Communicating Madness

The writings or accounts of ancient schizophrenics, like the prophets, are notoriously difficult to understand. They often speak in vague and metaphorical terms, and in a way that often comes off as exceptionally confounding. Now, I can’t claim to know what they meant any better than the next person, but I can elaborate on some of the challenges of communicating schizophrenia, and do so plainly.

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of a shared context or common referents. Imagine trying to explain a movie to someone who has never seen it, an experience most people have encountered. They’re not familiar with the characters, or anything that happened in the plot and it can be extremely challenging to move past a blank stare.

Without having seen it themselves, its difficult to sound anything but vague. You can appeal to metaphor, and say something like, “it’s Die Hard, but with aliens,” but already, that is not quite the movie, and you’ve lost some of the meaning.

Another common challenge, stems from the fact that people don’t generally want to listen to the stories of the mad. And while I can’t blame them, when they do listen, the feeling that can comes on is, “Ok I have to suddenly tell this story quickly, and all it once.” And anyone that’s been in the situation of telling a story under such circumstances knows it can be very easy to fumble words and sound confused. But this problem is compounded even worse by the lack of shared referents and context.

Although not the quite same, I think an analogous experience to communicating madness would probably be found in music. When an artist creates a song, the are often putting into words a highly individualized, thought, feeling or experience and if you read the lyrics to any song, having never heard it, or knowing it was a song, it would probably sound like quite like madness or poetry.

That explains some of the difficulties of communicating the substance of an hallucination, but what about the challenge of communicating during hallucination.

What it feels like to me, is talking while doing something else. For example, if someone is watching football on television, or playing a video game, you can talk to them, but they are obviously focused on and engaged in something else. Now, if you didn’t know they were watching television or playing a game, and couldn’t see the screen or monitor, I’d imagine it could look quite bizarre, when really they are just paying attention to, and reacting to what they are seeing and hearing.

So what it feels like to me, is not that I’m not aware of what’s going on, or that I’m somehow not conscious, is that I’m really in a deep state of focus.

87 thoughts on “Communicating Madness”

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