What Crazy Isn’t

Schizophrenia is a complicated syndrome of illnesses and symptoms that is hard to understand. Medical professionals themselves are still trying to figure out what it is, what causes it and how to treat it.

My main symptom is hearing voices. In the back of my mind, especially when I am alone, there is often a patter of voices– those of people I know. These voices are not threatening, and are generally easy to ignore when I am in the company of others.

For me, crazy means the voices. It does not mean a lack of cognitive function. I am quite capable of deductive reasoning, problem solving and various other types of thought. Not only am I capable of them, but I apply them often– sometimes helping to resolve issues that sane people have.

The point is that schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, don’t necessarily mean that a person can’t be reasonable, responsible or constructive. Sane people should be aware that mentally ill people can often be quite helpful and even genuinely inspired. Patients should realize that they themselves can still contribute to society, perhaps even mentally or intellectually, and not to let their “disability” hamper their own efforts to understand the world and their lives, make sense of things, and help.

After all, today’s world needs all the help it can get.

Dystopia

I am going to share what I call a “schizophrenic’s rejoinder”.

It is true that this is a world with many so called “able” people. True, as well, that with mental acuity, persistence, technology and other attributes, they can achieve great things.

True, also, sadly, that we can initiate all kinds of mastery games, including some that threaten the very existence of the planet. Military escalation between rival nations. Pollution. Global warming.

The strong survive and thrive, while our planet slowly teeters towards ruin.

I think this is one key to Philip K. Dick’s (and other writer’s and artist’s)  creation of and rendering of dystopias– worlds where things are just not the way they should be.

Being mentally ill can be humbling, but it also allows a person to step outside the mainstream for a fuller view of the kinds of things humanity does– both impressive and not so impressive.

Schizophrenia And Intimacy

One of the main casualties of mental illness can be intimacy.

When I was first diagnosed, I remember thinking, “Ok. That’s it for me and women.”

The situation resulted in a complex. On the one hand, I felt unworthy of intimacy, like I was “damaged goods”. On the other hand, I felt increasingly afraid of being touched.

I took it as a challenge to my self-control. How little touch can I get by with? Can I keep people at arm’s length? Can I understand and control my own impulses, especially that of desire?

For many years, I lived in solitude, with little human contact. I did not even have a pet.

Slowly, something began to change. I started to listen to my body, to pay attention to my pain. I realized that I needed companionship, recognized that in some ways my life had become flat and two-dimensional.

I was at a friend’s birthday party, and I was struck by an intuition. I felt that I was going to meet someone special there. I introduced myself to several women– each admitted sooner or later that they either were uninterested, or already had a companion.

One woman allowed me to give her my e-mail address. She later became my wife.

To be honest, 5 years later and intimacy is still a complicated issue for me. But I am relieved that I have someone to be with, and glad that I finally began to realize that I can’t manhandle nature. I can’t force my needs for human touch away.

Nature is not ever fooled this way– not for long, anyway.

Patient Power

A schizophrenic patient assumes, of course, a subservient or somehow complicit role with their psychiatrist, and with other medical professionals. This is important, it is necessary. It has helped me to seek treatment, and to remain on my prescribed medication.

There have been other benefits of treatment, as well as case-management. My psychiatrist helped to convince me to quit smoking. I am very grateful to her for that, and glad that I did. Several of my case managers suggested that I seek employment, which I did– and years later, I am happily and gainfully working.

Just the same, as a patient, I feel I need to meet the doctors and caseworkers halfway. At least halfway. I have to put forth an effort, too. It is wrong to expect others to spoon feed me everything I need in life and all I need to know.

Although I am schizophrenic, I still need to work hard, pay my bills and taxes, and live up to my various obligations. I recognize that there may be patients so incapacitated that they are unable to do these things, but I would recommend that mid- to high- functioning mentally ill people try to push their boundaries to see if they can handle more responsibility.

I would suggest that many people are capable of more than they realize.

