ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Erroneous Instincts

By Jack Bragen
Thursday November 07, 2013 - 09:58:00 PM

Most people believe in the truism that you should trust your instincts--and ordinarily this is a good idea. However, when someone is experiencing symptoms of psychosis, especially of the delusional type, instincts can not be relied upon. When someone is in an acute stage of psychosis, nothing in the person's consciousness is operating correctly. 

This means that a person can be terrified of an impending threat, yet none exists. It means that a delusional person following their instincts could do something completely wrong, with disastrous results. 

A state of comfortable naïveté, including when actual problems get ignored, is often preferable and often less dangerous compared to paranoid psychosis. 

Even as someone stabilized on medication and compliant with treatment, and having been this way for seventeen years, it is still necessary for me to disregard some of my thoughts and instincts. It is difficult when I have a spurious thought which on some level, but not every level, I know to discount. Sometimes I still have to take my best guess as to what is real and what isn't. 

When a delusional thought takes hold, sometimes it becomes a basic assumption upon which subsequent thoughts are based. Thus, the price of remaining out of the hospital when one has mental illness is constant vigilance as well as self-scrutiny. 

You might wonder, how does that work, anyway? How can someone's consciousness become falsified, delusional, strange and even dangerous? 

The brain has malfunctioned, causing consciousness to "split off" from reality. The picture of the world that the person is using has become grossly disconnected from what is real. In place of an accurate picture, there is a false world which is internally generated. The person's five senses barely enter into the picture, and are interpreted in bizarre, exaggerated and false ways. 

A person with delusions in charge could believe things and perceive things that belong in a science fiction film. For example, a delusional person might believe that there is a nuclear holocaust happening all around them. Or they could believe that they are telepathically communicating with extraterrestrials. A delusional person could also believe that the government is trying to kill him or her, or that there is a massive conspiracy to put them under surveillance and control. 

In recent years, modern society has come to resemble much of the content of a psychotic person's delusional system. This only makes it more difficult for a mentally ill person to track reality. One must discard the false craziness of psychosis in favor of the real craziness that now exists in the world. 

One of the discernments which set psychosis apart from an average person's realistic paranoia is that a psychotic person tends to believe it's all about them. A psychotic "belief system" (also called a "delusional system") makes the psychotic person special in some way. 

This isn't an extreme example of narcissism. These are the symptoms of a disease that afflicts the brain. 

Furthermore, when someone has a delusional system, usually it shifts around and changes--the false belief system isn't usually consistent with itself. A symptom of psychosis is that the mind has become disorganized. 

And yet, you might wonder, how does this happen to someone? To understand this, one must first understand how "normal" human beings get a picture of reality. The human mind is normally capable of error, but has mechanisms to moderate the level of inaccuracy. 

People normally get much of their picture of the world from other people as well as from media, electronic and otherwise. 

Independent thinkers, if they are to succeed, must be very careful not to cross the line into false territory--they must employ some type of scientific system to keep their beliefs on an even keel. A person headed for psychosis might start out believing they are merely an independent thinker. 

How do you tell the difference? An independent thinker can still meet their basic needs, and also isn't harming oneself or anyone. An independent thinker tends to present their unusual ideas in a socially accepted format. 

When someone is very delusional, they usually have first become isolated. They are not communicating in any substantial way with fellow human beings. They may have thoughts that they are hiding from others--hidden in order to avoid ostracism, or because a delusion tells them to hide. They might come up with their own imaginative interpretation for ordinary events. Even normal human speech, including when someone is speaking simply and clearly, may be interpreted according to a delusional system, or may not be understood. 

Psychosis, I think, is more than just disagreeing with everyone else about what is real and what isn't. There is more to schizophrenia than having a differing version of the world. Someone with schizophrenia can not take care of oneself. There are other symptoms, as well--which are listed in the manuals used by psychiatrists. 

***None of the above is a reason or an excuse for us to be ridiculed. We still require basic human dignity.