In fixing computers you’re called upon to deduce. You first determine if it’s a hardware or a software problem, it’s a process of elimination and it can only be learned through years of experience. The problem is often complicated by the seeming excessive number of different hardware and software configurations – every computer is a unique ecosystem as is every network of computers. In fixing them effectively, you need to know enough about virtually every specialization that exists in IT. But I really view this vast amount of complexity as a rather simple ecosystem, especially compared to the greater problems I have with regards to my struggles with mental illness.
Treating schizoaffective disorder is an order of magnitude more complex than fixing a computer: every case is unique, every patient experiences different things and in different ways, and no two treatments are alike. With schizoaffective disorder I’m presented with symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But that also means I have an anxiety disorder, severe depression, as well as symptoms of PTSD, among other things. I am constantly changing; learning new things about myself and about my illness every time I have a bout of depression, a psychotic episode, a paranoid thought, or delusion. I’m constantly moving along the spectrum from stable and well connected with reality to deluded and disconnected. I oftentimes can’t tell the difference between what is a part of the reality everyone else experiences and what is my own, self-‐induced, private reality.
Living with it oftentimes means denying my brain its desire to think psychotically and instead using instinct and intuition to help me solve a problem I’m presented with. In these instances, my years of using deductive reasoning in fixing computers doesn’t seem to help that much; at least not at first. Computers have a set methodology in which they work, they operate under a strict pedagogy – the paradigm is well understood by me and it’s that understanding of said paradigm that allows me to fix problems as quickly and as effectively as I can.
In learning how to best live with a mental illness, the real challenge has simply been learning the paradigm under which it operates. I live with schizoaffective disorder every day, it’s my full time job and I’m very good at it. It’s fortunate for me that my brain is hardwired to find patterns, trends, and correlations (which comes from 15 years of experience building and fixing computers). It’s produced what I refer to as “Crazy People Logic.”
Crazy People Logic is hard to explain because it’s not exactly rational in a traditional sense. The best way I can describe it is to illustrate it for you.
Last summer, I stepped outside for one last cigarette before turning in for the night. I walked around to the side of my apartment building and sat down against one of the walls. The space is between two buildings with one end blocked off by a high, metal fence and the other side is open to allow access to the side yard. So…there are three sides blocked and one side open – there’s no gate or fence on the open side; no obstacles in the way to get into the side yard.
I finished up my cigarette and got up to walk back to the front door when I realized I was trapped. To the left and right were the brick walls of my apartment building and the adjacent building, behind me the tall fence, and in front of me an even taller fence with a thick chain securing the gate. I was stuck.
I’ve trained myself to know that I’m just having a bit of an episode, so I pull out my phone and call my mom. I know that the fence in front of me isn’t real, but my subconscious so firmly believes in the fence that I can’t get past it – I can feel the coldness of the metal bars of the fence, I can feel the weight of the chain that locks the gate. It’s as real to me as anything else. I explain the problem to my mom: she has to first figure out where I am and doesn’t quite know what to do when she determines that I am, in fact, in my side yard. She asks me if I can crawl under the fence, if I can climb over, she even tells me that the fence isn’t actually there and I can walk right through it. She wakes my dad up; he doesn’t have much luck either. They’re about to get in the car to come help me, but I decide that’s a stupid idea and tell them I’m hanging up and would call them later. I’m quite frustrated.
After brooding for a while, I decide to throw conventional thinking out the window. I know the fence isn’t really there but I’m also stopped by its presence. So…it’s a real fence, the fence is actually there, there’s no doubt that the fence is there. So shut up, logical brain. It’s locked me in the side yard of my apartment building and I have to get out so I can take my pills and go to sleep. My gut, my intuition, is much more useful in this case. If there’s a lock on the fence, there must be a key and as I walked around I could hear my keys jingling around as they rest from the carabiner on my belt loop. So I unhook my keys and start trying them in the lock – after a few keys one of them works, I open the gate to the hallucinated fence and go back inside so I can take my pills and snuggle into bed with my dog.
That’s Crazy People Logic – a form of intuiting your way around an irrational thing. There’s a sort of simultaneous realization that what you’re being presented with is a delusion, or paranoia, or a hallucination, or even just plain ol’ psychotic – that it’s not real (because the fence wasn’t really there) but also the acceptance that it’s real-‐to-‐me. And, philosophical implications aside, if it’s real enough for me to feel its physical presence then why should I start trying to convince myself it’s just a figment of my imagination? At that moment no one could convince me that that fence wasn’t real any more than someone could convince you the chair you’re most likely sitting in isn’t there.
The realization and development of Crazy People Logic came from my love for the HBO series Game of Thrones. In the series, there are multiple instances where someone makes a claim about seeing something supernatural and the response is simply “a man sees what he sees.” I think that’s a wonderful approach to any mental illness that features psychosis. Why should I spend my time trying to deny my hallucinations? My brain is dead set on believing that the monsters following me down the street are real – it’s not particularly useful for me to hear someone say (or for me to say to myself, for that matter) that they’re not real. Of course they’re real! A man sees what he sees! This acceptance allows me to go past the useless conversation of trying to tell myself they aren’t real (remember how futile it would be for me to try to convince you your chair isn’t real?) and instead focus on how, regardless of how terrifying they appear, they aren’t going to hurt me…they’ve never hurt me in the past and they’re not going to hurt me now. It allows me to be practical about how I’m going to handle the situation.
