Mental Health Blogs

New TV Series, Perception: and Schizophrenia Reality

Last night we finally sat down to watch the first episode of Perception,a new television series on TNT starring Eric McCormack as Dr. Daniel Pierce, a professor of neuroscience with a brilliant mind – and schizophrenia. Because of this mental illness, he sees things in a different light, evidently extremely useful for solving crimes.

How I could wish that my son Ben’s hallucinations were so helpful.

But this is reality.

Perception vs. Reality

I tried to watch the pilot episode with as open a mind as possible. After all it is just a TV show, and it is nice to see someone with schizophrenia be the hero for a change.  Still, I wonder about misconceptions being perceived as reality by those who know woefully little about schizophrenia as it is – including Ben himself.

The big issue for me is that somehow the show’s main character has chosen to go off of his meds and yet manages to keep his job, educate his students, reason with his voices (most of the time), and even have hot students throw themselves at him.  Believe me, it crossed my mind to ban Ben from watching this, lest he get any refreshed ideas about cheeking his meds.

But I did find some truth (as our family sees it) to the depiction of schizophrenia in the series.  Schizophrenia is a complex illness, actually a cluster of different symptoms, so no two cases are exactly alike.  One fact is that as those with the illness age, there may be an improved prognosis.

So – good. That gives me hope, but for the future. Not for right now. Right now, if my 30-year-old son were to choose to go off his meds, he would be back in the hospital, and uncontrollably psychotic, within two days.

How do I know this? It happened just one year ago. So no experiments right now, please. At the moment Ben is doing well – even employed. Don’t wanna mess with success right now. No thanks.

Here are some of the differences I see between Perception, and the reality as our family knows it. So far.

Employability

Perception: The character of Dr. Pierce (like John Nash, eventually, in A Beautiful Mind) is a gifted professor who has a job, is well-respected, and clearly has a gift for teaching.

Our Reality so far: Ben has an IQ of 148 – not enough to be a professor perhaps, but certainly enough to have great potential. He is finally working – but there were eight long years of un-employability as he took steps to recover from numerous hospitalizations and get used to the medical treatment that keeps him able to function.

Medications

Perception: Dr. Pierce, while admitting that psychiatric

always, the question of meds...

medication “works miracles for many”, does not take them himself and finds instead that, with help (like an able and aware assistant) and his own sense of reason, he can often manage the “voices” and hallucinations.

Our Reality: Maybe, someday, Ben will be able to handle his “voices” without meds. But not now. Oh, no – not now. Of that I am certain. I have seen him try.

Romance

Perception: Pierce has dated in the past, and his students flirt with him.

Reality: Well, let’s just say not yet.  In any relationship, it takes a certain amount of self-acceptance and confidence to enter into a healthy partnership. Ben is getting there, but without insight into his own schizophrenia, romance is not yet in the cards.

Focus

Perception: Pierce, when given a clear task (like teaching a class, or solving a crime) is focused and externally engaged, even sociable.  After the class is over or the problem solved, he retreats to more eccentric behavior and/or his hallucinations visit him.

Our Reality: True. Ben is at his best when given a clear goal. He functions really well at work, where he deals with customers all day.  Board games? Total focus. One-on-one discussions? The same. But he tends to crash afterwards, and need some time alone. In more distracting situations like a crowded noisy restaurant? It’s more difficult. Too much happening at once. Ben may need to turn inward for a few minutes. And this is with his meds. Without them, the periods of “focus-ability” may be only that – moments.

Effects of Stress, and Music’s Balm

Perception: Extreme amounts of stress for Dr. Pierce (overwhelming sounds at the police station, a student offering sexual favors) affect him so much that he needs to find comfort by retreating inside music. He has cassette tapes of classical music, blasts them into his brain via headphones, and begins to “conduct” the music.  Anywhere.

Our Reality: Ben does this with music, too – even when stable.  He uses an  iPod instead of cassettes, the music is more likely to be Matchbox 20 or Bob Dylan, but at he turns the volume up to fill his brain,  and often sings along under his breath.

Mental Acuity

Perception: Dr. Pierce does crosswords and Sudokus with amazing alacrity and accuracy. He also can unravel and anagram faster than a speeding bullet. But only without his meds.

Our Reality: Ben has no patience for a crossword puzzle, but he sure is the king of Scrabble, Catchphrase and Boggle. His mind amazes us. But only with his meds. Without them, he can barely remember the beginning of a sentence by the time he gets to the end.

I’ll keep watching this show – both as a fan (at least they are aiming for some respect and empathy, and also I love Will McCormack) but also as an advocate for my son, and others like him, who are not (at least yet) at the point where they can take the no-meds risk.)

Can people with schizophrenia “manage” their own voices without meds, using reason and understanding and the help of others if they are not sure “which reality is real”?

There is a movement in the mental illness world called Hearing Voices, which says yes – for some. And I agree – for some, this can be possible, with a lot of work.  But most I have met who have achieved this are (a) older, at least in their 40’s (b) had their first psychotic break later in life, often after they were well into college years (c) have insight into their illness. Not one of these elements is true for Ben. Yet.

