Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thoughts on Thought Disorders

Just found this excellent podcast

Actually, I have not listened to the podcast myself yet, just read the excerpted chapter, from the book 'Hallucinations', which was wonderful.  I particularly liked the non-judgemental way in which the hearing voice phenomenom was discussed. 

I don't hear voices, and have only had the experience twice, shortly after I was out of hospital after my second breakdown, when I was taking a lot of psychiatric medication.  It was incredible how real the voice sounded.  It was my mother's voice, and I spun around both times, convinced that she was standing by my side, talking in my ear. 

Incidentally, it is unusual to be diagnosed with schizophrenia if one does not hear voices (as the above article states). 

But I do experience a fair amount of internal dialogue.  That is to say, I think a lot.  Not knowing how other people think, I have sometimes wondered whether my thought patterns are normal.  For example, generally I just have a milling around of ideas in my brain, some of which I follow through and think about more deeply and others which are just passing through.  But I remember on one occasion, when I was pregnant with my younger daughter, I was sitting down somewhere in town, speaking to another Mum.  I was enjoying the conversation, but not ecstatically, so when suddenly a thought manifested, 'This is fun!' it surprised and slightly alarmed me.  It was the suddenness of the thought that shocked - it was in my own voice - but the thought seemed to have come from nowhere, in the middle of an ordinary conversation.  It was not my usual pattern of thinking. 

And obviously when I was psychotic, my thoughts were so disturbed that very little of my thinking was normal.  I do occasionally wonder whether this was a separate phenomenon, because I was mentally ill, or whether all my thinking is 'wrong' but I somehow manage to function most of the time despite that fact.  I don't suppose I will ever know, or that it matters much, as long as I stay sane.

Well, having read the above article, it is obvious that all sorts of thinking patterns are normal - in that quite sizeable chunks of the population hear external voices, others have internal voices and so on, and that there are many different ways in which people organise their thoughts, or their subconscious organises the thoughts for them. 

A lot of the time my mind is busy, but I don't always pay attention to my thoughts.  This was especially the case when I was at school - my mind used to drift off all over the place, and I often found it hard to concentrate in class because I would drift off into daydreams.  I take more notice of my thoughts nowadays, because often a random thought will give me an idea for a story, or a blog post, and I so I like to catch those ideas (often I note them down on my phone).

I wonder how many others who have, or have had, thought disorders (my new term of choice for 'schizophrenia') were very shy, or suffered social anxiety when they were young.  I used to find it extremely hard - almost impossible - to verbalise my thoughts.  This was especially so in social situations - I can remember as a teenager sitting at the pub with my boyfriend and his friends, longing to join in the conversation and knowing just the right thing to say but finding it impossible to speak out.  I was paralysed by fear. 

I also remember when I was very young - four or five - when adults spoke to me I would just gaze at them, answering in my head but unable to say the words out loud.  I had to speak sometimes, because I was so scared of my father and he insisted that I talk, but I think left to my own devices I would have been an 'selective mute'.  (Selective mutism is a very interesting condition which affects children; they can usually talk to their parents and other children but to literally no other adults - I suspect that, as in my case, it is fear that holds them back.) 

I have gone the opposite way in recent years - I talk rather too much and say things which I think most people would keep quiet about, and unfortunately I don't always express myself terribly clearly.  I think because I didn't learn conversation when I was young I still have a lot of catching up to do.  I am working on improving this, and one day soon I intend to enrol on some sort of speech or conversation programme and sort it all out properly.

Maybe I will wait until I have finished the psychology.  I am really enjoying my psychology course - it is doing me good to learn something new.  We have been learning about memory, and I have discovered that mine is very visual.  In our text book was a list of ten shopping items - the idea was to mentally link the items to a route walked, and remember them that way.  That was on Tuesday and I realised this morning that I can still remember them - eggs in my letterbox, butter in the boat parked in front of a nearby house, biscuits for the dog in the next house along, tomatoes where the road bends around the corner, potatoes in a garden, cheese in the alleyway, pasta in one shop and jam in another, cornflakes in the supermarket at the end of my journey.  I have forgotten just one item, which bugs me - but still!  I will utilise that technique more now I know I can do it so easily.  Not necessarily for shopping lists - I find a pen and paper handy - but maybe for the psychology exam itself!

But I digress.  I was wondering if this is part of the initial problem with sufferers from a thought disorder - that they think too much and can't manage to express these thoughts, so internalise them and then this manifests later as disturbances in thinking.  Which helps to explain why writing is so therapeutic, because it can help a person to organise their thoughts, as well as giving a sense of pride in a created product, and perhaps too, if one is lucky, a career and income.

I have all sorts of theories about mental illness - and I am sure some of my insights could be useful.  The problem is that they remain just theories.  Earlier this week I attended a meeting at the local university - we were talking about speaking to social work and nursing students from a service user perspective.  The member of faculty staff present was worried about giving what he termed unsubstantiated information to students - he seemed to think that it would cloud their judgement.  (I am guessing that he would disapprove of me telling them that I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and yet am well and don't take or need medication, because this is not something he thinks they need to know).

I believe otherwise - that students should be taught how to learn, not what to think.  And judging from my experience at Newcastle, young people are much more discerning that we perhaps give them credit for - surely they should be allowed to access several different types of information and then decide for themselves what is the most effective, or learn it for themselves later on in the workplace?  Also, the advantage of bringing new young people into a system is that they can bring a fresh perspective - and therefore work forwards.  Wouldn't it be great if young people working in the mental health system believed in recovery and therefore could convey a sense of hope?  What could be wrong with that?

Anyway, I must thank 'Tea and Talk' on Twitter, because this is where I found the link to the Oliver Sacks piece above.  'Tea and Talk' is funded by Time to Change and looks like a brilliant initiative - I hope to see more of them in the future.  Here's the link to the twitter feed, from which you can find the website:


  1. Interesting post. I have never experienced "thought disorder" but I have heared voices. Mine were in my head: it was as if my thoughts had acquired a voice. There were two voices actually discussing me and my behaviour: a loud one was putting me down and a small one was piping up in my defence. I found the experience interesting but not frightening. When I thought about it several years later, I thought that it was my conscience talking. I was behaving quite badly at the time and I was at loggerheads with my parents and teachers.

  2. I think you have it exactly right - the voices that people hear are their own inner voices. If more people realised this, they would not panic so much; I think the panic can lead to further symptoms. There really should be more information available about the phenomenon of voice hearing. All the best, Louise x