1961 psychiatric interview with a schizophrenic

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/09/17/1961-psychiatric-interview-wit.html


Thanks for posting that. The tension and paranoia is so clear in his face and tone. Thanks also for pulling out his nephew’s comment, including his responses to the cruel and bigoted comments most of us would rather not see.

His focus on sitting posture at the piano is interesting because the late 1950s and early 60s marked the height of Glenn Gould’s fame. Gould was a well-known eccentric who had an unusual piano posture, so perhaps this fellow identified with him.


This reminds me a bit of Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber, which is an amazing first-person account of mental illness written around 1900. He seems totally lucid as he describes the communication he has with God through sun-beams and how everyone else is a fantasm and he has to save the world by becoming a woman and birthing a new race. Or something along those lines.


I wouldn’t be surprised if this gentleman perhaps was also on the spectrum for autism, but regardless I do believe the YT commenter saying that his uncle and the family suffered. His manner of speaking, and how he navigated the conversation was interesting and I hope some value may have been gleamed by the interview


The poor guy looks so uncomfortable. The lighting and camera are probably not helping, by increasing the feel of an “interrogation”.

I feel there was some definite logic to it, but it also reminds me of trying to describe my own thoughts while on LSD. It’s a difficult task. No doubt it’s not the same, but it feels so adjacent.


I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. AMA (this is not a joke.)


I felt a lot like this guy during my childhood.

Very interesting, but was the questioning unfair? I mean, making him confront his own situation. I honestly don’t know.

I got a distinct feeling that Jim Parsons was shown this movie to help him play Sheldon Cooper. I feel bad saying that, but I wouldn’t be suprised if these movies movies had a non-academic second life in Hollywood.


The interview was definitely more on the interrogation side of things, i don’t know if during that era they would’ve thought it professional to have a slightly more conversational tone.


My mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My first thought was that this was going to be exploitative. I watched the video, though, and I stayed with it. Maybe it helps others to understand what these poor people go through, the trap they’re caught in. (The boingboing community comments here have been kind and sympathetic…I probably shouldn’t go read the comments where it was first posted on youtube though).

Anyway, it’s just this dreadful infinite loop they get caught in with their thinking. There’s always pain or fear chasing them in these circles. Reason doesn’t work. I’m not sure where the interrogator was steering it. Maybe he was trying to jar something loose, or get the patient to stop and realize what he himself was saying and see the fault in it. But you can really agitate somebody by questioning them too much, and they’ll begin to distrust you as much as they distrust rest of the world. The main thing you try to convey to them, as a family member, is that you love them. Bring them back to that every chance you can.


How wrong are most people when they imagine what things are like for you?

What are things like for you?


This is a particularly memorable one I remember being shown in college.


Well, your first wrong assumption might be that I am currently experiencing symptoms of the syndrome. I think people imagine that nobody ever recovers, but this is simply not true. I feel like people like to pretend like things such as were depicted in “A Beautiful Mind” weren’t actually a thing, or like it’s some kind of weird exception that can be separated from "that one guy on the street. " Remember John Nash was doing just fine until he died of old age a few years ago?

One other thing I like to add, that I see people forget to add sometimes when they talk about having mental health issues, they act like what they experience is what everyone experiences, and everyone else seems to play along, like “oh, now I know what things were like for this one guy, so now I know what things were like for everyone who had that happen.” Also nowhere near true. For instance, the DSM defines schizophrenia as having a certain number of symptoms in a list, and the set of symptoms can be completely non-overlapping between two people with the same diagnoses, yeah there’s problems.

But I did hear voices, and I had some pretty extreme delusions. I am not having the voices right now, and let me tell you, not being entirely sure if you’re having delusions or not because you might be delusional is about as weird as it sounds for me too. It’s one thing to talk about that idea abstractly but when you experience for yourself not being able to trust your own mind at times…

But back to what I was saying. Do not take my experience as being the experience of everyone. It isn’t. I will go on and tell you what it was like for me anyway because it was certainly an interesting experience, for me. Here’s the best way I’ve found to describe it, and I think the analogy works well on a number of levels (but for some reason when I tell people the analogy they seem to just get real quiet, I don’t get it, maybe it’s hard for people to think of something like psychosis as relatable, they want to push it as something that could never happen to them.)

But I’m going to go through the analogy again anyway because it’s accurate, for me. And it is relatable, it happens to everyone. Every night. When you dream. I compare psychosis to waking dreaming. Think about it. When you’re asleep, you do things, you say things, you think things, and when you wake up you’re like “that made no sense, why did I say those things, why did I think them, why did I do them” but, and the analogy continues, when you were asleep you did not know you were being illogical, and there was in fact some kind of weird dream logic that made sense when you were in that state, am I right? Or perhaps people get quiet at this point because they don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be dreaming when there’s real world awake consequences. I do not blame them for thinking that.

