There is a popular commercial on television these days about Parkinson’s disease. In the commercial, touting some medication, it is revealed that a number of patients suffering from Parkinson’s happen to also experience delusions. The commercial insinuates that these delusions might be about people or shadows that look like people, happiness, or memories that come to vivid life. Understandably the creators of these commercials can’t define delusions simply because they are as private and as personal as the disease itself.
If you suffer from a disease, and at this point I think we can safely say any disease, what you will quickly learn is that no two diseases are just alike. You can literally have the same cancer, in the same area, spreading to the same areas, taking the same medications, and having the exact same doctor and somehow the disease that you suffer and the person beside you experiences the whole horrid process completely differently. This is the definition of disease. And while we can cure some diseases with the same medications, the journey to that final bill of health are rarely if ever exactly the same. It just doesn’t work that way.
I have maintained since the beginning of my writings about my mental health that no two sufferers experience the same experiences. This could be because each of us have a different past, a different present and a different future. It could be because the chemical makeup of each of our bodies is subtly different and therefore on a day to day basis reacts in its own way. It could be because like our fingerprints we are simply different from one another. It could be because Tuesday’s doctor appointments are more effective than Thursday’s appointment. I don’t know despite the fact it makes logical sense.
Because of these differences there are very few situations that are easily understood or even predicted. It is why there isn’t one cancer drug, one anti-anxiety pill, or even one diet plan that always works. We are different and our bodies are different, therefore, our diseases are different.
I talk a lot about this mental illness that I was cursed with, the medications I take, the journey I am following, the side effects, the numerous complaints and once in awhile the golden moments that are celebrated in a grandeur style than even the most anticipated Oscars, Super Bowl, and Pulitzer Prizes that we can imagine. But I always recognize that what I am talking about is personal. And while there are times that a post that I write hits the right nerves for numerous people, the truth is there is always one reader that simply can not understand what it is that I am talking about. They may suffer what I suffer on paper, but there is still parts of my journey that only I will ever step.
When I say the commercial about delusions I wondered if I could write about the topic. There were so many steps in my way that even as I write these words I am forced to acknowledge that I am not sure how this post will end. For instance, those closest to me do not know about my delusions; one of my doctors does but no others. There is very little that I can do about these delusions as they don’t have any more guarantee than a fortune tellers crystal ball. And there is a very real truth that no matter what I say or what I do, I don’t know which of my memories are delusions and which of my delusions are nothing but memories. You see the one problem with delusions is that to the person experiencing them, they are as real as the hand in front of your face.
The only way I know if I am having delusions is if someone around me can corroborate the truth about what I am seeing. A great example of this, and actually the first time I learned that all that I see might not be real, happened in a neighborhood doctor’s office when my two year old son had gotten sick. Let me set the story up for you.
There I was, an anxious mother with a sick toddler trying to get him the medicine he needed. I was in a generic doctor’s office because my own pediatrician couldn’t see my son. The office had been recommended to me as a suitable second choice and I was desperate to alleviate my son’s suffering. Like all mothers, I have weak points and one of those happen to be the very real overreaction to my children getting sick. Amazingly enough I was blessed with children who rarely get sick (knock on wood) so I don’t have to sit in many pediatrician’s offices. I can only hope that this trend continues.
Anyways, because of the hour the place was empty except for one other patient. I don’t remember many personnel, nurses or doctors, just quiet and unfortunately no fish tanks that could distract my young son from his own misery. So holding my son close to me in some need to try to take his sickness from him I sat in that almost empty room. The only other potential patient was a older woman, dressed in typical southern fall weather, with a really large purse sitting close beside her. It was the kind of purse that you just know had all kinds of old treats, probably some knitting, and answers to the greatest questions on earth. She had a kind face and when she entered the waiting room from the parking lot she came and sat across from my son and I. With the whole waiting room empty she choose to sit across from me.
I don’t know what we talked about although my vague memory is one of quiet peace. I don’t know why she was in that doctor’s waiting room or why she was so interested in me. But she laughed and I remember her smile. She could sit so still I kept sneaking looks to see if she was okay, and through what seemed like an incredible wait she patiently waited with my son and I. Amazingly enough my two year pretty much slept on my lap throughout the long wait and it allowed me to have this conversation when normally my whole focus would have been on my son.
As the nurse came and finally called my son’s name, and to this day I don’t know how long I sat there, I got up, turned the woman and said my goodbyes. She simply smiled a wise and soft smile and nodded her head. And my son and I left.
This sounds like a nice memory and I choose to look at it as such. But the truth of what happened in that waiting room became clear to me the moment we step in the doctor’s patient exam room. The nurse following behind me, kindly asked if I was alright. She presumed that I was the patient and when I corrected her, she got the most incredulous look on her face and asked who it was that I was talking to in the waiting room. I believe my reaction to that question was probably something that looked a lot like confusion and a resolve that this nurse was off her rocker. Came to find out she thought the same about me.
You see, that old woman didn’t exist. You see, there was no one on earth who could have told me or convinced me that the woman that I was having an interesting conversation with was anything but the real deal. You see, I will never forget that single moment I realized that what I believed to be the indisputable truth was in fact nothing more than the disease I have suffered for so long. And if that kind nurse hadn’t pointed it out to me, I would not be sitting here writing a post about delusions.
There have been other times when I have been in turmoil that delusions, visions, voices have been surrounding me but not in the realm that other’s live. There have been times when I have been questioned, not only by strangers but by my children. There have been times when the feeling of not being so alone was ripped from my balance beam and I have had to fall without anyone catching me. Delusions are part of my disease, the non-discussed part of my disease, that can only be real when someone outside of myself points them out to me. Delusions are as real to me as the voices that softly spell my name. I can’t lose them, I can’t define them, and I can’t truly talk about them in all their glory because the truth is, I don’t know when they aren’t real.
I will not point out my delusions here or anywhere else. I won’t admit to them. I won’t talk about the times that they happen. I won’t even write them in a secret place. And unfortunately, the reason isn’t because I am embarrassed but rather because no matter what I do I have no idea how many people I meet are real and how many are my brains way of comforting me and giving me the solace that no one else in this world is capable of.
Before you call out the National Guard, the best news I can give you is that my delusions don’t seem to be evil. They don’t seem to be dangerous, at least the ones I know about. My delusions, if I am judging which characters are delusions and which are real, come to me in times of great stress. They are souls that calm me, that give me a sense that maybe everything is going to be fine. They are strangers that my mind has created to give me that single long breath so that I can advance one more step in this journey. They are my friends, my strangers, and I sometimes wonder if there is an army of them. Scary for those who don’t know what I see and feel…yep. Scary for me, never. I look for those delusions wherever I go.
Not all patients have delusions. Not all mentally ill have delusions. I don’t believe that I have that many delusions. Not all delusions are scary and promise to take the mind of those who experience them. Not all delusions need to be explained or understood or even shared with those we love. They can be our secrets. They can be the things that we count on. And while television shows like Criminal Minds and Law and Order will have you believe that every delusion is dangerous, the truth is that sometimes delusions are simply a warm blanket when we need them most.
When I meet my own demonic delusion, I will be sure to let you know.