The Hijacking of the Amygdala

I have a glaring problem, and it doesn’t help whenever the other person also glares at me. It’s embarrassing and one of the symptoms associated with my psychosis. I learned that many other people have this problem, including individuals on the autism spectrum and individuals with a phobia for making eye contact. In nearly all cases, it is a simple, but shameful, process of have your brain freeze in which you can zero control over. Eventually the fear or excited response goes away, but the embarrassment stays with you.

It’s the opposite of when someone with gaping problem stares at someone with a deformity because you’re not standing riveted by the person, but the situation. When you yourself are the victim of glaring, it is because you feel excitement or fear, and you freeze; my brain can’t process information for a second. Unfortunately, others may see that and think something else.

So, I’ve been practicing how to avoid this situation. In lieu of taking MORE medication to solve this, which I am adamantly against, I realized through eye movement practice, I can solve this ongoing problem I have. I am still struggling with it, but it’s a start. I wanted to write a post about it because I witnessed how it was affecting a person I was working with recently, and he would stare back kind of angrily because of my glaring. I haven’t approached him on this whole rather stupid situation, but if I did I would tell him, “I apologize for staring, it turns out I have an anxiety disorder that gets sometimes triggered by all sorts of stimulus, and I am learning to work through it. I hope you understand.” He seems like a nice guy, so I’m sure he will be relieved to hear that information, and gladly accept my apology, but the overall problem is that there is no cure for this. I have to continue practicing better, more intuitive eye contact, as a result of my anxiety.

The anxiety will not go away, but the overcoming of eye contact anxiety might, and I’m learning that my journey through psychosis involves not only recovery, but all sorts of therapeutic treatments in the world of behavioral health that primarily reduce my general anxieties and reduce the potential feelings of consequence that result. I have a hidden disability, and for that I am grateful in many respects: I don’t have something that people will gawk at. I am intuitive enough to understand that I should not glare at those individuals with physical disabilities. I am working on understanding what may trigger such brain freezes in my own amygdala in order to be more sociable and happier as a result.

One of my good friends is on the autism spectrum, and he explained to me it took him some practice, especially to hold eye contact with superiors. Sometimes he will get frustrated in a meeting or a one-on-one, and walk-off and cry a little, because it almost hurts to maintain that posture. I can understand this. I usually just look away and stare off until I know I can resume a group project or continue talking without looking at the person in order to facilitate the conversation. I have never been embarrassed to talk in a public setting, but I know my eye contact is messed up because of my anxiety so I continue on, hopefully with everyone ignoring the mess I feel in my brain as a result.

Whatever the amygdala does is a great thing in the wilderness or brutal world of nature. The amygdala processes emotions and survival instincts. It is indeed MEANT to make the person wide-eyed and hyperviligant. It is only when it comes into contact with other disorders and neurodivergent conflicts that it becomes out of control, sensing excitement and danger in every corner of your universe, and exacerbates the already-trying aspects of the mind concerning paranoia, obsession, and the general worrying.

This is largely for the people I might have given the wrong impression over the years by glaring. I can’t believe this is a problem I have, but I have this general anxiety disorder that is accompanying my mental disorder, and I wanted to address it. I’m not lying, I’m not dodging a question, I’m not shy; I simply have an anxiety disorder that is being addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medication. I hope that explains it all.

The Goldwater Rule and the Politics of Psychosis

As a political science major in university, I began to understand the stark terms of how the functions of the executive branch of American government operate. After a few internships with various government offices, including being a House intern, I realized there are a lot of people working and operating the bowels of government that probably live high-stress, and arguably, paranoid lives. But it wasn’t until the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 where the psychological and psychiatric consequences came to foray for Americans interested in voting for a conservative with strict libertarian ideologies about the expansiveness of government. Eventually, questions of Arizona Senator Goldwater’s mental competency arrived because of comments he had made regarding the use of nuclear weapons against American enemies. His answers to these sensitive questions appeared to many to be advocating for the casual use of low-grade nuclear weapons and the possibility of continual use for defensive purposes. The incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson, used this self-defeating rhetoric against Goldwater in a now infamous ad that ran only one time, called the “Daisy Ad.”

