Posted in Emotions, Freedom, psychology, Voices

How Philosophy Helped Me Process Psychosis

This will be part of my story but also a tribute to the power and destructive properties of thought.

I started cracking up shortly after I took my first philosophy introductory course 5 years ago. We covered everything from determinism to Cogito Ergo Sum to relativisms and categorical imperatives. I suppose I should specify this was a Western Philosophy introduction class.

Mortality and ethics, both western and eastern thought, were the subjects I focused on after that. Why? Well, debates intrigued me and the confusion on whether we’re born with an innate sense of what’s right and wrong or whether it’s developed based upon laws, society, and culture struck me as a paradox; we can’t know what we knew (or if we knew anything) when or before we were born, and therefore have no variable to isolate—we will never know which influences us more; instinct or culture.

Scientifically, as of today, this is impossible to study. Philosophically, the debate rages. And no, your opinion on whether or not morality is innate is not scientific evidence. You could create a viable hypothesis, just know it’s probably not testable in a way that will provide valid results. But, nurture your beliefs anyway. Beliefs keep us alive.

On the journey into the murky, grey waters of morality, I got a sight of hell. I felt the hot breath of demons. They told me I was a dead man walking every time I stepped. They hunted me. And I couldn’t figure out why.

It started with possession. They invaded my body and others near me. This happened, I reasoned, because it was finally time. They’d been watching me all my life, I’d felt them as a child, and now they were trying to throw me off my divine path. I was here to influence the world, thwart their plans. Dead celebrities wrote through me; they’d also been watching me since I was a child. Still, when I hear of deaths, I feel them joined with me.

I turned to ancient Egyptian beliefs and amulets. I felt Thoth on my side, and spent nights creating rituals to talk with him.

Classmates were possessed, armed against me in this spiritual warfare. I dropped classes.

I didn’t believe in hell though, or God, not in the sense of “white Jesus”. I didn’t believe spiritual masters controlling our fate. And because I didn’t believe in any of this, the creatures possessing me, massacring people, were not demons. I realized I’d labeled them as such because I had no better words to do so. They never called themselves demons. And that lead me to Eastern Philosophy.

Unity is what saved me. The unity of all living things, of all emotions, of all concepts, of my body and my mind. There are forces that unify particles and molecules and atoms. Matter is just condensed energy, in the simplest terms, after all. This realization turned me toward The Tao Te Ching specifically, and Daoism; The Way. True Daoism isn’t interested much in this physical world or the conundrums that man spends so much time trying to reason himself through. As someone who was and always has been very logical and scientific, this thought confused me. What else was there in life besides reasoning?

What’s great is that a lot of mystical ideas within Taoism, ideals which could have been scientific had the philosophers not seen analysis as such a waste of time (in a lot of ways it is, though), have been and continue to be paralleled with modern science, particularly physics. The Tao of Physics by physicist Fritjof Capra is a great book to read more on this subject. I read it a few months ago, and it’s the book pictured at the top of this blog.

The Daoist way acknowledges and observes the natural transformation of things in nature, like the blossoming and decaying of a flower. Yes, this is where the T’ai-Chi T’u diagram comes in: it represents the unification of these polar opposites: one must exist for the other to exist. We’re talking, of course, about Yin and Yang. A consequence of life is death (or cellular regeneration if we’re talking freaky single cell organisms) and you cannot have died without once having been alive. In fact, we would have no concept of being alive or living if death did not rear its gentle head. And if we were always dead, well, we wouldn’t know it and words for it wouldn’t exist.

Both Yin (the darker element of existence representative of the earth) and Yang (the creative, heavenly—meaning not of earth—element of existence) have equal importance and balance everything. The symbol’s flowing movement, according to Capra, represents continuous cycles; in other words, these opposites are constantly within each other, influencing each other, and being each other because if they were alone, neither would exist.

This isn’t a Western way of thought. Here, someone is either guilty or innocent. Something is either right, or wrong. The flower is either alive or dead, and we see these things as separate from each other in the same way we see ourselves separate from each other. You can see this disconnect rooted in things like in segregation, in P.C culture, and in Mental Health. And because we don’t ascribe to the idea of fluid existence, of fluid transformation, because everything for us is so hard lined and linear—which is only logical because we experience existence in a physical sense despite knowing Time isn’t linear—we’ve developed an individualist and autonomous society.

That’s not to say it’s wrong. In fact, I stopped believing in the hard sense of right and wrong a long time ago.

And so how can something so abstract apply to life and how in the world did it help me balance madness?