I also met a nurse who so far as I know had never had what one psychologist nicely called “strained reasoning” like me, but nonetheless said something that clicked with my experience. He said, “when you are in psychosis, it’s like everything is magically alive” good description. I sometimes think that it’s related with your mind over-looking for patterns. For instance. Going back to the “people experience it differently thing.” People apparently hear voices coming from different kinds of sources. First of all let me say, hearing voices is different from your own thoughts. I’ve heard about people having their voices come from inside their heads but it sounds like a different person, I actually don’t have personal experience with that kind, so I’m not sure how that works. But mine literally came through my ears like any other sound. In fact, and I’ve heard some others have had this experience which was interesting to learn, I always heard them coming from a real life source around me, like an air conditioner humming, or a TV in the other room I couldn’t make out, or just the traffic. Again it’s like my brain was over-looking for patterns, and so found words in white noise. And also everything I saw or everything people said or did around me had some kind of special significance, everything was a symbol for something else.

The video “Animatrix Beyond” is a short anime that resonates a bit with what it was like for things to be magically alive.

Did you know I actually relate quite a bit with the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy? I almost wonder if he actually experienced something because it all resonates so well with my actual experiences.

I was diagnosed around 19 years old, which is a pretty typical age for it to show up. I have always had an intense interest in science, and I was able to complete a degree in genetics at UW Madison with a GPA of 3.41 despite troubles I had during some of that time.

By the way, some people have one episode and recover. Some have a few and recover. Some don’t recover. I had quite a few episodes, and they were pretty intense. I was hospitalized multiple times (i didn’t enjoy that…) My most recent episode was 8 years ago now, but I still worry. Once I was doing well for 4 years but slipped back. (I’m 34 now.)

One last thing to consider, the people having the most symptoms are the most visible. The guy yelling on the street is the one you see. You don’t see him a few years later when he’s better and shaking his head at what went on back then. You’re least likely to see the guy who had only had one episode. You don’t see the one who didn’t get as bad as yelling on the street (ok i may have actually been about that bad and it happened more than once…) well and people in the mental health system kind of actually have the worst bias because they see people specifically when they are at their worst, and not when they are doing well and outside the system.

I’d just like to add also to remember… there was a time, 19 years, when I was just a “normal” person like everyone else and nobody including me had any clue any of this was going to happen, to me.

Ok that was a lot to write

one other thing to keep in mind, i usually don’t tell people any of this. most people i meet have no idea what ive been through. keep in mind that could be true of anyone you run into. i’m not even really sure why i’m sharing here right now, it seems like a risk


Haha those schizophrenia vidoes, what a hoot. Remember this one? https://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head?language=en

It certainly was a lot to share but i appreciate you taking the time to do so as you certainly didn’t have to. Most people may not truly understand what others go through but at least talking about it I think goes a long way, at least I feel like I learned a tiny bit and I find that to be a valuable thing.

Glad you find yourself in a good situation right now as well :slight_smile:


I think we have to take the update from the “nephew” with a grain of salt. I saw this video a few months ago and tried finding more info on this guy. I came across someone else claiming to know him, and according to that story, everything turned out fine (he’s on his meds, got married, etc.) I think the truth will probably be lost in time.


Thanks Grey :slight_smile: i do understand of course it being hard to understand. of course there are experiences others have that i haven’t had i’m sorry if i snapped at all in my question answering. i do want to help people have an idea of what it could be like for some. let me tell you, the media does a terrible job of representing mental health issues. how many John Nashes vs basically everything else you see about it? He’s not the only one. i can list books written by people who experienced schizophrenia which are quite well written. there are PHD researchers who have schizophrenia diagnoses, three of whom (really) I have spoken with personally through this and that. i have a very good friend my age i met in the psych hospital who has a schizophrenia diagnosis and now has dual degree in chemistry and mathematics and works in a lab. she’s one of the smartest people i know. i’m telling you…


Thanks for sharing this, I appreciate your taking the time, and the risk, to help people get at least one insider perspective.

Actually, it wasn’t even of old age. He and his wife were killed in a car accident - they were passengers in a taxi, iirc.


Oh right oops. Well he almost made it to dying of old age at 86 but then was killed in that other common way of dying these days a car crash… which wasn’t his fault though… uhh anyway yeah life is weird 🤷 edit: ok another look reveals he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Shame on you Dr. Nash for not taking your 86 year old life more seriously…


I had it from a paranoid schizophrenic that the experience of delusions was not remotely like their (extensive) experience of hallucinations from psychedelic drugs.

EDIT: Not sure how this reads: I’m being dead serious, and not making a joke.


Yeah, I immediately heard HAL 9000. Too many similarities.

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