05/15/2013 12:31 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

"I Did Not Believe I Was Delusional, Let Alone Psychotic"


The CIA was not spying on me. Nor were FBI agents looking to bring me down. On the other hand, I did not belong to either of these groups and was neither the President, Jesus Christ, nor Cleopatra. These, I had heard, are the content of delusions that characterize schizophrenia; its delusions are grandiose, and based (albeit flimsily) on the culture we see in the media. For example, having a radio transistor in your tooth is a common delusion of people suffering from schizophrenia -- but I would assume this is just since the ubiquity of such technology. Naïve, I thought that if you were not pulled into these "standard" delusions, you could not have schizophrenia.

Given that logic, I did not consider myself to have schizophrenia. When mental health professionals labelled some of my beliefs as delusions, I was not convinced. I was worried, though: microscopic rats were eating my brain. "That's the schizophrenia talking," the hospital staff would say to me. "It is not real; it is a delusion." But I was terrified of these brain-eating rodents, especially as they flooded my system via the countess forced injections I endured while certified -- over 10 hospitalizations in five years.

"Erin, rats cannot even fit inside your head," they'd all say. Furthermore, they'd expect me to use my understanding of neuroscience (I have a Master's degree in the field) that felt like as a slap in the face. Did they not understand that the rats' existence and constant consummation of my brain transcended science? It was of the Deep Meaning.

This "Deep Meaning" was to me the ultimate reality, while again doctors and nurses spoke of delusion. How could I expect them to understand, anyway? I reasoned. After all, this Deep Meaning was revealed only to me, the Chosen One. I had great responsibility: I was chosen to have my brain regenerate after being eaten by the rats, in order for there to be scientific study of this phenomenon. Regeneration in the brain is limited and its widespread occurrence in my brain would be an amazing breakthrough for neuroscience. Since this was, in my mind, based in science, it was obviously not a delusion.

Another delusion (labelled as such by psychiatrists, but I knew better) was that there was a homicidal man tracking my every move. "The Tracker" was a no-name stranger with no claims to fame, working only to effect the Deep Meaning of killing me for research. I wavered from delight that he was acting from the Deep Meaning to terror that he would succeed. However, because this Tracker was not a great, important, and publicly known individual, I assumed he could not be a schizophrenic delusion.

So despite the rats and Tracker and the whole elaborate system of the Deep Meaning, I still thought that I was in no way delusional. What the doctors called my delusions just didn't fit with what schizophrenic delusions were "supposed" to be like. As I said, it was not the CIA.

Looking more closely, though, my delusions did not deviate very much from those "standard" beliefs of people suffering from schizophrenic. The Deep Meaning had free rein to indoctrinate me, coddling me into its "group" (read: as with the CIA, FBI, etc.). Within that system, I was, as it were, a greatly important person -- the Chosen One. But was not, according to Christianity, Jesus the Chosen One? The Prime Minister or the President is certainly "Chosen" by the nation's votes. Despite superficial differences, my schizophrenic reality did not fundamentally differ from those so-called typical delusions.

I think that these shallow nuances of delusion kept me in my illness and away from probing psychiatrists. I did not believe I was delusional, let alone psychotic. I did not talk of the Deep Meaning's rats and Tracker -- no one else did, so why should I? It would take years and an almost-successful attempted suicide by hanging before I would begin to realize medication took the Deep Meaning, rats, and Tracker away. I struggled to believe that these uncharacteristic delusions were due to schizophrenia. Such anosognosia -- the physiological inability to have insight that one is ill -- is very common in schizophrenia and in large part drives the urge to not employ appropriate management of the illness.

I wonder, considering my own journey, how many others may be suffering alone with "atypical" delusions. Do they receive the wrong diagnosis because they fail to report red-flag symptoms -- because they believe their delusions are not "schizophrenic" enough to talk about? I was first given a label of dysthymia and told to take an antidepressant, which delayed proper diagnosis and treatment. I fear this is too common a mistake and, given the evidence that early intervention for psychosis is key to a better outcome for the patient, perhaps a dangerous one.

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