Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Comments re: paranoia and hearing voices

I thought I’d recreate some comments I had, minus some typos, about a piece at Debunking Christianity by a man with an unusual course of what was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, though he has been without symptoms since stopping his medication last November. He is angry at God for his illness. Just in case anyone wanted to know how crazy I can be and what it’s done for me …

I hope not to contribute to the ugliness of some of the comments here. Two basic questions are, "What is paranoia?" and "What are negative voices?"

I have some experience with this as do those who have written about it here. I am bipolar. Almost all of the content of my symptoms are religious, though there were other features like a varying need for sleep that make me secure that this is fundamentally biological. Is it an opportunity for something supernatural, too? Maybe, but I'm sure the basic features are biological.

Some people deny this, as when "nihilist" wrote:

"Paranoia is at its very heart a disease of selfishness."

That's ridiculous. I remember when I had my wisdom teeth taken out, sequentially, under local anesthesia. By the time the dentist pulled the last one, I really wanted to know what the dentist was going to put in my mouth before he did. Now that's not paranoia. It has a rational basis, but the feeling is just like paranoia. It's fear plus a cognitive sense of a threat coming from someplace. It's a more complex emotional state than anger, but it is an emotion that can have a rational basis or be generated all by itself somehow.

That's what emotions are like. I suspect I disagree with Curt, the last commentator, about how much control we have over anger. If we get rid of resentments and quit trying to have our way so much, yes, we have less anger, just as if we stay safe, we have less fear. Yet when any emotion comes we don't control its coming. If I don't like something that's happening, I'm going to feel some anger, less if I suppress it, but some.

Likewise paranoia will come not because we make it come, but because our brain makes a calculation that paranoia is appropriate, whether that's based on good data or some internal mistake.

As far as I know it's still unknown what chemicals or physiology makes someone paranoid. I've been paranoid some when manic. Some people get paranoid with other features of a thought disorder. It's something biological. "Chemical imbalance" doesn't say anything more than that.

Negative voices aren't that different. Lots of people have an internal critic that says, "That was stupid," sometimes. Someone might call that guilt. It seems worse than guilt to me - shame, maybe, maybe something more hateful of oneself. Again, it's hard to know what ramps that up to Satan threatening us, but it sure seems like the same thing to me.

It is impossible to avoid supernatural questions for some of us. I was cyclothymic from my twenties, but my diagnosis went to bipolar the day I had a road-to-Damascus experience at age 34. It strangely only lasted 4 hours. My psychiatrist at the time happened to have a lot of experience with African-Americans going "into the Spirit" for a day or so. I reminded him of them, but I also did better with meds for bipolar disorder, so that's how I've been treated.

Spiritually, I had a lot of negative ideas in those years, negative voices, too. I had legalistic concerns like praying in just the right posture. All of that decreased as I came to understand my faith, though 3 years ago there was another struggle with threatening images and voices. One of the last things one of those said to me was, "I'll make your life a living hell." I didn't actually say, "Bring it on, creep," but it did impress me how I might have vs. how frightened I was of such things early on.

The last three years have been a breeze spiritually. The Spirit lives in me, converses freely, not enough to give me a straight story of what went on with my whole life, but enough to talk about it some. A lot of what I was fighting off was in me, the ugly images that some of these bad boys were trying to put in others with their comments here. It's what people do, oneupsmanship, validating themselves at someone else's expense. That many who say they are Christian do that is testimony that they are not Christian at all.

I'm sure God would find a better way if He could. I don't know what it means when someone goes a different way than I did with this. Maybe everyone winds up where they should in God's eyes. Maybe there are moments when we make a choice. I am sure there's no way it was all up to me how this turned out. People who haven't seen this spiritual battle, if that's what it is, from the inside have no idea just how powerful it is or how stupid it can be to give advice.

There are many physical illnesses that would have hurt me worse. If it really was spiritual, it was a privilege to see. Maybe no one else who posted on this can say so, but I experienced amazing things that make it a privilege. I challenged Satan and now he's dead. What that really means is hard to say. I may have only seen a cartoon version, but it was glorious, no matter what it took from me.

Maybe God isn't good. Maybe He gets something out of all that most would shake their fist at. Not me. At one point I was using my science background to think about what would work for Satan to live out his eternity in a pain amplifier. A year or two later I could forgive him for walking into something unprepared. I'm told he's still dead, at least for me, but that is an impressive change in my capacity for forgiveness.

It can be worth it. It's not fair, I'm sure. No one's life is fair. We each do what we know how to do, and hope that the collective good is served. I don't think God is so perfect that this always happens. But I'd rather things stay just as they are rather than end the universe, and in fact I think things are getting better. It's a small consolation, but it's a start.

I was remembering more about my experiences that I would like to share.

The last negative experience I went through was a big one three years ago. It lasted a month or so. I was fairly functional throughout it, able to do my volunteer work in my retirement. I just had these parallel existences going on, the real world plus this other world of visions, voices, and strange characters that was going along superimposed with reality. Like many times I had a desire to let this play out, that it was going somewhere, so I didn't feel the need to take antipsychotics I have to suppress this when it's bad.

