Here is the story of a kind, intelligent yet troubled man. This is a slight detour from my other work – but is an important insight in to the minds of our severely unwell, as well as a gentle reminder of what we should be grateful for. I want to emphasise the positivity and unprecedented bravery that Mike shows every day, and how we could all take a leaf from his book.
I met Mike a couple of days ago, outside Café Nero in central London. I was bored, waiting for an appointment. A sturdy man in his early 30s came and sat next to me, and instantly began to tell me of his background, that he was of Brazilian heritage but had grown up in London after being kidnapped by a Nigerian leader of the Secret Services.
We discussed where we lived, him mentioning that he lived on benefits because of ‘you know, that illness, you know??’ I confirmed that I did.
Mike is a paranoid schizophrenic, and has a whole archive of embellished conspiracy theories.
Throughout our conversation, we had developed a sense of trust between us: I was interested in his life, and he was happy to have someone listen. However, I was soon lost in confusion. He would repeat what doctors had told him – that the voices aren’t real, the conspiracies aren’t real, and that he’s ill. He seemed to believe this and accept that he was unwell, and yet, in the same sentence he would deny it all.
Having two sets of beliefs, and two worlds with different people – I feel that this was the true meaning of having two identities. Not the media’s gross misrepresentation of Schizophrenia. I wanted to learn more.
I explained how I had once suffered from very mild psychosis, as a symptom of my, then, severe Bi Polar disorder. I told him how, if anything, uncomfortable I felt in my own head. I described my experience of it as having a thought and then before I could finish that thought, a new one would arrive. This would continue, as each thought multiplied, in to what I could only describe as a ‘brain storm’ – Mike seemed almost elated that I had been able to relate, if only on a very basic level.
He then eagerly continued his story of how his psychosis began with the very same thing, but quickly escalated into much more severe symptoms. It all began in his 20s. The thoughts turned in to voices, which then became external voices to him. He always talked back to them and said he knew they were real. I asked if he could identify with his voice in his head, or did he talk using his mouth as he couldn’t distinguish his identity in the mist of all the others. Mike replied with ‘I have no inner voice of my own’.
He then began to tell me about his elaborate beliefs on the world being controlled by beings from other planets, and even how every British person died in 1989 – replaced by cloned Czechoslovakians. Mike spoke non-stop for 20 minutes, having barely touched the surface. He spoke with such ease about it, in great detail, and at a high speed. I was finding it difficult to follow. So I asked if he believed what the doctors told him. He answered with what the voices (by now I realised these were aliens from Mars and Venus) had told him –
‘In 1983 a machine was created on test subjects who were injected with a substance to try and stop them from being special. Doctor’s emitted Gamma rays continuously towards that person to convince them that the voices they heard weren’t real. And then the voices, in my head, will reply and tell me how the doctor’s are working for the CIA and don’t want people to the uncover truth, right?’
It was clear to me that he couldn’t remember his life before his 20’s, before he became ill. His mind had created it’s own backstory. And yet, he knew and described himself as becoming severely schizophrenic at this time in his life. He pointed out to me that ‘[I] believe the doctors, but I need to have respect for what I know, for what I’m told – they are my superiors, and I need to respect that, you know?’
I understood his predicament. Being stuck between two worlds, and told opposing things from each side. The voices were clearly succeeding more however, as his life before his illness was completely erased, replaced only with more elaborate tales. I had become sucked in: his conviction and his own sense of belief were a powerful key for me to be able to have a glimpse of Mike’s own, very different, world.
Although saddened that it seemed Mike may never be able to have a grasp on ‘reality’, I oddly respected him for his utter conviction; the attention to detail that his mind had supplied for every question he endeavoured to ask his own self. He had put my life in to perspective for me, and selfishly, I felt relieved for my health.
What I found remarkable about Mike was his happy nature and all-round positivity – something we could all be a bit more like. We shook hands as I got up to leave – him, gracious that he had been able to talk to someone who wasn’t a doctor, and I, gracious that he had let me glimpse into his carefully formulated life.