I am often asked what Jani “experiences.” In other words, what is going on inside her head. In fact, it was one of the things my book publisher wanted: to go inside the world of a child with schizophrenia.
If that is what my publisher wanted, I failed. In fact, I didn’t really even try.
Because I can only speculate, and I am sure my speculation comes nowhere close to the reality. How funny, using the term “reality” in this case. After all, that is the crux of the problem, isn’t it?
Reality itself, after all, is far from concrete. I define it two ways. First, reality is that we believe is real because our senses tell us so. For those of us who can see, vision is the dominant sense. The processing of visual images is so complex that it requires three different parts of the brain: occipital lobe (back of the brain), parietal lobe (sides of the brain), and the prefrontal cortex (the front of the brain). We know now that the visual cortex is located in the occipital lobe. The parietal lobe is responsible for spatial awareness, converting visual stimuli to three dimensional images, and “remapping” our visual field when we turn our head or eyes. It is also responsible to integrating visual information with that of other senses (which are primarily located in the parietal lobe). Then the prefrontal cortex must process the information received and make sense of it.
Vision alone takes up far more brain processing than the mythical “10%” of the human brain is actually being used (primarily refuted by the fact that if 90% of the brain was non-functional then significant damage could occur without loss of existing abilities. This is most definitely not true. Damage to any part of the brain results in some loss of functioning and ability). During periods of wakefulness, most of the brain is active in processing external stimuli.
“Don’t believe everything you see,” is the old saying, but it is hard not to. That’s what the brain is designed to do. The other four senses, touch, smell, hearing, and taste, fill in the gaps left by vision, thereby ensuring our survival.
Which, by the way, is the whole purpose of our senses: to ensure our survival.
A snakebite is painful.
We can smell food.
We can hear the sound of running water or the roar of a lion.
Millipedes taste bad so we don’t eat them (It turns out they contain small amounts of cyanide).
What is “real” is ultimately that which can threaten our survival. That is the most basic definition.
Then there is second reality: the “common reality,” or what we generally agree is real. This is a bit complicated, though. One person could see a tree and walk up and touch the tree, while another nine, for whatever reason, cannot. The nine who cannot see or touch the tree would conclude that the tree is not real, even though it fits the definition of reality for the one who can see it.
In the end, common reality allows for social functioning. In order to form civilization, we have to have common reference points for the world around us.
So social constructionists would then argue that “reality” is constructed. I doubt it. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Of course it does. Objects move air, creating sound waves, and it doesn’t matter if there is a human ear there to detect it or not. This would argue that there is a third “reality” that exists entirely outside of us, which would lend credence to the idea that our reality is not socially constructed but in fact “real.”
If you are underneath that falling tree, it is going to kill you whether you believe in it or not.
So then, we can argue that hallucinations at least fit the criteria for the first version of “reality.” For those who have them, they can see them, touch them, hear them, smell them, and taste them. And if one can detect them through the senses, particularly when all senses are working together to contribute to the hallucination, they can very much kill.
What would you do if you saw a lion running at you? Probably the same thing that a girl might do if she saw a man with red glowing eyes.
It’s like when you were a little child. You hated it every time your parents turned off your bedroom light at night. Because you were sure there was something there, in your closet, under your bed. You would scream for your parents and they would tell you nothing is there and that it is just your imagination.
Eventually, we got over that fear of the dark because we never saw the monsters we were convinced were there.
Now, imagine you did see them. And nobody believes you, not least of all your parents. How long does it take before you stop telling them? It is the conservation of energy principal. You need that energy to fight off the demons. You can’t waste it arguing with people who you know can never see what you see.
And you grow up. And still they come for you. And there is no one to save you.
Unfortunately, we are talking about the brain. Every brain is different. Despite our “common reality” we also process the world in slightly different ways. Which is why your spouse seems pissed off at you and you have no idea what you did. No human disease will affect two people in precisely the same way. And neither does mental illness.
“You are psycho…”
What exactly does that mean?
Psychosis is a common trope of Hollywood horror films. After all, one of the most iconic films of all time is named Psycho.
Janet Leigh, on the run, checks into the Bates Motel to hide out. She strikes up a conversation with the proprietor of the hotel, Norman Bates. Smitten with her, he invites her to dinner. While taking a shower, a shadow of an old woman appears and beheads her (stabs in the original book by Robert Bloch, which he loosely based on the murders of Ed Gein-later to be the influence for “Leatherface” in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and “Buffalo Bill” in Silence of the Lambs).
