It occurs to me that for someone who has never experienced not being in control of their own thoughts, it must be a very difficult thing to understand. Impossible, perhaps. One of the ways I try to explain it is that it’s like being stuck inside an old fashioned maze. There is a way out; it’s just that you can’t always find it.
One of the major symptoms of my mental health problems is paranoia. It’s nothing new, I’ve suffered from it since I was eight or nine years old. We won’t go into the history now (I’ve done that a bit here) but it’s enough to say that it began with bullying at primary school and then got worse.
Now the problem with paranoia is that it’s not based on rational thought. Which means that it’s impossible to distinguish paranoid fears from real ones. What that means is that when I’m paranoid I’ve no way of knowing that I’m paranoid because I don’t know that what I’m scared of isn’t rational. Simply put, I’m not thinking rationally enough to know that my fears are irrational.
That last paragraph is a leap of logic that I came to make a while ago. It took me some time to get it into few enough words to actually write down, but I think it makes sense now. Anyway, it left me with a problem. How to know whether, when I’m feeling scared or worried about something, I’m being paranoid or not.
Faced with certain situations, of course, it’s obvious. Escaped lion: not paranoid, run like hell. But most of the time it’s not that simple. And so it needs thinking about more logically. Which brings me back to my maze from before.
If I imagine that there are lots of ways out of the maze, and that each one represents all the possible ways out of the situation. all I need to do is make the right decisions at each of the mazes junctions to get to the right one. Imagining situations like this forces me to think about what the worst possible outcome could be.
More often than not I realise that there isn’t a massive lion about to munch me as a light breakfast snack, and that there’s really nothing to worry about. Ah, I say to myself, that’ll be the paranoia again. Let’s just get this piffling little thing that I need to do out of the way without worrying about it after all.
From time to time, I’m unsuccessful and do end up quivering in the corner, under the sheets, begging for mercy and the prospect of going to Sainsbury’s to buy a copy of the Radio Times. And of course I am slightly concerned that one day my technique might work too well and I may convince myself not to be at all worried about the suspiciously large man with the chainsaw and hockey mask knocking politely at the front door.
Right now though, I’ll keep trying. At least for long enough to find out whether I’m being paranoid enough.