CHOICES: #5-A Clarification and Additional Aspect of Belief Systems

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
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    I've changed my mind. At the end of my last blog [CHOICES: #4 - Rational Behavior, Belief Systems & Functionality], I said that we'd next explore in greater depth the issues of Functionality, Medications and Economics, as well as how our Belief Systems can help or hinder us. I've since decided that there is a clarification that I need to make and one more aspect of the concept of Belief Systems we need to explore before we launch into discussing the first three of these issues.

     

    The clarification is that when I refer to a "Belief System" I am NOT referring to religious or spiritual beliefs. What I am referring to is an individual's view or perceptions of reality, both general and specific.  For any individual this may or may not involve religious or spiritual beliefs.

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    The aspect of Belief Systems on which I believe it will helpful to elaborate is one that I feel, if not unique to, then, is highly characteristic of schizophrenia, or at least of mental illnesses that involve psychoses. It is the following.

     

    Many people live their entire lives without ever really evaluating their belief system. Some would have trouble articulating what their belief system is. These individuals develop a basic belief system in their childhood, usually in accordance with what they are taught by their elders and/or the behavior of the adults around them. Some modify their basic belief system in the teen years of rebellion and the abandonment of young adulthood. Unless they undergo some catastrophic experience, this belief system then serves them well for the balance of their lives, i.e., their belief systems remains stable.

     

    This is not surprising. I believe current brain research has found that the human brain undergoes a significant, brain-wide rewiring process at the ages of 5-8 years, 12-14 years and finally at 18-21 years (or somewhat later in the case of women). These periods closely approximate the stages in life that we think of as childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

     

    I don't believe it's coincidental that the symptoms of schizophrenia tend to first appear during one of the intervals during which this brain-wide rewiring process takes place. My schizophrenia first reared its ugly head at thirteen years and eleven months. Nor do I think it is coincidental that with the onset of schizophrenia, consumers' belief systems tend to become unstable. This instability may very well be a product of a faulty rewiring process that is, at least in part, genetically controlled. The fact that schizophrenia has affected at least three successive generations of my family, has convinced me genetics has played a role in my illness.

     

    I believe that research also indicates that the onset of schizophrenia may be triggered by some environmental event or trauma. In my case, I can tell you not only what that trigger was, but also when it occurred. I had gone to spend a weekend with my brother who was training for the ministry expecting to encounter piety, devotion and some measure of righteousness. What I found was wholesale violations of the college's rules: breaking curfew, forbidden smoking, dirty jokes, and cursing and swearing.

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    The reality I observed was completely inconsistent with what I'd been taught all my life to expect. My belief system, which had been weakened by a faulty rewiring process, was severely damaged because of the shock of this massive inconsistency of belief and observation. I think psychologists would call this an episode of cognitive dissonance. It was in the car on my way home after that weekend that the symptoms of my schizophrenia first appeared. I became convinced that Satan was trying to possess me.

     

    From that time forward, except for one core belief, I no longer enjoyed the peace and tranquility, the luxury, of a stable belief system. My belief system was in shambles. With thought insertions, hallucinations, and delusions, I found I couldn't trust my own mind to tell me the truth. I was, of course, in total denial. After all, I had always defined who I was in terms of this belief system. I was loath to admit to myself or others that it had crumbled. In the end it was my own adamant denials that gave me away. I clung to this belief system even when it was extended to the point of logical absurdities.

     

    An unstable belief system is the aspect of schizophrenia (or other psychoses) that I wanted to address.

     

    When in the process of recovery, I discovered that many of the "absolute truths" I had been taught were contradictory, or at the very least inconsistent. The truth that I had been raised to prize more than anything else was riddled with untruths. It should be no great surprise to you that, with an unstable belief system driving it, my behavior became unstable as well. In fact, I became almost completely dysfunctional.

     

    At this point, as do many, many people with psychoses, I launched an all out search for the "real truth," for the underlying concept or principle that would explain what was happening to me. I've not yet found the full extent of this real truth, at least as I've defined it. At this juncture, although I continue to search, I'm not sure I will ever find it in this life. But medications and therapy have restored my functionality and productivity, and I'm doing just fine, thank you very much.

     

    Now I think we are ready to dig a little deeper into the issues of Functionality, Medications and Economics, unless, of course, I change my mind again.

     

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    Make a brief comment. Give us your reaction, good or bad. Enter your own SharePost. I would be interested to know how many of you when in the throes of schizophrenia have undertaken your own search for truth, for understanding, for the concept or integrating principle that explains what is happening to you. If you desire, tell us about some of the adventures you have experienced in your search. Your response can be of any length, short, long, whatever, and you can do this anonymously if this makes you more comfortable. But whatever you do, join in our dialogue. We need your insight, your point of view. Remember, you too can speak with experiential authority.

     

    Please remember, this writing is an anecdotal account of my own experience, nothing more and nothing less. If your situation is different, it may very well call for others measures. This is why, if you find yourself in this position, you should seek out professional assistance.

     

Published On: October 21, 2007