Halloween: Damage Control October 28, 2013Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Insanity, mental illness.
Tags: Delusions, Hearing Voices, Insanity, mental illness
add a comment
Halloween’s coming around, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill. The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.
Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental hospital. In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man. Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media. In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.
Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode, insane murderers, schizophrenics, and what I like to call garden-variety mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person. Especially a psychotic one. It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?
Lock up the Mentally Ill to Prevent Mass Murders September 19, 2013Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Delusions.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, Insanity, Involuntary Committment
A young woman on Anderson Cooper 360 last night called Aaron Alexis “a crazy schizophrenic” and stopped just short of saying he should have been locked up. Let’s take a close look at this idea, because it’s going to rear its ugly head.
First of all, Alexis was never diagnosed with a mental illness. So how do we find people like him and lock them up so they don’t kill people? Let’s lock up anyone we suspect of having a mental illness. That would do the trick.
How do we find those people?
Let’s make the police find them for us. Any time someone calls the police about someone acting bizarrely, let’s have the police assess that bizarrely acting person. After all, the police interviewed Alexis when he called them to report someone was “sending microwaves through the wall”. Anyone who makes bizarre statements like that should be locked up.
What about people who are acting bizarrely because they’re drunk? Let’s not count those people.
Where should they go to be locked up? Let’s build more mental hospital beds to house them all. How many beds will they need? Well, if you count the number of people who want to commit suicide, there probably needs to be four times as many hospital beds as there are now. Or don’t we want to count those people? After all, they just want to take their own life- not anyone else’s. Except for those people who do things like get in bad car accidents, managing to accidentally take the life of others with them. So we should definitely count the suicidal in our sweeping net.
Should we let the police be the ones to make the official determination, or should we bring in someone trained to handle such a task, like the Designated Mental Health Professional? That clinician determines whether someone is a danger to themselves or others, the current standard for involuntary commitment. And that’s what we’re talking about: involuntarily committing anyone who exhibits bizarre behavior. We don’t really need a DHMP because the police already performed that function when they took the police report.
Violating people’s civil rights (which is, when you get down to it, what involuntary commitment is) will become commonplace. I don’t want to live in such a world.
Hearing Voices Network August 7, 2013Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hallucinations, mental illness.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness
add a comment
What Are Voices & Visions?
When we talk about voices and visions, we simply mean someone is hearing, seeing or sensing something that others around them aren’t. These experiences can include all five senses, hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. These experiences can occur in one sense at a time (hearing a voice, for example, or smelling something), but they can also happen in combination.
For some, these experiences can be comforting. For example, someone who is lonely may really value a voice that becomes a trusted confidant. A person who has recently lost someone they care about may benefit from talking to them at the end of the day, or smelling their perfume/aftershave. Others find these experiences to be a source of inspiration. Authors, for example, sometimes talk about how the characters can come to life and write the story for them. However, for some people these voices and visions can be extremely distressing – criticising, threatening or causing confusion.
How Common Is It?
Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that between 3 and 10% of the population hear voices that other people don’t. If you include one off experiences (like hearing someone call your name when you’re out shopping, or feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket) this figure goes up to 75%. So, having at least one experience of hearing or seeing something that others around you don’t is incredibly common. Those that have never had this experience are in the minority.
A number of famous and important people (past and present) have experience of hearing or seeing things that other people don’t. Without these people, the world would be a very different place. This list of famous people who have talked or written about hearing voices includes: Gandhi, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Freud, Anthony Hopkins, Philip K Dick, John Frusciante, Carlos Santana, Robert Schumann, John Forbes Nash, Zoe Wannamaker and Charles Dickens.
What’s It Like?
We’re all unique, so it’s unsurprising that voices and visions can be equally individual in terms of their identity, content, interpretation and impact. The following gives a brief overview. If you don’t recognise your experience here, that doesn’t mean you’re ‘weird’ or ‘unusual’.
