The point of this series is to start a conversation about how those of us diagnosed with psychotic disorders get people to believe our truths.
After all, once you’ve been diagnosed as being psychotic, your credibility is never the same, even when you’re speaking the truth.
I have a podcast on iTunes in which I reveal a lot about myself, and lately I’ve noticed how much these podcasts have been teaching me about myself and what I’ve lost. This illness has taken a great deal from me, including my ability to gain recognition for my accomplishments.
So, what I’d like to do here is recognize some of these accomplishments, knowing that had my life been different, they could have been acknowledged in a more public arena. Knowing, too, that, because I have schizoaffective disorder that is characterized by delusional thinking, hallucinations, and mood fluctuations, even when I speak the truth, I am often dismissed and not believed, with my truths described as mere delusions.
I want to acknowledge my accomplishments not only for myself but also for all you out there. Those of you who may or may not already be diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any other serious mental condition, whose truths, like mine, are so frequently dismissed as delusions. It upsets me even to write this, to realize that those around me can—and do—categorize what I say as delusional, and I wonder if that also happens to you.
I’d like to begin by briefly mentioning that I was diagnosed with Tourette’s at the age of 12, although, according to my mother, I had shown symptoms since I was two. I sometimes wonder whether I was even then showing signs of the psychosis that has plagued me for my entire adult life.
I was 18 when I had my first psychotic episode. It was Christmas Day, 1994. I was living in New York City and was admitted to Beth Israel, where I was given a number of tests—medical and psychological.
My toxicology report came up 100% clean, a clear indication that my psychosis was not drug-induced. My intake report by the ER doctor shows that I had a “loosening of association” and “pressured speech,” both of which can indicate schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder with psychotic features. No wonder it took so long for me to get the right diagnosis; so many of the symptoms overlap.
However, I want to bring this back to delusion and truth, and how people so frequently label your truths as delusional as soon as you’ve been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. I will also discuss my condition’s genesis and prognosis—and then move onto those accomplishments for which I’ve never been truly recognized.
I often wonder if other people, like me, have trouble being believed.
As I may have mentioned already, serious mental illness, such as schizoaffective disorder, is believed to be caused first by a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness and second by environmental factors. In my family, I have a grandfather who seems to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to old medical records that I recently found. In addition, I have two second cousins, both of whom have been publicly diagnosed with mental illness. So, I would definitely seem to be genetically predisposed to becoming mentally ill.
However, having this predisposition isn’t enough. You also need certain environmental factors. What I’ve read in some of the literature is that mental illness can be compared to diabetes. A person may be genetically predisposed to develop diabetes, but if that person gets enough exercise and watches their sugar intake, then the diabetes may never take hold—it’s the same with mental illness.
In my case, I had the predisposition, but I also underwent enough traumas (sexual, physical, and emotional abuse) and upheavals (such as my parents’ divorce when I was young) for the illness to take hold. Boy, did it take hold.
Sometimes, though, people like my sister, who has a genetic predisposition plus environmental factors (my sister comes from the same family and has had the same kind of upheavals), do not become mentally ill. Nobody knows why.
Maybe, as my wife says, it’s just the luck of the draw. She’s kidding. At least about the luck part, because having mental illness isn’t lucky, although we do have to keep laughing about it. Keep positive. You’re never alone if you can laugh with someone about it.
As I’ve mentioned, I have schizoaffective disorder. Originally, though, I was diagnosed with depression. That was back in 1994, when I was 18.
Over the next 10 years or so, I saw doctor after doctor, moving here and there, trying to find my place in the world. I made seven suicide attempts and had years of alcohol and drug abuse issues. My last suicide attempt was in 2001, and I was freed from my drug and alcohol addictions in early 2003. More than 11 years ago.
As I was getting off the drugs, I saw a doctor who diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, which basically means schizophrenia with a mood disorder thrown in, and, in my case, that mood disorder is bipolar with manic features. However, in 2005 and 2006 I saw a doctor who said that I did not have schizoaffective disorder. Instead, I had a personality disorder. The point is that getting the right diagnosis can be time-consuming and frustrating, but it is also necessary, as once I was “re- diagnosed” with schizoaffective disorder, I was able to get on the right medication. But that’s a different story altogether.
I’m focusing here on being diagnosed with any type of mental illness that includes psychotic features that then make it almost impossible for people around you to believe your truths. However, not only do I have the double whammy of a thought disorder coupled with a mood disorder, I also have Tourette’s syndrome, which is considered severe since this usually tapers off in one’s 20s but mine did not. I’m 39 now, so, along with the confusion I suffer and the mood fluctuations, I also tic and sometimes engage in coprolalia, which is involuntary swearing or yelling out racial epithets.
