Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Crazy School: Week 2

Holy moly, guys. I'm learning a lot at Crazy School. I'm even learning that what I thought was "crazy" isn't really crazy. Here are some examples:

Growing up, we used to chant this little rhyme and think we were so funny:

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
I'm a schizophrenic.
And so am I.

Yeah, it wasn't until I was almost an adult that I figured out that schizophrenia is not the same as multiple personality disorder (which might not really be a thing. But I digress.) Remember the movie A Beautiful Mind where the brilliant mathematician hears voices and sees hallucinations? That's schizophrenia. And it wasn't until last week that I figured out that schizophrenics aren't crazy. We have open process group for an hour every day where anyone can talk about whatever issues they're dealing with. I'm still getting to know everyone, but I was shocked to learn that some of the people I'd come to feel the most comfortable with suffered from schizophrenia. There's one guy, we'll call him Herman, cuz that's such a great name, who has always been very polite and thoughtful. When I cry (which I'm sure you can imagine is a lot), he always brings me the tissue box. He dresses like a homie, and I can tell from his accent that he's chicano. He's very soft spoken, and always talks about his wife and children with an incredible amount of love and concern. He's had a rough life—he's alluded to years he's spent on the street—but I was flabbergasted when he spoke up one day about how that morning he'd been hearing voices. He'd seen the news coverage of the shooting at Ft. Hood and it triggered his voices. He referred to the phenomenon as "they." They told him he was a horrible person; that he should do bad things; that he was in danger of doing the same kind of thing that shooter did. He talked about overcoming his fear of reaching out to his wife when the voices got bad, but how he overcame it and texted her and how it helped ground him, quiet the voices. Herman is my friend. He is kind and considerate and honorable and hard working. And sometimes he hears voices. He is not crazy. 

This is what real crazy looks like.

I recently talked to an old friend and her husband on the phone. Her husband has anxiety and depression and has been heroically battling it for a while. But talking to me was the FIRST time he'd ever talked to someone else who has the same illness he has. The first! That, my friends, is crazy. Why don't we talk about these things? Just hearing someone say, "I can totally relate to that," gives me so much hope. And it's even better when they can say, ". . . and here's how I dealt with it." But empathy has it's downside. The other day, after a pretty intense discussion in group, I suddenly started crying. Most everyone had already gotten up to leave for a break, but the few people that remained noticed and asked me what was wrong. I hardly knew what to tell them. I just felt so overwhelmed by everyone's grief. There was so much suffering in that room—so many heartbreaking stories, so much pain—it just filled me up and spilled out. I wanted so badly to be able to help everyone feel better. But all I could do was listen and give feedback. I felt better after crying. But it's been hard to not get teary-eyed ever since then. I'll have to figure out what, if anything, is behind it. 

But back to the crazy stuff. We talked a lot last week about cognitive distortions. Come with me, if you will, into the mind of a "crazy" person. You'll see that they're not really crazy. They just have learned bad ways of thinking. (And, psst! We all have!) So Mr. Cray Cray goes to the store to buy some bread. At the store he sees Mr. Neighbor that he's known for a while. Mr. Cray Cray waves to Mr. Neighbor. Mr. N doesn't wave back. Mr. N completely ignores Mr. CC. Mr. CC starts to wonder what's wrong. Was it something I did? Why didn't he wave back? Is he mad at me? Why doesn't he like me? Nobody really likes me. I hate myself. Mr. CC starts to feel really down. He feels angry. He feels depressed. Poor Mr. CC. He then goes home and snaps at his wife when she asks him to take out the trash. His wife snaps back and they get in a big fight. Afterwards, Mr. CC feels even crummier and realizes he was right, nobody likes him. He's scum. 

Okay, so Mr. Cray Cray's example is a little extreme. But do you see how it works? A healthy person would take an event like a neighbor not greeting them and figure, Hmm...he must not have seen me. Or, Mr. N must be having a bad day. But Mr. CC has a cognitive distortion. He takes the negative thing that happened and internalizes it. It's his fault. His negative thoughts lead to negative feelings which lead to negative actions which reinforce the original negative thoughts. The good news? Mr. CC can interrupt the cycle at any point. He can challenge the negative thought. He can ask himself, "Is this true? What evidence do I have? What's a more logical explanation?" If he's already to the negative feelings, he can do something to help himself feel better. He can go talk to his neighbor and reconnect. He can call up a loved one. He can go for a run. Whatevs. If he's already at the negative behavior, he can forgive himself. He can be honest with his wife about what happened with Mr. N. He can fight the impulse to label himself as "scum." He can let it go. (I can't tell you how many times I sing that to myself in group.)
Letting go feels pretty awesome, right Elsa?

Guys, this stuff works. I've used it on myself. I've used it to help Adam. (He'll be so embarrassed I mentioned him.) It works! But you have to be mindful of what you're thinking and feeling. But mindfulness is for another post. I hope this stuff isn't boring you. Some of you have expressed interest in peeking over my shoulder at my notes from crazy school. So there you are. We're all crazy. And no one really is. Class dismissed.

1 comment:

  1. Emily I wrote this super awesome comment and then it got deleted :( Here's the gist since I'm lazy and I don't want to write the whole thing again. I struggle with a cruel and hateful internal voice and have since I was a kid. One of the best things I've found that helps me comes from the primary song "I'm trying to be like Jesus" it says "be gentle and loving in deed and in thought." So when I am overwhelmed by the intensity of my horrible internal voice I change to gentle thoughts. For some reason the word gentle really helps me. It's not happy thoughts (cue guilt for not being happy) or positive thoughts (sue guilt for not finding something positive to think about) but gentle. Think about whatever you want but do it gently. Hate cannot exist with gentleness. So when my voice tries to make me hate myself I just think of all my failings with gentleness and somehow those failings are not as cutting, not as all encompassing. I'm not sure if that helps you at all but it helps me.