I am lucky enough to have a friend who has the same diagnosis as me. (Lucky in the sense that it means that I have someone to share my experiences with, not because it gives me a really broad and diverse spectrum of people I can claim to be close to).
Anyway.. she has had the same kind of experiences that as I have had; not entirely the same, because no two peoples experience of mental illness will be identical, but similar enough that when I start ranting about crazy stuff, she can follow what I’m saying.
With her I can talk about absolutely anything. There is nobody else with whom I could be so candid and so in depth about my symptoms and my bad days, most people would be lost at the first “tic, voices, triggered, frustration, memory, tic” loop; most people would be left wondering what the flip I was banging on about.
Yesterday we were talking about the difficulties we have in describing our bad experiences to people who have no personal understanding of psychosis and schizophrenic symptoms. My friend is really having a bad time of it at the moment, and suffers daily; in fact she’s struggling most moments but she manages to hide it from the people around her.
One of her close friends asked her to describe what she was experiencing to her, so that she could better understand what it was that she was going through.
My friend said that she tried to explain the voices, the sense of dislocation from her own thoughts and the general weirdness and strength of the things which seemed to pass through her mind at whim, unconnected to her own will or outlook.
She said that after she’d explained her friend gave her a bit of a confused look and said, “well that doesn’t really sound so bad?”
My friend had to agree! She appreciated that simply saying, “ah there’s a voice in my head which tells me I’m useless and makes me feel bad, and my thoughts seem slightly disrupted or senseless,” doesn’t really present a good justification for feeling so terrible, and being affected as strongly as she is.
Saying to somebody, “there’s a voice in my head that makes me feel crappy,” is a woeful description of the reality of that experience.
We were discussing this, and the disconnect between the descriptive words and phrases we use to convey these experiences, and the actual experience of them. It is like calling having your legs cleaved off with a blunted handsaw “really painful”- it doesn’t quite sum up the reality!
For the reality is, that talking about hearing voices is just the tip of the iceberg with mental illness experiences.
I know that for me, when those voices come on badly; in such a way that I know they could likely snowball and perpetuate, it creates a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, and the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stand up.
I will instinctively begin to tense up, because I know the force of what is to come. However, what makes this prelude all the more distressing is that I know that by tensing up, I’m only making the likelihood of having a bad time more likely.
It is like a self fulfilling prophesy in that I ultimately know that only I am creating the symptoms; the only way to prevent it from happening is to ignore it completely, to figuratively turn the other direction and focus over in and on something else.
It feels like you are trying to walk a razor thin line through your head; if you fall the wrong way or take a single wrong step you’ll fall into sensations of terror or rage so strong you won’t be able to contain them or process them on any level.
This is like mental zen- like trying to divide 3873 by 24 while someone is repeatedly punching you in the face.
It feels as though a sliver of fear is slinking into your mind through some back entrance you can’t see; which is really flipping scary when you can actually feel it starting to take hold and affect you.
But you have to focus above it; you know that you’re the only one who has the ability to stop it from happening again; despite the fact that every time you try you seem to fail, you have to keep trying. The alternative is unthinkable.
So, it is really the intensity of the feelings which accompany these voices which is the actual causes the distress, not the voices themselves. It is the intensity of the feelings and sensations which are triggered which is terrifying and debilitating.
What makes it more terrible is that all of this seems to happen beyond your conscious control. It seems to happen to you, rather than within your own sphere of “self-control”(a concept which becomes laughably porous once you’ve lived through psychosis a few times).
It feels like your own mind and body have some kind of will of their own. There is no sense of personal control over these experiences and sensations- which leads to a horrible sense of being trapped within your mind and your body- trapped within a system of feelings and associations which only seem to spiral out of all sense of reason and possibility.
This feeling of powerlessness brings a variety of other feelings with it. It is a horrible emotion to feel in any situation, but when it feels as though your own mind has flown completely out from under your own control, for absolutely no rational or apparent reason, the accompanying sensations I usually experience are helplessness, frustration and then rage.
For there always seems to be a sense of injustice about the whole experience, which really seems to drives the dagger home. I know that feeling this way is useless, as it is only a condition created in my mind by chemicals, but in the moment it feels like you’re being forced to suffer tremendously, for absolutely no good reason.
All of these feelings, sensations and experiences usually hit you within the space of about a minute- so it is bloody difficult to separate them out and rationally deal with each of them individually.
(Continued in part 2)