Some people hear voices talking when no-one is around. These could be like the voices of people they know, or complete strangers. They might hear many voices, or just one. Voices can shout, whisper, be clear or muffled. They can speak in sentences or say single words. These voices can be male, female, genderless, old or young. Sometimes they have names, but not always. Voices can speak constantly (24/7), but they can also utter occasional words or phrases. People can hear other types of sounds too, including knocking, rustling, crying, screaming or music.
Some voices can be positive – providing the support and encouragement someone needs to get through the day. Other voices can be confusing, perhaps echoing thoughts or repeating strange phrases. Some voices can be very frightening, saying things that are critical, threatening or commanding. Voices can claim to have great power and knowledge, which can sometimes leave the voice-hearer feeling scared and powerless. Some voices can leave a person feeling very vulnerable and exposed (e.g. hearing a crowd of people jeering at you, or discussing intimate details of your life).
Some people see things that others don’t. These visions can be very clear and realistic, but they can also include fuzzy shapes, shadows and beams of light. Some people see the voices that they hear, others see insects or spiders. For some, the visions are very complex (like entering into another world). For others, the visions sit alongside their everyday world (an added box, person or animal for example). Sometimes, it can seem as if people or objects are changing shape. Their faces may turn to stone, they may be surrounded by a coloured aura or, for example, their eyes may change colour. As with voices, these visions can be reassuring, funny, frightening or distracting.
Some people smell things that remind them of their past. This could be something nice, like a loved one’s perfume/aftershave or a favourite food.
Sometimes people smell things that remind them of a particularly traumatic experience. For example, someone who survived a house fire may smell smoke when they feel anxious. Someone who was hurt by someone wearing a particular scent may, sometimes, smell this when there is no-one there to account for it. This can be extremely frightening, especially if they don’t recognise that this sensory experience comes from the past.
For others, the smell isn’t linked to a particular memory or traumatic event. For example, some people smell gas, burning or rotting food. These smells can feel very real and leave them fearing for their safety.
It can be difficult for someone to know that they’re tasting something that others can’t – unless they get someone else to try it too. This can make taste experiences particularly difficult to deal with. Some people get a strong bitter taste in their food or drink and, understandably, start to worry that there is something wrong with it. This can lead people to worry that they are being poisoned, or that someone is tampering with their food. Others have taste sensations when they are not eating. This might be when they are hearing a voice, watching a TV programme or thinking about something. These taste sensations can be pleasant (e.g. chocolate or a favourite food), but they can also be unnerving or unpleasant (e.g. something bitter or metallic).
Some people can feel things on their skin when there doesn’t seem to be anything there. They might feel something crawling over their skin, tickling them or pushing them. Sometimes people feel something underneath their skin, and this can lead them to feel really worried about what is happening to their body.
Understandably these experiences can be very confusing and frightening. It’s not as simple as this, though. For others, these experiences can be reassuring. Someone who feels lonely and hears a reassuring voice may feel comforted if they feel a hand on their shoulder. They might interpret it as a sign that the voice is trying to support them.
Why Do People Hear Voices
There are lots of different theories and ideas to explain why people hear voices or see visions. These include:
- A special gift or sensitivity
- Trauma or adverse life experiences
- Spiritual experiences
- Biochemical (e.g. excess dopamine)
- Paranormal experiences
- Emotional distress
- Physical health problems
- Cognitive error (misattribution of ‘internal speech’)
- Individual difference
The truth is that we do not know why people hear voices or see visions. As the experience is so diverse, it’s likely that there are a number of different explanations. Whilst this can be frustrating for those who feel confused and would like a simple answer or some certainty, it means that the most important explanation is the one that the voice-hearer themselves finds useful. It is important not to impose your own belief on someone else’s experience – this is fundamental to the Hearing Voices Network approach. Rather than providing a dogmatic view of voice-hearing, we recognise and celebrate a festival of explanations.
Whatever someone believes about their experiences, the most important thing is to find ways of dealing with that belief and finding some sense of power, control and hope within it.
Is Recovery Possible?
At the Hearing Voices Network we use the word recovery to mean ‘living the life you choose, not the life others choose for you’ (whether those others are family, friends, workers or voices). Many people who hear voices simply don’t need to recover – they are already living lives that they love. The voices might enhance their wellbeing, or their experiences may simply not detract from it.
