The following messages were sent to Rodney St. Michael via mobile-phone Short Message Service (SMS) through Rodney's Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) site, http://mgo.to/voice (retired)
Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2001 17:38:22 +0800
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 12:04:34 +0800
Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2001 06:19:59 +0800
by Rodney St. Michael
The year 2002 is now highlighted as a significant year for schizophrenia history. A few months ago, the movie A Beautiful Mind won the Best Picture award, and people around the world heard the word "schizophrenia" for the first time. I had a chance to watch the movie in Manila before I left for Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to train several call center engineers in our new center. "A Beautiful Mind" premiered in Manila on the eve of my birthday (by coincidence), and it reminded me of my personal experience with schizophrenia, just as it probably reminded you of your own experiences.
However, many people around the world never heard of the word "schizophrenia" before the movie won several Oscar awards. Of course, they know this condition already, but they just don't know it by its scientific name. In fact, when I was listening to a Manila radio station when the movie was being promoted, the Disc Jockey would ask the listeners to call in with the name of Nash's condition to win a prize. And the first caller said that he was stricken with "amnesia." So, before I forget to reply to your queries, I will be describing schizophrenia in layman's terms and give some guidelines on how to cope with it.
This condition can easily be understood by anyone who has worked as a call center agent. When a customer calls for technical support or customer service, he or she usually calls to complain about something. Rarely will clients call agents to praise their products or services, or to show gratitude and appreciation for their work. So when the agents cover their ears with their headsets, they constantly hear irate voices making comments, shouting curses, or simply asking the agent to do so many things that seem overwhelming for the agent.
In the same way, most schizophrenics hear voices in their heads. This is the most obvious symptom of schizophrenia, and they would usually hear these voices chatting about them, cursing them, or commanding them to do certain things. Of course, there are also cases where pleasant voices are heard. These voices are called "auditory hallucinations."
These voices may suddenly come out of nowhere in the teen years or early twenties, and it causes the schizophrenic to panic or to act bizarrely as a reaction to these mysterious voices. This can be compared to how normal radio listeners reacted when they first heard H.G. Wells' “War of the Worlds” from their radios in 1938. Since science fiction radio broadcasts were relatively new back then, the people thought that it was real. They panicked, demanded for police assistance, and some were even hospitalized for shock. Similarly, schizophrenics may act strangely as a reaction to these voices.
And depending on what the voices tell them, they may develop delusions. As an example, the voices may tell the schizophrenic that he or she is a prophet, or a messiah, or a Christ, or a Savior of the world. So the schizophrenic develops what psychiatrists call, "delusions of grandeur."
Moreover, some schizophrenics also see "visions" or "visual hallucinations." They may see "monsters," "ghosts," "demons," "aliens" or other strange imaginary beings. But some of them see what appear to be pleasant beings such as "angels", "fairies" or imaginary friends.
There are also many types of schizophrenia, including the paranoid type (e.g. Biblical prophets shouting, "the end is near!"), the catatonic type (e.g. the Biblical prophet Ezekiel stiff in bed), the childhood type (e.g. the Biblical prophet Samuel), and the hebephrenic type (disorganized, incoherent, with unusual or funny facial expressions, typically depicted in some movies). A schizophrenic may actually have all these different characteristics at one point or another, but is classified depending on the most dominant symptom.
Moreover, once a person develops schizophrenia, the condition may evolve into other types of disorders. A schizophrenic may mellow down and become bi-polar (formerly called manic depression). Bi-polars may have symptoms similar to schizophrenia such as hallucinations and delusions, but the mood swings--switching between mania and depression--are more apparent. Bi-polars are potentially very creative due to the numerous ideas flowing through their heads during periods of mania. And many of the world's leading scientists, writers, and intellectuals are bi-polars. If this mania is properly harnessed, then the bi-polar can accomplish great things. On the other hand, if the bi-polar doesn't tame it, they can become like mad scientists or even homeless, carefree wanderers.
In addition, if a person has simultaneous symptoms of both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, he or she has schizoaffective disorder. This occurs when one is bi-polar and has symptoms of schizophrenia that lasts for at least two weeks without the dominant prevalence of mood disorders.