Added to that mix, I also seem to have aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder—I have to keep my computer arranged ‘just so’; Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—I frequently relive earlier traumas; attention deficit disorder—I can’t focus on anything for any period of time; autism or Asperger’s—like Temple Grandin, I may be smart, but I can’t read social cues at all. Makes it difficult to hang out and just be “one of the guys.”
My current psychiatrist, Dr. C, who—unlike others—never hesitated to diagnose me, saw me when I was at my worst. I was in the middle of a psychotic episode. I was in the process of a divorce (my wife and I have since reconciled), and I had no money, as my family had cut me off from my trust income. In the past, too many doctors had seen me when I did have money and was able to hire people to do what I could not—for example shopping, driving, and cleaning. Because these doctors saw me when I could hire people, they all considered me to be “too high functioning” to have any form of schizophrenia.
As a result of being considered “high functioning,” I was diagnosed for years as having a personality disorder. Some doctors thought I had borderline personality disorder (BPD); others thought I had a personality disorder not otherwise specified (NOS). Let me tell you, having the right diagnosis has turned things around at last. I’m now on the right medication. My wife and caregivers understand the nature of the illness and know some excellent ways of dealing with it and with me.
Although the illness will never go away, I do have hope that I’ll continue to get the right treatment and that my life will continue to get better.
Now, the big one: What do you do when people assume your truths are delusions?
Let’s start with just a little bit more background. At the last count, I have had approximately 30 rehab stints and/or hospitalizations. That’s a lot. When you’re hospitalized, especially involuntarily, people tend to dismiss everything you say as a symptom of your illness. I understand that, but I don’t like it, because it’s hard when people don’t believe you.
A couple of examples. I moved to Los Angeles in January 2001 because I wanted to be a Hollywood screenwriter. I was two days shy of my 25th birthday. I was a go-getter back then, a social butterfly, and found it easy to introduce myself to just about anyone. As a result, I met Joanna Cassidy, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Downey Jr., Mel Gibson, and others.
Then, as my drug and alcohol use spiraled out of control, I got myself into rehab. Since I had access to my trust fund, I could afford the rehab facilities where “celebrities” went, places such as Promises in Malibu. In these places, I met movie producers, writers, actors, musicians, and kids of celebrities. The point is, I met all these people, and some of them I befriended.
Because so many of the rehab facilities didn’t help me stay off drugs and alcohol, a friend and I started our own facility, Wavelengths, which also catered to celebrities. Wavelengths took a more proactive approach to getting people off drugs and alcohol.
If you ever saw the show The Cleaner, you’ll have a better idea of what I mean by “proactive.” In fact, that show was based on the friend with whom I started Wavelengths, and, although I was never credited, I was the co-creator of the show.
But now, when I tell people about The Cleaner or knowing Chuck Lorre, Robert Downey Jr., or Mel Gibson, they smile blankly, nod their head, and dismiss what I say as a delusion. That’s maddening—if you’ll pardon the pun.
Another example. In the summer of 2010, I checked myself into a facility in Colorado so I could get on the right meds and try to get myself re-stabilized. As I was being admitted as a patient with schizoaffective disorder, which is characterized by a thought disorder, including delusions, both my wife and my doctor spoke with the facility before I was admitted so that the doctors and social workers would know I wasn’t delusional about the people I knew.
My wife and doctor also let the facility know about my financial background, because I don’t always look “rich.” Lately, I like to dress in t-shirts and pajama bottoms. I like to keep my hair permed and wild, and I like to wear a beard. As a result, sometimes when I’m admitted, the staff person will write that I’m a little unkempt, and when I then start talking about the money I’m worth, the same staff person will flash a little, tight smile as if to say: “Of course, you are. And I have a Swiss bank account.”
Those staff people don’t always know that I can “tell” what they’re thinking—I can see it on their faces—, and they feel free to openly doubt my truth.
More on “delusions.”
The reason I write is to share my story, and sometimes—I’ve got to admit—it’s hard knowing that a lot of people may not believe me. I bring this up because I’m sure that those of you who read what I write must have as complicated a story as mine.
I am just spelling out some things—kind of “straight-from-the-heart” sharing with you all. My family, as I’ve mentioned, is rich and powerful. Maybe your family is not rich or powerful, but still I think you’ll understand. Their money and their power helped make me who I am, just as your parents helped make you who you are. I’m not attacking anyone. I am simply telling the story of my life. I have earned the right to do that.
