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The psychotic interpretative eye: degradation of signification and semiotic function

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Re-positioning terms used commonly with Psychosis 

I have said before that there is no universal way or signified of capturing or even expressing in words the experience of psychosis. Well, the truth behind my statement hinges on your definition of how to ‘capture’ and ‘experience’ psychosis. Therefore, to determine my original comment’s validity, I will suggest a more critical and practice/application-based study of psychosis.

The concept of signs has been around for a long time—classic philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle studied these terms. The terms are now associated with semiotics and derived from the Greek root seme, as in semeiotikos (an ‘interpreter of signs’). Saussure and American philosophers brought the term into use through history, rhetoric, and communication.  

Saussure created the terms signifier and signified to break down what a sign was and broke from previous studies on language. He focused on the present. He studied communication and believed that interaction was the best pathway to learn these terms, not history and language development over time. 

The breakdown of basic semiotic interpretation during episodes if psychosis

The theory I am dispensing uses these terms and appying them to the larger context of interpretation. I believe that signs and the ‘signified’ make up how we understand and interpret the larger world. My argument has three sets of assumptions: 1) That the accumulation of ‘psychotic symptoms and the worsening of psychosis symptoms are rooted in the ‘changing of signs’ within a person’s system of signification and 2) I am suggesting that while the identification of psychosis symptoms doesn’t mark or capture a single signified, or sign, the worsening of corresponding, primary, residual or inactive symptoms can be portrayed as a wholesale changing of a person’s experience, in reality, 3) This occurs through a fundamental restructuring of a person’s interpretation of their system of signs, in language, oral expression, and all brain functions within interact with the world through use and passage through his or her interpretive eye.

 How this shift in terms can move the conversation from meaning derived and purpose to healing and connection to the world

I believe that we spend so much conjecturing, arguing, and surmising what psychosis is not that we are ignoring wholesale commonalities between people’s extreme states. In turn, this is shifting the focus too far what is needed: effective treatment, either psychotherapy or some modality based on the threefold set of assumptions I dispensed earlier.

What are the implications for clinical treatment and people discovering meaning in ‘difference’ or altered realities

 The term universal by definition means “common effect” (Noun) or “applicable to all cases” (Adjective). Suppose we are to analyze both the structure of sentencing in a linguistic break down universal of both meaning and usage. In that case, any trained linguist will see what I am tracing through a study of language and altered or extreme states/psychosis. When analyzed for both meaning and usage, all names, no doubt signal the instability of a common signifier or even affect, are both neutered and highly suspect.  

I mean that as the number of familiar signifiers increases in any given system of signification, the likelihood, or odds of a common effect being experienced by people in crisis and going through the throws of first-episode psychosis, becomes more and more likely. Given the projection of worsening psychosis symptoms and the uniqueness of each experience, the chances of any person seeing, hearing, feeling, or smelling something the same way as another person is implausible. And, the commonality—the diversity of the sign—is ever-present.

 

The physiological impact of psychosis on the human body and how we cope with the loss of connection to the world

 

Psychosis symptoms can serve as the body’s response to a life adjustment and, in doing so, have also created a maladaptive coping mechanism to cope with the damage to the brain. Instead, how the body compensates and handles the change in brain function is, in essence, both a method of coping and adaptive to something altogether wrong for the body.

 The response, which is both a means of coping with a brain disorder, creating its reality by changing or challenging a person’s interpretation of their signification system, is healthy to a point. Sometimes, the mind needs to deal with the dysfunction of its regulation by systematically changing its signs.

During initial psychotic symptoms, I fully believe the early moments of a person’s ‘break; are generally experienced as more systematic in terms of the composition of the changing sign itself. I am suggesting that before psychosis symptoms worsen, they will shift from more systematic sign changes to more disruptive, arbitrary, and altogether difficult-to-follow changes within a person’s system of signification and interpretation of the world. 

As brain tissue becomes more damaged, neurons and their pathways will become more misaligned and signals to and from the brain more chaotic and dysfunctional. Therapists can measure the rate of change before things get really out of hand and introduce measures into the worsening of psychosis symptoms by charting and mapping out the rate of change within the person’s signification system.

