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April 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 8:15 pm

It’s difficult to resist self-diagnosis with the Internet at your fingertips.

My latest disquieting discovery: Schizoaffective Disorder.

I mentioned before that I wanted to talk about mental health and my relationship to my mother at some point. I don’t know how deep into that I’m ready to get yet…but what I’m about to write seems as good a place as any to start. And right now, I need to get it out in the open, somewhere.

I don’t know how common or rare any of this is, because I’ve been afraid to talk about it for most of my life. My brother says this sort of thing happens to everybody. August says he’s never experienced anything even remotely like it.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced mild paranoid hallucinations. They vary in intensity but occur on a very frequent basis, at least a couple of times a week. Mostly it’s a brief, upsetting annoyance that makes me act jumpy and distracted; but at worst it’s overwhelming and debilitating, causing me to freak out and break down crying in public, start yelling at myself or others, or just curl up and hide somewhere afraid to move, like some kind of panic attack. Sometimes they only last a few instants. Sometimes they cling, or recur for days on end.

They’re worse at night, in the dark or, for some reason, when I’m in water: the shower, the ocean, the swimming pool. And I know a few things that tend to exacerbate them: lack of sleep; lack of exercise; depression; stress; reading, watching or thinking about things that trigger me i.e. horror movies, swarms of bugs, graphic depictions of rape and violence, particularly psychological torture. So I try to be conscientious about avoiding those things.

But I don’t know how to suppress them entirely. And sometimes I get triggered accidentally, because I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. Last night I picked up a book of plays by Sarah Kane. I got sucked in because her work, and the story of her life, are intensely compelling – but I paid for it later.

One thing I’ve found that helps stop the hallucinations are things that ground me back in objective reality. Hearing someone I trust say my name is a big one. Another one is talking about them. Somehow, describing what I’m experiencing to another human being seems to turn the intensity down. I’m hoping that describing my experience to the entire Internet might help me anchor into the real world better.

‘Hallucinations’ might not be the best word, actually. I learned from reading today that a hallucination is specifically a sensory perception (visual, aural, olfactory, etc) of something that isn’t there while a delusion is “fixed false belief” – particularly a bizarre or patently impossible one – that cannot be changed by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary. What I experience is, as best as I can explain it, delusions about hallucinations. In other words, I become absolutely, incorrigibly convinced that I am about to start hallucinating – specifically, that I am about to start hallucinating something terrifying, that I am going to hallucinate it so strongly that I will believe it is real, and that the hallucinations will consume my entire reality permanently.

The most common manifestation of this fear is swarms of insects. I’ll be afraid that a giant swarm of, say, beetles is about to appear, maybe by pouring out of the sink drain, and cover everything around me including myself. Or, even more terrifying, that things – or people – around me are about to dissolve into anthills or writing piles of maggots. (I cannot tell you how much that scene in The Lost Boys where Jason Patric’s lo mein turns into a box of live worms freaked me out.) I can’t describe how it feels to have a serious, intimate conversation with your lover derailed because your brain is suddenly filled with images of their face covered in flies – or worse yet, trying to force yourself to continue the conversation in spite of the delusion, because you’re afraid that if you tell them what’s happening and why you’re acting so twitchy, they’ll think you’re completely insane.

And it took all my willpower just to write that paragraph, because this is the one delusion that’s equally powerful in the middle of the day as in the middle of the night, and the one that’s the easiest to set off just by thinking about it.

Other common ones are that something huge, alien and dangerous is chasing me when I’m underwater, that the person I’m sleeping next to is dead, or that they’re possessed and about to turn over to show me their empty eyes and evil grin. I’ll fear that someone I’m talking with in a totally innocuous, pleasant, intimate fashion is going to undergo a drastic, unprecedented shift in personality and start screaming – just wordless, violent, insane screaming – inches from my face.

When I’m alone, I get very afraid of TVs and radios (never the computer, oddly) , scared that they’re about to snap on randomly, or start talking to me personally, or playing some malicious song or sound written specifically for me to hear and be terrified by. I’ll avoid looking in mirrors out of fear that my own reflection is going to come alive and distort or torment me somehow. When I was a little kid, I would sometimes look in the mirror and make strange, creepy, wide-eyed faces at myself, whispering you…yooooou…. until I spooked myself and ran away. Sometimes, I’m afraid that face will reappear against my will. And then there’s just the generalized, indefinable but abject fear of the dark.

