10 Things ‘Incandescent Alphabets’ taught me about psychosis

GoodReads describes Annie Roger’s book as, “Psychosis, an invasion of mind and body from without, creates an enigma about what is happening and thrusts the individual into radical isolation. What are the subjective details of such experiences? This book explores psychosis as knowledge cut off from history, truth that cannot be articulated in any other form.” It has been such a joy and insightful thing to read. I’ve discovered truths to myself I once could not name.

These are the 10 things I’ve learned from reading Annie Roger’s book, Incandescent Alphabets.

  1. We must ask ourselves, “How will [we] manage it, endure it, and be changed by it?” (Rogers, 8), when it comes to understanding how psychosis or any life crucible will shape us. There is a choice with what we do with what pushes to change us.
  2. When language fails in understanding the psychotic experience, sometimes understanding someone through their art or visual depictions of what they are seeing can be profoundly helpful. There’s a chapter in her book that captures various psychotic art from different time frames and different parts of the world.
  3. To understand the psychotic experience, you have to understand the person beyond their psychosis. One thing I really appreciated about Roger’s book is that she humanizes the person and then introduces their psychosis. Although they may not be lived as completely separated entities, bringing in the humanity of the person prevents stigma and prejudice from clouding our understanding of them.
  4. What [psychotic individuals] experience in language changes who they are, where they locate themselves in time and space, what the body is (and can become), as well as their ideas about everyone who speaks to them (seen and unseen).” (Rogers, 19)
  5. To those supporting individuals struggling with psychosis, “listen for a protest”. In psychiatry, there’s a thing called “word salad” and there’s this assumption that when someone speaks in “word salad” their words have no meaning. In reality, if you really listen to what someone is saying in a state of psychosis-you can catch where there’s a dissonance with what they feel compelled to say or do versus what they actually want. It’s hard to catch, but it’s oftentimes there.
  6. People on the schizo-affective/phrenia or psychosis spectrum can still live very beautiful and rewarding lives. Rogers herself struggled with psychosis and other crucibles, but she goes on to write beautiful novels, doing groundbreaking research, and contributing to the educational realm of psychoanalysis and psychology.
  7. Recovery is possible for those on the schizo-affective/phrenia or psychosis spectrum. On a broader scale, recovery is truly possible for anyone who is invested in their mental well-being and is willing to take steps to address the issues that weigh heavily with them.
  8. People are so much more than the crosses they bear. People are more than their wellness or the struggles that inhibit their well-being.
  9. Psychosis isn’t an isolated phenomenon it’s also a shared experience. One thing I found super mind-blowing was that in the art Annie Rogers inserts in her book, there is a similarity in themes of the images being depicted. A lot of people from different times and places hallucinate shadows and tall and dark figures.
  10. Being self-aware and having your loved ones be self-educated on what psychosis is and what it can look like for you can greatly improve the way they support you. I also found that having self-awareness can help in communicating how you want to be supported, what your warning signs are, and what to do to intervene in a crisis.

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