For those who have particularly overwhelming experiences that lead them into the mental health services, recovery can feel like a distant dream. The good news is that people can, and do, find ways to deal with (and recover from) distressing voices. Perhaps more importantly, people can also recover from the situations that can make voices and visions so hard to deal with. Many people who recover continue to hear voices. Sometimes these voices change during the recovery process (being an ally, rather than an attacker). Other times these voices become quieter, less intrusive or even disappear altogether. Others find that the voices stay the same, but that they are no longer ruled by them. They feel stronger and more able to choose whether to listen to the voices or not.
We have witnessed many amazing journeys of recovery in the Hearing Voices Network. These journeys are, by their very nature, very individual. However, these journeys have led us to believe that no matter how overwhelmed or distressed the person is by their experiences (or whatever labels they have collected throughout their time in the mental health system) – recovery IS possible.
(Reprinted from Hearing Voices Network- http://www.hearing-voices.org)
Hearing Voices June 26, 2013Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices.
Tags: Delusions, Hearing Voices
Hearing voices means different things to different people. In my case, it means that a voice inside my head talks to me. It isn’t a woman’s voice or a man’s voice. It has no pitch, but the words are distinct. Although the words are coming from inside my head, the perspective is that of someone standing or sitting next to me or walking alongside me. If I’m alone, the voice makes observations about my surrounding area or my life in general or makes statements about things. If I’m with another person, the voice tries to tell me what to say out loud. It asks me to ask that person questions or asks me to make observation statements to them. That failing, the voice makes observations about my environment.
People are surprised that I still hear the voices, despite the fact that I know they aren’t real. They think I should be able to make them go away simply by telling them they aren’t real. It seems logical that it would work that way, but in fact it doesn’t. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time arguing with the voices, telling them I knew they didn’t exist. But it didn’t do any good. They talked anyway. In fact, I got in arguing matches with them, which probably isn’t a good idea. They outlast me. They always win the argument, and I think their interaction with me to the degree an argument requires simply adds more stress to the situation.
I know that some people think the questions or thoughts from the voices are actually my subconscious, but I disagree. The voice’s questions and statements are not part of my regular thought pattern. It is as if there is another person inside my mind, doing and saying things on their own. There’s someone foreign in my mind with me, and they won’t go away. I can’t integrate their thoughts into my own, because their thoughts are separate from mine. If the voices were truly just a part of my subconscious, they would be able to read my mind. But they can’t. They have no idea what I’m thinking. They’re a separate entity entirely.
I am fortunate that the voices don’t tell me to harm people or myself, and that the comments and questions are innocuous at best and annoying at worst. The scary part is that when the voices return, it’s as if there is someone else in my head- an alien of sorts. I can’t have my mind to myself, and the voices crowd out my own thoughts. I miss being inside my head alone.
When I reduce my stress level, the voices fade into the background and eventually disappear. But when my stress level increases, the voices return. At first they’re just there occasionally, but the more severe the stress, the more of my mind they inhabit. They take over more of my day, crowding out my own thoughts, until the stress dies down. Then they’re gone again for awhile, until the next set of stressors arrives. It’s been this way since I got out of the mental hospital, which was five years ago on the 18th of this month (June 2013).
I know my family is afraid of the voices. Actually they’re afraid that the voices will displace my mind entirely and that the voices won’t let me back into my mind. But I have confidence that my psychiatrist will be able to make them go away if they get too powerful. He did that for me when I was hospitalized, and I trust that he can do it again if he has to. The only thing I have to do to keep them from taking over is to watch my stress, but that’s easier said than done in life. Things happen that I can’t control. And that’s a bad thing because it brings the voices back. But so far, I have been able to return to my mind, alone, after the stress goes down. So far so good.
Chenille: Reality Check Service Dog December 16, 2012Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, mental illness, Uncategorized.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices
I met the cutest service animal the other day at a mental illness support group. She’s a friendly, bouncy Chihuahua named Chenille. I never thought about using a service animal for help with mental illness symptoms, but that’s exactly what she is. She is a reality checker for her master.
