I have been denying my problems since I was five years old. How can you deny problems at about five years old, you ask? Do five year olds even have problems?
Well, they do when they are severely traumatized. And noticeably strange.
I was severely traumatized. And noticeably strange. I would say so, knowing my own thoughts in my head and hearing others talk about me. I mean I was five. I wasn’t deaf. And I also wasn’t stupid.
I had very traumatic things happen to me. I’ll talk about that later. But they started when I was around five, I think. I started having hallucinations even that far back as a result of them. I started being dissociated as a result of them. I would say looking back I also had symptoms of PTSD (the angry ones) as a result of them. Yes, that early on.
I had a trip to my aunt and uncle’s house in Ohio around that age, and it was then that I noticed that I actually shared a similarity to them. You see, my aunt and uncle were not normal either. They were noticeably strange. They were strange to society and also to the health industry. And to my family. They were called schizophrenics. Because they were.
I’ve tried to tell this story multiple times in different ways and I wouldn’t say I have the precision of words to the impact yet but I do remember factually that the house was incredibly dusty to a two inch degree and my aunt and uncle never cleaned their house or really took care of their hair or their speech. They were inaudible to me at that time.
I began noticing the disappointment that I felt when I realized they were acting out the thought patterns I only kept hidden. I was smart enough as a young girl to realize that deviating from the norm’s behaviors could make you end up anywhere that was unstabilized that could potentially result in abuse and poor treatment by hearing my family’s stories. That and the fact I had a very trusting father who showed me how respectful people would treat you if you were abnormal. Why would I leave him for a world of adults that hurt me at school or doctors offices? When you are five or young I wouldn’t say you are consciously thinking of this and are able to articulate it but it is in your mind only to realize later as an adult.
I had delusions and hallucinations that spiders were hiding under my bed and in my room at night since I was young. I knew that these things were different from other people’s experiences, because when I would be acting out on them my mother or school children would often be very confused as to why I was acting out the way I did. I realized somewhere between childhood and high school increasingly that I would repeatedly respond to these things that weren’t there to others but were to me but kept silent about them because I kept thinking to my aunt and uncle, how I saw them pacing and alone in that dark damp ugly house and all the horror remarks from my other family members who always grieved how “Aunt Sheila turned out” or “what happened to Uncle Alan” (who is dead now). The only places really were a) no place or b) their place for the people with my symptoms. Or otherwise I learned from the television and radio that they ended up in prison or correction centers and detention centers. I denied that I was having problems. I didn’t know who would accept me if I admitted these issues. Who would take care of me? It seemed like everybody if you told them would send you to homes that abused you, abuse yourself THEMselves, or deny you had issues and put you in jail. It has taken me until very recently to accept that I do have problems, specifically mental problems, which is a very difficult thing to accept, especially when your problems are the most discriminated and appalling problems of society.
To be a schizophrenic person or a person with schizophrenia, as Elyn Saks likes to say, or even exist on the psychotic disorder spectrum is one of the most troubling things I have had to accept. It is troubling in part because I see all but Elyn Saks exist as nonfunctioning potatoes left in homes or houses to be destroyed because of the lack of education or knowledge of the disorder by both society and the mental health industry. But if I move on and outgrow the suicidal desires felt by having hallucinations and delusions and the appalling failed attempts of the mental health industry to treat me respectfully and fairly, then I have to create a new definition of what it means to be on the schizophrenic spectrum.
To me, I have to be a scientist. I have to learn about science as I go in order to take care of my disorder properly. My disorder is among the least understood in the DSM-V. Doctors struggle to really understand what even it means to be psychotic, let alone hallucinate these random things or have delusions that otherwise I wouldn’t in my day-to-day functioning life as a professional.
The fact is that I am incredibly high functioning even as a person with schizophrenic symptoms. I know few people who are as high functioning as me and Elyn Saks and can even talk and observe the disorder from a rational and objective perspective. Psychology is in fact my own field, and part of the fun of the field is that I get to do research in the areas otherwise not known to cutting edge scientists themselves because they do not have the insight from a true victim of this disorder to be able to accurately engage what it is like in the disorder from the inside out.
But this means to all my loved ones, my family and friends, my peers, that in order to work with me they must be able to understand how I function. And since I function very atypically from the rest of society, that means in order to integrate there must be a lot of spokespeople on my behalf, including myself. I think most people do not want to educate themselves, and that is why I receive discrimination in the first place. But I do not stand for discrimination in the first place, and will reject anyone who refuses to engage with me to learn. Because in order to understand me, you will have to learn about things you otherwise wouldn’t have to because I am a functioning, intelligent member of society who merely operates differently because of my unique biology and mix of aesthetic, intellectual, biological, and personal composition.
One of my research interests right now is dismantling folk psychology, and the flaw of this theory is that it is wrought with language and terminology that excludes many things that define being human. Folk psychology is the every day terminology in which we describe our every day existence to the world. So the word belief, for example, is a folk psychological term. Sam Harris wrote about the issues of belief, in fact this was his research interest in neuroscience when he was a student getting his dissertation done. But according to some philosophers, which Harris subscribes to. Paul and Patricia Churchland assert that this theory of folk psychology is flawed. It underlies the entire field of psychology, and the answers to the human brain will only be solved by neuroscience. There is no “belief” neural correlates in the brain, so you cannot use folk psychological terms to justify that folk psychology in fact exists, because physically, it seems that it doesn’t.
And I feel similarly to psychosis. Our language is wrought with these terms that make no sense given our increasing understanding of the brain from the brain science industries. And since my brain is an incredibly complex, unique one, I think we will have to increase our education of ourselves in order to keep up with who I really am or what I really do. I think this would apply to most people, actually. That is why I personally am on the Churchland’s camp to eradicate folk psychology. But that is just my take.
As I keep saying, the brain science industries are incredibly young. Which is why we all must engage with it critically to understand who we really are. It is time to stop discriminating the fields of psychology and neuroscience and use them to enhance our understanding of who we are, while also serving as grateful critics to the research coming out from those industries but also watchdogs to how the flaws can hurt us.