The first time I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression I was also diagnosed with Clinical Paranoia.
And it seemed like my psychiatrist was holding his breath, waiting, nervously anticipating further development in my diagnosis. Never before or since have I seen such utter relief plastered across another human being’s face as when he announced, about a week later, that he did not think I had schizophrenia.
Now armed with the knowledge that I don’t have what I consider one of the most complicated and terrifying mental illnesses there is…… really, schizophrenia scares me more than Alzheimer’s… I still find myself flummoxed by the combination of paranoia and depression within the glorious chemical soup that is my mind. The former causes hyper-alertness and anxiety and a sort of nightmare-quality uber-awareness of my surroundings, like being mindful but in a very dark and frightening way. The later causes feelings of listlessness, anti-motivation, exhaustion, and a general mental fuzziness that feels antithetical to the paranoid feelings.
And yet they co-exist and even feed each other, bless their bits. Recent research has suggested that paranoid thoughts may be as common as anxiety and depression.
So, here are a few typical paranoid thoughts and how I’ve learned to deal with them:
Thought: They are all out to get me.
Reality: Some people are out to get me. Fighting paranoia doesn’t mean that I stop realizing that, yes, there are people who act like utter assholes in the world, including those who feel no hesitation in beating someone else down if it benefits them, including criminals out for your wallet or worse. But when paranoia strikes, and I feel that everyone around me is out to get me, secretly plotting how to hurt me, I remind myself to look around, and try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. That father attempting to wrangle three children into the car, while loading groceries and talking on his cell phone, holding it between his shoulder and ear? Probably not out to get me. The two young store clerks on a break, leaning against the wall and talking animatedly to each other? Probably not out to get me. And sometimes, that’s enough. Clearly, not _everyone_ is out to get me. And the perspective this grants me is usually enough to get me safely to my next destination.
2) Thought: They all hate me.
Reality: Some people dislike me. But this is actually pretty normal. I’m a fairly socially capable person, but not everyone is going to like me every day, everywhere I go. And really, hate is a strong emotion that requires daily maintenance. It’s hard to continually fan the fires of hatred, especially if they’re lit by one specific person; that’s hard work. The thought that _all_ people in any given situation hate one person is highly unlikely. Unless I’m faced with an angry mob, it’s not likely that they all hate me.
All these things seem very logical as I sit here in my comfy pyjamas, in a safe, warm environment, not in any way surrounded by a crowd of strangers. But this is what I’ve learned of paranoia – I’ve learned to tell myself these logical things before I get out in a crowd and become nervous, fearful and paranoid. Perhaps that’s the key – when you find yourself about to venture into a situation where you think you are likely to have paranoid thoughts, try reminding yourself…. They are not all out to get you. They don’t all hate you. In fact, there really is no ‘They.’ ‘They’ are just individual people, most a bit nervous in new situations and/or crowds of strangers, some of whom may also be reminding themselves to watch out for paranoid thoughts, just like you are. And the criminals in the crowd? Well, they are there. But they’re not going to avoid you because you’re having paranoid thoughts. So do what you can to guard your pockets and purses and bags, but be alert without fear.
Of course, you could also try some psychotherapy……