ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Real Versus Imagined Threats

Jack Bragen
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:06:00 AM

It is important for people with schizophrenia to distinguish imagined threats versus real ones. Psychosis can take over the mind and can make us feel threatened, anxious, and frightened. This emotional upset can then snowball into worse symptoms of psychosis. It is important for us to prevent getting excessively upset over things. Once we become excessively upset about real or imagined problems, it opens the door for a possible relapse.  

Real threats do affect everyone from time to time. However, actions that are based on imagined threats can cause real threats to come into existence that hadn't existed before. Becoming psychotic is a genuine threat to life and limb.  

When acting on delusions, we could inadvertently harm ourselves or others. Even if mostly nonviolent while mentally acutely ill, there is still the consideration of the damage done to one's living situation, economic situation, reputation, and friendships. Numerous life circumstances can change for the worse when one has a relapse of being mentally acutely ill.  

Meanwhile genuine problems exist that all people, mentally ill or not, will encounter. They must be dealt with and not denied out of emotional convenience. There are things in life that are uncomfortable to face. Yet, if we do not deal with these things, we could end up much worse off.  

For example, if you have a health problem, one that necessitates going through discomfort to treat, you can either treat your health problem of suffer the consequences. High blood pressure might merely necessitate taking one or two pills every day--no real discomfort. Yet I know someone who refuses to treat his high blood pressure. This same individual has lost more than half of his teeth because it was too uncomfortable to take care of them.  

I know another person who has maxed-out all of her credit cards, and is now in a situation of needing to rent an apartment. It would have been a lot easier to find something had the person dealt with her credit rating.  

Threats do exist in our lives and don't go away when we refuse to acknowledge them. It is not a state of enlightenment to always be happy if that happiness is the consequence of emotionally convenient denial.  

{I was once a member of a group of people who were followers of Ken Keyes. (Not "followers" in the usage of Twitter, I mean followers, as in cult.) Keyes promoted a spinoff of Buddhism. The philosophy was that all pain was due to an "addiction" which was a term they coined instead of calling it an "attachment" which is the Buddhist usage. It didn't mean that you were a drug addict or something, it meant any painful emotion connected to an event. 

{The problem was that people were trying to free themselves from addictions but were not taking care of survival issues. If you were worried about making your mortgage payment, you were supposed to let go of the worry because your house was "an addiction." Sometimes we require a bit of fear to mobilize into action. Ordinary emotions are not useless, contrary to what some spiritual growth people may believe.}  

It takes work merely to acknowledge a problem regardless of what type of problem exists. For example, acknowledgment of having a mental illness; it is something most people would rather not face. The illness itself makes it more difficult to acknowledge the illness. Most people's egos tend to be averse to acknowledging having a defect. Combined with this is the short-circuiting of the brain that might exist in many mental illnesses.  

In a delusional person, a neurological shortcut seems to exist that bypasses syncing with facts. This may have begun as a self-protection mechanism. In the precursor to getting ill, there may have been realities that we had to deny because they were too difficult to face at the time. This unskillful attempt at protecting the ego ultimately takes on a life of its own.  

As soon as the alternate neurological route--of short-circuiting the perception of reality--is established, we are essentially stuck with it and we must deal with it through medication.  

(Please keep in mind that what I am giving you is merely my opinion.) 

When we are in treatment after becoming delusional, we have the potential to track reality and to then acknowledge realities, difficult or otherwise, that are in front of us. Once a problem is acknowledged, the person who has the problem (whatever that problem is) is then in a position to do something about it.  

When in treatment, we are not automatically wise. Naiveté, induced by medication and by an environment in which mental health professionals are reassuring, may be comforting, but it is not optimal.  

This is not to say that we should torture ourselves with every problem we might have that we can fret about. A good equilibrium can be maintained if we chew on a problem for a little while and then release it. Once you have done everything you can do about a situation, there is no point in continuing to worry. Also, sometimes our minds can make a problem far more terrifying and monumental than it ought to be. The human mind, even short of being psychotic, can also imagine a lot of difficulties that don't actually exist.  

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