Saturday, February 05, 2005

Shine on, You Crazy Diamond 

The other day a homeless man with wild eyes approached the reference desk and asked where the Bibles were, a big tip off that he was schizophrenic. I’ve noticed that many schizophrenics, or at least the ones who frequent the library, seem preoccupied by religion. I've read that this has something to do with their brains' overabundant production of the chemical dopamine, which causes schizophrenics to infuse every object and event with either mystical meaning or paranoid significance. They come to the library to seek answers in religious literature or propound on their persecutory or conspiratorial theories. Because of deinstitutionalization, or at least the way the process has been carried out, and other complex societal forces and conditions, many mentally ill homeless camp out at the library because they have no other place to go.

Usually as soon as schizophrenics open their mouth I can identify them by their spiel. Without preamble, they launch into a monologue about how they are receiving messages from Jesus or government agencies or the Kennedy’s. If they are paranoid schizophrenics, they will say that those agents are conspiring against them. (I actually find the Kennedy's very sinister myself.) Their chatter is as recognizable and telltale a symptom of their disease as the visible symptoms of psoriasis or Kaposi Sarcoma or the chicken pox.

One patron told me one night that he instantaneously knew that his son was schizophrenic when he called him and announced, "Dad! I made a great discovery! Jesus and Hitler were the same man!"

After we had three paranoid schizophrenics in a row talk at the reference desk about receiving radio transmissions in their heads from the CIA, my colleague commented, “What is the deal? Do they all read from the same manual?”

A recent article in Psychology Today explains why:

Because the addict's dopamine-driven salience system keeps telling her that something very important is happening, ordinary events appear intensely meaningful. That police car? That song on the radio? That man with a cigarette walking by? They must be part of a massive international conspiracy.
Kapur calls it "biased inductive logic"--a top-down effort to explain the feeling that everything seems important. The cognitive parts of a schizophrenic's brain create the paranoid tale in an effort to explain the constant red alert blaring from the dopamine circuits, using any stimuli available. This is why delusions are culturally appropriate. African schizophrenics may fear they've fallen under the spell of a shaman, while Kapur's patients in Toronto think that the Mounties are after them.

From Conspiracy Theories Explained. Psychology Today, Nov-Dec, 2004

I led the patron who asked for the Bibles over to them. He was intimidatingly large and I’ll have to admit that, especially in light of the the kicker incident, I was a little wary of leading him back to the stacks alone. After I showed him the shelf of Bibles and I was in such a hurry to get back to my desk that I tripped. I would have probably taken out a shelf of books but the patron gallantly caught my arm, steadied me and asked with great concern, “Are you all right?” After ensuring that I was fine he took a stack of Bibles and parked himself next to a man reading the newspaper. Like an old-time evangelical preacher, he began to preach hellfire and brimstone while he pounded on one of the open Bibles. My manager told him to keep it down and he quieted himself and read softly outloud for a while.

Later, while I was trying to give directions on the phone to a woman when he stood behind me and shouted to the other librarian if we had anything on Star Trek, specifically the movie that he had seen but no one else has seen.

“This movie was so cool! It was like you were actually in it. Do you have that one?”

My colleague said that our Star Trek movies were all out but that we did have some Star Trek books and showed him where. He took a stack, sat back down and proceeded to have a conversation with Spock, or at least his rendering on the cover of one of the books.

“Remember when you did that, Spock? That was so BAD ASS.”

He suddenly started making strange sputtering noises as he had these violent, jerking tics, like a windup toy self destructing, or Bugs Bunny right after he drank Dr. Jekyll's potion. He began staggering around in circles until he finally made his way out the door. I was glad that he left on his own accord so I wouldn't have to, especially after he had been so kind to catch me after I tripped.

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