I think most Americans, whether they know it or not, are much closer than they realize to understanding the frequently misunderstood thought process of someone with schizophrenia. In fact, some people might be moderately experiencing that “diseased” process. I have spent time for that thought process, colloquially referred to as insanity, on a locked ward. Even though I have had periods of insanity, I also know what sanity is; I can recognize healthy thoughts. But I never thought I would have to white-knuckle my hold on reality because of the prevalence of so many untruths, conspiracy theories, and delusions in the media. Ours is an insane environment of information right now and I know I’m not the only one with a history of mental illness, or not, struggling to stay afloat mentally.
Not long ago, on major networks, we were watching coverage of the shooting in Las Vegas, with interviews of victims, first responders, and other eyewitnesses, stories of injuries, of everyday heroes, of the tragic loss of life. At the same time as these stories were told, social media was alive with conspiracy theories like that the shooter didn’t act alone; it was an inside job, there was no shooting in Las Vegas. Much like the denials that continue to be printed and told and circulate about the Sandy Hook Shooting. And last year, false stories and conspiracy theories brought us Pizzagate – a fake news story about a child sex ring operating out of a D.C. pizza joint.
I have schizophrenia and once believed that Americans traveling to China, in particular people on business, were being forced to work in sweatshops and were the victims of torture having body parts removed and sewn back on – a finger where a toe once was – an arm for a leg. Certain that this was happening, I believed several of my friends and family were dead.
When I had delusions about China, I was sick. I was in need of medical intervention. Of course, someone like me, who is prone to delusions, doesn’t just hold one at a time. I also held the beliefs that the world would end any day, that the government was wiretapping my conversations and spying on me and many other things that might sound familiar in this new, what should I call it? Reality? Environment? Political climate? I search for the words to describe it and to define it. One thing is for certain: reality has changed drastically and is almost unrecognizable from this time two years ago.
When I listened to President Obama, speak it never occurred to me that he was lying. It is possible that I was naïve, but it was a different day and age (even though not so long ago). I don’t know why but for the most part, I trusted him and (just in case you think I only trust Democrats, I trusted George W. Bush). I assume these former presidents may have misled the American people occasionally, but I am reading reports weekly that the current president lies on average of five times a day.
During a regular news cycle and the accompanying dose of social media, each day has more in common now with my symptoms of schizophrenia than ever before. There are the President’s denial of facts, fake news sites, correspondents presenting a skewed view of reality. I have a concern for the mental health of Americans because of my experience of delusions has always been frightening, and conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts” break down our sense of trust not just in governmental agencies and officials but other people and institutions. The current environment has led me to question everything. And this practice of questioning, checking sources and doubting is exhausting and confusing for everyone, but for me, it is necessary to keep me on solid ground mentally.
In October of 2017, the Miami Herald reported that Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a woman running for Congress in Florida, believes she was taken on a spaceship by aliens. If I told the story that Aguilera is telling, my doctors would change my medication, and it is possible I would end up in a psych ward.
As someone with schizophrenia, I don’t have a choice when it comes to fighting for reality just like the majority of voting Americans didn’t choose this confusing, and almost mind-altering place they find on their televisions, Smartphones, and computers. To get through this with sanity on their side, Americans may turn to people with schizophrenia for tricks and tools in how to avoid being sucked in by delusions, conspiracy theories, and lies. I never thought I would have advice about reality to give the average American, but I do; check your sources, don’t take anything at face value, and question everything you hear. Otherwise, we will all find ourselves in the realm of tin-foil hats, and no one will think it is funny.