I’ve posted before on my…condition here but never went into much detail of the experience of living with my disorder and how I deal with it. I’ll correct that omission here.
My illness is actually rather humdrum, though debilitating beyond my current ability to describe, the diagnosis being simple schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations, and my experience in living with this issue and its baggage has played a large part in my being a nontheist and skeptic.
I was diagnosed in the early 1980s in my twenties, and showed signs of it from my teens. This had a profoundly negative effect on the formation of my self-image for many years. I’ve had to claw my way to the light, so to speak, to rebuild what my aberrant brain chemistry had taken from me and remake myself from what was left.
It was not a pleasant experience, and I feel no undue pride for myself in the accomplishment. It required the caring assistance over two decades worth of stellar mental health professionals, a loving family, and those few special people I call my friends.
No, I never took drugs of the recreational sort, and my condition is, as far as anyone knows, the result of a perfect storm of heredity and development which came together to nearly drive me into an institution, but fortunately I was never deemed a danger to myself or others by my psychiatrists. I was greatly incapacitated in some ways, but I received my diagnosis and treatment early on, and I was fortunate that I responded well to that.
My early years following my diagnosis were characterised by one emotion — fear — quivering, often paralysing fear of what I might do to those around me, because of my ignorance of the true nature of the voices that haunted me. But commanding as they were, they were never able to make me do as told, but they could make me into a quaking wreck with that fear of what they might make me do. Not once did I obey them, though they terrified me. I would not wish those horrific experiences on even my worst enemy.
To this day I laugh at the idea of a literal, biblical Hell. Fire? Really? Try having your mind turned inside out by a brain disorder, then you may talk to me about pain. Hell seems too childish compared to what I went through. It ranks to me as one of the great failures of the human imagination.
Nothing, no physical pain I’ve ever felt, that I know of, compares to the mental agony that those with this family of disorders have gone through. I couldn’t simply pull myself away from the source of the pain to staunch it, as it was literally all in my own head. Early on, the episodes would last for hours, I cowering in my room with ranting, horrid, malevolent voices screaming, their leering faces seen, fortunately, only in my mind’s eye — I’ve a vivid imagination, though I have been very fortunate not to have a history of visual hallucinations — the voices alone were torture enough.
Time passed, and I learned to ignore the voices, because then I understood their true nature, I knew what they could and couldn’t do, and to this day I take my medication regimen seriously, and I’m extremely wary of any tendencies for delusion that show themselves. I no longer fear the voices, nor do I believe what they say. There is no reason to. And every reason not to.
I’ve developed a good understanding, a reliable though not perfect, insight into my own thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and biases. I scrutinize them regularly, guarding my perspective on reality and assessing my reasoning for any fallacies of I may commit.
Doubt, in the form of self-questioning, has become an integral part of my daily routine, and that doubt has over years proven, I’ve discovered, toxic to religious faith. For me, doubt has eroded faith, as my former faith once denied doubt.
Metacognition and its attendant self-scrutiny has become for me, a tool for survival — the survival of the mind. It’s also responsible for some of my ‘blue’ moments online and blogging, not enjoyable.
It was only in late 2006 that I identified with either modern atheism or scientific skepticism, taking up the latter as a tool to defend my thoughts from the spectre of self-delusion and of deception by others, hearing for the first time a podcast, ‘The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe,’ soon followed by others. I’ve been listening ever since.
But I wonder if I would really like to be cured of my illness if such a treatment were possible. I don’t know. At this stage in life, it has caused great disability, but also feeds my creative bent with those odd little free associations, and peculiar patterns that come to mind, though I fully recognize that often, they don’t exist, and it’s obvious that they don’t. I’m very careful about believing what I think, and especially what I hear.
It would be wonderful to permanently correct my brain chemistry and alleviate the cognitive issues; the problems with thought disorganization, the false pattern recognition, and so on.
But that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.
So I’m scrupulous about staying on my treatment plan, and I recommend the same to anyone with a disorder anything at all like mine. I keep on it, because quite frankly, I know quite well what life will be like if I don’t.
And living like that frightens me more than any idea of an unpleasant afterlife, however ‘eternal,’ that anyone can concoct. If he were still alive, I’d give Dante Alighieri a little tour of the darkest corners of my mind, and then we would see of what torment he would write.