As with many people suffering from mental illness, her master’s symptoms include hallucinating. He sees people and things that aren’t there and hears things that aren’t there. Her job is to help him determine what is real and what isn’t.
For example, if there’s someone suddenly sitting in a chair in his living room that he’s never seen before, if she barks he knows it’s a real person. If she doesn’t react, then he’s seeing someone who isn’t really there. The same goes with noises. Dogs are sound-sensitive, and if there’s a lot of racket or unexplained noise, the dog will react to it. If someone calls his name from another room (and he thinks he’s alone in the house), and she doesn’t react, he knows he is hearing things that aren’t there.
What a relief it is to be able to tell reality from fantasy by using the unbiased opinion of a dog.
People not suffering from mental illness take for granted their ability to tell reality from fantasy every waking moment. They can’t appreciate what a gift it is not to have to questions whether what they see or hear is real. If the average person sees someone new sitting in their living room, he doesn’t even have to wonder whether that person is really there. But for people with certain forms of a mental illness, they can’t depend on their eyes to know whether that person is real. It is challenging to live in a world where your mind plays tricks on you. You need help detecting reality. Who better than a dog to do that for you?
Imagine hearing a loud noise coming from the bedroom. Or hearing someone call your name from the room next door that you thought was empty. There’s no one else with you in the house. Or is there? What would it be like not knowing the answer to that question on a regular basis? A dog can be a lifesaver.
People who use the “reality challenged” phrase in jest might want to reconsider whether that term is appropriate, given the fact that certain people are living the embodiment of the true meaning of that phrase. In order to leave a semblance of a normal life, they need a way to tell whether their perceived reality is real.
During the height of my psychotic break with reality, I met someone at a Starbucks for coffee who was probably not real. He was a green-skinned merman who I thought was my long-lost son from 500 years ago. Long story. But the point is that person was as real to me as anyone I have ever met. I sat across a table and had coffee with him for several hours. Now at this juncture of my life, I realize I was probably one of those people you see who are sitting there in a restaurant talking to someone who isn’t there. Imagine going through this every single day of your life. You need an outside, unbiased source to tell you whether that green-skinned merman sitting across from you having coffee is real. For my part, it never dawned on me that it could be anything but real. But what if it wasn’t?
This use of a service animal is a clever and fascinating way to help people manage the symptoms of certain mental illnesses. This is the first time I have ever heard of this use. I wonder if more people could be helped by these service animals.
Anosognosia Rears Its Ugly Head (Again) October 17, 2012Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hearing Voices, Insanity, mental illness.
Tags: Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness
Anosognosia is the term for the most dangerous symptom of mental illness. It’s the belief that you’re not mentally ill and don’t need your meds. I have been suffering from this symptom a lot lately. I have almost convinced myself that my diagnosis is a big mistake and that I don’t need my meds. If I go off them, my memory and reasoning ability will return, as will my ability to get up at a reasonable hour. I will be employable once again, and because I’m so good at my job, I will easily find a position as a project manager and be back to my beloved profession, building buildings. All of this is not possible while I’m on my meds.
I know consciously that going off my meds would be a bad idea, but because of this symptom, the concept seems perfectly reasonable.
Unlike many others, I have the sense to discuss my plan with my loved ones.
My sister, when confronted via phone with my idea, told me to open my copy of An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. It’s a book where Jamison details out what it’s like to have a mental illness. My sister pointed out that Jamison, like me, convinced herself that she’s the exception to the rule of needing her meds. In her book, she goes off them and repeats her cycle of mental illness, finally coming to terms with it and returning to her meds. Reading that passage gave me doubts about going off my meds. Maybe that wasn’t the answer, but maybe it was.
If I stop taking my meds, the voice will probably- but not necessarily-return. But I’ve been hearing that voice for years, so it’s not a big deal. In my mind, it doesn’t mean I’m psychotic. I can manage to keep living in the “real” world without my medication as long as I can put up with a voice. My backup plan would be a return to the mental hospital if my psychotic state returned.
