What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a state of mind, characterized by abstract, nonlinear thought patterns. It tends to coincide with unpredictable, nonconformist behavior, and thus is considered by many people to be a disease. This common belief illustrates a misunderstanding of schizophrenia, fueled by fear of the unknown.
Schizophrenia is not a disease. Schizophrenia is a natural and healthy phenomenon which occurs in everyone, to varying degrees, and need not have the stigma of disease attached to it.
If schizophrenia is not a disease, then does that mean that all schizophrenics are healthy people?
No. Schizophrenic individuals are just as capable of being unhealthy as anyone else.
What are the manifestations of schizophrenia?
There are three types of schizophrenia, which I will refer to as primary, secondary and tertiary.
They may come across as eccentric, capricious, impulsive, ambivalent or fickle; negative traits to those who would prefer everyone to always behave in a predictable manner and to always move consistently in a linear, focused direction. However, not everyone can be the same, nor would we want them to be. Schizophrenic behavior plays an important role in the growth of a society, and this role will also be further discussed later on.
Because they are two inter-related processes, manifestations of secondary schizophrenia tend to bear strong resemblances to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which may include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory difficulties
- Panic attacks
- Reactive depression
One may think of secondary schizophrenia as a kind of psychological puberty, a necessary growth process to help adults cope with radical life changes. Can you imagine how difficult puberty would be for young people if we treated it like it were a disease? What if we gave medication to young men to keep their voices from changing, or gave medication to young women to keep them from growing breasts? What if we tried to keep anyone from growing pubic hair? This may sound like a strange idea but it's not too different from how many people behave toward manifestations of secondary schizophrenia.
Manifestations of tertiary schizophrenia may include:
- Severe apathy
- Atypically extreme violent or aggressive behavior
- Physical abuse to self or others
- Homicidal or suicidal tendencies
Why change the definition of schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is commonly mistaken for a mental disorder because those who lead healthy schizophrenic lives rarely find themselves under scrutiny by Western medicine, and thus cannot be identified as schizophrenic under our culture's current criteria. By "healthy" I mean that they feel generally satisfied with their own ability to care for themselves autonomously and independently, even though their way of experiencing the world differs from the norm. Healthy schizophrenics can be recognized by their profound sense of spirituality and constant faith in their own multi-faceted perceptions.
I propose that we adjust our definition of schizophrenia because the current definitions offered by Western culture are not only confusing, but they are also impairing our ability to understand and appreciate the important role of healthy schizophrenia in society today.
What is the role of schizophrenia in society?
We human beings have a tendency to become quite engrossed in the systems we build, so much so that we forget the real human values at the heart of our systems. We risk becoming completely automated in our behavior, because we stop thinking about the reasons for things and just do them out of a blind adherence to the system. This automation is a form of death, because it means that we stop changing, we stop questioning, we stop growing. Schizophrenia gives a breath of fresh air to stale, rigid systems by introducing change, by bringing into the equation an unpredictable element, functioning much like a "wild card" does in card games.
The abstract, non-linear nature of schizophrenia lends well to creative endeavors, and schizophrenics throughout history have enjoyed success in society as artists, poets, musicians, authors, entertainers of all kinds - vocations which allow them avenues of expression for their unique personality traits which might otherwise have been disregarded as simply eccentric behavior. To treat schizophrenic thought as though it were a tragic impairment rather than realizing its true purpose as living art, a celebration of life, is to put a quite a nihilistic spin on something that occurs so completely naturally.
What causes schizophrenia?
Like life itself, schizophrenia is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon which has no cause.
However, post-traumatic stress may trigger schizophrenic episodes in someone who is not normally schizophrenic. In response to trauma, schizophrenia opens the mind to new possibilities, which facilitates the healing process. Post-traumatic individuals may use metaphor as a more comfortable form of communication (because talking about things in direct terms may be too upsetting), which is also facilitated by the schizophrenic mindset.
The use of certain narcotics (such as cocaine or amphetamines) may also trigger schizophrenic episodes in someone who is not normally schizophrenic. This is also a form of secondary schizophrenia (response to trauma), which happens because these types of drugs disrupt the flow of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine or seratonin) in the body.
What about the assertion that schizophrenia is a brain disease?