Goldwater, furious about the implication in the ads about his casual use of nuclear weapons that could lead to the destruction of the planet, demanded that the Johnson campaign remove the ad. Johnson’s team did, and it only aired once on television. But the damage was done, and Johnson won a landslide election.

Throughout the campaign, though, many psychiatrists (besides voters) questioned whether Senator Goldwater was mentally component to be president, given his answers to these life-or-death questions. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) eventually came up with a set of rules known as the Goldwater Rule in determining the fitness for office of presidential candidates. Until then, no major presidential candidate for office was questioned for psychological fitness for running and becoming the president.

Senator Goldwater was accused of having chronic psychosis and being a schizophrenic, and psychiatrists have largely suggested that Goldwater was mentally unstable. It has been rare since to indict presidential candidates on their psychological fitness for the presidency, until President Trump. Psychologists and psychiatrists frame the current president has exhibiting symptoms from bipolar disorder to megalomania to various personality disorders. What is interesting is that the Constitution has an amendment, created in the late 1960’s (interestingly following the Goldwater-Johnson campaigns) that established some rules on presidential disability.

Not to get into the details of the 25th Amendment, but there’s a big difference between the legal ramifications of assessing the organizational capacity of the executive branch of government and the political ramifications of assessing the mental capacity of the President of the United States as a means of transferring power. The amendment does not provide enough detail to this arrangement and much of the literature on the 25th amendment is dedicated to the work of several senators following the Kennedy assassination. But the questions that they managed to solve doesn’t address issues that have lead to larger conversations on disability and the mental capacity of individuals at-large.

As Johnson (himself exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder) mentioned during the ratification’s ceremony, we are still determining the extent of the term “disability” and who can adjudicate the term onto someone else. States and counties are struggling with this issue on an individual basis with patients, members of the homeless community, and people on the psychosis spectrum. The conversation of mental capacity hasn’t been addressed at the highest level of government because it is fraught with political consequences that either side does not want to address. How can society address these major high-level executive functionality concerns when it cannot address them at a local basic level for behavioral health purposes?

The options are not very attractive, but piece-by-piece members of the psychosis community, the patients themselves, are addressing these issues in a very real way. Addressing human rights concerns will improve how we address issues of institutional function and executive leadership at a constitutional level. One hope is the legacy of many politically-minded patients and sufferers of serious mental illness will lead to a greater understanding of managing executive capacity in all its forms, not just casting aspersions on presidents and political leaders we deem mentally incapable.

Disclosure

Having conversations with people, there’s moments when I get uncomfortable. I can feel the auditory hallucination interfere with my thought process, and I get confused for a moment and get paranoid for a moment. Without explaining to anyone, no one notices. I do notice that I get a bit of a stare issue whenever I’m taking to someone or looking away. This stare is similar to those on a spectrum, so I assume there’s people that are not going to question it. Eventually, I would like to be able to manage my symptoms well enough to manage strong positions in leadership, perhaps even politica leadership, but I worry. I feel we are not at that crossroads with mental health where disclosing a serious mental illness is within my grasp and will receive its full acceptance. I watch media and I notice how schizophrenics are described and characterized. My instant reaction is to continue not disclosing my own diagnosis.

Aphantasia

It feels as though mental imagery is unregulated in a schizophrenic mind.

I close my eyes and imagine an apple with its stalk similar to a candle wick. It is lit up aflame and isn’t burning down; it stays the same throughout. Then my brain starts interrupting this exercise. It wants to drift off throughout, with light auditory voices coming into the emptiness that is a focused mind. I wonder what it is like to not have such an interactive mind’s eye, where the focus of everything is on the surrounding aspects of the actual mental imagery being focused on. This isn’t like dreams but actively sought images that scatter about in the mind without control or regulation.

What I have learned is that it makes you focus very well on things because you have to differentiate between what is real and what is not, even where you are imagining things of your own volition and not involuntarily because of psychosis.

Efference Copy

When a person with psychosis experiences hallucinations, sometimes you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. Even if that someone understands that this is occurring, for example, as a cycle of their own psychosis, that doesn’t mean the auditory and visual hallucinations aren’t any less mesmerizing. I can only imagine the feeling someone gets after dropping acid or shrooms. The extrasensory experience is timed and somewhat controlled and desired. This cannot be said for those experiencing psychosis. Even your gaze changes when cycling through these experiences. At their height, it does feel like a shattered mind, going through a bad trip that you never wanted. Walls can talk, walls can melt, geometric lines appear, and flashes of light appear. The experience is like watching the midnight sky of shooting stars and unknown planets swirling nonstop until the brain is exhausted by this phenomenon. Of course, after years of experiencing this phenomenon, you might even begin to like bits and pieces of the journey, but it disorients you. Your brain is forcing you to blend these two realities in which you can’t distinguish either. Your motor signals begin to get affected.