Come to think of it, though, maybe I never did have to “earn the right” to tell the story of my life. People have a right to their own stories and to tell these stories in their own voice, not anybody else’s. This is my time. My story. Not my family’s. And I owe it to you to share a taste of the complexity of my life, so you’ll understand the complexity of your own.
So, yes, my family is rich and powerful. That is not a delusion. You can look them up yourself. They are public people. Sometimes I think that because they are public people, they have had a hard time accepting me for who I am. I know they have had a hard time accepting my diagnosis. And, really, I am not attacking them. Maybe they can’t accept my diagnosis because they think it will reflect badly on them.
I haven’t talked to my family in a few years. I wish I felt sad about that, but I can’t. My family doesn’t love me. Sometimes I think they might even hate me, because they cut off my money and they cut off contact with me.
But I’m getting sidetracked—what my wife calls “going off on a tangent.” So I’ll stop.
One area that has always been hard and that created a lot of misunderstanding in my family is my diagnosis. No one has ever accepted that I had the wrong diagnosis for years and that getting the right diagnosis has helped me move forward. Not that a diagnosis makes the illness easy, and, in many respects, a diagnosis is nothing but a label.
However, with the right diagnosis (or label), you can get the right medication, the right therapy, and people—like caregivers—who know how to deal with you. The right diagnosis is a starting point that means you can read about whatever “label” you have been tagged with—or might need to be tagged with.
In my case, I was “tagged with” BPD for years. On the one hand, that wasn’t such a bad diagnosis, because people wouldn’t then label me as being delusional. On the other hand, when people thought I had BPD, they accused me of lying, which brings me back to my family.
In the past, my family has told me to “snap out of it” and to “get my act together”—that I would then be “fine.” You can’t “snap out” of schizophrenia. You may get the symptoms under control, and you may even, like John Nash, seem to recover from the disorder, but you don’t—and can’t—“snap out of it.”
My family, believing that I was capable of getting my act together, created a lot of tension between us. I use the past tense here because I don’t know if they now believe my diagnosis. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve had no contact since January 2010, so I don’t know what they believe.
In January of that year, my family cut me off and stripped me of any help. I had no gardeners and no driver (I no longer drive). I had nothing. Based on what they wrote to me at the time, they seemed to think that they should provide a little “tough love” (like you see on Intervention) and that I would then agree to get better.
I was never not agreeing to get better. Believe me, it’s no fun having schizoaffective disorder.
If your family or loved ones already believe your diagnosis, you are that much farther ahead because, if they believe the diagnosis, they can help.
I’m taking my own advice today and staying positive. I think of all I have lost, and I can get very depressed. At one time, I had editors, housekeepers, free travel, a huge inheritance, my trust funds, and lavish cars. I’ve been to the best schools in the country. I had public-figure parents and several celebrities in my extended family, some of whom had actually, quite publicly, been diagnosed with mental illnesses.
When I compare what I once had to what I now have, I can get depressed. I focus on the past and fail to appreciate the present. Taking my own advice to stay positive, I have three dogs, seven cats, and one bird. Now, some people might not think having so many animals is so positive, but I like walking through the house and every time being followed by at least one of them. My animals are one positive.
Another positive. I no longer have diabetes. I have lost so much weight that my blood sugar is normal. I still take one of the diabetic meds because it can prevent diabetes—and also because my other meds can cause diabetes. But I am healthier than I was. No diabetes is another positive.
My wife is the third positive. We reconciled two years ago, and so far we are working things out and trying to help each other.
My work is the fourth positive. The schizoaffective disorder has really affected my thinking and my emotions, but it hasn’t touched my creativity. I podcast, I write a journal, and I make music and movies. I have even sold a couple of songs on iTunes.
My memories are the fifth and final positive for today. Although my father and I had a falling out in 2009, that’s his issue. He and I have had great, absolutely fantastic, times together, and I treasure the memories. When I focus only on these memories, I can stay positive.
For many reasons, I have had quite a few psychiatrists over the years. My current doctor—whom I call Dr. C—is the one that most recently diagnosed me as having schizoaffective disorder. When I went to see her the second or third time, I brought along five bookshelves’ worth of my journals. My diaries. All my written documentation of madness—the faxes and emails that proved that 1,000 hours of film that I had shot had been stolen. That’s it. I can’t do anything about it. I have proof of a software development proposal I made when I was 15. I received a scholarship to business school, honors, and recognition. I was like John Nash except I was proposing software, not math. What I proposed would have been the first online shopping interface. But it got taken away, like everything. I have the proof, the actual documents. Real. These truths are mine. And I have schizophrenia, and I even have delusions, but I know, and my wife knows, and my close friends know, that these truths are real—not delusions.