 

Clinical Significance and forging new treatment pathways ahead.

 

The clinical Significance of these claims has potential. If we assume my claims regarding the experience of psychosis can be measured, mapped out, and analyzed for degradation between linkages of signifiers, the usefulness of this scheme becomes clear. Further analysis will have to research the correlation between sign linkage and the experience of the individual suffering from psychosis.  

Given all signs go through changes, the active disease process moves toward a higher degree of chaos and instability. Measuring distress tolerance to such changes will also be necessary for the research to add new meaning to understanding how everyone’s unique experience shares commonalities. 

People experiencing psychosis carry with them a constellation of related and altogether unique symptoms differently. At different times, psychosis symptoms exist in a dark harmony along a spectrum, sometimes feeding off one another and sometimes working in complete isolation. 

 The scope intensifies in many cases overtime upon initial activation. The range of psychosis symptoms delineates the impact of the sign on a person. Triggers, age, and developmental circumstances around the symptoms activation and life circumstance matter, but on a case-by-case basis. 

The intensity of the related symptoms, their subsequent manifestation into behavior, and possible impact on a person’s mood are all individual. Almost every aspect of how someone experiences psychosis is individual to the person experiencing the disturbance. How our society handles the clinical treatment is therefore far too broad for the disorder’s individualistic impact.  

What is not talked about too often is the otherworldly nature of psychosis as its first activating. There is a certain mystique to psychosis. Indeed, psychosis does distort how we perceive reality and plays around with our level of attachment to the world. People in extreme situations, unusual situations, experiencing a new or reoccurring crisis, and bizarre situations complicate our existence. We know I and introduce new angles or world-views to cope. These angles can sometimes be fascinating and are seemingly needed to pull ourselves out of a holding pattern. The symptom’s impact on the individual may indeed seem welcome, timely, and needed to experience a necessary change. 

In my own experience, my psychosis symptoms activated when I needed to experience a change and adjustment in my life, how I interacted with the world, and how I understood it. I believe a person’s need to adjust or make a life change ‘course correction’ increases the potential for psychosis symptoms. 

I suspect these ‘symptoms’ are maladaptive bodily coping mechanisms. They paint the world in more palatable colors and perhaps even shift your perception enough to identify alternate and new solutions to existing problems that continue to persist because you haven’t been able to step outside your perspective. Job loss or unemployment, relationship changes, and significant life circumstance adjustments are complicated to tolerate.  

Periods of adjustment can sometimes be the pathway to more significant, more complex issues if we let our problems go unresolved for long periods. The brain goes ahead and activates psychosis symptoms so the body can more easily tolerate the change without feeling or thinking about the problem as intensely and as painlessly as possible. There is a reason why homeless people who have psychosis become psychotic after losing their homes and need to adjust to life on the streets. People who go through significant life adjustments can take solace and comfort in the initial stages of psychosis.

 

Danger: validating the need for a course correction during a ‘break.’

 

Psychosis and how individuals are impacted in the presence of additional stressors, the symptoms worsen and become unmanageable. So, the gradual and welcome shift in perception will seem and feel welcome for a while, but, if the same stressors continue to aggravate, agitate, worsen or persist, expect the detachment to increase, and a sharp departure from reality to be in your cards in the near distant future. For the person adjusting to life on the streets or going through a tremendous loss, anything a person needs to do to cope with their reality will accommodate our minds during a crisis to make the change work. The mind doesn’t work the way it should. In the case of psychosis activating, it may seem to work for some time. 

Ultimately, the symptoms are overwhelming and become so profound that life becomes too distant and unrecognizable to live without incident. I am suggesting that initially, some variance in our reality may seem appealing. Still, as the symptoms worsen and become more extreme, the inter-play between our already stressed situations and our bodies’ response to the stress is overwhelming, disturbing, and can be very scary to experience. There is no question that those of us prone to psychosis becoming active or reactive chronically understand this mystique about how our bodies experience this response to whatever we want to escape or sometimes forget because it’s so traumatic or just worth forgetting.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

"I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others."

"In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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