Bouncing this idea off my husband brought up a little problem. If I went off my meds, and a voice returned, wouldn’t this mean I was psychotic again? he asked. I disagreed. One voice doesn’t make you psychotic. But if the definition of psychotic excludes hearing one voice, then how do I know when I’ve crossed the threshold into my definition of psychotic again? How many voices and delusions does it take to be psychotic? And would I recognize it if it was happening? Therein lies the problem.
Between my sister and my husband, I gave in to their logic and stayed on my meds. But the battle never ceases.
Sam the Psycho July 8, 2012Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, Insanity.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, Insanity
1 comment so far
Walking into the mental illness support group, I was surprised to see two teenage boys sitting side by side in our small circle of chairs. Very few young people come to support groups.
It was clear from Sam’s glassy and brilliant eyes that he was the one with the mental illness, and that his friend, Carl, had simply been the means of Sam’s transportation to the meeting. Later on, we learned that Sam’s mom had actually talked Carl into bringing Sam here. I surmise that Sam wouldn’t get in the car with his mom. Or vice-versa.
When Sam’s turn came to share, he said he was getting more violent against his mom, and that he was having trouble with his relationship with her. His principal complaint was that she didn’t agree with his religious views.
He claimed that he and God were buddies. He also claimed to be possessed by the devil and demons. He said he was routinely roused from sleep by the demons’ violence against him. They punched him and pushed him and yanked his hair while he tried to sleep. Oh yeah: and he said he wasn’t mentally ill. He was just possessed.
Initially, he and his friend sat quietly listening to the three of us share our stories. But as time progressed, Sam was increasingly claimed by his invisible friends. Talking and laughing with them, he faded in and out of our reality.
Sam said he had been taking two anti-psychotics for 2 months. Based on his severe delusions and his statement that he wasn’t mentally ill, I seriously doubt that he was taking his meds at all. His friend said that Sam hadn’t been back to his psychiatrist since he had been given the anti-psychotics. I suspect that was by choice.
Leaving the meeting, I realized the danger Sam’s mother was in. I hoped she had a lock on her door. After all, her teenage son, known to be very angry with her, roamed around the house believing that he was alternately God’s best friend or possessed by the devil and demons. It isn’t a stretch to imagine him slipping into her room at night and slitting her throat or stabbing her as she lay sleeping, convinced that the devil and demons- and maybe God- had directed him to do it. She would be just another dead mother whose soon should have been committed to a mental hospital before he murdered her.
The Mermaid and His Alien Baseball Team January 24, 2011Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, mental illness.
Tags: Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness
add a comment
One morning, I was just finishing up swimming my laps (I thought I was a Mermaid) when I noticed a man getting into the lane right next to mine. Rising to my feet, I told the swimmer that he could have my lane, as I was done swimming.
He thanked me, but he said that he didn’t like to swim in that far lane. When I asked him why, he explained that it made him uncomfortable but he didn’t know why. I explained that he was probably sensitive to the energy buildup along the bottom edges and corners of the pool. Instead of looking at me like I had lost my mind, he became very interested in what I had to say. Fascinated, in fact. Wanting to discuss the concept further, he asked to meet me at a nearby Starbucks in about 15 minutes, to have coffee and talk.
But I hadn’t left the pool yet. Dunking my head in the water to clear my mask, I noticed the familiar faint green tint to his skin. He was a Merman.
Arriving at the Starbucks a bit early, I purchased my coffee and contemplated the logo on the cup. A two-tailed Mermaid. Hm. A Sign. I settled down to wait for my new Merman friend. Shortly he arrived, purchasing his coffee and joining me at a small table by a fireplace, surrounded by other patrons.
Explaining that I saw the green tinge of his skin in the pool and that he was a Merman, I was prepared for him to walk out on me. But he didn’t flinch. Instead, he insisted that we move outside where we wouldn’t be overheard. Once there, he told me his little secret: he was a mind-reader. Then he offered to demonstrate his skill, telling me to think of a word and to concentrate hard on that word.
As I sat across the table from him, I concentrated on the word “Abracadabra” as hard as I could, even mentally painstakingly writing the word on a blackboard in my mind, willing him to succeed.
