The Rabbit Hole

If you can at all avoid it, please consider avoiding the rabbit hole and staying on the surface of things. Depth doesn’t always yield accuracy; in fact, it often yields projection.

Allow me to explain. Mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, have to do with a system of thoughts that become interlocked and in which a person with schizophrenia becomes trapped. The thoughts are enticing, a sort of waking dream. There is a lot of research into this type of thing, with different major theorists, psychologists, psychiatrists and scholars such as myself, having our own theories about what psychosis is and whether you can avoid it. My take is that some people can avoid it and some people cannot. It depends on if a person is deeply embedded in the meanings and the symbols or not.

For me, with medicine and therapy (when I can respond well to therapy), I am able to stay on the surface of things quite well. Playing piano helps even more, because then I can be expressive without getting bogged down in the rabbit hole of words. Researching my mental health condition also helps provide structure and purpose so that I have language, a sort of handle to grasp, when I’m not doing well.

I’m reading the book The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann right now, and I am pretty sure that the protagonist of the story has schizophrenia. It is a sad, compassionate, and yet sensationalized story, and I don’t recommend it. Because it assumes the worst of people with mental illness. But one thing I’m realizing is that it has to do with the Enlightenment/Romanticism split of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and that that seems to be where the nexus of schizophreniform disorders emerged (the illness itself was first “discovered” or diagnosed around that time, as well). Hoffman says that the protagonist is “inner-divided.”

It gets down to the split between faith and reason, which was dramatized through a deeply Christian and moral lens by Dostoevsky in the famous novel Crime and Punishment. The main character is named Raskol’nikov. Raskol’ means schism or split, in Russian. Raskol’nikov goes down the “is everything permitted” rabbit hole of the day.

You don’t need to read these books, which may themselves generate a rabbit hole, but they teach an important lesson. Namely, that there is a rabbit hole, and that, should you be able to, you should avoid it. In Hoffmann’s book, the main character kills himself, and in Dostoevsky’s book, the main character kills someone else. It all starts with lack of purity and morals and a lack of self-accountability to stay on the right path. A novella called “Fair Eckbert” by Ludwig Tieck also talks about how once you start down off the pure path, it is all downhill from there.

Moral of the story: don’t overthink it, choose the good, avoid evil, don’t repay harm with harm, and take your medicine if you think you’ll go down the rabbit hole without it.

Observing Distress Rather than Becoming Distressed

I can still remember my late twenties. I began having a hard time. I started going to a therapist, who told me that I should tell him my worries and then, crucially, he taught me how to observe my problems as though they were a leaf on a stream. I was supposed to watch the thought from the shores rather than identify with it. In other words, I was being taught the important lesson that we are not our thoughts. Therapists call the process of overidentifying with your thoughts fusion. And so their job is to help us defuse from our thoughts, and then, if we’re lucky to have a good therapist, they train us how to defuse our thoughts ourselves. If you have schizophrenia, this is very difficult and perhaps you will also continue to require a therapist in order to keep perspective on how you are not your thinking. I’m not a professional, but that’s what happened with me.

It was an important lesson when I first learned to watch my thinking rather than experiencing my thoughts as facts. I remember feeling so relaxed after it for several days. I realized it was my interpretation that was causing the distress. I had attached values to events, and these values weren’t universal. Eventually I needed to go on medicine to remind myself that I was not my thinking. My thinking became more persuasive to myself even as it became more detached from logic. And it became so strong that I created the situations I feared were happening in my interpretive world as I alienated myself from friends and family and coworkers.

Now, safely on my medicine and avoiding things and situations that are triggering when I can – choosing my battles, if you will – I can indeed stay on the bank and watch the leaves of my thinking pass by the stream of life. I am not my thoughts. We are not our thoughts. What type of therapy is this called? It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mixed with mindfulness and positive psychology. I learned about how to talk about it from the book Treating Psychosis: A Clinician’s Guide to Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy and Mindfulness Approaches within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tradition. There are, as I said, 8 authors to the book. The main author is Nicola P. Wright, PhD, CPsych.

If you struggle with mental health issues, remember I am not a professional and am just writing as a lay person with lived experience. Perhaps my book will help you find meaning, however. It is about how I found meaning in my struggle with schizoaffective disorder and how you can start to think positive about managing your care. It’s free:

Values and Goals Based Living

I have been reading books on mental health written for professional practitioners. NOT for psychiatrists, but for therapists. They are therapeutic. Ones for psychiatrists are very very depressing and I don’t recommend it. I’ll be sharing details from ones that are helpful.