I spent three years of my life developing a show for A&E Television. I have the proof. I save everything. Faxes to the producers. My point is that I have lived an incredible life and often, all too often, facts become so-called delusions to others, especially to those others who actually count, like medical professionals.
And it matters to me.
All of this really matters to me. It means something very special to me because it is about me. It is from my perspective and only my perspective—the only perspective I know for sure. It’s part of my story, or, as some might consider it, the “myth of that stupid Jonathan kid.” I know who I am. And I think I know who my friends are. I know that I am a legitimate, loving, grateful and spiritual human being who deserves to be loved and accepted and who deserves to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to be forgiven—to be myself. The real me. The Jonathan Harnisch who is not alone—who is loved. The Jonathan whose moods and behaviors might be a bit difficult to predict. A guy. A citizen, with schizophrenia and a full spectrum of mental maladies, who believes in some kind of higher power—who believes in himself. Who tries, tries, and tries—who never gives up on, or even thinks of giving up on, resilience. Who struggles every single day as an adult that is still being abused. Who has been abandoned and treated like waste—a mistake. Who is manipulated. Jonathan Harnisch. A teacher and a student. A rich kid who used to ride up front with his limousine driver. Who used to be a real asshole, often due to his drinking and drugging—and to his mimicking what he saw growing up among people who should have acted better but who just didn’t know how to protect him.
I have been in therapy since I was 9, and from the age of 12 I was “put away” on far too many medications, some of which I am still physically addicted to, some of which caused me to gain weight and to develop tardive dyskinesia (chronic muscle stiffness), and some of which I was actually allergic to, causing me to rage and even increasing my tendency to drink alcohol.
I chose what I did, regardless what the literature suggests or what certain medical studies indicate.
I am who I am, and I have my own story—my own version of my own story. It changes and adjusts on a constant basis. I’ve been closed up for so long. I am opening up. I am not being inappropriate. I don’t need to be judged. But I will be judged. I don’t need to worry about what others think of me. But I actually do care what other people think of me.
I can’t control other people. Come to think of it, I can’t control what thoughts come into my head, just as I can’t control which ones leave. So how can I control other people or their thoughts? How can anybody control the galaxy? How about the billions upon billions of existing galaxies or the billions of galaxies that have not yet even been discovered? That is what we are living with—within.
Even Jesus experienced the full gamut of the human emotion spectrum, having been so-called spirit in human form. He was killed for that, for being who he was—for being honest and sincere, and, essentially, for being real. His life was far from easy. The most enlightened beings in the history of mankind—Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Krishna, and the Dalai Lama—have struggled and suffered every single day of their lives. And they too, in a way, live within us all.
I want to let you know that you are not alone. You will never, ever be alone.
I am excited and determined to come to you, who are seeking . . . seeking something. Maybe you’re just reading as you sit there at work, or maybe you’re my family, checking to see how I am, if I’m “misbehaving.” What I am is a disabled and, yes, a very troubled adult. But I am allowed to share my story. My life. I am safe.
Now, I laugh now when I say this, but my wife is 24 years older than I am. And if and when she passes away before I do, or for any reason leaves me (I doubt she will—we seem to be doing very well together), I worry that I will be forced into a psychiatric institution back east, back near my family, when we don’t even talk. I worry that it’s inevitable.
I guess, in conclusion, my life is full of grandiosity. But I still have schizophrenia, and I still have people who seem to have a need to control me and yet want nothing to do with me. This fascinates me. Why do they still want that much to do with me?
Somebody who happens to also be a staff writer for a local news magazine independently wrote the following about me, which I have included on my website. It makes me feel so good. See! Things can change.
Envision a blend of a mentally ill mind with unsurpassed resiliency and fiery intellect and your result would be the brilliant Jonathan Harnisch. An all-around artist, Jonathan writes fiction and screenplays, sketches, imagines, and creates. His most recent artistic endeavor is developing music, a newfound passion with visible and of course audible results already in the making. Produced filmmaker and published erotica author, Jonathan holds myriad accolades, and his works captivate the attention of those who experience it.
Manic-toned scripts with parallel lives, masochistic tendencies in sexual escapades, and disturbing clarities embellished with addiction, fetish, lust, and love, are just a taste of themes found in Jonathan’s transgressive literature. Conversely, his award-winning films capture the ironies of life, love, self-acceptance, tragedy, and fantasy. Jonathan’s art evokes laughter and shock, elation and sadness, but overall forces you to step back and question your own version of reality.
