Splitting and Merging: The Schizoid Mind
Surviving Schizophrenia is all the resume I need.
Disclaimer: I don’t usually identify as being Schizophrenic, although I am identified as such by my medical records. Sometimes I enjoy speaking the language of medical diagnosis, just like certain operating systems are more suited for specific tasks than others. Though, I usually prefer to describe my “Schizophrenic” behavior in terms of Spiritual Emergency or Spiritually Transformative Experience.
Trying to figure out what level someone is connecting with you on can be confusing for anyone, but especially for someone experiencing schizophrenia. One symptom of schizophrenia is increased preoccupation with metaphor. Perceiving an intended meaning may become difficult. Unconscious material (and other mysterious forces) flood and overwhelm the conscious mind. This is similar to what happens when you dream. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of twenty, but I don’t experience it as a constant state of being, so I don’t always identify as schizoidal. During schizophrenic states my behavior can seem confused. If someone were to ask me “Would you like some water?” I might interpret it in a number of ways other than someone wondering if I’m thirsty. The water could take on alchemical properties, emotional qualities, a “yr a thirsty bitch” connotation could be fun, or maybe I’m working for an interstellar agency and water is code word for paid vacation on Venus.
Formulating an answer that is complementary to all possible realities – an incredible feat of creativity – is not only helpful in passing as sane in all potentially existing worlds, sometimes it feels like a matter of life or death. When I’m “manic” I become increasingly interested in playing with, mediating, preserving, and collapsing multiple realities – there’s no way to validate one reality over another. So, I try to achieve a plane of consistency for all possible realities to coexist. Crisis arises when I’m unable to generate an encompassing reality which would conserve freedom of dimensionality. A split into one dimension or another requires me to split also. Hence the Greek prefix skhízō, meaning “I split”.
Then the shock of snapping from one reality to another ensues. Weaving these disparate realities becomes tricky when trying to do day-to-day things like picking an outfit, keeping a schedule, or going to social gatherings where I’ll encounter an even larger variation of realities. It’s also hard on my nervous system, because some of the realities I’m snapping into could be life threatening, boring, or ultimate comedy – all requiring drastically different chemical responses in my body.
Everyone’s experience happens, on a certain level, alone. But we develop trust and community with others through shared mythology, even if others don’t share our experience – ideally everyone’s reality is respected and considered. The realities I’ve experienced become a collage of disparate narratives and can seem pretty bizarre to others, so it can be hard to relate at times. Also, most of my realities are pre- or post-verbal and may be better expressed non-verbally.
Here’s a list of some realities I’ve experienced during schizophrenic states that I usually only talk about in therapeutic settings or with close friends but not in public:
Almost all of my friends trying to kill me. (I forgave everyone because I loved them or was bored.)
Growing wings. I had these wings for one day.
Numerous occasions of scars, burn marks, and bruises appearing for hours at a time, in bizarre patterns, before disappearing completely.
Being raped by discarnate beings.
Developing a deeper understanding of race relations on this planet and analysis of my own whiteness. New perspective of in/equality on a spiritual, physical, and emotional level rather than just intellectual and political.
An interstellar counsel trying to recruit me for help negotiating a trade agreement with Earth. The basic premise is that an Earth spirit traded Earth’s precious resources (for something, not sure what), but the agreement promises that the resources be replenished by a Pleiadian force of aliens who would incarnate themselves in humans, plants, and minerals.
Being watched and followed. At one point I demanded a ride out loud, and was picked up immediately by an unmarked vehicle. This happened twice in the same day. One claimed to be a taxi, but had no meter, and gave me a free ride from Dallas to Lewisville, Texas (a 45 minute drive). Another appeared at the front door, claimed to be a friend of my mother, and asked if I’d like a ride.
Dying and following a string of red and white that led to a beautiful drag queen who introduced me back into my body.
Not being able to sleep for months at a time, only being able to wake up into different realities. It was very exhausting and I had to quit my job without explanation.
Having a bomb in me that could detonate at any moment and destroy the entire planet. This was incredibly stressful.
Falling in love.
Justin Timberlake’s voice demanding I do certain things and threatening to kill my loved ones if I didn’t comply.
A deep compassion for Britney Spears. I created an altar for her in the woods and cried endless tears.
Being asked to emotionally process pop culture since it can’t emotionally process itself.
Madonna taking over my house to initiate me into ... something, not sure what. I got in an argument with her about her fucked up super bowl performance with MIA and Nicki Minaj, she responded by turning the electricity off in the house. My initiation was not successful (or was it?!) She did help me heal my dog though and I am grateful for that. (Oh shit the electricity literally just went out as I typed this. Spooooooky!)
Here’s a list of realities I haven’t experienced directly but that I can talk about in public and still be viewed as sane.
- RSS feeds
- Vague scientific studies that I often don’t remember anything about, like who performed or funded the study. It doesn’t seem to matter though.
- The news
- Stuff said by well respected sane people
- What my counselor says
- Astrology (depending on the crowd)
Being a tiny splinter of awareness in the grand scheme of things, the dichotomy of subjective versus objective un/reality is not that fun for me to debate. I learn a lot from the second list, but I’ve really benefitted from accepting the things I’ve experienced directly (the first list) as being real too. Disinformation is possible from either list – I end up doing a lot of reality checks.
