All the Colors: An Artistic Glimpse into Schizophrenia
Standing on the grassy ground, feeling the wind slice through every strand of my hair, I exhale out a breath that warmly glides out of me, and I hear their whispers and it sends a shiver down my spine. They say things that matter, warn me of things which you taught me should matter, and I feel myself sink in this sharpened perception of sensory overload of everything around me. The voices get louder; the world gets brighter.
Then you come before me, like a knife cutting into my reality and I yearn to find understanding in your eyes, I yearn for you to see the world as I do but you say only three words: ‘It’s not real.’ And I shatter like a star exploding into thousand pieces, scarring the galaxy that I thought was my world.
I feel this. Why would this not be real? Why should this not be real?
What can I trust if I can’t trust what I see and what I hear?
How can I trust you?
The above represents the stream of thoughts running through the mind of someone with schizophrenia. I have always been an idealist, a fantasy-preferring introvert wandering through life in my own bubble. I spent my childhood watching supernatural dramas, reading paranormal fiction and choosing medical science out of a curiosity to know human structure. With time as I learnt about schizophrenia, a disease in which patients literally believe in supernatural fantasy such as is broadcast in literature and media; I developed a mounting interest in how it worked.
Schizophrenia is not a neurological disease with well defined etiology and symptoms. No, schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder characterized by impairment of thought, mood, perception, cognition and conation. It is a term encompassing a cluster of mental symptoms that are unexplained by any other medical means.
Organic cerebral etiology could comprise the pathophysiology of the disease, but that would be psychosis due to organic disease. Schizophrenia itself is not organic; instead the clinical features make up the diagnostic criteria. There is no screening tool and no definitive marker of the disease. It is just something you detect in a person’s behaviour which you label as schizophrenia.
That baffled me.
This means that anybody among us might have unappreciated schizophrenia as long as one is able to mask it behind seemingly ‘normal’ behavior. As soon as it gets out of control, as soon as the voices you hear in your own head drown out the external voices of people around us, as soon as the fantasy in your head detaches you from ‘their’ reality and you begin to act upon ‘your reality’…that’s when they say you have schizophrenia.
I recently stumbled upon a wonderful piece of writing on a website. The author, a Mr. Mitchell highlighted a fantastic point. He wrote, “Misperceptions tend toward schizophrenia when a person believes and acts on the misperceptions. You can easily have a routine pattern of misperceptions based on an anomaly of a perceptual pathway.
To suggest what kind of thing could cause this, if you had a unique hearing weakness that had never been diagnosed, you might have learned to compensate by recruiting larger interpretive networks to deliver potential matching patterns as you try to recognize a sound. It could be a compensation for tone deafness, for example. Or something else could cause your brain to return more potential matches for an auditory signal, or you for some reason could just not be very accurate in selecting the right match. But trust me, though we might each be more or less aware of it, all of our brains return lots of mismatches.
As we go through our day, matching experiences with memory is the essence of perception and there is lots of room for error. Back to my opinion, schizophrenia has to do with how much we rely upon, act upon and fail to correct misinterpreted experiences. To use a common vernacular (with apologies to those who suffer from schizophrenia) the way you misinterpret sounds doesn’t mean you’re crazy, but it could drive you crazy. Or it could be a symptom of something really crazy.”
To an idealist as me, schizophrenia reflects more of an artistic challenge to the observer. Art resonates in this illness. The definition of art is ‘the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
I have seen patients of schizophrenia. I’ve talked to them and listened to their stories for hours just so I could write up a convincing history. One thing I’ve seen in patients with positive symptoms is the emotional power of expression in their delusions. I see art as they sketch out and paint their suffering for me, reflecting a truly disturbing yet wholly fascinating blend of image and color, which can be seen from a hundred different angles and yet still mystify.
Schizophrenia is an over-imaginative state in which the subject is unable to distinguish between rational and abnormal thought. These subjects feel with heightened senses, they experience what is not there. They are betrayed by their own brain. They’re left defenseless against their delusions, robbed of the arsenal of speech, cognition and rational thought.
Cognitive deficits aside, I’m talking about the early stages of schizophrenia, when support and understanding is crucial. These patients experience very acute emotional responses, especially those having a predominance of positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, paranoia). The distortion of perceived reality in their mind makes them say things that make no sense to us, engendering internal conflicts to which others cannot be privy. Daily fighting a losing battle within your own self – can you imagine that kind of despondency, the insanity?
No, you cannot. That’s why we call it psychosis.
Patients with the negative symptoms, i.e. isolation, alogia (poverty of speech) and emotional blunting, suffer a worse prognosis as they become more and more detached from reality. These patients are as locked rooms; the only key we have to unlocking them is atypical antipsychotics. They are unable to express the mental torture they live with, they are the ones silently slipping away as they stare into nothingness and wait for the trumpet to be blown. The trumpet of death that would silence the madness in their heads.
There is said to be a fine line that separates genius from madness. Statistics point out that most schizophrenics are intelligent people with above-average IQ. That’s the irony of this disease, a sort of mockery smearing the well-polished pride of intellectual people. They over-think and overdo until their minds go into overdrive. Environmental triggers aside, this disease also runs in families.
Qué será, será. Whatever will be, will be.
My words aren’t enough to express the suffering these patients go through. Smacking a stigma onto all this mess acts to rekindle a fire in their brains and their condition worsens.
In their sane moments, each patient may respond very differently to their diagnosis. At one end of the spectrum is the eternal struggle and confusion over how to change one’s altered perception of reality, at the other end is giving in to the delusions and viewing them as an escape route. This does sound a dangerous spectrum. What could be worse than a madman using his psychosis for escape? It might stabilize his condition or it might fuel it to progression.
As I said before, to me schizophrenia is art. Many of the patients use the emotional power in this disease and find an escape out of the crippling claws of reality. Medications help them cope to keep the disease on a leash but they use logic to use it as escape. An excellent example that comes to mind is of Dr. John Nash, the famous mathematician and schizophrenic.
He said quite boldly, ‘Rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos. For example, a non-Zoroastrian could think of Zarathustra as simply a madman who led millions of naive followers to adopt a cult of ritual fire worship. But without his “madness” Zarathustra would necessarily have been only another of the millions or billions of human individuals who have lived and then been forgotten…’.
In conclusion, I ask you not to see schizophrenia as a cage limiting a person’s mentality, but to appreciate the unsolicited parallel universe in a person’s head, one that he has no control over. Sure it needs treatment, just like any disease, nevertheless it also deserves an eye of speculation to look past the stereotypical label of crazy and truly appreciate the potent albeit disorganized and illogical artistic perceptual shades seen in schizophrenia.
I would like everyone, in particular all within the medical profession, to truly understand the complexity of the disease and to erase the stigma associated with it. We need people to sympathize with patients battling this disease, which in a sense may be worse than battling with cancer. Because in cancer you might lose your physicality, your independence and lifespan but you retain what matters the most: your dignity, your personal space of self-consolation and reasoning.
Dignity is the first thing that schizophrenics lose and the one thing that we owe to them to return. Sympathize, empathize, support and mitigate. Everything is manageable with patience and understanding.
To touch upon the same note on which I started, I quote “Imagine Dragons with the hope that now you will better appreciate the sentiment, ‘It’s not what you painted in my head. There’s so much there instead of all the colors that I saw.’”
About the Author: Zoya Ziyad is a final year MBBS student who has keen interest in psychology and spends her leisure time reading, writing and chilling with The Walking Dead. She can be reached at [email protected]
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