Scripts, screenplays, and schizophrenia are defining factors of Jonathan’s life and reality—but surface labels are often incomplete. Jonathan is diagnosed with several mental illnesses from schizoaffective disorder to Tourette’s syndrome; playfully, he dubs himself the “King of Mental Illness.” Despite daily symptomatic struggles and thoughts, Jonathan radiates an authentic, effervescent, and loving spirit. His resiliency emanates from the greatest lesson he’s learned: laughter. His diagnoses and life experiences encourage him to laugh at reality as others see it. Wildly eccentric, open-minded, passionate, and driven, Jonathan has a feral imagination. His inherent traits transpose to his art, making his works some of the most original and thought provoking of modern day.
Jonathan is an alumnus of Choate Rosemary Hall. Subsequently, he attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he studied film production and screenwriting under Gary Winick and David Irving. During his studies at NYU, he held internships under renowned producers Steven Haft and Ismail Merchant. He is best known for his short films, On the Bus and Wax, both of which boast countless awards including five Indie Film Awards, three Accolade Awards, and Ten Years won, which won the Best Short Film and Audience Award in the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, to name a few.
Despite his impressive formal education and awarded honors, Jonathan is your normal, down-to-earth guy. Meditation, Duran Duran, vivid colors, Patrick Nagel prints, and rearranging furniture are some of his favorite things. Vices include cigarettes, Diet Coke, inappropriate swearing, and sausage and green chili pizza. He enjoys irony, planned spontaneity, redefining himself, and change. Jonathan lives with his beautiful wife, their three dogs and seven cats, in the unique, desert village of Corrales, New Mexico.
What follows gives a glimpse into how I have been putting together some of the pieces of the otherwise “shattered stained glass” of schizophrenia, as I see it—from what I have read and heard and just . . . believe.
My psychiatrist has often asked me to describe or explain my symptoms, and thus schizophrenia, and I usually do not know how to do so. I simply reply that it is all “indescribable.”
Since then, I have been looking deeper into myself so that I am able, at minimum, to summarize at least a few of my experiences, past and present, in order to share with you too some of the complexity—demystified. I’d like to share some of my discoveries, as I find them, concerning my experiences, false perceptions, and schizophrenic psychosis. Hopefully, I’ll succeed in maintaining simplicity so that others can benefit and perhaps understand this otherwise extremely complex disorder.
I have come to realize that thanks to my own self, my lovely wife (whom I’ve known for over six years now), my support team (medical doctors and friends), and even those who might be considered my enemies, I have been helped along the path to self-actualization and thus to self-understanding—to where I find myself today. I’ve been able to find some meaning in schizophrenia, which helps me redefine how I see myself and how the symptoms of schizophrenia came to be—so that I can describe these without simply dismissing them as “indescribable.”
Please forgive any terminology I might use incorrectly, as I am not a doctor. Also, I do have schizophrenia, so although I have stabilized (recovered, not been cured), I must still admit that I might get it wrong sometimes.
We schizophrenics, through our psychosis—our delusions, our hallucinations, or reality—create or develop a story, a storyline.
What is real has many universal implications. Many are extremely personal, symbolic, and moral. As we build the framework of our delusional reality, which tends to fade in and fade out, as with dreaming, it can all become very mystical. Our realities, which we may not have had all our lives, can become delusional for mystical and magical reasons. This might be why, for example, when we are psychotic, the television seems to talk to us, or we might see and know Jesus—again, for reasons of a mystical or even religious nature. It becomes difficult for us then to realize that it is not necessarily real.
The further and further we are or are not drawn deeper into a full blown psychosis—it’s just baffling, to say the least—the more it is complex and disorganized. Yet we might believe wholeheartedly that our delusions are real and based on facts—facts that are not correct to others without the illness.
Many episodes, thoughts, and experiences combine, thus building up a storyline, which then becomes more intense and even fascinating and seductive, with more and more meaning as the delusional realities or events go on—as our lives go on. The meanings become “hidden” or disguised—our realities, in a way, hidden.
This illness can thus become very isolating because we have a whole different belief system about the entire world, especially when we are in a major psychotic episode. It can take years and years to arrive at this fully agitated state, but that is often how we schizophrenics will end up being diagnosed, just as an alcoholic usually “needs” to bottom out completely before getting help.
Through our perceptions, which change over time, we develop a new way of thinking that becomes very hard for us to disengage from. It is exactly like being on a constant, continuous LSD trip, every single day.
