What it is like

I would actually like to avoid this page but in my heart I feel it is a natural question for those who don’t have schizophrenia. I will say that this page is a bit of a misnomer. For two major reasons.

  1. I can’t possibly explain what it is like if you aren’t a paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe if you have had other mental health issues, you have more than a few reference points. Maybe if you have a family member who is has a mental illness, you have a beginning of an understanding. If you are a mental health professional, you certainly have a medical understanding of it, but it isn’t necessary a personal one. It isn’t like anything. If your brain works properly, how do I explain really how mine doesn’t always? I can use allegory, I can use metaphor, but really it is like describing colour to someone born blind.
  2. The other danger is that any mental illness is an extremely personal illness. How schizophrenia affects me can be extremely different than how schizophrenia affects another patient. The drugs I am on make me extremely tired, but that side effect is different in every patient. My coping mechanisms work because they were developed and are still being developed, sometimes painfully, over a long period of time starting from my diagnosis. They might work, if properly adapted, for other schizophrenics, but it is very important to understand that they might not. Other schizophrenics have successfully dealt with their illness in ways different frocm my own and that stems directly from the fact that this is a very personal illness.

I do want to stay away from medical definitions. There are places for that and I am well aware that I am not a mental health professional. If you are looking for information on schizophrenia or mental health issues, well, talking to your doctor is always a good idea, as well as organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association or the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. I can’t compete with such professionalism and that’s where you should look for medical information. Because that’s absolutely what professionals are for.

However, what I hope to offer in this page (and the website in general) is to give a personal perspective on what it is like to be a schizophrenic. I can only speak for me and how I relate to it, but the problem I have with strictly medical definitions is that their purpose is medical, and for that it is wonderful. Human beings though don’t use the medical definitions for cancer in how they relate those stories to their colleagues and friends and loved ones. They relate it using personal experiences and their own words. I think this can be a bit of a barrier.

I will not mince words though. Schizophrenia is hell. A firebrand preacher can threaten me all she or he wants about eternal damnation. I’ve already been there.  I wish I was kidding. What I have “seen” as the internet meme goes, cannot be unseen. It’s with me, no matter how successfully I deal with it, in the back of my mind and in my dreams.

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, even someone who hurt me or my family.

I thought I would attempt to describe some of the symptoms I have experienced as a schizophrenic.

Auditory Hallucinations: We use the phrase “hearing voices” as a pejorative meaning crazy. Well you are reading someone who has “heard voices.”  I assure you that however crazy you may feel I am (my humour loves absurdity) that my schizophrenia and my “hearing voices” have nothing to do with that matter.

I want to explain what it isn’t to me. Movies often portray a voice as coherent, cold and quite frankly evil. There isn’t a lot of coherence to the voices, at least in my experience. It is a jumble of noise that sometimes said specific things. These things, when I was really ill, made sense to me, though I wouldn’t say that the would have made sense to you.

The best way I can put it is in two separate analogies. For the content, have you ever had a silly dream? You know like one where your friend told you that you were the Fish king of the Solomon Islands and you took that completely in stride? When you woke up it seemed silly, but while you were dreaming it made perfect sense why you were gathering all the cauliflower in the world. That kind of mental state is why the hallucinations have such power over a schizophrenic, because even if they don’t make sense to an outsider, they at least seem to make sense to the patient.

As to what actually hearing them is like, I always thought it was like I was having a large party in my head and was circulating. Sometimes it was just the noise of many people talking. Sometimes if I got “close” I could hear a specific person talking. Of course what they would be talking about as I have mentioned could vary and didn’t usually make sense to anyone but me. I never had a voice tell me to do a violent thing and I never really was so far gone that they were in complete control. But like I said in the first analogy, I believed them even if it was nonsense.

I also haven’t heard voices in a long time. Even during my relapse I really didn’t hear them. Sometimes on a really bad day I can hear the noise of the background of the party though. The meds though have done wonders for that.

Visual Hallucinations: Ironically enough, the visual hallucinations seem at least to me, more easily to relate to than random voices calling out to you. It is a lot like dreaming while awake. The trick of it is you are awake, but it is almost like your crazy dreams intrude on reality.

I do find most portrayals of visual hallucinations in movies to be way too coherent. For me, it is a jumble of imagery, ideas, things splashed across reality’s canvas. And I have seen, before I got help, some horrific and terrible things that still a decade later haunt my sleeps and my days. The weird part of it was the illness, along with causing these hallucinations, also caused me to not see the hallucinations as abnormal. Like the dream of being the King of Fish, I believed that it was normal, so I endured for months these things before my downward spiral forced me to get help.

Delusions: In the days prior to my first diagnosis, I didn’t experience many delusions. During my relapse though, I became convinced that I was possibly hours away from dying.

It was kind of a weird hallucination. I didn’t feel like someone would kill me, or that I would have a heart attack. I just felt that soon I would be “elsewhere” and that it was highly important for me to put my affairs in order.

Now during my relapse, I had tools available to me that I hadn’t had when I was originally diagnosed. I did on some level recognize that this was the illness speaking and not a rational thought. I was tired though. I had fought for ten years and I was tired. I had been hurt and I just was tired. The hallucination was a piece of me, brought out by the illness, that feared a lack of a place for me in this world and a need to escape to a place where I couldn’t be hurt. I was tired and didn’t want to fight.

But I am lucky, as I hopefully say often enough. I had friends and family who, upon realizing I was in trouble, reached me in the dark places where I thought I was alone, cold, and left at a bottom of a chasm of misery. That place is hell. But in the darkness, a flicker of hope from my friends and family proved radiant enough to illuminate the most despairing of darkness.

I chose to fight. To learn. To embrace such hope.

And this always must be part of the conversation.



One Response to What it is like

  1. Pingback: The beginning | Perspectives on Living with a Mental Illness

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