Chuang Tzu explains this beautifully:

“The sayings ‘shall we not follow and honour the right and have nothing to do with the wrong?‘ and ‘shall we not follow and honour those who secure good government and have nothing to do with those who produce disorder?’ Show a want if acquaintance with the principals of Heaven [not of earth; cosmos, spiritual universe] and Earth and with the different qualities of things. It is like following and honouring Heaven and taking no account of Earth; it is like following and honouring the yin and taking no account of the yang.”

Chuang Tzu. Also quoted in The Tao of Physics.

And suddenly life made a lot of sense.

Suddenly I understood why conclusions of morality always felt so contrived. I understood why “staying positive” never worked, and never would. I understood separation and dissociation and, most of all, I understood the fluid duality of everything, including my demons.

They weren’t demons after all, just as I’d suspected. I call them false angels now, because they are good in their badness and bad in their goodness. They couldn’t be demons because according to this natural, fluid transformation and existence of all things in the universe, everything has a polar opposite. Yes, classical physics tells us this, but not in terms of fluidity.

A demon has no goodness. But because I looked through this lens of consistently being unified with all opposites, these voices and spirits had no choice but to be both good and bad. They struggled with the universal order just like every particle, every force, every human.

This concept I have brought into the novel I’ve been working on, and I’m not mentioning how much I processed these thoughts through a first draft years ago, so whenever it gets published and you read it (and you WILL read it) you will see the similarities and thought process. You will think back to this post and say hey, I remember this! I was there! I. Was. There.

I could empathize with being torn apart by duality. I often found myself between sanity and madness. Between the right decision or the wrong decision. Between living and dying. Between happy and sad. And so I empathized with these damaged, clever, and now exposed beings. I saw the path they carved, the fork in the road that they drove me toward, and saw that this was never a battle between light and dark like I interpreted. They were always both protecting and hurting me; it’s the natural order of things.

That’s the real reason I stopped fighting. Not because I couldn’t anymore, not because I was too tired or because a bunch of therapists told me to, but because I recognized the pain and confusion and duality that radiates through the waves of the entire universe. I saw myself in it, and slowly my fear dissolved.

I get frustrated sometimes still at things they say or things I feel they’re influencing. I get swept away sometimes still, too. I mentioned before I thought of voluntarily committing myself some weeks ago. So this has not eliminated the struggle. What it’s done is give it purpose. It’s given it a place in the universe. It’s given me a reason not to feel sorry for myself or tortured or scream “why me!” Into the sky. It’s helped me learn to share my body and mind and the power of thought with whatever it is in my head, whether that’s a few misguided chemicals or actual spiritual contact. Neither are different from each other: they both follow that natural, fluid rotation. They are bound by the chaotic, ordered, unity of opposites.

This is the reason not referring to myself as “mentally ill” or “sick” has always set me free. This is why listening to my body and choosing to stray from medication was the right decision for me.

Philosophy saves lives.

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Posted in psychology, science, Voices

Is Psychology A Science? Part 4

We’ve arrived to the conclusion of this series, and bullet point number two: psychology is the quantum physics of human study.

There is valid psychological research out there. The world has learned many things thanks to proper psychological researchers following proper scientific methods and procedures. Politics and bureaucracy, warped ethics and poorly developed philosophy has given much of psychology and psychiatry a bad name. The fact of the matter is psychology is the study of the mind, the mind studying itself, and it takes a certain level of scientific measure to do so.

There are many aspects for why there won’t be a yes or no answer to the title. We find ways to quantify behavior of everything we observe in psychology and other sciences; that’s the point, really, to quantify our observations so that we can logically and mathematically find systems and patterns and create better understanding. It’s how the DSM should be developed, but it hasn’t been. In fact, there isn’t much science involved in that infamous book. None of the members of the board are researchers or scientists.

Emil Kraepelinian, a german psychiatrist and researcher who furthered much psychiatric thought in his time pushed for empirical evidence in clinical study when it came to mental conditions. His love of philosophy sputtered a bit, as he focused more on the natural science of the mind; realism became his muse. Psychiatry, he said, and the science of it, should focus on what is presented, what is seen, and what is really “real”, observed and reported objectively.

He pushed for diagnostic causes, the scientific philosophy that is supposed to be backed by the DSM. That is, each diagnostic label is used as explanation for the behavior observed, a cause. He said “cases arising from the same causes would always have to present the same symptoms and the same post-mortem result”.

