On Self-Correction and the Conflicting Drive of Mental Illness (from Visions)

Part of what allows me to survive my schizoaffective disorder is the ability to monitor my mind psychologically, mentally. I have to constantly be aware of what I am thinking, feeling, desiring, etc. This allows for me to self-correct whenever I am about to slip into delusion, paranoia, mania, etc., but it can be very difficult to do, as well as be very taxing. I have also made it clear in past writings and past reflections that this process of self-correcting many times prevents me from feeling as though I am living an authentic life, and on occasion, prevents me from feeling as though I am living a meaningful life, a true life.

Would I say that the process is worth it, this process of self-correcting, whenever it causes so much internal stress? I’m not really sure that I can say. Freud certainly had some good thoughts on this notion of self-correction, when he claimed that self-correction ultimately led to repression, and repression was ultimately destructive. Freud likened repression to a hydraulic system, where pressure had to be released at some point or another, and I have been very troubled by this notion, though I have tried to reject it. However, in my own experience, it has been difficult to not feel as though sometimes I have a kind of pressure that needs to be released. To be clear, this pressure isn’t usually bad, it’s usually just a wild impulse or a creative impulse that I don’t know how to turn into constructive reality.

The confusion of how to turn my strange impulses into something useful and productive and utilitarian comes from many of the confusions that surround mental illness in general. Because the media often links violence with mental illness, and mental illness with violence, people think that someone who is mentally ill will automatically do something destructive in society, and that creates a lot of fear surrounding the issue of mental illness, which makes things even more difficult when mental illness by itself is already difficult to understand. This is a major problem, because a person who suffers from mental illness, such as me, starts to internalize the stereotypes, which are amazingly untrue, and amazingly destructive for a healthy expression of a person’s mental illness.

I do think the process of self-correcting is indeed very useful. There is a reason why I obsess about rationality and obsess myself with logic. I essentially want to learn the fundamental rules that govern what would be considered “rational thinking.” I want to become Kant’s Rational Man, for instance, become the archetype. I want to be able to take part in rational discourse in society, which is something that I have been told I cannot do because of my mental illness, both implicitly and explicitly. However, I think this process of self-correction, as well as my obsession with trying to understand rationality and logic, creates a lot of tension within my mind, creates a lot of tension between my wild impulses which are irrational, and the impossible pressures that society expects me to adhere to: Society expects me to conform, when I clearly do not want to, at least mentally.

This is one reason studying philosophy is so incredibly important to me, a point that I can never fully articulate, a point that I can never seem to articulate successfully. However, I don’t think strict logic and rationality is the answer to what I am looking for. I don’t think my process of self-correcting is what I should be doing, at least most of the time. There has to be a healthy outlet for the many thoughts that I think about, the many possibilities that I envision, and it shouldn’t all be sublimated in my writing. My friend Jim pointed out that maybe philosophy isn’t even a good system at all for being mentally healthy. This happened when I told him about how much I appreciate talking philosophy with my therapist, and Jim questioned this, wondering if talking about philosophy was actually helpful. I took this claim very seriously, as you can imagine, but I must admit I do not have an answer.

One thing I find very useful about philosophy is its obsession with abstraction. I find myself amazingly soothed and relaxed by certain notions in philosophy, and by abstract thought in general. However, I am aware that this immersion in abstraction also stems from a drive to understand reality and my own reality, and that drive tends to push me over the edge. With this being said, does it follow that philosophy is making me insane, even if it’s also somehow helping? I’m not sure, but I certainly think it is something to think about, and it is certainly something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. It is a question that is hard for me to avoid, at the very least.

Whatever the case, I think that my mental illness is inextricably bound up with my drive to understand things, and it is both of those elements that tend to lead to much of my distress.

I will admit that for me sometimes it is very hard to continue living. This doesn’t mean that I am suicidal, though I sometimes think about suicide, it just means that I find it very hard to live with the demands of this world. I was insulted when I found out that this, clinically speaking, means that I have “personality disorder,” but I reject that diagnosis, because I think I do a pretty good job at assimilating into society, especially considering my setbacks and problems.

The more important problem, though, is the very Freudian idea that a person’s will and a person’s impulses and a person’s individuality are at odds with society and what society expects from that individual. Just think of dystopian texts like Lord of the Flies, where there is an intense opposition between the demands of civilization and the natural impulses of the characters. I think this especially rings true to me. Is the message of Lord of the Flies that if I let my mental illness take control, I would become a wild beast, an uncivilized maniac, a brute force, an untamed animal? I don’t know, but it is certainly something that I wonder about. It scares me to think that I would become Jack, for instance. It scares me to think that my mental illness could be dangerous because it makes me a kind of unreasonable tyrant, operating solely off my wild impulses. Whether or not this is how my illness truly expresses itself is beyond the point, simply because I think my illness can express itself in many different ways (least of which is the opposite, intense vulnerability, which should also be considered), and this is potentially one of them.

And yet, as I write this essay, I can’t help but think about how much relaxation it ultimately brings to me, how much satisfaction. Sometimes writing doesn’t bring the satisfaction, but sometimes, like tonight, it does. It brings me satisfaction because even though I am not allowing my mental illness to take the reins, I am doing what I can to turn my energy, which stems from my mental illness, into something useful, such as an essay.

To be honest, I am afraid of my thoughts. If I was to be fully honest, I am not afraid of my thoughts because they are violent and dangerous, as society would expect. I have no intention when I am delusional, for instance, of going around and hurting others. However, I am afraid of my thoughts, because they are so fleeting and so very hard to control, and there is no telling in all honesty how they can affect my behavior. Sometimes when I am manic, for instance, I end up downtown late at night, which is really far from my home, where I should be in bed, and yet I am there, walking around and trying to exert the excess energy that I feel, and to calm down the drive that is my mental illness. That is only one example, but it is an important example, and it is something that I certainly must live with all of the time.

Thankfully tonight, I am doing all right, but this isn’t always the case. This is because of the unpredictability of my mental illness, and the thoughts that I think of on a whim. Delusion can take me to amazing places, but also very scary places, because suddenly anything is possible. However, this is what I think is problematic: society will not allow me to explore these impulses and ideas that I have, and as I’ve mentioned before, that creates the tension in my mind.

So ultimately, what does all of this mean? I’m not sure that I can say, but it is certainly something that I think about a lot, is the intense drive I have. In fact, the play that I am working on right now, explores the theme of drive. All you need to know is that one of the main characters is very intelligent, but it comes at the cost of mental illness, and it ultimately comes at a very huge price. Indeed, the brilliance of this character comes at a huge price, and I am not sure if it is a price that is worth it.

But in the end, I’m not sure that it really matters, and I’m not sure that I should spend too much energy worrying about that. I have to accept that my mind is my mind, no matter how hard that it is to control. In fact, I have to admit that I see a kind of beauty in my mind that is wild like a wild colt, determined to fulfill his own will. This is something that a lot of people don’t understand, but that I hope they understand. I know it sounds counterintuitive to say that I appreciate my mental illness, but I do. I don’t appreciate the suffering and torment that it adds to my life, but I understand that that suffering is necessary, and so I go with it. This will probably sound unsatisfactory in the end, but it is the truth as I see it. I appreciate the drive that I have, even if I don’t understand it, and that is enough to get me through the day, and perhaps even get me through the night.

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