Stress is the number one reason why I hear more voices and see more of the unseen on any given day. Like everyone else who lives on earth and belongs to the human race, I am physically and emotionally taxed by stress of any kind, be it excitement or sadness, grief or joy. There’s something about extreme emotions that just makes my day more difficult than the usual day. An important thing to know about people with psychotic disorders is that their day is as bad as situation appears but worse than it seems because they experience the unseen and unheard. I’m really not saying that you should pity or feel sorry for us more than the average person, but that our patience for the unexpected disruption of the norm is markedly reduced. And any challenge that escalates the impact of hallucinations should be minimized. That being said, I thrive on a little stress. When I’m buckled down studying or knee-deep in lab work I’m a happier and more productive person. Being busy, particularly with your hands, takes your mind off of the troubles you’re experiencing and focuses you on the here and now. My therapist refers to this as mindfulness. It’s a cornerstone of dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT for short. If you’re out there suffering with the day-to-day challenges and struggling to make emotional ends meet, you might try some DBT training. I started using DBT skills recently after an unexpected hospitalization forced me to re-examine my coping skills. Psychosis is overwhelming for many who have insight into their condition, and bewildering for that person’s family, whether the affected individual is aware of their condition or not. You need a way to weed through the extraneous problems and get to the heart of yourself again, because your world is clouded by the imagined. Even a person not suffering from mental illness can benefit from mindful practices. Take a moment in your day to tune into your surroundings and the state of your mind and body. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Smell the air. Use all your senses (excluding taste for the most part) to experience your current state. Take note of how you are breathing, not changing it but just acknowledging it. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really capable of mindfulness while at the hospital. I’ve taken more and more stabs at it since, and I’m starting to feel like I’m getting somewhere but there’s always room for improvement. Meditation also helps you to become observant of your physical and emotional state, but I have a hard time remembering to do it on a regular basis. DBT and schizoaffective disorder, my particular brand of schizophrenia-spectrum conditions, make a good pair. You do have to work at it though, it doesn’t come naturally. Back to stress. Being mindful when you’re struggling is particularly useful and is referred to as grounding. In the heat of the moment, take some time to get your feel back on the ground and your head out of the clouds.
I’m sure other people suffering from my condition can sympathize with my struggle with “daydreaming”. When my mind strays from the task at hand, I am bombarded by a flurry of noise in my head and thoughts about a moment that has passed or may never come to be, but seems like the next step in the road regardless. I am transported to that place immediately, dialogue kicks in and for those few minutes I’m lost in my head and my head has left the state of New York. Someone chimes in that I am doing my work poorly, another person agreeing and expanding upon that idea by suggesting I have never done anything well in the first place. I launch into a lively debate with these unseen persons about what I have done wrong or badly and I try wholeheartedly to defend myself. The moment of failure they bring to light may or may not have occurred, I may or may not see my accusers sitting around the room, and I may or may not agree with what they have to say. I can see myself doing whatever it was in my mind’s eye, feeling the emotions I felt or would have felt most likely and watching helplessly from outside my body as I fail to perform effectively. But on a good day, I can say to myself, “I’m doing just fine and you’re all wrong!” And DBT skills help you do that. I’m not saying they’re a panacea, just one way to cope with hallucinations. Delusions, on the other hand, are much more complicated and require a more lengthy treatment than I’m willing to provide here. Take away lesson: self/situational awareness and grounding, or mindfulness, will get you through a tough spot given enough practice. It’s worth a try.