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Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

Please to Forgive

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I was Interviewed by CBC Radio Today

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. -- Philip K. Dick

Michael David Crawford
January 28, 2009

Copyright © 2009 Michael David Crawford. All Rights Reserved.

So My Big Secret was that I would be interviewed by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show:

I spent an hour on the phone with host Jonathan Goldstein. It was all very pleasant, and I found Goldstein to be a very thoughtful man.

Some of you came quite close with your guesses.

Wiretap staff member Mira Burt-Wintonick emailed an interview request after she stumbled across my essays about mental illness. I replied with my phone number, then she and I had a wide-ranging conversation about my experiences. I sent her links to some essays that I selected as providing the most complete explanation of my condition.

They were particularly interested in my experience of Solipsism as physical reality, a state of mind which occurred early in the Summer of 1985, when I was the craziest I have ever been. I discuss it in my section on Dissociation in Living with Schizoaffective Disorder.

Solipsism is the philosophical notion that one is the only living being in the entire Universe, with everything else that seems to exist being merely a product of one's own imagination.

Imagine how frightening it would be, to feel that nothing one experiences is real, and how lonely it would be, to know that there is no one else - anywhere.

Inside: While others experience Solipsism too, it must be very rare, And how you can listen, from anywhere in the world, And Wingnuts in Love.


Contents

Purpose

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If I were to ask each of you what your Life's Work was, would you be able to answer? Some might, but I assert most of you would not, or could not get the answer correct.

Now, many of us are software engineers, so you might reasonably say that you're Life's Work is to write code, to ship products, to build successful companies, and to serve the needs of your users - but I assert, for all but a very few of you, you would be wrong.

For all but a very few of us software engineers, to write code is just our day job, a way to get by just as pumping espresso is the way artists and musicians get by while they pursure their Life's Work.

I'll make an even bolder assertion: despite what any of you may think of him personally, without a doubt you will agree Richard Stallman is one of the most Masterful Coders ever to have walked the Earth. But I assert: writing software is not Stallman's Life's Work. I don't even have to ask him; I know because it is plainly apparent to me what his Life's Work is.

I ask you now to spend some time, silently pondering just what I might trying to get at here, as well as to figure out just what your Life's Work could possibly be, if it's not your career.

I know what my Life's Work is, yet paradoxically, I carried out this work for many years, diligently, patiently and carefully - and, after having served my apprenticeship - expertly, long before I could say - not just to any of you, and not just to any of my meatspace friends and family - not even to myself just what my Life's Work even was!

Yet somehow the knowledge of what my Life's Work was lay inside me somewhere, beyond the grasp of my conscious mind, yet directing my Work from within my subconscious.

It is only now, having finally lured that Knowledge out into the open, that I can look back upon so much of my life and see so much of it having been occupied with that Work.

Got an answer for me yet? No worries - take all the time you need; it matters very much that your answer is correct, not because of what any of you might tell me, but so that your whole life won't go to waste:

I know many people, not just the mentally ill, but many who are considered completely healthy and might even think they are happy, who lead completely pointless lives. They don't even lead the lives of simple joy that my wife advocates below: they just mark time, doing what they are told or what is expected of them, until their tick of the clock is used up and they are gone.

You see, none of us have the choice not to pursue our Life's Work. But if we don't know what our Life's Work might be, there are many Masters who will gladly hire the lot of us to spend our Lives Working for Them.

To serve The Corporation perhaps? To spend our days toiling at the production of It's wares, and our nights in the mindless consumption of those wares?

To serve the State perhaps? As fodder for Its cannons? To pay the tax it demands to cover Its expenses? To bear the children who tomorrow will repay the debts incurred today for Its needless wars?

I have the sense that the best you could ever hope for is that your Life's Work will find you, not the other way round. I know that was the case for me, and many others I know - Stallman for example.

But that's a good thing!

