Farrah, my recurring puppy hallucination, often appears when I’m in distress.
While I don’t qualify as something like schizoaffective, which is different anyway, the state of my emotions and the state of my psychosis usually line up in some way. Negative moods lead to more obvious psychotic symptoms than positive ones.
If Farrah appears without me being in distress, I frequently wonder if, subconsciously, I am. Sometimes the answer was yes all along. Sometimes I’m now so worried about finding the (perhaps nonexistent) source of the problem, or about the psychosis itself, that, in any case, I’m upset now. Sometimes, I accept the hallucination as random.
Still, I have often wondered, Why Farrah? She is my only specific recurring hallucination that I don’t understand the source of. The ones that are basically PTSD flashbacks gone wild—make sense. But why the dog?
Recently, feeling stressed and with no such appearance from Farrah, I realized that I kind of missed her, would have liked her there. Even if we want to label all psychosis as bad, she’s a free, ethical forever puppy that can’t really eat or poop, and who doesn’t want that?
I wondered if Farrah was a psychotic/automatic self soothing technique. I can’t control it, but maybe some dysfunctional chemicals somewhere in my brain are saying, “Hey; calm down. Here’s a puppy.” Or, Here’s some free dopamine.
I’d much rather the dog than the ringing phone that I heard most of that day, at least.
I had to think about other psychotic symptoms as forms of self soothing.
Dissociation is not usually defined as psychosis by itself, but I feel like it’s a key part of my psychosis experience, so to speak. My early psychotic episodes frequently involved dissociation that manifested as akinetic catatonia. Dissociation very commonly has origins in maladapted self soothing, mentally separating yourself from an upsetting or traumatic situation. Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) especially frequently has roots in traumatic stress early in life.
Dissociating was something I did frequently before I showed definitive signs of psychosis, mostly in the form of intense daydreams. Maladaptive daydreaming is also not technically seen as a form of psychosis (and is not widely recognized) due to the separation that remains between fantasy and reality—but my lines there do get very blurry due to other psychosis symptoms.
In any case, these daydreams take over my head somewhat beyond my control when something in me wants to escape. They’re certainly addictive and can be a disabling distraction, but also feel crucial for me as a fiction writer who escapes to my stories’ worlds.
One of the first symptoms my parents reported to mental health professionals was my tendency to spend multiple hours per day swinging on the swingset in our backyard, listening to a song on repeat with headphones, totally spaced out. Daydreaming. How upset I got when this was not possible for one reason or another. This has followed me throughout my life.
Even last summer, before my wife and I got a swingset in our new backyard, I walked to the park and back daily, sometimes multiple trips per day, to spend hours on the swings, with a song on repeat and my daydreams. It was about a mile walk each way and the temperature regularly approached 120*F. I was not deterred.
Some daydreams, the type I have on my office floor in dissociative states, tend to be cathartic wallowing on a character’s behalf. They don’t echo the situation I’m upset about exactly, but branch out from the specific core feeling I’m having. They won’t echo just sad nor exactly there is a pandemic and I can’t see my friends, but maybe lonely. Sometimes these daydreams allow me to cry or fully experience emotions that I hadn’t been able to release or wallow in initially.
I experience other types of dissociation, too. Some distressing. But frequently, there’s the blank dissociation where my mind seems to go nowhere or into the void or however one might phrase it. This might be the anywhere is better than here dissociation, where the daydreams are not coming (yet, anymore, or period) but I’m sure not ready to go back to reality.
Other symptoms—delusion. Now, delusion in the colloquial sense is very often a form of self soothing, especially in the form of denial, which is also a stage of grief. But some delusions are distressing, especially the paranoid kind, and while that is true for me, others can, in a backwards way, be comforting.
Reality breaks for me easily. The feeling some people get from watching things like The Matrix or Inception, times ten, is easy to induce in me. And when it happens, my brain needs an explanation, fast. There is no time for logic—that something was fiction, a joke, a lie, a coincidence—and so my brain grasps at straws to explain the thing away. While false and sometimes overly convoluted, the delusion fills that need—creating a “logical” if sometimes distressing reality—until the real world can set back in.
Psychosis and other symptom sets are often not just a dysfunctional coping mechanism—and some of these automatic self soothing techniques only attempt to solve the problem another symptom created. But it’s still interesting to look at some incidents of symptoms in that light.