What I find interesting about almost anyone who supports the medical model, and almost anyone who advocates for anti-psychiatry, is this idea that any of this is based in absolutes. As if something as complicated as the human brain, something which is as unique chemically as a fingerprint, could present the same symptoms and the same post-mortem result. As if chemicals in the brain don’t play any role at all. As if genes don’t. As if environment doesn’t. As if individual variation in perception of life, in thought, in personality, doesn’t. As if we will ever be able to quantify exactly what a combination of all of that means.

So why do I call psychology the quantum physics of human study? Normally it would be a compliment, a toast to the complexity and beauty of psychology, but until the science of it actually starts behaving as such, I refuse to compliment it.

My reasoning can be summed up in one simple, and pretty obvious word: probability.

You can calculate the trajectory of a ball and where it will land based on the height the ball starts and the force which propels it. You’ll look at angles and velocity. It’s pretty straight forward classical physics, just like you can take a look at a particular chemical structure in the brain and label it dopamine, serotonin, or GABA; when you see each structure, you can accurately predict the label, just as you can accurately predict where the ball will land as long as you can do math.

But when you get into particles that seem to appear chaotically, randomly, and pop out of existence just as suddenly as they’ve popped into existence, when you can’t observe the actions with the naked eye, things become less obvious. When you start attempting to measure when serotonin will be released, how, where, and the effects that will cause, with the same types of stipulations, things also become less obvious.

As much as they tell you serotonin causes anxiety, there is no certainty in this. There’s no certainty in the dopamine hypothesis or even the entire “theory” of chemical imbalance. There is some research, often funded by pharmaceutical companies, which claim reliable and valid results with a minimally valid sample size that allows them to generalize, or predict, that for many people, a rise or decrease in serotonin (there’s been research showing both instances) can cause anxiety and/or depression.

Statistics gives an idea of how many of these pop-up particles will/can appear at a given time, in a given space, but it will never be 100% accurate. Statistics gives us an idea of how many people will experience a given “symptom” compared with their genetics, their neurochemistry, and their life experiences. But because we don’t have solid understanding of any of those categories, the predictions and statistical significance must still be taken with a grain of salt.

So what does this mean? If we can only observe a small amount of our physical existence, if that can only be quantified using a symbolic system which is also only based in our observable spectrum of the universe, than does anything matter? If we can never be sure of anything, what’s the point?

Curiosity, I suppose. Curiosity and acceptance.

Part of the philosophy behind the Uncertainty Principal and the paradoxes within, which we discussed here, is that we must, particularly within the study of ourselves, of the universe, find acceptance in our limitations because we are inherently limited by our physicality. We will never see with our own objective, naked eyes whether that photon’s interference pattern is being influenced by the light we use to see said interference pattern, or if the photon indeed behaves as both a wave and a particle depending on observation.

There is indeed always a confounding variable we can never control for: our humanity.

And so I say, my friends, don’t take things so seriously. I lose myself in delusions quite consistently. It’s terrifying. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes the terror is beautiful and I’m not sure when I was able to see that beauty, but I’m thankful for the psychosis showing me the light side of the dark–and by this, I don’t mean “the bright side” or “the light at the end of the tunnel”. There is a lightness nestled within the darkness, and you have to go very deep to find it. But it’s there. It’s there because the same darkness lies deep within the light.

I laughed at myself the other day because most people I speak with who have experienced psychosis have found some kind of light, spiritual light in all of this, been pained by demons and blessed by God (or Gods) and I’ve been quite the opposite. I’ve embraced the demons and the darkness and recognized their validity. I’ve called them my protectors more than once this last week, terrified that they’ve been steering me purposefully this whole time and I’ve been resisting out of fear and misunderstanding.

They’ve become false angels–angelic in their intent but false in their goodness and I can appreciate a being which can drop its pride and admit the unity of good/bad which churns inside them. If you’re curious of this, and my thoughts on my voices/where my beliefs come from, I’ll write a post explaining it all. It’s quite detailed.

Hell, even if you’re not interested, I’ll probably write on it.

And so psychology is as science as philosophy in the sense that thoughts/ideas can never be proven and neither can the theory of chemical imbalance.

We can provide enough evidence to disprove it.

And I promise, we will.

P.S: It is inherently and philosophically inaccurate to call this theory a chemical “imbalance” as there is no “balance” to compare it to. And so I say we will disprove the imbalance aspect not because I don’t believe chemicals play a role, but because I recognize that there is no standard for comparison. Neurotransmitters and neurons change and grow depending on experience and variation, and therefore we can never have a generalized “true north” version of our chemical make-up.