Separating Delusions from Reality
In the midst of my most intense psychotic episode I thought I was a prophet.
I thought it was my job and my job alone to bring peace to the world.
I was receiving hidden messages that only I could see when I listened to the radio or watched television, and I thought there was great evil coming to the world.
The clincher is, though, that although I was thinking all of this stuff, there was never any concrete, tangible evidence that any of it was real.
At every turn my delusions that things were happening were rebuffed by everyday life.
Just one example was the hidden meaning I’d see in street signs that told me something, or told me to go somewhere — once I acted on that meaning though I was still just as lost as ever.
Everything that I thought held a hidden meaning was just a random turn of events. It was for this reason that the notion resided in me that I might very well may be sick.
It takes a good deal of effort and experience to separate the things your brain is telling you from the fact of reality. It takes time to realize that reality is in fact quite boring compared to your delusions.
I wish I could say that there was a definitive key for discerning what’s real and what’s not but if there is, I haven’t found it yet.
When you’re sick, messages come from the strangest places. If not street signs with hidden meanings, it’s people.
When you’re sick, you discern meaning and messages from the things people say, from the inflections in their voice and from the way they move.
It can come in the way they scratch their nose or tap their feet or look a certain direction or even the way they smile. Of course, each of these different movements may mean something entirely different when you’re sick. It depends on the individual who’s interpreting the movements.
Generally though, none of it means anything, especially to you.
It takes time to figure out that people are generally nice and that, to put it bluntly, they’re pretty self-absorbed. For them to spend time trying to send you a covert message would require knowledge on their part that you are an extremely important person or a spy. It would require training by some governmental agency as to what certain movements mean. It would also require them executing those movements at a very precise time when you’re looking.
That sounds pretty unrealistic, doesn’t it? Well, it is.
The truth of the matter is that nobody is sending you any messages. If they were, at some point, your following these messages would pay off, but it never does.
Reality is boring. That’s the simple truth. But it’s a good kind of boring. It’s a boring where you don’t have to worry that people are talking about you or sending you messages or anything like that. In all honesty, that’s really quite freeing.
As I said before, though, knowledge about what’s real and what’s not comes with the experience of living with a mental illness. It comes when you’ve lived through enough circumstances of seeing things as the boring, everyday situations that they are without some grand meaning.
Meds help, too. The meanings fade and you realize that you’re just one person among the seven billion on earth living your own life.
Accepting that you are not that important is nice. No longer do you have to worry about making an amazing impression on the world stage as the one true god or the second coming of Jesus. You are just you, plain old simple you.
Mike Hedrick is a writer and photographer in Boulder, CO. He has lived with schizophrenia for many years and his work has been published in Salon, Scientific American and The New York Times. His book is available here You can follow his blog on living with schizophrenia here
Hedrick, M. (2018). Separating Delusions from Reality. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/separating-delusions-from-reality/