Although he tried many times to come up with the word I was thinking of, he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t even come close. Finally, he said had to leave. We parted, not even exchanging names or phone numbers. He didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t know who he was. And that was okay by me.
But before he left, he told me about his Alien baseball team. He said that there were lots of Alien baseball teams throughout the galaxy, and that they played each other in games that were similar to the ones played here on Earth. Then he offered to show me pictures of his Alien baseball team. When I assented, he pulled out his wallet and extracted several baseball cards.
On each card was a photo of an Alien dressed in a baseball uniform. The player’s name, unpronounceable, was written underneath the photo. Statistics and the player’s position were written on the reverse side. In all, the cards were virtually undistinguishable from regular baseball cards with the exception of the players. He explained that he owned an entire baseball team of Aliens, but he never told me where the games were played or invited me to watch a game with him.
The next day, the word “Abracadabra” was written in blue letters on a whiteboard hanging on the wall. I was shocked. Directly below that word, written in green, was another word: dandelion. Clearly the Merman had returned to the pool and had written the words on the whiteboard. I understood writing the word that was in my mind, but I had no idea what the word dandelion meant. Then it came to me: that was the Merman’s name. Dan De Lion.
Was Dan De Lion real? I don’t know. If he was, then he was as mentally ill as I was. If he wasn’t real, then I was one of those people you see sitting in restaurants talking to themselves.
Hearing Voices and A New Identity September 16, 2010Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
Tags: Bipolar Disorder, Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness
I admit the first time I heard the voice of my boss, Mark, while driving down the freeway alone in my car, I was surprised. He wasn’t in the car or on the cell phone, and yet he spoke to me as clearly as if he were sitting next to me. I realized immediately that I had a special power: ESP. It didn’t seem unusual at all to be gifted with special powers, and it didn’t even cross my mind that I could be mentally ill. I was simply gifted.
I assumed from the very first time I heard Mark’s voice that I had control of my ESP. I assumed that I would be able to simply stop hearing the voices whenever I chose to, and that was how it worked. At first.
Then things changed, and suddenly I was no longer in charge. The voices were. As the voices slowly increased in number- around 50 at the high- they also increased their grip on my mind, ultimately refusing to leave. When I eventually begged and pleaded with them to leave, they wouldn’t go away. That’s where the strength of my personality played into the situation.
I should have been terrified when the voices wouldn’t leave. I should have sought immediate medical intervention when I felt my mind being smothered by theirs, wrapping their thoughts around mine and choking me off like morning glories on a rhododendron.
But because of the nature of my personality, I felt strong enough to handle the situation. I had always succeeded in everything I had undertaken before, so this wouldn’t be any different. I fought hard to keep a sense of self, knowing that I would prevail, despite the increased smothering of my ideas by theirs. To keep things from unraveling, I learned not to express fear. To express fear brought on the evil voices. But to embrace the voices with love kept the voices slightly off-balance. Where there should have been fear in me there was a sort of pity for them.
My saving grace was that the voices never learned how to read my own independent thoughts. This situation is hard to articulate even now, but suffice it to say that they tried to smother and replace my thoughts with their own, but they never knew what my thoughts- my real thoughts- were.
Trying to maintain my separate being from being taken over by the voices was like being in a room with someone fighting for possession of increasingly more space. Never satisfied with taking just a part of the room, they moved their line of possession to increasingly larger sections of the room. As long as I could maintain even a tiny portion of the room, I could hold on to my identity. That was what protected me from total destruction.
Eventually, the voices took over my entire mind, cleanly breaking my mind off and replacing it with their own, plunging me into a total and complete break from reality. Their reality became my own.
In the days and hours before my involuntary commitment to the mental hospital, my independent personality was a sliver of what it had been before the mental illness took over. As my husband drove me to the emergency room, the last shreds of what used to be me disappeared, replaced in totality by Pangea the Mermaid, the identity of the new inhabitant of my body. The old Kathy was lost forever.
