Is there a connection between intelligence and schizophrenia? Are people with schizophrenia more likely to have higher or lower IQs than the general population?
In today’s episode of Inside Schizophrenia, host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard explore the current views around the connection between intelligence and having schizophrenia.
Author Steven Paul Lansky joins to share his new book “The Break,” a memoir about one of his schizophrenic breaks from reality.
Steven Paul Lansky was raised by a loving family in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up sailing and bicycling and was unaware of how he would become an artist, harmonica player, and world traveler. First diagnosed with schizophrenia after his freshman year at Harvard, where he had been admitted at age 17, Lansky found art in psychiatric hospitals. He discovered his alcoholism in psychiatric treatment with the help of a generous writer with whom he apprenticed in his late 20s. By then, he had regional notoriety for his urban poetry. At 30, he began a career working with people with mental health conditions, at first as a vocational rehabilitation supervisor and later as a field-worker. During this time, he hosted a weekly radio show on a local NPR affiliate where he shared spoken word and music. In his early 40s, he earned an MA from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in creative writing. Since then, he has taught writing, traveled, and published six books, including the audio novel “Jack Acid,” available on Spotify and Apple Music. As he was retiring, he earned an MFA from the low-residency creative writing program at the University of Tampa.
“The Break” is Steve Lansky’s harrowing and comic account of his descent into madness after he changed the medication he took to keep his schizophrenia in check. Written with a poet’s eye for detail and great sensitivity and insight, it follows his quixotic quest to find love and literary success while trying to navigate a world that was not designed for people like him.
Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage and let others like her know they are not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written Lil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids and a tool for schizophrenics, To See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal. Fun Fact: She has wrestled alligators.
To learn more about Rachel, please visit her website, RachelStarLive.com.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Schizophrenia. Hosted by Rachel Star Withers, an advocate who lives openly with Schizophrenia. We’re talking to experts about all aspects of life with this condition. Welcome to the show!
Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline Media Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel Star Withers, here with my incredible co-host, Gabe Howard. Now a few weeks back, Gabe, you actually brought an article to my attention by Psych Central called The Correlation Between Schizophrenia and Intelligence. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Is there a connection between intelligence and schizophrenia? Our guest today, always a favorite of mine, is another person with schizophrenia, and it is Steven Paul Lansky who has led a very interesting life and he is the author of multiple books, including his newest “The Break,” a memoir about one of his schizophrenic breaks from reality.
Gabe Howard: There’s obviously the stereotype of schizophrenia with the rocking back and forth. But because of the movie A Beautiful Mind, this is sort of Gabe Howard’s theory. I think people think that schizophrenics are genius, that people living with schizophrenia are significantly smarter than they are. That’s that was sort of my working theory, but it turns out that it’s kind of the opposite. The world thinks that there’s these pockets of genius, but that overall people with schizophrenia are dumber than the average. It was a bit of a wakeup call for me, maybe because I actually know love, respect and work with actual people living with schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: You’re correct in that I think there’s definitely kind of the these two sides, it’s either you have schizophrenia and you’re an absolute drooling in the corner idiot or you’re an absolute creative genius. And we could all really be out there winning Nobel Prizes and we’re all super good at math. And I can go ahead and tell you right now, I am really bad at math. Okay, so I am nothing like John Nash when it comes to mathematics. This does bring up questions. You know, do people with schizophrenia have higher IQs or lower than the general population? On some level, I think hallucinations are incredible. Our brains are able to make up these detailed delusions and even thought processes that other people can’t even begin to fathom. You have to be intelligent to do that, right? Like your brain has to be working on a higher level. But at the same time, maybe because of this, we’re not able to distinguish reality. Well, obviously if you can’t tell reality, you’re an idiot. You know, you must have a lower IQ. So I can really see this argument going either way. D
Gabe Howard: Before we get to the research, I want to put in people’s minds. Could you imagine if we replace the word schizophrenia with any race or any religion or any gender? People would be up in arms like this. This doesn’t even make sense. Why are you discussing this? And yet, for some reason, when you say do you think people with schizophrenia are smarter or dumber than the average? People are, like, I don’t know, what’s the research say? And I, I just want people to be thinking about this as we go through this in this episode, because sometimes the very act of having the conversation is stigmatizing to people living with schizophrenia because they’re like, Why are you discussing this? We’re just like everybody else. That’s our goal. That’s why we seek treatment. That’s why we go. And yet these articles are necessary because people are asking the question. That’s why we chose this topic. But, Rachael, can I ask you, as a person living with schizophrenia, how do you feel about having to discuss this at all?
