Rachel Garber

You and your Significant Other are on your way to town. Going down the 108, you look out the car window and suddenly you notice something very strange the horses in the field are on fire! As flames leap from their backs, they keep on calmly grazing.
“Stop! Look at that!”
Your Other slows down and looks at the field, then at you.
“Don’t you see? The horses are on fire!”
“I don’t see any fire.”
It dawns on both of you that you are actors in two different films.
In your Other’s world, happenings are predictable, governed by causes and effects that―right or not―most people agree on. Yours is populated by the inexplicable and dangerous, where the laws of physics no longer apply. No one else will even listen to your perceptions of how things work. Your connection with others is profoundly broken.
It is like being hurled onto an alien planet, alone.
For your Other, it’s like that a bit, too. It feels like they’ve lost a very important person in their life.
Maybe you’ve guessed I’m talking about mental illness. The scary kind, where you feel you don’t recognize someone, or you can’t talk with them the way you used to. It’s scary for your Other, but it’s even scarier if it’s happening to you.
We go through life depending on our social ties. Certain kinds of illness threaten to break those ties, because we can’t guess what the other person is thinking or feeling. We can’t understand the little gestures or expressions we usually depend on. We don’t seem to share the same reality.
This is psychosis, and various illnesses can bring it on. Your illness could be certain medical conditions or substance abuse, or here’s the biggie schizophrenia.
What does losing touch with reality mean? You may have hallucinations. For example, seeing flaming horses calmly grazing, or hearing a voice speaking to you.
Or you have delusions thoughts that grip your mind and just won’t let go, although to those around you, they are patently untrue. Like the idea that Putin is out to poison you. (Mind you, for certain persons on the planet, this has turned out not to be delusional.)
Schizophrenia is such a biggie because there’s no cure, and there’s not even a really great way to treat the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. Anti-psychotic medications are not always effective for all the symptoms, and can come with other problems that impede your life in other ways. For example, you might sleep 14 hours a day, have bizarre muscle spasms, or be unable to speak without saliva pouring out of your mouth.
That makes you look even crazier. So there you have it. In one fell swoop, you’ve lost all your friends and your family. You have nobody who can understand what’s going on with you, and you can’t figure it out either.
But the losses don’t end there. You notice, when you go out, that people look at you funny. Or their eyes just slide past you as if you are invisible. So mostly you stay at home in your room, or stay on the outskirts of any group. You are intensely lonely. Those voices that no one else can hear become even more important to you.
But that’s not all. You find you can’t focus on your work anymore. Your attention is on dealing with all the stuff going in that alien planet that has become your life. You’ve achieved so much―maybe you’re in a PhD program, headed for a brilliant career. But now that future is lost to you too.
That adds to the pain of being around others. “What do you do?” they keep on asking.
It’s years later. You and your Significant Other are driving down the 108. You don’t see any horses on fire, but you are lost in your thoughts, thoughts that no one else can understand. You are intensely lonely, and your only hope is a delusion that if you drive past a church every Sunday, and do certain exercises everyday, you will suddenly stop hearing voices on Halloween.
You have lost so much, but you have not lost the capacity to love. I salute your courage.
Feeling Lost: Understanding and Coping with the Stress and Stigma of a Psychotic Illness is the topic of a free virtual workshop in English, presented by Mental Health Estrie on Wednesday, October 26, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The presentation by psychologist Camillo Zacchia, PhD, will focus on understanding the nature of mental illness, especially psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Zacchia will examine treatment principles and roles family members can play and discuss the stigma faced by those living with these illnesses, as well as their loved ones. This will include some simple but effective de-stigmatizing techniques.
For information or to register, contact Mental Health Estrie at 819-565-2388 or
Weekly bilingual sessions of Viactive, those gentle yet peppy exercises for persons age 50 and over, are in Sawyerville on Wednesdays at 10 a.m., in the Catholic Church basement, 4 Randboro Road, Sawyerville. Info: Gérard Nault, 819-889-2630.
And in Island Brook, Viactive sessions are Wednesdays from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Newport Municipal Hall, 1452 Route 212. Info: 819-889-1340.
Anglican. In-person service is November 6 at 11 a.m. at St. Peter’s Church in Cookshire. For a schedule of services, visit and click on the “Calendar” link. Info: 819-887-6802, or
United. Because of construction work at Trinity United Church in Cookshire, weekly Sunday services will be at 10:30 a.m., at Sawyerville United Church until further notice. Info: 819-889-2838. For pastoral care, call Rev. Spires at 819-452-3685.
Baptist. In-person services are in French at 9 a.m. and in English at 11 a.m. For information, please contact Pastor Michel Houle at 819-889-2819.
Do you have news to share? Call 819-640-1340 or email by October 31 for publication November 9 and by November 14 for November 23.

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