Hallucinations are found throughout societies. There are industries developed based on interpreting these signs, whether they be supernatural or psychosis. The brain is signaling to acknowledge it, but what if you know it’s just you? What if you know you’re going through this and it cannot be stopped regardless of what you do? You are awaken to hear voices would be something spiritual to many people, but what if these spirits never stop talking? What if it physiologically affects how you see or hear?

In distinguishing voices, I find it difficult sometimes, behaving like a hard-of-hearing person, asking someone to rephrase their statement because I heard another voice in the way. In the schizophrenia spectrum, I am glad I don’t have such fear of my own voices within my mind but sometimes they are so loud or attractive that it affects my gaze and my hearing. It’s a sixth sense that I never wanted. It sounds like an out-of-tune radio. When it’s nonstop is when it’s exhausting; a bullhorn blasting in my mind with no one to bear witness. Sometimes it’s music I like, but not at three in the morning when I’m fast asleep.

To research my disorder is to research pages and books on connecting the dots between the physical and mental. Speaking with therapists and psychiatrists and doctors, I try to resist being diagnostic about it all, but it gives me comfort that the professionals understand I have had this knowledge and started researching as soon as I started experiencing symptoms. I get into the weeds, learning about the physiological aspects of how my schizophrenia affects my speech patterns, my hearing, my gaze stability. It doesn’t change how serious I can crash from experiencing psychosis. You become very self-aware of your actions and the actions of those around you.

An Electromagnetic Headache

Hanging out in Iron Man’s helmet for too long gives you some nausea. You’re feeling the magnetic pull: that soft static feeling that you have been surrounded by electronics for hours on end. Cocooned in hardware and software reduces the voices. Jokingly, if I do experience some auditory hallucinations while I’m on the computer, it’s like I have my own Jarvis, an electronic servant that is the best at a word salad contest. Puts all other salads to shame even though it’s the least health of the salads. The UV light stings the eyes emerging from this. The visual hallucinations of geometric lines and shooting stars in a room gives the feel of virtual reality; an astronomer seeing firsthand his study in holographic display. Eventually, you snap back to reality, those were illusions and delusions, but the lights’ dots-and-dashes take a toll, your eyes are exhausted from the light show. Your brain wants some sleep, no wait, wants respite from these strobe lights of the imagination. That went the mind goes dull, like taking an ineffective antidepressant. There it is, a buzzed light-headed nausea from migraines from seeing strobes lights that do not exist in reality mixed with lights that do. A vestibular migraine of catastrophic proportions. Learning to engage in small actions like changing diet and exercise improves the imbalances that exist that lead to such migraines. Next time when that helmet is placed on me, I can prepare a little better and understand intuitively a lot more.

A Student with Schizophrenia

I returned to college after a six-month hiatus when I suffered a psychotic break from my symptoms emerging. The psychosis wasn’t as strong as it is now, but I cried and cried wondering what is wrong with me. I did not realize that depression goes hand-in-hand with psychosis and schizophrenia. I went back to college too early but I was determined to finish my degree. My symptoms were different and less catatonic than they are now. I found friends and looking back, I’m surprised that I did considering most of the time I slept throughout much of my time at college. If I didn’t have to shower, I slept. If I didn’t have to attend class, I slept. If I didn’t have to eat, I slept. Depression naps, really: I never knew these things had labels to them in behaviorial health.

I still managed to score good grades and entered a honors program in Washington DC. Throughout I thought people were following me. I would find a seat in a particular place in a room so I can see everything. I have no idea if my behavior was picked up by others, but once or twice I would scream “stop following me!” at random bus passengers or classmates in large lecture halls. Their reactions were bewildering: they’d laugh or they’d yell “so what?” as if they really were following me. I chalk it up to the college environment. I did my best to follow-through challenges. I took aikido, I painted, and I took hikes, listening to the voices in my head throughout and having a conversation with them. The trees would have wires and I would talk to them. I’d scream and moths would emerge from their resting places. I spoke insanity to the woods that surrounded my college. I rested on a cliff wondering why I felt followed, why me? Everything felt like a obstacle course made for me. I would smoke quietly near a bush away from people and cry. I didn’t understand the hold that paranoid schizophrenia had on me.