Rachel Star Withers: It can be a little bit, I don’t want to say hurtful, but. But yeah, yeah, a little hurtful because you’re implying like, okay, you’re either one or the other, right? You’re either one of the super smart ones or the super not ones. As opposed to okay, maybe I’m just average. Maybe I am the general population. Just hanging out in the middle, just like everyone else in the world. Let’s talk about this, Gabe. And when I say we here, I know you don’t have schizophrenia, but you do have bipolar. So, I’ll say we as severe mental disorders. Are we dumber or smarter than the general population? What do you think?
Gabe Howard: Rachel, If I were being fair, I’d say, where are we in our recovery? Do we have access to doctors? Do we have access to medication? Do we have access to care? Judging our overall intelligence without also judging our recovery becomes sort of a quagmire.
Rachel Star Withers: And right away, when I’m looking at these studies, what you’re saying right there is the first thing that pops into my mind because I’m reading the different people that are involved in the studies, the people with schizophrenia they’re studying. And I’m like, okay, so the fact that these people are involved means that, one, they were already part of the system. There’s a certain level of privilege that comes with being part of a study, Gabe. I have been part of a study before, and I can tell you that they had to come and find me. So, I had to be on a list somewhere. And that list had to do with me receiving treatment for schizophrenia and other mental disorders. I would even go as far as saying access to internet. I regularly, in my research for the podcast, come across studies looking for people with schizophrenia, and I come across them because I’m researching. I’m going through different colleges and departments. If you only focus on those type of people, that’s going to skew any results that you get.
Rachel Star Withers: None of the studies that I read dealing with intelligence and schizophrenia, I don’t really think any of them were a good indicator. I think that whatever you go looking for is what you’re going to find. When we’re talking about these studies, some of the studies that have been done pretty much said, hey, wow, people with schizophrenia have really low IQs. They’re not very smart. And then I would read some of the quotes. One of the main doctors who did, I guess one of the most well known studies about people with schizophrenia’s IQ’s being lower was quoted as saying, If you’re really smart, your genes for schizophrenia don’t have much of a chance. Just wording, I don’t know. It really rubbed me the wrong way. And for that to be one of the main studies that people quote, it bothered me. And the opposite is true. There are studies where they were like, Oh, wow, we found people who had very high intelligences and had high IQ scores and whatnot. Very few of them just kind of were like, Yeah, no, they’re average. And I agree, those probably aren’t the most interesting studies is yeah, average. And I was once speaking to a roomful of of doctors and researchers. I was talking about schizophrenia and just what it was like having schizophrenia. And a doctor came up to me who was very well known at this establishment, and he goes, Wow, I just don’t understand how you speak so well. All my patients with schizophrenia are retards.
Gabe Howard: And he used that exact language straight to you?
Rachel Star Withers: That is the exact language. And forgive me for using that language also, I know it’s offensive and that I just I’m literally quoting him there. I was speechless. And I had to just kind of shake my head and walk away because I was so angry. I knew there was nothing that was going to come out of my mouth good. And here I was, I was representing, giving a speech at this event. And I was just I was floored. And that happened years ago, and that’s been burned into my brain. This is a man who was very high up in his profession and working with people with schizophrenia. And that was his mental attitude going in.
Gabe Howard: First, Rachel, I am so sorry that you had that experience. And I would I would venture to guess that the majority of people living with serious and persistent mental illness, living with schizophrenia, living with bipolar disorder, have experienced that before because doctors, they often see people at their worst. They often see sick people. They often see the worst sides of schizophrenia. And I do believe that it impacts them into believing that nobody gets well. And they really do need to overcome that bias. I want to be very, very clear. I’m talking to all my psychiatrists out there, Right. You have to look at the good or the bad. And obviously you’re going to see a sick person considerably more than you see somebody who’s living in recovery, Somebody who’s living well. I know that Rachel goes to her psychiatrist about every six months, but if Rachel is in crisis, she would go to her psychiatrist once a week. Obviously, if you were committed to a psychiatric hospital two or three times a day and be seen by other members of staff, and this creates this illusion of what schizophrenia looks like. But in actuality, that’s what schizophrenia in crisis looks like.
Gabe Howard: The Rachel that the doctors don’t see makes movies and is a stuntwoman for Marvel and has this podcast. And most of the Rachel’s out there don’t have podcasts so we don’t get to hear them month after month after month doing amazing things with schizophrenia because they’re just busy living their lives. I agree with you when you say if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Where are they finding the subjects for these tests? Are they going into psychiatric hospitals? Are they using their patients that are coming back because they’re in crisis or they’re not quite in recovery? Or are they finding the Rachel’s out there who have done a lot in the entertainment industry, who have the podcast and getting their pool of people there? Often when I read about these studies, I find out that they’ve went to the local drop-in center. They went to the local clubhouse, they went to the local crisis center, they went to the local inpatient hospital unit and they’ve spoken to all of them. Nobody’s going to do well on a standardized test when they’re in crisis. And I think that that’s really, really important to understand as we as we move forward in this episode.
