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Virtual Hallucination Machine and Mental Illness Awareness Week September 30, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, NAMI.
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October 3rd to 9th is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW).  In celebration of this, some of the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapters will have a virtual hallucination machine available for the general public to try out.  (Note: Eastside NAMI Washington will have it available Monday October 4th from 6:30 to 9 pm). What is a virtual hallucination machine?

Created by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Belgium pharmaceutical company, its purpose is to give mental health providers, police, and the public an idea of what it is like to have a psychotic break with reality. The virtual hallucination machine is designed to mimic the sensations that someone with schizophrenia or who is in the middle of a psychotic break with reality experience.

Consisting of goggles and earphones, the participant is set in various situations, with the goal of accomplishing a certain task such as getting a prescription filled at a pharmacy.

Once the goggles and earphones are on, voices begin to hiss, whisper, and sometimes yell at the participant.  There is no way (short of removing the goggles and earphones) to get the images to stop. As the experience continues, the participant becomes more paranoid as he “realizes” that the pharmacist is trying to poison him or have him committed or the pizza delivery man is delivering a poisoned pizza or any other obviously errant perceptions of reality suddenly become very real.

“Things flash out of nowhere. Small voices saying, ‘Go get your medication.’ The bus driver is talking to you normally and all of a sudden he starts calling you ‘Your Highness.’ Then he becomes part of the hallucination,” says one participant. “It’s a whole busload of children, then it changes to a busload of adults. There’s a nurse involved. You see normal things and then all of a sudden someone pulls up next to you and says, ‘Get off the bus.’ ” You are in the role of the individual on the bus, seeing what is in the mind of someone who is like that.”

Participants get to experience the very real perception of that situation from the psychotic point of view, and come away with an appreciation for the high degree of Hell the psychotic person experiences during that psychotic break with reality.  Unlike the participant, the psychotic individual is unable to simply remove the earphones and goggles and walk away.  The psychotic individual is stuck in that awful place for as long as it takes to get him out of there.

Said one participant: “It was a very tiring and painful experience. I don’t know what you can do if you cannot turn it off,” he said after taking off the goggles and earphones on the Virtual Hallucination Machine. “It’s the emotion it brings up in you from within. The voices are rude and insistent, demeaning and demoralizing.”

“The neurons are firing images in random order. Like being awake but dreaming. Like a lot of jumbled thoughts,” said another participant. “Like being trapped in a nightmare but you are awake.”

For more on this subject, check out the following:

Virtual Hallucination Fact Sheet NAMI http://namifingerlakes.org/Documents/Virtual%20Hallucinations%20Fact%20Sheet%20CRC%20FINAL%206%202%202006.pdf

Cruel Voices http://namifingerlakes.org/Audio_Files/Cruel%20Voices%20-%20Schizophrenic%20Auditory%20Hallucinations.mp3

Straddling the Line of Insanity (trying out a virtual hallucination machine) http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_4076750

Legislators, the Media and the Public experience Schizophrenia http://www.nycvoices.org/article_737.php

Mindstorm: simulating psychosis; A new virtual reality experience depicts hallucinations in 3-D.(A Virtual Hallucination: Mindst http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/171253778.html

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Anatomy of a Breakdown September 23, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Involuntary Committment, mental illness.
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Looking back at my diaries of 2 years ago, I again became enmeshed in my identity crisis.  It reminded me of how difficult it was to lose who I was. And to find out that who I was wasn’t exactly pleasant.

Before I became psychotic, I was Kathy 1.  Then, when I became psychotic, so many things about me changed that I lost my identity as Kathy 1.  While I was psychotic, this change from Kathy  seemed a very natural turn of events, since my delusion had included my belief that I had always been someone else.  According to my delusion, I was, and always had been, a mermaid named Pangea. For 48 years I just never knew it.