Perception, in this case, is not yet everyone’s reality.

This entry was posted in Family Experience with Mental Illness, Mental Illness and Employment, Mental Illness and Media, Recovery in Mental Illness, Schizophrenia Diagnosis and Treatment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to New TV Series, Perception: and Schizophrenia Reality

  1. Chris says:

    Randye,
    Have you had the chance to read Elyn Saks book, ‘the center cannot hold’? She is a USC prof w/ a law degree and has a professorship in psychiatry… and she’s schizophrenic. Yes, she needs her meds, and her support system, but her memoir is amazing and inspiring… and her first recollected hallucinations were at age 8, though she never told anyone then.
    Also, your Ben is more than intelligent enough to be a professor; 148 is over 3 times the standard deviation of average (100)… He is genius level; I know because mine is 159 and is also genius level… only .03% of the population. :) People w/ schizophrenia are generally in that category. I am not schizophrenic, I have DID/MPD, Complex PTSD/TBI, Depression and severe Anxiety (and a few shreds of others- a real ‘party pack’ as my therapist says :D ). Being plural (MPD) has made us very sensitive to meds. We are not able to take most medications; they have a paradoxical effect, or we can ‘divide’ the medications between us and nullify their effect. So, no help with the depression or anxiety and thus dealing with debilitating waves of suicidality that can come and go 30 times a day for no reason and then fade away for months. I only say all this as a precursor to the fact that I am about to go into my Jr year of college (am a 40yo single (by choice) mom of a 15yo daughter) getting my BA in Psychology; I am inspired by ones like Elyn Saks and Kay Redfield Jamison (bipolar psychology prof)- and I am getting a 3.93 (all A’s except 1 B- in math from the month I almost hemorrhaged to death and had emergency surgery)… So your Ben has hope. He has the brain, when he gets things more stable he might find it in some ways useful, like I do (it centers me, gives my life some framework). Maybe Elyn’s book can give you some ideas too on what might help. As someone who has lived it and been trained in it, she has a wonderfully unique perspective.

    Anyhow… I am not sure if you will find that in any way encouraging, but that was my intent. Oh. And we do understand about the TV vs. reality aspect of how a particular condition is portrayed… we felt the same way about ‘The United States of Tara’ that was on Showtime. The worst part…? They cut the series short and the only way to effectively end it on short notice was to have the main character end up going off to the hospital. Roll Credits. Not very nice flavor to leave in the general public’s mouth… that did nothing to de-stigmatize the condition, or even very effectively explain what causes it. But that’s TV. It has to be entertaining. This society is full of people who watch Jerry Springer, for pity sake! :)
    Anyhow, take care Randye (and Ben)…

    ~Chris, et al.

  2. Randye Kaye says:

    Hi chris et al
    Wow. What a story! Thanks for the encouragement :) .
    I have read saks’ book and it was great. Stories provide hope and insight so that’s why I wrote ours in Ben Behind his Voices. Happy to say that Ben is back at school part time college and his grades are like yours!
    !

  3. Chrisa says:

    Hi Randy – thanks for the review. I was reticent to watch the show because it appeared that schizophrenia would be like having a mole in the treatment, meaning, “oh look, I have every normal social interaction and, oh by the way, schizophrenia.”. Seems that was a correct assumption.

    Tim has childhood onset Schizoaffective Disorder, and his IQ deteriorated from 98 to 68 between ages 5 and 14, likely due to unmedicated, uncontrolled psychosis. Tim turned 18 two weeks ago and we are working on life skills, hoping he can live, one day, semi independently.

    The most accurate portrayal of schizophrenia I ever saw on TV was on a short lived FX show called Terriers. It was a out two private detectives, one of which had a sister with schizophrenia. She was smart, with flat affect, hallucinations, and sarcasm. If you have Netflix you might be able to find a copy of the series on DVD.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This show has gotten more realistic as time has gone on, not to mention I find it incredibly entertaining. I am the mother of an adult who is as ill as your son Ben is so I do understand where you’re coming from. But a couple episodes ago, they showed the contrast between Dr. Pierce & a guy who was in florid psychosis & clearly needed meds & they said so in the show. There was even a brief comment about involuntary care for this guy. They also showed the same guy who needed meds being tazed by cops who thought he had a weapon when all he had was sword, held at this side, that he was only holding due to his delusion. That was very realistic as we all know that people who are MI get tazed far too often for no reason. The last episode was the first half of the last show of the season so I don’t know what the ending is actually going to be as the conclusion will be shown next week. But it showed Pierce having a completely delusional weekend with everyone telling him he needs to be on meds & ended with him admitting himself to the hospital. I am going to keep watching!

  5. Randye Kaye says:

    yes, I think it is actually presenting some more perspectives – remember, I wrote this post after only a couple of episodes. And I agree that Eric McCormack is so great in it that I will watch if only for that! I, too, am still watching :)

    I hope they have consultants on there who will keep it real, fair and balanced.
    Thanks for commenting!
    Randye

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>