The Devil on your Shoulder

I often equate having schizophrenia to having a little devil on my shoulder that likes to whisper nasty stuff in my ear.

He’s a cunning little bastard too. If he senses a vulnerability or the potential for anxiety he’ll start screaming.

In the eight years I’ve lived with the illness I’ve come to recognize these triggers and do a pretty good job of avoiding them. You can’t do it forever though and eventually the devil is gonna start screaming again.

Mainly he says things like, “They’re making fun of you!” or “They’re gonna laugh about you!” I take it in stride though. I’m very good at not outwardly showing that I’m panicking on the inside.

The thing about it is though, when you’ve about everything the devil can say about you 1000 times over it doesn’t have much of an effect anymore.

One of my favorite songs is by Ray Lamontagne. It’s a song called “Empty”. In it he sings the lyrics, “Well I looked my demons in the eye, laid bare my chest, said do your best destroy me. See I’ve been to hell and back so many times I must admit you kind of bore me.” It’s definitely an apt metaphor.

I pretty much know what the devil is going to say, and I pretty much know in what instances he’s going to say it. After living with it for so long you come to almost expect it. Nevertheless, it’s still painful so of course I want to quiet it.

Meds have made a major improvement but aside from those it’s taken a good deal of work.

The biggest and most influential thing I’ve done to quiet the devils voice was to unapologetically accept everything he says. This sounds counterintuitive at first, it makes sense that you’d fight it but I’ve found that I just don’t have the energy for that.

When the devil says something nasty like “They’re making fun of you,” I just say to myself “I accept that they’re making fun of me.” It may or may not be true but it makes it a lot easier to be comfortable with the voice and to move on to something else if you don’t spend all your time trying to fight it.

There’s a movement in pop psychology called “radical acceptance” and I think it draws on the same idea.

Essentially if you’re ok with the devil’s criticism or your own self-imposed criticism it makes it a lot easier to be comfortable and to move on.

It’s important to be conscious of the fact that the human experience is made up of myriad circumstances, feelings and experiences and learning to be comfortable with all of them is a major step in growing as a person.

Not only will accepting the hard stuff as it is make you comfortable in your own skin but it will also condition you for potentially harder stuff down the road.

The point is, there are things in this life that we have no control over. There’s a point at which we have to be willing to let go of our own fervent desire to be in control and be ok with chaos.

Accepting the devil’s words took some work at first but it got easier every time I did it. Now it barely registers.

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Comments

  1. Love reading your blog, Mike. Just found it today. You have such a fantastic talent for describing what your psychosis feels like. I am a person who serves people suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. I’m going to direct them to you blog. I think there is such comfort and strength in hearing others tell of experiences similar to ones self. Thank you for your work.

  2. Thanks for this post. I’ll give applying radical acceptance at my Dragon… even though meds have filed down his claws he’s still pretty evil. It might be tough to accept some of what he says. He’s not as predictable as you describe yours though.

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