How Our Delusions Shape Our Experience

Michael Hedrick
June 28, 2017  | Last Updated: June 28, 2017

When you have schizophrenia, delusions are part and parcel of the experience. Just like paranoia and hallucinations, they are par for the course of living with mental illness. They aren’t just present in schizophrenia; anybody with psychosis can relate to the experience of having delusions.


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Delusions are, at their core, beliefs about the world that have no basis in reality. For example, I’ve struggled with the delusion for the last 11 years that people are out to get me either by teasing me or laughing at me, and it’s made for pretty unpleasant experiences. When I was undiagnosed and un-medicated, I suffered with the delusions that I was a prophet and that aliens and the government were communicating with me through the media.

Whether we like it or not, delusions are a major facet of living with mental illness. The strange thing is that when we suffer from delusions our experience of the world and reality can change and can be entirely removed from the neurotypical view of reality. I can remember when I suffered from some pretty severe delusions, and there was no question that what my mind was telling me was the truth. It was a fact that I had been ordained as a prophet and, though I didn’t want to believe it, reasons and indications kept popping up in my daily experience. Even if it was the most mundane thing like a light going on in a building window, it meant that they knew I was there and that I was going to save the world. It was an indication of affirmation, and it provided even more basis for my delusion. Everywhere I looked there would be something like that, a tip of a hat or a smile or a color that told me that what I was doing was real.

The thing is, I took all of this evidence when none of it actually was. That’s what having delusions is like, though, somewhere deep inside, you know there’s a reason for everything, and if the reason may not seem apparent to normal people it’s pretty clear for people with delusions that these signs and indications were put there by some benevolent force for you to see and to guide you. They were placed there for a reason, and that reason is you.

That may seem like a pretty self-centered view of reality, but that’s what happens. Our delusions make us think that we are powerful, that we were meant to exist for a defined perhaps divine reason. When nothing else makes sense in the world, these delusions cement the idea that you were meant for something even if that something is wildly outside the realm of sane possibility.

It’s not a leap for me to say that in the fog of my illness my delusions gave me a reason to live. They gave me a reason to keep going even if where I was going wasn’t discernible in everyday reality. That’s partly why being admitted to the hospital can be so heartbreaking: if we’re crazy our whole sense of purpose and self comes crashing down. On the inverse these delusions can also tear you apart and make you think that you’re being discriminated against.

The main thing to remember though is that delusions shape our experience of the world. They mold our worldview, and they shape our behavior to stimuli. Even normal people have delusions in anxiety or superstitions, and these little cues we get from the world, and how we interpret them, can cause us to be productive members of society, or they can send us off the deep end. I think the trick is just being aware of the accepted reality and living in those terms. That takes work and meds to achieve.


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