Obvious: A Personal Essay on Living with Schizophrenia

Editor’s Note: When Manishka first sent in her essay, our first response was to reject it as it mostly looks at her condition through the biomedical model. But as we engaged with her, we realised that all experiences matter. She is writing this from Sri Lanka, so this is an Asian perspective and her own story. Manishka first resisted medication but has found her way with its help. In addition, she fully endorses psychosocial support and feels it is this hybrid approach that brings about true healing. Though the side effects are tough and she will not give medicine all the credit, for now, this is her tool towards recovery. But as she says, who knows, she may “convert” from this hybrid model to another one completely in the future! Manishka also has had too many family members who have been touched by what she has or a variation, and aunts dying in asylums because medicine and support didn’t reach them in time – and feels her story, which is her reality, needs to be told.     

“What’s a delusion like?” they ask. I answer, “Reality”.

Delusional thinking has been clinically defined, for anyone who cares to read about it on your average medical site, as thoughts that are “detached from the real”, “unshakable beliefs in untrue thoughts or those not based in reality.” I’ve been asked, as someone diagnosed with schizophrenia, why can’t I just forget about it. “Isn’t it obvious that this is a delusion? Isn’t it obvious that your thoughts are bizarre?” 

‘Obvious’ is what a clinically sane person takes for granted.

You, dear reader, would say it’s obvious that the woman in your house is your mother. But is it really that obvious? Is she really your mother? How do you know this, save for perhaps a DNA test? Even if you were adopted, how do you know the woman in your house is your mother? Prove it!

As the badgering progresses, you will grow wild in your reasoning of the fact that you know this is your mother. She’s been with you your whole life, she looks like you, why would any random woman live in your house? It’s simply not logical to believe otherwise—she is your mother! However, through this apparent ridiculous rage, you will feel as you try to prove something obvious and true, there will be a smidge, an ounce, a modicum of doubt. You will have a split second thought that allows you to question this premise. Of course, soon you will resolve yourself to believe that you are right but what separates you from someone insane is simply this—your ability to doubt the obvious.

The literature will call this a paradox—a seemingly contrary statement that, however, poses some truth. A delusion is so real, that it feels exactly like any real thought… except, a delusion is what I call a hyper-reality, it is more real than real. Imagine that!

You have real thoughts every day—what did you eat for breakfast? Your father just said hello, you’re wearing a green coat. You are convinced, aren’t you? Now imagine something more real? You can’t. This is because you are not delusional, you are not insane. You may experience something bizarre, or fantastic, or crazy but not something more real than reality. This is precisely what makes a delusion near impossible to “shake off,” due to its hyper-convincing nature. For long enough, the opposite of delusion has been thought of as reality, when in fact, to the insane, delusion and reality are synonymous.

They say, to talk someone out of their delusions is like trying to drain the ocean with a bucket—an impossible and futile task; this is half true. I found that the repetitive questioning by my support system who tried relentlessly to plant seeds of doubt in my delusional beliefs did result in brief moments of productive confusion, if not clarity. Of course, like seeds that land on infertile soil, the doubts would prove defunct after a while.

For eight years, I struggled with delusions of grandeur (that I was a messenger of Christ’s Second Coming) and other delusions of my soul/brain being linked to another man who only knew me as an acquaintance. I just could not shake this idea off, no matter how much I wanted to, until the time I had an epiphany: “My real thoughts are strong but they don’t insist on their presence. Why do these so-called delusions bother me so much? Why do they ask to be believed and pester me?” A true and sane idea is a quiet, calm confidence and not a loud, officious fool of a voice demanding to be believed. Now, I was 90% free. Still, life was tough.

An adjustment in my medication pushed me over to clarity. I suddenly saw it all—the irrationality of it and I was able to believe that it was not real. I cannot explain how liberating it was and how much more functional I became after that. I regained a sense of peace that had left me for eight years of my life. The ghosts still lurk but I am armed with the knowledge that these are delusions. Thus, a combination of self-reasoning and medication has vaulted me over to side-sanity.

While madness is a part of the social fabric, and indeed, normalcy is overrated, to someone with a mental illness, peace of mind, one that is free from delusions, is a gift. My goal in life is to be as functional and under the radar as possible. While I don’t think normalcy is a destination, I do think of it as a privilege in my current state. Elyn Saks famously responded to the quote “don’t take away my demons for my angels may flee too” by saying she would wish her angels away in a heartbeat if it meant her demons would go away. I concur.

In the end, the reality is only a shared delusion. I was “delusional” because I was alone in my thoughts, but such philosophical reasoning will get you nowhere if your goal is to be functional and be reintegrated into society. Can my insight help someone else suffering the same struggle? Perhaps or perhaps not.

Gibran Khalil Gibran once said, “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half-asleep in the dawning of your knowledge”. However, for me, this has been a groundbreaking personal discovery, I hope you find yours too.

Manishka is a Sri Lankan (aspiring) writer.  She has a BA Hons. in English and works as a teacher. To say she lives with or suffers from, schizophrenia is an inadequate description of who she is. Yes, she has schizophrenia, but this is just one part of her, as is her awesome sense of humour, feigned modesty or excessive anxiety. She is foremost a candid woman who is fiercely passionate about teaching children loves learning German and tries really hard to exercise! She is also a founding member of the Spectrum – a support group for those on the bipolar- schizophrenic spectrum. 

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