During my psychotic break, Kathy 1 was no more, wiped out of existence, replaced by an entirely new personality: Pangea the Mermaid.  Transfering my identity from Kathy 1 to Pangea was easy. It was an act initiated by me. It was an act controlled by me. I was drawn in gradually over a four month span of time into my new identity as Pangea. My final act of recognition of this sea change was that I planned to change my real legal name to Pangea.  But before I could carry out my plan, I was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

When I was hospitalized, the staff began the long process of stabilizing me.  Part of that process was administration of medication that pushed me out of my delusion that I was Pangea. Logically, removing Pangea from the equation should have left me back at identifying with Kathy 1.  Unfortunately (or not), this didn’t happen.”

It’s difficult to put into words, but the person who was Kathy 1 had certain thought patterns, certain ways of doing things, certain tastes in clothing, hair styles, and expressions of who she was, as well as a much faster speed of thinking, and other brain-related characteristics that made up her very soul. Her very existence.  Those characteristics are gone.

There’s a void where my identity is supposed to be. I try to feel a familiar pattern of thinking or feeling or being and there’s no familiarity at all. Zero. I have no idea who I am. It’s as if I woke up in someone else’s brain. I have no reference points.  I’m in a strange place and can’t find my way back to who I was before. But then do I really want to return to that person?

Through counseling, I learned to analyze  all of the little choices that Kathy 1 made in her life that brought her the total control that she was looking for, which ultimately led to her complete break with reality.  Little things and big things loomed in my head.  Overall, I realized that my efforts at control not only led to my complete break with reality, but in the process had turned me into what I would term a “flaming bitch”.  I had attempted to control virtually every facet of my life down to the last speck of dirt in the house to the greatest extent possible.  Everything was always about me.  It was embarrassing to come to this realization at the age of 48.  How horrible, how narcissistic. It was depressing to consider all of the wasted years, all of the misery, that I had inflicted on people, including those I loved, through the years.  Was there anything I could do to make up for my past bad behavior?

I need to find out how to get me back to who I was before- only nicer.  And if I can’t do that, then I need  to figure out who I am now. For lack of a better word, I’ll call myself Kathy 2.  I need help to discover who she is.

Hearing Voices and A New Identity September 16, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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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.

Mental Illness, 9/11, and PTSD September 11, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, PTSD.
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Reprinted from PBS’ ‘This Emotional Life: Remembering the Psychological Impact of War, and Doing Something About It’ by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-van-dahlen-phd)

On September 11, 2001, our nation went to war — first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. Nearly nine years later the war rages on and the men, women and families in our military community continue to experience the consequences of this war.

Although we have all seen the news reports and read the articles explaining the human cost of war, as a country we seem to still struggle to grasp the enormity of the situation for the men, women and families who serve. There is no doubt that Americans want to support our men and women in uniform. We are clearly proud of their service and appreciate their sacrifice. But far too many of us lack the knowledge and understanding necessary to truly assist in the reintegration of our returning troops into their — and our — communities.

How can we understand this disconnect? What makes it so difficult for us as a nation to recognize and respond to the reality of war for those who serve? And, most importantly, what can we and our leaders do to effectively and comprehensively care for our military personnel and their families?

One reason we struggle to grasp the true impact of war on those who fight is the nature of that impact. It is relatively easy for us to recognize the effect of a physical injury. We may feel uneasy or uncomfortable at the sight of a young man or woman who is missing a limb as a result of his or her service, but at least we can see the injury. At public events we routinely applaud all of the wounded warriors who have returned home. We support programs and encourage funding to care for those who have suffered physical injuries. For many of those who serve, however, the injuries are invisible. Yet these unseen injuries have far-reaching implications for a soldier’s ability to function here at home. These invisible injuries can and often do affect the ability to work, play, sleep, study, love, parent and relax — in short, to be.

Perhaps the primary reason for our difficulty in responding effectively to the needs of those coming home from battle is our discomfort with mental health issues in general. Journalists and others repeatedly ask about the “stigma” that prevents those in need of care from seeking service. Unfortunately, our society — our culture — is poorly equipped to respond to the needs of citizens grappling with mental health issues. We continue to perceive those in need of mental health care and support as weak, less competent, less capable or less effective than those who do not seek such care. But psychological struggles are normal and punctuate everyone’s life and experience.

