Despite these wild times, I am still on track to publish my first book (now you know why I’ve been more or less absent from my blog recently). It’s an incredible and difficult experience, writing about your own life, and remaining honest forces you to confront yourself on many levels. My memoir, which will be intermixed with nonfictional research and personal accounts, “Asking for Empathy: stories of psychosis and healing” is in the works and can be expected to be published, thanks to Georgetown Univerity’s Creator Institute, in the Winter of 2020. Writing a book has been a goal of mine since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and I’m beyond excited to share this announcement with you.
Allow me to introduce The Schizospectrum. Something I deeply believe in and hold in high regard.
You may have assumed schizophrenia to exist in a vacuum, a static illness with defined, consistent symptoms. You’d be wrong. There is reason to believe that schizophrenia exists on a spectrum, ranging from very few episodes to many episodes in a person’s lifetime. And for everyone who battles schizophrenia, symptoms are as unique as the finger-print. All people with schizophrenia experience a different range of symptoms, all at different severities. And those of us who experience hallucinations know that each hallucination is intensely personal and exclusive to that person only; no two hallucinations are the same.
But I believe we can take it further than that. I believe that psychosis is just an extreme deviation of a normal human experience. I believe that everyone exists on the spectrum, not just people with diagnosable psychosis.
For instance, lots of people have experienced fleeting paranoia when they’re alone at night or stressed out in a crowd; lots of people have experienced occasional voice-hearing like their own name or the voices of a loved one after they’ve passed away. Many people have experienced low motivation or have seen something out of the corner of their eye. Psychosis significant enough to interfere with a person’s life, or require medication, is only a normal human experience extrapolated into something more severe.
It is very unlikely a person will get through their life without having some expression of psychosis, however mild. The difference is we don’t call someone psychotic until those experiences affect a person’s life/functioning in a significant way. Months ago now, browsing mental health tags and psychosis content on Tumblr I came across something truly incredible, which I think warrants serious attention and consideration from not only other people with schizophrenia/psychosis but also the public and professionals. I have never in my life seen schizophrenia so accurately depicted. I couldn’t help myself of course and contributed my chart to the thread, adding to many others who had found this an equally accurate translation of the psychotic experience.
I have to thank brilliant user Schizomnom on their Tumblr blog Extrareality BS for the fantastic representation of the psychosis spectrum. Their post I Propose a New Schizospectrum caught my attention. I quickly filled out my chart, uploading it to Tumblr. Below you see the empty chart, (please go ahead and fill one out for yourself), as well as mine. I have also included a chart that might represent what the average person’s experience over a lifetime might look like, while they clearly have incredibly mild symptoms, what is important to recognize, is that they are still on the spectrum.
We are all on the spectrum. It is completely natural for the human brain to fill in missing pieces of reality with what it thinks should be present in any given experience. The problem arises as the brain struggles to fill in the gaps with the appropriate information. Paul Fletcher, Professor of Health Neuroscience at the Department of Psychiatry in Cambridge, explained this concept brilliantly in his Ted Talk, Psychosis: bending reality to see around corners. For people at the more extreme end of The Schizospectrum, our brains are less adept at providing accurate information. We might fill in the silence of an empty room with voices, or kickstart a paranoid episode when there isn’t anything to be fearful of, our brains may conjure hallucinations or even hijack our realities completely. Some people may hear voices constantly while others only occasionally.
The point is psychosis is a spectrum and we all exist on it, and it’s important to remember, as you find yourself automatically judging someone with psychosis, that your place on the spectrum is subject to change without notice.
Sometimes I imagine my head is full of colorful sand, instead of just plain dirt, and the ocean, which moves inside of my head is a colorful ocean too. Lapping the shore, a mouth with many voices. And sometimes I imagine that I am the moon, in full command of the sea. But I’m not, and I never will be. I am not the ocean either, for the ocean is inside of me. And I am not the many voices, for they exist alone. And I am not the sand. Perhaps I am just the sky, which holds the moon, pastel and empty, covered in clouds which only drift but never say. But I am not the sky, but the sky is my skin, pale and warm, and covered in feelings which only drift but never stay. Perhaps I am the whole earth, spinning quietly in space. But I’m just a lonely body, feeling always out of place. Maybe I’m the stars, dying over and over until I realized that I was more elegant alive. I’m screaming at the speed of light. Maybe I’m the void that holds it all. Dark and cold, lay bare over the rapture of conception; heart beating languidly, pumping blood into an old skeleton, into old muscle, into old skin. I am in love with myself, the void of space. Dappled and naked. I am in love with my cool darkness. I go forever onward, even while the many voices still find their way into my ears.
Or, maybe, I am not vast enough to be the void.
Maybe I am quite small. More insignificant than the starts or the moon, or the earth, or the oceans or the sand. Maybe I don’t exist at all. Maybe time doesn’t exist either, and my psychotic brain is swinging to the rhythm of its absence. Where is time to do, and time to die, and time to live, and melt and fill the sky? Time is the substance I am made of surely, time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger, it is a fire which consumes the days until all the days are gone. But I am the fire, I am the fire.