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Friday, November 25, 2011

There is no point, they say, in trying to explain the psychological significance of someone’s belief that the C.I.A. is spying through the TV; it has no basis, other than psychosis.

Finding Purpose After Living With Delusion

Meaning in Madness: Milton Greek, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, believes that decoding the messages in delusions can help some people recover.

ATHENS, Ohio — She was gone for good, and no amount of meditation could resolve the grief, even out here in the deep quiet of the woods.

Lives Restored

Listening to Schizophrenia
This is the fourth article in a series of profiles about people who are functioning normally despite severe mental illness and have chosen to speak out about their struggles.
Damon Winter/The New York Times
"When I began to see the delusions in the context of things that were happening in my real life, they finally made some sense," Milt Greek said. "And understanding the story of my psychosis helped me see what I needed to stay well."
Milt Greek pushed to his feet. It was Mother's Day 2006, not long after his mother's funeral, and he headed back home knowing that he needed help. A change in the medication for his schizophrenia, for sure. A change in focus, too; time with his family, to forget himself.
And, oh yes, he had to act on an urge expressed in his psychoticdelusions: to save the world.
So after cleaning the yard around his house — a big job, a gift to his wife — in the coming days he sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, supporting a noise-pollution ordinance.
Small things, maybe, but Mr. Greek has learned to live with his diagnosis in part by understanding and acting on its underlying messages, and along the way has built something exceptional: a full life, complete with a family and a career.
He is one of a small number of successful people with a severe psychiatric diagnosis who have chosen to tell their story publicly. In doing so, they are contributing to a deeper understanding of mental illness — and setting an example that can help others recover.
"I started feeling better, stronger, the next day," said Mr. Greek, 49, a computer programmer who for years, before receiving medical treatment, had delusions of meeting God and Jesus.
"I have such anxiety if I'm not organizing or doing some good work. I don't feel right," he said. "That's what the psychosis has given me, and I consider it to be a gift."
Doctors generally consider the delusional beliefs of schizophrenia to be just that — delusional — and any attempt to indulge them to be an exercise in reckless collusion that could make matters worse. There is no point, they say, in trying to explain the psychological significance of someone's belief that the C.I.A. is spying through the TV; it has no basis, other than psychosis.
Yet people who have had such experiences often disagree, arguing that delusions have their origin not solely in the illness, but also in fears, longings and psychological wounds that, once understood, can help people sustain recovery after they receive treatment.
Now, these psychiatric veterans are coming together in increasing numbers, at meetings and conferences, and they are writing up their own case histories, developing their own theories of psychosis, with the benefit of far more data than they have ever had before: one another's stories.
"It's a thrilling time, because people with lived experience are beginning to collaborate in large numbers," said Gail A. Hornstein, a psychologist at Mount Holyoke College and author of "Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness." "They are developing their own theories, their own language about what their experiences means from the inside."
Mr. Greek is one of the most exceptional, having built a successful life and career despite having schizophrenia — and, he says, because of it. He manages the disorder with medication, personal routines, and by minding the messages in his own strange delusions.
"Schizophrenia is the best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "I know a lot of people with the diagnosis don't feel that way, but the experience changed me, for the better. I was so arrogant, so narcissistic, so self-involved, and it humbled me. It gave me a purpose, and that purpose has been very much a part of my recovery."
The Village Eccentric
Like many idealistic undergraduates, Mr. Greek arrived at Ohio University in Athens on a mission. Only, like many undergrads, he wasn't completely sure what it was.
"To discover a psychological code that people should live by, to create world peace," he said. "Something like that."
The town was ready to listen, regardless. It was the fall of 1981, and Athens still had one sandal planted in the 1960s; communes thrived in the Appalachian foothills to the north, and big ideas were in the air, at least in the streets and bars near campus, where professors and students gathered.

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