The simple truth is that not all schizophrenics demonstrate any kind of brain abnormality. This is confirmed by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in his book, Surviving Schizophrenia, as well as by Dr. Godfrey Pearlson in his news report at Schizophrenia.com, where he states that "structural neuroimaging studies such as CAT (computed axial tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) measurements ... show subtle rather than dramatic changes, and the findings are not seen in all cases of schizophrenia, so they are not useful as clinical tests for making the diagnosis of the disorder."
How does schizophrenia relate to epilepsy?
Recent studies have confirmed that epileptic individuals are more likely to be schizophrenic than non-epileptic individuals. As one might expect, frequent lapses in consciousness create a natural punctuation in an individual's reality perception such that an epileptic individual does not experience a linear reality in the same way that a non-epileptic individual would. Thus, the abstract, non-linear reality perception of an epileptic would quite naturally correspond with the abstract, non-linear reality perception of a schizophrenic.
What are tropes?
Wikipedia offers the following definition of "trope":
A trope is a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words, i.e. using a word in a way other than what is considered its literal or normal form. ... Trope comes from the Greek word, tropos, which means a "turn", as in heliotrope, a flower which turns toward the sun. We can imagine a trope as a way of turning a word away from its normal meaning, or turning it into something else.
A metaphor is a way of associating two things that have similar properties. They may be literal things, or they may be images, or concepts. Metaphors are a form of trope.
For example, when Romeo, of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, said "Juliet is the sun!", he was using a trope. When Hoban Washburne, pilot of the spaceship Serenity, said in the movie Serenity, "I am a leaf on the wind," he was using a trope.
Tropical expression is extremely common among schizophrenics. Perhaps schizophrenics are inclined toward thinking and speaking in tropes because it's a naturally non-linear way of communicating. Tropical language imbues words with profound, poetic meanings that speak to us on many different levels. William Shakespeare is famous for using tropes in his plays. Song lyrics of all genres abound with tropes.
Tropical expression is also extremely common among people who have been severely traumatized. Tropes allow traumatized individuals the safety of deconstructing their painful memories into simple images that express their feelings but at the same time distance their conscious mind from the painful reality of what happened. Rather than using literal terms to describe what happened, they use symbols and metaphors. Traumatized individuals may also experience hallucinations, which are tropes that manifest themselves visually or aurally.
An example of trauma expressing itself through trope is given by Rosemary Winslow in her essay "Troping Trauma: Conceiving /of/ Experiences of Speechless Terror", where she relates the story of a young woman whose grandfather assaulted her with a butcher's knife when she was five years old. In expressing the details of the event, a particular trope emerged in which the young lady saw herself as "a large snake, blood-red in color". Further examination revealed that she had seen a garden snake suffer a similar knife wound the summer before, wraught by her father's axe, and the young woman's psyche had associated the two events.
What are delusions?
Delusions are beliefs which are found to be socially unacceptable to a particular culture. What classifies them as delusions is simply the context in which they are found. Dr. Fuller Torrey explains, "It is not the belief per se that is delusional, but how far the belief differs from the beliefs shared by others in the same culture or subculture." For example, there was a time when it was considered delusional for an individual to believe that the Earth was spherical when it was commonly believed that the Earth was flat.
Many delusions are complex forms of trope. For example, an individual may say that aliens came to visit him today. While it may be the case that the individual actually experienced a form of visual hallucination which involved aliens coming to visit, it may also be the case that this is an unconscious metaphor selected to symbolize the descent of new ideas upon the individual. If the individual is speaking metaphorically, then no amount of arguing will convince him that aliens never came to visit. In order to get to the bottom of what is intended to be communicated, one must take the time to understand what aliens mean in that particular context.
It is important to understand that while some delusions may be evidence of psychosis, as is the case in tertiary schizophrenia, many delusions are not really delusions at all but rather the result of plain and simple misunderstanding as to an individual's meaning. Other so-called delusions may occur when an individual has a genuine vision of potential truths which are not fully realized by the culture which surrounds him or her.
BEYOND SURVIVAL: THE SCHIZOPHRENIA MYTH
Questions and Answers about Schizophrenia
by Susan Lien Whigham, © 2006 All Rights Reserved
Source: The Schizophrenia Myth
See also: Quiz
Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Recovery, The Recovery Based Model, Hope for Schizophrenia Sufferers