Saturday, September 18, 2010

All in the Mind - Schizophrenia: Personal confrontations and a philosophical investigation

I just finished listening to this podcast - it's rare to hear someone be so clear about their experience with schizophrenia at such a young age - he is one of the lucky few for whom the meds work very well. For many more, it's a constant battle with the voices and to find the right meds or combination of meds to make the person as functional as possible.

One of my classmates has a son with schizophrenia and it's heartbreaking sometimes to hear his pain (and anger) in having a son who, on most days, is nothing like the young man he had raised. As much as it sucks for the person with the disease, and I'm sure it REALLY sucks, it's also horrible for the family and friends who see the person they know and love walking around in the world, but as often as not, the consciousness/psyche/soul of that person is no longer there.

First up, the Friday blog post for this podcast, via Natasha Mitchell's All in the Mind blog:

The sea of daggers - A philosophical & personal interrogation of psychosis

Fearne-Photo-1bPaul Fearne has done a brave thing.

He's taken a diary he wrote years ago as an undergrad student in the thick of his first psychotic experience, and published it as Diary of a Schizophrenic (chipmunkapublishing, 2010).

Going public with something so intimate is brave enough, but publishing anything from those anxiety-tinged years of early adult life is perhaps braver still (nothing I wrote then will ever see the light of day, and that's a promise!).

But this was no average young guy, as you'll read in his diary:

"How can I continue with a life that is so dead in feelings? My emotional intensity was the well-spring from which my life drew its meaning, and now that it is gone I can do nothing but mourn its passing. There is such a large part of me which is gone that I sometimes feel that I will never recover.

There have been a number of defining moments in my life, but the day I lost my emotions is perhaps the day I will regret the most. How can this happen to one so young and so full of life? I thought such tragedy was only written about by the Greeks, not lived in this modern era. The ability to write poetry was one of the sweet joys of life that gave hope to a sometimes troubled existence. But it was those troubles which gave life its edge and vitality. To enjoy a sunset after the tumult of everyday living is a joy I guess I will rarely live again.

I remember once watching a documentary on one of the great musicians. It described how in the later parts of his life the creative fire began to die within his bosom. I remember it clearly because it was about the same time I was set upon by my troubles. It seems that those of us who burn the brightest are the same ones who die the coldest deaths. To know the exhilaration of heightened thought and then to watch it slowly slip away is something almost unbearable. I think I know how the supernova star feels".

Paul has decided to put himself out there with the diary of his much younger self because it might give an insight into the nature of the psychotic mind, or at least one experience of it. As you'll hear in the show, Paul experienced complex delusions in which he felt his mind was exposed to the world, the cat, the elements, light and sound. However, he didn't experience the auditory hallucinatations or voices in the head that many do. Everyone's experience of schizophrenia is their own - perhaps this is often forgotten in the quest to pin down a universal diagnosis.

The diary isn't always easy reading, partly because it describes a young man in a state of profound and painful confusion, but also because it's very repetitive - that's the nature of the delusional state, it gets well rehearsed. The same anxieties reveal themselves over and over again, about the fragmentation of his mind, and about all the things that we're all preoccupied with at that time of our and identity, and as a student...essays, deadlines and academic performance.

What makes Paul Fearne's diary unique though is that, during his first psychosis, he was also reading many of the great classics of literature, which shaped his interpretations of what was going on inside his head at the time in interesting ways.

All this was before he was given a diagnosis and understood what it meant. With the right support and treatment he went on to complete his honours, a masters in the philosophy of aesthetics and beauty, get married, and have a child. He's been very fortunate. Talent combined with love and acceptance can take all of us a long way in the face of adversity.

His next brave move was to interrogate his illness for a PhD in Philosophy, which he finished this year, and we'll talk about that briefly too on this week's show.

Tune in on-air or over on the All in the Mind website.

And here, as promised is some extra audio of my interview with Dr Paul Fearne:






And here's a recording of the presentation he gave at his book launch at the Melbourne Writers' Festival this month. His is a story which he hopes will inspire others with schizophrenia about the possibilities for their own lives.



Thanks to Paul Penton for assisting with this recording.

Over to you.

And, now, this week's podcast from All in the Mind and Natasha Mitchell.

Schizophrenia: Personal confrontations and a philosophical investigation

Philosopher, poet and writer Dr Paul Fearne had his first psychotic episode as a young university student, and continues to take medication. 'To live is to take a leap into a sea of daggers, each one stabbing the fabric of your being,' he wrote in his diary at the time, now published. From Freud to Wittgenstein, his experience inspired a unique PhD investigation into the philosophical questions posed by schizophrenia.

Show Transcript


Dr Paul Fearne
Philosopher, poet

Further Information

All in the Mind blog with Natasha Mitchell
You can comment on the program above (Add Your Comment), or over on Natasha's blog too.

2010 Melbourne Writers' Festival

Reclaiming imagination: art, psychosis and the creative mind
Broadcast on All in the Mind, ABC Radio National, 2006

Fragmented minds (Part 1 of 2), broadcast in 2006, ABC Radio National

Fragmented minds (Part 2 of 2) - broadcast ABC Radio National, 2006


Title: Diary of a Schizophrenic
Author: Paule Fearne
Publisher: Chipmunkapublishing: A Mental Health Publisher, 2010

Title: A Philosophical Response to the Questions Posed by Schizophrenia
Author: Paul Fearne
Publisher: PhD Thesis, LaTrobe University, 2010

Title: Neurosis and Psychosis
Author: Sigmund Freud (in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans James Strachey))
Publisher: The Hogarth Press, London, 1960

Title: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Author: Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari (transl Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, Helen R Lane)
Publisher: Continuum, London, 1983

Title: Being and Time
Author: Martin Heidegger (trans. John Macquarie and Edward Robinson)
Publisher: Blackwell, Oxford, 1993

Title: General Psychopathology
Author: Karl Jaspers (trans. J. Hoenig and Marian W. Hamilton)
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1963

Title: Philosophical Investigations
Author: Ludwig Wittgenstein (trans. G.E.M Anscombe)
Publisher: Blackwell, Oxford, 1953

Title: To Speak is Never Neutral
Author: Luce Irigaray (trans. Gail Schwab)
Publisher: Continuum, London, 2002


Natasha Mitchell

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