A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Psychotic Am I?

Statement:  I believe that the voices that I hear within my mind are from a real and highly intelligent source and are not audio hallucinations.

Psychiatrists and some therapists would probably say that I am deluded about my audio hallucinations.  They would say that I am psychotic, though no longer acutely so.

So how psychotic am I?  How much of what I write about has common sense intelligence in it and how much is just off the wall insanity?  I'm hoping that most people can follow my thought process in my writing, that I come across as basically sane, even trustworthy.  I hope for that because I want to be of help to others and I can't do that if I'm not making sense.  So I don't write about my voices much because I know to do so would be to lose what small credibility I have to begin with.  Now that I think of it, this is misleading because I am leaving out a key ingredient of my daily experience.

There are people who hear voices who are not psychotic and those that don't hear voices who are psychotic.  I started out hearing voices before I became delusional and paranoid and they were basically non harming and even helpful.  It's when the voices became intrusive and manipulative that I quickly became psychotic.  I believed in the delusions and paranoia and the voices took on many roles from sadistic to benevolent.  While I was acutely psychotic I interacted with the voices in a way that I no longer do.  The medications appear to have given me some distance from them and a sense of quiet space to reflect on my daily experiences.  But even with the distance, the voices are another layer of awareness in addition to my own awareness; I know I am never alone in my mind and experience.

I'm assuming that those of you who don't hear voices must take that last sentence and dismiss it as not real.  That's too bad because then you can't see into my world or rather what you do see is just a fraction of what is there.  If you were brave enough to suspend your disbelief and consider what it means to have voices that are not audio hallucinations, what would you find?  You tell me.

The voices are as constant to me as the rising and setting of the sun and as real as the blue sky that always resides behind the clouds.  But like the mind, they have no visible substance.  There is no concrete proof that these voices that I hear come from actual beings.  But if there were proof what would it mean for the consciousness of the whole world?  It would mean different things for different people.  Finally, we would have to stop imagining ourselves as alone in the universe.  But that these beings could somehow enter into our collective consciousness and into individual minds might not be so reassuring especially when the messengers are the mentally ill.

Am I doing people who believe their voices are audio hallucinations a disservice?  Shouldn't I be saying to them it's all just a genetic defect, a biochemical glitch?  I do believe that genetics and biochemistry are involved in developing psychotic disorders, but I would not be being honest if I said that that was the end of the story; being honest is what keeps me in recovery.  I can't lie about what I feel in my bones is true, but I have long since given up trying to prove my belief.  I can't prove it and it's been a relief to stop trying.  I've found that the people who are most sick are the ones who obsess on trying to prove their position.  At some point, you have to let go.  Letting go is a spiritual practice.

Still I believe that mental illness and recovery from mental illness is a psycho-spiritual process, one that requires that you stand up for yourself.  If you don't stand up for yourself, for your basic goodness, there's a good chance that you could be swallowed whole by the negative aspects of the illness.  Too many people turn to suicide or other forms of self-harm and many of those people wind up in and out of psychiatric hospitals or wards unable to live independently for any length of time.  If you have negative voices, you must search out the positive even within the negative.  My voices have called me evil so many times, but I rarely believed it, which is why I am still alive.  I said "No" to the voices assessment of me and yet I didn't harden myself against them.  I learned to cultivate compassion for myself, others and for them.

I did acknowledge to myself that I was sick and in need of help and I found a therapist within the first 6 months.  She taught me to see the negative voices as much sicker than myself.  This helped a lot.  Instead of internalizing the core of the sickness, hurting myself and possibly others, I learned to detach and defend the part of me I loved.  Initially I felt a lot of resentment towards the negative voices, but overtime, using the gentle practice of compassion, this changed and the voices returned to being mostly non-harming, even beneficial.  They still act up, especially when I get anxious, but I have changed my perspective on why they act up.  I try to see them as teachers and work with them instead of against them and myself.

Chris had asked me the question in one of her comments to a blog entry of mine "Would you really want to hear voices if you didn't have to?"  I honestly don't know.  I've lived with the voices for so long now, through thick and thin, and I have trouble envisioning life without them.  The medications do not remove the voices for me and if they can't do it, what will?  So I assume that they are with me for life and I have to adapt to their presence.  In accepting their presence in my life, I have come to appreciate what is good about them.  They are intelligent, creative, supportive and from time to time I really commune with them in a way that I don't commune with others.  They represent the whole spectrum of The Unknown.  In my heart of hearts, I believe that they are ultimately trying to help this world by working with people, individual by individual.

Anyway,  this belief that the voices come from a real source outside of me is what makes some people deem me psychotic.  So be it.  But don't tell me that I don't make a helluvalot of sense sometimes.  And how can that be that I am both psychotic and sensible?  Some might say that there's method in madness, but I'm here to say that there's truth in madness as well.  Don't ever discount the truth when you find it.  I'm here to challenge you to stay openminded.  I may not be able to prove that God exists, or angels and devils, or spirits, or aliens, but, on the other hand, you can't prove that they don't exist either.  There's more than meets the eye for all of our lives.  The mystery continues every day.

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