I couldn’t sleep early this morning, so, naturally, I began reading about the causes and symptoms of schizophrenia.
When I feel like nerding out over psychiatry – which is basically always – I usually find myself researching severe psychotic disorders (mental afflictions that cause people to suffer breaks from reality). The extent to which a mind can become contorted, and the effects of those contortions on the person to whom that mind belongs, absolutely fascinates me. I like to hold out hope that I could be a neuroscientist or psychiatrist some day, and I’m sure that if reality were to manifest, I would specialize in topics surrounding psychosis.
However, I always run into the same issue when I fall down the rabbit hole of learning about schizophrenia: it scares the living hell out of me.
More than any other reason, that’s because I can relate so thoroughly to its symptoms. On paper, the signs that a person has schizophrenia echo the signs of borderline personality disorder – my diagnosis – with a frightening similarity.
That hasn’t gone unnoticed in the medical community, of course. In fact, borderline personality disorder is so named because it used to be called “borderline schizophrenia”. As experts discovered over time that the two conditions are clinically distinct, its name was changed, and only the “borderline” descriptor remained.
Still, I think it’s significant that the two diseases present similarly enough that one was initially named for the other. I’ve come to think of BPD as “schizophrenia lite”. While BPD doesn’t technically cause full-blown, chronic hallucinations or delusions, which are potential indicators of schizophrenia, it does tick almost every other box on the schizophrenic checklist: disordered mood and behavior, lethargy, feelings of emptiness, etc.
It’s strange and jarring to me to think that I’m just a small handful of symptoms away from experiencing one of the most widely feared and destructive diseases known. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve fluctuated over the line into schizophrenic territory, especially looking back on my adolescence, when clinical delusion undeniably controlled me for multiple years. It’s even more frightening to read, as I often have, that people afflicted with schizophrenia often don’t realize anything is wrong. Like a dream that doesn’t feel like a dream, the schizophrenic person’s perception of the world often convinces them that everything they experience is logical and real.
For that reason, I’ve come to conceptualize psychotic disorders as predators that have evolved to give their “prey” a false sense of security. It feels to me that that’s how diseases like schizophrenia maintain themselves. If a person with schizophrenia were able to see the illness’s destructive toll through healthy eyes, they wouldn’t hesitate to get help. So, in order to steer its victims clear of the psychiatrist’s office, the disorder keeps them ignorant of the havoc it wreaks in their brains and their lives.
I understand that, realistically, schizophrenia isn’t a sentient being. It’s just a complex series of genetic- and environmentally-triggered malfunctions in the brain. Still, the disease is so thorough in convincing its victims that nothing is wrong that it’s hard not to think of it as maliciously conscious, rather than as an unthinking collection of disordered neurobiology.
Ultimately, while my fear of schizophrenia grows with everything I learn about it, so does my compassion for those it afflicts. While fearing the disease is natural, it’s important not to fear those who have it. Their struggles overlap heavily with mine, which gives us the opportunity to help each other – if not by fully eradicating anyone’s diagnosis, then at least by letting each other know that no one is fighting alone, no matter what the “predators” in our brains may tell us.