It’s ok to hope for a miracle, but it takes effort, experience, and understanding to make things happen in the “real” world. Mentally ill people need to be more– gulp– self-reliant.

Serotonin

The pill I take, the only one for my schizophrenia, is Risperdol. I have taken it for many years. Lately, I have been gradually reducing my dosage, which is small anyway.

What does Risperdol do? It is a Serotonin inhibitor. It reduces the flow of Serotonin in my brain. Some may know that Serotonin has a lot to do with a person’s experience with pleasure.

It seems that, for whatever reason, the way I experience pleasure has a negative effect on my mental health, generally, and my concentration specifically. When I go off of the medication (which I have tried, but don’t recommend), I slip into a state of unfocused confusion.

I wonder if I am the only one, if schizophrenics are the only people, to notice that unhealthy relationships with pleasure, pleasure-seeking and the way the mind experiences these things, has a negative effect on one’s emotional and/or mental life?

Perfection

In today’s fast-paced world, there is at times a sense that people should seem “perfect”– they should be virtually omniscient. They should look great, at all times. Never stutter. Never show weakness.

These are impossibly high standards. A mentally ill person must certainly come to terms with imperfection. Keeping this flaw secret for years was very stressful for me– and this became more and more awkward until I felt I was positively insincere.

Meditating on Christianity, it is believed that Christ was perfect, and without sin. That being said, we mortals are imperfect, and can never be without flaw.

Of course, to complicate, we try to achieve perfection. It is in out nature to do so. But we are always reminded that only Christ was perfect, and that His life and suffering are meant to free us from this tendency (and from sin in general).

Perhaps one key to actual ability would be for us all, schizophrenic or no, to admit to our imperfections, to realize them, and then to work from there, with the assumption that, of course, we all try to help.

As my mother shared with me years ago, “We are all wounded healers”.

“Blade Runner 2049”

My wife and I went to see this year’s big reboot, “Blade Runner 2049”, last night. There is a new director (Denis Villeneuve), a new musician doing the score, yet many of the same original actors and actresses. The setting, main premise and other elements were created by Philip K. Dick, the writer mentioned in an earlier post who suffered from  paranoid schizophrenia.

An interesting resonance, not to give too much away, was the lead character’s (“Joe’s”) confusion over his identity. Though it was suggested from the beginning that he was a “replicant”, (a genetically engineered android), certain developments complicate this description, and this becomes a profound issue for the character.

This resembles a problem that schizophrenics often deal with. Terrible to say, but when a person has a debilitating mental illness, it can be quite a blow to self-esteem. The patient may wonder if he is like others– up to par– even fully human. There are those who, publicly or privately, might judge or treat disabled people like they are less than normal, less than human.

This is complicated. Not only is it painful for the patient (who may more than anything want to be construed as able and normative), it is complicated for those who judge. If they know there is a mental health issue, this becomes a trait that is hard not to consider. In fact, though schizophrenic myself, I have found it is nearly impossible not to be at least somewhat critical or distrusting of other schizophrenics, due to their conditions(s).

One of the more powerful scenes in “Blade Runner 2049” is when Joe discovers that a memory of his, which he considered to be fake, “implanted”, seems to have actually happened. The idea that he might be born of man and woman, “human”, causes a dramatic emotional reaction, and leads him to question how he views himself, and how he is treated by others.

I would suggest that, in many ways, schizophrenia can be more of a difference than simply a weakness, and can assure you that I feel as fully human now as I did when I was considered healthy. I am probably better at some things now that I have this diagnosis, and certainly still have feelings, a spiritual life, relationships, and the various components that make a person whole.

I used to see a psychologist, and I asked him what makes a person healthy. Wholeness was his answer– that a person has a complete and nuanced life. Physical, emotional, spiritual. I can confirm that a whole life can be achieved by a person who has a mental illness.

Can others view a schizophrenic person as being wholly human? Can the patient him or herself adapt this view, as well?