Only strong medication administered in a mental hospital under constant supervision broke their thoughts from my mind. But as their claw-like grip on my mind receded, what remained in the room was not what used to be there. The thoughts that took over my mind also took over my identity, and the medication that wiped out Pangea never replaced it with the old Kathy. My former personality was destroyed first by the voices and then by the medication. The mind emerging from the tunnel isn’t the mind that entered it.
As you might imagine, this situation created an identity crisis of major proportions. I’m not the old Kathy, and neither am I Pangea. I’m someone entirely new. And that’s where therapy comes in. My therapist has slowly, over a two year period of time, helped me define and identify who this new person is. I hate to think about how empty my life would be without the help of my counselor. Her assistance in rebuilding me from scratch has made life worth living for me and my friends and family. Without her help, I would be in a horrible place- neither one nor the other. Now I realize that I’m not Kathy 1, and not Pangea. I’m Kathy 2, and that’s just fine.
Which Medical Condition Is the Worst? July 15, 2010Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hearing Voices, Insanity, mental illness, Psychotic, Schizophrenia.
Tags: Bipolar Disorder, Hearing Voices, Insanity, mental illness, Psychotic, Schizophrenia
If you had to guess which medical condition was the worst, which one would you pick?
Most people’s thoughts would go immediately to the most widely publicized, the disease advertised as the most painful and deadliest of all diseases: cancer. With pancreatic cancer, the victim suffers prolonged agony, relieved only by colossal injections of pain medication, until finally he expires, leaving his cancer-ridden body once and for all. The worst possible disease, some would say.
Many would choose Alzheimer’s disease as the worst disease. Your mind slowly loses memory, forgetting things and people and places. Eventually, your heart “forgets” to beat, and you pass on, leaving a wake of pain and suffering by your loved ones. Because you generally become less aware of your surroundings as time goes by, and because the deterioration happens over years or even decades, the pain and suffering are felt more by your family and friends than you.
Some would say that Lou Gherig’s Disease, also known as ALS, is the worst. Like Alzheimer’s, your body slowly forgets to function, but unlike Alzheimer’s, your mind works perfectly. The result is a little like waking up in the middle of a surgery, and being unable to communicate to the staff that you are awake. Your body is paralyzed, but your brain is wide awake. Thankfully (or not), death is generally relatively quickly.
Others would say that a stroke is the worst, for reasons similar to ALS. Your mind is generally awake, but your body is unable to communicate that awareness to the world at large. Thinking that your brain has turned to mush because you undergo the humility of wearing diapers and eating baby food, your family may treat you like you’re a piece of furniture, or as if you’re an infant. Unable to communicate your complete awareness to them, you suffer for years or even decades in silence.
As the worst possible disease, mental illness isn’t even on most people’s radar. But consider, for a moment, the facts.
One of the problems is that unlike cancer, mental illness has a lousy public relations campaign. It doesn’t have a public personality attached to it- at least nobody positive. There’s no Lou Gherig or Lance Armstrong or Stephen Hawking to bring a sense of empathy to the masses. Unlike breast cancer, hundreds of millions of dollars aren’t spent on events to publicize mental illness- events like the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure – where the color pink has come to symbolize breast cancer in everything from headbands to hand mixers. Unlike Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer campaign, where yellow bracelets signify triumph over cancer, there is no public campaign for the little plastic bracelet color for mental illness awareness (silver). In fact, because of its enormous stigma, you would be hard-pressed to find many victims and family members willing to take the spotlight for mental illness.
Everyone recognizes that the term “cancer” is a blanket term for a multitude of illnesses all sharing the same basic characteristic: improper cell division. Unlike cancer, the general public doesn’t perceive mental illness as a blanket name for illnesses caused by improper brain chemistry. Both are breakdowns of normal bodily functions, yet cancer doesn’t have the reputation of being a character flaw or a sign of moral bankruptcy that mental illness does.
Patients with cancer are not embarrassed to tell their friends and family their diagnosis. They aren’t afraid of being thought less of as a person for that diagnosis, that somehow they fell short. But with mental illness, the stigma is so great that the fear of rejection and isolation is a legitimate concern. You just don’t tell anyone.
