By Kenneth Edwards
Key Themes: philosophy, psychosis, psychiatry, schizo-effective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
When my psychiatrist suggested to me that I compile my experiences in a book, I thought, “This is flattering, but I cannot do it. What to him is clinically interesting, to me is so painful I cannot possibly get it down on paper.” But now I have done it. However, the doctor did not anticipate two things which define the book.
First, it seems to me that it was not something transitory that caused my long psychotic episode. Instead, the circumstances of my entire life conspired to make me ill. So the story of my sickness is necessarily an autobiography of my whole life. The doctor did not realize the extent of the autobiography he was asking for.
Second, he did not fully appreciate what makes a philosophy Ph.D. tick. It was impossible for me to write an autobiography without being intellectual. So I utilised my own psychosis as a paradigm example and from it developed a complete theory of psychosis itself. The physicians at the hospital cured me all right, but that does not mean they know everything and I cannot make my own addition to man’s understanding of psychosis. On the contrary, I have a resource that mental health professionals and other philosophers of psychiatry do not have: personal experience of psychosis. Kenneth Edwards
About the Author
American philosopher Kenneth Edwards received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Georgia. Born in Tennessee and now residing in Virginia, he was for five years a runaway homeless psychotic in Jackson, Mississippi, thinking he was the Messiah, the Buddha, the Mahdi and Quetzalcoatl. All those years he evaded his family and psychiatric help, living by his wits and without government aid. He was finally committed (sectioned) in 2002. Now recovered, his book chronicles that experience and culminates in the development of a new theory of psychosis and a new treatment for the illness.
The bum stood under the I-20 overpass ten yards off the edge of Old Brandon Road. The two-laner went a mile further to the Pearl River boundary between the town of Flowood and the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Woodrow Wilson Bridge crossing the river was closed for repairs. So at the overpass was a sawhorse barricade prohibiting driving any closer to the bridge.
A little red car drove up to the barricade on the traveled side of the road. The driver, dark skinned and clad in black, got out and moved the sawhorses out of the way, then got back in and drove the few yards through. He got out of the car again to replace the sawhorses. In seeming coordination a man on the passenger side, also dark skinned and clad in black, jumped out and ran to the back of the car, furtively snapped a picture of the gas station across the road, then quickly ran and jumped back into the car at the same moment as the driver. Then the little red car immediately drove on toward the bridge and out of sight.
They had not once looked at the bum standing thirty yards away. He was just a bum. He had a camp between the overpass and the bridge, just far enough off the road to not be visible. He often stopped under the overpass to smoke a cigarette as he walked from his camp to the business side of Flowood, where he went through garbage cans looking for food. After witnessing the incident, he slung his sack over his shoulder and walked on.
This was early in the morning. The bum was a very deliberative man. So only later in the day did he register any interpretation of the incident he had seen. He knew that since 9/11 he had been writing long letters to a pro-Palestinian organization he had learned about when their full-page ad asking for contributions appeared in USA Today. These letters praised the action of the ill-fated terrorists in the airplanes. Some of the letters demanded that he be got in touch with Osama Bin Laden. Though he didn’t say it explicitly, this dirty, average sized man was angling to be declared Mahdi by the Muslim world. He hoped to moderate Bin Laden’s views, though he did condone some terrorism.
“They were looking for me, to hail me and rescue me!” the bum finally decided. “I mentioned the gas station in one of my letters. But they passed right on by me because I obviously was nothing special. And how amateurish they were! They looked like terrorists out of a movie.” This incident occurred toward the end of my period of homelessness, 1997 to 2002. The homelessness began when I got a strong premonition that my brother and sister were on their way to my home city, Knoxville, to kill me. I got in my car and fled, eventually running out of resources in Jackson, as a consequence being homeless there for a long five years. I was severely psychotic. I had not at first aspired to be Mahdi. At the beginning of the five years I thought merely that I was the Messiah, whom I thought of as Yahweh returned just as the Mahdi was Mohammed returned. I intended to never declare that status publicly, wanting to be recognized as Messiah only after my death when people saw my superior thought and action.
Sometime later I added to my thinking that I was the returned Buddha as well. I reasoned that the Messiah was primarily a man of action while I believed I was also a man of thought, which the Buddha represented. Then the time came when I decided I was furthermore the expected return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who as the god of civilization was superior in both things, thought and action. Whatever the personage, I wanted to be recognized only after death.
I did regard myself as a god. All four of these personages were gods united in me as one god. But I viewed the gods as only extremely superior men. The gods, I thought, started out in history as superior people and not spiritual beings. But common man was so awed by the gods that these lowly people elevated them to spirituality. That was common man’s mistake. I assigned to myself no such spirituality. And the returned Messiah, Buddha, Quetzalcoatl and Mahdi were only reappeared roles, not literal descendants.
My impression is most anthropologists think that the notion of gods resulted from personification of natural forces.