Thursday, February 28, 2013

Descending Into An Alternate Dimension

A recent episode of the crime drama The Mentalist brought me back some memories of my past.

If you are not familiar with the show, the main character, Patrick Jane is a former psychic, he renounced his act as a physic as a fraud when his wife and infant daughter were murdered by a serial killer calling himself "Red John".

After this tragedy, he becomes a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation, to try to catch Red John, and solve unrelated murder cases along the way. He uses his skills in reading people and situations (which he used heavily to con people as a psychic) to solve crimes.

There are many indications from the various episodes I have seen that his character is now supposed to be at the very least an agnostic, if not an atheist. He is very skeptical of anything religious or supernatural. In the episode I saw this past Sunday, he is investigating the murder of a well known diamond cutter in San Fransisco, when he drinks some tea at the scene of the crime that he didn't know was contaminated with the root of the plant Belladonna, which is highly hallucinogenic.

He goes unconscious, has a seizure, and he has a dream, (as well as hallucinations after he wakes up) that his infant daughter Charlotte,  who was murdered by Red John, is speaking to him, and she is now about 12 years old. The hallucination of his daughter helps him to solve the case. If you want to see the full episode, watch it the CBS website, it is titled Devil's Cherry.

The reason why this episode brings back too many memories for me is not because I have taken hallucinogens before, in fact I haven't taken anything intoxicating in my life. It may seem strange that at 24 years old, I can truthfully say this, but between my extremely religious upbringing and my fear that my obsessive personality would quickly lead to addiction, I've stayed away from anything intoxicating, be it alcohol, or any other substances.

The reason why it brings back so many memories for me is because I've had some bizarre experiences due to panic attacks that have included everything short of actual hallucinations, but were still frightening and affected the  physical senses as well as perception of reality in some disturbing ways, many of which sound almost like a bad LSD trip or schizophrenia.

 As I have talked about before in my two part guest post series about my life at My Secret Atheist Blog, that for a year's time, when I was trying to attend a prominent Southern Baptist university, I had a nervous breakdown that involved frequent panic attacks. I had quite a few of them, some minor, but about 15-20 major episodes of them.

Some of the panic attacks were rather typical, heart racing, hyperventilating, a feeling that I was either about to pass out or die of a heart attack (and many times I these circumstances, I did feel weak and about to collapse).

These kind of symptoms are so extreme, and so realistic of a heart attack, that it sometimes leads people who have never had a panic attack before to go to the hospital in an ambulance, because they sincerely thought they were about to die of a heart attack.

Others caused some twisted perceptions of reality, both mentally and physically that lasted for an hour to up to 3-4 hours. It's hard to describe (and hard to believe) some of the things I experienced. I remember a common theme to many of them was an inability to feel touch, or tell differences in temperature.

There were times were my skin had reduced sensitivity to touch, or went numb.  There were many times that I couldn't feel temperature differences. I walk out of a building, and couldn't feel any difference between the room temperature air I just walked out of, or the 95 degree summer heat with nearly 100 % humidity or the 20 degree winter cold and snow.

I remember instances where my hearing was different, I could hear much better than normal, but sounds sounded more distant, as if I were in a dream, and it did often feel like a dream, an alternate reality. Not an alternate reality in a fun way, by any means, especially once the paranoia kicked in.

Once the paranoia started, I would often be scanning crowds everywhere I went, looking for someone who looked/acted out of the ordinary, convinced that someone was watching me or following me. Why? I don't know. For what reason? Don't know either, but I kept having this constant felling that I was being watched and/or followed.

Worse yet were times where there was this feeling of dread, this feeling of darkness, like it wasn't a person following me, but something else. It felt like it was some creature, like a supernatural being was there, or that the building I was in was just about to come alive and attack.

Now, it reminds me of the Stephen King book The Shining, especially the scenes from the Overlook Hotel where the animal shaped hedges come to life and attack, or the fire hose coming off of the wall, and chasing and the boy through the hallways.

My experiences with this, as well as depression, and an inability to understand or relate to people at a level most would consider "normal", is what makes me so angry about people's views on mental illness sometimes.

Yes, mental illness is real, it's not "demon possession", I could understand why people would believe that 300+ years ago, but seriously, we still have some people who believe that in 2013? There's people who think it's guilt or lack or responsibility. I myself was told that, that it was "guilt" or a lack of a "right relationship with god" (ironically enough, I haven't had panic attacks in 5 years, and the emotional symptoms of the depression greatly receded after giving up Christianity).

Even before I started having the panic attacks, I heard people in churches talking about their depression and anxiety, and how it was caused by "not trusting god enough" or that they needed to "focus on others more", as if depression is nothing more than rampant narcissism, and I had a pastor who said that anxiety and worry is a sin, because it's a sign of not trusting god. There is so much self-loathing and self-hatred in fundamentalism, it's pathetic, people blaming themselves for their own mental illness, and just making it worse in the process.

There's people who think that autism is merely childish behavior/bad parenting, or that it can be "cured" by various quack treatments ranging from the bizarre but relatively harmless to the deadly (people advocating giving children small amounts of bleach each day read about it here).

Then there's the people who keep spreading the vicious stereotype that people with mental illness are dangerous, and not to be trusted. Some are using mass shootings in recent years in the US to call for a national registry of mentally ill people, as though we are presumed to be dangerous criminals as a group (without any proof of criminal wrongdoing or violent tendencies on the part of each individual).

I'm tired of it all, and frustrated, I don't know how such ignorance can still exist.

I hope that in the coming years, that we will see less of it, but ignorance is persistent, I don't know if if it will ever decline as fast as I would like it to (or die out). One can hope, I suppose...


  1. You wrote that your anxiety attacks lessened considerably after you deconverted. Do you think your Christian beliefs caused or exacerbated the anxiety?

    On the topic of mental illness, it frustrates me when people assume that depressed people are thinking selfishly, or that they can somehow just will themselves to be happy. It's not that simple. Mental illness is about brain chemistry, not character.

    1. The panic attacks ended after I was out of the Southern Baptist college I was in, the emotional symptoms of the depression itself started going down dramatically after leaving Christianity (thought I still have the physical symptoms).

    2. I experienced panic attacks also. One time My heart began pounding after feeling everyone was looking at me. I ran from the mall towards the hospital as fast as I could run. I ran to my psychiatrist out of breath because I thought if I stop running I would die. He told me it is impossible to die from a panic attack.
      It will stop, mine did. Bear in mind,you will fine peace in the fact that you are loved, weather you realize it or not. When you find that you are love, you will find peace. I haven't had an attack in 30 years. Peace.


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