A walk on the wild side- Inside the mind of Jared Lee Loughner

Jared Lee Loughner- Police file photo at his first court appearance after the shooting

The signs of Jared Lee Loughner’s battle with mental illness were missed but how?  The explosion of these symptoms literally came to a head after shooting U.S. representative Gifford at point blank range and then killing 5 other people. The camouflage tent in his backyard to the pictures on the internet of him posing with a Glock 9 millimeter in a red thong tell a bizarre story of the creeping anxiety and rage mirrored by another well-known personality suffering from Schizophrenia, Elyn Saks. In her book ‘The Center Cannot Hold‘, she describes the battle taking place in her mind around transition points. These points refer to periods in her life when she felt anxiously overwhelmed by environmental stressors, real or imagined. During these transitions the battle would rise to a fever pitch resulting in another hospitalization in a mental institution and another round of anti-psychotic medication.

Jared had his own transition points: high school auditions and team try outs, rejection by the military recruiters and numerous job layoffs to name a few.

Elyn reveals in her book the inner signs of the impending struggle included inner voices, suspicion of being discussed by other people, phobias, obsessions, and of course core anxiety driving the fears at breakneck speed. Some of the fears transformed into hearing the houses talking to her as she walked home from high school. Its one thing if the conversations with the houses were pleasant but as the case often is, the messages are terrifying.

Voices in schizophrenia can come from just about anywhere, or anything, inanimate and living. In studying Schizophrenia for over 12 years and interviewing at length over 250 persons diagnosed with schizophrenia, you cant help but get a pretty good idea of the messages these voices, objects and animals convey.  Invariably, the voices start out by saying nice things about you, then mean things about other people and finally a barrage of inane, paranoid and anxious running conversations that keep you up at night about anything and everything.  Sometimes it’s just one voice, other times it’s like being at a small cocktail party. A veritable gaggle of conversations all happening within earshot, and all about you.

Some of the signs seen from the outside were perplexing and disconcerting to Jared’s loved ones. I can only imagine the inner world of Jared’s waking nightmare.

There are syndromes of Schizophrenia that add or remove aspects of who you are such as how friendly you are or your ability to take care of yourself, bathe, wash your hair, and even eat.  These aspects may lead you to hide in your house barricaded by locked doors and windows attempting to protect yourself from what you think is after you. At other times you may become tired of the fear, plug your ears with some cotton just to muffle the cacophony, and step out into the world.

Jared Lee Loughner also had his own battle that reduced aspects of himself, beginning possibly in high school when he began to withdraw from his small circle of friends. Eventually he dropped out of high school.

Intentional isolation from friends and family is a harbinger a mental disturbance.  The reasons may include paranoia, suspicion of others and voices telling you to stay inside. I once waited nearly 45 minutes for a gentleman to answer the door to his one room studio at the back of his parents home in Trelawny (a parish in Jamaica). During this time you could hear him removing all the fortifications from his doorway! Just imagine his daily terror.

Delusions are another sign. These are fixed false beliefs sometimes about your abilities or someone else’s. These often include being a savior of some sort here to rid the world of evil, the devil or injustice. The beliefs are very strong and don’t seem out-of-place in the mind of someone with Schizophrenia. For example, it is common to believe that you are Jesus Christ or that you have miraculous powers. Raising people from the dead was a popular one I bucked up in 2002, but that’s another story. The delusions seem to change with technology and now the internet is the portal for many of these powers.

The last experience I want to deal with here (because there are many) is disconcerting to both the person with Schizophrenia and to persons conversing with them-disorganized thought and speech. The images and ideas come to your mind in a state of complete chaos but seem utterly profound and logical.

Elyn Saks uses this occurrence as her sure sign of relapse. She said her ideas and her speech resemble a “word salad”- A series of disjointed illogical phrases which may sometimes rhyme and are always repetitious (or perseverative in Neuropsychological terms). She reflects that her ideas during this prodromal phase now seem crazy even to her.

Distortion of images alone is an internal red flag for a person with schizophrenia and can even cause them to stand completely still. This symptom was aptly described by someone I knew who had catatonic schizophrenia. He told me the world seen through his eyes shifted when he blinked or moved. This was so disturbing to him that he simply stopped moving in order for the world to make sense.

Jared Lee Loughner had the experience of jumbled thoughts too as you may be able to detect in his YouTube posting late last year. Clinical Psychology students out there you are expected to be able to spot this a mile away! the test is on its way.

These experiences are harrowing to all involved but remember as Jared says, I am human.

*Please note I have no connections to Elyn Saks nor will I profit from the promotion of her really insightful book.


5 thoughts on “A walk on the wild side- Inside the mind of Jared Lee Loughner

  1. Doc? At what age can the first signs of schizophrenia start? How can you recognize the symptoms in others? I ask because the I haven’t heard much on whether or not his parents recognized any of these signs or not: psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia…

  2. There is early onset which can be as early as 12 or 13 but usually Schizophrenia begins in early adulthood. The symptoms in the prodromal or early stage can be hard to detect for an acquaintance but a little easier for a close friend. In articles interviewing Jared’s high school friends they did notice his withdrawal, and at parties after he dropped out they also noticed his discussions were turning paranoid and belligerent. He actually attended a college and was thrown out for disturbing the class with illogical rants about constitutional rights: it was a math class that brought out his most rabid side.
    About his parents, well I can only say it must be difficult to manage a child with Schizophrenia. Denial, ignorance and hopelessness often paralyze a family until the horse has literally gone through the gate. But i will look more into this in another article. Thanks for the question.

  3. More people and families out to be educated about this disease and its signs so that they can know the signs and seek out help when they see the signs. It makes me wonder if this tragedy could have been avoided had his parents know when to and how to seek help.

    • This is quite true, if we as parents or friends or neighbors or teachers knew how to recognize schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis/mental illness like we recognize the flu we would be much better off.
      On the other hand there is little we can do to control what our children do when they re out of our sight.
      The USA is particularly adept at two things that may aide and abet these kinds of incidents: pervasive ignoring and isolation. People are usually ignored especially “weirdos”. Additionally, isolation feeds psychosis. Saks herself says that community members now help her to know when she is going off topic and when her ideas are as she says “crazy”. The more we include the more we would spot the symptoms in the prodromal phase, especially if we new what we were looking for.

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