At my baseline my relationship with God was such that the Spirit helped me with prayers and other things. I could go to a charismatic church and pray in the Spirit, in English, words pouring out that amazed me to listen to. I had about the same liberal theology that I have always had. None of that changed as I went into this month from hell. The Spirit still helped me. It just wasn't enough to prevent these interrogations I was getting.

One day I got fed up driving home listening to Satan. I have this disc on my keychain that has four heads, one coming off each 90 degrees, a pocket screwdriver. For some reason I covered up the smallest head and said "broken symmetry", a phrase from my undergraduate days in physics about something fundamental to the universe. It wasn't magic. It was an affirmation that God and Satan are not equals, that there is broken symmetry underlying the creation of the universe, and Satan should shut up. He didn't right away. He was saying nice things to me on my way to my door. I would have answered, but the Spirit told me not to, so I didn't.

That was the last I saw of Satan. I had already had dealings with his two lieutenants, but they were more pragmatic than Satan, so I could see if they would let me do what Satan wouldn't, get out of the way and let me talk to the Father about how wrong this was.

As Robert describes in his story I felt abandoned by God in this. It wasn't right what was happening. Satan seemed confused about who I was, mixing up my nicknames and the fact that one could put about 4 different last names on me, my being the child of adultery. He was accusing me in a way that would mean that any doctor is a murderer for letting a patient die. It just wasn't right, and while both Jesus and the Spirit were around, they couldn't do much for some reason.

Mostly I blamed Satan for being wrong, and expected God would clear it up if I could get to Him, the Most High God, who apparently had some special role in this. Suffice it to say that over the course of a month this all got straightened out, and everyone is happy now, except Satan is dead, for which almost everyone is happy.

Now that is easy to pass off as nuts. It is nuts. I'm sure the biggest portion of this is biological, something my brain does that for whatever reason most brains don't do. Yet I can go on at length about the connections between these characters and my spirituality in the real world.

There was a real sense of surrender at the end of this, both on God's part and mine. The Spirit moved into me then more than ever, and stays on days when I'm not the least bit crazy (well, for a charismatic). So I think it's meaningful. I don't know how much choice I had in pursuing God rather than giving up or running away or taking my antipsychotics that I would have taken if I were really nuts. It was the only thing that made sense to me, but it's not like I see my usual list of possibilities in this state. Things are just one way.

So was God cruel in helping me, but hurting someone else? Was it all biology and nothing to do with God? Is so much of religion just this and nothing to do with God, perhaps a nonexistent God? Or is there a spiritual reality that reaches into physical reality through many ways, some more intense than others, some more metaphorical than others? I ask God. He says, "Yes." Hmmm, which question? He says He'll tell me later. Now that would be playing favorites, wouldn't it? OK, God says what I related to you is metaphor, built out of a very flawed theology that hurts everyone's perception of Him. He's sorry for what happened to Robert, but biology sometimes is too much for God to overcome. Robert's conclusions about this are not all correct. Take any of that as you will.

There used to be communities where there was someone who was trusted to say, "God says so". That had its limitations. We have choices about whether to try that again or forget about God or make our own way to God, through prayer and living appropriately. It's our choice. Circumstances can affect greatly how well that might work. Is that so bad?


Anonymous said...

DavidD, Whether biological or not, Robert experienced a great deal of mental pain. And to me it makes no difference if it was his own unconscious fault. God should have done something about it. Thanks for sharing.

DavidD said...

John, what about the possibility that God can't do anything better than this?

I wonder myself about the ultimate reality behind any of this. I find it hard to believe that it's training to do spiritual warfare. The biology I can understand and that God can't tear apart the physical universe to help people physically. I don't see any physical miracles, just mental ones.

Eolian said...

Suffering is very real. In the movie "The Unforgiven" there is a line where one character, about to be executed by the character Clint Eastwood plays says, "I don't deserve this!" Clint Eastwoods character answers "Deserving has nothing to do with it".
I found that to be a succinct comment on the suffering in the world. It is a very old question. The best theologian in the world has yet to come up with an answer that can explain it. Science can't or doesn't. So it becomes a matter of faith or belief there has to be a reason. That is why conversations or prayers to God are answered.

DavidD said...

I think that's true, eolian. Fairness has nothing to do with it. Elvis Costello had a song with a line in it about something being "just his turn", something like that. It's in the CD with My Aim is True, which I don't have any more. Our turns in life never turn out evenly, and I find it hard to believe that God plans that or that everything evens out in the afterlife. It doesn't need to even out for me. I'm sure a lot of people can see past what's past that way.

Col said...

DavidD. In December I had almost exactly the same experience and came to the same conclusion as you Sir.

I hope you're doing well, as i'm on the same road as you, heading for the narrower gate, just a few miles back.