down the road in therapy. So here I am, blogging again, and admitting that I’m not in the best mental shape these days. If you’re returning, welcome back. If you’re new, you likely feel like you were dropped into the middle of a story. I’ll try to explain things along the way, but if you’re confused about anything that you read, just drop me a comment and I’ll explain what you missed. I really don’t expect anyone – including myself – to go back and read all six hundred-plus entries to make sense of what I write.

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