Rachel Star Withers: And for all of my researchers out there who may be listening, who are like, well, you know, it’s really hard to find people. I do understand that. I guess my point is take it as a grain of salt. Don’t see one study and be like, okay, across the board all people with schizophrenia obviously have high IQ’s. All people with schizophrenia have low IQ scores. Yes, you’re going to have people that score differently. What I find most interesting. That I would like to see looked into is the age of onset, because if you’re judging the age of onset, so for instance, with males tends to be late teens, many times with females, it’s late thirties, I would assume like just IQ scores across the board. That is a huge gap.
Gabe Howard: The average person watching somebody with schizophrenia is making the decisions on intelligence or non intelligence based actually on disease process or non disease process. Somebody in crisis trying to find food is going to appear desperate because they are. This has nothing to do with intelligence. This has to do with desperation.
Rachel Star Withers: And I think there’s a big difference there between intelligence where we’re talking about IQ scores and then actual cognitive functioning. The example I always use is that when I was in college, I had straight A’s. I was summa cum laude, and at the same time I would get lost in the halls because I couldn’t figure out what room I was supposed to be in. And I couldn’t read the numbers on the door. So, on one level, you can be like, okay, well, Rachel, you know, she has straight A’s in college. She’s doing well. But if you were to stop me in the hall, and I’m on the wrong level. I can’t find the room. You’re probably like, this girl is an idiot. Why is she in college? And yet at the same time, she’s looking at my report card. You might be saying the opposite. Well, wow, she’s doing really great. Her classes are very easy for her. And even nowadays, I can’t live alone. And Gabe, I’ll open with our audience here. But you’ve been dealing with this unfortunately, the past few weeks, is that I’ve had a hard time being able to record this episode because I have not been mentally well.
Rachel Star Withers: One of the times we were supposed to record, I had sent you a message saying, mentally my thoughts weren’t together and thank you very much for rescheduling with me because honestly, I don’t know if I could have set up the recorder as far as the microphone and everything. That’s how bad my thoughts were. Am I okay today? Yes. Are other times I’m very all over the place? Yes. So, it makes me think about where does that all fall when we’re talking about intelligence? I wasn’t all over the place because I was having a hallucination. It was more of the confusion. Not I was having a delusion that there was something after me. No, just my thoughts weren’t flowing like they should.
Gabe Howard: Rachel. Of course. No problem. That’s what coworkers do, whether it’s because of schizophrenia, whether it’s because your electric went out, whether it’s because you’re just too tired to record. This is, in fact, how coworkers behave. I do understand that right now, it is because of something with schizophrenia. But I do want to caution our audience against this idea that every single time that somebody’s living with schizophrenia has to reschedule or maneuver around or is pushing up against a deadline, that it has anything to do with schizophrenia or intelligence or anything else. Managing a chronic illness is just difficult. And in fact, one of the things that makes it so difficult are studies that say things like super schizophrenia. I’m going to let you take it, Rachel, because I don’t even know how to process the information in this where they start sub-typing schizophrenia in order to get the desired results. That’s how I feel about it. Like they cut it into sections to make sure that they could just say whatever they wanted to say.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes. And as we’ve mentioned before on the show. According to diagnoses, there used to be subtypes of schizophrenia. The DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual number four, there were subtypes of schizophrenia. Now they diagnose with more of a spectrum. They consider schizophrenia to be on this spectrum. Well, they did the study and they kind of threw it back to the subtypes and said, Hey, there could be a new subtype of and I love the title of this though, Gabe. I mean major stars across the boards for them on the title of Superphrenia. I mean, I love that.
Gabe Howard: Superphrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Wow.
Rachel Star Withers: What type of schizophrenia do you have? Superphrenia. And it was a study and they based it off 29 men and I feel like right there just the fact it was 29 men for them to just talk so boldly like, Hey, we have a new subtype of schizophrenia. But it was 29 men who had IQs over 120 and pretty much saying that, yes, there are some schizophrenics who are next level. Who have that next level genius mentality. And I don’t know. I don’t think that’s enough to really say we have a whole subtype. I don’t know. I think that’s dangerous territory to go ahead and start saying, hey, there’s a group of really smart schizos running around. I feel like that can be like good and bad. Like, that’s almost like there’s a horror movie right there of, like, extra, you know, extra smart, crazy people like, whoa. I don’t know.
