Colour Blind

Psychosis and my psychotic thoughts have had a profound and lasting impact on my life. Some of these thoughts firmly rooted themselves and grew like trees while the rest were scattered and covered my world like a lush lawn. They endured like your beliefs and were no less ingrained.

I spent over a year with words, phrases, lyrics and gestures combining into a map of belief. Odd and even numbers confirmed messages while vowels, consonants and gestures of left or right guided me. Full words and conversations sent me in a thousand directions. When the lyrics of a song reach in and match your thoughts instantaneously, they can’t be ignored.

When you are psychotic, all events revolve around your thinking and everything becomes connected creating a reality as solid and based in factual events as that being experienced by anyone else. When something happens that doesn’t fit into your world it sometimes snaps you into a different frame of reality but usually it only causes a shift which can easily be meshed with your world of psychotic thought once again. It could be likened to not knowing you are colour blind. Someone may point out that your blue shirt is yellow but it takes much more to convince you this is so.

Thanks to anti-psychotics my associations and delusions have ended. However, it took time to erase the trails left by psychosis. I am unsure if most people recall their psychotic moments and thoughts but I do. Several were too terrifying to forget while others were all encompassing. If everything you saw and experienced pointed to the world being flat, nothing less than a paradigm shift would change your perception and perspective.

I can look at my psychosis as a simple illness but that does not change the fact that I was guided safely on a perilous journey. I was witness to sane people who were met with violence while I stood unharmed despite my behaviour. Today I blend more with my surroundings and words are often meaningless but my psychosis still holds meaning for me.

Eye of the Beholder

I am at the family cottage sitting on the picnic table at the edge of the pond. It’s not much of a pond at present. It is low in water and made murky by its clay bottom. My dog is taking dips and stirring up the goldfish only aware of her pleasure. I am otherwise alone here listening to music. I am rich.

I have seen uglier times. Perhaps that is why I have such an appreciation for these moments. I could wish for more but peace is not having things but appreciating things. I can recall peering through bars and a heavy metal screen a pencil would not fit through. I was witness to sunsets that although obscured, I remember still. Colour penetrates much. I have been witness to many great sunsets here on Lake Huron but the ones that penetrated the jail seem more memorable. I wonder if my fellow inmates saw what I saw. I believe the gift of the sunset is Grace but the ability to recognize its beauty is also Grace. Is the meal extraordinary or our present sense of taste? Is it what resides in us that allows us to interpret beauty and be moved?

Two people can taste a fruit but neither will experience the same sweetness. Perspective and interpretation can be gifts. I am at times grateful for people and experiences in my life but I forget to be thankful for perspective. I am richer when I can acknowledge the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty does not exist unless it is beheld.

Psychosis

To be the Second Coming of Christ can be exhilarating but also a terrible responsibility. Part of the problem for me was that I had no disciples. Knowing the story of Christ, disciples have their downside but at least they can attest to your miracles and share a meal.

My Garden of Gethsemane moment came while I was secluded in the medical cells. What you read here happened just like your first date. I remember it as you might. I remember what I could see and touch and what I was thinking and the emotions that resulted from all. I remember it better than my first date possibly because it was so real and intense for me; I did not plead for God’s mercy on my first date.

I waken in the night and hear nothing. No breathing, no snoring, no footsteps, no keys; the jail is lifeless. I begin to panic, my mind starts to somersault and I think the world is ending. I begin to pace. I hear only my bare feet brushing the cold cement. I start to pray, Lord save this world; nothing. I begin to plead with God to save the world; nothing. I pace with more panic. I pee in my toilet and put some on my head, I am desperate. I get down on my knees and start crying. I tell God I will give up seeing my children ever again if He saves the world. Still in tears I resort to the unpardonable sin, I curse the Holy Spirit. I know this will banish me to Hell and keep me from loved ones but it is my last hope, I curse with all my heart. My arms slash through the darkness as I throw every word I know into the night. I flush my toilet, an unpardonable sin in jail at night. Everyone on the medical range is awake. There are swear words and I grab my bars and scream at them about how ungrateful they are; I have just saved the world. The guard arrives and they lodge their complaints. Quiet once again falls on the jail and I am left to ponder what I have done. In the morning I am lead from the medical cells to the Hole.    It’s as close as they come to crucifixion in Corrections Canada.

