Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Positively Vocal!

I know in some of my other posts I've described my hallucinations, but I'd like to post a series about the specific hallucination I've experienced myself as well as a few other schizophrenics that I've met. Hearing voices is known as a "positive" symptom. Not because the voices are positive but because it's a symptom that is "added" to your illness. For reference a "negative" symptom would be something your illness takes away as in loss of pleasure in life or what psychiatrists call the "flat affect" (Basically an emotional shutdown).A huge majority of people with schizophrenia hear voices, and they can be helpful, absurd, scary and even mischievous.  In some cases the voices will talk to each other which can be downright annoying. Not everyone hears the same things. Sometimes the voices are muffled, or in my experience, they can sound like tuning a radio station...You can't quite figure out what they're saying but their presence is obvious.

During my stints in hospital I had the chance to meet a few schizophrenics like myself. In one instance this old lady who I ate breakfast with refused to take her medication because the voices she heard were very helpful and in her own words "up-lifting". She claimed that without the voices she wouldn't be able to function whatsoever. I found out later that she was also being treated for depression, and I put myself in her shoes. I suppose if I was deeply depressed I wouldn't mind a voice that encouraged me to carry on with life. Another fellow patient (who I shared a room with) would often argue with his voices. He never asked them to leave him alone, it just seemed that he genuinely disagreed with whatever they were saying. 

As previously mentioned the voices aren't always happy, nor are they simply a nuisance to some people. The voices I've had have never been very pleasant. The majority of the time they are very critical of me, insulting me and generally making me feel bad about myself. Those voices I can handle, and have learned to cope with. It's the other variety that have caused serious damage in the past. The so called "scary" voices that, in my case, ordered me to do horrible things. Before being diagnosed I struggled to ignore the voices that were telling me to carve things into my skin, physically hurt or kill people around me, and commit suicide. After a long time resisting the voices, who had some sort of hold over me, I gave up and tried to kill myself. I was blessed though, and received the care I needed before all hell broke loose.

What I find to be most incredible is the power the voices have over people with schizophrenia and psychosis. Most people don't let other people's words and voices take a stranglehold over their entire existence, but when you give into the voices that seem to be speaking to you and only you it is difficult, even treacherous to ignore them as ignoring them can turn them against you, and a very precarious situation indeed if you allow them to take control of your life.

"Once I rose above the noise and confusion
just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high

Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming
I can hear them say

Carry on my wayward son

There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more"

- Kansas

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Reality Distorted

In my last post I discussed delusions. Specifically the delusions that affected me and ultimately led to my initial diagnosis and treatment. This time I'm going to write about reality and the difficulty I had deciphering what was and what was not real. One of the most frustrating parts of this exercise was that I was receiving regular treatment. I was seeing my psychiatrist and my therapist every week, and on top of that I was on a regimen of anti-psychotic medication. After being in the hospital for nearly a month I felt as though I should be in the clear and completely ready to get my life back on track. Looking back I realize how foolish that sort of thinking was.

Staying in touch with reality is a huge endeavor for a schizophrenic. Many people suffering from the illness recede into themselves and live in a world all their own, and it becomes very difficult to pull them back from the world they've created. Luckily for me I spent very little time lost in my own thoughts. According to my psychiatrist this was because I received treatment very quickly.

In a sense I seemed to have dodged a bullet, but my problem was slightly different. Before my doctor got me on the right medication I was stuck trying to figure out what or who was real, as well as dealing with what I call "sensory overload". I began to see certain people everywhere I went. People I knew had no business being there in the first place. I also began hearing familiar voices in my head that I trusted because of their familiarity. Beyond that, it became nearly impossible for me to linger in places with large amounts of people. Why? Because I couldn't separate the voices in my head from those around me, nor could I distinguish whether or not I was seeing and conversing with someone who actually existed. All this lead me to stop going to mass, avoiding parties as well as never going to crowded bars or clubs.

It became infuriating. The medication was routinely elevated to try and help with the problems I was encountering but that didn't help. My therapist tried her best to help, but her advice did nothing to relieve the frustration and embarrassment I was feeling. The worst part of it all was that attending Sunday mass was absolute torture. The candles, the hymms, the smells, and the large crowds were (to me) a menace.

This detachment from reality is hard to describe. Imagine not being able to trust your basic senses, your hearing, and your vision constantly playing cruel tricks on you, and a growing annoyance with the effectiveness (or lack there of) of medication. What's worse is the fear and the limitations. Simple things like riding a bus or going to a hockey game become terrifying and intolerable and before you know it your mind plays it's last card and you find yourself watching life go by from a (seemingly) comfortable distance.

