Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beauty and madness. Thursday, July 15, 2010.

“But what is madness, if not being able to control your own mind?” –Victoria Leatham, “Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival”

They found my friend by a cornfield, where she’d been parked for hours. April, a young, beautiful and brilliantly talented mother of two, had disappeared into the night into a cemetery, where she roamed – listening to music, smoking cigarettes and praying – all night.

She then sat in her truck and watched the sun rise, after “walking through a misty, dreamy, flower-filled meadow,” she wrote later in her blog, girlAbstracted. “Music and wind, landscape and horizon, spoke for me, came to life before me. I was fearless in the presence of my unseen enemies because I was exalted, wrapped snugly in warm layers of meaning.”

It sounds beautiful, but April’s experience wasn’t finished yet. “When the farmer and his wife brought me into their home, my exaltation was setting with the sun,” she wrote. “By the time I arrived at the emergency room, the walls were bleeding with terror.”

April suffers from psychosis. I’ve been anxious and depressed, but never delusional. I’ve never seen visions or heard music that no one else can hear, like April has. Another friend of mine, when off his medication, believed he was a bear and stayed in the woods, leaving his clothes behind.

How does this happen? The experience of psychosis is barely distinguishable from the experience of ingesting hallucinogens like LSD. It can be beautiful, terrifying or both. Of course, drugs wear off in a few hours, but the delusions of psychosis can last indefinitely. Delusions can make it impossible to work at a job or raise a family. And four in 10 people with schizophrenia, one cause of delusions, attempt suicide.

Most people are afraid of people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Movies and television shows often depict people with delusions as violent, while in reality, they are no more violent than people in the general population and are actually more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Strong medications can keep psychosis under control, but bring their own set of problems.

The human mind is an amazing thing, beyond our ability to understand. The ability of the brain to manufacture images and sounds is really quite astounding. How sad that the experience can be so life-limiting and can lead to suicidal ideation. Because I think I would like the experience of being “exalted, wrapped snugly in warm layers of meaning.”

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