Essay, Reflections

A Schizophrenic’s Guide to Navigating Through “Alternative Facts”

NOTE (TRIGGER WARNING): this post is intended as satire, for those unsure how to react, but like most satire, it is firmly founded on kernels of truth…  I only mention this because I know that many who follow this blog (whether they read its content regularly or not) are, or have in the past, dealt intimately with mental illness.  I am NOT mocking you, or your struggles; rather I am mocking a world where such “illness” has become the “norm” now…

You know, given the state of the world these days, I’ve discovered that many of my past ramblings have taken on new context.  I mean, “What is Real?” after all?  Are there still baseline, foundational “facts” to support a shared reality?  Are we still living in a consensually constructed world with recognizable, even “provable” laws existing independently of (or in spite of) individuals’ preferences?

I keep hearing the musical intro from Rod Sterling’s (or is it Serling now?) Twilight Zone running through my head, as every day brings new disillusionment to light.  What with the White House and their followers’ reliance upon “alternative facts” to explain away their disappointments, and the current onslaught of diametrically opposed “fake news” stories, coupled with a rousing call for “fact checking” everyone and everything (still with no agreements, by the way), it would appear that “reality” has become quite malleable and personal.  And no two versions of it are quite the same…

So…  Acknowledging this state of uncertainty as the new “norm,” I’ve decided to offer you all the “wisdom” of my experience as a functional schizophrenic in a formerly consensus based reality.  My qualifications are easy to fact check (if you know where to look), as I was diagnosed a “paranoid” schizophrenic some 37 years ago or so, and have been living side-by-side with “sane” people in society (whether they knew it or not) for all that time, institution and medication free for the last 32 years of it or so.

I know what it is to have “weird” experiences, to sense shifts in reality that no one else seems to notice, to feel ungrounded and free flowing in a world that prides itself on its gravity and solid structures.  I understand the sudden panic that threatens when the people around you are discussing something seriously, all in alignment, and everything within you cries out “what the f**k are they talking about?!  Do they honestly believe what they’re saying?!”  I have felt that deep sense of disorientation that occurs when something “not right” happens, or keeps happening, and you can’t help but wonder if you’re dreaming it all…

And yes, I know the pressures of trying to “fit in,” of being the proverbial round peg trying to get comfortable in a square hole (this version more accurately describes my experience than the traditional analogy).  Because I have no trouble pretending to be “normal,” most of the time anyway, but it becomes so uncomfortable over the long run, that I frequently revert to my own ways, just to alleviate the bruising that occurs getting banged around in an irrational, unfriendly reality.  And I certainly know the frustration that happens when you try to convince others of your truth, when they are neither interested in, nor willing to consider, a different perspective.  (There’s a reason schizophrenics get violent, and most often it is borne of this very frustration, and the labels the “norms” impose on us to explain our insistence in defending our point of view; think “paranoia” here.)

So…  Please accept the following guidelines (yes – suggestions, not demands) in the spirit in which they are offered: as an attempt to promote peaceful interactions in a world where no one can agree on the simplest or most basic “facts” defining “reality.”

Guideline #1:  There are no such things as facts…

Let’s be real here, friends.  Facts are, by definition, data that is observed, measured, quantified and verified; in essence they are empirically based truths.  But even someone with the most crude understanding of quantum mechanics (like myself) knows that the mere act of observing anything alters it, even creates it.  Therefore, there logically can be no “true facts,” only biased, expectation-driven observations that amount to little more than opinion.  Accept that, and some of your cognitive dissonance should ease…

Guideline #2:  Don’t argue opinions!

Opinions are based on belief, and belief requires no proof.  Therefore, no proof exists that can alter someone else’s opinion.  It’s simple, really.  Accept that each of us lives in our own version of reality, and that, while some overlap (shared beliefs) are to be expected and exploited, it is neither necessary, nor helpful, to try to force expansion of that overlap; identify the commonalities and focus on those.

