Gimme some hallucinations

Here’s an embarrassing confession.  When I heard this TED talk by Eleanor Longden (click below,)

where she shares her experiences of schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations, I was envious of her voices.  I know, crazy – and frankly – embarrassing.  Why would anyone have even a smidgen of envy for someone with schizophrenic auditory hallucinations?  Well, ok.  Me.  But then I heard this talk:

By Andrew Solomon, who’s written and talked about his own devastating depression episodes.  And I understood better my own touch of envy.  Now, I’m not trying to equate depression with schizophrenia – Schizophrenia almost always destroys lives; depression doesn’t necessarily.   So please understand I am not minimizing schizophrenia, but confessing a passing envy in hearing voices, a very real symptom of schizophrenia, versus my  depression symptoms of unceasing, tormenting, inescapable, totally believable bad thoughts.

I’ve never had auditory hallucinations, but my understanding is that the person has a very real sense that these voices are not coming from them; these are not “loud thoughts” that feel as though they have generated them.  Compare that with the research that says those suffering depression have a more accurate perspective of reality.  There is no escaping that, to again quote the funeral liturgy, “we are all dust, and even at the grave, we are dust.”   So it seems to me,  it’s one thing to have a voice telling you the government is watching you;  another to believe with all your heart and soul that nothing you can do, even if you could muster the will and energy, is worth doing because you are not worth being.

Okay, my attempts are nothing compared to the master-writer Andrew Solomon.  He says:

You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness,and that now you’re seeing truly. It’s easier to help schizophrenics who perceive that there’s something foreign inside of them that needs to be exorcised, but it’s difficult with depressives, because we believe we are seeing the truth.

And I heard him say this after I’d written a first draft of this blog.  And felt such relief.  Because living with depression means being willing to accept his next sentence:

“But the truth lies.”

I think that may sum up my fascination with the intersection of spirituality and neuroscience.  I’ve experienced different spiritual practices, and had to accept that I’ve my own brain lies to me.  And I can’t always tell the difference.  It lies to me about what God wants from me and for me.  It lies about what a “holy and joyful life” looks like.  And the first step of realizing this is, as I said in an earlier post, living mindfully, because those lying thoughts were in control and I didn’t even know I was having them.  I had to be still enough and courageous enough to listen to what was going on in my head, then agony of agonies, speak it out loud to my therapist and my spiritual director for their perspective on the trustworthiness of my thoughts.

And that is damned hard.  And scary.  And even just writing this makes breathing challenging.  But it is also freeing.


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