Human Mind October 2017
Surfing one day in Carlsbad, I was subconsciously aware that the beach was more or less parallel with the way that the waves were breaking. Then the fog rolled in. Within minutes, my brain was telling me that the surf was on course but at a thirty degree angle to the beach. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake this thought. Logically I knew that the waves had not shifted, but I kept paddling out to the south thinking my waves were pushing me to the north each time I rode one. It was also spooky that I had to listen to the waves more than watch because they would suddenly be there, five feet above me driving hard out of the fog.
Another incident was a result of atmospheric conditions. On the pitch black night of July 16, 1999, John Kennedy Jr. left New Jersey in his Piper airplane. This plane was relatively new to him and therefore less safe. He flew it right into the Atlantic and was killed along with his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren. Though the cause of the crash is unknown, one of the possibilities is that he was using the VFR technique as a guide. This means Visual Field of Reference. The other choice is IFR, Instrument Field of Reference. Here is what could have happened. Though his instruments may have said he was at 200 feet above the Atlantic, he may have thought he was up 3,000 feet. Just like me and the waves, he might not have been able to use logic to override what he was sensing.
Sometimes reality and what we think are two very different things. John Jr. and I were mistaken in our perceptions and unable to out think our senses. Though temporary, and falling away in the presence of the proof provided by reality, those errors were an inconvenience to me and deadly to John Jr. This is one of the facets of mental illness. The victims may think they see or hear one thing though logic tells them that it is an impossibility. Since much of mental illness spins around stress and fear, such conflicts of thought only create additional tension for the sufferers. That anxiety leads to more stress and more fear. Confusion can then set in, which throws another layer onto the problem. More than fifty percent of those who are mentally ill often turn to drugs like marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol to relax the brain. The use of marijuana pushes about thirty percent of them into the horrible realm of schizophrenia. The list of drugs they use to “help themselves” is enormous and often aggravated by taking several at once. It only makes a bad situation worse.
I was fortunate enough to be well away from the Oceanside Pier, which I could have been swept under. John Jr. was not so lucky. The mentally ill face this kind of danger every day of their lives. Sigmund Freud’s greatest regret (from his 3,100 page autobiography) was that he never cured a single patient. To this day, science has not learned how to heal even one mental illness. They have patched together amazing symptom reducers and helped millions of people. However, there are no cures as yet.
The truth about mental illness is that, regardless of the cause, it is always a biological disease. It is a rare occurrence for the observer to be able to talk a mentally ill person out of his or her disturbed state when he or she has an episode in progress. There is nothing that anyone could have told me about the waves and the shoreline that would have changed my perception. Heck, I was even talking to me and couldn’t do that. What we have left is simple. We must pray for and love the mentally ill victim, often someone we care for deeply, so that she will at least know someone cares about her. Spend time with her and do the best you can to help with the desperate needs which she may have. To get there, you must realize that you did not cause the disease and you cannot cure it. There is great relief in accepting these two things. It allows you to get the praying and loving work done.