I will explain in a moment just how our Life's Work might - if we are so fortunate - find us. But there is a way to better your chances:

If you live your life as if it really meant something, despite not knowing what that something might be, your Life's Work will hunt you down relentlessly, making a home for itself in the deepest recesses of your mind as my Work did in my mind.

You will then begin to carry out that Work; only much later, after many Successful, Completed Projects, will you found out what that Work actually is.

Lessons

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While many rightly claim that most of my queue submissions are just diaries, I can rightly claim that all my very best Front Page stories were just diaries. What is Living with Schizoaffective Disorder but a fifty page diary?

What makes the difference is not whether a story is a diary, but whether it offers something to the reader to take away with him, a valuable lesson learned by the Kuron whose diary it very well is, but a lesson that can be readily applied by most if not all its readers to their own lives.

My hope is to achieve that goal with this piece by giving you several valuable lessons. But if I am not able to so teach you, and fall short of my goal, I readily invite you to Vote To Dump.

I'll be sad, yes - disappointed, yes - but then it will be I who has the lesson to learn.

Listen

[top]

We weren't live, we were being taped. Our tape will be edited down to six minutes or so for broadcast.

It's going to be a couple weeks or so before the broadcast, but you can be sure that once I found out when I'll appear, not just every Kuron but just about every Man, Woman and Child I have ever met is going to know about it, as well as how to tune in, wherever they may be.

Wiretap is broadcast in Canada Sundays and Wednesdays on CBC Radio One, and in the United States on Public Radio International. But if there won't be a broadcast where you live you might be able to listen over the Internet with RealPlayer. However, they don't provide Internet archives of every show, so I won't know until later whether my interview will be avialable online.

VLC Media Player can play Real Audio streams as well, however in my testing this evening I found that while version 0.8.5 for Intel Macs played Wiretap's stream just fine, 0.9.8a, the current version, crashed every time I tried it. I'm getting ready to file a detailed bug report to help the VLC developers fix it, but it's unlikely that the fix will be released anytime soon.

If you want to use VLC, download an old version from their FTP site, then test it with one of Wiretap's archived shows.

And yeah, I do hear you: just use Ogg Frog. Real Soon Now.

Selections

[top]

Here is the list of essays that I emailed to Mira, in addition to her having already read Living with Schizoaffective Disorder:

My Deepest Fear and Is There a Cause for Which You Would Give Your Life discuss some of my experiences of that Summer.

I have many more essays on mental illness; I chose these particular ones to give the most concise yet complete coverage of my condition and experiences.

Salvation

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I explained in the interview, as I explained in my essay, how I was able to overcome this experience and make the World seem real again. But as I said, I still haven't found a way to actually disprove Solipsism; I read once that it had been disproven, but I never have been able to find out how. The best I can hope for is just to feel confident that it's wrong, without ever really knowing for sure.

What I was able to find, there in the Intensive Care Unit at the Alhambra Community Psychiatric Center, was that I felt confident in the reality of things that I touched. I didn't feel that way about things that I just saw or heard.

Once I realized that, I went about the unit touching everything I could. I kept that up for many years afterwards, for example habitually rapping my knuckles on every lamppost and street sign pole I would pass as I walked down the street.

The sensation of touch is still quite important to me - I still buy clothes based on what they feel like, without any regard for what they look like. That was why Bonita used to shop for all my clothes for me when we were together - I would otherwise be wearing hopelessly mismatched outfits.

But as I said, the best I can hope for is to have the feeling that you are all really there; I cannot ever know for sure, and in fact both phone calls - my interview today and the background discussion yesterday - brought back some of the same feelings of fear that I experienced that Summer.

Love in the Time of Delusion

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Enigma was not the first Mad Woman that I ever courted in a psych ward: there was a beautiful young Hispanic woman there in the Intensive Care Unit who fell in love with me, and I with her. Mad as a Hatter, yes - she kept shutting off the TV to prevent the Live Aid benefit concert from infecting us all with Live AIDS through the screen - but very loving, passionate and affectionate too. I found her attentions very comforting in what was otherwise an awful time.