Gabe Howard: It sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. I really believe that a lot of this comes from this idea that because the universe gave something bad, the universe must balance by giving something good. So, while it’s horrible that our loved one has schizophrenia, that’s okay, because the universe brought them along a gift with the schizophrenia and made them a genius or made them more creative or made them an incredible writer or a detective. No. Those are your loved ones or your innate skills and talents. And schizophrenia is adjacent to that. And in fact, schizophrenia is trying to end all of that. Schizophrenia has a significant death rate by suicide. And clearly your talents cannot be used if you are dead. So, I think people need to get comfortable with the idea that you can be anything because humans can be anything and anyone can can have schizophrenia. And those two things are separate yet equal. The schizophrenia did not bring it with them.
Rachel Star Withers: That’s just a reality that I think is very hard for so many people, especially loved ones to face, is that somebody that they love and care about has something and you want someone to blame, you know? I kind of wish there was something I could blame and be like, Wow, If only they hadn’t done this. If only they hadn’t made those life decisions. That’s why they got schizophrenia or even blaming a parent. Well, if I hadn’t done this when I was pregnant, you know, or blaming some sort of, like, traumatic event. But the truth is that anyone can have schizophrenia. And it’s a very hard thing to kind of fully wrap your head around, especially when you think about the mental side of everything, not just intelligence. When we’re talking about this, you have to also think of cognitive decline. For me, that’s what weighs heavily on me when it comes to this whole talk of brain power, which is to say not just intelligence, but just your brain working. 70% of schizophrenia patients do have some form of cognitive defect. And it’s been found that, yes, cognitive decline is a reliable sign of the onset of schizophrenia.
Gabe Howard: This is definitely important to bring up because people who live with schizophrenia can experience cognitive decline because of the schizophrenia. Of course, everybody can experience cognitive decline due to the aging process.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes.
Gabe Howard: So, for example, if we were trying to figure out who is who is smarter men or women, right, that’s a landmine. But I’m going to use that as an example. And what we did is we got a bunch of 90-year-old women and we got a bunch of 25 year old men and we tested them all equally and left everything the same. It would be reasonable to expect the male group to do better than the 90-year-old group because cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, disability, dementia, things like that are so much higher in the 90 year old group. When it comes to people living with schizophrenia, if you’re talking about, okay, well, where does that intelligence lie? Well, have they experienced symptoms because of medication or because of treatment? Are they in the aging process or has the schizophrenia caused them cognitive decline? And then where do you put that Right? We’re trying to decide if somebody who has schizophrenia is is is smarter or less smart than the average.
Rachel Star Withers: Another thing to take into account is what is causing the cognitive decline might not actually be the schizophrenia, but related to the schizophrenia. For instance, treatments, if you were to say, okay, Rachel, let’s use you in a study of your cognitive decline and then saying, okay, well, there was a huge cognitive decline for me personally from age 20 to, you know, mid-thirties. You could be like, wow, it looks like it’s your schizophrenia. And I would say, well, actually I had electroconvulsive therapy during that time and I had brain damage from it. So, I don’t know if you should blame the schizophrenia because, yeah, I had to relearn how to read and write due to the brain damage. So, there’s those things you have to take into account. And even when you’re talking about like antipsychotic medications, those of us who have been on medications for quite a while. E specially if you’ve been on the older antipsychotics. They do affect different parts. And yes, cognitive decline can be related into those different side effects. Another thing that always stands out to me is also just the life experience. I’m very lucky that I haven’t experienced this, but we have had other people on the show who have. But homelessness, think about like just the lifestyle of having to go through certain things that are schizophrenia related, how that’s going to wear on you. I can’t imagine spending, let’s say, even just one year of my life, homeless, just the stress that would put on you mentally and how that could push you into cognitive decline.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, since we’re talking about cognitive decline, I just want to check in with you. Is this something that you’re concerned about?
Rachel Star Withers: I want to say yes and no. I am to a degree, as I am 37 and living at home. I can’t live on my own already. It’s like, Well, dear God, what’s going to happen in 20 years? So there is that because I’m like, What if I get worse? If taking care of myself is at this level, how much worse can it get? However, at the same time, I’m also like, You don’t know what tomorrow is going to be like. So much stuff is changing. First of all, technology wise, it’s incredible. Just every time, Gabe, you get to upgrade to a new phone, I’m always like amazed like, oh, wow, how did I live without this new feature? And I’m like, This is incredible. Whether we’re talking about schizophrenia or any sort of disorder that’s going to like kind of weigh on any of us as we age, it’s also kind of cool to see that more and more there are options open to us.