This isn’t going to work for everyone and it’s not going to work on me every time; particularly when there are a dozen of them crowding into my 350 sq. ft. studio apartment. I need different tools for different circumstances.
Crazy People Logic operates on a different paradigm. It’s a way of thinking practically in a situation of psychosis, delusional thinking, or paranoia. The main feature of Crazy People Logic and how it’s become such a defining characteristic in my life with a mental illness is the shift in what I “trust”.
I’m of the opinion that my brain is rotten. As I’ve slowly learned about what parts of the brain are affected by schizoaffective disorder – the parts that are unusually active and the parts that aren’t nearly as active – I’ve developed a mental picture of what my brain looks like. Most of us are familiar with the picture they showed in health class of the lungs of a smoker. They’re blackened and diseased and do a good job of scaring most of us into not smoking. That’s the picture I get of what my brain looks like.
As my brain has rotted I’ve had to move residency from one place to another, sometimes the logical part of my brain doesn’t work particularly well and I have to use other means to figure out what to do. When I present a problem to my dad, some problem that I’m having in a relationship with someone or maybe a problem I’m having with a way to take care of myself, he always asks me what my gut tells me to do. And my therapist does the same thing -‐ I present a problem and she asks me what my gut is telling me. I’ve been blessed with extraordinary instincts and intuition; I intuit my way around life. My brain oftentimes tells me conflicting things and sometimes my brain doesn’t do much thinking at all. So, because of this lack of cooperation from my brain, I have to use my gut.
I have a lot of problems with being social, as do many people with a mental illness. There are times when I really need it and there are times when it’s the worst thing I could possibly do. If I end up going to a crowded restaurant with someone when I’m not supposed to, the repercussions can be serious. I can’t weigh the pro’s and con’s of going in my head, I just don’t have access to that information. I can’t ask someone to tell me what to do because they have no idea what I’m feeling. But I can trust my gut to tell me what to do; and the times I’ve ignored my gut and gone to said crowded restaurant anyways I’ve ended up getting sick, sometimes making a fool out of myself, and needing to call my mom in the middle of the night because some particularly frightening things are happening to me.
It’s hard for me to know, but it’s easy for me to intuit; and this is the paradigm under which Crazy People Logic operates. It’s not so much operating in the reality of the situation as it is accepting the more surreal aspects of my reality to get out of psychosis or at least make it a lot less traumatic than it otherwise would be. In the example of getting trapped in my side yard, there was no logical solution for getting out of it. Sure my parents could have driven the 45 minutes to my neighborhood and dragged me through the hallucinated fence…but there’s no telling what kind of damage that would do to me. Having your reality crushed when you’re in the middle of an episode like that can sometimes be more jarring and traumatizing than just accepting it. Intuition told me to try using my keys to open the gate. My gut led me to try such a simple trick and that’s what made the episode such an easy one to get through.
There’s a certain amount of emotional difficulty that comes with a mental illness. Stress can come on from seemingly normal things. I have to carefully weigh everything I commit to doing -‐ whether it be hanging out with someone, writing for this blog, or going to a NAMI class. I don’t have a high tolerance for stress and that’s the main reason I’m on Disability. On any given day a normal person can go to work, work a full 8-‐9 hour day, go and pick up the kids from school, take them to an after school activity, go grocery shopping, come home and cook dinner, and then relax before going to bed and starting the whole thing over the next day. Something like that would destroy me psychologically. Some days I’m lucky to get out of bed and put clothes on, other days I’m able to complete my daily routine and add some extra stuff and that leaves me feeling incredibly accomplished. But doing all the stuff a normal person does on any given day -‐ that’s far too much for me. For example:
Earlier this year, I went to a neuropsychologist for some testing to get some answers about my inability to retain what I’ve read. The testing itself was stressful and left me with a few new psychotic episodes under my belt by the end of the week. I didn’t really think of it too much from the month that lapsed between the testing and when I got the preliminary results; but my subconscious sure was thinking about it. During that month I started dissociating more frequently. I lost long spans of time throughout my day, hours in which I probably just stared blankly at the wall and hours in which I really hope that’s all I actually did. Dissociation is a reaction to anxiety and I wasn’t particularly aware that I was anxious because I didn’t feel the least bit anxious. I was disconnected from those feelings. It seems to me that my brain saved up all that anxiety and instead of being aware of it I just suddenly got psychotic, or I suddenly disconnected from reality.
Because of this unreliability and because of the fact my brain is largely a disaster, I don’t trust my brain to do a whole lot. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten from my therapist (advice which has been confirmed both through experience as well as by people who know me well) is to trust my gut. I have a proven track record when trusting my gut. I’ve been able to intuit when things are wrong in relationships, when I’m about to get sick, and even what to do to fix a computer. My brain is still involved, but my gut allows me access to sensations that guide me to safe and healthy conclusions about what to do.
It’s not ideal, but it’s good enough for me to function pretty well; and those visceral gut reactions to things, Crazy People Logic, have become a good way for me to interact with the world at large.
If you’d like to receive emails of the posts on this website, click on the “Subscribe Via Email” link on the main menu above and follow the instructions.
Want to know more about my upcoming new novel? Click the link that says “My New Book” on the menu at the top of the page and follow the instructions to be signed up for periodic updates.
Click here for a PDF of this post.