One of the things that intrigued me in the story below is the symptom of “word salad” – which the Wikipedia page on Schizophasia explains is “confused, and often repetitious, language that is symptomatic of various mental illnesses.”
[The image is a piece embroidered by a schizophrenic patient at the Glore Psychiatric Museum.]
But the page also points out that the phrase “Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas” and the phrase “Acute does runs shaky lovely very” may be “authentic schizophasias (one grammatically correct, the other not) if they are produced as a result of mental disease or defect.
“In contrast, intentionally producing nonsense, as in the contrived palindrome ‘Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas’ is not considered schizophasia.
“Schizophasia refers to a defect in processing and organizing language, as opposed to the ability to create a nonsense word which happens to conform to a very specific set of rules.”
Dada Poetry and nonsense literature like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” use words “for their sound, cadence, and alliteration; with no concern for meaning.”
And the constructions are made by presumably sane people.
So, my interest in word salad probably started in the 1960s as an undergrad psych student, when I had the experience of volunteering to visit a back ward (considered hopeless) of schizophrenic women at Boston State Hospital.
One woman in particular intrigued me, who spoke pretty non-stop (when she wasn’t preparing a cigarette from loose tobacco rolled in fresh toilet paper), in a stream of phrases that may have had meaning for her, but not to other people. She would pause sometimes when I asked her a question, but didn’t converse.
The following is a story from her book Pregnant Darkness: Alchemy and the Rebirth of Consciousness, by Jungian Analyst Monika Wikman [site].
As a young man, Andrew entered medical school in the 1970s with a freight-load of family expectations on him to become a doctor, like one of his parents. He went straight from college to medical school, unlike many of the other students. The difficulty of the family expectations and the intensity of the work, added to his being young and without much adult identity formed yet, led him to a breakdown.
The divorce of his parents when he was younger also had terribly split the family, and he suffered trying to keep love going with both of them.
When he got to medical school the pressure without the foundation of love and steadiness in his life pushed him near the abyss and when he fell, he fell hard and ended up in a psychiatric clinic for a time.
Having lost all words and registering nothing, he fell into an enormous silence. One of the social workers there, who had tremendous heart and soul, kept a special eye on this young man. When he began to speak in unintelligible “word salad” without coming back to normal connection and conversation, the red flags went up.
Would he ever make it back to himself and his life? The social worker took him outside for walks, kindly taking Andrew by the arm and walking with him along the garden path surrounding the facility. Late one night they went for a walk in the dark to a spot overlooking the freeway.
Andrew remembers the social worker telling him, “Andrew, there is something I have been wanting to show you. Here you see, we do things strangely, and when you return, you will as well.
“This is how thoughts work here among us humans; they go in lines, just like this, and follow a single road. When you come back, you will learn to do this, too.
“It is not necessarily better than where you are; in fact it may be less interesting. It is just something that happens here.”
Later that week, Andrew was in his bed when the team of psychiatrists and social workers stopped to visit. He had a pad of paper and wanted very badly to communicate. He began to write in word salad in a desperate attempt to communicate.
The social worker picked it up, with the team present, and said, “I can’t understand a word you are saying, but Andrew, you sure have great handwriting!”
With that embracing comment, the team laughed out loud, and as Andrew laughed out loud, too, and joined in with them, the spell broke and his linear thoughts returned.
He has communicated just fine ever since. Besides becoming a doctor, he developed a tremendous love for music and plays professionally – communicating movingly out of the nonlinear, passionate side of himself. He continued over the years to work with a caring psychologist to integrate his experiences and heal.
Lower photo: Greenpeace UK/Steve Morgan
mental health and talent, mental health and ability, talent and mental illness, self-actualization and mental illness
Article publié pour la première fois le 21/12/2014