It’s Logical!

“It should always be remembered that the behavior of persons with schizophrenia is internally logical and rational: they do things for reasons that, given their disordered senses and thinking, makes sense to them!” -Torrey, E. Fuller. Surviving Schizophrenia. 1983. Page 49.

“The ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.” -John Forbes Nash Jr.

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My friend J read a draft of my memoir. He was surprised that my story was not chaotic or filled with confusion. He made me want to tell my story even better, even more, to show that my experience did all made sense to me. I took very deliberate steps to make sense of what was happening to me and around me.

Let’s start with hearing my first voice Joe. For the 30 years of my life before that moment, I had trusted my ears without any problem. I have pretty good hearing. When I first heard Joe talking, I looked for where the talking was coming from, for someone, for speakers, or anything that might broadcast the voice. I did not understand how “he” was able to talk to me that way. So I continued to investigate. I thought that there might be some smart technology being used. I heard the man talking! That was real to me! I tried to understand what “he” wanted! That’s usually why someone talks to another person.

Another example is that my senses became super acute. I noticed so much more from my surroundings. You can relate to this. Someone coughs loudly in front of you and makes sure that you see her. We do this all the time! Could be for fun, for joke, for giving you a hint by saying something while coughing. Another example. Someone puts up a V sign with their fingers at a sport game. We all know that means victory! So, when I start noticing everything around me, it felt like they should mean something. More people were coughing around me, so I thought, is this a bad winter? I did not say to myself, why am I all of a sudden hearing more coughing. I just did. Everyone did. I wondered why! I tried to understand what they or that meant!

Is it really logical to say “I hear someone talking” or “so many people are coughing” then conclude that “I have schizophrenia?” Ironically, to me it felt more like taking a leap of faith later, when I was told to take a pill and not being told why and what it would fix.

My strategy of dealing with things that I don’t understand is to use my brain to logically break down and solve the problem. Similar to what Nash said, I was the same person when I triggered schizophrenia. I tried to solve schizophrenia with logic. I am glad other people’s experience and perspectives described in Surviving Schizophrenia echoed mine and why they don’t think they were crazy or mad either.

Instead of thinking that people with schizophrenia would typically behave abnormally, I suggest we think of it as people being presented with and experienced abnormal things first. These things could be visual, auditory, or sensory. Think of these as “external” stimuli, not internal! That’s the perspective I am asking you to have. Schizophrenics are just trying to make sense of it all like everyone else with life. Sometimes, to deal with things that don’t make sense, you might have to do something different or unusual. Having reactions are appropriate and expected human behaviors!

Really, it’s a broken brain in charge!

 

Know the Signs

At the beginning, I did not know what was happening to me. My stable and secure life had changed all of sudden: I lost my job of five years; I broke up with my boyfriend of six years who I was living with.

I was very much alone all of a sudden. Chris and our couple friends were not around much anymore with everyone making similar life change events, getting married, going back to school, and starting new jobs. I was not thinking about making new friends. I kept to my room, gym, and work, my Bermuda triangle in East Cambridge, MA. I did not feel lonely. Quite the opposite. I felt determined. I wanted to control my life and give it order and purpose. I felt that I had so much to learn. Instead of eating out and hanging out with friends, I needed to take advantage of every free minute I had to be productive.

This mental rigidity meant that I was not expecting any new changes or surprises in my life. In the past, when facing a new stage in my life, I was always ready to draw on the connections with both old and new friends. However, at this time, when I was not at work, I stayed alone, even isolated. Without realizing it, I started living in a world of just me.

When I started working at my new job, I was in a very happy mood. I would listen to music and, not intentionally, sing out loud in my cubicle at work. I would chat with people in my group and laughed so loud that people down the hall could hear me. That was the me without any cover-up. I was being me, from the inside out and not considering that I was surrounded by strangers I did not know. I believe, this was the start of a sequence of small and large events that altered and stressed my brain in a new way that it had not experienced before. Perhaps, being inside out made me more vulnerable. 

Then the emotional spikes came. Then the uncharacteristic timidness appeared. When I talked to strangers, I had trouble telling them what my name was. I became deadly quiet in social settings. Then I heard my first voice. Still then, I did not worry about myself. It took about three months or so for me to finally had a mental breakdown and called for help.

Looking back, given my isolated and vulnerable mental state, I should have been more careful and more aware of my mental health. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my experience:

  1. Understand the genetic risk. My mother triggered her schizophrenia also late in her life, in her thirties. Given that, I should have read up more about this brain condition and keep in mind of the risk as my life changed.  
  2. Be careful of major shift in personality. I became single-minded and hypersensitive to any surprises. I became emotionally much more vulnerable than usual.
  3. Be mindful of major environmental change. Everything about my life changed within the same six months. All of a sudden, I had to face new challenges and people all around me.
  4. Talk to a health professional. If I was aware of the signs, I should have talk to someone who could help me!  

If I was able to spot early signs of problems and seek professional help, perhaps, I would not trigger and go through a full on episode of psychosis with confused thinking and auditory hallucination. Learn about these brain conditions. Early education and detection may save one from triggering a lifelong brain condition.   

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Writer’s Note: This post was also submitted and published on NAMI.org on May 11, 2018. 

Selfish

When I was 36 and very single, I was hit by the narrowing of the time window to have my biological children. With any life problem I face, I turned to books and my friends.

