ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Strategies Delusions Use vs. Strategies to Alleviate Delusions

Jack Bragen
Thursday March 10, 2016 - 10:10:00 PM

In case my readers didn't know by now, I have done a lot of introspection partly for the purposes of gaining a better understanding of my psychotic illness, and also for gaining a better understanding of my mind, in general. I have often combined this introspection with journaling, and this is useful because I can see the thoughts and ideas on the pad of paper in front of me.  

(My journals would not make any sense to another human being, and usually the pads of paper are thrown out, or are stored without any good reason, becoming a magnet for a lot of dust and cat hair.) 

As you probably already know, this column is an opinion column that contains the perspective of one individual who lives with mental illness, yours truly. If you are looking for a professional opinion, or for something backed up by scientific research, this column is not that.  

Yet, I do my own informal research by observing my own mind and by observing the behavior of my mentally ill peers. Among other things, I have looked at the strategies delusions use to become ingrained in the thinking.  

Delusions in the mind of an ill person seem to have access to the pleasure, pain, and fear mechanisms in the brain. Many persons who suffer from psychosis, through no fault of their own but because of the nature of the disease, are emotionally attached to their delusions. Delusions could promise something good, or they could be a means of denial of something hard to face. Or, also, the delusions could induce pleasure, pain, or fear.  

Everyone has certain areas of their lives, and therefore certain areas of thought, that make them feel something good or bad, and that they find pleasurable or painful. The illness latches onto these issues, exaggerates them, and turns them into subject matter of delusions. Thus, if you have psychotic tendencies and broke up with a lover, or wanted to have a lover and the feeling wasn't mutual, the illness will latch onto that area of thought and will cause delusions about that person.  

If you have delusional tendencies and are subject to jealousy, and if you are in a relationship, it could cause thoughts to come about of your partner having an affair. (This is not to deny that affairs sometimes happen.)  

For someone who does not have psychotic tendencies, they have coping mechanisms that allow letting go of a terminated relationship. This could be painful in the short term, but a non-delusional person can sustain that. Persons with untreated schizophrenia are not usually able to handle strong emotions--instead, delusions will come about. While in treatment, painful emotions and realities can be faced.  

If you have unresolved anger about someone or something, delusions will latch onto that. Delusions of "grandeur" could also happen due to their potential to invoke strong emotions.  

Delusions could also happen when the brain is trying to resolve depression. When someone with the tendency to be psychotic is in a depressed mode, delusions could arise that trigger an increase in serotonin and that thus alleviate the depression, albeit while replacing it with psychosis, which is usually an even worse problem. This could happen to someone whose depression is related to difficult circumstances, or could happen to someone whose depression is neurochemical.  

I believe that psychosis is intertwined with the pain and pleasure mechanisms in the brain. Someone could be emotionally attached to their delusions, or could be put into a state of fear or anguish from them. Either way, the delusions are reinforced by the powerful emotions they trigger.  

One hint I can give you is that you can create your own reward system, one that makes you feel better about yourself every time you overcome a delusion. You can also create an "anti-delusional system" in which you have trained yourself to automatically recognize some of the delusions. This is analogous to an antivirus system on a computer. This is not foolproof, but it can help.  

The mindfulness training I have given to myself allows me to better cope with emotions and minimize some of them. This allows my delusions to have less power over me. This training has not cured my schizophrenia, but it allows me to have a better handle on the illness.  

If you are interested, there are plenty of books on the subject, and you do not need to study under a Zen master. I don't do Zen, but rather, I have my own methods of being mindful. There are all types of meditation out there. However, I do not recommend any group that appears to be even the least bit cult-like.  

Mindfulness can help alleviate some of the strong emotions that make schizophrenia worse. It can also help with gaining greater insight about oneself. Yet, it is not a substitute for obtaining treatment with the help of a doctor.