If you haven’t seen Hitchcock’s immortal film, I am going to ruin the ending for you.
The killer is “Mother.”
And “Mother” is Norman Bates. Norman has two distinct personalities, his and “Mother,” who he became after he found his mother in bed with a lover and killed her in a fit of jealousy. Horrified by what he had done and needing his mother, his psyche fractured into two personalities.
So the movie title is a bit of a misnomer.
Is the character of Norman Bates psychotic?
Yes, in the sense that he believes his mother to still be alive (thought disorder) and he “hears” her calling to him (auditory hallucination.” The distinct personality of “Mother,” however, is not a characteristic of psychosis. It is closer to “multiple personality disorder,” now called “Disassociative Identity Disorder,” although people with DID typically have far more personalities than just two, and the primary personality is generally aware of the existence of the others, while Norman had no idea he was actually two people.
Strangely, most people assume that Norman was the victim of traumatic abuse, when neither the novel nor Hitchcock’s film make any such overt claims. In the sequels Psycho II and Psycho III, we see Norman living in constant fear that his “insanity” will return. In both films, the term “mental illness” is used. In the 1990 made for TV movie “Psycho IV,” in which Norman tells his story, thereby making the film somewhat a prequel to Hitchcock’s original, his wife gets pregnant without his permission and he is terrified he will create another “monster,” the first reference to mental illness being hereditary.
Nonetheless, Psycho, which is generally considered to be the first “slasher” film, became the model for psychosis with the general public. People with psychosis were either dangerous killers or repressed “free spirits” like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Neither are representative of psychosis. The first type of film uses psychosis as a explanation for the antagonist’s murderous desires while the second downplays psychosis. Both are extremes that don’t reflect reality.
So back to the question: what are Jani’s experiences like?
I could only speculate until October 18th, 2010.
We at home, in Bodhi’s apartment, making dinner. The irony is we have two apartments, one for each child, and yet we are almost never at home except to make dinner and prepare for bed. During the day, Jani cannot stay home for more than a few minutes. Any more than that and she starts to hit. When I ask her why, she replies that she is “bored.” You see, boredom, failure to engage the mind, brings 400 the Cat and 80 the Girl That Likes to Jump Off Buildings back, or living numbers that require medical care for severe injuries, or “The Nothings,” (which is the only name Jani will give), apparently flying dogs that circle above her head. When asked how dogs can fly, Jani can offer no explanation.
She does not watch TV, although Bodhi does. However, we keep the TV on to the same channel it has been on since Jani was three, Nick Jr. (formally Noggin, a commercial free Nickelodeon channel serving pre-school age children). Jani doesn’t really watch it but likes having it on in the background. I think it is part of her stability, something from her past she can hold on to.
On October 18th, 2010, “Dino Dan” premiered on Nick Jr.
Nick Jr’s primary purpose is to prepare children for preschool/kindergarten. The shows are educational, so I expected an educational show about dinosaurs. I wasn’t quite sure how such a show would work for preschoolers as it was live-action, unlike other dinosaur shows. What was Dan going to do? Teach kids about dinosaurs using fossils? No, that couldn’t possibly work. Dan will probably imagine himself in the time of the dinosaurs, where anthropomorphic dinosaurs talk to Dan and tell them about themselves.
Dan doesn’t imagine himself in the time of the dinosaurs.
Dan lives in suburban Toronto.
And the dinosaurs are not anthropomorphic. They are realistically imaged dinosaurs, Jurassic Park dinosaurs, created by computer.
And Dan sees them.
Not in a book. Not on a computer screen.
But walking through Toronto.
He’s seen a Brachiosaurus outside his house.
Except that Brachiosaurus lived during the late Jurassic Period about 150 million years ago.
He’s seen a Tyrannosaurus Rex patrolling his street. During winter. In the snow.
Except T. Rex lived more than 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period.
And a T. Rex never got close to Toronto. During the late Cretaceous Period, the North American continent was divided into two giant islands by a large shallow sea, called the Western Interior Sea, that covered all of the modern Midwest. Toronto would have been located on the eastern island, called Appalachia, while T. Rex fossils have only been found in the Western United States, in the western island paleontologists call “Laramidia.” Unless T. Rex was capable of thousands of miles over open sea it is unlikely one would appear in what is today modern day Ontario.
Oh, and the Cretaceous Period was one of the warmer periods in Earth’s history, so none of the dinosaurs on “Dino Dan” ever would have seen snow.
Okay, so Dan’s got an active imagination, right?
