Let’s talk about confusion.
We’ve all been confused. Hey Neil teaches math and for most people that is absolutely confusing. Whether it’s fractions, algebra, proving the quadratic formula or discussing the one point compactification of a Hausdorff space, at some point (for most people at least) your head starts spinning.
This idea of knowledge overwhelming us is a common source of confusion for most people. Emotions too can cause us to be very confused. When stress is placed upon an individual, be it emotional or intellectual, there’s only so much one can endure before that stress starts showing, and one way that shows is confusion.
One of the major points Neil tries to make is that mental patients are exactly like people. We are affected by stress in some ways exactly the same as “normies” are.
A crucial difference is that at least for Neil, the amount of stress can have a greater impact. Remember, he’s tired. He has less, well, energy reserve than most people. And if he gets more than a little tired, the confusion can show.
The other difference is that if Neil is experiencing symptoms of his illness, his confusion can be caused not by his own thoughts but by ones that he feels aren’t his that are inside his head. Sound confusing? Well that is the fun happy time of schizophrenia. In extreme circumstances this can happen. It is always very unpleasant.
For most people, you’ve never had a thought that popped into your head that isn’t your own. It’s hard to conceive of it isn’t it? How can I think of something that isn’t me?
Have you ever had a bad confusing dream though? You’re you in the dream but things happen to you through your subconscious that you don’t seem to have power over? Well imagine if you were completely awake and the stress caused your subconscious to start that dreaming while you still were trying to process the day. It would be unpleasant. It would be confusing. And those dreams wouldn’t really feel like they were your own thoughts now, would they?
I’m stretching it a bit, because frankly there are no words for it. Even if my analogy is close, well, I’m afraid there’s still the difference between describing a kiss through in and actually being kissed.
So what you need to know: Neil is using the word confused. It is a sign of disorientation. He may just be a little tired or it might be more serious. If random thoughts seem appearing in his head and he seems to be having difficulty processing reality, it is more likely to be the latter.
What you should do: Unless Neil says he’s tired and appears completely withdrawn, it is probably safe to have a conversation with him. Try and speak simply and directly to him. If he’s a little confused but doesn’t seem agitated, maybe politely suggest in an aside to him that he could go to another room say and focus. This can be just because there are a lot of people around and that is always stressful. If he seems agitated though, he might not have realized he needs to call it a day (and remember this latter part rarely happens).
What you shouldn’t do: This is pretty simple, don’t agitate him. Don’t try and unconfused him, or make him make sense of it. That may cause him to have a breakdown.