Gabe Howard: And we’re back talking about intelligence and schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: One of my favorite things about getting to do this podcast is talking to other people with schizophrenia because nothing like inspires me and blows my mind than just talking to somebody else who I can relate to and then hearing all the things that they’ve done, all the things that like they’ve accomplished. And I was very excited that Steven reached out to me a few months ago as he had heard our podcast, and he said, Hey, I just wanted you to check out this book. And I was so glad he did because I absolutely loved it.
Gabe Howard: And of course, Rachel was able to set up the interview with Steven Paul Lansky. Now, he attended Harvard for about a year, but he was published by the Harvard Crimson, which is a student newspaper and a really big deal. He taught creative writing at Miami University, and he’s the author of numerous books, including his new book, “The Break.” He’s a very, very accomplished gentleman. And he lives with schizophrenia and he lives openly with schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: I’m excited today to be speaking with Steven Paul Lansky, who is an author of multiple books, but also of one called “The Break,” which is a memoir that looks back on a specific time of his life that was very difficult. Thank you so much for being with us, Steven.
Steven Paul Lansky: Thank you for having me. Rachel, it’s really good to be on your show. I like your show, and I think it does a great service to the mental health community and the community at large.
Rachel Star Withers: Well, thank you very much. Tell us, what is “The Break” about?
Steven Paul Lansky: It describes a period in my life, in my 43rd year when I was experimenting with a different medication than the one that I had been on for many years to control my schizophrenia. And the experience of trying this new medication turned out to be not at all what I expected. I was at the time finishing up a master’s degree in creative writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The six months following the beginning of the medication change is what the book is about.
Rachel Star Withers: It just for a second to rewind for our audience out there. When were you first diagnosed with schizophrenia?
Steven Paul Lansky: I was first diagnosed when I was 19 or 20. I had completed my freshman year at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had spent some time traveling. I was diagnosed kind of in a period of indecision, and I have to say that drug use and alcohol use were part of my initial crisis. I had a couple of psychotic breaks. It’s hard to sort of define that. I think your listeners will understand that. But. By the time I was 30, it was clear that I had a significant problem. I had been in and out of hospitals and it took me 13 years to finish my bachelor’s degree in three different schools.
Rachel Star Withers: Throughout that you found a way to manage your schizophrenia and kind of become stable. But then, you decide to go through a medication change, which is where “The Break” picks up. What caused that? What made you say, okay, let me try a new type of medication? What was the reason for that big change?
Steven Paul Lansky: That’s something I think a lot of schizophrenic people and listeners to your show will understand the side effects of the antipsychotic, which I was taking and had taken for several years. Many years were somewhat debilitating. They caused me to slow down, feel lethargic, not be able to feel as youthful as I wanted to, and in general put kind of a lid on what I saw as my potential.
Rachel Star Withers: What happens after you start this new medication, this new kind of therapy?
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, I got the notion that I could travel by train to the New Yorker festival in New York City and blaze a new trail for poetry from the Midwest in the Big Apple and make it on this great greater stage and teach those fellows a thing or two about that. And as it turned out, I ended up disoriented in New York on the wrong train, scooped up off the tracks after being stranded. And I ended up in Trenton, New Jersey, and the state hospital for about a month.
Rachel Star Withers: It’s when you start to say that, like about going to New York, about teaching those guys about a new type of poetry, like that part sounds exciting. And then it takes a very sudden turn. And I feel like that’s something so many people with schizophrenia can relate to, whether we’re talking about kind of like that beginnings of going psychotic where suddenly life seems very exciting and oh my gosh, almost like a movie. And then reality also hits very hard.
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, I’m glad you said that. Almost like a movie, because that’s one of the themes of the book. As my delusion started to manifest and grow, I encountered someone who was a movie director who thought it would be a good idea to write a movie about something that happened on a train. And then I’m on a train and I’m thinking about that and thinking maybe I’m in that movie that I’m writing. And then when I was in New York, I stayed at the Algonquin Hotel, and they actually were filming a TV show at the entrance of the hotel while I was there. So I thought, Well, now I really am in a movie, or this is just verifying. This is my delusions sort of picked up and kept rolling with it. During the stay in the hospital in the subsequent weeks, I was doing the readings, the required reading for my degree, which included novels, and one of them in particular, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, was about a psychiatric situation, and I started to imagine that I was somehow part of that movie.
