BEYOND DIAGNOSIS — THE ANOIKSIS MAP
WHAT IS ANOIKSIS?
Anoiksis is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘Open Mind’. Anoiksis is the name of the Dutch association run by and for those of us who deal with psychotic states. Anoiksis is important because it moves beyond a diagnosis, challenging us to look at what it may feel like to be in Anoiksis.
The premise of this article is that Anoiksis is a state of the mind where we go when change is needed. It is a creative survival mechanism of the brain in reaction to high-impact life events. Anoiksis is an altered state of consciousness in which sense-perceptions and forms of thought change drastically in order to disrupt our default patterns and provide new possibilities. By activating one’s imagination in this state, people are able to generate life-altering insights and have the potential for positive personal, relational and more broad systemic transformation.
In this state, the brain is an ally, not an enemy. However, if you don’t have the right navigation tools in Anoiksis, you can get stuck. We call this (Deep) Anoiksis. The phenomenon of Anoiksis includes experiences labelled as psychosis, but goes beyond it, capturing mental health on a spectrum.
GOAL An intimate knowing of our body / mind / heart / spirit — our system as a whole. We All know Anoiksis. But how to explore (Deep) Anoiksis?
THE ANOIKSIS MAP AND HOW TO USE IT
The Anoiksis Map consists of five exploration themes, or pillars of consideration. By identifying these elements and how they are related, you can recognize and shift the system. When you learn to navigate it, the state of Anoiksis provides clues for deeper, fundamental needs. By identifying and serving those needs, it’s possible to move through this disruptive and transformative state.
There is no set process or specific order in which to explore these themes. Depending on the situation, it may be more relevant to first look at: ‘what is needed’ or ‘what has happened?’
WHAT IS EXPERIENCED?
In (Deep) Anoiksis our sense-perceptions alter more extremely — they can become hypersensitive or hypo sensitive
The key: Identify how sense-perceptions are altered in an experience of (Deep) Anoiksis.
Example: Early recognition may be in experiences of colours changing. They may become more vivid or they may seem dull and off. Background noises may come to the foreground. We may experience time running faster or slower. We may become thin-skinned. Emotions or words may hit us very hard.
Tip: Think of it as suddenly being sensitive to sunlight. The light of the sun has not changed, the sensitivity to the light has changed.
WHAT MEANING IS MADE?
We rely so heavily on our senses that it does not occur to us to question them. Instead, we create stories, even if that story seems unusual because it supports our experience. In this stage, we can learn to distinguish metaphorical significance from what may feel like a literal truth.
The key: Discover the link between sensory experience and the story created and distinguish metaphorical significance from literal sense-making.
Example: Early recognition can be found in understanding the play between the senses and the metaphorical and literal (underlying) meaning that is created. See a literal thought that ‘someone is poisoning me’ as potentially born from a heightened sense of taste. Or a thought of worthlessness that becomes so real that we become afraid to go outside.
Tip: Think of it as ‘waking dreaming’ in which associations can be experienced as actual realities. Take experiences seriously. Observe them. Embrace them. Let them go. Investigate personal significance. Recognize the underlying (hidden) need and act on it.
WHAT DISRUPTION HAPPENED?
In a model of Anoiksis, we enter the altered sense state of waking-dreaming in reaction to a disruption in our spiritual/mental/physical stories. High-impact life events indicate such a disruption.
The key: Identify high impact life events and discover links between these events, sensory experiences, and meaning created.
Example: Being in love. Deep loneliness. Significant loss or death. Not fitting in. A broken heart, love-sickness, a messy divorce. Moving away from loved ones, forced migration, moving to a strange city, or a trip abroad.
Tip: Positive high-impact life events can be just as stressful.
WHAT TRIGGERS WERE PRESENT?
In our Anoiksis model, there are several major risk factors that (speculatively) influence the evolution of high-impact life events.
The key: Identify how certain internal and external bio-psycho-social triggers influence altered sense-perception and meaning-making. Discover links between triggers and high-impact events.
Example: Sleep disruption, chronic stress, hormonal disruptions (puberty, menopause, pregnancy) nutritional disruption (vitamin deficiency), intergenerational trauma, fetus development, medicine, recreational drugs, poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency.