This is the bottom line, and, for me, this “acid trip” never stops, even when recover. It is a matter of training and re-training our minds, through therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, treatments, and also a lot of training—mental training, which I certainly do on my own, especially when not in a session with my doctor. I’m always checking things over and “reality checking.” I also find it very helpful to have a friend or loved one do what I call “mediating my reality.” I can, for example, ask my wife, who loves me deeply, to see if something is or is not what or how I might be perceiving it to be—from her there is perspective without the illness.
There is an element of us losing what is called object permanence or object consistency—as my doctor in California once told me.
The famous child psychologist Piaget discovered that, at a very young age, infants will forget about a toy they have been playing with if it disappears from their vision: for example, if a ball rolls out of sight or someone puts it underneath a blanket. At a certain age, that child will begin to look for that missing toy, and, finding it under the blanket, realize that it was in fact there the whole time. It was always there. Before that it had, to the infant, mystically gone away—disappeared from the world entirely.
That’s what I mean by mystical reasons, because we lose this object permanence, as after all, this could be a sensation rather than the fundamental reality one would have perhaps thought. We see this mysticism in most of our experiences and, yes, it fades in and out, but we basically feel that things, in general, will usually happen for mystical reasons. This becomes a part of our belief system, which is pretty hard to change.
Enter the double bind, as, when object permanence is out of the picture, we can be caught in a contradiction, or a series of contradictions, due to cultural or moral, as well as both personal and universal, reasons. We might, for example, in place of object permanence, experience a “multiple realities” effect, as if we were in several dimensions at one time—several realities. Based on how we grew up, at any given time a reality may slip into our mindset, and so, for example, we might behave like a racist even though our best friend is African American. It doesn’t “make sense.”
During my last psychotic episode early in 2010, I collected, and even wore, Nazi memorabilia, and yet I am both half Jewish, on my mother’s side, and handicapped. I also behaved as if I was a racist, even though my best friend was, and is, African American. We might want to save the world from global warming; however, in doing so we might pollute it and drive gasoline cars, on purpose, in order to save this world. Grandiosity, extreme thinking, and thus extreme behavior—with realities slipping in and out—are only a part of what baffles science and medicine. Different realities slipping in, overlapping, and combining make for an extremely difficult scenario to treat and understand from a scientific perspective.
We will often think poetically, as well as symbolically and metaphorically. Poetic thinking can take over, and thus our symbolic and deep personal feelings are a huge part of how we schizophrenics think and reason. We might hallucinate about Jesus for a seemingly concrete reason, a very special reason.
When helping someone with schizophrenia, a good start is to consider that he or she thinks mostly through concepts of mysticism—the idea that everything happens for a deep reason, that everything has a very special meaning, and that everything is synchronistic. A schizophrenic is often a very traumatized and sensitive person, much more so than your average Joe, living in a brutal world. That’s where the help—the recovery—really starts to take place and healing begins.
We schizophrenics must learn, through counseling, to understand ourselves and participate in therapy, to sort through our delusional thinking, and, often with help, to get back as much of our accurate intuition as possible, to take our medicine, and to have love and understanding in our lives. In this way, we might be able to reveal our secrets to someone we can trust, our secrets of trauma, day in and day out—and to do our best, resolving as much inner conflict as we can. Peace of mind is what we all want and need. It is my number one goal in life and has always been. It is what we all deserve.
Developing a new identity through our recovery is key in many ways—finding our voice so that we can be heard and sorting through our mysticism and religious or spiritual experiences and observations of reality. It’s a matter of finding those people we can trust, as I said, to help us define or redefine our reality. I have that these days, especially through my wife and my doctors. I live with gratitude.
Just like diabetes, schizophrenia simply does not go away—not yet—for any of us. It’s always there in the background. The “lifelong acid trip”. But, with respect to delusions specifically, I have also had delusions that weren’t real. And I wanted to start with why and how we tend to cling to delusional thinking and thus why I perhaps cling not necessarily to a delusion but to this kind of thinking. It is “dimensional” for me. It is a grieving process for me. I am referring to missing my old Hollywood lifestyle—the content involved with that lifestyle of the rich and famous and the grandiose nature of the thinking itself. The celebrities I befriended when I lived and worked in Los Angeles, for example.
During the onset period of schizophrenia, delusions, and perceptions, we often begin with smaller-scale hallucinations. There is a root that is actually rational, wrapped inside a delusional outer layer. I think we can actually reach the schizophrenic while that individual is in a completely psychotic state—which often our doctors, caregivers, and loved ones fail to do—by understanding that everything the psychotic schizophrenic individual thinks is done in a synchronistic way.