Example:  Try commenting on the weather when first engaging someone else, or the color of the sky (“wow, that’s the bluest sky, I think I’ve ever seen!”)  Then watch for reactions.  If the person agrees, feel free to move the conversation forward, in slow, testing steps.  If they look around, confused, or stare at you like you have two heads, wish them a good day and move on; you clearly do not share enough reality overlap to converse!  Feel free to move on at any point in the conversation where your realities begin to substantially diverge; it is the kindest and “sanest” thing you can do.

Guideline #3:  Flexibility and balance are going to prove much more useful to you than strength; work on developing them.

Remember that your reality is yours; own it but don’t bemoan it.  The same is true of everyone else.  To maintain a sense of sanity in a world where no two realities overlap completely, you must be able to dance and dodge effectively.  You can actually learn a lot from listening to Others’ versions, but only if you retain your sense of self.  It’s a balancing act.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: Insistence breeds Conviction which leads to Resistance, the hallmark of Affliction, the spawn of Conflict(tion? – lol!)…  In other words, stubbornness creates unnecessary conflict (see Guidelines #1 and #2)…

Guideline #4: Value is defined by usefulness rather than “right-ness”…

In a world where reality shifts and founders, and consensus leaches away more each day, the very concept of “right” and “wrong” alters.  Keep in mind that these people doing or saying incomprehensible (to you) things are NOT sharing the same reality as you; that very incomprehensibilty tells you that.  Take comfort in that knowledge.  And understand that there is still some value to be had in observing and/or interacting with them.

Because our realities are self-defined, it is easy to trap ourselves, to get stuck in a self-perpetuating loop.  Allowing yourself to be open to other possibilities (available only by interacting with Others), gives you opportunities to devise new pathways and understandings.  These are necessary to grow your reality in new directions.  Unless, of course, you prefer to just keep spinning that hamster wheel of yours…

Guideline #5: The absolutely most important tool in your toolbox is a sense of humor!

Illusion occurs when you are convinced that something is “real” when it isn’t, even for you.  Delusion is what everyone else believes to be true when it doesn’t coincide with your own point of view.  So when someone accuses you of being delusional, it is most likely true (no need to argue about it – see Guideline #2).  But that accusation is all the “proof” you need that they are as delusional as you!

Even two (or more) diagnosed schizophrenics cannot understand each other’s delusions; what we can do is be kind to each other, listen to each other’s point of view, and celebrate the uniqueness of our personal experiences.

Often times, I’ve found, the very best medicine is a good laugh, not in mockery of others, but in a shared understanding of the irony and absurdity of trying to co-exist in a world where we cannot agree on the simplest of observations.  But that truly is the beauty of this existence in the end; so many possibilities to explore, so limited our time to do so.  Thank goodness there are so many Others to explore the paths I cannot travel myself!

That is how we help each other – love and respect.  Nothing else truly matters in the end, as none of it is factually real after all…

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Reflections

“Alternative” Times…

I open my eyes to a blood red sky, and instantly I am wide awake.  “Shit!,” I cry aloud, “a massive storm must be headed our way!”

Dressing quickly, I grab my phone and head for the porch, hoping to capture that vivid prediction in digital form.  Snapping photos, I can’t help but notice, the western sky darkening behind me.  And it is then that it occurs to me, the sun is fading rather than growing before me…

“The sun is setting in the east today?,” I wonder aloud.  “First thing in the morning?!”

‘Tis odd, I admit, even to myself, but in this world of “alternative facts” who am I to question which way time should flow?

Shaking my head to dislodge that sense of disorientation that always plagues these “alternative” events, I head in to make coffee at last.  And I cannot help but ponder the significance of what I have just witnessed…

Two cups later I’m almost convinced I must have imagined the whole thing.  After all, the whole sky is lit now, even if the sun isn’t visible…

So I pick up my phone to do some early morning catch-up, and the camera turns itself on.  Intrigued, I remember the photos I took, so I look in my gallery to see if my digital memory resembles my own imaginings…

Nothing definitive, of course, for that would be too easy.  Still, the progression of the pictures could easily be a sunset in the city.  But they were captured at 6:30 am today…

Hmm…

Am I the only one experiencing the odd, disconnected, irrational sense data of a superimposed “alternate” reality?