Maybe. But he uses the scientific method of empiric observation. He conducts experiments, which he numbers and keeps a meticulous record of in his “field journal.” For example, he conducted an experiment to test whether T. Rex located its food primary by smell by leaving a hamburger for it in its treehouse. His observations led him to conclude that the T. Rex was primarily a nocturnal scavenger, not the vicious killer we remember from Jurassic Park.
And that’s the problem. He is conducting empirical scientific observation on something that not only has been extinct for millions of years but that no one else can see. He makes model use of the scientific method, but how can one observe the behaviors of something that is not really there?
Oh. Another thing. The dinosaurs only seem to be around when Dan is not otherwise engaged in some other activity with his friends or family, although they can distract him. He will utter the name of the dinosaur under his breath when he sees it. His friends will call to him to join them and he will tell them “Just a minute” or “Be right there” and proceed to try to gain scientific data from the dinosaur.
Dan lives with his mother and his younger brother, Trek (the location of the father is unknown although in one episode Trek did run into Dan’s room to tell him “Dad is on the phone.”
But this is Canada. They don’t look down on single mothers there.
In one episode, Dan’s mother is discovers that several pairs of her shoes are missing. She is trying to get Dan and Trek ready for bed, but Dan wants “ten more minutes” because he wants to gather data on the weight of a Dromaeosaurus, a small, feathered dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous. Dan’s mother thinks he has done enough dinosaur studying for one day but Dan is so earnest that she gives in.
Trek asks him what he is doing. Dan starts to answer “I’m tracking a…” but Trek finishes his sentence “a dromaeosaurus” for him, nodding his head like he deals with this everyday. Dan’s face lights up. “Trek! How did you know that?” It seems almost like he is thrilled to discover that maybe his brother sees what he sees. The look of disappointment on his face is palpable when Trek tells him “Our rooms are right next to each other. I can hear everything you say.”
So apparently Dan talks to himself.
Dan wants to get the dromaeosaurus’s weight, so he puts a dog biscuit on the scale in the bathroom. He also pours baby powder all over the scale so he can track it. Hiding in behind the shower curtain, he sees the dromaeosaurus enter, step onto the scale to eat the treat, and then run out. Dan follows the baby powder tracks left behind to a cabinet under the kitchen sink. Opening it, the dromaeosaurus scampers out, startled, leaving behind all of Dan’s mother’s shoes. Dan’s mother sees them and wants to know what is going on. Dan explains that the dromaeosaurus was building a nest. Dan’s mother, however, blames their pet pug, Doug.
She never takes what Dan says seriously, always assuming he is just “playing.”
So who did take the shoes. It wasn’t Doug the Pug. And it wasn’t a dromaeosaurus because they’ve been extinct for 75 million years.
The only other conclusion, if we accept that dinosaurs cannot be running around modern day Toronto, is that Dan himself took the shoes and put them in the cabinet, but “disassociated” from the memory. As far as he is concerned, it was the dromaeosaurus.
So far, we have evidence of visual and auditory hallucinations, thought disorders (despite his scientific mind he treats the dinosaurs he sees as real), disassociative actions he attributes to long dead animals, and social isolation during hallucinatory periods. If it was imagination, he could turn it off, but he can’t. Even when he is called back to do something mundane like eat dinner, take out the garbage, or go to class, the dinosaurs wait for him.
But it’s a kid’s show, right? What do you expect, Michael? For them to put Dan on Thorazine?
Not at all. At this point, it does not seem like Dan’s hallucinations are interfering with his life. He has friends. He goes to school. He is exhibiting no violence.
In short, he is functional.
But he is also schizophrenic.
He is functional because the dinosaurs are not a threat. They do not make him do dangerous things. Even T. Rex doesn’t eat him (although T. Rex and the other carnivores will go after other dinosaurs, which Dan attempts to stop).
Much like how Jani will try to stop Eighty from jumping off a building. Or yell at 400 not to do something bad.
His friends and his family treat his schizophrenic symptoms as an “eccentricity” and don’t appear bothered in the least. In fact, they are quite accepting of his obsession, even when it interrupts their hockey game.
I don’t know. Maybe that will change when Dan graduates to Degrassi.
So you ask me what Jani experiences?
Watch “Dino Dan.”
That is the closest representation I have seen to what I believe Jani experiences.
“Dino Dan” is not just a show that teaches kids about dinosaurs. It is also, perhaps unintentionally, the first realistic portrayal of child onset schizophrenia.