Of course, you will feel these different disorders when the chemicals in your brain, responsible for your emotions and moods become imbalanced. So the key then to relieve the symptoms is to balance your mind and body. And the philosophy of moderation in everything will help you find this balance. Interestingly enough, we don't have to re-invent the wheel to find the answers that we are looking for.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, a man who had schizoaffective disorder tried to find a solution to his problem. His life was full of suffering, and he experimented heavily to find a cure. Amazingly, among all the famous historical personalities who had schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder, this man stands out. Unlike the Jewish schizophrenic Yoshua (Jesus Christ), who still had strong delusions even to his death, and unlike the Arabian Muhammad ibnu Abdillah (the Prophet Muhammad), who still had moderate delusions after he lived to civilize the Arabian world, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha or "Awakened One") was able to tame his delusions.
While Christians consider Yoshua to be a god, and while Muslims consider, Muhammad to be a messenger from God, Buddhists simply consider Siddhartha to be a teacher, or more appropriately, a physician. This is because Siddhartha emphasized to his followers that he was just a man who had something to teach. And he explained that even his own sayings or advice could not be trusted. Everyone else has to test it first to see if it is true. On that note, his followers improved his basic prescription to suffering.
Siddhartha wasn't concerned with religion (even if some people later converted his teachings to a form of religion, which is Buddhism). His goal was to develop a prescription for his condition. And this prescription is now known as "The Middle Way." This path was eventually improved in some parts of Asia. And some of Siddhartha's techniques, such as meditation, were refined and polished. In Japan, for instance, Zen—a school of meditation--plays a passive, but influential role in the lives of most Japanese. And the goal of this path is to achieve a life of balance--never going to any extreme.
But take note that Zen, by itself is not balanced. You can use it to advance yourself, but too much of it is also harmful. This is why although about 85%-90% of all Japanese citizens admit that they are Buddhist, most of them distance themselves from it on the practical side. In the long run, it is best to adapt basic Buddhist practical techniques into your life. But don't immerse yourself into its present day religious form. If your family background is Jewish, Christian, or Islamic, you may attend festivities, ceremonies, or celebrations of your native religion simply as a social activity. Never think of it as a religious obligation. Then simply assimilate secular Buddhist practices into it in a passive manner. But if you are secular, you shouldn’t have any problems then.
Zen Buddhism is difficult to understand for most people, especially for those who never had any experience with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. So I will give you some introductory guidelines to help you relieve symptoms such as paranoia, catanoia, hebephrenia, mania, or depression.
Practice empathy, "forgiveness" and toleration. But if it becomes too difficult, move to a more comfortable environment.
"How do I handle irate clients?" This is one of the most frequently-asked non-technical questions that my trainees throw on me. Certainly, it's tough to absorb all those yelling, screaming, and complaining voices from call-center clients. In fact, if the gods had a 24x7 hotline (which many people call as "prayer"), then many of the gods would end up in the looney bin. And some of them would eventually commit hara-kiri (the Japanese "art" of suicide) after their callers complain about the Mercedes Benz or the Swiss bank account that they never received.
So just like the call-center agent, what can the schizophrenic do about it? First of all, empathize. When other people annoy, provoke, or inflict harm on you, try to understand what they are going through. I tell my agents, wouldn't you be irritated yourself if your bank statement is erroneous, or if your credit card contains charges that you never initiated, or if you receive the wrong merchandise that you ordered online from the Internet? Or what if you have problems with your Internet Service Provider, and you can't get a good connection? Wouldn't you be upset yourself? Or what if your email inbox, containing all your important email, suddenly vanished, without a trace? Wouldn't you be infuriated yourself?
In the same way, people will annoy, provoke, or inflict harm on you because of many negative critical events that shape their personalities and their lives. And the more we understand the colorful range of human personalities that the world has to offer, the more we become at peace with ourselves and with others. Some people for example, are afflicted with envy, jealousy, or crab mentality, because of their personal insecurity. These people, of course, will do anything to drag you down. Others may be filled with anger, hatred, or racial biases because of fear. These people are under-exposed to the world, and they feel threatened. Certainly, you can watch out for these people, but more importantly, you should learn to empathize, to compensate for the negative stimulus that you receive, thereby neutralizing its negative effect.
