On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Call Me C.S. Lewis: An Unlikely Convert

Long time readers may wonder about my sudden shift to writing about Christianity. I’ve converted. You may wonder why. So, I’ll tell you.

About six months ago, I had a psychotic break. It was severe and there are possibly some readers here who witnessed parts of it.

One evening during my psychosis, which lasts usually a week or two, my mind felt like it was going to shatter. It’s hard to explain what it’s like for your mind to shatter, but it’s horrible and scary. You lose your whole identity. I seriously felt like I was going to be in long-term inpatient care. That’s also terrifying.

Normally, I would have gone to the hospital. My first urge was to do just that. I would be, possibly, injected with something like Haldol, and, hopefully, stabilized. It usually takes going to the hospital in order to re-gain any sort of coherence when one’s mind shatters.

However, no one was really around to get me to the hospital. All our vehicles were gone. I couldn’t very well take myself and I didn’t want to call 911 because I thought I wouldn’t be mentally present by the time they showed up.

All of this went though my head very quickly.

I felt my only choice was to pray. They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

I got into my bed and prayed. I said, “God, please help me keep my mind together.”

I was willing to do my part, if and however I could. But I needed God’s help.

As I prayed, my mind was shattering. I was losing my identity as I prayed. The only thing I knew about myself was that I am a woman. So, I prayed to God, “I know I am a woman.” That’s as much help as I could offer God.

I slowly fell asleep.

In the morning, my mind was healed. There was no psychosis whatsoever. No shattered mind.

I don’t currently know how long this healing will last. I don’t know if it’s forever or not. I still take my medications and go to counseling. But, that night, I believe I experienced a miracle. So, I’ve converted.

Breaking from Reality

Most people give credence to biomedical research over biopsychosocial research, thinking, I suppose that biomedical research shows us about reality. I don’t want to argue that it doesn’t. What I do want to do is argue for the social sciences as giving us information about the nature of reality.

For example, we know that Holocaust survivors are at-risk for developing schizophrenia. This gives us reason to think that exposure to trauma, psychological hardship, and so forth, can trigger psychotic symptoms. What we can’t do is replicate those conditions, and randomly assign people to Holocaust-like conditions.

What we can do is look at other instances where trauma may have caused a break from reality. For example, we can look to the Ghost Dance.

I invite you to watch this video, and consider whether the restrictions of liberty, trauma, and hardship, etc., caused the break from reality which was the Ghost Dance.