On Schizophrenia and the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Phenomenon
January 29, 2019
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Some years ago, when I was still experiencing psychotic symptoms—hearing voices and being prey to delusional thinking—I was depressed, because I believed that a certain man I had met while studying in another city was supposed to come and propose marriage to me despite evidence to the contrary. I did not understand why this expectation was not materializing.
On a day when I was struggling with these feelings, we were expected to go to my sister’s place to celebrate the birthdays of my nephew, brother-in-law, and my sister’s father-in-law. My mom came to pick me up at my place to go there. She was surprised afterward that I had behaved in a totally appropriate manner with these people and used that as an argument that psychosis was, according to her, actually a break in the individual’s soul: what we refer to as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon, which schizophrenia often is mistaken to be.
The term schizophrenia is a misnomer. It misrepresents the reality of the illness, so that the uninitiated believe that people afflicted with schizophrenia have two or more distinct personalities that are separate from each other, and that one of those personalities will do things of which the others are unaware, usually nasty stuff of which they themselves would disapprove if they knew. Actually, multiple personality disorder is a different mental illness now known as Dissociative Personality Disorder. This disorder has nothing to do with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.
To get back to my surprising behavior that day, like a lot of people, my mom seemed to assume that because delusions troubled me to the point of depression, I would have been unable to conceal this from outsiders. But even a troubled patient is able to figure out that if they don’t wish to answer unwanted questions, the best way to avoid them is to keep one’s thoughts private. Not to grasp this is to underestimate many patients, maybe especially those patients.
A lot of people assume that, because one suffers from a psychiatric disorder, one is also necessarily intellectually deficient; whereas, the co-occurrence of the two is no more compulsory than co-occurrence of diabetes and deafness or of blindness and heart disease. They may happen to one individual, but they do so with the same frequency that those physical problems do.
What may cause confusion and appear to be intellectual deficiency to outsiders is that very often schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis will manifest themselves while people are in their adolescence and still in school, but those kids cannot concentrate on their studies because they are experiencing hallucinations. They are hearing voices, and/or seeing people or things no one else sees, and/or feeling bizarre physical sensations, etc. One can experience hallucinations with all five senses. Of course, these perceptions will distract one from studying for an English exam or a Physics assignment, and eventually those kids fall behind and often drop out altogether. That is why this disease is known as youth’s greatest disabler.
I hope that reading this will help people to better understand what schizophrenia is and how it affects those who suffer from it. I am grateful that God gave me a family who stuck with me through the thick and the thin of it.
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Thank you, Michele. This is good information. Thank God for supportive families. I'm grateful that you've shared this so that our church families can also know how to be more supportive.
Unfortunately, many people with mental illness don't have as much self-awareness as you. When the brain is affected, normal thought process and discernment are impaired so, often, the person does not realize they are ill or that their thinking/behavior is not tied to reality. Thanks for explaining the difference between schizophrenia and dissociative personality disorder...schizophrenia is NOT "split personality".
No, I'm well aware that not all people with schizophrenia are not as self-aware as I am. I believe that God allowed me to have the illness severely enough to know what I'm talking about, yet light enough to be able to speak on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves. When I subscribed to Schizophrenia Digest as it was known then, one of the columnists and regular contributors, a professor of Psychology whose own brother had schizophrenia often wrote about anosognosia, a term borrowed from neurology to describe patients who had had a stroke but were not aware that the stroke had impaired their cognitive abilities. The term in psychiatry is applied to patients who do not know because of their illness that the voices they hear or other symptoms they have are caused by their illness. Such is the extent to which a brain can go awry when it's affected by schizophrenia.
Of course, when people do realize that they're ill, they don't take their meds, and the cumulative effect of psychoses on the brain is deleterious. Very often those patients will have paranoia among their symptoms, which means they think that people want to harm them, and they believe the meds are intended to poison them, so after a stay in the psychiatric ward, they will agree to take their meds but not bother to refill the prescription or stop taking the pills once they're back home. That's why long-injectables are prescribed in such cases. The patients receive injections of anti-psychotics that are released gradually in their body over a month's duration. But even that is not fool-proof because the patient may not show up for appointments to receive the injections.
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