Another weird one is the fear that any body parts I can’t see or feel don’t exist. So, for example, if I’m in bed talking to someone and they have the covers pulled up to their chin, I’ll start to be afraid that I’m just talking to a severed head. This occasionally leads to me spontaneously yanking the covers off of people who must wonder why the hell I am being so rude when they are obviously cold. I remember one time when, for some reason, I couldn’t find Eric’s feet and I freaked out and became convinced it was because he didn’t have any feet. I started desperately scrambling under the covers trying to find his feet and he was like, “What? What’s wrong??”

Obviously, his feet were there (he’d just had his knees curled up behind him or something), and I played it off with some weird joke. But what I was really afraid of, I think, was that I was going to discover he had no feet and then I was going to look up to see him grinning evilly at me, replaced by some kind of demonic or fae facsimile, partially built, worked up just enough to trick me into believing he was the real deal and…then what? I don’t know. My brain just shuts down shivering at that point.

It’s not a fear of disability in my partners… It would be one thing if I was with someone who I knew didn’t have feet. And it’s never really a fear of violence, that anything is out to hurt or kill me. It’s more like I’m afraid to discover that someone I love, some place I trust, familiar things that I know what to expect from, anyone or anything that I’m in a vulnerable situation with, is actually something else entirely… Something malicious that doesn’t want to kill me; it just wants to make me crazy.

And that’s what it boils down to. I’m terrified of going crazy. All these things – hallucinating insects, hearing voices, believing people are possessed, horror movie fears – are stereotypical indicators of being “batshit insane”. I don’t think I have irrational, hallucinatory delusions because I’m insane. I think what I have is an irrational fear about suddenly being struck with irrevocable proof of my own insanity. Combine this with what, in a twelve year old, would probably be called an “overactive imagination”…and voila! What you have is a fear of going crazy so intense that it’s making me crazy.

Because, thing is, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. I may have this very articulate, intellectual (albeit speculative) understanding of what’s going on in my brain. I also may have absolute intellectual certainty that there is not a man in my closet with an axe. That doesn’t change the fact that there is no way, under any circumstances, that I am going in that closet – or the fact that I’m going to call you at 3am crying about how, even though I know it’s not true, I still can’t sleep because I’m afraid there’s a man in my closet with an axe. And if my fear of being crazy makes me act like I’m crazy, well I might as well be crazy then. What’s the difference?

I’m talking with my partner. I’m imaging his face covered in bugs. He goes into kiss me. I jump away and start crying. He has no idea what’s going on, he just knows that he tried to kiss me and I started crying. I can’t tell him why I’m crying, because I’m afraid he’ll think I’m crazy, because I’m afraid I am crazy. He has to invent his own explanation – which – understandably since, of course, my partner doesn’t think I’m insane – will be something much more like, “she doesn’t want to kiss me because she’s afraid of me,” rather than, “she doesn’t want to kiss me because she got triggered by something totally unrelated and thinks there are bugs crawling out of my nose.”

Then my partner starts to believe that I hate him or am afraid of him and he doesn’t understand why…you can imagine the kind of damage this sort of thing might wreak on your personal relationships. Eventually, fed up with not being able to understand what’s going on with me, the person leaves and when someone asks him what happened his only response is, “Man, I don’t know. She’s crazy!”

Incidentally, I’m not talking about either one of my actual partners here. I’ve talked to both of them a little about this stuff and, even though I have trouble making myself clear and I think they have trouble (as do I) understanding what it’s all about, they at least know enough to believe me (I hope), when I say, “It’s not you.”

But, especially after reading today about how schizoid disorders onset in early adulthood and tend to degenerate without psychiatric treatment, I do still have this fear that these delusions will become worse and worse and eventually I’ll be so incomprehensible and hard to deal with that I’ll drive everyone I love away.


Because that’s what my Mom did.

There’s a lot more to say here about my own experience, my family history, and about paradigms for understanding madness, mental health/disability, psychiatry and how those fit into the political framework of kyriarchy…but I don’t really want to talk about this anymore right now.


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