I bought these books a little while back in an urge to commit myself to health and wellness for the long haul. I see this as an improvement in itself, because people with schizoaffective disorder often lack the will to self-care and are either overly self-protective or completely reckless about their wellbeing and future. I speak from my own experience when I say that that has definitely been the case with me. I had to be the person to buy the book – don’t buy books for people with mental illness. It needs to be intrinsically motivated when we research our condition(s).

One book I have been reading is called Treating Psychosis: A Clinician’s Guide to Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy & Mindfulness Approaches within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tradition, by a whole lot of people (there are 8 authors, the first one listed is Nicola P. Wright, PhD, CPsych). It is written for clinicians and so perhaps wouldn’t be useful for a lay person. I have a master’s in literature and my coursework emphasized aspects of psychology and psychological frameworks. This book was so good that I told my psychiatrist/therapist to please buy the book and we’re working through it. I am therapy resistant, but with this framework I am making progress. I lead our discussions and send him my filled out worksheets when I feel safe doing so.

One of the most useful things the book has said is that we need to identify our values in life and also set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Limited).

For examples of values I’ll share mine: Artistic, Forgiving, Health oriented, Leader, Learner, and Visionary. Goals are more personal, so I won’t share mine.

The great thing about aligning values with goals is that if we have symptoms and can’t meet our goals on any given day, then we can still live by our values. This provides meaning and motivation for me to stay in the game of life and to feel fulfilled doing so.

We can always choose compassionate action. That’s a value for a lot of people with stigmatizing health conditions and it’s important.

I can always do art. Being artistic is one of my values. Even when I was hospitalized, we had art days where we drew mandalas. This seems childish, but given where I was developmentally at that point, it was actually a very therapeutic exercise. You don’t have to be a good artist. Just play with colors and pastels or something. This is just one example.

Don’t forget I’m not a therapist and that this isn’t medical advice and that every situation is different. I’m just sharing my own experience. But the book is comprehensive and its whole approach is like floaties they put on kids to learn to swim. These 8 authors have thought of everything. They know what they’re talking about.

If you want to learn about my journey to faith and balance in the face of two hospitalizations with schizoaffective disorder, and how I find meaning and live with joy, consider reading my book. It’s free and maybe it will be one of many lenses that help you get back on your feet:

https://erinmichaelgrimm.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/emergentgracefinal9.26.2020.pdf

Reading about Schizophrenia

I started suffering from schizotypal symptoms in 2011 after being traumatized by a man who was in authority over me. I didn’t realize that trauma could form such a lasting and hidden wound as delusions, which hide their medical reality from the sufferer and seem like life is something that it is not. That you’re in danger when you no longer are. I don’t want to trigger anyone else’s illness, so suffice it to say that my life was like being in a boat in shallow and muddy water, and the more I tried to paddle out in to the sea of life the more entrenched my fruitless and terrifying delusions became.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I learned that I had developed a mental illness, because I had lost insight. I wrote about this whole process in my book. It wasn’t until 2015 I learned what delusions were and that these can happen to a person, and in 2016 there was a psychiatrist brave enough to tell me that I had schizoaffective disorder. Now it is in remission, and I stay healthy doing what I can, doing my best every day.

I had never realized how debilitating and multi-year mental illness could be. If you’re somewhere in this process, please don’t give up. You are a full and living being worthy of love and, actually, already loved by God. I read somewhere that when we experience paranoia, our impression that God loves us is dimmed. Know this: his actual love for you is complete, that you are complete, and that you are loved by God.

Reading about schizophrenia is empowering for me. 10 years later I’m finally doing it. But it has to be the right books by the right people, with the right tone, and with hope. I’ll share my readings in the days ahead. Be well,

Erin

Read my book:

Don’t Be Afraid to Take More Meds

I just did, and wondered whether I might not be alone, that winter’s end brings about mood swings. In fact, Kay Redfield Jamison writes about the particular danger of spring. So just take more medicine if you need. Accept that you need it if you do, and remember you won’t have to be on this much forever.

Of course it is not always a joy to take more meds. Even if they bring much needed peace. Mine make me gain weight, impact my skin and complexion, and I can’t drink even a small bit of alcohol (which that is prolly for the best)….

But on the other hand, I got so much work done today, and not in a manic way, but genuinely, I sat down and wrote a bit, read a bit, even saw some friends here and there (socially distanced and with masks). I started planning meals. These are all things that I’ve been thinking about doing without actually being able to do them, due to the vast amount of ideas in my head.

When I start cancelling social plans, that is when I start to think about taking more medicine. It is a sign I might be going down the rabbit hole. I also bought a ton of books about mental illness that I will be writing about on here now that I have this burst of healthy activity and creativity. I’m thinking I will start doing book reviews.

Always seek professional help, remember I’m not a professional, and never give up hope. It won’t always be this hard.