Friday, November 21, 2008

A question of reality

Apparently yesterday was World Philosophy Day, and I came across this interesting article from the BBC online. At a point in the middle of the article, under section 2, the author writes the following:
For you cannot independently check your senses. You cannot jump outside of the experiences they provide to check they're generally reliable. So your senses give you no reason at all to believe that there is a computer screen in front of you."


I found this statement interesting in relation to people who experience psychosis. Hallucinations and delusions definitely confuse a person's ability to know what is real and what is not. I would disagree with what the author of this article states, however, regarding the idea that you cannot "jump outside your experiences". I think that I am able to look at my experiences as an objective outsider would look at them, to a certain degree, which is how I am able to know that I'm experiencing hallucinations and delusions while I'm still experiencing them. This does not come to me naturally, however. This is something I've learned how to do over a period of years, by arguing with the logical part of my brain. Somehow, though of course no one really knows how, antipsychotic medications help me to be able to do this.

I think, however, that a person who has not experienced psychosis themselves might have a difficult time understanding what the experience is like, and that it is indeed much like having to "jump outside your experiences". For me, when I am delusional or hallucinating, or both, now, I usually know that I am, at the same time. I am, therefore, not completely psychotic at these times. However, I am psychotic to some degree - just not completely. It feels much like a battle inside my brain - a civil war, if you will. For example, the other day I went to my therapist's office, because the logical part of my brain knows that it is helpful for me to go there. The psychotic part of my brain, however, hates going there, particularly on the weeks when I go for group therapy. The group is very small - just one other woman and myself now, but groups in mental health settings have always been a major problem for me when I am experiencing psychosis. I always think - with the psychotic part of my brain - that the people in the group are trying to program my mind and are reading my mind, and using hand signals, double speak, and codes to perform mind control. This delusion started years ago, before I was diagnosed, and it continues to be a problem sometimes now.

So the other day, I explained to my therapist and the other woman in the group what was happening, although it is difficult for me to ever explain it while it's actually happening, since while it's happening a large portion of my self believes it's real, and that you are never, ever supposed to talk about it as if it were not real. One way that I talk myself out of completely believing such delusional thoughts is by thinking back to other delusional beliefs I have had over the years, which I know now were actually delusions. For years I thought I was pregnant. I eventually thought I was carrying a dead fetus inside me, and I went to numerous doctors and hospitals trying to get something done that would remove it, without actually telling someone "there's a dead baby inside me", because I knew that this was not to be spoken out loud and that people could only understand it through codes. So, I went to a Christian pregnancy center, a women's health clinic where abortions are performed, called an adoption agency to see if they would have someone adopt my baby, and also went to a gynecologists dozens of times claiming I was pregnant, or using other terms to describe the secret pregnancy.

Not only did I think I was pregnant during this period, but I also thought that many women in the world under the "New World Order" or the "Illuminati" were forced to be "breeders". I thought that doctors were all involved in this conspiracy, and that it was within a hospital where I was impregnated against my will. I thought that babies were used as food for humans when they were eventually born, and that the word "bread" was a codename for a dead baby which was to be used as food. When I was living for a very brief period in a women's homeless shelter, I was told they had a freezer full of bread, and I believed that the term "bread" was being used in that coded way there. During one of my hospital trips, I tried to explain - in code - to my dad over the phone that I was pregnant by saying, "I was baking something", and thinking he would know what I was talking about, because everyone secretly knew the code.

So now, because I have never given birth, had an abortion, or had a baby removed from my body in any way, and I'm not dead from some sort of aftereffects of being pregnant for years, obviously I am able to use my logical mind and say, "I was delusional". I reason with myself by saying to myself, if I was delusional then, maybe I am delusional now as well. I think to myself, if I hallucinated a pregnancy for years, I may be hallucinating now when I think people around me are talking about me and to me in code, programming my brain, or reading my mind.

It also has helped me to learn about the experiences of other people who have Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizophrenia, because I can say to myself, "If that person had the same belief that I had, or a belief similar to the one I had, and they are also diagnosed as Schizophrenic, perhaps it is the illness causing the beliefs". This has helped me, and for this reason I have searched for blogs and books by people with Schizophrenia, and groups online where people talk about their experiences with this illness.

So now, when I am sitting in my therapist's office, and I can see and hear the people in the room with me using codes to program my mind, and I really do see it, and I really do hear it, I am also able to tell myself, "It's not really happening". In this vein, I would argue that the philosopher who wrote the article I mentioned earlier was incorrect in stating tha a person cannot jump outside his or her experiences and look at them objectively. For this is exactly what a person must do, in order to bypass severe psychotic episodes once psychosis starts. A person such as myself has to look at their experiences as objectively as they can, in order to avoid complete insanity. It is an interesting predicament to find one's self in, when you see something, or hear something, and you also know that you are not really seeing or hearing the thing that you are seeing and hearing. I don't know if I have cleared anything up with this post, but I wanted to try to explain the experience a bit for other people who do not have psychosis as a problem.

I think that if more people understood that people who are psychotic can also know that they are psychotic, there would be less stigma attached to psychosis. People would have to stop writing off a psychotic person as a totally insane human being without a brain that works. Our brains do work, and they often work very well. We just have many more mental obstacles to face in our lives than the average person does.

2 comments:

Ken Albin said...

I don't think that anyone who doesn't have a psychosis can possibly know what it is like except perhaps on an intellectual level. One thing I never say to another person is "I know how you feel". No matter how broadminded we are we still live in our own little world. How could we possible know what the life of another person is like? At best we can take educated guesses but they are usually wrong.

Will Norrid said...

I enjoyed your insight with this post. It mirrors the thoughts I have about the self-harming impulses I often feel. I have to step back and look at them objectively and say, "Wait... I really don't want to cut, burn, etc" even though my thoughts are telling me that I do. It is difficult, but I think you captured how that feels for you and perhaps others as well.

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