Dancing with Dreams and Delusions

QuestionOn Monday, I briefly mentioned how schizophrenia and Parkinson’s are two sides of the same coin, being based on the levels (too much or too little respectively) of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Today, I want to go a bit more in-depth into this topic.

First off, let me say that I am not schizophrenic, nor is anyone that I personally know, and the same applies to Parkinson’s. However, that does not need to be the case for someone to suffer from the symptoms of one or the other. In fact, if the dosage is not handled properly, someone with schizophrenia can gain symptoms of Parkinson’s through what is known as tardive dyskenesia, and someone with Parkinson’s can have psychotic episodes brought about by their own meds. On that note, let me make something clear: the term psychotic does NOT refer to someone who is unfeeling, uncaring, evil, murderous, etc. as it is commonly used in the popular vernacular. Instead, what psychotic means is that there is something to cause a break from reality.

That break from reality can take a number of forms. The most common are hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations are just what you might think, an experience of the senses of something that is not there. This is not always something seen or heard either: it can sometimes be a smell or physical sensation of something not there. And if you really want to be afraid of this happening, well, let me tell you something else. Your average human will begin hallucinating after approximately 36 hours without sleep. Yet, hallucinations aren’t necessarily something that the individual believes are real. Beliefs fall under the category of delusions.

Delusions, on the other hand, are irrational beliefs that are held despite all of the evidence. This is more complicated to address than hallucinations because we all have our opinions of what an “irrational belief” is. For example, when I took my abnormal psych class, the question came up of what the difference is between someone who holds a delusion and someone who holds a popular belief despite the facts. The example given in this case were those who firmly believe that vaccines cause autism despite all the evidence to the contrary, but I’ve heard stories of others asking about if religion is a delusion.

Let me be clear: religion is not a delusion. The definition for anything to be any form of mental illness is that is has to be either distressing or an impediment to one’s life (through work, social interaction, etc.). Religion, whether it is right or wrong, actually does more good than harm for most people. Sure, there are those who take it too far and use it to hurt others, but religion in and of itself is not a delusion. Following the logic that “religion is a psychosis because religious themes are common in psychotic episodes” would lead to the argument that cats are evil, murderous fiends just because some schizophrenic folks believe the neighbor’s cat is telling them to kill. Never mind the fact that cats ARE evil, murderous critters.

So how do these kinds of things take place? Well, in someone with this illness, it’s because their brain produces too much dopamine. However, we can experience it ourselves from reactions to certain medications or drugs. I’ve had times where I’m having a negative reaction to sleeping pills and I’m having a psychotic episode, but also aware of it. One of my favorite ones was after I had spent the evening playing video games, and I was lying in bed, unable to sleep but feeling extremely loopy, much like being drunk. I was even texting with friends, complaining about the inability to sleep, and at one point, told one of them that “I’m helping the characters in my game.” When she told me to turn the game off and crawl into bed, I responded with “I did that over an hour ago.”

As cute and funny as it was for me, for those who live with schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder, it is not so cute or funny. Some may believe the government is out to kill them, others that the Devil is telling them to harm themselves or others as punishment for their sins, and others still who become infatuated with someone, absolutely certain that they are in love with one another, and perform acts of stalking that go beyond the scary and into the downright frightening. Imagine Lorna from Orange is the New Black in the episode where we see her story, and then multiply the stalker factor there by about twelve.

Simply put, the human mind and body are capable of some amazing things, but also some amazingly horrific things as well. Never forget that the “weirdo” next to you may be struggling with some internal demons (or perceived external demons), and be kind to them.

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