It all starts with object permanence—that we have lost this and that the one reality we once believed in has been replaced as a result of thoughts and events in our lives.
A flow of realities, of things appearing and disappearing at the same time—not just the simple ball under the blanket, as the rules of both time and place come into effect here: The time is now, and the place is grounded right here on earth. Let’s call it an earth belief or thought. These thoughts and beliefs can, through the “schizophrenic lens,” basically occur at the same time. This waking dream, this constant LSD trip, this real-life synchronicity (Carl Jung first coined the term “synchronicity”), and this more fluid mindset. If we are to think at the core of a schizophrenic in order to reach him or her, this means thinking synchronistically.
If we are not stable enough or properly medicated, our dreams can actually become part of the same reality as reality itself. For example, my wife once asked me, “Jonathan, are you going to be recording an episode for your podcast today?” I had been planning on doing so, but I had not yet told my wife. I simply said, “Oh yes, I was actually thinking about it. It’s been a while since the last one.” Now, if I were in a more psychotic state, I might have (or, rather, the delusional process might have) started with my real-life fascination with Edgar Cayce and psychic ideas, my New Age books, and my meditations into the Akashic field—and so I would have concluded that my wife was secretly reading my mind, or that she and what she said were mystically connected in some way—that she “knew something.” My psychic experiences in the past would have then overlapped with my wife knowing something psychically, mystically, and symbolically, and also with synchronicity—creating a deep and personal meaning. Add to that the paranoia that comes from her “reading my mind”—that she is therefore “God” because she knows I’m planning on recording my podcast today, even though I haven’t told her. The terrifying belief is now engrained, as we are to begin with often more sensitive to the world as a whole—even being touched on the hand or the ear can create extreme fear for us schizophrenics. The belief that “she knew I was going to record a podcast today.”
Synchronicity may have a little or some scientific evidence, at least theoretically. However, there are things that we cannot prove through science, such as the definition of time—or even God. In a state of schizophrenic psychosis, this overlap becomes compounded, as it builds up more intensely and thus perhaps takes over our entire belief system.
Perhaps there is a coherent way of explaining how we schizophrenics might create our own reality, our delusional or schizophrenic reality, as I see it, through some of the things I have laid out so far—please bear with me here.
I’ll speak for myself, and my own experiences, although the end result is now something I can talk about and demystify rather than actually believe—thanks to the proper treatment, therapies, and support I now receive.
I’ll first start with a collection of thoughts. Theoretically, let’s say, for real:
• In 2008, I made a film called On the Bus about mental illness—it was part of the story in the film.
• Mel Gibson (an old friend from California)—he and I were first introduced to each other in 2001.
• I listened to The Beach Boys. We’ll assume that the music was playing in the car with Mel as we went for a drive, as we did up in the hills of Malibu.
• Mel Gibson is rich and famous.
Whether in a state of schizophrenic psychosis or not, since this seems to be a matter of degree—depending on how psychotic we might or might not be and how much the psychotic part of our minds has taken hold. This is a matter of our abilities and the constantly fluctuating brain chemistry that we might—or perhaps might not—be able to filter through. It depends on whether we have been successful in redefining our delusional realities to a generally consistent state of well-being and peace of mind.
In a psychotic state, due to our hallucinatory thinking, the chemistry in my brain, our brains, is constantly misfiring, so that the stimuli from the environment go to the wrong places in our brains. The effect is similar to putting our hand under cold water and feeling hot.
Essentially, though, with this schizophrenic thinking process, I would come up with a “composite sketch,” if you will, a sort of “Frankenstein” version—a storyline that might be experienced as:
• I knew Mel Gibson, and therefore I am famous. (Based on: Mel Gibson is famous and is rich.)
• Then—but at the same time—I am rich because I made a movie called Ten Years, and I am convinced it made me rich because Mel Gibson is rich, and I am famous because I made my movie, it won awards, and Mel Gibson did, too. I must have met Mel Gibson because I made a movie, and he did, too, and we are both rich and famous.
So far—this might not be the best example, but time can thus be altered—2008 is coming before 2003 in this case. This might be a little hard to follow, but please bear with me here.
If I were asked to explain this while still psychotic, I’d say first that I am not mentally ill—I am simply psychic, rich, and famous. Besides, the Beach Boys were playing, and one of the Beach Boys has a mental illness, not me, but my film was about mental illness. Brian Wilson is still rich and famous, and also an artist, so he was playing on the radio because both Mel and I were both artists and it was “meant to be” that he would be playing music for us because we were all connected through art, fame, and money.
Exhausting, isn’t it? But this is actually how jumbled it can be for us and thus for those witnessing us speaking or even communicating in general terms. It’s schizophrenia.