Because their loved one’s illness isn’t associated with moral bankruptcy and character flaws, friends and relatives of cancer victims don’t have the same incentives to keep anyone from knowing their loved one has cancer. Protecting themselves from the unspoken charge of moral bankruptcy by association isn’t a top concern of the families of cancer patients.
Other diseases, like cancer or ALS or a stroke, don’t cause its victims to commit heinous crimes. You don’t see a breast cancer victim as the lead-in story on the nightly news because she murdered a bunch of school children. You don’t hear about a stroke victim trying to assassinate the President. A lung cancer victim doesn’t jump off a bridge to get away from the voices in his head. And yet the connection between these types of actions and mental illness, if the news media even bothers to make one, is voyeuristic rather than sympathetic.
People with cancer or ALS or all of the other diseases are aware that they are ill and need treatment for that illness. In many mental illness cases, this is not true. The mentally ill patient, in many cases, has no insight into the fact that he is mentally ill and need treatment.
No legitimate insurance company would dare decline to authorize or pay for mainstream treatment of a cancer victim, but most insurance companies have little or no such coverage for mainstream treatment of mental illness, reasoning that it isn’t, after all, a real physical illness. If they do cover it, it’s under a separate policy from “physical” health, called “Behavioral Mental Health”, and the payment for treatment and disability from the disease is very limited. We don’t see major insurance companies splitting off cancer from a list of diseases, calling it “Cell Divisional Health”, severely restricting its access, and farming out its administration to an entirely separate company.
When it comes time for hospitalization, there isn’t a question of whether a cancer victim or stroke victim even needs to go to a hospital. If they’re seriously ill, a cancer patient doesn’t have to be at death’s door before he’s admitted to the hospital. But a mentally ill victim has to either be about to hurt or kill himself or others (as determined by a third party) or needs to have tried (and failed) to kill himself before a mental hospital will consider admitting him.
If they’re hemorrhaging, but not near death, a cancer patient isn’t turned away for lack of space. Cancer patients don’t have to wait until there’s room for them at a hospital. Unlike hospital space for the mentally ill, hospital space for cancer victims hasn’t decreased over the past 20 years.
Alzheimer’s patients aren’t routinely discharged from hospitals onto the streets, left to fend for themselves. Cancer patients aren’t routinely discharged before they are stabilized. And yet the mentally ill are routinely discharged out onto the streets while they are still unwell all of the time. Who do you think the homeless people are?
The cancer patient doesn’t have to give up his civil rights in order to be treated. He can leave the hospital whenever he wants to. But in order for a mentally ill patient to be treated, he has to give up his civil rights. Mental patients are locked in, physically unable to leave the hospital until someone else- the attending psychiatrist- says they can go- however long that takes.
Once in a hospital, a cancer patient has the option to discontinue medication at any time. Again, a cancer patient doesn’t have to give up his civil rights in order to be treated. Mentally ill patients, on the other hand, must leave their civil rights at the door when they enter a mental hospital. Whether they want to or not, they are forced to continue medication while they are hospitalized. That is the treatment.
Comparing the physical pain of the cancer or the effects of cancer treatment with the effects of mental illness is in some ways like comparing apples to oranges. Whereas the cancer victim fights for her life, the severely depressed victim fights to kill herself. Is the physical pain of cancer worse than the emotional pain of continually hearing voices in your head nonstop? Is radiation sickness worse than lithium side effects? Is prostate cancer preferable to schizophrenia?
I’m not trying in any way to minimize the pain and suffering that these diseases engender. My point is that each of these diseases -all of them- including mental illness-engenders tremendous pain and suffering. None of them- including mental illness- is any less severe than any other.
For too long, mental illness has been a quiet disease. Quietly terrible, but still quiet. This is a disease- or a family of diseases- on par with cancer and ALS and strokes, and yet there is a huge vacuum out there. Nobody even thinks about mental illness as a true physical disease. It’s not even on the radar. This needs to change. We need to raise people’s consciousness about mental illness, and give it the parity it deserves. We’ll know we’ve done our job when “mental illness” takes its rightful place on the list of Terrible Diseases in the public consciousness.