Rachel Star Withers: The way you paint it in the book and the way even like talking about it now is it seems very plausible. Like, even if you’re not in a psychotic episode, you’re able to be like, okay, yeah, well, he was talking to this person who then talked about a movie. Who then you happened to stay at a hotel where they were filming a movie. It’s easy to see how kind of like reality and then delusional thinking can definitely, like, play off of each other and create this alternate world for someone with schizophrenia to very easily slip into.
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, and that’s kind of interesting because it is easy to understand in a way as I describe it, I think and yet people think of schizophrenia as very hard to understand. And what I worked at with the book was trying to do just what I hope I did, which is make it very accessible and understandable. I think that schizophrenia is a, is an illness that affects understanding. Do you agree with that?
Rachel Star Withers: Absolutely. For me, when people say what’s the hardest part? If you’re on the outside, most people think, oh, it’s hallucinations. It’s it’s seeing things, it’s hearing voices. It’s, you know, believing stuff that’s not there. And I’m thinking, no, it’s really the confusion. I would say most of the point I’m in like a state of confusion of, wait, is this real? Is this not? Wait, did that happen? Me Just trying to figure out the basics of wait a minute. What’s going on?
Steven Paul Lansky: In a situation when you think you might be in a movie and you’re trying to figure out who the director is and what your role is and where the script is, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite right. But on the other hand, it’s not entirely wrong. And then things start to unravel. And I think that the unraveling is this like not knowing my own part in it anymore. It’s kind of what happens. And as I lose the gravitas, like I start to forget what’s serious and what’s not to other people and the boundaries of social, socially, what’s right and what’s wrong, start to get fuzzy. And I tend to sort of want to be right on that razor’s edge of the boundary of what’s right and what’s wrong. I recognize now, looking back that it was inappropriate. What I did at the time, I was like righteously and fervently fighting for what I believed.
Rachel Star Withers: Mm-hmm.
Steven Paul Lansky: It’s a weird place to be in. One of the things about schizophrenia is it isn’t good, bad, right, wrong. It’s just different.
Rachel Star Withers: As you’re explaining this to the as you’re explaining to us now, you know, it’s very kind of like, okay, I see what was going on. He thought this, this and this, which led him to think that during that month in the psychiatric hospital, were you able to explain to them as well?
Steven Paul Lansky: That’s a good question. I think I started out trying to explain to them that I was investigating, but I decided pretty quickly that that wasn’t a good idea
Rachel Star Withers: Okay.
Steven Paul Lansky: Because some part of me was upset about social unrest in Cincinnati at the time. There had been race, racial unrest and there were rumors or talk about federal investigators. So I was thinking of myself as a federal investigator in this Trenton, New Jersey, facility. And kind of the way the delusion works is that whatever happens next, the delusion gets one step further on it. In a rational moment, sitting down with the staff at the hospital, I’d explain. I’m a graduate student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I’m working on my creative thesis. I got on the train to the New Yorker festival. I was staying in New York, and then on the return trip, my ticket got stolen or I lost it. And I didn’t know how to communicate that to the people who took the ticket. And I got on the wrong train. And that’s why the Amtrak police brought me here. And the story would get. A little bit jumbled, but I was able to manage to not say too much. I think that was the key to their just putting me back on the same experimental medication and hoping that by changing the time of the dosage, I would be able to be released and be okay.
Rachel Star Withers: How do you think this book could help people who don’t have schizophrenia? Someone who is listening right now and they’re either a loved one or even a student just interested about schizophrenia, what could they get out of reading your book, “The Break?”
Steven Paul Lansky: You know, that’s a really good question, Rachel. And I’m, I’m wishing, sitting here wishing I had a really great answer. I’d like to say just that it’s one person’s experience with schizophrenia. It’s not a hard read. So it would be an enjoyable way maybe to get some insight into your loved one’s experience. One of the things I do know about schizophrenia from my own experience as a social worker in the mental health field and all the study and I was a chemical dependency counselor for a while. I’m sober 33 years at this point, and that’s been also a big part of my recovery. That schizophrenia is heterogeneous in that it’s not the same in all people. And I know you know this, it’s individual in a way. It’s that’s part of what makes it so hard to diagnose.
Rachel Star Withers: Right.
Steven Paul Lansky: So this book is not a magic bullet. It’s going to save everyone from schizophrenia and it’s not going to tell everyone what schizophrenia is about. But it’s an attempt to kind of humanize the experience. You know, here’s a guy who could actually put words together and tell his own story of schizophrenia, not have someone else tell it for him.