Let’s assume that we got pulled over for speeding. Well, there is a police officer character in On the Bus, my movie. You see, grandiosity, both real and imagined, content, time inconsistencies, and now this character was in the movie, so, because we were all in the car, we were in the movie while in the car, so the police officer was playing her role—it all happened for a reason. And beyond that, paranoia might also slip in—the officer who pulled us over was male (not female), and in my movie she was female, so she was disguising herself in order to take our money and meet three famous people (even Brian Wilson on the radio).
Theoretically, this might suffice as a pseudo-case study, and yet in normal reality, for us schizophrenics, this type or process of thinking compounds itself and thus it can become completely distorted.
Our friends and families start to think we’re going crazy (although in a way we are), and stigma arises, plus confusion and thinking, “What the heck happened to this guy—he’s speaking like a drug addict who’s lost his mind. Where is all this coming from?”
We would all benefit from greater awareness of what schizophrenia is and how to know if someone we love might be predisposed to the illness (through family history, etc.). But this is what we with schizophrenia usually experience early on, as the illness is progressing—we believe this thinking based on other facts—facts which are disconnected, something we cannot see without appropriate help. Later, yes, we can have this type of thinking while recovered or recovering, but we are able, hopefully, to be mindful enough to have such thinking but to cope with it differently, and even, down the road, to do our own “reality checks,” so that we do not not talk about these things inappropriately, in public, let’s say. We can also use the hallmark of CBT, which is “evidence”, on our own in order to connect the disconnected parts of our thoughts—thus our reality. We can also do this with the support of loved ones, family, doctors, medications, friends, and support groups who help us and love us enough to be able to assist us in connecting the right pieces together and who explain why they connect—the reasons why.
To wrap this up for now, I have not even mentioned the hearing of voices and hallucinations—everything from shadows to people, even friends—and the hidden, traumatic, and paranoid features of schizophrenia of which we are often too afraid to speak. We might sound or behave cryptically, in code, with pressured speech and flight of ideas. Add to this the “zombie-like” features, the manic episodes, the muscle dystonia, and the side effects of medication, and if we have turned to drugs, often just one hit of pot to quell the symptoms—yikes!
We’re often too embarrassed to speak of our early experiences with schizophrenia, to say that, “Yes, indeed, this is an extremely devastating and debilitating illness.” I am so glad that I am at a place in my recovery. I do have my bad days. I haven’t even slept during the last day—insomnia (technically, another symptom), but I am glad that I have been to this intoxicating wonderland and come back—just enough to be able to deliver this kind of explanation, perhaps demystifying in a way that others can understand some of these processes that affect about 1% of the world’s population. Schizoaffective disorder, then, includes manic highs and periods of deep depression. My Tourette’s syndrome features the obvious muscle tics but also obsessive/compulsive tendencies and elements of autism or Asperger’s (often referred to as higher functioning form autism—in summary, but it is, of course, much more than that).
We all have our issues. It’s how we deal with them that sets us apart.
As always, my journey continues, on and on. Yes, you could say I’ve been through the wringer.
I am opening up and sharing my world and my experiences—with hope. Participation in my own recovery, along with metacognition (usually in deficit for those with schizophrenia) and mindfulness, have all helped me become who I am today: an accomplished writer (literature and film/TV) and technically a professional author of erotic fiction. I often laugh at this because there are so many sides of me—the “angel demon human dichotomy”—as I use various outlets to express my creativity. I have an education primarily in the arts, but I worked on Wall Street in my “healthier” days, so I know a bit about that! However, I ultimately chose to do what I am doing now—which is just this. I am also a film producer and a musician. My new full 15-track LP will be arriving at over 60 retailers in the coming weeks, possibly under the band name Waspy Honk Afro. All my work is also available for free and will always be free, as far as I know. My thoughts are free—my public life, the “open source” information-life of J.H.
I’ve lived in New York, Connecticut, Paris France, Los Angeles, and now New Mexico; I am now married and I write a diary and podcast mostly about mental illness, inspiration, New Age ideas, and transgressive material—transgressional fiction. [If you’ve seen or read Fight Club—it’s pretty much like that!]
I am, myself, an expert on my own experiences and myself; that’s about all I’m an expert on. I am not a doctor of any kind. I enjoy learning, reading, and communicating. Whatever I say or write, I like to add: “take what you will, leave the rest.” I try my best to speak for myself when it comes down to it.
Please take note that some of the above writing has been paraphrased from my second novel, Second Alibi: The Banality of Life (2014).