Some of the nurses didn't approve and tried to separate us, but the others felt our Mad Love was wonderfully romantic, and would watch over us approvingly, sometimes even helping us to meet after I left her behind in the ICU.

When I was out and she was in, we would meet on either side of her bedroom window and talk through the glass. Upon parting we would each kiss, but with our lips separated by the window pane.

(I once got to kiss her through a chain link fence! Ah, the memory of her sweet lips is with me yet...)

It devastated me to lose touch with her after our discharge; she gave me the number where she would be staying, but each time I called her grandmother denied knowing who she was. Brokenhearted, I eventually gave up.

But after several years, when I was a student at UC Santa Cruz, I tried her number one last time, out of desperate hope - and she answered! Soon after I drove to Southern California to see her again. I was so excited! But it was not to be; our lives had taken such different paths in the years since our discharge that we failed to connect emotionally at all.

I never saw her again - but still I remember her with much fondness, as one of the Great Loves of my life - and a great comfort to me in my time of trouble.

I'll tease you with the knowledge that Enigma wasn't even my second Nuthouse Romance - she was the third. But my second is a tale for another day.

He and I

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Loosely speaking, Dissociation is a disconnect between one's identity and one's experiences.

Dissociation in itself is a very common symptom. It can occur with widely different severities; some kinds of the simple daydreaming that anyone can experience are considered Dissociation.

The very worst kind of Dissociation is Dissociative Identity Disorder, which used to be known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Those who experience it switch between completely different identities, with completely different personalities, often even with different names. Despite every personality being that of the same physical person, they can be completely unaware of each other.

I experienced another kind that's not so severe as that - but a kind that murder suspects sometimes say they experienced when they committed their crimes, when they attempt the insanity defense:

It started when I was on my way to get arrested for assault in June of '85, and continuing through my two weeks in jail then a couple weeks into my month-long stay at the Alhambra CPC.

I had the feeling that I was merely a passive observer of someone else's life, and not my own. My observation was from the point of view of the fellow whose life it really was - but it was his life, and not mine.

The fact that both this fellow and I were named "Mike" was just a coincidence, and not any kind of evidence that He was really Me.

The experience was much like watching a movie with a wraparound screen and particularly high-fidelity audio. But being a movie that I only watched and did not act in myself, I didn't have the sense that any of what I saw or heard actually had anything to do with me.

One would think that this whole experience would have been frightening, what with all the awful things that were happening to me, such as being strangled unconscious, arrested, being admitted to the mental hospital that's part of the LA County Jail, going to court, then set free only on the condition that I commit myself, and being admitted to the Alhambra CPC - as well as the awful wreck I had just made of my education, my career, my whole life.

Horribly frightening, yes, it should have been, but you see, because all this was happening to someone else, I took it all in stride, calmly, and was unable even to get worked up about it.

I don't know what made the difference, but towards the end of my stay in the hospital, the things I saw and heard returned to happening to Me and not Him. Over the years my illness has led me through some other ghastly experiences, but never again did I have that same kind of disconnection.

We Who Are Alone

[top]

I published my first Web page about my mental illness in the Spring of 1997, and Living with Schizoaffective Disorder in the Spring of 2003.

Over the years I have received thousands of emails from those who read my essays. Often someone newly diagnosed will turn to the Internet to learn about their condition, and find my writing in the search engines. Also common is for their friends and family to read it. Now and then someone recognizes themselves in what I write and seeks treatment as a result.

Quite a few times mental health professionals told me I enabled them to understand their patients in ways that none of their education or experience ever could.

And there have been some emails - all of them particularly grateful - from other Solipsists.

Want to know how many?

Four.

Just four in the six years since I published Living with Schizoaffective Disorder - but they were all very excited to have found someone else who knew their experience.

Because, you see, reading my essay was the first time any of them were ever able to know that they weren't all alone in being All Alone.

Somehow they found the knowledge that I too had been All Alone reassuring in a way that nothing else ever could.

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