I was discussing a few issues with a friend, Alexandra Sarll during the last few days; she described a situation in which her schizophrenia was brought about. Now this young lady has the capacity to understand the role of her comfort zone, even if she hasn’t yet formally understood the processes. This is reality we’re dealing with here, and reality can exhibit itself in ways that can baffle us – it certainly baffled me for long enough. Untangling our own thoughts is the first step to being able to discern the way in which a process affects our own behaviour, along with the behaviour of others. Thus whilst Alex hasn’t quite got the measure of the comfort zone itself, she has, nonetheless, a broad experiential foundation that will help her to come to terms with it.
There is one aspect that has not been discussed this far, and it is crucial: Alex herself can grasp the fact that the things that trigger her schizophrenic episodes are her own responses to the world. This reaction is clearly different from the usual, where a person sees something happening in the outside world (if I may put it that way) and if it is unpleasant, they will regard it as a threat. Please bear in mind that this is an ordinary person with no obvious psychological problems of any sort. A university professor or a psychiatrist could be included in this general category – barring of course, those rare exceptions. The ones that usually prove rules because they really are that rare.
So here we have a situation where no few people are totally unaware of their own antipathies: that is to say, the things that unsettle them. The usual response to this is to either escape from the problem or chase it away, a human variety of ‘fight or flight’. Thus there is and can be no consideration of the antipathy in terms of its nature or circumstance: it is merely unsettling and that is all there is to the problem.
In several years of speaking with neighbours, fellow travellers and during online conversations, I began to realize just how difficult it is to deal with the things that lie in one’s subconscious.
In the situation described above, the antipathy – the happening that makes someone feel uncomfortable – is a defensive reaction to a fear. Fears are by definition unconscious, and lie in the subconscious. Were they in any way conscious, they could be dealt with as easily as we might deal with a discrepancy in the amount we have to pay for goods in a shop. Fears are exceptionally difficult to deal with because of their inherently secretive nature: they literally cannot be seen. Furthermore, without the self-reflection that most of us lack, it is quite reasonable to assume that the problems are the result of external circumstances.
That is to say, that those external circumstances are a real and genuine threat – rather than our own reaction to otherwise inconsequential occurrences.
This lack of self-awareness, this lack of an ability to reflect on oneself is a very serious problem in our day and age. In a healthy society, especially in our modern times, any schooling would include some form of nurturing of this ability to reflect on ourselves. Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf schools are a case in point – the problem being that there are simply too few of them. I will add that their effect on broader German society is clear for all who can see. For those who cannot, it is indistinguishable.
It was reading Alex’s blog that this realization came upon me: that she was able to reflect on the things that occur around her as being outward manifestations that she was reacting to. I’ll put it another way: she is aware of her own reaction to occurrences that come to pass around her in the outside world.
It is for this reason that she has been able to work with herself and her reactions and so begin to understand what it is that brought an attack.
You see, from what I understand of the things she is saying, is that schizophrenia is a process whereby a person meets a set of circumstances that raise their fears – that is to say, they are so unsettled by the circumstances that they panic. I described this in my recent post ‘Trouble In The Toilet’ where an unprepared friend met an insoluble problem and the result was that he freaked out. Schizophrenia differs from this event in that once the person is unsettled, they cannot return to their ‘normal’ self. The fears breed on themselves and are literally beyond their control.
Which isn’t so surprising when you think that fears lie in our subconscious and we cannot be aware of them in any shape or form – save as threats. Threats that unsettle us, and in the case of a schizophrenic, quickly spiral out of control. Once an antipathy has been raised, the over-sensitive human is unsettled by practically any occurrence whatsoever – and the grey, featureless, padded cell is the only safe place for them to be. With sufficient restraint they will eventually wear themselves out, hopefully to return to some kind of normality in their lives. In our modern day and age, psychiatrists use tranquillizers to reduce the patient’s awareness of external happenings and thus the ‘episode’ is closed owing to their sleepy state. Not that this cures them, but psychiatrists are not the kind of people who are cognisant of a detail of this kind. That may seem like a bold statement, but the point is this: if they were cognisant of such details, they would be able to offer real cures rather than offer the mere suppression of the symptoms.
A Very Nasty Problem.
This over-sensitivity to the outside world that schizophrenics have has far nastier issues than just their ‘episodes’ of panic. It is that they are utterly unaware of the fact that it is actually their own reaction to outside circumstances that triggers such an episode. Without this essential capacity, how on earth can one expect them to be able to come to terms with their personal cocktail of ‘triggering circumstances’?
An insightful helper who understands this phenomenon might be able to bring one or two patients to a realization of what they face. However, it is my experience in working with ordinary people – that is to say, people who have a broadly stable mentality – is that if something lies in their subconscious, it is literally beyond their reach. Furthermore, it is beyond their reach for good and all. It has to be added that most well balanced people do not need to deal with their subconscious – they are happy enough as they are. That is to say, gliding gently into the bosom of dementia.
For the schizophrenic it is another matter altogether: and for this reason, may be more willing than most to deal with the things that threaten them. I say ‘may be’ because I haven’t dealt with this problem on a one-to-one basis, and given the nature of psychiatric medicine in our day and age, it is highly unlikely that I ever will.
The real point here is that if a person has ‘the keys’ to becoming aware of their threats, they are going to realize that whilst it does take time to come to terms with the things that face them, each step they take is going to make their lives considerably better. It isn’t hard, but it does take patience and determination. If they wanted to start the process, and were able to proceed and make genuine advances, it is entirely possible that they would do so in a way that ensures not just a healthy balance, but a vastly improved standard of life – far better than it is for the ordinary man in the street who imagines their life is as good as it can get.
Note: I want to thank Alex Sarll for her help in creating this post; whilst this is my own writing, I couldn’t have written it without her inspiration. You can find her blog here: “A Mad New World“.