A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness and addiction. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist and 12 Step 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.


K.C. Jones said...

Beautiful post! I don't consider you psychotic. You've figured out how to positively integrate the voices into your life-I call that recovery.

Karen May Sorensen said...

Dear Kate,

How amazing that you were able to accept a voice that was calling you evil! Yes, that does take a great deal of compassion.

I don't know how insight works, or how creativity works, it all seems to be part of an invisible process inside of my head. But it gives me gifts. I am grateful for the fruits of my head, and especially powerful seems to be the forces that come from "I don't know where".

You have an idea about the origin of the voices, and having a belief about the way that the world works, or the mind works, does not make you psychotic. People around the world try to define their inner and outer life in so many different ways - some of them cultural, some of them unique to the individual, it is just part of the human experience to give reason to mystery. The meanest humans turn on their kin who have other view points and call them crazy, some wish to demean other belief systems. But I think the smart ones, who have some notion that life is miraculous and larger than they can know or define, actually accept or tolerate contradiction - this is I think the hallmark of a wise person. Not someone who has all the answers, but someone who listens well to ideas outside of a comfort zone of familiarity.

Please don't worry about whether or not you make sense simply because you hear voices. You are one of the smartest people I know and your intelligence shines brightly in your writing.

I do think you are right that hearing voices isn't proof of psychosis, or perhaps it shouldn't matter so much if someone is a little psychotic. In America people act like a psychotic person is on the verge of committing a heinous crime - psychotic people are viewed as dangerous. I have met health care professionals who are deeply scared of psychosis and others that don't worry much if their patient is by medical terms psychotic, they don't judge. I find from experience of knowing psychotic people that being different usually only affects the person with the novel ideas, if they can manage with their unusual inner world then usually they are able to live a rich life.

My friend Rocki was asked by her therapist if she would get lonely if they increased her meds and stopped the voices, and Rocki wasn't sure. Like you, the voices have added a lot to her life. She really can't imagine life without them. But she doesn't see the point of drowning them in medication, because for her more medication means awful side effects. And, as she has told me, because of her voices she is never lonely.

It doesn't affect my opinion of you one bit because you hear voices. And it doesn't matter to me either where you think the voices originate. I think you are a special, awesome person.

All my love,

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey thanks for commenting and following Anxiety Land! You have an interesting blog, and I appreciate how you stress acceptance, kindness, understanding, and open-mindedness.
Adventures in Anxiety Land

Antique and good used furniture........ said...



Unknown said...

This was an awesome post..I have OCD and I think I could apply much of this to my thinking..ie: what my thoughts tell me.

. said...

I think everyone has voices in their head. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they call it "the committee..." All those voices of ourselves, our parents, other authority figures, even some made up figures that have no basis in reality. They talk all the time. They argue back and forth, they criticize our actions...

But I see all these voices as originating from me. I'm the one in charge, and I'm the one that says yes or no to any of their suggestions. They can be hella persuasive, but they're not the ones in control.

Over the years, I've gotten some voices out of my head. My mother and grandmother (both pretty mean) don't speak up much anymore. Any time I get into a mode of abusive self-criticism, I have to visualize sitting down with them and explaining to them: "I understand you're trying to keep me safe, but this isn't helpful right now." That usually shuts them up.

Every once in a while, I'll get a voice that seems outside of me: a flash of inspiration, some quiet wisdom that sneaks up on me while I'm resting, little things like that. The Hebrews had a word for that - Bat Qol, or "the daughter of the voice of God."

I think it's perfectly natural to have these voices come to us. The difference, I think, is maintaining a grasp on reality and being able to function in the outside world (the world beyond what's in my head).

Idk... just spit-balling ideas here ^_^

Cole said...

I really enjoyed this. I have been living with what other people call psychotic features from the time I was a small child. My psychiatrist believes these inner voices to be apart of my PTSD. I'll admit at first I was scared to read this post. It is much easier to believe you are crazy and that you need the medication than to suggest that perhaps there is something we can learn from our internal dialogue. Thanks for the great post. I tend to hear voices just before I go to sleep and I pray every night to God to just let me sleep.

Cole said...

Thank you for this lovely post. I have to admit that this is definitely a different and better way to view our internal dialogues.