ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Psychotic Mind

By Jack Bragen
Thursday April 26, 2012 - 05:33:00 PM

In the past year and nearly a half, I have covered a lot of the life situations that are difficult for persons with mental illness. However, I haven't discussed very much what it is like for a schizophrenic person to experience an episode of psychosis. 

Being psychotic is like living in a bizarre alternate world in which the normal rules that provide boundaries and comfort are not applicable. It is an alternate world which isn't real, and yet it seems real to the mind of a psychotic person. We experience beliefs that are false, paranoid and seemingly threatening, and these beliefs are as real to us as is the "normal" world in which you live, to you. 

For example, I had the belief that I was in contact with extraterrestrials. Sure, you might think that there are plenty of odd people who think such a thing who are not given a mental health diagnosis. Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I had the delusion that I was on Mars. My mind produced perceptions to reinforce this, for example, altered perceptions of a water machine, altered perceptions of my weight, believing that if I exited the door of the psychiatric ward I would die from the lack of oxygen. 

I had the delusion that a nuclear Armageddon was in progress. I believed that a force field that the government had installed was making the nuclear blasts nearly invisible, so that when I saw minor fluctuations in light, which is a normal thing, I interpreted it as shielded nuclear blasts. 

In short, my consciousness became more interesting and more frightening than anything you've seen at a movie theater. These perceptions were vivid and were on a gut level. It was a level of realism that convinced me that the belief system I was experiencing was true. Some of these perceptions people would ordinarily believe are bizarre and farfetched. And, in fact, despite my erroneous perception of the realism of these beliefs, they were false; they were exaggerations of the world around me based on fears that wouldn't ordinarily assert themselves. 

While in the hospital recovering from a psychotic episode, I would examine the little containers of juice to make sure no one had used a hypodermic needle to inject poison into my juice. I would eat chocolate and believe it was radioactive, but believed that I had superpowers that allowed me to be immune to this. I would have the belief that I could hear other people's thoughts. I would believe that my thoughts were being projected outward, to the minds of other people. I would try to communicate with inanimate objects. I would believe my own death was imminent. My mind was dominated by erroneous beliefs like the ones listed above, and I lacked the ability to discern that these thoughts were obviously nonsense. The extremely high amplitude of the delusions that flooded into my consciousness prevented me from having the normal use of my faculties. 

Medication helps to a large extent with this problem. When I had my most recent psychotic episode which was about sixteen years ago, I swore to myself that I would never again become medication noncompliant. A psychotic episode is extremely unpleasant, and it involves a risk to life, limb, well-being, and lawful freedom. 

Persons with mental illness should be educated about their condition. The mental health treatment system doesn't do that; it merely supervises and gives medication. There is a gap that exists there. When persons with mental illness (while on medication) are taught about the seriousness and the nature of their condition there will be much less noncompliance, and the expense of supervising and looking after this group of people, which I am one of, will be far less. Credit should be given to the learning potential of people whose lives are valuable as well. And these lives are very salvageable.