I could probably start a not-so-organized religion on my very specific “hallucinations” – many people have. These experiences are the seeds of conspiracy theories, what Terence Mckenna jokingly calls epistemological cartoons. After experiencing so many realities in quick succession, I have a better understanding of how Philip K Dick was able to vividly write so many books, each with their own intricate morality matrices, character development, and paradigmatic expressions – he was actually living in those worlds and directly experiencing their mythologies. When we read science fiction or pay attention to our dreams, we gladly accept the epoché offered by the story without having to commit to the parasympathetic terror living the reality would evoke.
There’s lots of mystery around what’s up with the shizos. Are we too fucked up to exist? Did we have hard births? Are we the result of trauma or bad parenting? Is it safe for us to participate in spiritual practices? Are we actually powerful but untrained healers and visionaries? If so, why do we get locked up?
While hospitalized I was with an entire unit of schizophrenic patients. Everyone in my unit was a total wizard, creating elaborate realities and expressing them with inexorable metaphor. It’s important to note that I consider the doctors, nurses, janitors, visitors (and other mysterious creepy people that would come to observe us) as being part of my unit. I thought the hospital would offer me a break from the war of symbols and metaphor, and allow me to rest. I quickly found out it’s actually impossible to stop communicating with yourself and other people.
The hospital was a psychological warzone. I likened it to a micro version of the United States. I watched realities between patients and doctors merge into alliances, then dissolve into new geometries of drama within hours. Balancing all of the realities became exhausting. Every person was a powerful engine of narrative, and usually the scripts involved a life and death situation or saving someone's soul, so my nervous system was railing. Trying to save lives in this way caused me to drop way below healthy weight and put a lot of stress on my adrenals. In situations like this, when my system is completely shot and I have no energy to care about anything, I initiate my “ultimate noise artist” phase. I’ll either intentionally confuse sign and signifier networks of meaning or stop responding entirely and just focus on basic things like breathing and drinking enough water. This is an essential phase, because with it comes the awareness that everyone is running a different script convinced of their pontifical reality, that there is no master narrative, and that no one knows what the fuck is going on. It’s important that this awareness doesn’t turn into a conclusion; I enjoy it as a phase because it allows me to dissolve and rest until I can start taking baby steps to construct meaning again.
Gregory Bateson describes the schizophrenic’s inability to ground into a reality as “ego weakness”. I would agree because, at times, I feel like I could almost disappear completely. Like, I have no opinions, no shape, few desires, and rarely acknowledge myself as a body and person with needs. Maybe if I had more ego strength, I wouldn’t have such a difficult time grounding myself in one reality. I’m not alone here, the one versus the many is an age old balancing act, and the crux of schizophrenic behaviour. The most painful experience I live with day to day is the ability to hold singularity of vision, discernment of reality selection, and the ability to believe. Actually, I say that’s a weakness, but I’m so well practiced at mediating between the splintered aspects of my psyche, spirits, aliens, and mineral realities that I feel it has enhanced my ability to communicate clearly and in high pressure situations.
A solid place to begin strengthening my sense of self has been to nourish my body.The gut and psyche are closely linked. I tend to feel more secure when my body is filled with healthy and juicy fats. I still hear voices occasionally, I switch between interpreting them literally and metaphorically but being able to decide how I’m going to interpret, show up for, and respond to the messages is what keeps me from slipping into an emergency state. I keep this perspective when I’m interacting with your voice, tweets, the doctor, micro-aggressive co-workers, and so on. It’s just important to show up at all and hope you’re appropriately dressed to play the part.
If you begin to experience symptoms or realities similar to the ones I have discussed, here are a few things you can do:
Create a network of people you trust. They will be your lifeline to a “normal” reality during the experience. Inform them of what you’re experiencing and ask them to read about Spiritual Emergency if they are unfamiliar. Your network could involve people from your family, close friends, your doctor, a counselor, or anyone you truly trust. They could start a group email or some other way to all be in contact with each other. You have the right to add and subtract anyone from the network at any time, for any reason.
Eat grounding foods and drink water. Remember to eat three meals a day. Try to eat foods that grow inside or close to the earth. Amino fatty acids, good quality oils, and mineral salts are very stabilizing and can help support your brain and nervous system.
Get good sleep. This can be very difficult. You might need to take sleeping pills, but do whatever you have to do to get at least 6 hours of sleep a night.
Exercise. Take lots of walks, preferably in nature and try to break a sweat daily.
Take some time off. If your job is strenuous, try to figure out a way to take some time off. I lose my job every time I have an episode so I’ve learned to ask off when I feel one coming on rather than wait and leave on bad terms.
Play with and express yourself. Your inner child is a huge help in this process, you might even totally regress to being a child at times, so create lots of opportunities for play. Play outside, create your own version of play therapy, and get crafty. Everything might turn into an art exhibit – this is healthy.
If someone around you is exhibiting symptoms similar to the ones I have discussed, here are some ways you can be supportive:
Stay calm around them. If you’re not calm it could make them paranoid and untrusting.
Talk with them and listen. If you are genuinely interested in the person’s experience and well-being, tell them. Express your feelings of care and love for them. If it seems like they’re open to it, ask them if they want to share their experience with you. Ask them how they’d like to be supported.
Make them food and offer them water. They might forget to eat, drink, and sleep. Remind them to eat food and drink water.
Most people experience schizophrenic states of mind or can attest to reality being pretty confusing, crazy, or unbelievable. Some people like to work within the diagnosis and identity of schizophrenia and some don’t. I like to mix it up. I’m willing to accept that I have no past, no diagnosis, and no trauma. I’m also willing to accept the diagnosis and do the work I need to do to heal. Again, I like to mix it up and keep one foot in, one foot out.