In class, I would sit quietly, for some reason the voice would subside and felt less anxious as the instructor lectured. I think my hyperviligance attributed to my good grades because I was paying attention to every detail, whether it was the lecture or students or door entrances. I’m glad I made college friends throughout all this and remain friends since, albeit long distant.

Mind-blind.

At best without obvious symptoms, I have mind blindness: I can’t communicate effectively the mentalization of people’s thoughts and body language. I can skip along without too much worry from the loosening of associative words that develop midway disabling my speech. I’m bilingual and the disorder throws words around in my mind that slow down my reaction time; my code switching is mixed with the disorder’s involuntary code switching.

The tardive dyskinesia, the involuntary muscle movements, can be ignored in public settings but make close-up conversations feel like I suffer from early onset Parkinson’s Disease, a central nervous disorder. Saying Parkinsonism sounds like I’m on the religion of Parkinson, but you can’t make jokes like that during a job interview or waiting in line for groceries. I feel aged as a result. It makes me absorb my surroundings with greater detail, something I never did before, and that’s a blessing I can’t get mad at. It does slow me down, my intuition is at best mechanical and predictable. There’s people that go “hmm” in how I behave and at least they’re openly understanding. When I speak I may have grammar without semantics interfere with how I communicate. Discussing all this to the bank teller is a bit much so I may just sound foreign to the English language.

As I discover more about my disability, science is working on next generation medication that can reduce these symptoms.

“The Doctor Is In”

I read “Peanuts” as a child; a preview of things to come. “The Doctor Is In” signs coming into full view. I read it as a comic book but it was a philosophy for me really. I never understood psychiatry except through Lucy’s booth. Now I nonchalantly feel the words that come out: I am paranoid schizophrenia with a gamut of positive and negative symptoms. This is what my mind has been fighting against for years. I was genetically predisposed to this as my biological father had suffered from schizophrenia and died early in the decade. I’d like to believe I spent my entire life preparing for this but it’s worse than I imagined. It’s a waking nightmare of a shattered mind. It is a constant process of managing voices that come and go while being sociable and accepting there will be some stigma because people can be stigmatizing. When it all began, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I just know that I have a psychiatric disability.

The main thing is I have never refused a diagnosis as long as it is accurate. What I find interesting about schizophrenic patients and stories I’ve read and discovered, is that they refuse to accept their diseases as such. I saw firsthand through my father how debilitating that is, for it leaves you lonely and angry. After all, it’s like when someone is in the closet, you’re just mad all the time (I can only imagine). So my anger is in my inability to communicate to anyone how to manage these symptoms. I can’t explain to every passerby at a promenade, “Hey, I’m mentally disabled here.” It’s impractical and doesn’t work. “So this must be how stigma starts,” I say to myself as I begin this long journey of understanding my illness and how it affects my family, friends, strangers, and individuals that may never understand, nor want to.

Understanding and Accepting My Limitations with Mental Illness

“But you’re smart. You graduated college, you’re thinking of graduate school,” my therapist says as I listen quietly to ways to respond to my schizophrenia. “I want to see to your writing,” my mom says as I listen quietly to ways to response to my anxiety. Psychiatry and psychology hasn’t failed me, but there are limits to what my professional helpers and my family can do for me. I realize that I have limits and that’s okay. Command hallucinations aren’t controllable through medication. Medication has a ton of side effects. Even psychiatry is having trouble finding biological interventions. What I have learned that is ideal is to be on the fewest medications than be on too many; even the few have side effects that weaken a person. I don’t want to be a person who is medicated with nineteen medications, and suffer the withdrawals from each. I take a few medications, one for my psychosis, one for my depression, and one for my anxiety. I’m glad I have a health care team that cares to limit the scope of my medications, just as I am glad I have family that want to know how I am doing while under tremendous anxiety pulsing through the my mind everyday. I am day-to-day working on these limitations and it is working.