Living with schizophrenia, I’ve experienced all manner of delusions about the way I think things are, and the way they actually are. Delusions signal a break with reality and, no matter how seemingly insignificant they may be, delusions should immediately be addressed with a mental health professional. Delusions are almost always ridiculous iterations of reality. They are skewed perspectives on the way things actually are, and they can arise in any number of situations. Coming to terms with the ridiculousness of your delusions is a process of awareness, then unpacking and analyzing the delusion — testing it against reality. Finally, you have to accept the delusion for what it is: a strange construct of your mind.
I have had many delusions the strongest and most prevalent one has been the notion that people are emotionally assaulting me somehow, either with words or judgments. I’m afraid, almost constantly, that people are making fun of me.
Through therapy, I’ve recently begun becoming aware of the persistence of this delusion, and learning to recognize when it is happening. Just the other day, I was walking down the street past a CrossFit studio, and I had the belief that the people inside were making fun of how fat I am. Surely this is ridiculous, but the thought overtook me and I was lost in a spiral of self-doubt before I was able to stop myself and say, “Ok, Mike, this is a delusion.” Somehow, the buried words of my therapist, stating that this was step one to coming to terms with things, came to the forefront of my mind. I’m still working on being mindful and aware of the things that careen through my head and, like everything else, it’s a long process. I stopped myself though, and I made myself aware that what I was thinking as I passed that fitness studio was a delusion. That alone took a great deal of fire out of the situation and made me realize that some things only exist in my head.
This notion, that certain realities exist only your head, is something you have to wrap your otherwise conscious mind around if you struggle with delusions. It’s not something that “normal people” have to do. Most of the time, people are able to trust their intuitions, but that isn’t the case when you live with schizophrenia because your intuitions lie to you and make you think things that aren’t based in reality. Realizing that is a huge step in terms of recovery because it opens the window for mindfulness.
As I walked away from that gym and became aware that what I was thinking was a delusion, I began to unpack the thought and analyze it for what it was. It was simply some insecurity coming to the surface through a function of a messed up brain. The thought that I was being mocked caused me a great deal of stress in the moment but, once I acknowledged that the source was insecurity, something many people deal with every day, the delusion began to lose its power. Everyone has insecurities, everyone has anxieties that they don’t express and everyone worries about what other people think of them. Most of the time, people don’t get the fight-or-flight response due to these thoughts, but it was simply an insecurity and it was a normal operating procedure for me. I realized that there’s nothing overtly wrong with the way I look and for people to laugh about how fat I am would mean that our society is severely messed up. This was just a delusion triggered by childhood insecurity and bullying I had experienced as a kid. There seemed to be little power left in that paranoia, but I still had a trick in my bag to deal with the lasting effects of such a seemingly shocking encounter.
That trick is acceptance. I had to accept that my mind does strange things sometimes and there’s not a lot I can do about it, outside of what I’m already doing in recovery: taking my meds, working on myself, and going to therapy. My mind is messed up, it does things I don’t like sometimes and it tells me things that aren’t true. It seems like I have to reaccept this fact every time I come up against a situation where I face paranoia and delusions. While I know innately that the things my mind is telling me aren’t based in reality, that doesn’t make them stop. Even if the people in that gym were making fun of me, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, and it would be their problem for being insecure enough to try to bring someone down a peg. In either situation, it isn’t my fault and it isn’t my problem. Yes, I’m a big guy but people stopped making fun of people for that in grade school, and I don’t have to be afraid of that anymore.
The delusion was a ridiculous function of my mind and my insecurities. It wasn’t based in fact. Most of my delusions are ridiculous and sometimes they’re so far out of the scope of reality that I wonder how I even arrived at those notions. Either way, it’s not my fault when it happens. I just need to be aware, be analytical, and be accepting of things for how they truly are and I’ll be alright. I think that’s true for anyone.