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

Thursday, 17 November 2011

External Tormentor

Delusions are a hallmark symptom of paranoid schizophrenia. Some common delusions include believing aliens are running experiments on you, the government is watching your every move, and many people have delusions of grandeur (IE: Believe you are dating a celebrity or that you are more powerful than you really are). Religion can also be the center of a delusional belief, and in my case it was indeed the most contributing factor to my delusional state.

In 2008 I became a christian. I attended RCIA classes at my church and was baptized and confirmed in 2009. My life was completely changed by my new belief system and I spent most of my time for over a year reading and researching the good and the sinister aspects of religion. Angels and demons, God and Lucifer, light and darkness. What I believed was a simple topic of discussion became very real in the late spring/early summer months of 2009. 

To put it simply, I began seeing a demon. Like clockwork I would wake up at 5:00 in the morning every day, while it was still dark, and I would see a shadowy figure lurking only a few feet away. The fear would paralyze me, and my voice lost. The figure would edge it's way closer and closer until it was very near to me and then vanish. I began to dread going to sleep every night and even called upon St-Michael the arch-angel to protect me from this being that I began to realize was some sort of demonic apparition. Over the course of a few weeks the demon began to communicate with me. It never spoke, but I could hear it's voice in my head. It's voice began instructing me to harm my friends and loved ones, and even myself. I began to wake up with various symbols etched into my arms, as well as a deep sense of foreboding. What began as early morning apparitions of this "demon" quickly turned into a full on assault of my senses and sanity. I began seeing the demon everywhere and I felt I was in danger of hurting those closest to me. Soon one voice in my head  became many, and after consulting my parish priest I knew something was seriously wrong, but my priest was convinced it was a psychiatric problem and not based in the supernatural.

Indeed my priest was right of course, but after visiting him the demon's voices grew angry with me and in order to prevent myself from hurting those around me I took an overdose of pain killers that landed me in the hospital where the initial diagnosis was made and my treatment began. I was extremely lucky to have a very understanding psychiatrist as well as all my friends and family who supported me despite my lapse from reality.

This is only the first chapter in my bid to reclaim my hold on reality, but it may very well have been the toughest fight I've ever fought.

"Our demons are our own limitations, which shut us off from the realization of the ubiquity of the spirit"

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Finally Starting a Blog After a 2 Year Roller Coaster Ride

You maybe thinking to yourself what a horrible name for a blog, but I had to go with a title that best suited my experience.

As some of you may know I was diagnosed with Psychosis over 2 years ago.  Psychosis is a mental disorder that manifests with positive and negative symptoms.  It is not "split-personality"... Nor am I a psychopath without emotions.  Psychosis is the diagnosis that psychiatrists present to you for the first 6 months of treatment.  For some people psychosis is only a temporary thing, but in my case (after 2 years of dealing with it) I am now considered to be Schizophrenic.

As some of you may know I am religious.  I am a devout Roman Catholic and have been for 3 years.  Interestingly enough my faith has resulted in various manifestations in my psychosis.  2 years ago, when I had my "breakdown", I suffered major delusional episodes which included believing that I was under attack from demonic forces.  Looking back, I can now see that my religious beliefs morphed into hallucinations and delusions of a very sinister kind.  Eventually it lead me to my priest who believed that my visions and hallucinations were of a psychological variety and not the work of Satan.  At the time I was so caught up in my delusional state, and I was hallucinating so vividly that I didn't take my priests advice to seek medical help.  Instead I continued to drift away from reality until the demonic voices in my head began to order me to hurt the people around me that I loved so dearly.  At this point I decided I was a threat to those I cared about and I attempted to take my own life my swallowing a lethal dose of Tylenol and running from my home only to collapse a few blocks away.  By some miracle a passerby, who I didn't see, called 911 and I was treated in time at the hospital without any permanent damage.  The day after my overdose I was seen by a psychiatrist who immediately had me admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital, where I was put on an anti-psychotic medication.

This back story explains how I ended up in the hospital.  I spent a total of 3 weeks in a locked ward where I witnessed first hand the devastating affects of mental illness.  I kept to myself mostly, but I did become friendly with another schizophrenic as well as a man who was Bi-Polar.  When I left the psychiatric ward I thought I was ready to face the world, but my mind had other plans.  Barely a week after leaving hospital I again attempted to take my own life.  This landed me back in the ward and it began to come clear that this was going to be some sort of battle.  Would I try to reclaim my hold on sanity or would I say fuck it, stop my medication and remain a recluse for the rest of my life.

Thus the title "Mind Fuck".

This isn't the end of the story, obviously.  There is plenty more to say, and I will attempt to describe the difficult road it's been as best I can.  The truth is the story involves my friends, family and God.

So ends the first installment. I leave you withe the following:

"Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair."
R. D. Lain