During college was the first time I explicitly sought out a psychiatrist about my experiences with psychosis. I had been dealing with it for a long time, since I was a child. But other than when I hospitalized myself due to the nature of the hallucinations I was experiencing at the time and my need for a break from school and life, I never actually sought out “help” for it. It was my world, I knew how I experienced it and I already knew how people outside of it should respond to it.
An interesting thing that I remember is that while I was describing to him how I perceived the world, including giving him a list of words and how I use them, he told me that it didn’t sound anything like what Schizophrenia sounded like. Despite the fact that at the time, and to be perfectly frank most of my life, I fit the criteria for it.
This was about three years ago. Over the years I’ve come to understand why he perceived it that way. I’ve also come to understand why that perception is flawed.
At the time, the only way I knew to describe what I experienced was through abstracts, what people understand as metaphor. I would tell people that I see or hear these complex environments, where the world around me becomes broken and run down. I would tell people of the static I hear, the trees that came to life and attempted to consume the world around them through their shadowy branches and the ink rabbits on the walls that sought to eat me. To me, this was all real. I tried to express this to people, how I was perceiving the world around me, but people took what I was saying literally.
The problem here being, I rarely speak literally. I speak in abstracts because I think in abstracts. I say I see these things because in my mind, I perceive these things to be just as real as anyone else who would look at a tree in their yard and see that yes, there is a tree there. So when I say I see these things, people assume that I am literally seeing what isn’t physically there, which isn’t necessarily the case. Do I also see things that aren’t there? Yes. Like my blue butterfly, or this little boy that used to keep me company as a child when my friends abandoned me. But other times what I am seeing is what you are seeing – just differently.
One of the elements of psychosis is what is called cognitive disorganization, or formal thought disorder. This can lead the brain to think in more abstract forms. This is also where people get the idea that those with schizotypy are artistic, when we may not exactly see ourselves as such. Much like other elements of psychosis, this is heavily impacted by stress levels. Seeing as I was in an abusive relationship at the time, one that amplified all of the symptoms of my mental illnesses, one can imagine that this cognitive disorganization was also amplified. This made it much more difficult to communicate with the professional I sought help from during a time of extreme need. In all likelihood, I should have been hospitalized during that period, because then I may have been able to get that help I needed so desperately at the time.
Another interesting thing to note is that people in the schizotypal spectrum can experience a form of “information overload” quite similar to that of sensory input or autistic spectrum disorders. While resulting from different functions of the brain, the results are very similar – the level of input from the world around us becomes so much that we start to break down and symptoms become amplified. In those with cognitive disorganization, that disorganization becomes more extreme. I’ve had people, including family members, mistaken me for having ADD for much the same reason.
The way that I see it is that during these moments, I see elements of the world that other people don’t. I see the sharp edges of the tree branches, the contrast of their shape in comparison to the sky and background. I see the odd shapes of the shadows and how they seem to stretch across surfaces, flickering gently as the limited source of light around us flickers. I see the cracks in the walls and the dirt that fills them, and the mold and water stains on the ceilings. I see the heightened contrast of colors as well as their dullness. Combined with my actual hallucination of static over various surfaces and delusion of what all of this really is a part of, one can imagine that my perception of this world becomes very odd and twisted. Much like say, Silent Hill. I do not see this world, but I do “see” it, much in the same way a child sees a scary monster in the shadows when they try to sleep. It isn’t imagination, but a function of my mind.
But when people are approached with the terms “hear” or “see”, they think the person literally hears or sees what they are trying to describe. Even when this isn’t necessarily the case. We live in a world where we are taught what is real and what isn’t. I suppose this is one of the issues I have with science and the Atheistic movement, the insistence that something is only real if proven through quantitative fact that others can test and approve is real as well. It leaves little room for understanding of the human mind and its varying complexities. Because many things that are seen cannot be seen, many things that are heard cannot be heard, and many things that are felt cannot be felt.
So people assume that when we say we hear or see these things, that they are hallucinations should the outside world not perceive things the way they do. Remember the child and the scary monster, or their imaginary friends? Really, that’s all imagination is. We just call these experiences imagination because society has convinced us that they are not real, or hallucination or delusion if they go to “extremes” or last too long. This is also one of the many reasons why Dissociative Identity Disorder or multiplicity and Schizophrenia are confused for each other. The voices heard from headmates or alters are thought to be literally heard and thus hallucinations, voices considered characteristic of psychosis often (but not always) found in Schizophrenia. And both the etymology of the term “schizophrenia” (split mind) and the constantly contradicting nature of behaviors and mentalities due to cognitive disorganization or shifts in behavior otherwise not seen in the person due to paranoia or that overall disconnect from reality result in people assuming that the person has “multiple personalities” instead of constantly shifting elements of a whole as a result of schizotypy. This can and often does lead to someone with one being diagnosed with the other should their individual symptoms distress them, because they are trying to explain something that they experience that the person they’re communicating with has no personal experience with. They utilize the only tool they have, one that people don’t understand because they assume literal. Metaphor.
This psychiatrist never did diagnose me with Schizophrenia. He gave me the diagnosis of Schizotypal, another disorder on the spectrum based on my behaviors and how he perceived my ability to communicate with him. Is it possible that I really am schizophrenic and it wasn’t caught? Quite, because he focused on his assumptions of how the spectrum works based on society’s assumptions and his education, instead of the experiences of the people within the spectrum itself. But in the end, this isn’t something that we can know because those assumptions have already been made and possibility abandoned. I now live a life where I have no health insurance to see a psychiatrist to explore it further, my mind at the mercy of the life around me.
Perhaps situations like this could be avoided if people were willing to put down their assumptions and communicate with people on a level that person understands and relates best with. Even if that be riddle or metaphor.