But what if you grow weary of empathizing? Then what? Simply "forgive." If someone harms you, you may sue if you really think that it is necessary. As long as you stay within the boundaries of the law, it's okay. You may also write your experiences in a journal. But in any case, you must always be "forgiving" in the end. You can't heal without "forgiveness."
If you feel resentment, for example, towards your mother, father, or other family members, you must liberate yourself from your anger by "forgiving" them. Even Jesus, who was conceived out of wedlock (Mat 1:18-19) through a "virgin" mother didn't want to quickly forgive his parents and his genetic brothers. He was always irritated at their presence (John 7:5; Luke 8:19-21; Mark 3:31-34; Matt 12:46-50). And he also never called Mary as "mother." Instead, he disrespectfully called her "woman." (John 2:4, John 19:26) In fact, during one of his psychotic episodes, he said, "do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword! For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A person’s enemies will be members of his own family." (Mat 10:34-36) But the Gnostics, who wrote his story through the Gospels illustrated that in the end, he learned how to "forgive" (Luke 23:34) even though it was a bit too late already. Indeed, "forgiveness" is an important key to healing.
Simply understand that there is no perfect father, mother, doctor, lawyer, clergyman, teacher, brother, sister, American, Chinese, Japanese, Briton, Canadian, German, French, Italian, African, South American, Arabian, Indian, Filipino, or any human being for that matter. Realize it for yourself, and then "forgive."
But if you still have difficulty in "forgiving" others, then try to remember all the offenses that you did towards other people in the past. Certainly, you must have hurt someone in the past, even in just a small way. Think about how much pain you caused them. Then realize that you can remedy your situation by "forgiving" others too.
Once you have mastered the art of empathy and "forgiveness", start practicing tolerance. You may think of life on earth as a "school" where everyone learns and evolves gradually to a mature state. If you believe in the afterlife, think about how every human being must take different "courses" to advance his or her maturity, just like moving from kindergarten to college, by living one life after another. If you fail, you can repeat the "course" by living another life. Then you move on, and finally, you graduate--reaching "nirvana." And if you finally understand that every human being will "graduate" eventually, then you won't take offense at the harm done by those who are not mature yet. You know that eventually, they will all mature.
You may also think of the world as a "stage" where everyone just "acts" out or "plays" their role. No one then can be considered "good" or "bad" because they are just performing their role. In the end, a moral is learned from everyone's "performance" and all the "actors" or "actresses" "graduate" from their earthly existence.
And if you combine the “school” and “stage” scenario, you’ll end up with what Buddhists call “The Matrix.” In this case, the world is a training simulation room—a place for you to learn. We may think that many things are real, but they are only illusions in this scenario. Your perception fools you, but it allows you to learn.
On the other hand, if you don't believe in the afterlife, you may think of the world as a continually evolving organism. Slowly, but surely, it will grow and mature, learning more from its past mistakes and finding better solutions to solve its problems. Everyone is a part of this evolutionary process, so why should you separate others from yourself?
However, what if empathy, "forgiveness", and tolerance still doesn't work for you? You may look deep into yourself and try to examine the real cause of your anger. When someone mistreats you and you react with anger, it is often only triggered by that person. The real cause is deep within you. If you find out more about yourself, you can figure out the real root cause of your anger, and you will be able to heal yourself.
Of course, even all these techniques will be ineffective if your environment is unusually harsh. For example, if you live in Washington, D.C. --the city currently recorded to have one of the highest, if not the highest, murder rate in the world--then you'll have a tough time practicing empathy, "forgiveness", and tolerance. In this case, it will be wise to move somewhere else. Of course, you may go back and help your "brothers" and "sisters" in the "hood" once you become stronger. But if you plan to relocate somewhere within the United States, be careful about where you go. At the moment, the U.S. has more incarcerated people than any other country in the world (with the exception of Rwanda). And it doesn't have that reputation for nothing. Even then, always remember that the greatest people in history always came from very tough environments.
In the end, remember to "forgive" and then "forget." As the Confucianist Hong Ying Ming says, “when you understand human feelings completely, then whatever people may call you, you just nod.” (Circa 1600 A.D.)