Three photos taken this morning, in the order they were taken:

20170221_065410

20170221_065833

20170221_065814

Just weird…

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Conversations

Conversations with the Other: Random…

Me:  Just waiting for the right moment… [smiling]

Other:  But there is no “right” moment…?

Me:  Sure there is!  [giggling]  The right moment is always called “now,” while the moments that are left are called “before” or “later,” or some variation thereof…

Other: [tilting head to the right] ???

Me: Exactly!!  Now…  wait for it…  Soon now…

Other: [starting to giggle]…

Me:  Now!!

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Reflections

“Trust…”

Powerful word; shaky concept.  What does it actually mean to “trust” someone, or some thing?

Trust is a common enough word, bandied about in conversations, essays, politics, and video exposes (read expo-say-s; I can’t find that little carat character anywhere!)…  If we mention to someone that we trust them, they get all warm and fuzzy inside, but if we suggest we don’t, claws and teeth are a more common result.

We are told that relationships must be based on trust to last.  “In God we trust” somehow conveys strength and justice to our cause or country.  Trusted brand names are imbued with some mystical quality that makes them better than any other similar product.  And learning to trust ourselves is the penultimate spiritual goal…  So what are we actually saying here?

Taking on my role as devil’s “ass” (because I’m about to make a lot of assumptions), I’m going to say that most people define “trust” as that belief that the other will take no actions that would knowingly harm us.  We trust our parents to care for us.  We trust our partners to be honest with us.  We trust our neighbors not to steal from us.  And we trust our governments to act in our best interests abroad…

Perhaps, given that, trust might better be defined as naive or gullible…  But we keep trying to believe, don’t we?  We trust that eventually we will find someone who is trustworthy.  And we all believe ourselves to be that person…

Being trustworthy means we can be counted on to “do the right thing,”; it means we are moral people with an ethical code not easily abandoned.  “Yes, yes, you can trust me,” we insist.  “I can keep a secret!…  Now dish the dirt, please.”

“No, of course I would never cheat on you!  And I will always tell you the truth!”

“I didn’t do [that]!  I swear!!”

Well…  You get the point, I assume…

There is a difference, I believe, between morality and integrity: morality is what you publicly profess to be right and wrong, while integrity grows out of what you do when you’re alone.  Take stealing, for example.  Most of us have been raised to believe that taking something that doesn’t belong to us (without permission or paying for it) is wrong; such an act is a crime in both legal and moral senses.  And yet…

And yet, I went looking for silver crucifixes for a customer the other day, only to discover that 19 had been stolen in the last 3 months!!  Nineteen!  Crosses and rosary connectors – stolen?!  Am I the only one to see the irony here?

Or how about a roommate who uses your coffee, in a house where everyone buys their own?  Is that not stealing?  Deny it all you want, but if you take it, because it was there and you “needed” it, without asking for or paying for it, you are stealing!

Integrity, on the other hand, occurs when you’re staring at your roommate or co-worker’s creamer in the fridge, and your cup of black coffee, and the thought occurs to you that they’d never notice…  But you choose to drink your coffee black, because there is no one around to ask for permission…

Morality is an agreed upon set of ideals that allow us to live together in groups, but integrity is what allows us to live with ourselves, even when we’re alone.

And trust is just another word for expectation, one heavily connotated in my favor.  So yes, I trust people.  I trust people to be who they are, to look out for themselves, first and always.  And I am rarely disappointed.  When I say “I trust you not to hurt me,” what I am implying by those words is “so long as it serves you, and doesn’t conflict with what you really want in that moment of decision.”

Am I cynical?  Maybe.  But at least I am honest.  And when I tell you your creamer is safe with me, I actually mean that, because I do have integrity.  Trust me on that!

And when I look you rare few in the eyes, holding back the tear in mine, and say to you with all the earnestness I feel that “I trust you, and I need you to know that,” what I’m really saying is that I value the integrity I sense within you.  And that is the highest praise I can offer you!

And next week on “Lisa Preaches” we will be considering the topic: “Nice Guys Finish Last – True or False?…”  (HINT: if you cannot answer this correctly at this point, I’d ask you to go back and re-read the preceding article, and save me having to write another 800 words on human hypocrisy.  Please and thanks!)

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Reflections

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