"Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, "Where have I gone wrong?"
Then a voice says to me, "This is going to take more than one night."
Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown in "Peanuts"
I read an article recently in Scientific American's "Mind" magazine that reminded me of an undeveloped theory I have about mental illness and other mind dysfunction labels such as Autism, ADD/ADHD or BiPolar Disorder.
Is it possible that mental illness could sometimes be an appropriate response to extreme chronic trauma or stress? Could mental 'illness' not be an illness at all but an appropriate, adaptive response to an extreme situation? It has recently been suggested by some of today's veterans that the label PTSD (post-traumatic stress DISORDER) be changed to the more correct and precise description PTSR (post-traumatic stress RESPONSE). I agree wholeheartedly. How about you?
This researcher, Eleanor Longden, a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds in England, suggests a way of looking at mental breaks from the 'norm' as being more like extremes of normal function rather than distinct illness.
I agree. I have long believed that many behavioral patterns that we deem abnormal might simply be extremes of normal responses. That they may occur following trauma that may not be easily apparent to superficial or uninformed observation.
She posits that when patients present with auditory hallucinations, it may not mean that their brain has gone haywire in an unpredictable way; that there is no causal: effect logic. It may rather be, she goes on, to simply be an extreme version of the normal mind-chatter internal voices that most of us recognize in normal day-to-day functioning.
In other words, she suggests that at a certain level of trauma, the patient may no longer be able to tell the difference between the normal mind-chatter inner dialogs we engage as a matter of course and a voice that seems to come from outside or even living inside his own consciousness, the voice in my brain.
The spit-personality phenomena that we now call Dissociative Identity Disorder might be another example of this phenomenon. For instance, if I eat a second piece of chocolate cake, I might admonish myself internally: "Little piggy; did you really NEED that second piece?" It might even be a 'voice' I recognize as my internalized critical-mother voice.'
I wouldn't think twice about that internal dialogue (or trialogue or quad-ra-logue) as I creep guiltily into the kitchen to take the last piece. Until. Say: an explosion occurred in the next room and sent my nervous system into hyper-over-drive just as I swallowed that last bite. Or as a creepy relative snuck up behind me and grabbed me in my ‘intimate lady parts.’
What if, two months later, my overly stressed brain was no longer able to discern the difference between my internalized voice and a perceived actual external voice. One of the hallmarks of trauma is a distorted sense of reality. Colors might be brighter. Sounds might be more intrusive. There might be a loss of filtering ability or the ability to prioritize.
In the 60's, LSD, the hallucinogen, of Timothy Leary (in)famy was being examined as a potential way to study induced schizophrenia (among other aberrations). LSD operates by overloading the brain with certain brain chemicals until the ingester has both auditory and visual hallucinations. In fact, the drug held great promise as a controlled way to stimulate and control those phenomena we called mental illness.
The use of LSD as a way to study induced mental illness was abandoned within about ten years or so. The reasons given were not clear. Scientific attention went elsewhere. However, the scientific/medical community is looking at LSD again, as a way of mediating the terror of impending death by terminal illness for some patients.
This new interest in LSD has followed some new insight into a more precise examination of what happens when the "fight-or-flight" response is triggered.
What has been discovered more recently is that what we used to see as "fight-or-flight" (two responses) is now seen as a five-step response: Alert, Flight, Fight, Freeze (Possum), Acceptance.
It has been observed that when conscious beings decide that death is indeed imminent, there is a peaceful state that the being moves into where there is no longer any fear, or desire to flee or fight, or even much awareness of pain. Natural brain opiates are released into the system. All of that overload chaos of fight-flight-freeze is replaced by a sense of OK-ness and acceptance.
What does all of this have to do with mental illness? Let's look at the distortions that occur before acceptance. And the neuro-chemicals flooding the senses. Adrenaline is known to cause extreme distortions and exaggerations of perception.
Is it not possible that when people experience prolonged exposure to adrenaline and other stress neurotransmitters, the ability to interpret perception becomes so skewed that a normal internalized 'voice' of normal mind-chatter is perceived as a 'real' external voice? Coming from outside the mind/body of the perceiver?
We are familiar with the experience of dissociation that can accompany trauma: "as if it were happening to someone else" is commonly expressed. We easily accept these distortions as being normal following acute trauma.
Why would it be so far-fetched to understand these distortions of perception (time, auditory, visual, even the ability to filter and prioritize) as a result of prolonged lower-level trauma, often undetected, because the ability to discern on the part of the sufferer is so skewed that he or she does not realize that there is trauma occurring.
This happens frequently in child abuse victims. As Claudia Black, the earliest writer on the concept of the codependency that follows childhood abuse, said so eloquently: "we had to guess at what normal was." "We had to guess at what normal was." Why? Because if you grow up in a war zone, for instance, the adaptability that has allowed species to survive becomes the veil that protects the organism from over-stimulation to the point of inability to function.
These states or phenomena are also reported by war veterans who suffer from PTSD (PTSR). Flashbacks seem real while they occur but then they pass and the PTSD sufferer has a moment to realize that his perception was off and he was able to gain his ability to know the difference between what was created in the mind and what is external.
In the piece that I referred to at the beginning of my post, the author suggests the following as well:
1. Hearing voices is commonly linked with schizophrenia. Yet treating the voices as a symptom rather than an experience can worsen the condition.
2. For some patients, learning that these internal voices are a meaningful response to traumatic events from the past can facilitate healing.
3. Society has a long way to go before it fully shakes the stigma associated with schizophrenia. One place to start is by asking not "what's wrong with you?" but rather "what has happened to you?"
Take a leap of logic with me for just a moment: what if many of the behaviors that we label as illness or aberration are really normal responses to undetected extreme and/or chronic stress? What if the way out for sufferers is to follow the evidence inwards, to find the source of irritation. The grain of sand that produces the pearl.
Perhaps if we view these pearls of our imagination as pointers to the pain that caused them, we might more easily find the truth or the "why" of both mental illness and that which we label dysfunction.
What if autism, for instance, is a manifestation of over-stimulated perception in a brain that either experienced undue stress or where the stress was more than bearable?
Or ADD/ADHD could be a manifestation of an individual’s response to undetected over-stimulation from the environment resulting in exhaustion?
How can anyone function properly when in a state of exhaustion?
Or could Bipolar Disorder be an adaptive attempt to respond to over-stimulation followed by exhaustion followed by a renewed attempt to respond to over-stimulation and then into exhaustion again?
I'm not saying I've developed these ideas in any kind of controlled clinical way. I'm just saying: what if?
My experience with hypnosis over the years is that our subconscious intuition is often much wiser than our conscious awareness. Hypnosis can provide that bridge into the inner wisdom that lies beneath your conscious radar.
Hypnosis also connects that inner wisdom with our conscious ability to act. Problems often solve themselves when the conscious, logical, cognitive, reasoning mind connects with the sub-conscious perception/memory.
can often modify these extremes of response that keep you from reaching your goals and dreams.