We have all experienced stress and self-doubt; many of us have felt depressed, anxious and overwhelmed. Many of us have experienced loss and pain and been affected by trauma. And yet, we continue to shrink from conversations about these issues–perhaps because the conversations themselves elicit feelings that remind us of our own psychological struggles, challenges, and pain.

Yes, we are definitely uneasy with the conversation about the psychological impact of war on those who serve. Maybe we feel guilty for subjecting those who serve to possible psychological injury in the first place. Maybe we sense that the consequence of this type of injury can be more devastating than a physical injury. Maybe we have a collective memory of the generation of Vietnam veterans, who came home from war with demons that plague them to this day.

No matter what the reason, if we are aware that war can lead to psychological injury, if we have research that confirms this, then we should do all that is within our power to educate ourselves so that we can effectively support those who serve and their families — so that we can ease their pain, normalize their experience and guide them through what can be a very difficult journey home.

Mental Illness, Hypersexuality and Tiger Woods September 8, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, mental illness, Therapy.
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Bipolar Magazine had an issue that discussed the hidden symptom of mania: sex.  As in lots of it.  BP Magazine’s September 9, 2009 issue “Confronting Mania’s Secret Symptom” addressed the issue of sex as it relates to manic behavior.   It is a well-known but rarely discussed fact that many people in the middle of manic episodes have a very high level of sexual energy, and they use that energy in different ways. This high degree of focus on sex is called hypersexuality.  It’s way beyond regular sexuality. Check out the article at  http://www.bphope.com/Item.aspx?id=522

Mental illness has been known to break up many marriages and family relationships simply because the relationships couldn’t withstand the emotional devastation that this particular symptom caused. That’s not even considering the health risks of sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, and pregnancy resulting from that risky behavior.

If someone has been diagnosed to have a particular mental illness with hypersexuality as one of its symptoms, it would probably help many marriages and relationships heal if they could view the sexual hypersexuality in the context of being a symptom of a mental illness. It is worth it to at least rule out the possibility that the person exhibiting that behavior might have a mental illness. If they are found to have a mental illness, the hypersexuality symptom needs to be viewed as another symptom of mental illness, just like hearing voices might be a symptom of someone with schizophrenia or forgetting people might be a symptom of Alzheimer’s.  Putting the hypersexuality symptom in that perspective might save relationships.

That doesn’t mean that every philanderer has a mental illness.  But those exhibiting the hypersexuality behavior so characteristic of someone with a mental illness should be assessed. The more flamboyant the actions, the greater number of partners, the more symptoms of hypersexuality a person demonstrates, the more important it is to rule out mental illness as the cause of their over-the-top behavior.

One of the most famous cases of possible undiagnosed mental illness is Tiger Woods.  His larger than life hypersexuality behavior gives one pause.  Is this a symptom of a mental illness?

According to the news media, right after Tiger was “caught” by his wife having sex with numerous women, he went into treatment for a sex addiction in an (unsuccessful) attempt to save his marriage. At that time, after learning of the large number of women that he was having sex with (I think the number got to 12 before I stopped paying attention), I wondered if he had been assessed for a mental illness.  It certainly wouldn’t be surprising, given the circumstances of his stressful life in a fishbowl.

Because of the stigma of having a mental illness, Tiger isn’t likely to come out in public with any mental illness diagnosis that he might have received.  I can only hope that, if he indeed was diagnosed with a mental illness, his wife would have waited for his treatment plan to kick in (including any medication) before throwing in the towel.  Theirs is a scene played out privately all over the world on a daily basis.

With the education of people that hypersexuality may be a symptom of a mental illness, I hope it will encourage people to seek out help before giving up on their marriage or relationship. “In Sickness and in Health” were part of their wedding vows.  This is the “Sickness” part.