Rachel Star Withers: What I appreciate is that it’s I don’t want to say easy to follow your line of thinking in the book, but it’s very easy to see how the delusions are playing off real life. So many times, when you’re on the outside of seeing somebody who’s in the middle of a psychotic episode or, you know, lost kind of in their own delusions, it’s hard to be like, well, why are they doing this? This just seems crazy because you don’t have that inside look. Whereas when you’re able to actually see the thought process of what the person’s going through, it’s like, okay, wow. Yeah. This is all blurring together. It is hard to tell reality from their point of view. Your book really captures that very well of kind of showing what’s going on behind the veil.
Steven Paul Lansky: Yeah. Thank you very much. That’s very, very kind of you to say that. And it’s really what I was hoping to do.
Rachel Star Withers: What do you think other people with schizophrenia can get from your book? What’s your goal with that?
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, again, I think of it as a collective achievement in a way.
Rachel Star Withers: Okay.
Steven Paul Lansky: One of our kind gets up in the world that’s good for all of us. You know, I think the idea of raising the boats kind of you know, your podcast is a platform for people like someone like me or for people who have something to say about the experience that’s unusual or unique or different or has put some work into it. So I’m so grateful that we can start to normalize schizophrenia, bust the stigma.
Rachel Star Withers: And I appreciate and I want to say thank you, because you actually reached out to us and brought this book to our attention. And I have enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed getting to learn about you and some of your other work. So I know some were poetry, one was a novella. How is this different from your other books that you’ve authored?
Steven Paul Lansky: You know, Rachel, my late father, was a great supporter and also a great critic. And my relationship with him probably in certain ways has to do with or is part of is part of the story of my schizophrenia. He read the manuscript for this many years ago. He was a prominent social psychologist, a university professor for 37 years, went to Harvard, very brilliant, fought in World War II, hardworking, great provider. And I think on some level, as bright as he was, insightful as he was about mental illness, for a long time, he thought that my mental illness was all there just to spite him, and that that’s maybe a little solipsistic of me. But I think that was what he got across. And on the other hand, when he read this manuscript, he said, this has value. This will be an entryway into your other work for people.
Rachel Star Withers: Huh? How did that make you feel?
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, it was it was frustrating at first, but it was also good because it was an acknowledgment that somehow now he was seeing my work not as about him.
Rachel Star Withers: Do you think that having schizophrenia has affected your writing?
Steven Paul Lansky: Well, I think it’s hard to separate. You know, I have a fascination with language ever since I was little. I think if you see my website, I talk about fifth grade and the autobiography assignment, where the teacher sent me home for having too much material.
Rachel Star Withers: [Laughter]
Steven Paul Lansky: So I have that proclivity and I’m still pretty verbose. I like to talk and hear myself talk. My audio novel, “Jack Acid,” which was my first novel, took about 20 years to write. And it’s pretty outrageous. It’s a psychedelic, picaresque, I guess I like to call it a post-modern jack tale. If you have ever heard of the Appalachian tradition of the Jack tale, it’s the oral tradition of a story about a fellow named Jack, and he goes off and does what he does in the world. I sort of assimilated that and created an acid jack, a jack of psychedelic generation and psychedelic drugs, a lot of marijuana, a lot of drinking and carrying on. And it also is about schizophrenia. I think it’s really kind of fun to listen to for people who are older, who remember their days back in the day I did this,
Rachel Star Withers: Mm-hmm.
Steven Paul Lansky: But they wouldn’t want to do it again. Kind of a cautionary tale, Rachel, if you will.
Rachel Star Withers: Do you have a specific paragraph or section of the book you would like to share with our audience here on Inside Schizophrenia?
Steven Paul Lansky: Yeah, this is on page 188. I remember the flies, the breathing exercises and Corporal Tom, clapping hands. There were flies in the green cell with concrete walls. I sat on a steel bench upon a cushioned forest green pad. Every so often, the bench made a clanging sound. It might have been doors banging down the hallway, but it seemed to me that the jolt was partially electric. I tried to sit on the cushion without letting the steel touch my body because I feared electrocution. They would drag my dead body out and I would be gone. I lost faith in God and feared death for a moment, then relaxed and remember that it was just a film. I would kill seven flies with one blow. I sat and breathed. I learned to draw in through my nose, hold the air, then push it out with my lips. A long white hiss of suggestion in the air. I could make them open doors with my breath. I could send different energies. I could blow people around with my grace. I did martial arts exercises to bring power into my willful gut. I tightened my grip on the individuals who could affect me. I talked out loud in French trying to remember Victor Hugo’s prison scene in Les Misérables from college French class. But I could not catch the flies in my hand.
Rachel Star Withers: I personally, I like that passage because it kind of shows us some of the delusional thinking mixed in there with the real-life situation going on around you.
Steven Paul Lansky: Yeah.
