I am an artist, author, and filmmaker who lives with comorbid schizoaffective disorder, as well as a range of other mental health conditions. In The Brutal Truth, I reveal my schizophrenic world with all its terrors and wonders. The book offers a raw and candid glimpse into the rarely told and poorly understood reality of living with schizophrenia—where “the only place where my dreams become impossibilities is in my mind.”
The Brutal Truth is a collection of essays that brings together material that was written for my online community dedicated to mental health. I have over 100,000 followers on Twitter, as well as a popular Facebook group dedicated to mental health advocacy. This 25,000 word volume is written for others living with severe mental health conditions, as well as general readers interested in understanding the nature of psychosis.
Jonathan Harnisch is an “artist, dreamer, man on a mission, and human being just like you.” He is also “a deeply troubled and disturbed person,” who lives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. He is committed to sharing his unique life online in order to help others.
Through a relentless, direct encounter with his schizophrenic self and thoughts, Harnisch offers a rare insight into this often misunderstood disorder. Extraordinarily, the message is one of resilience and hope, finding rare wisdom through enduring and learning to understand his psychotic episodes. Rather than retreating into his own troubles, Harnisch journeys inside himself in order to understand the humanity that he shares with others: “The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.”
For all its fearless honesty, The Brutal Truth is throughout an affirmation of life. As Harnisch says, “I write and publish what I want and what I feel, no matter what mood or state of mind I am in, but I always do my best to keep things positive.” After all, he knows that he is “a legitimate, loving, grateful, and spiritual human being who deserves to be loved and accepted and who deserves to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to be forgiven.”
The Brutal Truth shows that it is by acknowledging the schizophrenic experience that we can come to understand and deal with it. Harnisch’s essays offer daring descriptions of what it is like to live—moment upon moment—with schizophrenia. These essays are written to help others undergoing mental disorders. They will also help those who want to better understand what their loved ones are going through so that they can help them more effectively and more compassionately.
But these essays are not just for those affected by psychiatric disorders. All readers will feel enriched after spending time with Harnisch in this extraordinary and too often untold schizophrenic world. As Harnisch says, “We schizophrenics, through our psychosis—our delusions, our hallucinations, our reality—create or develop a story.” Seldom has the schizophrenic story been told with such unflinching honesty and truth.
Outline: The Brutal Truth
The Brutal Truth consists of 13 essays that shed light on the day-to-day experience of living with schizophrenia.
I Have Schizophrenia, but Schizophrenia Does Not Have Me
Even though we all have our battles and our bad days, this does not mean that we have a bad life. Harnisch describes his realisation that the ultimate goal that he is striving for, as a person living with acute mental disorders, is independence. He refuses to be controlled by his illness.
The Brutal Truth: Where Am I?
Of the things you lose as a schizophrenic, it is the mind that you miss the most. Harnisch describes his search for solitude, walking away from life to find peace but being unable to escape the past or his day-to-day problems. The truth must be spoken, however savage that may be: “You do not want to feel what I feel.”
Here Harnisch thanks his readers, especially his online mental health advocacy community, which has proved to be his “trapeze net” on his schizophrenic flights.
Getting Through an Episode
Harnisch is an unemployed artist with “a life that, in terms of conventional reality, doesn’t actually exist.” And so he creates a “double self” made up of his delusions. This double self allows him to experience a reality that substitutes for the uncomfortable truths he prefers not to acknowledge. It allows him to not be himself.
If You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going
If you hang in there long enough, things will change for the better. In Harnisch’s case, a severe psychotic break was required for him to finally get the right help. Whatever our hand in life, we must discover our worth: “what we give to the world and what the world gives to us.” Harnisch cannot escape schizophrenia, but he can make it his friend. By altering his perspective on suffering, he learns that even though he still struggles, he no longer suffers.
It's Coming to Get Me: The Voices of Paranoia
If you are afflicted with paranoia, you know, wholeheartedly, that these are not delusions. People are harassing you. People are jealous of you. By now, Harnisch is able to see that his paranoid beliefs are “only the schizophrenia,” but “it’s for damn sure the truth and as frightening as all hell.”
Living with Psychosis: Living in Shame
Nothing is more terrifying than battling your own mind every day. Harnisch’s accounts of his psychotic episodes are evidence of his resilience and ability to survive. But he asks people who don’t understand the first thing about him and his delusional reality to stop expecting “normal” from him: “We all know it is never going to happen.”
People with Depression Cannot “Snap Out of It”
It is difficult to be told that you “inspire” others so long as you remain depressed. Harnisch knows that he will get out of this depressed state. But it won’t be right now. People with depression cannot “snap out of it.” But they can know hope.
Addiction and Schizophrenia
Facing an addiction is a scary encounter with the self—especially if your reality is schizophrenic. Quitting smoking is a battle that Harnisch knows he must fight peacefully. He is a warrior and a survivor. He should be able to do this. It is a common enough struggle, but there is nothing common about how this feels.
The Delusional Thinking Process: To the Victor Go the Spoils
Harnisch describes his latest episode of delusion and paranoia, seeking to demystify what has happened in his mind so that he can learn how to cope even better next time. As he digs more deeply into “the vulnerabilities of psychosis,” he discovers that his delusions are for the most part rooted in a grain of truth.
When Delusions Are Real: The Schizophrenic Experience
How can people diagnosed with psychotic disorders get people to believe their truths? After all, once you’ve been diagnosed as being psychotic, your credibility is never the same. Harnisch reveals what his illness has taken from him, including recognition for his accomplishments. He puts together pieces of the “shattered stained glass” of schizophrenia, attempting to describe what is usually dismissed as “indescribable.” He explains the often mystical schizophrenic experience of reality, which those who seek to help them need to understand.
When Things Get Better
In this essay Harnisch calls for positivity, love, and gratitude even as he struggles “through the minefield—the deep darkness and confusion—that is schizophrenia.” It is by embracing even our darkest experiences that we are able to strengthen ourselves for the journey.
Writing Therapy: Easy Does it
Harnisch describes the metamorphosis that led him from the pursuit of fame to using writing as therapy—to heal. Through writing, he fights for his mind every day and is able to come to a clearer perspective on life. “We all have problems, but let's not kid ourselves! It's how we deal with them that makes the difference.”
"I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I don't know what I want to see. My world use to be worth living for, and now it's hard enough just to be me."