Tip: Think of Anoiksis as a system, imagine a knot of string. Pull-on one loop and all the others may follow…they are interconnected and often feedback on each other. Focus on the system, on the phenomena, and how they relate. Don’t focus solely on symptoms.
WHAT IS NEEDED?
Deeply ingrained in the stories of our minds, bodies, and spirits lay our cultural metaphorical influences in relation to our needs. The clues we have gathered from the previous themes — how our senses change, the stories we create, what disruption events happened, and our triggers — can help us discover what we need.
The key: Identify the deeper, core needs by piecing together information from the other 4 themes. Create ways to practically serve those needs.
Example: Needs can be basic such as financial security, healthy nutrition, safe shelter, or loving connections. How to help a person feel safe? Needs are diverse. Some need to suppress the phenomena. Some need to make art. It is the job of ourselves, and our carers to listen to those needs and act.
Tip: Engage in authentic Deep Listening. Under a symbolic need is a need, is a need. Ask the same question five times and you will get a different answer.
THE ANOIKSIS MAP VALUE
The Anoiksis Map is based on nothing new. It says nothing new, but its storytelling structure is refreshingly new. A simple piece of story code, Anoiksis allows us to be more patient, to listen more. It allows us to recognise our own vulnerabilities as well as understand where value is to be had in exposing our needs. In Anoiksis it does not matter how ‘exact’ the story we tell is, what matters is that we have a story to latch on to together. To depart from together. If we have a feeling that we can understand something — that we can do something — we have less stress. If we have less stress, we feel better, and we are better able to help others and ourselves.
UNDERSTANDING THE ANOIKSIS SPECTRUM HELPS US TO MOVE FROM PAINS TO GAINS
- I don’t know what’s happening — I have no frame.
- When things get worse and I finally reach out to people, no one knows what’s going on including me! My friends and family are confused.
- I have to wait for professionals to get any help
- I am given a frame by professionals that doesn’t help me understand my experience…I have to wait for them to give me advice on what to do.
- The story professionals tell me makes me feel hopeless and scared of my own experience.
- The professionals tell me not to pay attention to any of my experiences, that it’s not real and I should ignore it. I feel I am fighting my own senses, trying to make myself normal again. I am all alone in my journey — I only speak to professionals and don’t know anyone else with this experience. I have to do this by myself
- I recognize what is happening — I sense early signs of stress and see what I can do to manage.
- I feel empowered to reach out to people in my network — friends, and family.
- People in my life recognize what I’m experiencing and have a frame to help me uncover what lies beneath my experience.
- If I decide I want professional help, professionals also help me make sense of what is happening and I steer my own journey, while they support me along the way.
- Professionals are curious about what I experience and how that has value and meaning for me.
- I have a community of people who can relate to my experience and also have the frame to help me navigate my day to day experience. They are compassionate about my struggle and know that I have the strength and wisdom to navigate this. I am not alone.
THE DARKNESS OF ANOIKSIS
In The Anoiksis Manifesto we speak of Anoiksis as a landscape we carry within all of us, in which we all move around in. Our Anoiksis connects us, but can also divide us. In Anoiksis we are not broken, we are in the constant process of changing physical, mental, or spiritual stories. But sometimes stories do not fit. Or they contradict. We speak of (Deep) Anoiksis if we move in depths that become beyond our control. There is always a dark side to experiences. The ultimate darkness of Anoiksis is gaslighting. Gaslighting is the attempt to reject the reality and experience of the other and impose our own.
Much thanks to all the courageous people, with or without lived experiences, who shared their stories in the public domain. Without these stories, it would not be possible to weave these patterns.
A special thanks to Meg Mateer for helping with this summary — your work on this has been invaluable!
We are curious about your reaction to ‘The Anoiksis Map’. Can you relate? Let us know what you think using the following hashtags: #AnoiksisMap, #AnoiksisManifesto, #Roomforthoughts #LabyrinthPsychotica.
Or submit your own story of Anoiksis for publication in the Beyond Diagnosis — The Anoiksis Chronicles series!
‘The Anoiksis Manifesto’ and ‘The Anoiksis Map’ are synaptic artworks born from the art project Labyrinth Psychotica. An artistic research PhD on simulating the subjective experiences of psychosis by Roomforthoughts.