Rachel Star Withers: You just got to see it blurring there with the thought process. How can our listeners today learn more about you and your past works and your upcoming work, “The Break?”
Steven Paul Lansky: There’s the website, www.StevenPaulLansky.com. On the website, there’s music, there’s art and there’s writing. And then to find the book, ArbitraryPressBooks.com. Actually, my website is linked to the Arbitrary Press site. If you have direct questions, there’s a contact form on the website and I do respond. Read my books, reach out.
Rachel Star Withers: Thank you so much today for speaking with us, Steve.
Steven Paul Lansky: Thank you, Rachel, for having me.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, excellent job, as always. What were your initial thoughts interviewing this gentleman?
Rachel Star Withers: I’m not going to lie. Gabe, I was. I was a little nervous. Me, me and Steven have spoken a few times just through email. And then he sent me his book and I was like, Oh, wow, this this is real. And I was reading through his book and listening to different pieces of his works online. I don’t want to throw Steven under the bus, but he’s a little older than I am. And to be able to see someone older than you are who has a very serious mental disorder and who’s done all this stuff and to be able to look, actually like look at their life’s work. I don’t want to say inspiring, but it kind of was to see all the things that he’s done. And schizophrenia has still been such a major part of his life. And at no point during the interview did you hear him say, Oh, I’ve recovered, I’ve I’ve overcome schizophrenia. Like, no, it’s still there. It’s still part of everything, but it’s just a part. It’s not his whole life. He has all of this incredible stuff that is his life. And yeah, schizophrenia is there, but it’s just a part of it.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, I could not agree more. Listening to the interview, I have to say I I listened to him and I listened to you. And one of the things that I thought about is, okay, I’m listening to two people who live with schizophrenia that have vastly different worldviews, ages, genders. He went to Harvard, you’re a Marvel stuntwoman, and I was trying to put myself in this position of analyzing who was more intelligent, like which person with schizophrenia was smarter. And that’s sort of when it hit me, what is intelligence anyway? How are we even bothering to measure this? Rachel, as a person living with schizophrenia and is the subject of study after study after study on do people with schizophrenia have intelligence? How intelligent are they? What are your thoughts on the definition of the term that everybody is discussing anyway?
Rachel Star Withers: Well, first off, between me and Steven, I would put my money on him. I’m just saying,
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Rachel Star Withers: If you’re betting.
Gabe Howard: But you’re cooler.
Rachel Star Withers: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: You’re cooler.
Rachel Star Withers: I don’t know. He had some pretty cool stuff. I don’t know if you checked out his Spotify? Some pretty cool stuff, Gabe.
Rachel Star Withers: The question that we have to keep coming back to in this entire episode about what is the connection between intelligence and schizophrenia? Really isn’t about a connection. It’s what is intelligence. You know, if we’re just looking at IQ scores, are we talking about, you know, cognitive deficits? Are we talking about just being really good at math or are we talking about being creative? Are we talking about being able to take care of myself, to pay my bills on time, to be able to live alone, to be able to drive a car? You know, what is intelligence? I think it’s fun to romanticize the idea that schizophrenia is linked to being, you know, some type of creative genius or mathematical genius or just somebody who’s, like super smart. But the truth of the matter is that most of us aren’t magical and that we don’t have some sort of special gift because of our schizophrenia. We’re just average.
Rachel Star Withers: You know, I’m doing great today. I feel really good. My thoughts are clear. I don’t know about tomorrow, though. I sure don’t know about 20 years from now. And that does scare me a little. Whether we’re talking about my cognitive abilities going down due to schizophrenia symptoms, whether we’re talking about them going down due to some sort of treatment or stuff that has nothing to do with schizophrenia, jus tother life events or other health issues that might come up. I think that that’s something that scares everybody. And I wish I could tell people out there, Hey, you guys have nothing to worry about. But we do. The good thing is that worrying about it isn’t really going to make much of a difference. Today I had lunch, I was able to record today and later I’m planning on hanging out with my dad and that does not sound like a amazing, incredible day to most people, but. It is. And that’s really all you can do is take it one day at a time. And that has nothing to do with schizophrenia or intelligence that that’s all of us. And I think that’s the boat everybody’s in.
Gabe Howard: I completely agree, Rachel. Completely agree.
Rachel Star Withers: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Inside Schizophrenia. Like share, subscribe and rate our podcast and we’ll see you next time here on Inside Schizophrenia, A Healthline Media Podcast.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Schizophrenia, a podcast from Psych Central and Healthline Media. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/is or on your favorite podcast player. Your host, Rachel Star Withers, can be found online at RachelStarLive.com. Co-host Gabe Howard can be found online at gabehoward.com.