 

Giving up the possibility of seeing my children in heaven was possibly more significant than it might usually be. I had not seen, written to or spoken on the phone with either of my children in over three years at the point of this story. When it seemed too painful to carry them in my heart; I looked and they were there. When it would have been easier to put them out of my mind; I thought and they were there.

I was not and am not well versed in the Bible. I had a friend who was a Born Again Christian before and during his incarceration. He was my only friend when I was sick or well. He was in his late 60’s and I made his bunk up for him at night. One of W.’s lessons was when he informed me that there is only one unpardonable sin. He warned me never to curse the Holy Spirit. He informed me I would not be forgiven in this life or the next and pointed out the verse in the Bible: Matthew 12:31-32

“And so I tell you, every human sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or the next.”

Someone Must Pay The Ticket

People in the forensic mental health system deal with a double stigma. We are found by the courts to be Not Criminally Responsible yet our communities hold us responsible. We face the social consequences of being involved in a crime and being mentally ill. Neither will get you the key to the city.

Some have difficulty understanding our illnesses and some are unwilling to see past our crimes. We are the accused but by law we are not found guilty. We remain the accused indefinitely.

Many have little experience with severe mental illness and base their attitudes on what little they see and understand. They can see the crime and be convinced of our involvement but may not comprehend that it is beyond our control.

Mental illness is invisible. Imagine yourself being pulled by an invisible tow truck. The truck is mental illness pulling you beyond the posted speed limit. We see the individual and the act and so we prosecute. Someone must pay the ticket.

Mental health stigma is a reality. The double stigma facing those within the forensic system is due to the crime and some are persecuted. We need to separate the illness and the crime from the individual and accept their humanity.

“They” Like Ice Cream Too!

Where does stigma come from? I’m sure there are answers and possibly more theories. I believe some stigma is the result of the assumptions we have of human behavior. To a degree in the west we believe that people have direct control over their fate and get what they deserve in life. (The Just World Hypothesis) To view poverty, hunger, oppression, illness and abuse as arbitrary is disconcerting. We have all heard the ignorant suggest that those who live in countries susceptible to famine should simply move. They assume their good fortune at being born in a democratic and wealthy nation was somehow personally determined. You are responsible for this as much as you are responsible for your height or eye colour. We like to know the cause of illness. To believe illness is indiscriminate not only goes against our worldview but it threatens our ideas of personal power and self-determination. Westerners are uncomfortable with powerlessness. Consider the lengths we go to battle male baldness. There are entire industries built to combat physical attributes. Acceptance equals defeat for some.

Westerners also value individualism. We value independence above all else. As such we assume individuals who have mental health problems can overcome their symptoms with nothing more than willpower. It’s all in your head is it not? The idea of responsibility I would argue is more pronounced in mental health than it is with physical health. We would be considered callous if we told the cancer patient to “pull up your socks.” The depressed person on the other hand is often told to snap out of it.

Is it possible that stigma is fear of a perceived threat; a threat to our person but also to our worldview. If mental illness is without cause it threatens our beliefs and elicits fear. It could be argued that as mental health consumers we are exposed to both the “flight” and “fight” responses to fear. We are avoided and segregated; even ostracized (“flight”) and we are often ridiculed (“fight”).

I am unsure of how to combat stigma but in overcoming fear, exposure is often employed. If those who have no experience with mental illness opened their hearts and minds to us they will be exposed not to a pathogen but to a human. As more people step forward, hopefully more will stand back and see us as human. As my Occupational Therapist is fond of pointing out “they” like ice cream too!