I was glad to find Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. The writers in this book talk about how there isn’t one way to life. There were different scenarios for women to not have their own kids. Some had decided not to have kids for various reasons, some ended up not having kids because time had passed, and then there were those who gave away babies.

My first thought was I am a woman living in a modern time. I could logically separate being single and being a mother. I decided to become a single mother. I charted my basal body temperature daily for a few months. I took folic acid when I remembered to. My primary care doctor recommended a reputable donor bank in New England. I reviewed numerous profiles and got what I needed. I tried it once and failed. For couples who try to get pregnant together, it is not necessary an easy path. For me, doing it alone and failed felt devastating. I realized that I did not want to get pregnant and become a mother alone, when I had control over this. So my journey to single motherhood ended abruptly and quickly.

Now, at age forty something, I feel that I am okay without my own biological kids. I had thought about it and did something about it even though I failed. I can’t say that I am noble and do not want to contribute to the global overpopulation problem. Now I just have a few personal reasons to pass on having kids. For someone whose brain does not react well to high stress, being a single mother is not a smart move. There is also the chance that I might pass on my schizophrenic genes. The desire to want a family and take care of someone is now replaced with deeper personal reflections. The right time had passed.

There are times when I see my married friends and thought that I could be considered selfish. I live my life, for the most part, for myself. So I try not to be selfish through other means. I live my life everyday with gratitude.

Once in a while, my girlfriends would say to me, I really hope I can sleep in late. Or I would love to take a walk or read a book. I know that having time to myself is in a way a privilege. Between them and me, there is no right or wong. It’s just two different lives.

Unlike fertility, dating has no biological timeline. If I want to, I can date until I am 90 years old. I can still have kids, just not biological. Dating opens up all kinds of possibilities. He could be divorced with kids. He could be open to adopting kids. Of course, he could be like me, being content without kids or does not want kids.

That is just it. Life accepts all kinds of paths. Like the shitty first draft when I start a writing project, I can only write down what my inspiration takes me. No assumptions. Like driving at night in the dark, even though I can only see as far as the headlight, I can still make it to my destination. My life may not follow the most common or expected path but it is unique in its own way. For this peaceful mind, I am grateful.

Life in Numbers

The great thing about math is that it can quantify the intangibles. Taking that practice to an extreme, a person’s life can be simplified and expressed in all kinds of numbers.

The most common measure is age: how old we are. Typically expressed in number of years but there is no reason why it can not be in months or even minutes to make us feel more significant. I have not run into ageism professionally yet but I expect less professional opportunities in a decade. I’ll deal with that when I get there. All online dating apps ask for age. With online dating, I can’t help but look for the very basics: age, height, and weight, like I am a five year old. As superficial as these numbers, they make it easier to take the first step to get to know someone new.

From a more practical view, we are often associated with some dollar amounts: net worth, debts, credits, unrealized gain, or annual salaries. Unless famous, these are usually numbers that we judge ourselves in private. Sometimes harshly. They show how successful we are and how far we still have to go. Recently, I was introduced to a new number: my retirement target based on the life style that I want to maintain after I stop working. I did not look into the actual calculation but the target seems taunting and impossible. I was told, time is my friend!

The number of kids is important after we get married. The parents are always counting teams. There are two of us and one of her. Should be fine! Or, we are having a third and will soon be outnumbered! Behind the kids, it’s about number of hours of sleep, play dates this weekend, and trips to the ER. Behind the number, it’s one of the most important responsibilities we can have. I don’t pretend to know all the hard work that goes with raising kids and have the upmost respect to parents around me.

With social media, we have numbers of friends and followers counted for us at all times. I had talked to my dad about this number and he reacted in disbelieve. However, the contact list for my holiday card, the guest list for my future wedding, and the girls at my dinner dates include tighter groups of people who I don’t mind being embarrassed in front of and I can pour my heart out on my most recently blind date. Yeah, you may not want to be part of this. This number is definitely a fuzzy one and not one to be taken too seriously in my opinion.

Health wise, number of steps has become such a common measure enabled by all kinds of new trackers. Even kids know that 10,000 steps is the daily recommendation. Less common is the number of pills taken daily. I realize the importance of this measure from my 96-year-old grandmother and 70-something dad. I remember seeing my grandmother arranging her pill box with such caution and precision. Dad counts the pill every morning and night. Embedded in these pills is the hope that he will continue to live healthily. Right now, I take one before I go to bed, but one day, I’ll get to where he is too.

Number has no judgement but people do.

For my brain disease, a key measure is number of hospital stays. I was at McLean hospital for two weeks. Many people, patients like me, I met there had more. A common goal for us is to stay out of the hospitals. Going to hospital is not seen as having a major stroke and needing medical attention, but as trouble escalating out of control, going through the system often, the resolving door. When I was in the day program at McLean, I asked my doctor how I can go back if I wanted to. He said, no, I can’t just go back. I would need to be admitted. To me honest, I have adopted to that thinking now. My goal is to stay out of (mental) hospitals, right or wrong.

Finally, I have a different kind of number in mind for life: number of pages. Imagine we can all put our life in words in books. What would our books say? Is our life eventful? Are we wordy or concise? What would we include or leave out?

Numbers has no judgement but people do. The simplicity and accessibly of them should not be the only way we see each other. What’s important about age is the life events that happened during that time. What’s important about number of pages is the story in the book. Let’s be curious beyond simple numbers. Let’s be kind to each other.