Today I heard two very different perspectives on mental health. One, from someone who lives with positive symptoms of schizophrenia and is quite happy with them. The other, who has never been through the mental health system and has very much an ‘outsider’ viewpoint.
The person who has schizophrenia told me about how they hallucinate and see vivid colours and absolutely enjoy the experience. They’ve been living with these symptoms for a long time, and believe them to be a spiritual gift. They take medications, which do not take away these symptoms but help them to remain stable. They have embraced their illness.
The other person has only ever heard about or observed mental illness. I believe that much of their understanding of different conditions is based off sensationalism in the media (i.e. a little too much Criminal Minds). They are writing a story about someone who is obsessed with a television star and believes they can communicate with them, which ultimately drives them to start killing people who look like this actress. The condition is known as erotomania and is very much an aspect of psychosis, or at least, it was for me. Erotomania isn’t about murder. Or is it?
I’ve experienced very intense erotomania as part of psychosis. But note an important distinction: I’ve never had the desire to kill someone or harm them at all. This is something that people tend to get confused about with mental illness. People with schizophrenia are statistically LESS likely to engage in violent acts. They are MORE likely to be victims of crimes. There are plenty of people, like me, who experience erotomania and don’t feel compelled to become violent. It’s a real condition and while it might be frightening or disturbing, it doesn’t mean the people who have it are dangerous.
I suspect that the person who is writing a story has only ever read about erotomania on Wikipedia or seen portrayals of it in the news. Their concept of erotomania is based of infamous murderers like Mark David Chapman. In reality, there are real-life people who are walking around experiencing symptoms of erotomania and this writer has no clue whatsoever. It might just look like a very intense, possibly cute crush. Did I mention I love Conan?
Here’s what it’s like from MY point of view:
I first saw Conan when he came to Canada for a week and appeared on Much Music. I was twelve years old. I remember being mesmerized. He was so charming and handsome and witty with this outrageous personality and natural charisma. I had never seen anyone like that. After his appearance there, I watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien somewhat faithfully. It became my favourite show to watch when I wanted to be cheered up, because he always did the trick.
I remember feeling nauseous one night, and turning on the television to watch Conan. He made me laugh so hard that I vomited. Immediately afterward, I felt better. I remember thinking, “Gee, I wish he was my dad.”
Believe me when I say – I am fully grossed out by the fact that I have a crush on a man I used to wish was my father. I see the grossness there. I’m not even gonna get into the fact that I openly dated someone twice my age for three years (I was 19, he was 39.)
My little crush on Conan got heavier when I became sick, at age eighteen. I started to develop delusions. I began to think Conan knew who I was. That he had hired people to follow me around with his blimp, which I actually hallucinated and saw following me. I thought that every little gesture he did on the show was actually a coded message for me. I thought I could communicate with him telepathically. I thought he was in love with me, and I was in love with him.
Needless to say, it didn’t end well. But it didn’t end in murder, either. I ended up receiving therapy and medication, which is what the majority of people who experience erotomania receive. As my meds kicked in, I gradually stopped being able to “understand” Conan’s secret messages. After a few months, it seemed as if he had stopped trying to “talk” to me altogether. Like he lost interest. Years later, I realized that he was never trying to communicate with me at all. He doesn’t even know who I am.
It sounds scary, I know. It might even sound funny. You know what’s scary and funny? One of the questions my nurse will ask me to see if I’ve relapsed is, “How often are you thinking about Conan?” Through therapy, I was strongly discouraged from thinking about Conan, daydreaming about Conan, watching his show, or checking his Twitter feed and DEFINITELY from trying to send him messages. It took a long time for the real message to sink in. For me to accept that even though I loved Conan, he really did not love me back. And never will.
The moments where I would have clarity and realize, if only for a few minutes, that he really doesn’t know who I am…they were heartbreaking. I felt very real emotional turmoil, to the point where I would cry my eyes out. You have to understand, it felt like I was in a relationship with him. Even though we had never “officially” spoken.
I did absurd things to cope with my obsession with Conan. I would openly flaunt it, bragging about how much I loved him and how he was the greatest. I would literally make it a goal of mine to bring up Conan at least twice during conversations. I did stand up comedy and devoted my entire set to how much I love Conan. I made t-shirts with his friggin’ face on them and wore them everywhere. I lost track of how many tweets I wrote, hoping that somehow Conan would see them and know that I was sending him coded messages. When I was first hospitalized, I remember telling myself it was okay because it was just a matter of moments until Conan and his crew broke in and saved me.
I guess, on second thought, I can see how people like the writer I was talking about would make a leap from erotomania to murder. I mean, it sounds scary. Imagine being in the celebrity’s position, with some stranger who is psychotic and thinks they’re in a relationship with you. I bet that’s really scary and uncomfortable. I mean, when I thought Conan was in love with me, I was freaked out too. I thought he was hiring people to follow me. I was paranoid. I feared for my life.
The last thing I would have ever done, would be to travel to a different country and try to harm the person I had these feelings for. I’d be much more likely to break down crying and refuse to function, then get myself locked up in a hospital for a month and heavily drugged and provided with intense therapy. Which is what happened.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is that my friend with schizophrenia, who sees hallucinations….he’s kind of an inspiration. He taught me a lesson today. That I can learn to love my illness and recognize it for what it is. An illness. It’s not a personality flaw. It’s a medical condition that I’ve learned to deal with without ever harming anyone.
So yeah, I love Conan. And yeah, the truth is, he doesn’t love me back. And that’s okay.