The next big adjustment I want to try and discuss is getting use to the idea that I couldn’t trust my senses, principally seeing and hearing but to a much lesser degree sense of smell and touch.
When a Mental Health Professional states to some one like myself that what they are seeing or feeling is not real, they, the Professional, don’t seem to understand what a profound task they are asking us to undertake. People don’t generally question their senses. As the old statement goes, seeing is believing. Many of the Schizophrenics I have been able to talk to on the subject have made it clear to me that eventually they learn to play a long. Imagine for a moment that some one told you that your family was not real, that they were a hallucination and, just for the sake of argument, you love your family, they were a vital part of your life, how would you react? I am beginning to think that this contributes to the problem of medication compliance. The is something about the hallucinations and the world they help the sufferer to create that is seductive. Chronic sufferers have a hard time reentering the mainstream simply because they lack a certain social understanding leaving them feeling awkward. Suddenly they crave that world they knew so well. The regular world is an alien land and they are way behind the curve.
The second issue with the problem of accepting that one cannot trust their own senses is that a hallucination is so much more than just an image or a sound. There is a complex set of other physical sensations that go along with them. I remember digging out my Abnormal Psych text book to look up physiological phenomena that accompany mental illness. Top of the list was Hypertension, somewhere else on the list I found Diabetes but no where did I find a discussion of these other sensations. If the sufferer perceives a thing that is terrifying then their heart rate increases, the respiration increases, muscles tense and a liberal dose of adrenaline is dumped into their blood stream. For people who lack any real awareness of their body this may result in nothing other than a panic attack. On the other hand if they perceive a thing that is loved and is believed to love back they’ll get a very different set of feelings almost opposite of the last description. They may even be a scent involved or a very rare touch. In both cases these reactions are either instinctive, emotional or both.
I had a strange advantage, again I must pay tribute at least in word to abnormal Psych which I took my sophomore year. I was already in a state of doubting my senses, particularly eyes, ears and touch. I don’t think this was good for me in the long run as my Major at the time was Physics and Chemistry. I think it might have promoted the eventual breakdown. On the other hand it might have given me the tools to deal with this very issue. The whole thing sounds crazy. I could tell when I was Hallucinating and when I wasn’t. I remember describing it to Meta like this:
Imagine that you are looking at a movie screen. There are two movies playing on that single screen at the same time. One film is black and white and it is a comedy/mystery and the other film is science fiction and in color. Both sound tracks are playing at the same time and at the same volume. One film is reality and the other film is not. In time, a human with enough concentration and patience will be able to tell one from the other, in parts.
The weird thing about this is even though I could tell and know that a thing I was experiencing was not real my body still reacted as though it was. This has taken a toll on me.
Also when I am away from familiar surroundings I must spend extra energy reality testing, some thing that Meta often helps me with, but often I carry out a silent survey of the area. This is an effort to catch anything unreal before it creeps into the world. Visual experiences creep into the viewers world generally from the side of the eye or the corners of the room and sneak up on you, at least that has been my experience. If I catch the experience early I can’t circumvent the worst of the physical reactions. Plus I don’t always see the people I am interacting with true. This requires a certain level of concentration and at the same time a social awareness to void appearing “creepy.” The whole exercise is quite exhausting.
I have been trying to discuss this with the various individuals I work with through the clinic but they don’t seem much interested. I can assume that their are many different reasons for this most of which are not unkind nor untoward. For some reason I feel that it needs to be out in the world so I write it here. Maybe some one can get some use out of it or maybe I am just crazy.
Either way, have a better than average day.