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Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

Please to Forgive

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Mount Wilson at night

Geometric Visions

One evening as I was walking across a parking lot at the California Institute of Technology, I looked up to see a Yin-Yang symbol in the sky stretching from horizon to horizon. Shimmers of energy radiated from Mt. Wilson to the North. I felt a deep chord resonating through my body, the vibration of the Universe penetrating deep into my bones. I was as tall as giant striding across that parking lot that evening.

At that instant I Knew. I knew my Purpose.

I had been walking to my weekly appointment with my therapist in downtown Pasadena. I hurried on to our meeting, and when I arrived I excitedly explained my revelation to her.

"Mike," she replied, "you're not making any sense".

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

by Betty Edwards

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The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain cover

For a while after I cracked up at Caltech, and every now and then after that, I would see things like Yin-Yang symbols in the clouds. I would see other things too, like the energy waves from Mt. Wilson, which at the time was a powerful symbol for me. Sometimes the Yin-Yang symbols were animated, and would spin. The might be recursive, with smaller Yin-Yangs in each of the spots, and so on ad infinitum. I found that I could see them if I stared into the snow on a television set that wasn't tuned to a station.

After I dropped out of Caltech, I started pursuing various artistic endeavours. I learned to draw from Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and would construct crystalline latticeworks from painted wooden dowels.

Colour Crystal Black Crystal

I started to teach myself to play piano. I had a friend show me a few basic chords, and then I would just bang on the keyboard randomly until something that sounded like music came out. All the pieces I can play now I composed myself through improvisation - I still can't read music. Much later in Santa Cruz I took lessons from a wonderful teacher named Velzoe Brown, and learned to play quite a bit better, but still find interpreting musical notation difficult and tedious.

And I first got into photography in a serious way that Fall at Caltech. A housemate lent me a nice SLR camera, a Canon A-1, and I would walk around campus and Pasadena taking pictures. My sense of sight was vivid in those days and I found that photography came naturally. The expensive Canon could accurately meter a 30-second night exposure, so a great deal of my photos were ghostly shots in the dark. I still enjoy night photography.

Ricketts House at night

I would photograph my hallucinations too. I would try to anyway, only to be disappointed that they didn't turn out when I got the prints back from the developer. However I can see even now where the seeds of my visions lay in the photographs. For example I would commonly see Yin-Yang symbols graphically floating in the sky, but in the photographs now I can see the hint of shapes in the clouds where one could easily imagine a real Yin-Yang.

Yin-Yang in the clouds Yin-Yang in the clouds

Imagining what they see in clouds is a common game among children. But I would take it an extra step, as the shape would take on a stark reality that didn't look like a cloud at all.

Eventually the visions in the sky went away, but for much longer I was bothered by illusions that I would see out of the corner of my eye. Lots of people catch glances of things that aren't really there, that go away when you look straight on. But in my case they were rather more distinct than I think most people experience.

My illusions also are based on real objects. The most common (and bothersome) illusion I have is to see flashing police car lights where a real car has a luggage or ski rack. This would combine with my paranoia to give me the urge to dive into the bushes when such cars would drive by.

Risperdal is effective for me at eliminating the hallucinations. I found it very helpful in bringing me back down to Earth during my graduate school manic episode, but it is expensive and I resented taking it at the time, so I stopped for a few months. I finally decided to go back on Risperdal and take it faithfully one night while dining in a restaurant with a friend, only to be bothered by flashing blue police car lights and billowing red flames out the window to my left. Each time I turned to look, I would see only the headlights of cars driving up the street towards the restaurant.

In many ways I miss the visions. Not the squad car lights, but the many beautiful and inspiring things I saw. While living without visions is certainly more placid, it's not nearly so interesting.

The psychologist who did my intake at Dominican Hospital in 1994 told me that in many more traditional cultures, the schizoaffective people are the shamans. If you wonder why there are no more miracles as in the Biblical days, it's because we lock our prophets up in mental hospitals.

And my purpose? Very simple: my purpose is to unify Art and Science. In high school I had been active in the theater and the chorus, and also enjoyed literature and writing, but stopped all my artistic pursuits at Caltech because I had to study so hard. I felt the need to restore balance to my life, and I felt the need to bring that balance to Caltech itself, where I felt the lack of right-brain stimulation was damaging and depressing to both the students and the faculty.

I don't know why that didn't make sense to my therapist. It made perfect sense to a different therapist I saw a half a year later, just as I was about to get myself in a position to be diagnosed. I don't think it's such a bad thing to want to be a well-rounded person, or to want to restore balance to a society suffering from a fetishistic obsession with technology.

In the end, I don't think it's such a bad thing at all that I changed my major to literature.

Copyright © 2003 Michael David Crawford . All Rights Reserved.

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