Skip to main content

mental health mondays :: seeing things [or hearing, or feeling or smelling...]

if you had to pick one symptom that most western-world dwellers could agree is a sure sign of having the crazies, it would be hallucinating- a sensory perception or response in the absence of a real-world stimulus. "hearing voices" or being instructed to do things by voices is one of the most common cultural tropes about insanity in the contemporary world, since david berkowitz decided to try to implicate his neighbour's dog...

hundreds of years ago, people who had hallucinations were heralded as religious leaders. or condemned as being possessed by demons and then killed. it was kind of political. the point is that up until relatively recently, society approached hallucinations from a relatively humble perspective, assuming that if a person could detect sights, sounds, or other stimuli that weren't immediately evident that what they reported was probably important. with the rise of science, the pendulum shifted to the other extreme and now, when someone insistently speaks about something that isn't present, we assume that what they have to say is automatically irrelevant and untrustworthy. we have become happily convinced that we know it all.

ARE YOU HALLUCINATING? ARE YOU SURE?



in fact, hallucinations are almost uncomfortably common [even discounting those that are drug-induced], it's just that the majority of people who get them have them in certain specific circumstances and are able to contextualise them. for instance, many people experience hypnogogic hallucinations- distortions of sensory reality that occur in the transition period from wakefulness to sleep. many, many people experience hallucinations that are often quite vivid and can last for minutes as we're lying in bed, trying to drift off. those of us who have experienced them [and will admit to doing so] will know that they are very different from dreams, so there isn't much danger of confusing them. likewise, many of us think that we hear things when we don't, or believe that we smell something "funny" when others can't, or show some other propensity towards an imaginary stimulus at different points in our daily lives. now, most of you are going to react to that by thinking that those don't count. that's silly. of course they count, we just like to categorise them as different from the guy who yells at an unseen companion walking down the street because that's them and we're us.

ok, ok, there is a difference, but the difference isn't in the hallucinations themselves, but in their frequency and in our self-consciousness about indulging them. many of us mutter to ourselves [or to our pets, or plants, or whatever we choose as a listener to hide the fact that we're really talking to ourselves] on a regular basis, but we severely curb that tendency when others can see us [when we can], because we know that such behaviour is suspect. by that definition, "crazy" is more about a loss of self-consciousness than anything else.

certainly, hallucinations are still a key indicator of serious mental illness, but doctors are also encouraged to discount other conditions, like certain forms of epilepsy or, quite commonly, sleep disorders. they look into possible other causes because, despite the fact that we're convinced our world has lost its mystery and that everything about our bodies has been categorised, rationalised, measured, tested and accounted for, medical professionals still have pretty much no idea why people hallucinate.

fruedian theorists posit ideas on why people might hallucinate the specific things they do [it's about your mom] and there is general agreement that hallucinations and mental disorders are often linked, no one seems to be able to figure out the science of why your brain sets about convincing itself that it senses something that isn't there. particularly mysterious are hallucinations that aren't triggered by things like drugs or alcohol. so many different people have so many different kinds of hallucinations under so many different circumstances that it's become like trying to say with certainty what makes us yawn. it just happens and no one's quite sure why.

in many ways, we're still back in the dark ages, waiting to be persuaded that it really is god talking to us.

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

fun-raising

no, i am not dead, nor have i been lying incapacitated in a ditch somewhere. i've mostly been preparing for our imminent, epic move, which is actually not so terribly epic, because we found a place quite close to where we are now. in addition, i've been the beneficiary of an inordinately large amount of paying work, which does, sadly, take precedence over blogging, even though you know i'd always rather be with you.

indeed, with moving expenses and medical expenses looming on the horizon, more than can be accounted for even with the deepest cuts in the lipstick budget, dom and i recently did something that we've not done before: we asked for help. last week, we launched a fundraising campaign on go fund me. it can be difficult to admit that you need a helping hand, but what's been overwhelming for both of us is how quick to respond so many people we know have been once we asked. it's also shocking to see how quickly things added up.

most of all, though, the ex…

losers?

just a short time ago, i waxed prosaic about trump supporters who felt betrayed by their candidate pursuing in office the exact things that he said he would. short version: i have no sympathy.

today is a bit different. in the wake of america's bombing of a syrian air strip, in response to a chemical weapons attack by the syrian government, my facebook and twitter feeds were peppered with plaintive shades of "we believed you". these are the people who heard trump say that he wanted the united states to step back and focus on defending its own. indeed, trump did say such things, over and over; america cannot be the policeman of the world. even arch-liberal cynics like me had to admit that this was a refreshing argument to hear from someone outside the paul family, and, could easily have been turned into trump's greatest argument against hillary clinton. [he chose to go another way, which also worked.]

trump also said, repeatedly, that america needed to invest heavily …

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …